The freedom of working remotely: what we learned from Liam Martin

Jun 29, 2018 | Posted by Cristina in Articles

Liam Martin is an expert in all aspects of remote working. A Canada-based entrepreneur, he’s the co-founder and CMO of Time Doctor and Staff.com, two platforms that help individuals and organizations be productive while working remotely.

Six years ago, Liam built Time Doctor as a tool to scratch his own itch. He was running a few remote businesses, including an online tutoring company that had 100 employees, and it was difficult to see exactly what his remote tutors were doing.

Since then, Time Doctor became one of the world’s leading time tracking softwares for remote teams. And they’re fully remote: Liam’s in Ottawa, Canada, his business partner lives in Sydney, Australia, and they have tens of employees spread across the globe, in 27 countries.

Liam’s also part of the team that organizes the Running Remote conference, a two-day event that was held in June in Bali, with speakers from big remote companies such as Buffer, GitHub, Dribble, Doist, FlexJobs and MailBird.

Without further ado, here are the main lessons I learned from Liam:

The distraction economy:

I believe that Facebook is one of the best drug dealers on planet Earth, they’ve been able to give you the best drug of all, which is feeling important, feeling like people care about you or interact with you. […] I would love to be able to control technology and not let technology control me.

Nowadays, the most successful businesses are the ones that are best at distracting us from what we want to do, eating away hours and hours from our lives, and they’re spending trillions of dollars trying to do this – don’t think for a second that they don’t. That’s market capitalism. The better they can distract us, the more money they make for themselves, the less focused we become, the less money we make.

Liam believes that if you can fight those temptations, you will likely succeed in life (Time Doctor, the tool he built, helps people understand when they’re getting distracted and pull them into a much more productive state of work).

I’m gonna digress for a second, since this is the perfect opportunity to announce that I’m currently working on an ebook about how to use social media as a tool and don’t allow it to control your life.

I’ve personally been struggling with this lately, especially since I’m an early-stage entrepreneur and social media is an important part of communicating our work at The CEO Library. At the same time, it was a huge source of stress and anxiety, so last year, in December, I decided to close my Facebook account – a one-week experiment that turned into the best decision I’ve ever made for my mental health (never reactivated my account since).

If this is something that’s been concerning you as well, I’d love to hear more about it, especially if you have any tips that might help (thanks in advance! 💛 ).

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The connection between Facebook and p*rnography:

Also on the topic of the distraction economy, p*rnography and Facebook trigger the same chemical rewards in our brains. P*rnography is chemically indifferent from the actual act of sex itself: you can get that same chemical reaction 30 or 40 times within a day if you want to.

Through Facebook, we’re getting a chemical reaction that’s indistinguishable from the real thing, from the deep intimate relationships or friendships. It’s much easier for us to do stuff online because we can get more of those chemical rewards than in the real world.

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Daily habits & routines:

Liam compartmentalized his day. He’s focused on his work until 6 PM, and afterwards he’ll do anything else but work. He’ll go home, have dinner, listen to audiobooks, go out for a drink, and then hit the gym around 9 PM, which allows him to sleep better. He also set up his email so he doesn’t receive anything past 9 PM, and his socials shut down at night.

This is similar to my routine – I also work until the afternoon, and in the second part of my day I’ll try and disconnect completely, usually by going out for a run or to indoor cycling classes. It helps me de-stress and makes me even more creative – by deliberately taking my mind off work, my brain will surprise me and pop-up in my mind innovative solutions to whatever daily problems have been bothering me. If some of your best ideas were born while taking shower, you know what I’m talking about! 😛

Liam also talked about how people have different “work clothes” and why it’s important to adapt to them. Someone might be more productive early in the morning, while others are doing their best work at night. Just because your own productivity hours look a certain way, it doesn’t mean that the same model is going to apply to a coder or marketer.

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The importance of sleep:

You can pull capital out of your sleep bank from time to time, but if you do continuously have 5-hour nights, that’s just straight up wrong.

Liam believes sleep is really important for people to stay efficient and focused for long stretches of time. For most of my life I’ve been feeling guilty whenever I heard others brag about not needing more than 4 hours of sleep per night and waking up really early, while I can’t properly function without at least 8.

You don’t need research and studies to tell you something you already feel: it’s important that you get the right amount of sleep, otherwise it will negatively impact your cognitive abilities. So ignore other people’s routines and just listen to your body and its warning signals.

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On the aspect of working while on the road:

Liam was able to create a focused work environment while traveling: he has a system that he puts in place every time he goes to a new place. He stays in Airbnbs with at least two rooms, so that he can turn one of those into a working space. He also builds a social net in that place, connecting with the tech community, going to co-working spaces.

He’ll also take into account 3 or 4 days to adjust to the place – especially if he’s going somewhere new. This way, he won’t be frustrated, caught in the purgatory of not enjoying a new place, and at the same time not being able to work efficiently.

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Hiring process:

There are some common personality traits that make someone a good remote worker. The ability to work independently is extremely important. At Time Doctor, they always hire people that don’t ask what they should do, and instead they tell what they did and ask if it was a good idea.

They also optimize their hiring process for introverted individuals, because they’re a better fit for remote teams (as an introvert, I can tell you that social interactions drain our energy, so we need less than extroverts do).

Another important factor that should be taken into consideration: Time Doctor hires for different personality traits when looking at different teams, to make sure they have a good mix of people.

Liam gave his own example to make a point: he’s a starter, good at starting an idea, looking at the market, gaining insights, coming up with a plan, but not good at executing and finishing. So he surrounds himself with project managers and delegates to other team members.

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Most common reasons for firing remote workers:

Liam breaks down the employees into four separate categories:

#1: People that have the right culture fit and they’re doing really well in their position. Those are the people that they keep and give them more responsibility.
#2: People who meet their culture, but are not executing inside their position. They try to move those people to a different position.
#3: People that are not very successful in their position and are not meeting and connecting with our culture. Those people are the ones they get out of the company as quickly as possible – it’s an easy to make decision.
#4: People that are doing very well in their position, but they don’t meet their culture. They are cultural-cancer inside of the business and they need to get out. It’s the most difficult decision to make, because you think “they’re doing really well, I should continue to hire them”.

That being said, the most common reasons for firing remote workers are when they’re not meeting their KPIs, they don’t have the right tools at their disposal, or they weren’t the right person for the job in the first place.

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Liam also mentioned three books that can help those who plan on starting a remote business, already manage remote teams or they’re remote workers themselves. These are the titles (I’ve personally read them all more than once and highly recommend):

In case you want to read more on the subject, you can check out the full transcript of my conversation with Liam Martin – all the ideas above were extracted from there.
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