Molood Ceccarelli
CEO and founder
October 19, 2020

Interview with Molood, a CEO who shares how minimalism has improved her remote work experience

As CEO and Founder of Remote Forever, Molood has made a career in teaching individuals and companies how to work remotely effectively. See how embracing a minimalist lifestyle has caused her to excel.

How did you get started with remote work?

Technically, when I started working in my first job, I realized that despite everything being designed for collocation, every team I was working with was distributed. My first leadership role was to manage a software integration project in Sweden, Canada, Serbia, China, and the US.

Looking back, even in student projects, I always optimized the work processes to be remote-friendly so that team members who had traveled to their home countries for holidays could continue to contribute to the course projects.

In essence, I think I simply accepted that remote work and remote collaboration was the reality of our world and did not spend much energy resisting it like many others do.

Instead, I embraced it and became very good at it.

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What are you working on?

I run a company called Remote Forever. There I manage a team that helps businesses that are transforming to agile ways of working to do so remotely with ease.

The majority of agile consultants have never learned how to work and coach for building remote-first cultures, processes, and operations.

That is why in Remote Forever, we have also developed courses, workshops, and webinars to teach others remote work skills in agile such as remote agile coaching, online facilitation, online presentation, remote leadership, etc.

In addition to that, we are always working towards the next Remote Forever Summit. This summit is the first and by far biggest online event in the agile world that focuses on distributed agile, and we have organized it every year since 2016.

So my time is spent between consulting for a few corporate clients, leading my team, developing courses, supporting our students, and planning the next Remote Forever Summit, and every once in awhile, participating in fabulous interviews like this one.

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What do you like about remote work?

Two words: Freedom and dignity.

No beautiful office in the world can offer the deep sense of content regarding the freedom one gets to have over a part of their life that they spend about one-third of every day on.

A fraction of the investment that goes into designing a beautiful office could create secure infrastructure and provide the tools and education to empower employees to have the freedom to work from anywhere they are most productive, while also giving them the dignity to integrate their work and life instead of constantly trying to find a balance between the two.

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What do you not like about remote work?

I love remote working. There’s nothing about it I dislike except for the misconception that many people have about remote work. For example, I don’t like that many individuals and organizations believe they can work remotely well without ever learning it or getting help to make it work in their businesses.

I don’t like that some believe remote working equals days filled with online meetings when in reality, good remote work means as few meetings as possible.

(I meet my team at Remote Forever online once every few months, sometimes even less often).

I have not experienced loneliness or disconnectedness, as many other remote workers report. When we work with individuals in Remote Forever as part of our 1-1 coaching or group coaching programs, how to stay connected and avoid loneliness is one of the most common topics that is addressed. We have specific methods and recommendations to help individuals with such topics.

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What tools do you use to stay productive?

I get this question a lot. The truth is all I use is a calendar, a task management system, chat, and email. I do not believe that any combination of tools has the ability to make me more productive.

My own habits and the way I manage my time and space are what really make an impact on my productivity. Hiring a virtual assistant has been instrumental for staying on top of all the tasks I need to accomplish. And self-discipline has been another.

I can list the tools that have made it easier for me to stay productive and, in particular, those that have made my online meetings more professional no matter where in the world I conduct them from:

Hardware:

  • Logitech webcam (for a high-quality video anywhere)
  • Blue Snowflake microphone (portable microphone for a high-quality voice anywhere)
  • Airpod pro (has great noise canceling in any environment)
  • Clip-on ring light (to always have good lighting)

Software:

  • Krisp noise-canceling microphone to cancel the noise of the environment for the person/people on the other side of the call
  • Appointment booking that checks for all collisions in all calendars (I use Calendly)
  • Zoom, Google Meet, etc. (I am not tool dependent for video calls)

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How do you use these tools?

As I mentioned, these tools are simply what helps me have more professional and smoother online meetings. But the majority of my work is done without meetings.

I am probably the biggest advocate for asynchronous communication and try to minimize the number of my meetings as much as possible.

With the video conferencing tools, I tend to have all my meetings on one day of the week. Normally as I mentioned above, I find a quiet place, set up my hardware, start the software, and conduct my meetings.

To be transparent with you, since most of my work is asynchronously creating content with my team, perhaps it’s worthwhile knowing what tools we use to stay on track with the variety of the tasks we do at Remote Forever:

  • Task management tool (we use Basecamp)
  • Chat tool (we use Slack and Signal)
  • Scheduled emails (I have made my own, but Gmail has a built-in one)
  • Different calendars for different projects (we use iCal calendars and Google Calendar)
  • Privately managed cloud for safekeeping files, documents, etc.
  • Password manager

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Where do you conduct your work?

This question is coming to me at an unusual time: in the middle of a pandemic. Right now, I work from home. But I can tell you that before the pandemic, I did not even have a desk at home as I never worked from home. I usually work from cafés and hotel lobbies around the world.

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What about your space helps you to be productive?

Normally I work from places that inspire me and allow me to stay focused for long periods of time. Since my work is rather diverse, I tend to work from different places at different times - that is, when there’s no pandemic.

Usually, I work from nice cafés with beautiful views that also allows me to plug in my computer since I tend to stay in the same café for the whole day. In colder temperatures, I sometimes work from hotel lobbies—some franchises designed their interiors with remote workers in mind. Working from hotel lobbies is great as you always have access to good coffee and you can get much better food than most cafés.

If I have a day that involves lots of meetings, I sometimes work from coworking cafés or rent a conference room in a hotel. It does mean paying a little extra but being able to work in an environment that keeps me productive is really worth it.

Nature mixed with a little bit of comfort is all I need to be productive.

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What does your workday routine look like?

The beauty of my work life is that almost no two days look the same. I also live a minimalist life, so first, let me tell you how I have simplified my life:

  • 1- I own three pairs of shoes: Daily shoes, running shoes, winter boots.
  • 2- I own three dresses, two pairs of pants and three tops, one winter jacket, a hat and one pair of gloves. This minimal wardrobe saves me a ton of time thinking about what to wear every day.
  • 3- I eat only 4 types of meals. When I eat out, I get food with the same ingredients. I eat the same breakfast every single day, and my lunch and dinners are roughly the same food. I have discovered that I do not need much diversity in food as long as I’m getting all the nutrients my body needs. I do not eat sugar, bread, rice, pasta, or other heavy carbohydrates. I eat lentils and beans and other slow carbohydrates instead.
  • 4- I don’t own or use most kitchen appliances that people claim they are dependent on. All I use is a stove, a saucepan, a frying pan, and cutlery.
  • 5- All my belongings (except for my books) can fit into a suitcase, and that is the measure of my happiness. Once I have more clutter in my life, I feel a certain level of anxiety, and I would immediately want to make a bag of stuff I no longer need and donate them.
  • 6- I usually buy the best quality clothes, electronics, or other materials so that they would last a very long time and that I do not need to think about buying new “things” all the time.

The simplicity I have created in my life allows me to spend most of my time creating rather than consuming.

I wake up at 6:30-7:00, boil some water, and some eggs. While the eggs are getting ready, I take a shower and put on my clothes. Once I’m done, the water for coffee is ready, and I have my breakfast. I then either have a 30-minute yoga session (with an online teacher) or sit quietly and read.

Then I get up, clean the dishes, and while I’m doing that, I also prepare breakfast for my family. Then I set the breakfast table and leave home. I find my café or hotel of the day and start working.

Usually, my day consists of a variety of tasks. If I’m working with a corporation as a consultant on that day, my 9 to 5 is dedicated to supporting them and them only. If it’s a day off from corporate consulting, I could be writing, editing videos, managing the work at Remote Forever, writing emails, answering queries, or even creating new content.

I take a break for lunch and go for a walk. I sometimes watch a TV series while I eat or just browse social media.

After my 9-5 with a client is over (or my otherwise workday is finished), I spend about an hour wrapping up my day and preparing for the following day. I then choose to either work out at a gym or go for a long walk. Sometimes this is 45 minutes, and sometimes it can be up to 2 hours.

When I’m back at home, I simply warm up dinner (I cook once a week on Sundays and prepare all the meals for the week so I do not need to think or wonder what to eat every day.) and catch up with my family or friends.

I often have long chats or even video calls with my siblings, parents, other relatives, or close friends who all live in different parts of the world. That is how I stay close and connected with people I care about. I then wind down with some reading in bed.

Of course, this is the normal daily routine. Sometimes as I know many entrepreneurs reading this can relate to, there is work that pops up out of the blue and has a short deadline, which means I would need to work longer hours to make the deadline. This, however, has become less and less after I hired a Virtual Assistant (VA).

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How do you decide priorities?

I think the word "priority" is a factor of importance and urgency. Did you know that for about 400 years, the word priority was not used in plural form?

Priority was the single task that needed to be done first. Somehow we humans have tried to bend reality by making the word plural and implying that several things can be done first, which is illogical if you think about it.

In my work, we stick to the singular form of the word. Everything is prioritized according to their urgency and importance. As I mentioned before, I heavily rely on my calendars and plan my time.

I have blocked some time in my calendar for lunch and dinner because otherwise, I literally would forget to eat. I also block some time for my morning routine.

For high-impact tasks, I break them down into smaller achievable goals, and task lists each with a due date. The business/project manager on my team is a big help in this area.

Using Basecamp as a task management system, we are forced to stay away from shiny features that usually add complexity to processes. Basecamp is built for simplicity, and striving for keeping things simple in our business keeps us organized and focused on what truly matters and needs to be done first.

Read 40 answers from other remote workers

How do you avoid burnout?

I exercise regularly, and I connect with family and friends regularly. Even though I do not meet people in person most of the time, I am connected and feel emotionally fulfilled.

I also take 2-3 days every week in which I do not work at all. I only relax, read, exercise, do some chores around the house, or do nothing at all.

If I feel that I am getting close to burnout, I simply delegate my work to my fantastic team and take a day or two off. I ask my employees to do the same.

We are there for each other in the company, and that is how we all dare to talk about overwhelm, family problems, etc. and ask for other members of the team to be there for us.

As one of the people who worked for me once said, “Remote Forever feels like a well-functioning family.”

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What is the best advice you have ever received?

Haha, that’s a great question. I have to say it was from my mother at the age of four when I was crying because a boy in the kindergarten had torn apart my favorite book. My mom said:

Perhaps he was sad or angry about something that has nothing to do with you or your book. Go talk to him and ask him if he is feeling ok.

This advice has stayed with me all my life. Every time I see a certain behavior and my mind immediately wants me to be annoyed, offended, etc. I automatically stop and ask myself whether they have had the intention to hurt me. Most often, they have not.

In remote working, assuming good intention is key for effective communication. Especially because most communication happens in writing, it’s very easy for people to immediately misread the tone of a message or misunderstand the intention behind it.

Assuming good intentions is the one thing that can improve communication in any relationship and especially in remote teams.

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What advice would you give to a new remote worker?

Invest in learning the mindset and skills of working remotely effectively, especially if you are in a leadership position.

Just like the skills you learned for the job itself, the skills for conducting that job remotely need to be learned.

Winging it can harm you and your company, and fixing a broken trust or communication flow can be much harder and more costly than building it correctly from the get-go.

Observe, learn, and ask questions long before you form an opinion about a person, product, team, process, company, etc.

Communicate as if you are narrating your work for someone who cannot see. Overcommunication and acknowledgment of having read/heard what other people say in remote teams is very important.

Practice empathy and inclusion. If you say “good morning” because it’s morning where you are, remember that for some people on the team, it might be afternoon, try to include them and say “good afternoon” too. Attention to seemingly simple details can really change the way people in your team perceive you.

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What are you looking to achieve in the next five years?

Unfortunately, I do not have a crystal ball to know what the future beholds. Having an agile mindset and an agile business, however, I’m confident that with the way I have built my business, it will sustain through any changes that would happen in the world in the next five years.

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How has remote work helped you to meet your professional goals?

Remote work is my entire business. I became a full-time entrepreneur because I wanted to work remotely and because I wanted to help others do so too.

One of my professional goals was to build a brand that stands for what I value the most in the world: freedom and inclusion. I believe remote working and teaching that to others in Remote Forever has helped me achieve just that and more.

Our annual online conference Remote Forever Summit has been instrumental in helping me spread the message of Remote Forever across the globe ever since our inaugural event in 2016. Remote Forever Summit attracts close to ten thousand attendees every year.

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How do you know when to push yourself vs rest?

That is a great question. I work with accountability vs. responsibility a lot. I feel responsible to add value and deliver as much as possible to the world, to my clients, and to everyone I care about.

However, I am only accountable for what I have promised to others. Creating a balance between accountability vs. responsibility has not been easy, but I think I have finally learned it in the last two years that I started hiring new employees into the business.

The culture that I have cultivated in Remote Forever allows everyone to express themselves fully, and therefore we all know how others are feeling, what they are going through outside of work, and we hold each other accountable as every individual operates with responsibility.

Remember, I mentioned how I heavily rely on my calendars? For me personally, the indication that I am pushing myself and I need to rest is skipping meals or skipping exercise three times in a week or more, or forgetting an event even though it is on my calendar.

When I see such signs, I know that it’s time to rest. As I am accountable to deliver something that has been promised to a client or partner, even if it’s difficult to fit it into the schedule, I would consciously make my meal times shorter in order to fulfill my promise.

But when it is time to rest, I take that quite seriously too. I simply let my team know that I’m taking time off, and they step in to make sure work continues to progress. We are all humans, and we all need to put our health first.

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How do you decide which clients to take?

We have two types of clients: Individuals and companies.

For both cases, we ask clients to fill in a questionnaire that would give us a better understanding of who they are and whether or not we are a match to help them.

We then have a discovery call with them to learn even more about them, their challenges, and their needs. Sometimes clients come to us asking for an online workshop, and in the discovery call, they realize that we also offer a service in helping companies with creating internal online conferences and they ask us to help them there as well.

Sometimes companies buy an online leadership workshop from us and they realize that they would benefit from a continued group coaching program for their managers.

To be frank, most of our clients have come back to us over and over for various training, workshops, or consulting services. We strive to make our free training more comprehensive and higher quality than most other companies’ paid training, which is probably why our clients know that when they pay for our service, they are getting the best quality possible.

We truly dedicate ourselves to learning about them and understanding their needs and we always go above and beyond to help our clients achieve their goals and more.

You can learn more about our services on our website: Remote Forever and can book a discovery call there too. You will be asked to fill in a questionnaire first to help us learn more about you or your company better.

Read 18 answers from other remote workers


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Biography

Molood Ceccarelli

Molood Ceccarelli is a remote work expert and agile coach. Her work has been published in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, and Inc.com as well as Scrum Alliance, Happy Melly, and Shiftup. She is often referred to as the queen of remote work.

She is the CEO and founder of Remote Forever and the founder of the famous fully online Remote Forever Summit that has attracted over 10k attendees from around the world every year to learn how to work remotely while maintaining business agility.

Remote Forever Summit: Remote Forever Summit is the first online conference to address distributed agile. Around 10k people join this summit every year. It is free to join and the 4th edition of this summit takes place on November 11-17, 2020. Check out the fantastic speaker lineup and get your free pass at remoteforeversummit.com

Remote Forever: Learn more about Remote Forever and make sure to check the freebies on the website: remoteforever.com

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