Pilar Orti
March 30, 2020

Interview with Pilar, director of Virtual Not Distant

Hear about Pilar's flexible approach to managing Virtual Not Distant and the career-changing advice she received from a friend.

How did you get started with remote work?

I first started working online about eight years ago, because I was looking for work in leadership training. I was doing training for managers and facilitating away days for organizations, and I was based in London. However, I met my husband in Amsterdam. And also, my father became chronically ill in Spain.

So, I needed to go there for long periods of time, and I needed something to do online.

I found a job online, animating a forum for people who were taking an accredited course on management and leadership. So, that's how I started.

I was doing the forum, then I was offered work running the webinars, and I found I really enjoyed it. I also noticed that my blog posts that were from my then blog Virtual Not Distant (now a company), that covered topics about running remote teams and managing remote teams and virtual teams were getting a lot of attention.

In contrast, the stuff I was writing on ordinary leadership and management were not getting that much engagement. So, that's why I started to go in that direction.

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How do you stay on task?

I have been freelancing all my life, I am incredibly organized and self-motivated, and I love my work, I don't have anything magical that I do.

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What do you like about remote work?

I can work with the people that I want to work with, because of what I do. A lot of the time, I get to collaborate with people because they are the person I want to be working with.

This is mainly around writing, podcasting, and online training. A lot of what I do is still in-person, so actually, I still need to have people who can be in the same room as I am at a certain point.

However, for a lot of short projects or just advocacy initiatives, it is nice to be able to work with people you want to work with.

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What do you not like about remote work?

I don't like that it is getting a little bit too busy online. It's that you end up looking at a screen for too long, and all the work happens in once place, which is behind the screen, whether I am talking to someone, writing or podcasting, I seem to spend my time looking at a screen which is not great for the eyes.

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Where do you conduct your work?

I work from home, and I also work from a coworking space called The Workery. On Fridays, I work from the cafe at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

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What about your space helps you to be productive?

My workspace needs to be clear, and it needs to be quiet.

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What does your workday routine look like?

So, one of the things I do is I work at the coworking space on Saturday mornings when there is no one. Also, I really don't have much of a routine.

The only routine is that I wake up at the same time every day and have breakfast with my husband while watching a sitcom, which lasts about 20 minutes.

We have a long breakfast with coffee, and that is the only routine I have.

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How do you decide priorities?

I prioritize a lot of the time depending on when things are due, and also on whatever I fancy doing the most.

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How do you avoid burnout?

I make sure that I stop work at some point. On Sundays, I used to do some work in the evenings when I was doing extra projects, but now I don't work on Sundays.

Now, not only do I no longer work on Sundays, but I don't touch the computer because I think it's really important to give the hands and the body a break and rest from the screen.

The phone makes complete disconnection really difficult, but that's one thing. The other thing I do, I take holidays away from London or work somewhere away from the city. I also do that in Spain.

The other thing I do is block a week every two months, where I don't have appointments or podcast recordings so that I really feel like my time is my own. I may also move these things so I can enjoy social interactions and coffee dates.

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What is the best advice you have ever received?

A very long time ago, someone who was helping me, my friend Ian, was consulting and was helping me to get everything I wanted to do done. While he was looking through the business stuff, he said, "Look, people want to work with you. People who want to do their work want to work with you, not with someone else."

I think just remembering that is really important and has really helped me to understand that people want to work with our company because of who we are, not just because of what we do.

They want to work with us because they like us. Ultimately, if they don't want to work with us, or don't like us, that's okay. It's not a good fit.

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What do you look for when you hire a remote worker or freelancer for your team?

I don't get to hire many remote workers or freelancers, but when I do bring people in to collaborate, it has to be people I trust, and who also I've known for a while. I also like working with people I am getting to know or who have similar values and similar ways of working. It can be very difficult to find that.

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What advice would you give to a new remote worker?

It depends on the kind of remote worker they are. Remote workers could be working away from their team, working for a fully distributed company, or working for a hybrid company.

So, I think the best advice is to know what kind of setup you are letting yourself into and to make sure that you love what you are doing or want to do what you are doing.

You want to like what you do not just because it is a remote job, because there are a lot of bad remote jobs. You want it to fit you, as well as for the team and the work you are doing to suit you.

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What advice would you give to a new freelancer?

Just make sure you know why you want to freelance because it is not about freedom. Know what you want to do it.

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What advice would you give to a remote jobseeker?

Choose a job that is in line with what you want to be doing. Don't choose a job just because it is remote. Also, understand what remote is. It is not about doing what you want, or even doing it from where you want to do it from, or when you want to do it. You have to understand what you are getting into, and what remote means at that position.

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Pilar Orti

Pilar Orti is the director of Virtual Not Distant, a firm that coaches and trains companies to go from onsite work to working outside of the office. In addition to her role at Virtual Not Distant, Pilar also hosts the 21st Century Work Life Podcast.

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