After 30 years of working in the corporate world, John Elston decided to decentralize his office. The results blew him away, and changed the way his company recruited talent forever.
John is the author of The Remote Revolution, which reveals how you can find and hire more A-players to work for your company. In this episode, you’ll learn how to ride the wave of remote work into the opportunity of a lifetime.
When did John Elston realize remote work was a big deal?
For the very first time, I was losing A plus talent. And I mean, A plus. I remember very specifically, the day that my superstar came in and said:
“Look, I’m 24 years old, I don’t want to drive to LA every weekend. I want to have a relationship, I want experiences and a customer hasn’t been in our office in six weeks. I can do this job from LA.”
I said, ‘Hell no.'”
“That’s not what we’re about. We’re building a culture, we’re doing something here different. You have to be here.”
That was the end of the conversation. She left my office and literally 24 hours later, she came back and said, “I really wish you would reconsider” and I said, “I can’t.” She said, “Well then I’m giving you my resignation.”
Still, once again, stubborn CEO coming from the corporate world said “Fine, that’s okay.” Then she left.
And then I lost another A player. I just couldn’t budge off of what I thought was important to the company.
Now, fast forward three years later, my company is decentralized by choice because I couldn’t replace that A talent, they were looking for different things, they had different expectations and coming to an office every day wasn’t one of them.
It wasn’t just young people, you know, the millennials. It was mothers with kids at home, it was fathers who needed to get home in time for soccer games.
What happened when you told your team that they could work remotely?
It was an eye-opening experience. I thought I was bringing them bad news.
Everybody sat down and I said, “Okay guys, I have some really tough news. It’s really tough. I want you to know, it’s going to be okay.”
I said, “As of Thursday, we’re not going to come to the office anymore. You’re all going to work from home or a location where you can get your job done, and I’m so sorry. I’m letting you guys down, I realize that this is your life and I realize that this is – we’re a family.”
“My team started slow clapping.
“People to the left of me stood up, and it was the first time as a CEO of anything that I got a standing ovation.”
I was in my office, thinking I’m letting everybody down, looking around the table. I was emotional, too. I literally was on the verge of tears saying, “I’m so sorry.”
Thursday came and it was amazing.
We didn’t lose a single customer, I was able to place ads across the world for people to work for my agency across the country and that was my moment when I said, “This is cool. This is going to get the agency back to a spot where I can compete globally.”
“I can compete with wages and I can expand the company because guess what? I don’t need this 5,500-square foot office, right? People will figure out where to play fooze ball. They don’t need a nerf gun armory, right? Come on. They’re figuring it out.”
My COO and myself, he was much closer to my age and my tactics of running business at the time, we came in every day because we had a lease to pay and we really – that was still our style but we walked into this huge office every day by ourselves for five months until the lease ran out.
That’s when I said, “Chris, I am out of here. We need to get to what’s important to us and we need to have a good time, we need to work hard and we need to get things done. But we need to have experiences like they are.”
The rest is history. I still had no idea about the book. I hadn’t ventured out, I wasn’t accepted in this incredible program that I ended up being selected for. But I just knew that that was the future of work.
What was it like getting accepted into Remote Year?
Remote Year was these two guys that started this company. Incredible, bright, young men. Because when they started the company, they were both in their 20’s and both come from Silicon Valley.
“I didn’t know that 68,000 people were applying for 70 opportunities.”
had no idea I was going to be picked. I just kept going through the process and thinking, “What’s the business model? I don’t understand this, how are they making money?”
I was with a client on a photo shoot in Hawaii. I was literally standing in the water and my phone rang. I picked it up and they said.
“John, congratulations, you’ve been picked, you’re leaving in 55 days to live and work around the world.”
How did John Elston prepare to work remotely for a year?
I left on the road May 28th 2016 and packed along with me was a year supply of high blood pressure medicine, pre-diabetes medicine, sleeping pills, and a backup for pain and anxiety. It was ridiculous, right?
I came back 28 pounds lighter. I don’t want this to sound like I’m turning into a health study or medical commercial but I lived it, I did it.
I even became a better value to my own company because I wasn’t just walking down the hallway to my converted closet or bedroom into my office.
“I was walking through the streets of Venezuela, I was walking through the streets of Lima Peru, through Bogota, to Medellin. I was working every day with incredible talent and I was providing my own inspiration.”
When you run your own company or you are the key decision maker, people don’t often give you the positive feedback. You usually get negative feedback. It’s not very often where you’re hearing the good things. You’re accepting and you’re being reactive to things that are happening and I always thought, “Gosh, this is why I’m so stressed out.” I’d put myself in this position of carrying all this burden.
The reality was, it happened to everybody I was living with. We all felt inspired and we took that pressure off of our companies. We walked around every day going, my job is to motivate, my job is to inspire, my job is to provide opportunity to create experiences.
I was living with people that came from Philadelphia and New York, Chicago, major gateway cities that no longer needed to have a billable rate of $175 an hour. They could literally provide tremendous value with an inspirational output, for a third of the price.
Guess what? Most of them didn’t even have to accept the third of the price. They still took their regular price and their regular wage but they had options. They could work less if they wanted to.
The future of work is now. Millions of people are doing this.
What do HR policy makers, CEO’s, and entrepreneurs need to know about remote teams?
You do your best work when you’re inspired. Best work as a father, a son, a daughter, a friend, an employee, a CEO, a board of director.
“When you’re inspired, you do your best work.”
We need people to be inspired. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of HR policy makers over the last year and a half about what they were stumbling against and what walls they were running into.
Every word that came out of their mouth was the same word that would have come out 20 years ago when I was coming up through the ranks of the corporate level:
“They want team players, they want people to collaborate, they want loyalty, they want trust. They want self-starters and they want people that are good at working on a team and working alone. Those things don’t change.
“But where those people are has changed.”
They’re no longer looking through newspapers looking for jobs, most of them aren’t even going to job postings anymore.
They’re freelancing, they’re being 1099 individuals, they’re in the gig economy. They’re looking for their own gig teams and opportunity to build experiences.
We have to be willing to change, and go where the talent goes.
There are so many companies that have a mission statement of having the world’s best talent. They’re just looking and moving in the wrong places.
What do companies need to do in order to attract A-players?
It’s a major shift. It’s not just making the decision to say, “Let’s let people work from home!” It’s the entire package of offerings and opportunities.
“The best talent in the world is not looking for their employer to provide the experiences of their life.
“They’re not looking for the employer to take care of them in retirement. They are not looking for a crude vacation days or paid sick leave.
“They are looking for flexibility, they’re looking for experiences, they’re looking for a real way to take play and life and work and to tie it together with a team that they select.”
A team that they are comfortable with, that they get along with, and won’t be forced into a meeting room or a conference room with people that are selected by others.
The end result is the best talent in the world is really, really good at doing what they do on their own and freelancing, but more importantly, finding out how they work together with people that they’ve had success with.
So they’re taking a big part of the responsibility that we always took on as leaders of feeling this obligation to have to put together teams and they’re creating their own team geniuses.
They are creating their own gig teams and they are bringing value to companies so that they can save time for the company, and for themselves. They are checking off their bucket list, and doing the best work of their life while they’re at it.
What is John Elston’s favorite success story from The Remote Revolution?
In my first month, I landed in the Czech Republic on a Saturday morning after flying from California to New York into the Czech Republic. The next morning, for the very first time, I got to meet 69 other people. 70 of us from 17 different countries all around the world. I was going to live with and I was going to work with for an entire year.
It was like walking into this incredible energetic mystery. We walked into this rehab warehouse that had been turned into creative space and the energy was so high. Everywhere I looked I just saw excitement.
I looked back at the very first picture we took together as a group. There were 70 of us traveling around the world.
When I sat there center top of this picture, I looked to my left. I had no idea that the person next to me was an incredible videographer. A 24-year-old, out of Philadelphia. On my right was a scientist from Amsterdam who had written a book.
Within the first 30 to 60 days, I immediately knew that there was an opportunity both on the corporate and company side.
All of us showed up with really no expectations of what the next year is going to look like for us as individuals. We knew that we were going to be creators. We knew that we were going to be providers to our companies because our mix of people that were in this room.
50% were entrepreneurs, freelancers and 1099ers, and the other 50% worked for Fortune 100 companies. So even though we were there with different missions, we knew that this experience was going to be something really big. I knew I was taking part of a revolution, because all of my years in the corporate world and then entrepreneurially starting my own companies I had never been surrounded by such incredible talent all in one room at one time.
I just took that and said, “If we’re here in Prague today 70 of us, how many more opportunities around the world are there that can be expanded upon?” And out of this one year of travelling together, there were many startups. There was money that was raised, there were companies that were started. There were collaboration sessions for Fortune 100 companies that took place by this talent.
How can The Remote Revolution change our lives this week?
Wake up tomorrow and realize that you do your best work when you’re inspired.