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Molood Ceccarelli, Founder & CEO of Remote Forever™

Oftentimes, simplicity is the driving force to success whether it be simplicity in your day, your business, or overall in your life. In this Accomplished Peeps interview, we connected with Molood Ceccarelli, Founder and CEO of Remote Forever™, an organization specialized in consulting & educating for the purpose of bringing remote work to the agile world. Molood shared with us how going back to basics, grounding into purpose, working towards what you believe in and desire, and leading with a remote-first mindset is the combo that has led her to where she is today.

Successful leaders like Molood are humble leaders, who are continually focused on making the world better for us all. They never once take for granted how far they’ve come, they allow themselves to be vulnerable in their experiences, while at the same time, soaking in the immense knowledge and insight around, using it to help them rise to the occasion and lead from a place of strength and authenticity.

Let's dive in and get to know a bit more about the day to day of this accomplished leader who is making a huge impact in the remote working space.

What does a 'typical' workday look like for you?

My typical workday starts after my personal care morning routine. Following this, I...

  • Check my morning greetings, my message with reminders and to-do items that my assistant has prepared for me.
  • Look into our task management system and spend time on strategic planning for the business.
  • Make sure we have all tasks prioritized correctly so that we do not end up in reactive mode, but rather have a balance between proactive and reactive work daily.
  • Spend the first hour of my workday completing the most complex tasks of the day. This can vary from creating content for a new video course, creating video content for social media, or writing a new blog post or offer. Then, I begin my consulting day with my client.

Sometimes consulting consumes my entire day and other times it’s a little less time-consuming. In terms of meetings for the day, sometimes I have sales meetings and other times I meet with existing clients or students of our courses (all online meetings of course). But since we have developed and optimized our communication systems and processes at Remote Forever to value individual freedom and effective interaction, we do not rely on meetings for communication internally. Therefore outside of external meetings, most of my day is spent on creative and strategic work. I usually take a half-an-hour break for lunch. If I don’t feel hungry I use that time to do a short session of yoga or meditation.

"I spend the last hour of each day of the week monitoring one strategic aspect of the business to make sure that both my team and I work on the business as well as working in the business."

I am very strict with my work hours and never allow work time to spill into my private time. So when the workday is over, usually around 6 or 7 pm, I go over to meet my family and spend time with them. Lastly, I end every day with some reading to keep expanding and growing my mind.

What about your workplace setup contributes to your productivity & ability to better manage your day?

In one word: minimalism. Less is certainly more. I am a minimalist in life and in work. I truly believe that owning very few items and simplifying every aspect of life and business (including workspace and work processes) is the biggest contributor to my productivity. Before the pandemic, I enjoyed picking a new place like a hotel lobby, lounge, or a café and working from there for a few days. I traveled a lot and sticking to one place for a week or so was the consistency I had in my workplace. When the pandemic happened, I realized I had never worked from my home and therefore did not even own a desk. So I spent a few hundred dollars on buying a desk and an ergonomic chair. Besides this, I didn’t invest in any further equipment because I already had really high-quality portable equipment that I used before, like a great microphone, ring light, etc.

During the pandemic, I stopped using my Logitech webcam and switched over to using my iPhone as a web camera as it offers much better image quality than every webcam I’ve tested. But as I said before, my video setup is used mostly for content creation for our courses and social media, and the occasional client meeting. Other than that, since I do not rely on meetings, much and most of my workday is spent in creative and strategic work, I can work from anywhere really. However, what I am protective of is how I use the space. If the space is set up for work, then work is the only thing that happens there. No workout, no lunch, no family calls can happen from that place. I’ll explain this in more detail later.

What are your staple non-negotiable routines and rituals that you believe make you a more successful leader?

That’s a great question as I actually use the word “non-negotiable” in my self-talk too. My morning routine is non-negotiable. I often wake up energized and intentionally avoid looking at my phone or computer for at least an hour after that. My morning routine includes a yoga session followed by aerobics or a HIIT workout followed by a protein and greens-based breakfast (mostly an omelet and some spinach) and of course the only poison I allow into my body: coffee.

Another non-negotiable in my routine is the separation of my workspace and lifespace in terms of physical space, technology, and time.

Let me elaborate on this…

Time

My work has a start time and an end time and a break in the middle for lunch. I do not negotiate starting earlier or ending my workday later with employees or clients.

My physical space

The desk and chair I use for work, whether it’s in a corner of my living room or in a café or on my balcony, is only used for work. If I need to call my doctor in the middle of the day, I take the call from a different space. If I need to eat lunch, I do so at a different table (or a different side of the dining table if I’m working there). This physical separation has a significant impact on my psychological well-being and consequently on my ability to have clarity in my mind.

The separation of tools and technology

This is harder for most people to adopt. What it means is, I use my laptop for work only. I use virtual desktops for each client and a different one for internal Remote Forever work. The habit I have developed is to never use my phone for work. That means I do not even have work related applications installed on my phone. In the past, at some point I had two phones, one for work and one for personal use. I used to leave the work phone in my computer bag when my workday ended. Right now if I want to watch a funny Youtube video, I do not do that on my computer. I do so on my phone as my phone is only used for personal matters. Similarly, applications on the phone must be separated. For example when I hired my sister to help in my business, I communicated about work related matters with her via Slack and used Signal for family related matters or sisters chit chat. Not mixing life and work is crucial in staying effective and efficient as a leader while maintaining the many relationships we all have in life.

What's one piece of unconventional advice you would give to your former self?

Don’t ever wait for anyone to give you a piece of cake. Bake the cake yourself.

What's one fun fact about you?

I can touch my head with my toe without any warm up. Hahaha. Seriously, I can. But maybe more fun than that is that I was the first person in my entire extended family to ever go abroad. Later I helped my siblings to move abroad to different countries. Now my siblings and I each speak a language none of the others speak or understand. Additionally, we all have partners from different cultures and languages. My parents don’t speak English. So when the whole family gathers together in one country for holidays, our dinner conversations are really funny. Since there is no common language, every time someone makes a funny anecdote in a language, that anecdote gets translated into 5 or 6 different languages around the table and there’s always a wave of domino laughter that follows. It is hilarious.

What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote improved remote communication & collaboration?

The best ones are - as you can guess - those that are fully remote where workers have a choice to work from wherever they want. Two of my employees, for example, live in vans and travel around the world. They sometimes work from the van and sometimes from a café and sometimes from somewhere in the middle of nature. It’s their choice and I would never force them to work from a specific location or use specific equipment.

"We also value asynchronous communication over meeting or chatting in real-time which improves the way we communicate and collaborate."

Apart from that, some of the greatest workplace initiatives that I’ve seen are those that are enhancing the local economies of various islands or small towns by providing coworking and co-living spaces for digital nomads. I believe such initiatives have a bright future as they attract mid-term stay, introduce the local culture and improve the local economy of these digital-nomad-friendly towns.

Some of the worst workplace initiatives I’ve seen are clearly those that install spy software on employees’ computers just to know whether or not the employee is working. Another really bad workplace setup is open office plans with mandatory attendance in the office. It’s backward thinking to mandate employees to commute for two hours every day to sit in a distracting noisy and crowded open plan office and have video calls with colleagues in other offices or cities. Hybrid workplaces with mandatory attendance in the office (x-days in the office) are amongst the worst initiatives too.

"In essence, every initiative that focuses on the whereabouts of employees instead of their well-being and productivity is a real estate policy and not a workplace policy and is therefore considered a terrible workplace initiative."

How would you describe the power of asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication ensures that the sender can send a well-thought-out message at the time they are ready to do so and gives the recipient of the message the freedom to choose to receive, process and respond at the time they are physically, emotionally and mentally ready to do so.

Asynchronous communication releases people from obligation or reactiveness to time limits and brings freedom of choice and peace of mind to the collaboration.

How do you personally develop and cultivate a remote-first mindset for yourself as a leader?

The remote-first mindset is synonymous with the idea of my core personality theme i.e. inclusion. I value every single individual, their freedom, their choice and their ability to work from wherever they are comfortable at and at the time they are at their peak. To ensure that I am continuously able to cultivate a remote-first culture at my company, I have dedicated time daily to work on the business and not in the business.

The biggest threat to a remote-first mindset is the culture of always responding and reacting to whatever is most urgent at the time. I make sure that priority is a factor of importance and urgency. If we only respond to urgent matters, we will ignore important work. By dedicating time to strategic planning and having a culture of continuous improvement, we are able to value what’s important over what’s urgent and in fact not wait until urgent and important are the same thing.

Who would you like to recognize as a successful leader, and, what about their leadership habits & practices resonate most with you?

Blair Kaplan Venables. Blair is clear, resilient and very organized in her leadership. She also always communicates effectively and adapts her communication and processes to the people she’s working with. I’ve worked with Blair on a couple of projects and I’ve been in awe of the enthusiasm, dedication and originality that she brings to the team she’s leading. Knowing her a bit more on a personal level, I also think her ability to rise from the most devastating situations and still be able to shine through is truly inspiring.

Who has been the biggest advocate/mentor in your career as a leader and why?

My biggest advocates and mentors are actually these two:

In early childhood and adolescence, my biggest advocate was my mother. She once told me: “Do not wait for your rights to be given to you. Go and take them”. She helped me overcome my fear of not fitting in, encouraged me to be okay with being different from others and helped me go after every goal I had set for myself, even though our family was not wealthy nor had much means or connections. Later in life, she told me that she had done all that because she did not want her daughters to grow up with the same limitations she had grown up with. And this, in Iran, a country that generally limits women, their rights and their abilities to make advancements in education and careers meant the world to me. I sometimes feel that despite all the hurdles and challenges I’ve overcome, I grew up with a lot of freedom compared to most other girls and women who were born and raised in that country. My mother empowered me to see possibilities in a world where others saw limitations. And I owe most of my courage to her.

My second advocate and mentor is the love of my life, a charming and handsome man, who rolls (pun intended) the world on a wheelchair, whom I met in the first year I had moved to Sweden. He has helped me design and create the life I have today. While every coach I’ve had, has at some point, given into my strongly logical and well-versed excuses, my husband has been consistently able to see right through my excuses and has helped me break through them one by one. He never lets me settle and always encourages me to reach for more and become more. He’s been the biggest supporter of my growth ever since I met him. He has an unmatched ability to care for people deeply and is able to see them not just for who they are but also the potential they haven’t fulfilled yet. He has been the best advocate and the best advisor in most of the difficult choices I’ve had to make in my life and career.