How One Tech VP Kept His Job And Saved His Family Farm From Bankruptcy, All From An RV.
In his first corporate job, Matt Edwards received some advice that never really aligned with his visions.
“You can be remote if you want a job, but if you want a career, you need to be in an office.“
Several years later, working for Cobalt, a tech startup specializing in penetration testing as a service, his role as VP Customer Success had all the hallmarks of the career he had set out for. Good colleagues, stimulating work, good pay, and a great city to enjoy his after-hours.
While the well-intentioned guidance he received in his early years may have held true a year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic and the changing industry practices would surely have rendered the advice obsolete.
Pandemic woes for the family
Matt hails from Machias, Maine. A quick inspection of a map verifies that while he was living in San Francisco, he was closer to Hawaii than Home.
His career trajectory was heading upwards, all the while his family farm some 3,500 miles away selling CBD oil was also bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. Other farmers in the region were going bankrupt and he was nowhere nearby. Matt was desperate to help them out
With impeccable timing and good fortune, Cobalt was rapidly outgrowing its office space in San Francisco. The company had brought up the idea of becoming a remote-first company as early as January 2020. Their decision was all too easy with the arrival of the pandemic. Matt could keep his job while returning to his family.
From a personal finance perspective it was quite obvious too. A tiny apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the world just to enjoy indoor isolation? Escaping California was a no-brainer. But preferring to social distance, flying wouldn’t really be an option.
Cue the purchase of a recreational vehicle with a retractable 20ft aerial for connectivity, and an epic journey home. His route was possibly the furthest point-to-point journey one can make within the Contiguous 48 States. With his Italian Mastiff for company, their journey home took three weeks, all without missing a single day of work and being able to manage his team of 40 remotely.
He arrived in good time and was able to assist in transforming the farm from one of the smallest to the largest in the region. Job done then, and back on the road.
I was able to catch him while he was in Indiana for some maintenance work on his RV. Slow travel was the name of the game and he was heading westwards. I asked where he was going but he didn’t know either.
Judging by the stunning photos, social distancing didn’t appear to be the slightest of concerns. Acres of space, none of the hubbub of San Francisco, allowing Matt to remain as focussed on his job as ever while enjoying his love of outdoor sports.
Distributed Work Force, and Pay Parity
Cobalt added an office in Berlin to their portfolio recently, so that they could hire European talent. While these offices currently sit unused due to the pandemic, it is envisaged that these would serve as hot seats allowing employees from any base to come work should they want the camaraderie of colleagues.
I couldn’t help but ask Matt about how Cobalt ensures fair pay. If someone could feasibly have been hired by any one of the offices, how would someone know the company is not taking advantage of the situation and offer differing remuneration to people located in the same region?
Matt stated that Cobalt’s approach is to at least match or better their competitors’ pay to allow a certain standard of living. From the company’s perspective this would mean matching the market in which the person resides and that the pay would be adjusted as they move around, whether by choice of the employee, or due to the necessities of Cobalt.
After a year of restricted movement, companies around the world must be trying to ensure their employees can boost their mental health in order to juggle the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and personal time.
Just a year and a half ago when Matt was interviewing for his position at Cobalt, one of his primary reasons for picking was their vision of work culture. “One Cobalt”, as the company calls it internally, is their core value of trust and laissez-faire. Perhaps exacerbated by the pandemic, the company tries to hire people who are self-starters and reliably deliver work without much impetus.
He admits that when people started working remotely he expected people to work less but conversely found people to work longer hours instead. So he tries to ensure a team of rested staff by asking people to take time off if someone has not done so for a while.
Themed Task Days
Due to the nature of Matt’s seniority in the company, his work changes regularly between company strategy and managerial work, with not much overlap between them. One of Matt’s tips to ensure efficiency in his own workflow was to introduce “Themed Task Days” for himself. To minimize context switching and the mental friction that comes with it, he would dedicate entire days to work of a certain kind.
And to enforce structure such that “work is work and play is play”, his rather rigorous exercise routine perhaps guarantees his mind fully disconnects from work.
Perhaps not the words I would hear from a Vice President of a now 150-strong company, especially having been surrounded by digital nomads — think laptop on a beach — whose work was tailored to their lifestyle ambitions. But Matt’s remote work setup and being able to experience the Great Outdoors while having his entire apartment travel with him sounds amazing. This really manifested itself in his relaxed demeanor as we spoke.
The liberty to do this is certainly facilitated by the right company ethos, which it seems Cobalt allows, but similarly managing over 40 staff while permanently on the road is highly commendable.
Published at Thu, 11 Mar 2021 04:06:18 +0000