The Remote X: Edwin of TRNDLabs

By Keni Teh, 10 May, 2017

The Remote X is a series by the Planetary team to feature the experiences of remote teams across the world (literally!). Every week, we interview people leading or working in remote teams and share their knowledge with others in the hopes that we can all grow and benefit from their experiences.

Art by Vince Joy

Edwin Haan is the HR advisor at TRNDLabs, a brand that manufactures stylish gadgets and fashionable tech such as mini-drones. In this interview, we find out more from Edwin about how his remote team works, the tools they use and challenges he faces as a HR advisor for his company.

Hey Edwin! First off, are you guys fully remote?

Right now we call ourselves a distributed team, but we started out with an office here in the Netherlands and we hired some people that actually live around the office. So we still have the office, but to be honest, at the moment I’m all alone here and everybody else is somewhere else … (laughs) we don’t use it much — not as much as we used to.

How big is your team?

We’ve got some people who are working as freelancers, but we consider them to be a part of the team. We have 10 people under contract and 3 or 4 freelancers.

So you’re based in the Netherlands right now, right?

Yep!

Tell me more about yourself and what you do in TRNDLabs!

I’m in charge of HR, so everything human resources: contracts, policies and setting up of employees. Besides that, together with Gerard (founder & CEO of TRNDlabs), I am also in charge of the sales — more specifically, keeping in contact with all our resellers.

How do you structure your day while working remotely?

That’s a good question! It’s very different for everyone here. To be honest, I’m quite disciplined regarding working hours, especially since my job as a salesperson requires emails to be answered within a certain amount of time.

What I usually do is that I start at 8am and end at 4pm, and then from 4–5 I go to the gym. When I come home and have my dinner, I have the entire evening off. That’s what I do pretty much everyday. But some team members work from 10–3, take a break and work in the evening, or start even earlier etc.

Why did you guys choose to grow a distributed team?

If you look at it from an HR mindset, it’s pretty stupid to only look for people that live near the office while the entire world is full of people who know a lot of stuff. I don’t believe that the best people live within a range of 5 kilometres of our office — they are worldwide. The biggest reason why we chose to make a distributed team is just because we want to have the best people for the job.

I also think it’s healthy to have different cultures in a company, just the same way as it is healthy for a company to have half female or half male, instead of totally female or totally male.

How often does your team meet face-to-face or do video conference calls?

Each Monday at 12pm, we have team meetings where the entire team joins up and talk about what we are going to do, what we did, and what our obstacles will be — just to inform each other and to keep each other sharp-minded, as well as to see and talk to each other again.

Once a year, we also have a team meet up where the entire team gets flown over by plane to a certain location where we all join in as some kind of like a party-work week.

How does your team keep organized or productive?

Well, we use a lot of tools — Slack and Trello, which are the basic things that are being used by everybody. Besides that, we use Google Drive, where we organize everything. It also depends on each department… for example, we use some CRM tools for sales.

I think Google Drive is the most important part — if it disappears, the whole company basically disappears with it!

“I think Google Drive is the most important part — if it disappears, the whole company basically disappears with it.”

How much of an emphasis do you put on keeping your team members emotionally connected?

What I do as an HR manager is that every two months, I dial in personally with everybody to check how things are going. They can tell me anything, and everything that’s being said is private. Besides that, I’ve also got an employee satisfaction survey which I do every six months just to check that we’re still on schedule — which are also filled in anonymously, so that people will actually give honest answers!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while managing your remote team as the HR guy?

We came from a Netherlands based company that had to be transformed to a distributed team. It might be good to know that here in the Netherlands, everything is arranged perfectly for employees. As soon as we hire an employee that lives in the Netherlands, they get insurance, and they pay for taxes here — it’s all included in the salary.

The biggest challenge is making sure that the benefits that the Dutch employees have are the same for the people who live somewhere else. But it’s really hard, because each country has different policies and different laws, so we had to create a policy that covers them all [fairly].

I see. On a different note, what’s the best thing/your favorite thing about your team?

I would say… the fun! It’s really weird to have a distributed team that you rarely meet face-to-face, except on Skype. There’s a tool called GIPHY that we use a lot in our conversations. We use a lot of GIFs just to add a bit of extra emotion to the words that we’re saying — I mean, I’ve seen people here crying from laughter behind their desk because of a funny gif — so that’s freaking awesome, I would say.

Describe your remote working experience in 5 words or less!

Challenging, and extremely fun!

Any last advice for anyone out there working remotely, or thinking of doing so?

What I would say is just try it! A lot of people are scared for reasons that are very stupid, actually — saying “you can’t hire people somewhere else because they’ll probably be on facebook all day”. Eventually, that tells more about the person who criticizes us than the people that we hire. So just give it a try and if it doesn’t work, you’ll find out soon enough!

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We would like to say thank you to Edwin for giving us insight into his remote working experience! Find him on LinkedIn here.