DistantJob’s Sharon Koifman Interview — On Helping Businesses Find Exceptional Remote Workers Fast and Cost-Effectively

You can benefit from remote work whether you’re considering earning money online or you own a business.

If your website has grown and you’re looking to hire top talent — developers, VAs, accountants, or consultants — you might consider remote workers.

Well, you probably get it by now. Hiring top talent is tough work.

On the other hand, if you hope to work remotely, you understand that finding quality employees or clients isn’t always easy. For employers, trying to convince an exceptional developer to migrate and join your company can be costly and time-consuming.

Some organizations can’t afford that time or financial expense; others want to avoid the hassle, all together.

That’s where remote workers fit.

Distant employees, whether full-time or not, remove geographic barriers and you also get your desired talent regardless of location. By now we probably know that the labor landscape is being shaped by remote work.

Why Employers Struggle to Hire and Manage Remote Workers and How to Fix It

Even before the COVID-19, distant jobs have been on the rise. The last decade has witnessed a 400 percent growth in remote work.

The challenge?

Lots of companies focus more on the job skills of their remote team than the personal characteristics that make them a good fit for remote work and their organization. That’s the problem that DistantJob solves.

In my conversation with Sharon Koifman, he talks about getting remote workers for businesses, with a focus on developers and IT experts, and plans to include other job types.

My Discussion with Sharon Koifman

Image Credit: DistantJob

1. Hello, please introduce yourself

My name is Sharon Koifman. I run a company called DistantJob

We are a unique recruitment agency that specializes in remote employees. That means we go all over the world to find the best and the smartest people. 

We go to companies and solicit some of the best talents, with the enticement of having them work from home, and they work remotely for North American and Western technology companies. 

2. Why “DistantJob,” what does the name mean? Tell us the story behind the name?

First of all, in our world, you get whatever dot com is available. That is nonsense. This is the name they had available on dot com, which fitted my needs perfectly. 

There’s no question about what other names could have explained it better. DistantJob is a straightforward name.

3. What personal experiences or realizations inspired Distant Job? Please give us a brief history of DistantJob, the business.

I originally ran a web hosting company, an outsourcing company where I had two offices in India. 

The outsourcing model was an interesting model at the time. People did come to me to create project web designs, and they did it because I managed to lower the cost of living drastically. But, I very carefully noticed that some of the companies would outsource their core skills. 

Software companies would outsource software development roles, and web design companies would outsource web development roles because I would just simply lower the cost of living, which was very unusual. In my opinion, they were literally selling their souls for some cheaper work. 

The reality at the time was that if you wanted to work with international talent, you would want to go offshore. If you want to have access to this massive pool of talent across the world, you need to outsource. And that was a problem because that individual did not work and function by your processes.

The person that was working for you was not fully invested. Of course, there was a manager who was not focused and was working on multiple projects and was always thinking of the next project. The employees didn’t even necessarily communicate, or they didn’t even speak English. You didn’t know if they’re working with your methods.

In my opinion, working with this model was literally a gamble. You would give a project description, and you would hope that something remotely like what you wanted would come out of it. The alternative to this is having remote people, working directly for you by your intuition, by your processes, by your culture.

When I sold the first company, I realized that that was the real weakness. That was the real challenge. And I decided to focus on just finding good and amazing talents that work directly for that client.

Instead of doing projects and taking care of things that I am not necessarily qualified to do, I am at least not more qualified to do than the person running that company. And that’s how it evolved.

4.  Why did you make Remote IT Job Recruitment your priority problem to solve?

There are approximately about 700 different kinds of programming languages. About 20 of them are active ones. And now with those 20 languages, you have libraries, you have platforms, you have different databases, different releases. The combinations are unlimited, and there are legitimately about a hundred active different combinations that companies need these days. I know nobody created a standard, but that’s the reality. 

If you need an amazing garbage man, there aren’t many combinations out there, and you can find them within your region. However, if you need an amazing programmer, being limited to one specific area is a real handicap. You need to search the world to find one, and we know the world is big. 

You will have access to a massive pool of talents. And that is a huge advantage. And of course, there’s the other side to this which I explained earlier where people go to the world and want to take advantage of this massive pool of talent. 

They usually work with uncommitted, freelancers, and outsourcers and not the kind of people that they need who will make your company their reason for being their reason for working. And that’s why we are there to just focus on full time, permanent, fully integrated individuals. 

5. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, most companies have been forced to shut down or work remotely. Is Distantjob helping companies leverage remote work to remain productive at this time?

We are the perfect solution for hiring remote people. We have been doing this for 13 years, and we are experts in this industry. 

We also help clients by offering free consulting to them and helping them become better remote managers. So that alone is incredibly powerful. 

If people still need to expand, and they are ready for remote management, they will need to hire full time, permanent people, not temporary contractors. So this is the solution that we bring. 

6. According to Ziprecruiter, as of April 02, 2020, the average annual pay for a remote software developer in the United States is $111,781 a year. Following the layoffs resulting from the pandemic, do you think that remote IT and software developers will see a cut in their pay? Should we anticipate any other changes in the remote working environment during and after this coronavirus?

Image Credit: Ziprecruiter

The statistics say that every five years, the demand for programmers doubles. This research depicts history, and it is not a projection. 

So, is it going to be a slow delay? Or is it a little hiccup in demand for, and the need for more programmers and more technologists? Maybe. I do see this as a hiccup in my own opinion. It will reflect the salaries of programmers, probably until the pandemic is over, and everything will get back to normal. 

7. Since the launch of Distantjob, what would you say has worked to attract and retain clients?

You know, it might be a cliche, it might be a generic answer, but it’s all about the quality of people. It’s also about value, right? 

We not only find exceptional people, but we also find them at an incredible value. But, it is about quality, and there is nothing that I can do in this interview to prove to you. The proof is in the pudding.

When we deliver people, our clients continuously compliment us that the caliber of individuals that we find is far superior to competitors, especially competitors that are limited to one region.

8. You specialize in recruiting developers and IT experts. Do you have plans in the future to expand to other fields? Why?

We are already expanding to the accounting field, right? We are dipping our toes. We’re very good with virtual assistants

The virtual assistants that we provide are the ones that you don’t need to spend more time explaining than actually doing the work. This is very, very important because it’s a big challenge to get great virtual assistants. 

We want to dip our toes a little bit to anywhere that requires remote employees. But what is exciting for me as of today is to change the accounting industry. To wake them up. 

I don’t think that accounting can’t really easily be done remotely. Legal is not that far behind. Service industries should be easy to execute, especially ones that you need to produce like accounting can easily be done remotely, and we want to provide those people. 

9. Can you briefly take us through the rudiments of hiring the right talent? How have you ensured the job is given to the right candidate?  

People understand the specific skill that they require, right? They do a great job defining the combination of platforms and libraries and everything that we discussed before, frameworks, and all of that. 

What they don’t think about as much is what kind of person they want to work with, personality-wise. And this is understanding your company’s culture. 

To be more specific, culture is such a cliche but understanding what kind of personality you enjoy working with is important to the interview process. Defining your values, defining your expectations. 

Do you want the person who just delivers on a product? Or do you want somebody that really integrates with part of the team? Those are always extras to fit in the CV that nobody pays attention to. 

I remember 10 years ago when I made CVs, I would literally take the core skills and paste them into all the other cliches. I want some teamwork. I want a team worker. I want a great personality. I want great communication. All these stuff were just cliches that I filled out and I pasted in the core skills. 

I personally feel that people don’t think enough about those extras and those extras are very important in order to build an amazing team. 

10. Based on your experience, what are your best tips for managing remote workers?

A little bit of renegade to the remote community. Because I actually do believe in replicating the majority of things that you would want to have in an office experience. 

Of course, you want to eliminate one of the worst problems of an office environment, which is distractions, right? But otherwise, everything is pretty similar besides that in a physical environment, you can get away with not being such a good manager but here you really do need to invest more. 

One big difference between the remote environment and the physical one is the mental health of the individual. You need to pay attention. You need to get to know the people that you work with on a personal level, to be able to assess their energy, whether they’re burnt out, whether they’re depressed about being forced to move home so paying attention to mental health is key, right? 

Paying attention to distractions is also important. Don’t replicate your office experience of just randomly showing up in the middle of somebody’s work and start chatting with them. 

If you leave people alone to work and not drag them to meetings randomly and chit chat with them and everything, you will get the same production in three hours than you would have an entire eight hour day shift. I mean, there’s stats to show that an average worker in an office environment, doing an eight-hour shift produces in about two hours and 53 minutes. 

To avoid distractions, you can send a message saying, ‘let’s talk when you’re ready,’ ‘I can’t talk right now.’ Your team members can also give task updates on a project management software. These are the two pointers that I can give for now.

11. Do you have a system? Do you have something to help your clients with this?

I can only provide consultation on what great tools to use. I recommend project management software. It’s not proprietary to me.

We use Base camp, but there’s a son of this called Trello. There’s now a great app called Monday. You need these software for documentation. And you don’t need to bug your employees. 

These are perfect tools where your employees can document their efforts themselves. It is actually encouraged and it is my way of telling employees ‘How do I not nag you? Write down your goals in the morning and tell me at the end of the day what you have accomplished. I’m not going to bother you and you’re done.’ But of course, this requires good software. 

There are other tools which are awesome like Zoom, Slack, etc. I really recommend giving employees the best headphones that you can afford. It is still important. 

Zoom conversations have shown to be exhausting for people. It’s exhausting because of what I call the “Watch McAllen Effect” It is all these little disturbances that they see; the lights, the quality of the sound, etc. 

These are small investments that you can give your employees. You’ve got to make sure they have a good headset on with a good microphone. There’s Bose and there’s Sony but these are no good because they have an awful microphone. They play great music but they’re not made for communication. 

I’m using a Job Revolver. This is a company that specializes in communication. You hear the quality of the sound that comes out of my headphones, right? This is a professional mic coming out of a headset. That’s cool stuff to have. 

So, a quality headset is important, proper webcam, although a webcam is usually not a bottleneck, nice lights to make it happen and always purchase two versions higher on your internet connection than you already have. 

So, whatever seems to work by two versions, probably could cost you an extra 20 or 30 bucks per month, it makes the difference. Because even if you have a nice communication, sometimes just that extra boost in the internet reduces the latency. 

12. A LinkedIn post from Brendan Rogers of 2am, a micro-investing company, recently went viral. People’s overwhelmingly positive response to that post seems to validate their desire to work remotely.

Would you consider the coronavirus pandemic the tipping point of remote work? Will businesses change their HR structures to become more remote going forward? How would you interpret the current remote work sentiments, is it just for the moment?

This is already backed up by statistics. 

First of all, if you look at Gardner’s research, 74 percent of CFOs believe that at least 5 percent of their employees will stay home. This is unavoidable because the longer this coronavirus lasts is directly proportional to how many people are going to get used to the concept of remote working and never want to go back to the office. This then becomes part of negotiations and employees now get to ask questions like ‘are you going to pay me more for coming to the office?’ 

They may not ask this directly, but that’s what is going to end up happening. They’re liking their new working arrangements, so the bosses need to sit and negotiate them returning to the office. 

Employees are always going to remember ‘I worked from home and I really loved it. And if my boss is not going to do that, I might start searching for another job.’ 

Working remotely is not great for everybody, based on my opinion, at least half the people will love working remotely. And the reality is research shows that employees who work remotely are more productive; they take less sick days and this is a benefit to the employers. 

Remote working will definitely make a huge change.

Image Credit: XpertHR

13. Building and sustaining a business is not an easy task. What challenges did you face while developing DistantJob? How did you manage those challenges?

Because we are a remote company, we have a bunch of sets of challenges such as How do you evaluate? How do you evaluate the work done remotely? How do you manage people when you don’t really know when they come in to work and when they leave? 

In the beginning, I would literally ask people to turn on the green button on their Skype when they come in and turn it off when they leave. But what is more important is to evaluate the actual work they have done. 

The way I dealt with it was to use Agile. Using a kind of a component and a somewhat hybrid version of a scrum, where I had people propose to me, what they think they can accomplish on their own and combined with other people in the group, challenging each other. I did this until I really got to understand how to evaluate how much effort was put into achieving the results that I was expecting to get on a daily basis. 

Company-wise, the challenge until today is marketing. It’s very hard to explain and it is a continuous battle to explain to people why you should hire remote people. 

Explaining if you hire remote people, why you need a recruiter, why you need HR, HR services, etc. All these have been a big challenge that I would say has prevented us from being a multi-billion-dollar company. 

The solution is PR which is what are we doing right now, explaining to as many people as possible.

14. What product improvement are you making currently at DistantJob?

We are a service at the end of the day but we are very focused on the HR aspect. We are focused on being an extra member of your team that helps in managing remote working. 

We believe that the client is the boss and needs to be the real manager, but we check on the pulse. We teach our clients about what’s going on in their area. We try to equip our clients with as much infrastructure so they can be the best remote managers possible. 

This is our mission and this is what we are working very hard to perfect. We are using this COVID-19 period to start updating our clients about what is happening and about how people are feeling. 

We want to go above and beyond to make the client understand what the situation is with our candidates.

15. Software development is one the top five in-demand, remote jobs and software developer jobs are expected to grow 22 percent by 2029. Application developer jobs have an even higher projected growth of 31 percent.

Overall, those are bright projections. But what specific fields and opportunities within the IT space have the greatest demand and potential for income growth? And why?

You have to be a specialist, you have to be a logical programmer. Anything from being a data analyst to AI to cryptocurrency, you have to be a specialist in something because when you really understand something better than the rest, you’re in good hands. And this is how you get those $200,000 and $300,000 a year salaries.

16. In the course of running DistantJob, what have you learnt that has been most helpful or most advantageous to you so far? 

The one thing that has been the most useful and of great advantage to me so far is that I believe in investing in people till they just get way smarter than you and way more talented than you are and I’m not trying to be lazy, but then you can chill and focus on bigger things. 

This is the number one thing for me. I’m talking management skills, making people more independent, being able to make decisions, thinking outside the box, creating bosses. I guess the best way to put it is, instead of just making managers work for me, I believe in investing in people enough that they feel like bosses and not just managers. And the people under them should also be invested in being the best that they can be in doing their job properly and making their own decisions. 

Creating independence is very powerful. You do this by making a mistake-friendly environment. Also by insisting on communication by penalizing employees for not communicating. This will make people that naturally sit back and say nothing think that they will look stupid and this will cause them to say something and prevent themselves from causing damage to themselves. Which in summary is that you are handicapping yourself by not being a contributor

17. What’s the best thing anyone ever said about DiststantJob?

I can go over the usual cliches that people, people are blown away by the quality of the individuals. But I have had two clients that actually said something interesting that they love the concept that I was not headhunting one individual and trying to sell them that individual.

The second is that if an individual that was provided did not improve, I jumped and provided them with three more alternatives. And for me, that was a big compliment. It means that I am creating a non-stress environment for my clients. ‘You’re not happy. No problem here. Let me find you a few more.’

So, of course, for quality in general, I get that compliment all the time. But that I’m creating a non-stressful environment for my client by finding quick alternatives is also something they’re extremely happy with.

18. What gives DistantJob an edge over its competitors?

We are experts in recruiting internationally, and that is a huge edge. We are able to do the same quality work as regular recruitment agencies. 

Although, what I don’t know is if these other recruitment agencies do a wonderful job, but we do it in a decentralized way. So, even if we do a little worse than a regular recruitment agency, the fact that we can recruit internationally is a massive edge. 

The ability to let people work from home is a huge edge because we are able to say to a senior programmer ‘hey, you get to work from home’. And sometimes the candidate literally says ‘Where do I sign? You’re letting me work from home!’ 

In the ‘introvert nerdy world,’ working from home is magical. It’s the best benefit and the only benefit that you can’t buy with money like all the other benefits such as health insurance, food, sick days. I can buy my own food if your company doesn’t give me a cafeteria. All I need to do is go outside and pay some money. 

Health insurance is just a question of money, same with sick pay and travel. They are all a question of money and are not real benefits. However, the benefit of working from home, you can’t buy this.

19. Sharon, how do you balance your life while managing a business that generates $3 million in revenue?

Well, I’m not managing it very well because my kids are home. Usually, the way that I manage work-life is by having as much fun as I can have by enjoying my family life as much as I can. 

Although, I insist for all my employees to have a work-life balance; work eight hours a day, don’t work too much, etc. But I specifically don’t need that limitation. I just need all the parts of my life to be fulfilled. 

When I was a single guy without a family, I worked like every other CEO. I worked many hours, as much as 12 or 13 hours, but I lived in the city. So, suddenly going for a drink after all the work was not a big deal. This was important because it kept my hardworking life balanced because I had social time, I had comfort time, and I had an enjoyable time even if I worked my ass off. 

Right now, my family fulfills me and I still need to have some social time. I still need to go out once or twice a week on dates with my wife. Sometimes for a boys night out. 

So, the key to me is not a question of how many hours but that I fulfilled everything I need to to keep my life balanced. And I don’t care about the length of time. 

If I have the opportunity to have an amazing long lunch with somebody and I’m having a blast, this automatically means I will work later than I normally would on such days. It may also be that I want to hang out with my kids and I end up also working late at night. 

Making sure I have all these components in my life is what balance means to me.

20. Every service or product gets negative comments. That’s normal. What’s the worst you’ve received? And how did you handle it?

We have had a lot of negative feedback. We have once in a while had a crazy employee. I have had two occasions in my career where a candidate will tell a client to ‘fuck off’ and that was really embarrassing.

I’ve had a candidate try to accomplish an eight-hour task in three hours. I have also had a client give a bonus to a candidate but we didn’t transfer the bonus and it made us look really bad. The client was really upset but we apologized for the oversight.

Generally, we don’t have angry clients. The only angry clients we have are the ones that don’t like to pay their bills (laughs).

21. What’s one fascinating thing about your product or life that you’ve never talked about to anyone?

I’m an open book. I really try to be as transparent as possible.

22. If an IT expert or recruiter who’s never used DistantJob got curious and read this interview, what would be your best advice to them on using the platform to achieve their business goals?

First of all, don’t forget to hire us to find you awesome people. Try to analyze how much more or less production you get out of hiring remote employees. You need to analyze your management and learn how to become a better manager and a remote manager. 

I’m coming up with my book in two months. You are more than welcome to read it. We also give free introduction consulting for companies on how to be better remote managers.

23. Tell us about your pricing and why it’s ideal for small businesses. Do you have any special pricing, for charities or academia, for example?

We include our margins with the service. Most of the money is a salary that goes to the candidates themselves and every individual has a different salary. 

What could be better than working with people in countries where the cost of living is much lower and that reflects on the salary. We’re talking about people with our costs, with our service, with everything, that literally function at about 50 percent of North American salaries depending on where you live. 

If it is in Montreal, it is about 60 percent or 70 percent. Silicon Valley is about 10 percent. It all depends on where you live but it is an average of 50 percent of North American technology companies. 

That is a huge benefit as you don’t need to invest in an office or computers and a bunch of other things that you may need. You are saving a lot of money and getting quality people at the same time. 

This is huge and beneficial for startups.

24. Would you say that DistantJob is causing a major shift or change in the remote-IT-jobs-headhunter space? Tell us about it.

I am completely changing the industry. The limitation that local recruitment agencies have is crazy. They limit themselves to one region and It is a massive disadvantage. 

Accessing a huge pool of talent is great. We are also focusing on remote people and remote people don’t waste time traveling. They take less sick days. They don’t stop in the middle of work because they need to go home. They finish their projects. 

MIT, Sloan has done research on remote people and found out that they are happier and more independent. Remote working is awesome in so many ways. And the fact that local recruitment agencies keep pushing the old school math model is so to the disadvantage of the client. We are completely disrupting this industry.

25. What’s the big picture, where would  DistantJob be in the next five to ten years?

The big picture is for ‘the remote recruitment agency’ to be a legitimate concept. It is going to be a model that does not require a lot of explaining anymore. And when this happens, we want to be the leader.


About DistantJob

We believe that every tech company – regardless of size and budget – deserves access to focused, full-time qualified IT talent that meets its skillset requirements, fits its culture, and wants to commit to a long-term career. 

Traditionally, the largest companies got a monopoly on the best people because they enticed the local talent through a combination of prestige and deep pockets. We made it our mission to change the rules of the game by empowering your business to hire internationally.

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Nicholas Godwin

Nicholas Godwin is a technology researcher who tells profitable brand stories that tech buyers and businesses love. He covers technology topics on his website TechWriteResearcher.com, and has worked on projects for Fortune 500 companies, global tech corporations and top consulting firms, from Bloomberg Beta, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte to HP, Shell, and AT&T.

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