Remoter Podcast

Freelance lens: flexibility and timezone etiquette with Kate Nafisi of Nafisi Studio

Episode Summary

Recorded on 02/2020 in London, UK at Frequency Coffee. Kate Nafisi, a product design consultant who works remotely, is this episode’s guest. Kate also runs Nafisi Studios, a wood workshop alongside her husband. Being a fluent remote team player, she’s here to share her anecdotes and do’s and don'ts when considering timezone etiquette for colleagues who aren’t physically beside you.

Episode Notes

Recorded on 02/2020 in London, UK at Frequency Coffee.  Kate Nafisi, a product design consultant who works remotely, is this episode’s guest. Kate also runs Nafisi Studios, a wood workshop alongside her husband. Being a fluent remote team player, she’s here to share her anecdotes and do’s and don'ts when considering timezone etiquette for colleagues who aren’t physically beside you.

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Episode Transcription

Josephine Tse  0:00  

It's time for season two of the remoter podcast. I'm your host Josephine.

Josephine Tse  0:05  

As a continuation from season one with Alex and Andres, I had the opportunity to interview some remote work leaders, ranging from companies, consultants, advocates and more to add to Remoter's stash of free resources and human-centred stories, enriching our educational platform about remote work. This podcast is sponsored by Torre, a new kind of professional network that automatically connects talent with opportunity. Founded by Alexander Torrenegra, our goal is to make work fulfilling for everyone find the job of your dreams by visiting That's T O R R E dot C O.

Josephine Tse  0:49  

Not too far from King's Cross Station, in the basement of Frequency Coffee. I met Kate after a long day of work. I remember she walked in just as I was eating my salad, aka my first meal of the day, because I had forgotten to eat all day. It just so happens that Kate's story is a good reminder of the importance of work-life integration. She wears many hats, and working remotely has allowed her to put another one on as she learns wood-working with her husband outside the hustle and bustle of London. Kate, if you're listening to this, I'd love to see your workshop one day, but in the meantime, I can only hope that I'm telling your story properly on the Remoter Podcast. 

Josephine Tse  1:29  

So welcome to another episode of the Remoter Podcast. With me, I have Kate Nafisi. It is currently 7pm on a very windy Wednesday, and we're currently in the Frequency Coffee shop. They've got two meeting rooms in the basement. And it's a really cool venue. 

Josephine Tse  1:48  

So welcome Kate to the podcast. 

Josephine Tse  1:51  

Thanks for having me. 

Josephine Tse  1:52  

And again, like I think this is, it's an... it's amazing how, like on the outside the space looks really small, and then they have all this space downstairs. Kate, could you introduce yourself for our listeners?

Kate Nafisi  2:06  

Absolutely. I am a part time product designer and part time woodworker. So that means that I do digital design for startups and businesses and agencies. And I do that remotely from wherever I'm staying. But I also work and live in a little cottage in the countryside. And I'm learning woodworking with my husband.

Josephine Tse  2:32  

That's really, really cool. I've checked out some of your work. And it looks really awesome. What kind of work are you doing right now?

Kate Nafisi  2:39  

Yeah, good question. So something that I wanted to do for a long time now is games design. So I'm working with a client at the moment on improving their UX flow, to help increase the retention rate on day one, two and three of the app the user experience of the app. It's a really cool app. So I can't tell you anything about it, because it's all top secret. But games design is a new thing for me. I've normally worked in traditional software.

Josephine Tse  3:10  

So where did you first start your remote work journey? 

Kate Nafisi  3:14  

The first time remote working was when I was a product designer at Facebook. I worked there full time as an employee for three years. And at the beginning, I worked just in London. But over time, I had to adapt to working with up to 50 different teams. And not all at once, because I would have been mayhem. But we were spinning plates with about 50 different teams at one point. And that meant working with New York with San Francisco, with Seattle, with us in London, and sometimes even other locations. It was a big, big mix of time zones.

Josephine Tse  3:54  

And right now do you find yourself working mostly from home or are you also exploring co working spaces, or?

Kate Nafisi  4:01  

At the moment, yeah, I'm working from home. And I'm actually developing my office at the moment. And so we're building out kind of the interior design and changing things a lot so that I'm more comfortable. And because previously it's been, grab a chair, grab a table, clear space wherever you can, of course, more how the days go, but now I'm trying to design it to be a purpose built space. That's just for me. And my comfort and having been working remotely for a while now that I kind of know what I need from a space a bit better.

Josephine Tse  4:35  

And are you building everything yourself? 

Josephine Tse  4:37  


Josephine Tse  4:38  

Oh, my God.

Kate Nafisi  4:38  

Yep yep yep. We're going to be custom making a table. My husband's designing me a chair.

Kate Nafisi  4:45  

It's going to be filled with plants, lots of light, lots of textures. I like to touch things because if you're always on the computer tapping away, I feel like you're deprived of your haptic senses. So things like rugs or different types of fabric.

Kate Nafisi  5:00  

And different types of materials like wood and concrete and you know, that kind of thing real mix it up. Otherwise you're just touching a keyboard all day, you know?

Josephine Tse  5:08  

Yeah, that's true for me. I just wanted to bring it, bring the conversation back, I just wanted to hear a little bit about how your experience was working with such a distributed team, and having it be the first time you're working remotely.

Kate Nafisi  5:25  

Yeah, it was a bit of a shock to the system at first because working remote was the first hurdles of not having the luxury of face to face and learning how that works. And then on top of it, really having very small hours of overlap time where we could conveniently work, you know, where it wasn't the middle of night for them, or you know, you staying late. I think the first thing that we tried to work out was what is the most convenient time and how can we alternate if there isn't a convenient time. So it's a bit like when you with a friend or with a partner, and you're thinking, okay, let's divide the chores. And let's see, you do the washing up this time and I do the washing up that time. It was kind of like that - you come in early one morning for us, and we stay late one night for you kind of thing. So really negotiating that, so that one person wasn't always having to make a sacrifice.

Josephine Tse  6:17  

That's true. And I believe that that's a lot of people's first interaction or like segue into like, oh, remote working, they're not in front of me, I'm not in front of them. This is how it's working. When did you start kind of catching on to these little nuances, like other nuances of such?

Kate Nafisi  6:36  

Yeah, I think it's like anything, when you're new to something you you don't you can't even imagine how you might offend someone or make their life difficult. Because you just haven't had that experience. It doesn't mean that you're not empathetic or it doesn't mean that you're selfish. It just means that you've literally never been there before. So I'm hoping that you know, if I can share some of those things with you, then if you're starting out, you will be a really respectful coworker, and we'll kind of preempt some of these things ahead of time,

Josephine Tse  7:04  

Of course. So yeah, like, what are some of your what were, what are some of your learnings, the ins and outs that you picked up on?

Kate Nafisi  7:11  

I think there are some do's and some don'ts. I'll start with some don'ts. 

Josephine Tse  7:16  


Kate Nafisi  7:17  

Don't set up a meeting without asking the person's time zone. We think, oh, well, they work in this office. So they must be on this time zone. No, they might have travelled somewhere else. They might have a job that you're not aware of. And making an assumption about their time zone is the first area of confusion.

Josephine Tse  7:41  

I've done the first point before where I, I looked at their LinkedIn and I was like, this location, and I was like, okay, great. They were not there. It's just like, oh, I can't just assume that just because it says on LinkedIn that they're located in wherever they're located, means that they're there right now. Yeah, like thankfully, neither of us were late. But then there was a jungle behind her. And I was like you're not in Europe. There's no way you're in Europe right now. But I'm glad this worked out.

Kate Nafisi  8:10  

Yeah. Another one is, don't send a telephone number without the international code. Because again, what you've just done if you've given someone another job to do. 

Josephine Tse  8:20  

People call a lot like actually from their phones, and do use the dial in numbers?

Kate Nafisi  8:26  

It depends. A lot of people when they work from home, they will call in from a landline, because their internet might not be very good. Oh, so it's also important not to assume that someone's calling calling in from a really fast speed band internet. And so again, it's all about these assumptions that we make.

Josephine Tse  8:47  

I know that right now. Well, a couple of companies and teams and even the team at Torre, they always try to encourage using video chat whenever possible. Just to be able to see the person's face, so I actually haven't even thought about like, you know, that like when people maybe they're not in the right or they're not in an area where they can turn on their video and they may have to call- I have not thought about that but I know that Zoom does their automatic generator with all those numbers and I always want to delete everything that they write, but I don't because I know like, okay, someone might need this information.

Kate Nafisi  9:25  

Yeah, definitely. The other thing is it sounds more obscure, but in tech, we often assume okay, someone has really good internet right? Or they have a minimum, but in a lot of countries or parts of the world where just the signal that like a gap in the signal. They might be in a very you know, connected part of the world but just where they're living has a huge dip. I definitely experienced this when I moved to the countryside. You think of the UK as a very connected place has good internet, but there are some spots there's, you know dead spots. 

Josephine Tse  9:56  

Oh okay.

Kate Nafisi  9:56  

And have terrible internet and this can mean that you are just on a one off occasion, having a really tough time with a call. And so sometimes it's good just to offer someone, hey, do you want to just go to audio? Because you can see that they're struggling. And instead of judging them and being like, oh, this is unprofessional, you know, they should have found a place, I think it's better to be just compassionate and say, you know, you're obviously struggling,

Josephine Tse  10:23  

What are some of your do's then?

Kate Nafisi  10:24  

You can create a overlap clock. So write down on a, on a, on a clock face, like draw a clock and show the hours that you work, and then show the hours that they work and then basically identify the overlap. 

Josephine Tse  10:40  

Okay,  okay.

Kate Nafisi  10:41  

And then you can kind of colour that in, or you can just write, okay, we have two hours overlap between, you know, 4pm and 6pm, whatever it is. Or if you want to work with someone that again has to drop off kids. Or you might say, well, this is the only overlap time we have and they say yeah, but this is the only time question time I have with my children. It's that kind of negotiation of, you know, when it's suitable for others. And I think again, just not assuming and always asking, and people feel really loved and respected when you do that. 

Josephine Tse  11:12  

Mm hmm. Of any other do's that you have?

Kate Nafisi  11:16  

I think it's really cool when you ask someone if they have another meeting afterwards, because what we tend to do is talk, talk, talk, talk, and then you see you've got two minutes left and quickly summarise the meeting. And they actually need those two minutes to get to their next meeting.

Josephine Tse  11:33  

And what some people do is they only schedule a 25 minute call. So that gives them the five minutes to prepping for their next call at home or online and whatever. So I know like it's something that's something that people have done or are doing right now within their scheduling. 

Kate Nafisi  11:54  

Yeah, that's a great self management tool and it also gives you time to just *breathe*. If you're talking all day, then yeah, it can be quite intense.

Josephine Tse  12:04  

Have you ever been in those situations where your days have just been long meetings? 

Kate Nafisi  12:10  

Absolutely. Yeah. And you think, wait a minute, I haven't had a toilet break yet. Yeah. Or, I need to drink some water. Now. You know, I didn't have lunch and you think this is not balanced? Yeah. Let's bring the balance back. Yeah. And I think just talking about it beforehand, even just brings people awareness and attention to it.

Josephine Tse  12:26  

So when you were working with your teams in the Americas, when you first started working with them, did you kind of go down that path a lot where you, "oh, I forgot to go to the bathroom. I forgot to eat lunch and all that." What were some of the solutions that you found worked for you in figuring out how to maintain that balance?

Kate Nafisi  12:47  

Yeah, definitely trial and error. So sometimes I do what you mentioned, which is purposefully scheduling gaps in between my calls, so that I had some time just to for myself to think or to write up notes. Another time was blocking off my calendar and saying I don't do calls during these times. And so it's kind of the opposite of identifying overlapping areas. It's saying, I'm sorry, this is my heads downtime, this is my focus time. And another way is, I think more specific to having jams with designers is to have a more off the phone, I call it off -when you leave the phone off the hook. So off the hook time is just when you leave your camera on, and they leave their camera on. And it's like you're in the same room, but you're not and you're just kind of hanging out and you can hear each other writing or typing and, okay, it's less of a formal meeting. It's within these hours, we're both going to put our phones off the hook. And we're going to, you know, randomly chat. And it's really nice because you get that sense of closeness and intimacy of the person. And you can also just say, Oh, hey, by the way blah blah blah, as if they were right next to you. And it just feels your your co worker in the desk next to you. And that's also really informal and quite, quite fun. 

Josephine Tse  14:06  

And I'm like, I'm sure you have a longer do's and don'ts list from all the lessons that you've learned with your time at Facebook. And I'm sure now as well. I wanted to ask you, do you have any suggestions for remote teams in terms of tools or things that will help globally distributed teams be more productive while working together. 

Kate Nafisi  14:28  

The one that I really, really rely on a lot is to figure it out. It's a Chrome app that was developed by a friend actually, who I used to work with. And it's so useful every time you open a new tab. It shows you these columns in a kind of rainbow style of all the different time zones that you've added. So I create a new tab and I can see five different time zones. I know what time it is for them. I don't have to think about the math like was it plus five or minus and is it this or that? Yeah, it just removes the headache of working out what some one's timezone is and it's pretty. 

Josephine Tse  15:02  

I know I find myself always, I can't express how many times a day I open a new tab and I'm just like "London timezone to blah blah blah timezone," trying to figure it out and I know it's all my phone, I could just open the world clock app on my iPhone, or I could just have it there and new tab displaying for me. I'm looking at it right now and it's a really, really, it is really pretty. It's people out there who enjoy their colours, this is really one- a really good one to have. 

Kate Nafisi  15:31  

I think on the other side, though, I wouldn't want someone listening to think oh, my goodness, all this thinking as too much. I'm going to become neurotic, you know, constantly worrying about what people think. I think that would be an extreme as well. You don't want to go that way. You know, you have to own your own experiences. And if you have a problem, it's your duty to say something and say that this is not working for me, or I think that it will work better. And I presume that other people will do that. So don't worry about them, you know, having a terrible time and not saying anything. But I do try and be thoughtful. It's just about just examples of trying to be as respectful and adapting that that's all.

Josephine Tse  16:07  

And with all the experiences that you've had, now you are working as a remote product design consultant, how are you finding this... solopreneur? I've also heard that term recently.

Kate Nafisi  16:19  

Digital nomad. Yeah, I think I'm just applying all that I've learnt and seeing what sticks. So something that I've noticed is that when companies are not remote, and this is the first time that you know, they've they're doing it, you want to give them a little bit more face to face time to build that trust first. So the company I'm working with more recently, I've been front loading the amount of days that I work face to face with them, and then slowly bit by bit kind of withdrawing and building that trust up so that they can see that my attention, my quality of work and my level of communication actually hasn't changed. And then by that demonstrating that they don't worry at all after that- they have no concerns. And then also try to address the concerns up front. So when a client says, you know, what happens if we need you or oh, I don't know about that sounds like we're not gonna be able to have access to you, I'm not sure. Just explaining in that moment exactly why it's not a problem and, and also saying, and but if you need me to come in, I'll come in, and they immediately quietens and they're like, okay, if something goes wrong, she's going to be there, you know. And so I don't want to be too bullish and say, look, I'm never going to come in. Because I think that just makes teams that are new to it, quite anxious. And then I'm, you know, then you kind of risk them saying no, as well you don't get that work. Right. So I think being a bit flexible at the beginning helps you get the job.

Josephine Tse  17:48  

Before coming to London, I was at I was in Portugal and Ireland and I did this panel over in Ireland, they were talking about the hard part about remote work, a lot of audience questions that came up, we're around, how do you deal with client management if you want to work remotely? Because apparently on some of their clients are very nervous when you tell them oh, I will be working remotely. I, you know, we don't have an office or these team members don't actually live in this country and all that and they get kind of wary. I guess that's also a part of being set in their ways. And I hope that you know, with more and more conversations about remote work coming up, that people will start to also normalise to this and be like, oh, maybe this isn't so far fetched after all. 

Kate Nafisi  18:40  

When you talk about you know, how Airbnb was the weirdest thing having someone go into your home right now it's normal, or sharing a car, or you know, we share all kinds of things nowadays. I think that helps people to go oh, yeah. Technology and ways of new idle ideologies and ways of being do change quickly,

Kate Nafisi  18:58  

But I found that most people are actually really open to it or having a conversation about it. No one has said to me, I'm sorry, we don't do that. Okay. People have always said, okay, I don't think it will work for us. But should we have a chat about it? And then I've been able to say, cool, so what are your fears? Tell me what your main concerns would be. And then I can literally address them. But I think if you don't ask the client, what is your biggest fear? Then you're constantly having a conversation with an elephant in the room, and you've no idea what they're actually trying to avoid, do you see what I mean? Yeah. So I think hitting it heads on really helps.

Josephine Tse  19:32  

So what were the fears that you've heard from clients?

Kate Nafisi  19:36  

Yeah, so a key one has been a bit behind everybody else. Okay, because people have a lot of in the office have a lot of conversations just in the corridor or by someone's desk, or, and I think a lot of clients say, wow, I'm gonna have to keep updating her. This is gonna be annoying, you know, constantly being on the backfoot. But what I normally say to them is that a lot actually changes within one day. So actually, you can ping pong between two or three different ideas within one day. 

Josephine Tse  20:05  

That's true. 

Kate Nafisi  20:05  

And then if I was constantly being updated, it might actually cause a lot of thrash. So it's up to them when they the frequency that they want to update me. And when they feel that something is, you know, fairly settled, they can update me then or if they want me involved in that conversation, then they can you know, keep pinging me but that's up to them I wouldn't worry about you know, them feeling they have to keep me in the loop and everything.

Josephine Tse  20:32  

As a designer, you know, like, you don't want to keep changing your work 500 times. I know, you just want that it I know when that like, honestly never really happens. I've it's just a very in an ideal world, "you will get one brief and it will not change" but... 

Kate Nafisi  20:49  

Yeah, that never happened. Yeah.

Kate Nafisi  20:51  

But then again, with remote working often, if the change is happening throughout a week, maybe or over a couple of days, I write a lot of notes to make sure that I keep an eye on what's happening. It's actually really helpful self awareness tool, you need to play back those meeting notes to someone else. And you can say, they can see that they've changed their mind a few times. And you can document those changes and you can always go back to them notice, so there's more perks there people.

Josephine Tse  21:18  

We're almost... we're almost finished my list of questions for this episode, but I wanted to dig deeper into other disciplines. I want to know what working remotely has opened up for you. Life isn't just about your career and work and all that kind of stuff. It's about enjoying other things as well.

Kate Nafisi  21:42  

Yeah, I am really grateful for the extra time I have to learn new skills. So I joined my husband, Abdollah Nafisi. And together we make Nafisi studio, and we make bespoke handmade furniture in sculpture to get I started helping him kind of market his business and organise, and then slowly as well this is really cool. I want to design furniture. And then slowly we started sketching together. And then I was learning a bit of woodturning. And I was learning a bit of cutting and marking. And slowly I was able to help assist him either with polishing and sanding and oiling the pieces, having kind of extra time with him and being at home, having our lunch together. Being able to spend more quality time as as a family is is really, really nice. And I really, really love that balance of you know, physical design and digital design.

Josephine Tse  22:39  

What are some of the projects you're working on with Nafisi studios other than making your own office?

Kate Nafisi  22:45  

Yeah, yeah. So yeah, making office is top of mind the moment but we have been running courses. So I run steam bending courses, as steam bending as kind of an ancient woodworking technique where you put wood under steam.

Josephine Tse  23:00  


Kate Nafisi  23:00  

Really hot steam environment in a box and the lignin, the glue inside the fibres of the wood starts to go really soft. And you can actually bend it into really cool shapes. It's really, really fun.

Josephine Tse  23:14  

So it seems like yes, you really value the work life balance that comes with working remotely. Would you have any points of caution that you would like to share for our listeners as well? We also like to cover both sides of the topic. 

Kate Nafisi  23:29  

That's a great point. Yeah, I think for me, the remote work is really works really well, because I'm someone that's quite proactive and quite disciplined. So I know a lot of friends have said, Oh, I couldn't do that. Because as soon as I, you know, come home, I just want to open a beer and kind of chill out on the TV. So I think if you do need someone to kick you up the bum, then remote work can be tricky. Another thing to be aware of is, if you're someone that gets lonely easily or just prefers to be in big groups, like maybe you don't like working by yourself in a room. And then you can still do remote work, but you just try and hang out in public spaces, like co working spaces. I think the other thing is, and then the other thing is just around getting work. I think it's just good to be aware that you need to be comfortable with reaching out to people and saying, hey, I'm looking for remote work. And also convincing people that they should take you on being an ambassador for remote work, I think is really helpful. And you can get, I've had quite a few clients who were not thinking about remote positions, they weren't advertising for them. And by the time we'd had a conversation, they were thinking about it right. So I you know, be willing to sell it as well.

Josephine Tse  24:40  

I want to know if you think that your story, your experiences, your values, will encourage other individuals to kind of look into or maybe even start a remote lifestyle of their own.

Kate Nafisi  24:53  

I hope so. I know that I'm really enjoying it and reaping all the benefits and when you have something good you just want to share it with everybody and say, hey, come on and join me. But I think to your question earlier about, you know, people have to think for themselves, they have to know themselves, and they have to know if it suits them or not. And I think the most powerful thing for me with remote work is, it stands for something that I really believe in. And that is that your work should speak for you, and nothing else. And often, where you've been to school, what you where your parents live, how much money you have, whether or not you can commute, whether you have the money to pay for train tickets, whether you have, you know, whether you're able to network with other people, I mean, that cost a lot of money. There's a lot of coffees every day, you know, constantly networking. So, what I like about remote work is it democratises the access to top talent, and it actually says, no, your skills are what make you amazing, and we're willing to hire you wherever you are, whatever you can afford and to make that happen.

Josephine Tse  25:58  

So Kate, I just wanted to thank you so much for spending time with me and participating in the Remoter Project being part of this episode of the Remoter Podcast. 

Kate Nafisi  26:07  

Thank you. It's been fun.

Josephine Tse  26:09  

And I just wanted to ask, do you have any last words for our listeners that you'd like to share put out there? 

Kate Nafisi  26:21  

Yeah, summarise Be empathetic. Think about what your co workers might need. Don't assume. And just ask, just ask and you will find a wonderful new relationship as a remote worker and you'll be great.

Josephine Tse  26:34  

Communicate, communicate communication, so thank you very much again.

Josephine Tse  26:42  

Remoter Podcast season two is recorded, produced and edited by Josephine Tse. It is mixed and mastered by Stephen Stepanic and Vanesa Monroy. Graphics and visuals by Valentina Castillo. The music track used is Skip by OBOY from SoundStripe. Follow and subscribe to us on Spotify, Apple podcasts wherever you listen to your podcasts. Don't forget, we've recently made our Founding and Growing Remotely online course completely accessible and listed on our site. Visit us at, that's R E M O T E R dot com for more relevant content. Follow us on social media @remoterproject to stay up to date with our latest initiatives and collaborations with other remote first companies around the world. We'd also love to hear your thoughts about each episode, so feel free to tag us on socials anytime. And remember, we're here to make work fulfilling, so what part will you play in shaping the future of work?