In March of 2018, I wrote my first article about remote work, called "Six Years of Remote Work 1." Then, in September 2018, I wrote my second article, "Six Years of Remote Work 2" and started working full-time on building a business, JIEQI EdgeComputing, which has been going strong for two years and four months now. I spent a little more time at the office in 2018 and 2019, but my colleagues and I mostly worked remotely. Especially with the pandemic starting in 2020, we've been working entirely remotely since last April. On November 11, 2020, I launched a new project that was designed to be entirely remote for all staff members, with employees from 9 cities, 4 countries, and 3 time zones. If your company is also working remotely, and require security connection from all the perimeter , you can follow our website, OmniEdge.io, to join our waiting list. Early users can take advantage of a lifetime subscription. Now, let's get back to discussing remote work.
Let's start with a story:
One winter night in 2014, I was in Shenyang, China on a business trip. The temperature was colder than negative thirty degrees Celsius, and I went to take a shower after finishing my work day. When I came back and saw 20 missed calls on my phone, I found that a client in US had a huge problem, so I called back immediately to ask about the situation. (Normally, I wouldn't have to call back, but if I didn't call in such an emergency, they would call the company in Germany, so I usually deal with an issue as soon as I see it to save time.) A key piece of equipment had been operated incorrectly and malfunctioned, resulting in the production line running low on stock and temporarily shutting down. The downtime would cause huge losses of 75,000 USD per hour. So, I quickly put a towel on and turned on my computer to remotely access the equipment. I saw the data that the equipment returned, instructed the on-site staff, replaced the corresponding spare parts as required, and completed the calibration and activation of the new spare parts remotely. The problem was solved, and production resumed before the line was stopped.
In 2015, a customer needed a new function for a project that was just launched, but it was difficult to complete within the allotted time, and my schedule could not be extended. After much consideration and communication, I contacted my German colleague. The two of us worked in shifts for 16 hours a day. I was at work programming during the day, and when I got off work, he was just started his work day in Germany, so he picked up where I left off. The next day, I picked up where my colleague had left off. We finished the work in a limited time working in this way.
Situations like this were relatively common in those six years (2012-2018) of my career.
Think about it, if there were no way to work remotely, these difficult things would be very difficult to complete in such an efficient way.
• If the boss at the German company did not have the open-mindedness and courage to accept my work status, then their service response time would not be so fast;
• If a customer would not agree to install a reliable remote module on their equipment, and they must wait until we send an engineer to the site, that would inevitably cause machine downtime costs. BMW's downtime losses are 75,000 USD per hour. BENZ and other companies have similar numbers;
• If I didn't remote workly, I would have to fly to the customer's location every other day, when the time spent traveling could have been vacation time instead.
All of this began when I started suffering from an unexpected illness, and I was anxious after being misdiagnosed. When I finally had an accurate diagnosis, I started taking sick leave while undergoing recovery treatments. Six months later, the company and I terminated our labor contract and began an eighteen-month-long process of recuperating and learning. I also had an interview with Apple during my medical leave, but they couldn't wait for me to recover, so I sadly missed the opportunity. After I regained my ability to work, my former boss, Hans, approached me and asked if I would like to work with him again. I explained that I did not want to go back to work in Shanghai branches, but if the company could accept me not working in the office, I would like to go back. So, he communicated with various departments of the German company and arranged for a meeting between the CEO and me. Finally, they agreed. So, as an independent contractor, I started operating a one-person company that has continued cooperation between German and Chinese branches for over 6 years, and I used my home-office methods to create a pattern of work that doesn’t involve going in to an office. In actuality, because we have global clients, I often needed to fly around the world. After finishing business in one area, I usually lived there for a bit, and then I would fly elsewhere if other things needed to be done in the meantime.
In the beginning, both sides were concerned about whether this type of remote work was the same as normal work, whether it would be possible to meet daily work demands, as well as how work hours should be calculated. In reality, the speed with which I could handle various emergencies later on, as well as the flexibility and efficiency of being a remote worker have given the German company huge returns. There were only six people in the company with the same position as me; five of them were in Germany, and I was in China, singularly responsible for the Asia-Pacific region. The equipment that region handled in one year was worth 4.7 million USD. Just think about how efficient this was and how much value it added to the company.
The company is based in Osnabruck, Germany, which is a two hours' drive from Amsterdam. Fortunately, Hangzhou has direct flights to Amsterdam, so I can avoid troublesome transfers. I just need to fly directly there and then drive from the airport to the company each time I go. Thanks to remote work culture, I alway choose the fast way!
My internal title at the German company, FRIMO, is “specialist,” and the heading of my business card is “Robot Programmer.” I am responsible for implementing and connecting domestic and nearby projects. Our Flex team of twenty-six people is in charge of manufacturing all equipment related to vehicles worldwide and implementing those projects. Among those twenty-six people, six are robot programmers, but I am the only Chinese person and the only one who works remotely. My German colleagues joke that I am a “Special Agent,” and every time they throw me a project, they don’t have to think about it anymore.
The Benefits of Remote work
The benefits of working remotely are numerous. Firstly, you can easily and efficiently organize your work and life, plus more flexible work is generally task-oriented. Working remotely can provide any benefit you can think of. There is no need to sit in an office, and the working hours are flexible, so you have time to develop your hobbies and spend time with your family. My wife became pregnant in 2013, and I hardly missed any of the maternity checkups with her. I was home for a whole three months both before and after my son's birth in 2014. Even after that period, I had a lot of time to spend with him and watch him grow up, teaching him how to build things with Legos, play physical games, watch cartoons on Netflix, play video games on AppleTV and Xbox, and so on.
1. Benefits for the individual
• Productivity at work is more efficient.
• You can set your own work schedule.
• You can choose to work either at home or anywhere else.
• You can work while traveling, or you can live in one place for a while after your work there is finished.
• The extreme pressure that comes with working in groups does not exist.
• You can organize your personal life much better.
• You have time to learn, develop your hobbies, and improve yourself.
• You have more time to spend with your family.
• The time and cost of commuting is reduced.
2. Benefits for the company
• Employees can be recruited globally. Remote work can be used to recruit better employees at a lower costs, because most good employees are willing to take a pay cut to get a more autonomous and controllable work environment.
• Office expenses can be reduced, because the company doesn’t have to provide office supplies for employees, and even large items such as computers are not necessary.
• Management could also use the benefits enjoyed by all employees.
• Companies that offer remote work have a stronger competitive advantage.
• In the face of a pandemic, remote work enterprises do not need to develop emergency plans.
• Remote work is more suitable for a company’s global operations.
• Employees are more efficient.
• Management costs are reduced.
• Employee satisfaction is higher, turnover rate is lower, and teams are more stable.
• Carbon emissions are reduced.
Points of concern for remote work
There are some points that require careful attention when an individual is working remotely. For employees, the main issues are personal mental health, productivity, work environment, and career growth. From personal experience, the people who are comfortable with remote work are employees who are very good at self-control and self-organization. They have a very good plan for their personal management, so there is generally nothing to worry about.
1. Personal mental health and productivity issues
Don’t you get lonely? Don’t you get distracted when working at home? Can you balance your life and work? Do too much business trips affect your personal life?
I should say for certain that there is a degree of loneliness, and it can be intense. One part of my job, which is comprised of working on project development or on project service support, is done in various coffee bars or at home. Another part of my job is to travel to the customer's site to implement projects and make technology adjustments for equipment exported from Germany to China. Each business trip is basically one person going to a city for a short period of two or three days. Longer trips could be a week to a week and a half.
Working at home can be distracting. Although I have a study that is dedicated to work, distractions are still inevitable. Sometimes I’ll get a delivery, or my family will distract me. When I need to focus, I'll usually put on my noise-canceling headphones, mute my phone, and concentrate on my work for a while. However, it's easier to focus when I'm at a café, so I generally go out often. I will occasionally go to a bar, when I can actually focus better with all of the noise. Interesting, ah?
Too many business trips will inevitably affect your personal life; patterns are especially easy to disrupt. Eating and sleeping patterns are the most important ones to keep consistent, so it is good to stay in similar hotels as much as possible. This is why I always choose to stay at SPG and IHG, because their different buildings have very similar food, rooms, and gyms.
There are two types of remote work (or freelance work). One type just involves a change of location where you still work from 9 am to 5 pm every day, but the other type is truly free work, where you get things done with flexible hours. My remote work is freelance work, so there is a good balance between life and work. In the first 6 years of working remotely, I completed dozens of projects, developed new technology integrations, finalized some sales, and also posted over 3000 photos to Instagram, all taken between jobs or on the way to breaks.
Regarding productivity, due to my individual situation, my workload in China is very high compared my colleagues in Germany, 1 VS 5, you know. If we calculate according to the average value of two and the productivity standard of 2015, my GDP per hour worked is $131. That is the average, so in actuality, it should be higher.
2. A basic work environment
How do I communicate with my colleagues? Will they forget that I exist? Will I miss office conversations? How do I communicate with people who live in different time zones, since the company is in Germany, and customers are spread all over the world? How do I gain trust when we rarely see each other, and we have different cultural backgrounds?
My German colleagues would never forget my existence! This doesn’t only go for those in our department, but people from other departments also know that their company has a Special Agent in China :). Our communication is mainly done via email, but we also use WhatsApp and call each other. We generally like emails, because they are usually sent after a lot of thought, have relatively complete information, and are easy to archive for later reference. When there is a need to send something on short notice or there is an issue with using email, we will usually send messages through WhatsApp or call on the phone. My monthly phone bill is about 2000 RMB (300 USD), and a large part of that is due to international calls. Technical issues are not discussed much; most of the conversations are about non-technical issues. In fact, no matter how complicated the equipment is, it is all solvable, and communicating about those non-technical issues takes up more time.
It takes a process to gain trust, and the key to gaining it is the importance of one's principles. We need to strive to earn that trust. When I first joined the company, my colleagues that had the same position as me had a level of authority that I didn't have, and they were treated in a way that I wasn’t. I had to fight for those things myself later on. Now, I have all the authority I need for my job, including access to various data servers. Of course, I also let them see that I am a person who keeps his promises. In the past six years of work, I have never taken a private job related to the company's business, nor have I leaked information to outside sources. I have even been threatened for refusing to take private jobs and having to offend customers.
3. Professional growth
Can I be in charge of a real project? Are there any promotion opportunities? Can I become a leader?
As soon as a project comes into China, it is mine. I am responsible for implementing the whole project in China. In addition to landing technology, I have also completed projects, sometimes worked as a mechanic or an electrician, a buyer, and even approached customers to ask for their final payments. It's like I run a company all by myself. I even joke sometimes that I'm from FRIMO Hangzhou.
Promotion opportunities are a bit difficult to find. Although our products almost have a semi-monopoly position in our industry, the amount of equipment we have is not much compared to other industries, so management strictly controls the number of people in the company. When no new people are joining, and no big teams are being established, promotion is actually not necessary. At the same time, it is easier for Chinese people to reach the ceiling with no room to grow in a Germany or other non-Chinese Company. I had already reached the ceiling when I started in this position.
At FRIMO, my future is either to continue in my current state and become an indispensable expert in this division or to break through my current position and look for new opportunities.
It is in this state of reflecting and searching that I have found a new path: trying to help more people see the value of and enjoy remote work and entrepreneurship.
Building two remote work start-ups
1. September of 2018: Established JIEQI EdgeComputing
JIEQI's goal is for industrial automation engineers to be able to deploy products and services that can quickly control devices remotely, including hardware equipment for docking various industrial control systems. When I was going through the design process, I considered the whole environment around industrial automation, including the concerns of customers, as well as the problems that engineers encounter in their daily work. I simplified the whole design, so that all personnel could deploy and use the product in only five minutes.
Because of my remote work, I hoped to take the efficiency that I had cultivated and replicate my strategy to balance work and life at the same time, so that more people could enjoy the convenience and benefits of remote work. I also hoped that the automation engineers around me would not have to struggle so hard at work. I wrote an article explaining my initial reasons for starting JIEQI EdgeComputing. It's just too hard to replicate for others, especially in China. There are more and more successful cases now, and I believe that remote and flexible work will be the trend in the future. This is a pattern that humanity has always followed: when the farm is busy, you do farm work, and when the farm is idle, you go out and do other part-time work. Everyone can have a variety of identities and different types of work; it's just up to the person.
After I returned from a business trip to the U.S. in March of 2020, JIEQI had all staff members start working remotely. In the past two years, our gains have been enormous:
• Having more than 10 years of industry experience, we were positioned to solve many issues that the industry faced, and that led to the development of patented innovative products that obtained 80% of customers’ approval.
• We completed the raise of start-up capital, constructed a core team, built European and US consultant teams, and determined the company’s business objectives.
• The team completed the product’s functional architecture design and completed the design development from 0 to 1.
• The team established a necessary supply chain system for hardware manufacturing, hardware testing, and product consistency management.
• The team obtained three software titles and one patent within one year.
• After six months, the team was selected as China AI Town’s second-place winner of the Industrial Internet Project.
• We were selected for the Amazon Cloud AWS AAFA startup program and the NVIDIA Inception program, which received special support.
• We were invited to be the only industrial internet experts in “The Industrial Robot Cloud Platform Expert Group” hosted by both Alibaba Cloud and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
• Less than two years after the business started, we received our first batch of domestic and international paying customers, with a 70% conversion rate from trial customers to paying customers.
• We have 20 customers worldwide, and all of them are the best manufacturers in various industries, including AUDI, Staubli, FRIMO, BDS, etc.
2. November 11, 2020: The creation of OmniEdge
The goal of OmniEdge is a little bit bigger than JIEQI. We focus on providing a fast solution for all people, devices, and businesses that need to be securely connected, especially for teams and individuals who need to work remotely, with a more secure and easy to way to manage products.
OmniEdge is a company designed entirely according to a remote work model. It has only been a month since my initial post on Twitter saying that I was going to do this project. The project is already launched, has a demo and a website, and has a considerable number of pending users, which fully proves how big of an efficiency advantage remote work has. Our colleagues come from 9 cities, 4 countries, and 3 time zones around the world; each of them has more than 5 years of working experience and a strong ability to manage themselves. Once a suitable system for their work is established, that system can continue according to everyone’s vision. Within the past month, we have had quite a few gains:
- Nearly 40 people have been interviewed remotely, and a fantastic team of 20 people with an average of 5 years of work experience has been recruited from @bytedance @tencent @huobi @douban @huawei @AMD @Cisco @MTK @alibaba and @AWS.
- Selected technologies: Figma for UI and Web design, Next.js and TailwindCSS for front-end development, CI/CD to AWS amplify, Golang for back-end lambda development, DDB for databases, Cognito for authentication, C language to develop a system layer encryption communication protocol, Rust will be used for rewrites in the future, Kotlin to develop a native Android app, SwiftUI to develop a native iOS and MacOS app, C++ and QT to develop a windows client.
- We created social media accounts and got 700+ followers in the first week.
- We developed an MVP and demo for clients, as well as VC demos.
- We launched the pre-registration site omniedge.io
Join us in looking forward to our free version that releases on January 31, 2021. Visit our website: https://omniedge.io . Join the waiting list, and you'll get a free lifetime premium subscription for early adopters.