Before the “corona” era, Remote Working was always considered a privilege, granted to some, based on their capabilities, responsibilities and unique situation. Very few made the cut.
Bhagyashree Pancholi, our next pathbreaker, runs a remote work consultancy, All Remotely, which focuses on providing training and skills to people to make them “remote work” ready.
Bhagyashree talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about quitting her job as a lawyer (8 years back) due to personal circumstances, reinventing herself for a career in remote working, and bringing all those learning experiences in her current role as Entrepreneur.
For students, adapting and learning is the key to handling every obstacle in your career, no matter what your background is. So, buckle up with a constructive mindset.
Bhagyashree, tell us about your background?
I grew up in the former small city of Udaipur in Rajasthan. I attended the neighbourhood school which placed a a lot of emphasis on extracurricular activities, sports and English speaking – so much so that I learnt English as my mother tongue and didn’t study Hindi till class 1.
My father is a 71 year old war disabled decorated Army officer and my mother is an educator – hence I was exposed to the knowledge sector at an early stage. I would go with my mother to attend conferences, lectures, would sit with her and see how she wrote her book. All these experienced had a massive impact on me.
My father taught me to be strong, really. He survived the war field after being hit by a grenade and was lost in the enemy territory for 3 days until help arrived – so I grew up looking at him as my role model. He taught me to never give up and this is actually what I do in my life even today.
I, along with my younger sister, was very active in sports – represented the state at nationals level and also played Internationally. Looking back, sports actually had a huge impact on my personality – I learnt to be disciplined and hard working, but most importantly I learnt to lose. The art of learning to lose is very important as most people take it as a negative and sulk; however, losing is as important as winning and keeps you in check, makes you work harder and trains you to be mentally stronger.
Apart from sports, I did a lot of drama at school which nurtured my creative side.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I studied Geography honours at Miranda House, Delhi University and then did my LLB from Delhi University. I also have an MBA.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
I started working remotely 8 years ago- when people, including myself, didn’t know what it was. It was something that the West was doing, and like most Indians, I wasn’t aware of the concept.
Back then, I was employed as a lawyer with an investment bank in Bangalore. My husband who is in the Army had got posted to Arunachal and I wanted to go with him but was also apprehensive of leaving my corporate profession.
Hence, I searched a lot on the internet for work from home jobs, but would either get scammed or they were jobs I quite couldn’t fit into.
My only mentor was my family which kept pushing me and cheering for me – I used to read a lot on the internet about content writing, would seek help from experienced writers via LinkedIn and also bartered services with an experienced writer from the UK for learning technical SEO. I helped him draft a contract, and in turn he taught me technical SEO.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
I reached out to my network to get a remote job. Since I didn’t know how to approach or look for these, I reached out. It is always a good idea to tap into your network if you need a break in any industry. Known people will be more willing to give you a try, but don’t be greedy. Prove your worth first.
The skills that remote jobs need are excellent communication skills, strong interpersonal skills, being an independent worker who is organized and is a team player. Your educational background is of least concern as long as you know how to perform your role successfully.
The catch was that I wasn’t earning anything for the first 6 months of working remotely. But that didn’t bother me – I was looking to learn and grow. I stayed with my first company for a year and a half and then secured a role at one of the largest remote companies in the world.
So, once I secured the job – I learnt all aspects of it. The CEO would guide me sometimes, but most of the time, it was the webinars, videos, blogs on the internet. I also created a side project for myself where I would experiment with what I had learnt – this helped me in understanding how things worked and what are the right strategies. I stayed in my first job for a little over a year and moved to my second role. In my second role, I donned multiple hats for a SaaS startup and worked closely with the CEO learning a lot about operations, marketing, sales and remote work management. In the third job, I was mainly working in business development and also managing the co-located and remote teams. This role was more like what we see now – Remote Work Manager. As a remote work manager, I learnt deeply how to manage a diverse, multi-cultural team that is dispersed globally with a 12-hour time difference. Back then, there weren’t many tools like what we have now, hence most of our work was manual and took a very deliberate attempt to communicate and collaborate. Now, as India’s first remote work consultancy, I use a mix of my experience from the past and continue to keep upskill myself to keep up with the changing market. The most important skill that is needed today is an aptitude for upskilling and learning.
How did you get your first break?
So, my cousin asked his friend who had a tech analysis website to hire me as a content writer. I loved data analysis and technology, so I got the job. I learnt whatever I know about content writing and marketing on the job – from keyword research to SEO to using different tools.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
- Challenge 1: working remotely for the first time in a team that was spread across 11 time zones
- Challenge 2: was less experienced than others in that particular software
- Challenge 3: understanding how to apply and land the remote job
The first challenge was finding a remote job and applying to it. Now, remote jobs have a very different way of accepting applications – they aren’t the usual send “resume and come for interview” kinds.
They have a structured process – sometimes along with a resume, they would ask you to answer certain additional questions that provide a deep insight into one’s personality and skills.
I spent hours refining my application, reading about the tools and software the remote companies use to scrutinize applications and tailored mine accordingly. I also networked with hiring managers of the companies I was applying to on LinkedIn – all this gave me a better understanding of the company and the process in general.
Where do you work now?
I currently own India’s only remote work consultancy called All Remotely. All Remotely focuses on providing the training and skills to people to make them remote ready. I also help teams transition to remote operations or build new remote teams. In 2019, after a sabbatical, I was looking to enter the workforce again and since I was a new mother, I wanted to have a more flexible job. It was then while searching for jobs, I realised that most Indians aren’t aware of remote work and the Indian companies don’t know how to work remotely. It was kind of a eureka moment for me. I decided to start my own consultancy to spread awareness for remote jobs and help people lead a more meaningful life, especially women and people with disabilities. One of the major challenges for me has been convincing companies to let people work remotely. Of course, the current pandemic has shifted the wave in my favour, but back then the concept of virtual teams was largely unknown. Even for remote job seekers, there was a struggle as there were hardly any remote jobs in India and very few of them had the skills to get into global virtual teams. Not to mention that some remote companies have been apprehensive of hiring from India.
How does your work benefits society?
Remote jobs are location independent jobs. These jobs will not only help Indians work with international teams and grow professionally, but will also help reduce the rural-urban migration, help differently-abled people get highly skilled jobs, and also empower women to work and be financially independent.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I have recently started to work with Indian army wives and train them for remote work – being an army wife, I made the choice to turn to remote work 8 years ago for the same reason. Giving back to the community which defends our motherland is an honour for me and something that will always be close to me.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Sharpen your skills because the jobs need skills more than anything else. Don’t just run after marks – focus on learning and knowledge.
What young people do wrong is that they are in a hurry to switch jobs. Don’t do that until you’ve learnt to a decent level or are stagnating. I made the switch little early due to our movement, but I did face the consequences. For my first remote job, I had to work twice as hard because I was working along with people who had experience at it, remote work was new and challenging, and just like any other job, there were other challenges.