Laurent Parenteau – VP Engineering at Wellthon

Laurent Parenteau – VP Engineering at Wellthon

Can you introduce yourself?

Hi 👋, my name is Laurent Parenteau and I live and work remotely from Quebec, Canada.  I am currently VP Engineering at Wellthon, where we are building a digital health platform designed to help older adults and those with a variety of disorders and diseases to live their best life.

I’ve been in the software development world for 19 years.  While I started this journey as a software engineer in a young startup, I’ve been inside some large corporations too along the way.  I’ve spent the first 8 years in offices, but the last 11 years have been 100% remote.

On a more personal side, I’ve got 4 kids who are homeschooled.  We love to travel, but also spend time outside in our backyard and forest.  A happy mix of the nomad and sedentary lifestyles if you want.

How did you start working remotely and why?

I started working remotely 11 years ago.  At the time, I didn’t really think it was possible to be hired to work remotely.  I thought this was only a privilege you could get after having worked for some time for the same employer.  So I was quite happy and considered myself lucky to find that opportunity.  It was for a Bay Area based company, that was one of the few competitors we had at my first company.  One of my previous co-workers worked there, and our specialized background made us really attractive to them, so we could get hired as remote employees.

After that, I really wanted to be able to keep working remotely.  I didn’t want to work from an office full time anymore.  Not wasting time commuting, being able to live wherever I wanted to, being able to spend more time with my kids, the possibility to travel more were the biggest reasons why I wanted to keep working remotely.

I was still skeptical of being able to find remote positions, but I knew I wanted to try every time.  As such, I was taking a lot of effort to apply to places where my background was really relevant and where I knew the skills they were looking for was hard to find.  This was giving me more confidence when selling myself in the interview process. As time went by, I also found more and more places that were open to remote hires. 

So now I’m not worried at all about finding a remote position.  If needed, I’m not looking right now 😉.

What is your typical day like?

I wake up when the kids wake me up, which is always earlier than I’d hope 😄.  I am able to spend time with them before starting to work at around 8:30.  I usually have some meetings at 10am, so I take the time before that to catch up on messages, production analytics, tasks updates from my team, and post my daily standup in our messaging app (we use Twist).  I take a break to prepare lunch for the whole family at 11:30, so anytime before that will be used for quick individual contributor work.

I resume working after launch at 1pm.  Depending on the day I will have some 1:1 meetings, but otherwise I can do individual contributor work pretty much every afternoon.  I’ve set aside 4 to 5 pm every day to read books; this is my continuous learning block.  I take a break at 5pm to prepare dinner for the whole family.

I get to spend time with my kids until the younger ones are in bed.  Then I do a final one hour of work between 8 to 9 pm.  I use this time to either catch up on stuff that happened during my dinner or plan stuff for the next day.  If all is fine I can do individual contributor work instead.

I can spend the rest of the evening with my girlfriend, until bedtime which is at around 11:30pm.

On Friday we have an unofficial no-meeting policy, which is really great 🎉.

How do you stay efficient and engaged while working remotely?

I am an introvert, so meetings are draining me.  Because of that, I initially wanted to have them spread out in my schedule as much as possible.  But I came to realize that I was more productive whenever I had big blocks without meetings.  Now I am trying to pack all my meetings back to back as much as possible in the day.  So I end up having a block of meeting, and a block of no meeting.  I still feel exhausted after that block of meetings, but I end up being more productive after that since I get a lot of uninterrupted time.

We’re also pushing as much as possible toward an asynchronous communication culture, so nobody feels pressured to respond to chat messages immediately.  That’s one reason we have been using Twist (instead of Slack or Microsoft Teams or others), the notifications control you have are really great.  This really helps with staying focused on the task at hands.  I can decide to check Twist only when it’s a natural break in my current work.

On the engaged side, we’re fostering a culture of openness, so most discussions and decisions are happening in public channels open to all.  This is really great because you end up feeling as a part of the whole company, instead of just “doing your part”.  In some other environment that could lead to information overload or too much noise, but again, thanks to Twist, we don’t have that problem.

What are the tools and workflow that you’re using to get things done? 

Whereby : Video calls & meetings.

Twist : Text message.  All the discussions about product development needs to be there in public channels.

GSuite : For email and documents.

Trello : Product & engineering management.

GitLab : Our git repo and CI/CD pipeline.Fellow : For meeting agenda sharing

How do you think remote work will evolve in the future?

Remote work seems to be the natural evolution, so it will eventually be everywhere.  When you look at that from an historical perspective, humans have been working from home for most of the time.  Working in offices was a pretty recent development.  So we’re actually returning to how it was always done.

What other societal changes will happen along with it is the biggest question.  Will we see a move back from large cities to more rural areas?  Or will there be more community style development in large cities, where you have coworking space and everything needed spread around town more vs only in the city center?  Will this result in a more independent type of workforce (consultant, contractors, etc.) vs full-time employees?  Those are the hard questions to answer.  I don’t know the answers.

How do you stay in touch with your team?

We have asynchronous daily standup.  We’re also pushing for all non-personal discussions to happen in public channels, so everyone can see what’s going on and contribute when they want to.

We also have 2 company wide video calls per week.  The 1st is an All-Hands type of meeting, where the leadership share some update or relevant news to everyone, and include an open Q&A portion where anyone can ask anything.  The 2nd event we’re calling it Social Time, and it includes a group discussion about a random non-work-related topic (what’s your favorite pizza toppings?  Best memory from childhood? etc), followed by random 1:1s.  This is really great to get to know each other more over time, and have a chance to chat with some people you don’t interact with on a daily basis otherwise.

Beside that, I do weekly 1:1 with all my team members.  Those aren’t for status or progress reports.  They are for knowing how it’s going in their life, discussing higher level topics related to work (like stuff they don’t like, stuff they would like to see, etc.), and life & career goals.

What do you enjoy most about working remotely?

Freedom 🙂

Freedom to travel, to adjust my schedule as needed, to be able to be with my family, to not have to organize my life around work.

I think this brings out the best in me, which puts me in a much more productive position.  But also put me in a much better position to help others at work, build a great team, and take care of others. 

What is your office/workspace look like? 

Some people like a clean environment, but I like noise.  I always have music playing, and my desk is a mess.  I could justify this by saying that all these stimuli help me be creative and actually focus on my tasks.  But I actually don’t know if there’s really some basis to that, it may be just an ad hoc hypothesis 😉.

I also have a window so I can see outside.  When travelling, I make sure I can always see outside too when working.  I like to see nature and time goes by as the day progresses.

What are the challenges of being a remote worker?

I honestly think they are the same challenges as being a non-remote worker.  It’s just that for many people this end up being a new environment so their existing solutions for those challenges might not work anymore and they have to find new solutions.  But they are still the same challenges they solved previously, either when they started to work in an office or prior to that at school.

That said, I think the biggest challenges are :

Communication : What’s the communication culture here?  How do I make sure my voice is heard?  How do I make sure I’m aware of what is going on around?  How should I structure my day so I don’t drown in interruptions?  How much personal connection I want to make with coworkers?

Motivation : How do I stay motivated, hence productive?  What do I want to get out of this work experience?  How is this fitting with my life objectives?

Work/Life Balance : How much time do I want to spend working?  How much time do I need for myself?  What are my goals in life, with regard to career and workload?

Again, all those questions aren’t unique or special for remote workers.  The answers, or how to achieve the results you want might be different for some, but many of them will have the same answer, whether you’re remote or not.

Do you have any side projects?

I am a mentor on Plato, but beside that, my side projects are family projects like travel plans and stuff we want to build in our backyard.

What are your future life goals?

Keep tilting the work/life balance toward the life side 😉

How do you combat feelings of loneliness, isolation and burnout?

I know those problems are real, but they aren’t something that affect me much.  Between interactions with coworkers and other work-related communities (Plato as I’ve mentioned before, both also other remote work specific communities and tech events), and family life (including four homeschooled kids), I never feel alone.  As for burnout, again, my family reminds me enough about taking time off and enjoying life with them every day, that I can’t spend too much time working even if I wanted to 😉.

What is special about the place where you live?

We enjoy visiting large cities, but day-to-day we prefer the calmness of the countryside.  And here we have a lot of outdoor / wilderness activities available, which is really great.  Cost of living is also obviously lower, which definitely helps with my goal of tilting the work/life balance toward the life side.

Besides work, how do you like to spend your time?

With my family 🙂.  Playing / working in our backyard, reading, playing music, planning travels and traveling.  I like to watch movies / series, but I’m frequently tired in the evening and fall asleep while watching stuff…

Do you have any recommendations for those who want to work remotely too? 

First, know that working remotely is possible and there’s a lot of opportunities, so be confident about finding the right opportunity for you.

The most important skill is communication.  So anything you can do to improve on that is definitely worth it.  Some great books that can help are “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, and “Crucial Conversations” by Petterson, Greeny, McMillan, and Switzler.

Reading blogs by existing remote workers is also a good idea, to see what others have experienced and learned along their journey.  I feel the best blog for someone really depends on the personality of the blogger, not everyone will like the same.  So it’s worth googling around and finding bloggers that have the same lifestyle you want to achieve and that you can feel connected with them.  If you want to have a nomad lifestyle, find nomad bloggers.  If you want to work from your house, find people that do so.  Their advice and experience will be a better fit for you that way.

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