The Future of Work and Why Northstar is Staying Remote Post Covid

November 10, 2021



We did it.

We are now officially a remote-first company. Our team members are not coming back to the office after life returns to normal.

There is no office to return to.

We have cancelled our office lease and sold our furniture.

We may end up having a smaller office post-Covid, where team members can drop by once a week or whenever they are in the city. Some furniture is left in a storage facility in Bangkok.

From one month to another we become ‘homeless’. We are now 100% dedicated to creating a remote-first culture. We want to prove that remote work is not only a work-around during the pandemic or a nice dream, it can be the default work setup for high-performance teams.

At Northstar, we are used to change and challenging the status quo.

Change is a big part of our company culture. But this decision was particularly difficult and uncomfortable to make. It wasn't only a strategic business decision, it was also an emotional one.

The last office - the 4th office in our 4th year as a company - was the first office we felt satisfied with. It wasn’t just another temporary office like the one before. We went from a tiny co-working space with no windows close to Soi Cowboy, to a studio next to a dog cafe, where the dogs liked to pee on the window and the curious cafe guests always wondered what all these weirdos were doing in the room next door. After that came an office where we moved in with 0 renovations. It was scrappy, the good old start-up days. I have always been inspired by Amazon’s early days when Jeff Bezos had his first team members assemble their working tables of doors from wherever they could find.

But the last office was different.

It was a reward to ourselves for all of the hard work in the previous years and therefore a status symbol. It was us telling ourselves and the world: “We made it as a company. We are not a scrappy start-up anymore, but a legit and mature company.“

Most importantly: It was our home. The place where all the magic happened.

And today?

Today it’s also the place where we lost almost 1,000,000 THB on renovation and another 500,000 THB on lost deposit expenses. Both the money and the feeling of having a tangible ‘company home’ are gone. Our work home is now somewhere between Zoom, Hangout, Slack, and Google Sheets.

Most team members are still in Bangkok and are enjoying not having to waste hours of their lives in traffic jams and packed sky-trains. That means more time for family, friends, and outside-of-work activities! Other team members quickly left Bangkok. One team member went to Chiang Rai to spend more time with her family, while another team member went to the US with her family. My partner and I moved temporarily (?) to Koh Phangan. And while I’m editing this piece, another team member just announced his plans to build a house in Khon Kaen. Congratulations!

Although we moved out of our office overnight, we went through a very long decision-making process prior. The purpose of this article is to walk you through our decision-making process and to share the tools and techniques that have helped us to make the transition work.

Let's start at the beginning:


Our first remote experience when Covid hit us, and why it worked (March 2020)

Working remotely didn't cross our minds before Covid happened.

Our office has been centrally located within walking distance to Ekkamai BTS and it was always a given for me that we needed a physical space. We put a very high value on culture, people, teamwork, and training at Northstar. All of this requires meeting in person.

If somebody needed to take their grand-mum to the hospital, run some personal errands, or even fancied a gym session in the afternoon.. that's always been cool. We trust people to be accountable for their work and to ensure it gets done. But as a rule, we expected every team member to be in the office at 9:30 am sharp every day.

Then COVID arose. Very early on some managers and team members entertained the idea of working from home as a security measure. My first response was very negative.

Honestly, I got scared of the idea of working from home for the next few months or potentially even longer. I was scared because -

  1. If COVID was as bad as we anticipated it to be, we wouldn’t just be working from home for 1-2 weeks, but likely many months (or years as it turned out..)
  2. In reality, productivity would have to go up to help our client's businesses’ survive the crisis; while working from home overnight would likely decrease productivity

It wasn’t just pessimistic thoughts about the future, I have experienced remote work firsthand. I have been a remote digital marketer for years and was travelling around the world with a computer to earn a living before the word "digital nomad" was a phrase.

My first agency operated in 3 countries including a remote office in Nepal. I was managing it from Bangkok from where we were primarily working with clients based in Switzerland and Germany. I had first-hand experiences which showed that working remotely is not easy.

In my head, we were weighing up:

a) Short-term safety. People could be exposed to Covid when coming to the office.

b) Long-term job security. If we couldn’t help our clients survive the crisis and we lost too many, then we wouldn’t be able to keep all of our team members.

Both were top priorities.

Eventually, we had one last in-person meeting where we explained the importance of giving 200% to our clients and laid out a few basic protocols on how to prevent common remote-work issues. The protocols were mainly about being responsive and how to (over-)communicate. A few people chose to still come to the office, but a majority were relieved to stay at and work from home.

In hindsight, my slow decision was a mistake. We could and should have switched to remote work 2-3 weeks earlier.  I underestimated the accountability, passion, and grittiness of our team members. Our team did an outstanding job and exceeded all expectations during the transition from office to remote work.

The team went above and beyond to save the businesses of many of our clients. We over-delivered for most projects and got creative in helping businesses adapt to the situation.

The result was that even businesses in heavily affected industries - like beauty clinics or hotels - were able to keep their lights on. Together with the owners of these businesses we found new and innovative ways for generating revenue. As a result, many of these businesses will exit this pandemic stronger than ever before.

But we didn't save all clients and their businesses. For smaller and younger businesses, especially for the ones that had been struggling even before Covid hit, the pandemic proved too much to handle. Older and bigger companies, especially businesses with less adaptive work cultures, often decided to use their strong balance sheet to just sit the crisis out and wait, instead of fighting it through innovation.

As a result, we lost 30.76% of our clients within 6 weeks.

Agency profit margins are usually within the 10 - 40% mark and considering that payroll is the biggest ongoing company expense, it's not rocket science to see that losing 30% of your clients is a threat to business. This was the biggest threat we had ever experienced in the history of the company.

On top of that, for an agency team like ours, there isn’t much worse than losing a client. It means we haven’t been able to help them enough. Sure, Covid is part of the reason. But it still hurts not being able to help clients enough.

This didn’t make it easy to stay optimistic.

All of this while suddenly having to collaborate remotely. Yet the team managed to overcome this challenge, too. As you can see in the graph above, we quickly recovered.

We were able to scale some clients who benefited positively from Covid (eCommerce companies for example) and we were able to onboard new clients, who were either not affected negatively, or who were affected and in need of a marketing partner that could help them to fight through the crisis.

Long-story-short: We not only managed to survive the first wave of Covid, but we turned a huge drop in company performance around and came out of the first Covid crisis stronger and healthier than ever. And that’s all while being fully remote.

I couldn't be prouder of the team.

It still sounds surreal and too good to be true.

How come our team could make it work, while there were so many horror stories about remote work? So many cases where companies tried but quickly reversed their policies due to a lack of productivity?

In hindsight, we contribute the success to a few points:

1. High accountability and motivation

One of our most important core values is to "own your shit". We actively hire and train for accountability. Our team members are both accountable for their projects and their life in general. Accountable people can self-motivate themselves, even if nobody is watching. Or worse: if the TV, comfy bed, or family members are trying to stir their attention away from work, accountable people can stay on track.

2. Strong relationships & teamwork

The ONE most important core value is to "surrender the me for the we". Marketing is ALWAYS a team effort and at Northstar, we put the team above all. Because of this, we have built strong relationships. It's these relationships, the social capital we have been building between each other, that allows us to move fast and solve problems together.

3. Strong (async) communication and work processes

We didn't realize it back then, but a lot of our communication and work processes were already set up to do remote work. I carried a lot of these best practises over from my previous work experiences. While working in a brick and mortar office, they were often seen as optimization - or half-jokingly as my German way to torture and micro-manage the whole team - and not a necessity. During remote work, you couldn't just walk over to other team members for a quick question, so they suddenly became our lifesavers.

We have updated and further improved them since then and I am sharing our processes in this article.


Back to the Office (November 2020)

I still remember the first day back in the office. It kind of felt like the first day back in school after the summer break.

New haircuts, new outfits.

Familiar faces in a trusted environment. It felt so good to look each other in the eyes again and to share the energy with 30+ peers in the same room. There is some magic to sitting around like-minded people who work laser-focused on the same goals. It's so much easier to be motivated. It felt great to be back.

As with everything in life, these sensations quickly fade off and it becomes routine.

Many of our team members felt similar. Working from home and working remotely both have their pros and cons.


Second-time remote work during Covid and why it didn't work (January 2021)

It was an easy decision to let people work from home when the next wave of Covid hit around January. Most team members were happy and decided to work remotely. A few still came to the others, but they were getting less and less as cases would increase. Little did we know or anticipate back then - we would never return to our office!

But this time WFH didn't work out for us.

The quality of our work suffered and we fell into a self-inflicted crisis. Somehow, we lost our power and our magic. We ended up losing projects and clients that we should have not lost.

Our business model is really easy: It's our goal to create marketing strategies and to execute on them, to make our clients more money, even when accounting for the fee that they pay us and advertising fees that go to platforms like Facebook, Google, and co. If we achieve this, then clients are usually happy and stay with us. If we don't achieve it, and there is not a clear path to get to this point, then we are not able to provide measurable business value. Either there is a better-suited marketing team out there for this specific business, or the client needs to improve their business model and/or product-market fit before pouring more money into marketing. In the latter case, clients should not keep spending money with us.

To make this fair for the clients and to hold ourselves accountable towards our vision "to be the highest performing team generating the highest ROI through digital marketing spend for progressive businesses", we do not force our clients into long-term contracts. Instead, we only do monthly contracts. Clients come to us with the expectations of hiring a long-term marketing partner, and they can terminate the contract from one month to another if we do not live up to our expectations. So every time we lose a client, we know it's a serious matter.

If this happens it's the market telling us that we are not living up to our vision. This is exactly what happened during Q1 and Q2 in 2021. We lost way too many clients.

We lost more than 5 clients on average every single month.

There is luck and there is good luck, and there are internal and external reasons for losing clients. That’s why we do a detailed post-mortem for every lost client that involves all associated team members, myself as the CEO, and my Co-Founder Kewalin. Founders are the ultimate judges between "internal reasons" (we could and should have done better within the scope of work) or "external reasons" (maybe the client didn't fit with our culture and methodology, didn't have product-market fit, ran out of inventory, re-structured business units, etc...) And we didn’t like what we were seeing. We were losing clients that we should have not lost.

That’s a big deal for us, as, unlike most traditional digital marketing agencies, at Northstar, we are not sales-focused. At this point, there was 1 salesperson for 30 operational team members.

We grow our business primarily through delivering the best marketing results, which leads to keeping and growing clients with us. Hence, a sudden increase in lost projects has a huge impact on our revenue of the company.

The health of our company was in serious trouble.


Remote crisis management and the turnaround (March/April 2021)

The data was obvious: We had a quality problem and were not living up to our work standards.

It would have been easy to blame remote work for this. I have heard of many similar horror stories from other business owners - after the initial euphoria stage, reality sets in, and everything goes downhill.

That must be the reason why so many companies have either not allowed their teams to work remotely, or have been nervously pushing teams to come back to the office. Business performance simply dropped too much.

For us, we were experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect in action:

Source: Hustle Escape

We went from "WFH - this is easy" (during the first lockdown where we were hyper-motivated and focused to make it work) to "Ok, it's a bit harder than we thought" to "This is hopeless..." within weeks.

Could we have asked the team to come back to the office given the severe situation? In theory, yes. It was clear for everybody to see that we were not performing. However, it would have been against everything that we believe in. Giving up at the stage of "this is hopeless" is against our core values and our mission "to empower ourselves and the team through a growth-mindset culture."

We don't run away from challenges and problems.

We lean into them. And then we overcome them.

That's what drives growth and innovation!

Plus, we knew that our team had what it took to turn the performance around. It was clear what had happened:

We fell into a routine, found a rut when it came to getting work done. We got used to and comfy working from home, but without the energy of the office, it was easy to become lethargic.

Source: MarketMoversDaily

Complacency spread and we almost lost our hustle. Not being hungry simply doesn’t work in the performance marketing world. All businesses are constantly bidding and screaming for the attention of the consumers… And there are many more businesses bidding and screaming than there is attention from the consumers.

Marketing is competition and Pareto is right; the best 20% of marketers are getting 80% of the results. Everybody else is just wasting time and marketing results. We had to find back to focus on being excellent and on pushing marketing results to new heights!

The underlying problem was that our internal systems had become rusty and we had stopped using them for excellence, but rather as a routine task. It’s ironic because we understood that those systems and processes were one of the reasons why the transition from office to remote work went so well during the first wave. Still, we took them for granted.

Once the problem was identified, it was fairly easy to turn the ship around. We updated and improved our internal "Northstar Mastery" system.

It starts from clearly measurable KPIs based on the revenue targets of our clients. These monthly targets are then internally broken down into weekly targets to timely assess our performance.

This information is created by the team leads, approved by the managers, and additionally reviewed by one of our Co-Founders every week. The beauty of a small and lean team is that the most experienced people (me and my Co-Founder) can still oversee the work of each project and influence their direction, by assuring we never settle for less than great standards through SMART goal-setting.

Additionally, these goals are visible for everybody in the company and lead to bigger motivation, transparency, and accountability. Must be what good old Drucker mean when he said "what gets measured, gets managed".

By starting every week with the goals of our clients, we make sure that all of the work for the next week is directed towards their best interests. Then, all individual team members take future client goals and turn them into their own individual goals for the next week. We don’t only set goals, but we also reflect on the progress in the last week and overall job satisfaction. It’s a way for younger team members to make sure they get what they need for success from more experienced team members. At the same time, it allows managers to identify blindspots and ensure the smooth execution of goals.

These goals get concluded during 30min 1on1 management meetings between all managers and their reports, and at the end of the day, we have made sure that we’ll be hitting all of our client's weekly goals.

What’s missing? The day-to-day execution. In the marketing world, a lot can happen between Monday to Friday. Facebook is guaranteed to be buggy, clients will want to change direction and goals, new competitors are suddenly trying to out-bid our brands and team members get sick or go through personal challenges.

That’s why we repeat a similar setup daily.

We end every working day by reflecting in public about the status quo. Are we on track with all client and individual goals? What did we learn? What do we have to learn today to stay on track? How can we support each other?

Managers have full visibility over the performance, wins, and challenges of their team members. They usually start working before their team and are using the early mornings to fine-tune the game plan for the day. If they have questions, they get a second opinion from the Co-Founders.

Afterward, at 9:30 am, all the smaller working pods meet with their managers and set themselves up for success.

Sure, we also have communication software like Slack; but if we are 24/7 answering questions on Slack, then there is little time for getting work done. These communication systems above help us to maximize teamwork and communication and maximize the amount of deep work and focus. They help us to prevent 90% of daily ad hoc tasks.

It took us 2-3 weeks to have this whole improved process run smoothly and to have all team members properly use it and to get the most benefits from it. But we immediately saw the results from the improved focus and the improved opportunity to support each other on the most important tasks. We went from the worst results in terms of client retention and satisfaction, to one of the best months. Within weeks, the team turned a crisis into a new best standard and has improved our work standards. And this all by working remotely.


How and why we decided to build a remote-first culture (July 2021)

We turned the crisis around and have been doing better than ever in the history of the company.

Yet, we didn’t consider becoming a remote work culture. We always thought about it as a temporary solution.

But then something changed. And within 3-4 months we went from the idea of being long-term remote to selling the office inventory and making the change happen.

We went through the following phases:

  1. Learning about the strong desire of the team to work remotely
  2. Learning about remote work
  3. Deciding to work remotely

The last one was obviously by far the most difficult step. I’ll break them down below:

1. Learning about the strong desire of the team to work remotely

It first happened during one of our remote "leadership lunches"; where we have a virtual lunch to have some fun and chit-chat with the most senior people of the company.

Out of curiosity and in the attempt to understand how everybody was currently personally feeling and coping with the situation, I asked the question "what do you personally prefer; remote or office if there wasn't any Covid?".

The answer: Personally, everybody preferred to work remotely.

Wow, this was a big surprise! Especially for managers, as work-from-home has created a lot of new challenges. I didn't expect this answer. But now I had to explore it further.

Over the next 2 weeks, I set up 1on1 video calls with all of our team members to ask them the same question. The results were the same: The vast majority - given the choice - preferred to work primarily remotely even after Covid is over.

Everybody seemed “understanding" if they had to come to an office - because that's "how companies in Bangkok work" - but if they could choose, they would primarily work from home. Maybe they would come to an office 1-2 days a week to see co-workers and nurture relationships.

Work-wise, everybody seemed confident about not having to be present in an office to do their job. The benefits of spending less time and money on commuting were the biggest factors.

Not a big surprise.

Thai surveys are showing the same trend as the US - which is usually some years/decade ahead of the local business environment in terms of culture - is making this trend even clearer.

Source: Robert Walters

Source: Statista

It was clear that our team members are no exception to these trends. On the contrary, they seemed to be early adopters of the idea that one does not have to be in an office to do great work. So now what?

One of our managers said to me and my partner "I always thought you guys don't like to work remotely" and that's true. After mixed personal experiences with remote work in previous ventures, I felt strongly that we needed to be in an office to build our unique culture. And I preferred to get work done in the office and a clear separation between home and office, even if I could see the benefits of remote work.

But leading a company and team is not about holding on to personal historic beliefs and preferences, but about constant growth and progress towards a better future for everybody involved. That’s why we had to take the feedback of the team very seriously and go down the rabbit hole of remote work.

2. Learning about remote work

I looked in all directions and tried to read and listen to as many experiences with remote work as possible. I learned that many major organizations tried remote work in the 90s and failed; back then it was called "telecommuting" and mainly driven by the pursuit of corporations to decrease office expenses. I learned from many companies in the younger future who changed to remote work and then went back to the office because it simply didn’t work out. I also learned from many companies who successfully made the shift to remote work and never have looked back.

And then there were all of these inspiring companies who have been remote from day 1.

Here is a summary:

  • There are big and small companies that have been trying to make it work remotely. They tried it, failed, and then went back to the office
  • There are big and small companies who have made remote work and for whom it is a crucial part of their culture.

The conclusion? Is the office or remote better?

It depends.

But there was a common consensus about the advantages and challenges that come with remote work.

General advantages of remote work:

  • More freedom and flexibility
  • More time
  • More money (savings from commute and/or having to rent in central locations for employees and savings on expensive office building for companies, even though a lot of this gets eaten by new expenses such as more need for team-building)
  • More environmental-friendly and sustainable form of living 

General challenges of remote work:

  • Remote work makes it more difficult to train, manage and lead

Managing and leading teams are the most challenging (and also rewarding) responsibilities that I have encountered in my life. I am not surprised that so many people - no matter if at work or in politics - are not satisfied with their leaders. Leadership is simply something very difficult to do.

As a leader, you depend on signals. The more signals you have and the more you know about individuals, team dynamics, and the work itself, the better decisions you can make.

Working remotely is like driving a car at high speed during heavy rain: Your view is significantly reduced. It is much harder to receive signals and to connect. It’s more difficult to understand how your people are feeling and how effectively they are working if you don't sit in the same room with them all day long.

It's not impossible to do, but it is more difficult to do well.

  • Remote work requires more accountability skills 

Nobody wakes up every morning and is 100% at their best. It takes a lot of discipline to be a high-performer. One needs to get enough sleep and food and to start work on time with a bright smile and a clear mind. And even then… It just takes one rough call with a difficult client or moody co-worker and your motivation can be killed for the day.

Leading oneself and being accountable to always do the right thing, especially when we don’t feel like doing it, is hard. In an office environment, it’s harder to get away with poor discipline or mental strength. There is peer pressure to be on time. There is positive and productive energy in the room. There are your friends and team members to motivate you to get up and keep fighting. It's simply easier to stay focused and motivated sitting in an office where everybody is working hard, than in your room with the TV, siblings, fridge, and couch trying to steal your focus. It's easier to work hard when everybody is working hard and your managers might be watching, than when "nobody is watching". It's easier to be accountable to do the right thing, when being in a room with our closest tribe, than being alone on a deserted island.

  • Remote work requires better communication skills (including async communication and actively choosing what the best channel for communication is)

In the office, you can see (back to the signals!) when somebody is busy or not. This way you don’t interrupt the focus of people, but you also don’t have to wait forever to get what you need from a team member.

It's often also easier to just meet and talk and sort out your question while talking, compared to actively planning the communication to make it effective. A lot of people get away with average communication skills in an office environment.

That doesn’t cut it working remotely. The lack of strong communication skills is getting exposed immediately and this can become frustrating and be a productivity killer. Sure, many companies initially save time. What used to be a 20-minute “meeting”, can suddenly be resolved in 3 minutes via a Slack message.

But this only works if people have the skills to situationally choose the right channel to communicate and build the communication skills that different channels require. What topics are better saved and discussed during the daily morning meeting or for the weekly team meeting or the weekly meeting with the manager? When do we do a loosely structured ad hoc meeting to clarify a few questions versus when is it better to have an agenda and to allow participants to prepare for the meeting? What is better communicated in written form versus spoken in person?

Great freedom to choose comes with great responsibility.

  • Remote work requires a more intentional approach to relationship- and team-building

Ultimately, whatever success a company has, goes back to the people. And in particular, of how well people work together.

The foundation of great teamwork is mutual trust and respect, which is something that is hard and slow to create.

Office environments do help a lot and naturally nurture relationships. Here are some examples:

- Lunch meetings with random co-workers

- Meetings team members on the way from or to the BTS, or while being stuck in the rain in front of the office

- Random talks at the watercooler during breaks

- Before or after meetings in the board rooms

- Overhearing talks and jumping into random conversations at our work desks

- Cheering each other up and celebrating wins together

It's all these small touchpoints that over-time build trust amongst peers. Or how one manager has reflected on it: "Looking back to when and how I became close to {name of team member} and others, is not because of work directly, but because we spent time eating lunch together almost every day. Our relationship didn't become strong through "fun" activities, but because we shared the same pain and vision every single day."

A lot of these touchpoints between human to human are missing when working remotely and can not be replaced to the same degree via Slack or Google Hangout calls. That doesn’t mean they cannot be created. It just means that for remote teams managers and team members need to plan on how to build relationships and trust amongst team members by organizing “real life” get-togethers.

  • Remote work is scary because it is unknown and new

One of our team members pointed out that all of the challenges of remote work can also be seen as advantages.

Harder to train, manage and lead? 

That’s cool. We leaders at Northstar are committed to becoming the leaders that we wish the world had. If we aim to become the best leaders, then why not practice every day under more challenging and futuristic (=remote) conditions? The more intentional action we need to lead, manage and train, the better we will become.

Harder to be accountable and to better lead and manage ourselves?

How much longer til were responsible for the consequences of our actions?

If we always rely on the external environment that nurtures and pushes us, then we’ll never actually grow up and become high-performing professionals. Remote work "forces" us to be true to our core values when it comes to hiring, training, and promoting team members.

Harder to communicate?

We are a digital (performance) marketing company and the essence of our work is digital communication. If we can effectively communicate with imaginative "target audiences" and "personas" we should better be able to communicate effectively with each other, right? What other life skills are there that are more worthwhile to practice intentionally every single day? Going remote early will give all of us a jumpstart at practising one of life’s greatest skills.

Harder to build relationships?

Our most important core value is to "surrender the me for the we" because we believe that teamwork is what makes people and organizations thrive. Having to be more intentional in building relationships has elevated our perspective. It has allowed us to realize that even in the office pre-Covid, we did not always do the best job when it came to building intentional relationships.

3. Deciding to work remotely

After going through the whole journey above, I felt much more educated. But I didn’t feel any smarter.

The first step was to educate the management team and to share the research with them. They are the ones coping with the consequences the most. Remember the management team from the virtual lunch? Yes, exactly this group of people who had initiated the whole discussion about remote work. Because they all felt strongly that they would prefer to stay remotely in the future.

After they went through the research and did their own research and deeper considerations…

They changed their opinion 180 degrees!

Going remote seemed to be too risky. It felt safer and easier to stick with the office culture. Maybe give some remote flexibility, like allowing team members to work from home for one day a week.

But worst of all: We didn't have a strong conviction for this being a great strategic long-term move either. We were stuck and lost.

Next, I did what I always do when I get stuck or lost. I request support from our leadership coach Jean-Francois Cousin. Jean has been working with us for 3 years. I contribute a lot of my personal and professional growth to him. He made a lasting impact on the whole company. He is the behind-the-scenes "Northstar” for the Northstar leadership team. We wouldn’t be today where we are without him. Merci!

As a coach, he doesn’t tell us what to do, but instead, he guides us by asking the right question

As usual, I got clarity after talking to Jean. He helped us to zoom out and to realize the following:

  • We have been remote for the whole year and a good part in 2020
  • We not only managed to keep the lights on, but we have also recovered from 2 crisis
  • We have to build a team and culture remotely that is stronger than ever

The biggest clarity came from the fact that when listening to our heart and gut it was a no-brainer decision to go remote. Once we involved our mind during the research, the mind does what it always does:

Gets scared and tries to play it safe.

We went back with full clarity to the leadership team. Now we knew the right question to ask:

brain,  comics and  facebook

We went back with full clarity to the leadership team.

Now we new the right question to ask:

Do we want to follow our hearts or our mind?

Do we want to do what is easy and safe or do we want to do what "feels right" and create the culture and work environment of our dreams?

We all 

  • Remembered our mission to "empower ourselves and the team through a growth mindset culture"
  • Know that "easy and safe" is an illusion that does not exist, neither in life nor in business
  • Believe that long-term it’s more motivating, fun and rewarding to create the culture that our heart desires

This gave us the clarity and the confidence we needed.

Northstar is not going back to the office.

We'll be building world-class remote culture. 

And we are starting right now.

Source: REMOTE: Office Not Required - Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

In Thailand, companies will have more time to drag out the decision to go remote for longer.

But companies can't change the desire of the most progressive knowledge workers to

Source: Cheddar
  • Have more freedom and autonomy
  • Have more time for family, friends, and other activities
  • Live and work from wherever they want
  • Stop wasting time and resources commuting
  • Stop being forced to live in Bangkok for a career
  • Being trusted to be accountable


We are now a remote-first culture (August 2021)

Once we had the conviction to build a remote-first culture the roll-out was rather unspectacular.

We announced the decision and the implications of the decision to the team, and in less than a month we sold everything and moved out of the office. Making this decision has helped many team members to become more productive. We are not in “limbo” anymore and working from home wasn’t a temporary solution.

Once we made the announcement, team members prepared and optimized to work from home.

Before selling/storing office equipment like chairs and tables we send it to team members who could use it to optimize their work setup. Otherwise, nothing has changed.

Thanks to Covid, we didn’t even have a chance to have a farewell party in our office.

What will happen Post-Covid?

We don't know what will happen next. Maybe it ends up being a disaster and we move back to the office. Much more likely, though, we are going to face some challenges, overcome them together, and keep growing in this direction.

Many times the word “hybrid” came up, which is something I do not believe in. I don’t think there is a “hybrid culture”. Great company culture is something that has to be built consciously every single day through every single action. It’s hard enough to build a great culture working remotely OR in the office. Hybrid work - let’s say 3 days in the office and 2 days remote - would force an organization to build two great cultures at the same time.

I’m ambitious, but that seems to be unnecessarily difficult to do.

That said, we still intend to have a smaller office post-Covid. Not for the sake of making it work. Our culture will be built every single day as a remote-work culture. The additional office location is a nice addition. The idea is to have each pod (usually 3 to 8 people) have one fixed day per work to work together from the office. The few people who prefer to work from an office can be there every day. Everybody else will be there once a week.

Additionally, it will give us meeting room space to meet with clients as needed. We’ll probably run this for 3 - 6 months in a co-working space and then evaluate it again (and are already getting a lot of mixed opinions).


Helpful remote activities and the first few months as a conscious remote-first culture (November 2021)

It’s been smooth sailing in terms of remote work and seems everybody is getting better at it every week. The biggest ongoing concern is how to nurture relationships, especially as new people are joining the team. It seems that most of the budget that was previously used for having an office will eventually be rolled over to get the team together outside of work.

Here are some activities that have helped us along the way:

Hello Monday Morning Meeting

We are starting each week together on Zoom to share good vibes and wins from the last week!

Creative Mastermind

Every week we get together to share and discuss the best-performing marketing creatives. Not only a great way to celebrate together, but also a great way to leverage collective intelligence and to be learning from each other.

Book Clubs

Stephan R. Coveys "The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People" {Book Review} |  Daniel Karim

Team members who have similar challenges and ambitions are reading the same books for personal growth. Once every 2-weeks I am meeting with these groups on Zoom and we are sharing our perspectives. 

3 Minute Animal

Need a break in the afternoon? Join some of our team members for a quick remote afternoon game.


We play random games to get to know each other and the winner gets Starbucks or Central gift cards. The above video we had people share their working spaces and then we would guess which working station belongs to whom.

Pod Team Activities

Every manager has a budget of 1000 THB per team member per month to bring the team together in the real world and to have fun together. Unsurprisingly, in Thailand that always ends up involving eating food.



There is much more planned and the next 1-2 years will all be about experimentation. We just booked the tickets to fly the leadership team for 5 days to Koh Samui for our annual strategic planning. Why rent out board rooms for off-sites, when you can also co-live and work in a villa on tropical islands?

Conrad Koh Samui (SHA Plus+), Koh Samui | 2021 Updated Prices, Deals

We can hopefully do a similar event with the whole team next year. I’ll be updating this article once we have learned more. Send me an e-mail to patrick@northstar-performance if you want to get reminded about future updates or brainstorm and share experiences about making remote work in Thailand work!

Patrick Epler

CEO of Northstar. University drop-out, pro poker player and world traveler of 72 countries, turned growth marketer and business builder.
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November 10, 2021

Patrick Epler

CEO of Northstar. University drop-out, pro poker player and world traveler of 72 countries, turned growth marketer and business builder.