February 17

Episode 23: Cultivating Fulfillment While Working Remotely With Sarah Aviram


Are you feeling a lack of fulfillment in your work? Do you feel stuck, but can’t place your finger on exactly why you feel this way? Whether you currently work remotely or otherwise, there are 6 key “remotivators” that have a direct impact on our fulfillment within our career and the decisions we make as a result. Learn what they are, why you should take the time to reflect on these factors, and what steps you can take to feel fulfilled again. 

Today, Mike O’Neill is joined by Sarah Aviram, a remote work thought leader and author of the best-selling book Remotivation: The Remote Worker’s Ultimate Guide to Life-Changing Fulfillment. With her background in HR and unique remote work experiences, Sarah has helped to transform the lives of remote workers everywhere. 

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • How Sarah visited 12 countries in 12 months while working remotely full-time with a program called Remote Year 
  • How working remotely can help you identify the source of your attitude towards your work 
  • About key motivators such as money, identity, routine, growth, impact, and joy affect the decisions we make about our career, whether working remotely or in a traditional environment 
  • Why leaving your current company when you are dissatisfied is not always the answer 
  • How small steps you can take when you feel unfulfilled can make a big difference, without making a big career change 
  • Why leaders and employees should take the time to adapt and reflect on the abrupt changes brought upon us due to the pandemic 


  • It’s important for leaders to ask their teams “What routines are you going through the motions of that you feel are not serving you? Are there any terms that we need to renegotiate?” – Sarah Aviram 
  • “The first four letters of the word “Routine”, R O U T, if you drop the O, spells RUT” – Mike 
  • “You deserve to feel joy in your career.” – Sarah Aviram 
  • “It’s everyone’s right to feel joy on the job… the amount of hours you spend in your life doing your work and to not have any joy come from it, I think, is a great shame.” – Sarah Aviram 

Links & Resources Mentioned…

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Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill:  Hello and welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that may be keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today from New York is Sarah Aviram. Sarah is a remote work thought leader.

And her goal is to empower remote workers, to build more fulfilling careers and perform at their best. And she does this through her motivational talks, virtual and live workshops in her bestselling book. Remotivation the remote workers ultimate guide to life-changing fulfillment. Welcome Sarah.

Sarah Aviram: Hello, Mike.

It's great to be here.

Mike O'Neill: Well, I'm glad you're with us. I want to share a little bit more about your background with our listeners, because I think it's perfectly, aligned with the folks that I understand are listening as podcasts. Sarah has held leadership roles in HR and talent development with fortune 500 companies that you would recognize Avon and PepsiCo, but she's also worked in high growth technology companies like web.com and IAC, but what makes Sarah a perfect guest for this podcast is that in 2019, she spent a year working remotely.

From 12 countries. And it was during that time that she noticed that other remote workers often felt stuck and unfulfilled professionally, even though they were enjoying the freedom and the flexibility of a remote work lifestyle. And so, Sarah, I'm so glad you're with us, but in 2019 remote work, might've been kind of a novel concept.

And as I understand that you share with me before we recorded this podcast, that you took the initiative to try this out. What is it about that that drew you to want to go and spend a year working remotely?

Sarah Aviram: Thanks for asking that question Mike. It's one of my favorite stories to tell, actually, because, so this was early 2019.

I was reporting to a new boss and he said to me, I want you to bring me the talent trends of the year. What should we be focused on as an organization? I was the head of talent development for a tech company. And, you know, he said, you know, what are, what should we be looking toward? How are we going to compete for talent?

What are the trends in the global marketplace? And I brought four different trends to him, and one of them was remote work. And so not only at this time were more and more people wanting to be freelancers and small business owners or contractors and have the kind of freedom to work on projects that excited them.

But companies themselves were understanding that. In order to compete for the best talent, we might have to hire someone that's not located near a primary office of ours. And a lot of companies were calling themselves remote first companies in which they didn't even have an office. They just had, best talent

they hired from wherever they were located, whether it was nationally or internationally. And that's who they were hiring no offices. And they were creating this remote first culture and leveraging technology to create, you know, communication platforms and using different softwares, ensure that they were collaborating, communicating in the best ways possible.

And I was really fascinated by this trend. I worked at a company that they didn't love when people even worked from home on a Friday, let alone worked from home or across the world. And so when I brought this trend to my boss, I thought, you know, he's going to say, that's not for us. He's going to say, you know, other people do that, but we have a specific culture that, that requires everyone to be in the office.

But the more I explained to him how important it was that we really consider this type of thing, the more open he became. And long story short and ended up in a conversation of me saying there's even this program, it's called remote year. That facilitates the ability for professionals that work at corporations to work remotely around the world.

And stay connected to their jobs and not have to worry about having wifi connectivity, a coworking space to work all these important things. So I brought the job and this company called remote year. They organize my logistics of travel, my living accommodations, a co-working space, and they actually traveled with 30 different professionals from different companies and businesses I didn't even know of.

And I was able to convince my employer to let me participate in this program. And immerse myself in the future of work and really understand, like, what is it about remote working that challenges us? What are the opportunities and what can I bring back and educate others on for this future trend?

Mike O'Neill: Well, you, you convince what was initially a, kind of a reluctant boss to try this, and then here you are enrolled in this program and you set out. And I describe in kind of the intro that to me, what you just described.

12 months, 12 countries. It sounds very exciting at the same time work had to get done. But I didn't know, until you just mentioned that you are doing this with kind of a cohort. What a wonderful opportunity for you to see firsthand, what was going on. I suspect that that what's led to your decision to, to write this book.


Sarah Aviram: Exactly. Yes, it was being next to these people. Every day, we were worked in a coworking space together. What was so great is that you felt the comradery of having colleagues around you, but none of them actually worked for the same organization. You had lawyers, you had software engineers, marketing people.

And what I was noticing is a lot of them, the reason why they wanted to go on the program was very different from me. A lot of them felt like I don't really love my job, but if I could do it from anywhere. Maybe I'd love it. If I could be in, South Africa doing it, or, you know, travel and have the flexibility, then maybe I would enjoy it more.

And I think a couple months in, they felt that, but then longer term, a few months in, they really start to feel like, wow, I finally have this freedom and flexibility. I thought would be the key to my happiness and work, but I'm actually realizing that it's the work itself. I don't enjoy it. And unless that changes,

it's not gonna help me. Long-term it's not going to help me feel motivated to perform at my best in a longterm. And that's when kind of the light bulb went out, went off for me. And I said, there's something here. There's something about how, what I can do using my HR expertise to really help educate these people on the importance of connecting to the work itself and being motivated by that versus their environment.

And so that became like the Genesis of my book.

Mike O'Neill: Well, obviously the timing for this couldn't be any better.  At least with, with clients that we work with. So many of them were reacting to COVID and we're required to have to go to remote work. And so they kind of hastily threw things together. What's interesting,

your coworkers, if I could use that. Term the folks that were going through this same program with you, they signed up because they were looking for, and what I understand you to be saying is that it was not the, the freedom and the flexibility of remote work. That was the problem. It was their attitude towards work.

Sarah Aviram: Their attitude towards work, the work itself. Yeah. They thought, by putting this sort of bandaid solution onto their dissatisfaction in their job, by just doing it somewhere else, they thought that that would be more of a longer-term solution. And many of them have since changed organizations or changed the kind of work that they do because they have that realization that changing their environment, wasn't the solve all for how they were feeling about their work.

Mike O'Neill: You know, to some extent, it sounds as if this led to you changing, because it looks like this lit a fire for you that the light bulb did in fact, go off. In your book, you introduced this idea of a remotivator. So before we get into those, how do you define our remotivator? So I call it remotivators.

Sarah Aviram: It's sort of a play on words of the word, remote and motivator, kind of combined into one. And these were six different motivations. I felt were driving people to make decisions around their career. So they were driven by a pressure regarding their money, their identity, their routines, and then opportunities for growth, impact and joy.

And so those were the six remotivators that I identified that were the most, most influencing people's decisions around their careers.

Mike O'Neill: So let me restate those money, identity, an routines, growth, impact and joy. Can we take a moment, the money piece, you would think that's kind of obvious, but when you found money, what did that, what did you learn?

Sarah Aviram: Right. What I learned it's kind of twofold. So you had people that were driven by money in a way that if they didn't keep their job, they don't have enough money to pay their next three months rent. Right. So it was a significant pressure related to that. Then you had people who felt. They were paid so much.

How could they leave? It was like the classic golden handcuffs, as they say, like, I make this much money. How would I ever make that much going somewhere else? And so, even though they didn't love their job, money was still a motivator to stay in it because you know, the reward was too high to consider leaving.

So that's where money ends up motivating us. And so a lot of what I talk about in our book is if we can understand and manage some of the pressure, both from having too little or having too much, that money puts on us and we can kind of feel comfortable with what our relationship with money is. We can make decisions around our career driven by our intrinsic desires to do something rather than receiving a reward or not receiving a reward.

Mike O'Neill: I appreciate the clarification. You know, when I say the word identity, it means something to me, but when you write a chapter on identity, what does it mean to you and to your readers.

Sarah Aviram: Identity is how we define ourselves. It's the values that we connect with. I'll give you an example. I had people that were doing their job because of their identity.

And what I mean is someone would say, But I'm a lawyer I've studied for years to become a lawyer who am I, if I'm not a lawyer, I would disappoint myself or my family or my partner. If I didn't continue doing this, even though I am not satisfied doing it. And so it's, it's, and in some ways, identity can be a very positive driver.

Of course we know it's like something, Oh, this is a core part of who I am. And it makes me proud to do this work. But a lot of times we feel a pressure from our identity because we don't want to let ourselves down or let someone else down if we don't continue in a job, because of what it means about who we are, who we want to be.

Mike O'Neill: Hmm. We actually are going through these each in turn, routines.

Sarah Aviram: Routines are when we continue to do a job because the inertia of daily life is just kind of pushing us along. Like I'm doing this job today because I did it yesterday. You know, and it's a motivator because it actually does get us to do the work and, and that's okay.

And sometimes we have processes or practices we have to kind of go through because they're important. But sometimes they don't take the time to stop and think like, Why am I, why am I doing this? Is this still serving my goals? Is this still something I'm interested in doing? What are my reasons for it?

We could just get so wrapped up in our routines of daily life and look, routines, offer us security and stability and like this knowing of, of what to expect. And sometimes. The discomfort of the knowing is, is better than the discomfort of not knowing what, what would be different if I change the routine.

So we kind of stick to something just because it feels comfortable, but it's not always for, you know, again, those intrinsic reasons. Cause it's what we really want.

Mike O'Neill: You know, as I reflect on the word routines, the first four letters, R O U T if you drop the Oh, it's rut.

Sarah Aviram:  Yes. Yes.

Mike O'Neill: You identified a fourth remotivater or as growth?

Sarah Aviram: Yes. So growth is a motivator when we are developing skills or having experiences that contribute to our growth. So this is when we're in a job because we are finding that we're learning a tremendous amount. We're feeling challenged. We're able to create new things where we're, learning from others.

And so that is a huge motivator because when we feel like we're expanding our minds, then we are motivated to keep at, you know, keep at that job and keep growing ourselves.

Mike O'Neill: The fifth one impact.  I can't help to think, I'm going to come back to this question, but in terms of what you found of these six, but impact, how do you define that?

Sarah Aviram: So impact is when our work provides. A value that we believe is important and we don't have to work in life-changing industries or create, you know, life saving products in order to feel like our work is making an impact. It's really understanding the value that our work provides, whether it's to our clients or customers or community, or even a fellow coworker, you know, you know, the work you're doing and how it's having an impact.

And a lot of times, we're having more of an impact than we think, but we don't have the context to understand that because no one has told us that presentation, I sent you three weeks ago I, what happened with it? Was it valuable? Did people like it? What did the clients say? Like we're not getting that feedback of, of the value that our work is providing.

So we don't feel as connected to it, but when we can feel that connection to our work and we understand that impact, it really creates a whole different level of connection to our work.

Mike O'Neill: And we'll wrap that up. This three letter word joy. You don't hear that often very much when you're talking about work joy.

Sarah Aviram: And it's such

a shame, isn't it?

Cause I feel like it's, everyone's right. To feel joy on the job.  And you know, you hear people say, Oh, well it's called work for a reason, or, you know, and I think what a shame, because the amount of hours you spend in your life doing your work, And to not have any joy come from it. I believe is a, is a great shame and joy can be a motivator when the work itself is its own reward.

When the work is enjoyable, it's creative. It allows you to innovate.  When you kind of get home at the end of the day and you feel energized and you say to your friend, your partner, your spouse, whomever like, Oh, like say it was great. I got to like solve this challenge or work on this project. Like I feel good.

So. You know, that is sort of the pinnacle, right? That is kind of where we want to get to. So if we can minimize some of the obstacles related to our money, our identity and routines. And we can optimize some of the opportunities regarding, you know, for growth and impact, then we can start to realize the joy and that's sort of the goal and part of the journey, right.

Mike O'Neill: You know, I can see it in your eyes and I can hear it in your voice. You really do enjoy what you're doing and how you're helping others. I gave you a little bit of a heads up those six categories you call them remotivaters that can drive professional fulfillment, money, identity, routines, growth, impact and joy.

What of those six do you find is most elusive for folks?

Sarah Aviram: Hmm,

I would say impact is, is one that I think people feel like it's interesting. A lot of people that tend not to be fulfilled in their job, or like, well, I'm not curing cancer, so. You know, they don't feel connected to the to that work. And again, it's like, we need to understand, like, who is my audience?

Who am I serving? Like, what value are they getting from my work? And a lot of times, and we'd like to think that managers do a good job of giving their direct reports, the context they need to understand why they'd been assigned a task or what the purpose of a specific project is. But not all managers are consistent with giving that feedback.

So I always recommend to employees, like you need to ask for it, that is, you know, important for you to understand. And not only is it just so you feel good and you know it so you can provide the best solutions and make the best recommendations. The more context you have about the purpose of why you're doing something, the more you're going to feel connected to it and come up with the best solutions to the problems that you've been put in front of you.

And so I think, we tend to, again, we, by not asking for the context, we get back into those routines of like, okay, I was just asked to do this. So I'm doing it. You're just sort of like a machine putting out work. But if you can connect to like its greater purpose, I think that, the joy will come from it.

Right? The, the skill growth will like so many more things will come from that.

Mike O'Neill: I try to remind myself of our listeners, which as I understand it, they're leaders. And so they're listening to you from the perspective of a leader. I have to lead employees who are working remotely. It could very well be that those same leaders are also working remotely.

And I want to make sure we don't lose sight of this. I know these six. Core remotivators apply working remotely or not. But do you find that folks who work remotely, do they struggle with one of these more than other you, I asked you about being elusive, but in terms of if you're leading others, which of these six categories would a leader need to be very mindful of if they're leading remote workers?

Sarah Aviram: Yeah. This has been not the typical time to work remotely. I must say, you know, we're in a global pandemic, this is not your standard time. We had to adapt to it very quickly. We had to kind of settle into processes and routines that, we're, weren't familiar with before we even had a chance to decide if they made sense to work remotely.

And so I think the best thing a leader can do is to ask this question about the routines. And say like, Hey, I know we know, we kind of had to set up shop from home in kind of a flurry and where there was so much going on and, you know, everyone had other concerns in their lives, you know, are the kids in school, they work.

Are they home? You know, if, if you've lived by yourself, are you lonely? All of these things that were kind of additional pressures to, add to the typical work from home environment. So I think it's important for leaders to ask their teams, like, you know, What, what routines are you going through the motions of that you feel like are not serving you?

Are there any terms that we need to kind of like renegotiate? Like we said, that, you know, you know, typically a Workday is nine to five, but if you need to be home for your kids at school after three o'clock, you know, you know, could we change the work hours that start at 7:00 AM? Or maybe you log back on at 7:00 PM after you put the kids to bed.

Like these are the kinds of things that managers need to be asking their employees more and more because our standard routines that give us that stability. So this is the good side of it have kind of been turned upside down and we need to reassess what are the ones that will serve us and the ones that are no longer serving us.

Mike O'Neill: Sarah, the kind of the tagline for your book, The Remote Workers Ultimate Guide To Life changing Fulfillment. It sounds as if what we've been talking about can apply equally well to those who are leading these remote workers. And I appreciate you kind of clarifying that. You know, you made an interesting point and that is many organizations, are were reacting are reacting, and now they're looking around and say, okay, is this how things are going to be

going forward. Is it your sense that these six remotivators, is this going to be something that we're going to be with for some time? And that is these six things, is this going to be something that we really need to kind of commit? Not just a memory, but to practice as leaders?

Sarah Aviram: Absolutely. I think that these six remotivators are key to helping

employees feel fulfilled and perform at their best, regardless of where they're working from. I wrote this book with the lens of remote work on top of what in general brings career fulfillment and allows people to perform at their best. So it's sort of a lens that I might put on top of it. It's not only talking to remote people, but yes, I do agree.

And, I wanted it that way because I knew that things are going to change and, and move around. And in the near future companies are going to make decisions. Do we go back to the office? Full-time is there a hybrid model? Do we allow people to work from home three days a week, but they have to come in two days a week.

You know, companies are still trying to figure this out. And that's why I think sticking to these core foundational principles of like understanding the six motivators and how to activate them to your benefit is going to serve you regardless of where you're working from.

Mike O'Neill: Very, very well said. You know, this question's coming, so let me go ahead and pose this.

And that is, you've had a very interesting career thus far, and now you're taking what you have learned and you're sharing it with your reading audience for those who are participating in your workshops and alike, but would you be willing to share maybe a personal example where you got stuck and what did you need to do to get unstuck?

Sarah Aviram: Yeah, that's a, that's a great question. And I would say it was before I did this remote year experience that I explained. I was, I started to really get into practicing gratitude, which I recommend to everyone. It kind of is it's an amazing mindset shift. But what I realized that, that. Although I was so grateful to have a job that I liked that paid well, that I enjoy that I was learning.

I still felt like something was missing. And I was like, do I need to leave my company in order to like, feel happy again, to feel challenged again? Or can I figure out a way to re-engage myself in my current job? And this was interesting. Cause I feel like a lot of people don't start where they are. They don't start an examine,

like can I, create a better situation in my current organization, they kind of think like, Oh, this is going on and I should just jump ship and go somewhere else. But they take the same problems with them or they haven't taken the time to identify what is it that I want to change? Let me see if that can happen here in a company where I've

builds credibility and a reputation and where they're more likely to take a chance on me and helped me develop in the ways I want to. Versus going to a new place where it's a bit harder to do that. And sometimes when we do that investigation, it might be, yes, the right answer is to leave and go somewhere else.

But it's important to start there and find out. So I was in that situation, I said, you know, I feel like I've implemented all these you know, new practices and processes in my organization, but like, what's next? Like what are the new challenges? And so I kind of wrote my, my list, I call it the jig list.

Right? So the joy impact and growth. So I took three of my remotivators and I wrote, okay, joy. What is, so these were three lists. What are the projects or initiatives that I've worked on? That I've really enjoyed. That I got excited about that. I didn't care if I was working until midnight, because I was like excited to figure out how to

you know, solve these solutions. So that was my joy list. I mean, like, what are the things I enjoy, maybe they were projects at previous companies or whatever, but I sort of, what are the themes among the type of work that I really enjoy. Then impact, what is the impact my work makes, what impact do I want it to make?

Who who's, what audience do I want to serve? Am I currently serving them? So I kind of made a list on impact. And then the G, was growth. So what skills do I want to develop? How do I want to grow? What does that look like? What new experiences do I want to have? So I made this list. And I said, I'm going to bring this to my manager and I'm going to see if these things are possible within my own company, because this is what I feel is going to get me unstuck.

This is what I feel like is going to excite me for the next stage. And I brought that list and I said to my manager here, here's what I want to be doing. And then one by one, we said, okay, What opportunities are there within the current organization, and maybe not even in my current role, but like a cross-functional project or something I could do to help me check these things off.

And we found so many opportunities for me to do that. And by the way, a very important part is to say, how will doing these things positively influenced the organization. Right? So not just things I want to work on that have no benefit to the organization. So how could they benefit the organization? So it's important to link the two.

And so that was a really important step for me. And. It led to one of the most fulfilling professional careers in my life. Again, this wasn't about the travel this was before then a lot of people think that was the solve. But you know, it wasn't, it was, it was when I was still in New York and I was able to really work and grow and have an impact in the ways that were important.

And to me.

Mike O'Neill: I love the story you're sharing, this is really kind of remarkable, you know, as you kind of reflect back, you've had this experience, you came back, you compiled lots of information. You've written a book you've shared the content of that book with listeners and audiences around. But as you step back and you kind of say, all right, for the folks listening to this podcast, we've talked about a lot of different things we're going to include.

The, in the show notes, links to how to get hold of your book. And I get ahold of you. But what I want to ask, if you were to step back and say, gosh, I sure hope that the listeners of this podcast heard the following. What would you say are the most important things you want us to have as takeaways.

 That you

Sarah Aviram: deserve to feel joy in your career?

I know it can sound kind of cheesy to say it sometimes, but people. They don't feel deserving of it and they don't seek it out. And they just think like, like I said before, Oh, it's, it's work for a reason. It pays the bills. And I understand people are in financial situations, especially now. And they don't have the luxury of doing just whatever brings them joy and that, you know, there are priorities, but more often than not people feel like, you know, I.

I don't know how to position it. I don't know what I want. They don't take the time to like uncover and make those lists. Like I spoke, I spoke about. And such small tweaks to your current situation can make a big difference. You don't necessarily have to overhaul your career and totally change things, but how can you change things in the every day that could make a bigger difference and bring you more joy?

Mike O'Neill: You know, you refer to your jig list, the joy impact and growth. So it's not a surprise that the major takeaway that you want our listeners to hear is joy is possible. And what you describe is joy might result with a minor tweak. But you've gotta be willing to reflect on.

Sarah Aviram: Right.

Mike O'Neill: This podcast will probably uploaded in the first quarter of 21.

A lot of people are trying to put 2020 in the rear view mirror. And they're stepping back and you're saying, okay, looking forward individually and organizationally. It strikes me, is that what you've shared with us would be a remarkable resource that they can use, as they read through this and reflect on and more importantly, act on these six motivators.

This is good stuff, Sara.

Sarah Aviram: Thanks Mike.

Mike O'Neill: If those folks listening want to get hold of you and reach out to your online, what's the best way for them to do that. Sure.

Sarah Aviram: They can go to my website. It's SarahAciram.Com and we can link to that. They can also connect with me on LinkedIn. And of course I have different resources that they can look into that are on my website.

A lot of the, the lists and the kind of exercises I spoke about today. If they go to SarahAviram.com/book, they will see a 42 page free workbook that they can download. It's an accompaniment to my book. You don't even have to buy the book to get the free workbook, but of course, getting the book will give you the context.

You need to understand the questions that are asked in there, but we'll help you work through some of the things I talked about and figure help you figure out how to manage and activate each of these six motivators to your benefit.

Mike O'Neill: We're going to include this in the show notes, but for those who are driving down the road and it says, I just got to get hold of this now, can you do me a favor, spell Sarah and spell your last name for the listeners?

Sarah Aviram: Sure. So Sarah Aviram that's S A R A H. A V like Victor, I R a M like Mary. So you can go to SarahAviram.com and there's a lot of information on there. And then you can sign up I have a weekly newsletter called remotivation mail, and it's where I give my best tips and stories, lots of personal stuff in there too.

Cause I always find that that brings a message home. And as one reader call it, which I love that she said this, I, I put it on my site. She said, it's career advice so good. I want to tattoo it on my arm. I say, you know what? I'm using that on my


Mike O'Neill: Well, what a wonderful Testament. And I have looked at your website and some of your resources.

They're really good. So I'm gonna encourage our listeners to do just that. Sarah, you've been a delight to spend time with. Thank you.

Sarah Aviram: Thank you, Mike. It's a pleasure to talk with you today.

Mike O'Neill: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. We upload the latest episode every Thursday, and I hope you'll subscribe via your favorite platform, but if you've been listening to my discussion with Sarah and you're realizing, Hmm, something's keeping me or my company stuck, let's talk.

Visit unstuck.show and schedule a call we'll explore what's got you or your company stuck and what might you do to overcome it? So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you have picked up on some tips that will help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.

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