Earlier this week, Nathan and I had the privilege of presenting this research project at JAMK’s Global Colloquium in Jyväskylä, Finland. The focus of the event was the challenge faced by higher education regarding how to deliver and support innovative learning solutions in environments characterized by changing technology, economic condition and globalization. It was great to dialogue around this important topic with faculty from France, England, Turkey, South Africa, USA, and of course, Finland.
I believe it is important to keep asking the ‘why’ behind all the research we undertake. When we get our heads around ‘why’, only then can we move forward with more ‘how’ type questions. In a previous blog, ‘Remote Workers-what makes you great’ I touched on the ‘why’ behind this remote research… but what might the ‘how’ questions be? What design thinking type questions will open new doors of possibilities once the research findings have been gathered and analyzed?
As we posed these questions to the colloquium attendees…wonderful ideas began to emerge!
- How might we deliver learning in innovative spaces such as we do with trades and technology?
- How might we help students experience the life of a remote worker?
- How might we prepare our students for the global impact of work?
- How might we design our curriculum in such a way as to prepare for the competencies or ‘soft skills’ needed by our students to be successful in this context?
The exciting thing is that as educators:
- We have direct access to the workers of the future…we owe it to them to provide insights as to what they need to be successful (opportunity)
- We are charged with preparing these young minds (responsibility)
- We have the ability to reframe education in a way that reflects industry (ability), and,
- Our students need to know how they can thrive in an every changing world (compulsion)
In an ever changing world, we may not be able to prepare students for the specifics of the jobs they will do, so perhaps we need to focus more on the nature of how the work will get done. I suggest this kind of rethinking around how we prepare students must be done in collaboration with industry, with the experts, with remote workers and those who fully support remote work. Which circles right back to the research regarding what are the keys to success for remote workers, and in what ways do they need to receive feedback and support.
Next blog…what we’ve learned so far from interviews with remote workers in Kelowna, Vernon, Vancouver and Helsinki.
I am sitting at the Kelowna airport for the first leg of my research trip…still sitting because my flight got cancelled due to mechanical issue. I had hoped to get to Vancouver in time to attend a social event at WeWork and make some connections in preparation for the meetup scheduled there tomorrow. Not to be. It’s ironic that one of the key competencies for remote workers is flexibility…check!
Seriously though, travel is often part of working remotely. At times it’s because an individual has chosen remote work for the freedom of working from anywhere they desire. At other times it’s because their remote or virtual work calls for them to travel for a meeting with a client. When travel is for personal reasons, while frustrating, schedules can be more accommodating (unless you have airport connections). However, if a client is expecting you to arrive for an important meeting at a certain time, these schedule changes can be more problematic. Nathan Sawatzky, my research collaborator, experienced this only a couple of weeks ago when 3 meetings were cancelled because of multiple flight delays. Or what about the last minute cancellations made by the clients? Don’t they know how important this was to you? Flexibility, adaptability…you get the idea.
How do you deal with these unavoidable challenges? Practically, whenever possible, plan for them. Ideally, book to arrive a day ahead (my meeting is at 10am tomorrow…yup this isn’t my first cancelled flight). But even the best laid plans can go amuck calling for rearranging and rebooking of meetings. And what about the emotional toll it can take on the remote worker? Often these appointments have been made after considerable communication with existing, and potential, clients…much is on the line. How do you pick yourself up from the let down and start working on marking those new arrangements? I would suggest you make that kind of decision ahead of time. Will you choose to adapt? Will you pass on the ‘right’ to nurse a poor attitude about how ‘those’ people just can’t be depended on?
We’ve all heard the saying ‘two sides of the coin’. Well, there are two sides to the flexibility coin. The vast majority of remote workers I have chatted with cite that flexibility is one of the reasons they love their chosen work situations. They can build their work around their lives, allowing them to work when and where they choose, basically being the master of their own calendar. Flexibility also means honouring the schedules of others…when a ‘better offer’ comes along, be it for personal or professional reasons, the responsibly side of flexibility says that you get to choose which route to take. Do you honour the commitment to a client, or do you flex your ‘freedom’ muscles and go for the better offer. Again, you need to decide. It may help to consider that you may be the flip side of someone else’s flexibility coin.
I’m rebooked on a flight 5 hours later. I am hopeful that I’ll get to my meeting tomorrow (and my afternoon flight to Finland)…and the friendly Air Canada check-in lady gave me a $15 meal voucher instead of a $10 one…things are looking up.
Curious, Self-directed, Empathetic …three of the competencies that are vital for the success of a remote worker. How do I know? I asked a bunch of remote workers, and they answered…but we have only just begun asking!
Thanks to a grant (CSBER) from the Okanagan School of Business in Kelowna, BC, Canada (I’m a business prof there), I am formally embarking on a research study of remote workers. I want to know what competencies contribute to the success of remote workers? What effective feedback looks like, and from whom? What qualifies as a great workspace?
Why am I asking?
- Because remote work is the new reality of a growing and changing workforce;
- because organizations need to know how to best support their people who work remotely;
- because we need to know how to prepare our business students for the nature of the careers they will be entering, and
- because the best people to learn from are those already working remotely…they know what works and what is important.
Because remote workers are not restrained by co-located offices, hours of operation, nor physical location, it’s important that the scope of this research is globally focused. The remote worker can change locations–even continents–every month or so. The various maturity of each co-work space reflects the unique cultures developing around this growing working context (this is a topic we will jump into in a later blog…amazing spaces!)
I’m excited about the co-work locations on the itinerary so far: Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Edmonton, Vancouver, all in Canada, then Jyväskylä and Helsinki (Finland), London (England), Amsterdam and Einhoven (Netherlands), and Berlin (Germany). Each of these locations supports several co-work spaces of varying maturity, design, and purpose.
Add to this is the privilege of collaborating with Nathan Sawatzky, a global remote worker (and my son), who has already spent a great deal of time working from various co-work spaces across Europe. I can truly say that he has introduced me to a world of amazing people who experience opportunities, challenges, AND great rewards.
So, whether you are a remote worker, support one, know one, or want to be one…follow along and explore the world of work ‘outside the walls’.
Mid October and I am full into teaching again at the Okanagan School of Business. That means my scholarly/academic hat is on, but always tempered with ‘why?’ and ‘so what?’ questions (from myself, to myself). One of the topics we explore is motivation; what causes people to do what they do? How do you move people from solely working for a pay check (we all still need that), to also working towards contributing to something greater than themselves? This doesn’t have to be solving world hunger, or obliterating child exploitation (although these are right up there in the hierarchy of importance). Most great organizations have a cause, a reason to exist, a purpose, a why?, that fuels the motivation for their people to see beyond the day to day tasks.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one theory that we offer up to our students…the ultimate level being self-actualization. Meeting the needs of our employees should be foremost in the minds of all managers, something that those working with remote workers need to pay special attention to. This issue was well addressed in an article by Yonder ‘What Does Maslow Have to do with Remote Work?’
Self-actualization is great, but for me it has always come up short…it feels rather self-focused and self-centred. Needless to say I was intrigued when presented with the idea that Maslow’s later work actually added a 6th level…Self-less Actualization. This moves the individual from self fulfillment, to helping others realize fulfillment.
Koltko-Rivera (2005) sums it up as
“At the level of self-actualization, the individual works to actualize the individual’s own potential [whereas] at the level of transcendence, the individual’s own needs are put aside, to a great extent, in favor of service to others …”
Ok, a little heavy for a blog on supporting remote workers…I get it, but stay with me on this. If the greatest level of motivation happens when we take the reality of who we are: the gifts, talents, and strengths we have, and use those for the betterment of others, then we immediately realize the importance of also helping our remote workers be able to connect with and contribute to a cause outside of their need for connectedness, trust, or communication. What does that look like? Is it possible to measure that for success, and not simply performance outputs and deliverables?
This challenges and expands the traditional scorecard…how do we measure a worker’s contribution to the growth and well-being of others?
For the past 5 months I have been looking into the area of remote workers…I have learned much and I know I have only begun to scratch the surface. So, as summer comes to a close I want to hit pause and reflect on what I have gleaned so far.
- Remote work is alive and well across all industries, in all sizes of organizations from start ups to those that are well established.
- Remote work is not a ‘fad’…it’s here to stay and will only grow in it’s reach and impact.
- People are at the centre of a successful remote workforce
- Many reasons exist for people to choose this form of work: freedom, flexibility, increased productivity, and greater opportunity for creativity to name a few.
- There are also challenges inherent to working remote: limited communication, lonliness, poor or limited technology, time management, self discipline, focus …however, each can successfully be overcome.
- Trust is the key ingredient that will make or break a successful romote working arrangement.
- Communication needs to be intentional and customized to each situation.
- Face to face interactions still need to happen, even if only once every 6 months.
- Distributed vs co-located work arrangements does not necessarily mean organizations will save money…that can’t be the motivation.
- Organizational fears that remote workers will slack off is unfounded; research actually shows the opposite is true…remote workers have a tendency to over-work.
- Great locations like Co-Lab in Kelowna are available around the world so that remote workers (and those amazing digital nomads) have a place to connect and collaborate.
- The resources available on this topic are excellent…people continue to learn, to perfect, to mentor, to share, and to dedicate their efforts to support others entering into this exciting world of remote work.
- Working remote is not for everyone…and that’s ok.
So where do I go from here? I keep learning, keep experiencing, keep asking questions, and do whatever I can to share what I learn with those who want to know.
Some ideas? Continue to include this critical aspect of work with my business students (both in class and on-line); create a case study on the topic; be a resource to managers transitioning from supporting co-located teams to supporting distribute teams…pretty exciting from where I sit as a remote worker, business coach, and professor
Aside Posted on
According to Jeff Robbins with Yonder,
All communication needs to be intentional.
Seems fairly simply and straight forward…but is it?
Think about it…how much time do we honestly put into choosing our words? To be fair, some of us take time to measure and analyze our thoughts before giving voice to them while others are more apt to give voice and then reflect…or not!
In face to face interactions, even though our thoughts have been voiced, we generally have the opportunity to ‘take back’, or clarify as soon as we realize the message was not received in the manner intended. Not so easy to do when communication is shared through virtual channels.
Not only do we need to pay attention to the content of our messages, but also to the channel, the breadth of who receives the message, the frequency of communication, and the amount of information shared.
Working remotely, or virtually, calls for excellence – and intentionality – in communication. In fact, it can be our life line to clients, colleagues, contractors, and bosses! So how can we ensure that we are communicating to the best of our ability…and beyond? How can we be so intentional about our communications that ‘delete’ is not the first reaction when our name shows up on someone’s screen?
I believe this can be as simple as 4WH…yup, the old who, what, where, why, when, and how. Let’s build that out…
WHO addresses the receivers. Who needs the information that I am communicating? Who really needs to be included in the communication? Do I honestly need to hit ‘reply to all’?
WHAT considers the core or content of the message. What is the most important information that needs to be communicated?
WHERE thinks through the location of both sender and receiver. Where should each be when the communication takes place. Does the communication call for interaction that is best suited for a phone call, FaceTime, or Skype? Is privacy of utmost importance? Is dependable internet vital? Should there be limited noise?
WHEN pays attention to the timeliness of the communication. When does this information need to be communicated? When does the receiver need to receive this material: Immediately? By the end of day? No urgency at all? I like this excerpt from Fried and Hansson’s Remote: Office not Required
Questions you can wait hours to learn the answers to are fine to put in an email. Questions that require answers in the next few minutes can go into an instant message. For crises that truly merit a sky-is-falling designation, you can use that old-fashioned invention called the telephone.
HOW thinks about the channel of communication. How can I communicate this information in the most concise manner without compromising the content, urgency, sensitivity, or clarity?
WHY…perhaps the most important question of all. Why am I sending this message? What is the purpose? What is the expected outcome? What is my motive?
When you think about it, we can think through each of the 4WH filters in a very short amount of time, but the result of doing so will have long term benefit. Ready to give it a try? Ready to be intentional in your communication?
In my previous blog, I discussed how trust is a valuable and oft times rare commodity that doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, it is the result of intentional and focused effort, and a willingness to dedicate time to create such relationships. I also listed 5 challenges faced by remote workers as identified by Jeff Robbins, the first of which was the lack of non-verbal communication. This, I would suggest, can be a barrier to building trusting relationships with clients, and managers.
As I speak with both remote workers and their managers, a common piece of advise offered is, whenever possible, build in face to face time before the hire, during the process, and on an on-going basis after the contract has been signed. Yes, this adds to the financial cost of doing business, but it is money well spent in order to build a solid foundation of trust.
We are aware of the importance of non-verbal communication. Peter F. Drucker has been quoted as saying
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
‘The importance of non-verbal communication‘, a blog created by ethos3 provides excellent insight, and tips, on how to increase your non-verbal communication when speaking in public…presenting, negotiating, leading meetings, in fact anytime you are face to face and wanting to clearly communicate both a message and build trust with your listeners.
Let’s put this into the remote context. If this can be accomplished when we are face to face with others, how can we replicate it if the situation does not allow for such interactions? (The academic in me feels the need to provide you with further research into this.)
While there may not yet be a substitute for pure face to face, the addition of a Skype, FaceTime, or video conference call can increase the likelihood of connecting on such a level, providing a starting point on which to build a trust relationship. (Good site for virtual meeting tools)
When in the recruiting and selection process, the difference in a person from what I have imagined through cover letters, resumes, or even phone conversations, to when we actually meet face to face in an interview never ceases to amaze me. Not only does a face to face interaction remove the screen that can hide the tell tale signs of exaggeration, or dare I say, out right lies, but it can provide a lovely opportunity that opens the door to connect on a level that lets me see the gem shrouded on the pages of documents submitted. It would be a mistake to think that because you’ve had this f2f connection, you’ve covered all the bases…three months down the road you may again see an even different person! However, this is a great first step that is crucial for subsequent interactions that will result in a successful, right-fit hire.
A commitment to building trust through face to face doesn’t end once a connection has been made…it needs to be fostered in order to realize continued growth and development. In a conversation with Clint Schnee (founder & designer UXperts), he shared from his remote worker management and support experiences. His advise? “Following initial on-boarding face to face interactions, the maximum amount of time to wait between such times is 6 months.” This applies no matter where the employee is located around the world. He went on to say that “any longer than that and you will see the attrition and turnover rate greatly increase”.
While challenging, I do love the fact that as humans we still thrive when in face to face community with others, making those trusting connections…a practice worth striving for and fostering.