Month: July 2018

Competencies and remote work…

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1D9EE45D-559C-4455-B0B5-009B78912423Before taking a break for holidays, I want to post one final blog regarding remote work (I’ll continue to post again in September).      A student asked me today for clarity around competencies…a valid question. How do you differentiate basic skill know-how, from a competency? This is important to clarify as we consider those key to remote work. I like this definition from University of Nottingham…

Competencies are abilities or attributes, described in terms of behaviour, key to effective and/or highly effective performance within a particular job.

A competency goes beyond knowing the technical aspect of a task. For example…I may know how to sell a good pair of shoes and what information to provide the customer (i.e. proper fit, potential for stretching, proper care…)…easily learned. 0DB82C05-1FC4-44D5-B74B-0F89746741BAHowever, that doesn’t mean I know how to sell a pair of shoes in such a way that a loyalty and ‘relationship’ has been seeded with the customer. Do I discover why the shoe is being purchased? Did I learn anything about the customer and his/her likes and dislikes? Have I created a shoe shopping experience for the customer that they will come back for, AND tell their friends about? We are talking about behaviour here…what kind of behaviour would you be able to observe as I served the customer? Perhaps excellent customer service? Perhaps some level of empathy? Those behaviours are what we call competencies.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had such experiences in 3 shoe stores…one even served cappuccino, and the other wine! @shoeembassy (Brighton, England) @strut (Kelowna, BC) and @ladifferenciate (Vancouver, BC)

In preparation for further work on this research in the autumn, we will be sending surveys to remote workers, specifically those in the tech industry, to get their feedback on the accuracy of the competencies we’ve identified. (If you’re interested I’d be happy to send you a survey to complete…rsawatzky@okanagan.bc.ca) Knowing that different aspects of tech remote work may place different values on each, we want to end up with a list of 5-7 top core competencies that truly reflect the worker in their respective areas.

Here’s a summary of what we have learned so far, and want to narrow down.

  • Self-directed (making your own decisions and organizing your own work)
  • Disciplined (showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working)
  • High Self-efficacy (high belief in your own capabilities to produce quality outcomes)
  • Trustworthy (able to be relied on as honest or truthful)
  • Empathetic (showing an ability to share the feelings of another)
  • Adaptable (able to adjust to new conditions)
  • Curious (eager to know or learn something)
  • Flexible (ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances)
  • Taking initiative (an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something.)
  • Self-motivated (motivated to do or achieve something because of one’s own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.)
  • Focus (concentrating attention on the most urgent problems)

I agree that many of these are simply good competencies to possess in any work context, however, I would suggest that the level of proficiency needed for remote workers in each area is higher…their very success depends on it!

Next steps? 1. Survey. 2. Based on results, narrow the competency list. 3. Create specific behavioural questions a manager can ask to determine if the person they want to hire fits the criteria for success as a remote worker. Or…an individual could reflect on if they are considering remote worker.

For now, happy summer…see you in September!

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Coffee shops with purpose…

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Lot Sixty One

In a previous blog I promised to talk about the many specialty cafés we visited while on our remote research trip…and I do mean places to drink a great cup of coffee! 

Coffee shops such as Lot Sixty One play an important role in the life of a remote worker…possibly more than originally imagined. For example, while writing this blog I am sitting at one of my favourite coffee shop in Kelowna…my friends and family refer to it as my ‘other office’. In fact, this would be my 3rd space…I have an office at the college, a lovely one at home, yet still I feel the need to come to Esther and Sons Cafe to create and write. (Never underestimate the contribution of caffeine to creativity!) 

I previously talked about the importance of space as it relates to where we work and connect. When researching remote workers, we set up appointments to meet with such individuals in cowork spaces…and we were awarded with some wonderful, insightful, conversations. Reflecting back on those visits, we noticed some things…to be clear, these are simply observations, but we think they warrant further inquiry.

  • The majority of people we met working in co-work spaces seem relatively fixed to that space.
  • Many users are either small businesses, or stationed at a location distant from the organization they work for.
  • The gender demographic appears to be a higher representation of male vs female.
  • The age demographic appeared to be slanted toward a younger generation (younger than boomers).
  • These shared spaces are not frequented as often by ‘traveling’ remote workers (those who frequently travel globally, but do have a home base).
Father Carpenters

So this is where the coffee shop space comes in.  We know there are various forms of remote working…no surprise there. If it is true that a challenge for remote workers is loneliness and isolation (and this certainly was verified through our interviews), and if our observations are accurate, then where do these ‘traveling’ remote workers go to feel some sense of belonging? Enter the coffee shop.

As mentioned in previous blogs, my son Nathan is collaborating with me as I look at remote work. In his travels he often uses coffee shops to work out of…some of which we visited on our recent trip. The cool thing was that as soon as they saw Nathan, he was warmly welcomed and immediately drawn into a ‘catch up’ conversation. Places like Five Elephant Coffee in Berlin,  Lucifer’s Specialty Coffee in Eindhoven, or Kaafi in The Hague.
It’s important to note that he had not been to these specific locations for months! Yet the commitment of the staff and owners was to create a space that didn’t just serve amazing coffee (
and they did), but a space were the customers could feel a sense of belonging.

Another coffee shop we enjoyed was House of Tribes in The Hague. The space was intentionally designed by Jerome Vester of Ninety Nine Architects for people to come and work while enjoying a good brew. We had a choice of a ‘living room’ type space, individual seating, and even a long table that could be booked for 1 hour meetings. No matter where you sat there was a plug in within arms length…intentionally blended in as part of the décor! They advertise strong internet connection (free of course). Add to that the cheery welcome you received as soon as you walked in the door, and you have a place any lonely traveler would love to open a laptop to get some work done.

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House of Tribes

I would be negligent if I didn’t mentioned one inherent problem here…how long can someone work in one coffee shop, nursing maybe only 1 or 2 drinks, before overstaying their welcome?  In fact, based on conversations Nathan had this week in London, he shared that “it’s becoming an increasingly difficult issue in the local coffee shops. Too many people are opting to use cafes as their office and feel emboldened to do so by the proliferation of cowork spaces and others doing it. Businesses find themselves in a really difficult spot.”

I don’t have an answer for this, but wonder if there might be an opportunity for some forward thinking café owners to provide a ‘remote worker’ package that includes a certain number of coffees, a snack, and a warm welcome for a predetermined amount of time? Hmmm, worth pondering.