“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones
There are times in life when I so desperately want to have something profound to share…like right now. You know what I’m talking about…some way to offer comfort or encouragement to family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Those whose experiences during these days vary from sadness to fear, despair to frustration, from loneliness to exhaustion, appreciate to being totally overwhelmed. Some are even expressing gratitude for the forced slowing down of life. Even the simplest comforting touch or high five is not an option. All we truly have to express our love, concern, empathy, praise, appreciation or whatever, are our words.
All we have is words? All we have? Perhaps we need to remember how powerful words actually are. Remember the old saying’ “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me.” So not true. How many of us have been hurt beyond measure by the words spoken by friend or foe? Then again, how many of us have been ministered to by the power and beauty found in a thoughtful, genuinely crafted message offered in a time of need. Words have the power to hurt, yes, but more important, they have healing power that goes beyond what we can imagine.
“Beautifully crafted words have the power to captivate the mind of anybody.” Sam Veda
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” George Herbert
“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.”
Lawrence G. Lovasik
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“Go inside where silence is. Stay there. Let words bubble up.” Maxime Lagacé
Words are powerful. When time is taken to connect with what we want to express, to identify the feelings, the emotions, then paint a word picture that expresses those deep thoughts to someone who needs to hear them, the outcomes are nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, the beauty of the written word is in the reading, and re-reading, prolonging the joy or affirmation received by the ‘other’.
I’m not a great orator, nor am I capable of orchestrating a magnificent symphony with words, but I want to learn. Not for self-edification, but to put into words–spoken and written, what I have lived, what I feel, what I am learning, and offer them up as a gift to bring meaning and edification to others.
Perhaps together we can create verbal touches and virtual hugs offered to others through the sharing of thoughtful, genuinely crafted words, seasoned with a healthy measure of empathy.
It’s been almost 2 weeks since NomadCity2019 ended and I continue to be asked by friends and colleagues about my main learnings and take always. My honest answer has been that I haven’t had the time to sit and reflect on the amazing event it was. I continue to read the reflections of others, and want to add an emphatic ‘YES!’ to all they have shared. Well, a forced slow down has finally provided the think space I need (2 fractured ribs!)
Imagine being in a auditorium with 250 plus people, representing 15 some countries, sharing a common passion to make a difference in how work gets done. Gender, age, culture, religion, sexual orientation…nothing mattered to anyone except coming together with one voice to advocate for working remote (to whatever degree possible). I appreciated each and every question I was asked, the answers offered to me for each question I asked, and the unique views found in the welcome of such diversity. How can learning not be the outcome?
- My first takeaway is about the people. I have attended, and organized, many conferences throughout my career, and would say that the attendees at Nomad City were among the most welcoming, humble, focused, and passionate individuals I have encountered. There is something special about being in the same physical space with people you have connected with in a virtual context. I gained a greater understanding of the importance of scheduling opportunities for individuals and teams to have face to face (physical) time together. I get that this isn’t always possible, but if organizations would consider dedicating some of the money saved by having people work remotely, and use the savings to create such gatherings, the benefits would far outweigh the cost. Events like NomadCity also provide a place where teams can meet, hangout, build relationships, learn together, and strategize on how they can be more effective in the way they work together.
- The second takeaway was a call to move the focus away from the benefit of remote work for the individual and organization, towards the incredible contribution remote work can, and does, have on economic development. I was privileged to moderate a panel organized by Nacho Rodriguez, founder of Nomad City, that focused on how remote work has made a difference in communities around the globe, and how it is making an impact already in Los Palmas. This call also right sizes the reality of remote work. The ‘working on the beach’ vision created by some folks, simply is not the actuality of what this working context looks like. Sure, you can work from the most amazing places, but having a productive and appropriate work environment is both necessary, and at times challenging to find. The concern with embracing remote workers in your organization is not ‘will they stay focused on work’, but ‘will they shut off from work’. These are hard working, dedicated people who truly want to make a difference in whatever community they find themselves working.
- Another takeaway was the amount of collaboration that happens in this community. Collaboration, not competition, was the goal of the individuals and organizations represented at the event. It was great to see how organizations like Basecamp, a fully distributed company, want to learn how they can continue to provide an effective platform for remote workers. Whereby, Buffer, and Hello Monday…all platforms who are growing and adapting to meet the needs of their clients. Workplaceless, another fully distributed company develops and supports training courses to help remote workers and organizations succeed in this space. Amazing individuals, (way too many to mention…check out the speaker line up on the NomadCity2019 link above), who bring their own unique strengths to the movement for the purpose of support and advocacy. The list goes on. The desires expressed regarding helping collocated organizations ascertain how they can make remote or flexible work available for their employees was one of support, not pressure; the common theme was to discover the smartest way, the most effective way to get work done, honoring both employees, employers, and communities. The final day of the event was an ‘unconference’ or ‘Open space’ event for 60 invited remote work advocates. Working together, we identified burning issues which then became the topics of discussion for the day; these participant led conversations truly revealed the challenges and opportunities faced by this community…the discussions were inspiring, challenging, and stimulating. Exciting!
- My final takeaway was the importance of research in this area that provides support for individuals, organizations, and communities regarding remote work. I especially love this because it calls for academia and industry to work together, to collaborate, to need each other. When this happens, we influence not only the current work force, but all those coming behind.
Wrapping up…remote work is not a fad, it’s not some passing trend, it’s the face of work…today. It may look different for each situation, but the bottom line is that we need to consider how we can best build environments where people are allowed the freedom to work in contexts where they are most productive—always balancing freedom and flexibility with responsibility. Where organizations, if appropriate, provide opportunity for their employees to work from anywhere, and trust them to do the work assigned without micro managing, all the while supporting a life balance, and where communities are built and restored to a level of economic health. The remote work movement, and each of the participants at NomadCity2019 all offered a loud ‘amen’ to this collaborative goal. I am honoured, and humbled, to part of this amazing community! See you all at NomadCity2020.
In my last blog we discussed the concept of self-leadership and its importance in an individual’s success. As a refresher, this definition of self-leadership directs our focus. ‘…the ability to influence your thinking, feeling and actions to achieve your objectives.
We know from our research that taking on the responsibility of self-leadership is important for everyone, but even more so in a remote working context. In previous blogs we considered what questions could be asked in an interview to discern such competencies as communication, self-directed, and trust. In this piece we offer interview question suggestions for self-leadership.
1. How have you taken the initiative to grow your strengths in the recent past? What was the impetus to grow that specific strength? (You are wanting to identify two things here: a) does the individual have an awareness of their own strengths, and b) are they intentionally getting better at what they are already good at.)
2. What have you learned about yourself from working collaboratively with others?
(Working with others is like holding up a mirror to our own actions, reactions, patterns and processes. Responses should give you insight into the individuals ability and desire to collaborate, as well as their openness to learn from others.)
3. Tell me about a time when you received critical feedback from either a peer or a supervisor. How did you respond? What did you do about the critique? (We know how important feedback is, even if we don’t always like what we hear. Listen for honesty around both positive and negative feedback, AND action taken as a result of that critique)
4. What book or podcast series has most impacted your on-going development and growth? Why was it so impactful? (Reading, or listening to audio books and podcasts, is a great way to grow as we learn from others. Hearing about the choice of books an individual reads, and what they do with what they have learned will provide a glimpse into how a individual goes about accessing resources for growth.)
5. How have you benefited from being mentored? (Listen for indication of the value learning from others brings to one’s self-awareness and growth. Is mentoring something that they value? Have they mentored others?)
6. Self-awareness is a key element of self-leadership. Describe yourself using internal factors such as your strengths, passions, values, personality, goals. (Most people introduce and describe themselves by their career, culture, hobbies…external aspects. A self-aware individual is able to speak about themselves in terms of who they are vs what they do.)
“How we lead ourselves in life impacts how we lead those around us.”
My previous blog focused on the #1 competency revealed in our research regarding competencies for success as a remote worker…COMMUNICATION. In it we discussed how an individual can grow and develop this competency to improve their effectiveness in the remote industry.
This blog, part b, turns our attention to the individuals hiring remote workers. Knowing the competencies for success, it stands to reason that interview questions should be posed to determine if a candidate does indeed possess the specific competencies. This line of questioning takes the form of behavioural questions, based on the premise that past behaviour is an indication of future performance. While this is not a guarantee for successful hiring, it does help the interviewer gain insight into how candidates have handled relevant situations in past work, or volunteer, experiences.
Ideally, answers will provide insight into the following:
• Situation/Problem faced
• Action (what they did, how they did it)
• *Result/outcome (what was the outcome of the action taken, and was it positive or negative)
*It is worth noting that a candidate who is honest about their mistakes demonstrates a level of teachability, self-awareness, and an openness to learn from such outcomes. Sadly, some hiring managers reject candidates whose answers reflect anything less than perfection; on the flip side, some candidates refuse to share anything that may hint at weakness or vulnerability.
The following questions can serve as a foundation to determine if a candidate for remote work can demonstrate competency in the area of communication. That is, do they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in a remote role when it comes to effective written and oral communication. As well, do they have the ability to choose appropriate channels and tools to deliver/receive the message?
Each question can serve as the foundation for deeper dives into the communication discussion, based on the particular role or context you are hiring for.
1. Tell me about a time when you were called on to explain a complex concept to someone for whom the concept was new, using only a written format. (Looking for examples of how a candidate took a complex concept and broke it down to its most simple form, without leaving out essential components, and without the benefit of verbal or non-verbal cues.)
2. Tell me about a time when you were required to document the content of a virtual meeting for distribution to those who had been on the call, and those not in attendance. (Looking for examples of how the candidate delivered concise messaging that filtered out the non-essential content, while provided essential information to both attendees and non-attendees.)
3. Tell me about a complex writing report you recently had to prepare.
(Looking for examples of how the candidate is able to clearly express ideas in writing. Look for evidence of gather, organize and presenting information in a logical, concise manner.)
1. Tell me about a recent spoken conversation you were part of that was both effective and satisfying. What made it so? (Looking for the candidates ability to clearly articulate what thy believe to be an effective and satisfying conversation.)
2. Tell me about a time when you were called on to do a presentation on your area of expertise, with very little notice. (Looking for evidence of presentation confidence and the ability to construct an oral presentation in a manner that clearly articulated the message with minimum preparation.)
3. Describe a difficult conversation you recently had with someone who challenged your approach to a certain situation regarding something you were passionate about. What was the outcome? (Looking for an example of active listening combined with the use of oral persuasion.)
Channel & Tools:
1. Tell me about a time when you intentionally chose to communicate a particular message face to face (either virtually or in person) vs written format (i.e. email). Why did you choose this specific method of communication? (Looking for examples of the criteria used to determine the best form or channel of communication for a specific context or message.)
2. What is your favourite text based tool for virtual communication? What do you like most about it? (Looking for evidence of familiarity with virtual communication tools, and reasons for using the tool.)
3. Tell me about the communication tools used in a recent virtual meeting. How did they contribute to or distract from the success of the meeting? (Looking for examples of engagement in virtual meetings and interaction with various meeting platforms.)
Next time we will examine the second most important competency reported on by remote workers…being self-directed or self-motivated.
In our research around what makes remote workers great, 8 key competencies were revealed: communication, self-directed/motivated, trustworthy, disciplined, taking initiative/curiosity, adaptable/flexible, self-efficacy, and empathy. You talked to us about how each contributes to your ability to excel and thrive (and yes, survive) in your work. Great insights were provided on so many levels by those actually working as remote workers.
Since the research has been released, the question ‘what if I’m not great at a certain competency, does that mean I can’t be a remote worker?’ The answer is an unequivocal no! The wonderful thing about competencies is that you can grow and develop when intentionality and focus is applied. The next few blogs will take on a part ‘a’ and ‘b’ format. Part ‘a’ will take a look at a specific competency and provide suggestions on how to develop it. Part ‘b’, following a few days later, will suggest possible interview questions helpful to determine the extent to which a candidate possesses the specific competency.
Let’s start with the one identified as being most critical…communication. When considering this we are talking about verbal, non-verbal, and written forms, as well as discerning the proper channel when communicating a message. The simple question is, “How do I grow my communication skills so that I can be more effective in my role as a remote worker?’ Here are some ideas to get you started:
Written communication (the most important form of communication when working remote):
- Read more…not mind numbing books, but books that challenge your thinking, and stretch your vocabulary. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, or Stephen King.
- Make time to learn about the art of writing. A couple of suggestions would be Elements of Style by E.B. White; Draft #4 by John McPhee
- Journal…take time to record your thoughts, and when possible, use good old fashion ink and paper. Actually writing your thoughts causes you to slow down and think more intentionally about what you’re wanting to say without worrying about someone reading your thoughts.
- Check that your writing style is more about clarity and exactness, than beauty and emotion. (To be sure, there is a time for beauty and emotion, but for this situation being clear and concise, rules.)
Oral communication (the spoken word):
According to one study, men speak an average of 7,000 words per day, while women speak an average of 20,000. No derogatory comments allowed! The important point here is that even though we speak, a lot, everyday, we are not necessarily getting any better at communicating. Practice only makes perfect if you are correct in what you are practicing!
- Think about historical persons known for their oratory skills…people like Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Socrates, Condoleezza Rice, Cheryl Sandberg, John F Kennedy, Mr. Rogers (yes…Mr. Rogers!). Read their biographies and autobiographies, or watch them speak via recorded videos . What do you notice about the power of their words? What observations can help you speak with more clarity and persuasion?
- Listen more, speak less (your peers, clients, and manager’s will thank you)
Practice brevity. According to tech republic, people have the tendency to make 3 mistakes when communicating: Over explaining, under-preparing, and completely missing the point. The article sums up their advice with:
- Map your message first
- Lead with a headline
- Trim away excess detail
- Finally, ask for feedback. We all have blindspots, ask a trusted peer, family member, or friend to tell you how you are doing with your oral communication…and act on what they say.
Communication Channel (what’s the best way to send a message?)
Without a doubt, the options for how to send a message are many, however, every channel is not appropriate for every message. The following are key considerations that I have found to be most relevant.
1. What is the nature of the message?
2. Is there a need for documentation of the conversation?
3. What supporting technology is available?
4. What is the urgency of the message?
5. Is there a level of confidentiality or secrecy that needs to be preserved?
6. Is there an element of safety that could be compromised through the content of the message?
7. What is the relationship between the sender and the receiver of the message?
Communication Tools (how are you sending a message?)
Finally, the tools you use will either foster rich communication, or hinder it. If your team tends to get lost in email threads or c.c. purgatory, consider messaging apps like Slack, Wire, or Basecamp. If you’re finding your team struggling with empathy towards each other, push for video chat vs audio-only team calls. Invest in good software!
Bottom line? We can all improve our ability to communicate well; via spoken word, written word, and in choosing the proper channel. It takes time, lots of it! But the results are worth it both for personal satisfaction and for personal reputation! Ready to grow?
I may sound like a broken record, but bare with me…the importance of communication cannot be overstated in the remote environment. Ask anyone who works with anybody and they will tell you that good communication is vital for effective work. Ask anyone who works in a virtual context and they will tell you that clear and concise communication is a life line for their work to be conducted with excellence! I would even go so far as to say your reputation as a professional could hinge on it.
Why is that? Here’s some of the input we received from remote workers regarding the importance of communication.
Remote workers support the necessity of this skill because it is critical…
• in relaying accurate information;
• in eliminating ambiguity;
• because miscommunication leads to misunderstanding;
• in preventing miscommunication due to language differences which can lead to misinformation, resulting in serious errors;
• for accuracy and clarity on all levels to ensure context is preserved;
• because the absence of non-verbal messaging calls for excellence in the written word…full thoughts, meaningful words, concise, accurate;
• in creating common understanding,
• and requires active listening, engagement, and full contribution from all parties.
In other words, the language of ‘texting’ is not going to cut it when your work context calls for a ‘paper’ trail (documentation) outlining decisions, agreements, complaints, discussions, proposals, conflict resolutions, or reports. Nor can a remote worker always rely on technology that supports face to face, virtual meetings. Besides the ability to clearly articulate verbally, virtual meetings often call for a written follow up summary to be provided to all involved to ensure agreement of what was discussed and action steps determined.
The problem is that good communication takes time, something that many of us claim to not have enough of. It also takes patience, reflection, reviewing, reworking, rephrasing, and great intentionality. I’m sure we can all think of a time when we read a text or email and ‘imposed’ an emotion that was never intended. According to Nate Sawatzky
“Good communication is crafted.”
Think on this…you just received a text from someone you recently had a disagreement with. The text said ‘saw u at the mxr prty…nice outfit’. Now, imagine the ‘voice’ you use to read the message…was it positive? Did it represent the sender in a good light? Was it cordial? Or did the ‘voice’ lean toward sarcasm, abruptness, or downright snotty?
Now try this…the same person with whom you had a disagreement sent a text saying “I saw you at the mixer party last evening. I didn’t get a chance to talk to you, but wanted to say that you looked fantastic…that dress was amazing!” Try reading something into that…more challenging, right? There’s little room for ambiguity, misunderstanding, or offence. We also need to keep in mind that written communication may not be the best channel for communicating a message…in actuality, we may choose written rather that a face to face conversation because it’s ‘easier’.
While this example is on the superficial level, you get the idea. The responsibility for ensuring a message is received as intended
lies with the sender…yup, can’t blame the receiver for getting it wrong. The added complexity of virtual communication is the lack of non-verbal…you can’t see how the other person receives your message and often don’t get the opportunity to bring clarity and do damage control. The solution…prevent it before it happens. Intentionality is important…think through your message, consider
what channel is best for communicating that message…be intentional in both the content, context, and channel.
The takeaway? Do whatever it takes to grow your communication skills. When using a written channel, read, reread, and reread your written communication before hitting send…that click could either be the start of an amazing contract, or the demise of the same! (By the way, reading well written books is a great way to improve your writing skills. Ask a mentor to suggest a book that greatly influenced their life, then ask to meet and discuss your takeaways; might as well develop your verbal articulation skills at the same time.)