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?
Over the past year I have researching what makes remote workers successful. I’m happy to have been able to collaborate with my son, @natesawatzky in the research. Both Nathan and I are so thankful for the many who let us dig into their lives as remote workers.
Today, I’m excited to share a version of the report that has been created to benefit managers, remote workers, and leaders alike. You can download the report here.
questions about the report, or simply want to talk more about remote work.
It’s been a while since my last blog…a case of writer’s block (blogger’s block?). To be fair I have been busy–busy doing things I fully enjoy, with a few ‘must dos’ stuck in the middle of it all. The good news is that the industry report on our research on remote workers’ competencies and motivations is in the final proofing stage. Look for it to hit the social media airwaves by the end of next week. A big thanks goes out to my colleague Sally for taking over the formatting of it…definitely not my area of strength.
I’ve been thinking about what’s next. If anything, this research experience has grown my desire to dig further into the Remote Industry (yes Laurel, remote industry). I’ve been focusing on remote workers specifically, but acknowledge that there must be true collaboration between these individuals and their manager, and team members for the most effective outcomes to be realized. So what does that look like? Good question! I’m visualizing a triangle where each side represents a member of the collaboration equation.
Most effective leaders realize that the best customer service is realized when employees are well taken care of and valued. I would suggest that applies equally in a remote industry. I would also suggest that the majority of managers want to properly support their virtual teams, but feel ill equipped to do so. That’s something that can be addressed and solved…as long as there is a willingness to do so. Amazing courses have been developed by places like Workplaceless to provide training around this, as well as training for those wanting to hone their skills as remote workers.
For now, I think the first step is to take the learning from our research and create those behavioural and situational interview questions that will help recruiters and interviewers make informed decisions regarding who they hire for remote positions. And then? Maybe address the ‘if this, then this’ process regarding the practicalities and application of how managers can support those they are appointed to oversee and develop…perhaps through the lens of a triangle?
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.)
As I write this blog from 39,000 feet enroute to Montreal, Canada, I’m taking a sidestep from analyzing the data gathered through our remote workers interviews and survey. Join me in taking a look at the topic from a different perspective…perhaps more of a 39,000 foot view.
Choosing the when and where of getting our work done, smart working, is something I highly value. I was privileged to be a stay at home mom when our kids were small, something that lined up with our family values. When I was approached to take on a part time job I accepted only on the condition that I be afforded the freedom to be home for our kids before and after school, attend any and all school field trips, and volunteer in the classroom. It’s important to note that I wasn’t asking for less responsibilities or duties, but rather asking the organization to trust that I would get the work done, on time and with excellence, AND support a volunteer workforce of 200 people. They agreed. I didn’t realize at the time that what I was proposing was a flexible work schedule that allowed me to choose when and where I did my work, in concert with the needs of the organization. I have continued to work for organizations in various sectors that have offered the same flexibility.
As I continue to research and entrench myself in the world of remote work, I truly agree that the future of work will indeed embrace a more globally focus, and that distributed teams and remote workers are, and will continue to be, a growing reality (a positive one).
However, the questions I am still pondering are:
• Is a distributed workforce a one size fits all for organizations big and small?
• Can an organization considering such a transition expect that all of their existing employees would succeed as remote workers?
• Should finances be the compelling argument for an organization to go fully distributed? (true, you save on the overhead, but success outcomes will ask you to strategically direct that money towards excellent technology and support for your new virtual work force).
Back to my reason for being 39,000 feet in the air heading to Montreal. For the next 2 days I will be attending a Service Design Thinking Conference. I love design thinking! Why? Because it takes a human based perspective on making decisions around the who, what, where, when and how of remote work…after all Human Resources are the most valuable resources any organization has.
So, what if we reframed the above questions from a design thinking perspective…
• How might we determine the best configuration for an organization that will honour their mission, vision, and values?
• How might we train and support all employees, remote and co-located, to such a degree that where they actually ‘do’ their work sets them up for success while increasing organizational productivity?
• How might we create a strategically viable budget that reduces the organizational footprint, provides for employee flexibility, and results in growth in the triple bottom line?
Change is a certainty in life. However, what changes and how those changes impact the people involved (on all levels) must be forefront in our change management processes.
“The value of design thinking is neither in its artistic appeal nor its unorthodoxy, but in thinking differently about how to solve business and organizational challenges.”
Design thinking takes time to clearly identify what the real issue to be addressed is and collaborates with all the stakeholders to come up with a solution that genuinely addresses that issue.
As a person passionate about helping others realize the very best of who they can be, I’m committed to being a thinking partner who comes alongside and facilitates a decision making frame work, a way of thinking, that guides organizations and their teams to what is the best, strategic direction for them to take…whether distributed, semi-distributed, co-located…or whatever creative configuration they come up with.
While we have much analysis still to do regarding the data collected on the topic of worker competencies and contribution feedback from the perspective of remote workers, I wanted to share what remote workers told us are the 6 most critical competencies necessary for success in the remote working context.
To provide some context for this, let me reiterate what I said in the previous blog, skills speak to WHAT you do, and competencies speak to HOW you do it.
One thing to point out…you will notice that communication is not on the list…not an oversight! In every conversation we engaged in, and the additional comments added to the survey responses, it’s clear that excellent communication is absolutely vital for success as a remote worker…especially written communication. That, along with the ability to determine the appropriate communication channels to use, AND the ability to determine and use appropriate technology to get the job done.
So, drum roll please…based on feedback from 250 plus remote workers, home based in Canada, the US and various places in Europe, the top 6 competencies identified as crucial for success as a remote worker are:
- Self-directed: Taking responsibility for your own decisions and effectively organizing your activities based on intrinsic motivation without pressure from others
- Trustworthy: able to be relied on as honest or truthful
- Disciplined: showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working
- Taking initiative: an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something
- Adaptable: able to adjust to new conditions
- High Self-efficacy: high belief in your own capabilities to produce quality outcomes
Let’s put some skin around these competencies: while you may be an amazing web developer, writer, project manager, or ________ (you finish the sentence), without the ability to adapt, you may not have what it takes to recalibrate or adjust when faced with continuing changes to due dates and deliverables. Without being self-directed you may not have what it takes to effectively organize multiple contracts to achieve the deliverables identified. If you’re not a person who’s trustworthy, and yes, this sounds generally like a bad thing, you’re really going to struggle to make any progress in your career. This one’s important to understand, so let me take it a step further. Some of us need the accountability of people around us to continue making progress. Sometimes the weather, the surf, depression, excitement… these things can cause us to prioritize other things when we’ve committed to doing something. Trustworthiness is demonstrated by consistently doing what you say you’re going to do. For people who view commitment as restrictive, it doesn’t mean you’re not a trustworthy person, but it does mean that it’s going to be difficult for you to demonstrate it through your actions. Moving on… discipline. Discipline is the long commitment in the same direction, the doing something because it’s the right thing to do, not because you feel like it.
Wrap these competencies up with a healthy self-efficacy regarding your ability to produce a product or service that is of the highest quality…and you may just have what it takes to be successful in a smart working context. (The term ‘smart work’ coined by Abodoo.com is another word used where the focus is on choosing the best place to get the work done; i.e. home, co-working space, office, local, global…)
The story continues…watch out for more blogs as we continue to unpack the findings of the feedback you have provided.
Knowing the right competencies to hire for is so important no matter the context, but I would suggest knowing the right competencies are even more vital when it comes to hiring for, or transitioning to, remote positions. To be clear, when I say remote positions, I mean those positions or jobs that don’t require the worker to be at a centralized location on a regular basis. This is the focus of my current research.
Note: this the final weekend for tech remote workers to complete a survey discussing their views of what competencies are needed for success (if that’s you, please click here to complete the survey).
So, why are competencies important, and how many competencies should organizations choose to focus on when hiring?
First of, what is a competency? Human Resource Systems Group explains…
“…competencies describe the observable abilities, skills, knowledge, motivation, and traits, articulated in terms of the behaviours needed for successful job performance.”
The key here is that we can actually see people demonstrating competencies (vs character traits).
As outlined in this video, skills focus on WHAT is done, competencies focuses on HOW something is done. In other words, I may be a skilled IT person, but if I don’t know how to listen effectively to the customer, I may not be successful in the role as an IT Customer Support Representative. Determining the key competencies helps HR and hiring managers think beyond the job skills necessary, to the effective implementation of those skills…the result being successful performance of a job.
What about how many competencies are realistic to focus on? From an HR professional’s perspective, I would suggest no more than 5 core competencies. Why? Well, you want to ask behavioural questions that do a deep dive to ascertain if the
candidate is adequately proficient in each competency, so any more than that would be insurmountable in a recruitment and selection process. On the flip side…if you are the remote worker wanting to ‘sell’ your ability to deliver on those same competencies the first place to start is in your resume. This blog may help describe what I mean.
As you listened to my interview with @yonder.io, you will heard Jeff Robbins and I discuss 11 competencies that are relevant to remote work…and each is very important. However, the full story has not yet been told. When the results of the survey are added to our learning from one on one interviews, we will narrow that list to the top 5 or 6 competencies that remote workers (RW), deem to be most important. After all, they are the ones doing the work, making RWs our subject matter experts! (If that’s you, you get why I ask you to complete the survey if you have not yet done so.)
Coming soon… the next couple of blogs will unpack the data gathered from this discovery process that took us to various locations in Canada and Europe over the past few months…