Then came COVID-19, and pivoting…blog #75

Pivot “to turn or rotate, like a hinge”

 

December 20, 2019 was the day life changed significantly for me. I had a total knee replacement. Believe me, the purported timelines for recovery are not to be trusted…nor is it wise to use other’s recovery milestones as targets for which to aim.

I was just starting to emerge into ‘the real world’, trusty cane by my side, when the second significant change landed bringing as much joy as an unwelcome guest. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was turned around by this global pandemic we soon came to know as COVID-19. My ‘coming out’ was quickly shut down, and the excitement of re-entry was snatched away. Conferences already registered for were cancelled, a greatly anticipated trip to Hawaii with our daughter and son-in-law was cancelled, and a scheduled vacation to Helsinki to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids faded away before becoming a reality.

But life did not slow down, in fact it become busier than I could have imagined. Almost immediately I began receiving invites to present at virtual events; the answer to each invite was a resounding ‘yes!’ This remote community welcomed me with open arms when I began my journey into remote work research…this was my opportunity to return the favour. But the business went beyond that. You see, I’m an educator as well as a remote work advocate. I teach Human Resources and Management courses at the Okanagan School of Business, in Kelowna, British Columbia. We immediately went into pivot mode; face to face classes had to be transformed into on-line delivery. Within a week of the self-isolation announcement, every one of our students were fully engaged in a whole new way of learning (for them), and a new delivery platform for us (professors). Unbelievable to say the least.

Not only did our faculty have to reframe their delivery method, they were called on to facilitate learning in a manner that embraced synchronous and asynchronous learning in an effort to continue fostering impactful relationships with their students. And, they had to do this while suddenly working from home where a workspace had not yet been created. More pivoting.

I say ‘they’ in this reference, because I was not teaching in the Winter 2019 semester due to the assimilation of a new body part! However, I was able to fully engage in the facilitation of the transition and bring my expertise around remote work to bear on the situation. Ironically, it wasn’t until this event happened that many in our greater institution were even aware of the research I had conducted on remote work — research the College had funded. However, it was fortuitous that I was able to provide some support and insight to my colleagues and peers during a period of disequilibrium.

Remote work is not new to me, in fact, I have been engaged working remotely for quite a few years. However, as many of my remote work advocate colleagues confirm, working from home is not the same as remote work. By definition, remote work relates to those who don’t have to show up at a physical location on a regular basis. They are mostly location agnostic or location independent 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Contrarily, COVID-19 turned the majority of us into location dependent workers — our homes. This was not a choice; time to prepare a home office was not afforded those used to going to a physical building to conduct their work. For many, the kitchen table, living room couch, or bedroom floor became their ‘home office’. Add to that the reality of a partner also looking for a quiet corner to work, while carving out space for newly homeschooled children to meet teachers on-line for the purpose of receiving their (and their parent’s) marching orders for the week. Our homes became co-working/co-living spaces. Major pivot.

In all fairness, this is not a clear picture of the realities of remote work. Sadly, for some, this experience has tainted their view of the value of remote working; being able to comprehend the benefit to individuals, teams, organizations, and communities has been greatly overshadowed by a working context that has caused overwhelming stress. I’ve heard some of your stories and can’t fathom the life challenges you are experiencing.

On the other hand, many are realizing a glimpse of ‘what could be’. Your work from home experience has opened your eyes to a way of life and work that decreases stress, allows for greater productivity, gives a sense of control over your time, and allows you to sneak extended moments to enjoy precious time with your loved ones (albeit in closer quarters than you would prefer). These pivots are positive.

We in BC, Canada are experiencing wWe keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? hat is being called ‘stage 2’ of re-opening. What does this mean for you? Time to pivot again? Are your children heading back to school this week? Are you opening your ‘bubble’ to invite in friends and loved ones? Are you venturing out to the grocery store more often? Frequenting parks and beaches? Are you honouring social distancing? Are you feeling some anxiety…is this all happening too soon? Is this pivot more difficult that the absolute of self-isolation?

What does work look like for you now? For the organizations you work for? Will you transition back to working co-located in the office? Will you join the ranks of remote workers around the world?  Or will you and your organization embrace the many who are moving to a hybrid (some folks working remote while others co-located) approach to working?

We keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? From what I see, much of the pivots we have been asked to take are actually behaviours that we should have adapted a long time ago. Granted, the results of not adhering to these certain behaviours come with serious consequences in these current days. But let’s think about some of these suggested behaviours:

  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Respect those around you
  • Take care of each other
  • Wash your hands
  • Respect other’s personal space
  • Work from home…if at all possible
  • Support local business
  • Stay connected with friends and loved ones using whatever means possible

This brings to mind the wisdom shared by Robert Fulghum in “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten

As blogs go, this one has found me rambling and wandering down some rabbit holes; Sunday afternoon with no virtual meetings, no marking, no schedule, tends to foster such ramblings. It actually ties into the name of my blog site ‘Probe and Ponder’. I would love to hear your thoughts; what is making you pivot, or causing you to stop and ponder life around you?

 

 

 

Settling in and moving on in uncertain times…Blog 71

I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that this blog feels a little willy nilly, a true representation of my mind these days. Can you relate?

We have just come through a week of firsts in varying degrees…first time working from home, first time in self-isolation, first time feeling like that your skin is crawling with dryness from all that hand washing! And to top it off, all this is happening in a true coliving/coworking space…your home! Your new coworkers are partners, spouses, kids, pets, and whoever else may be sharing your abode. Not only has your world got noisy, it’s gotten cramped! So much for having a door to close so work can get done. Those noise cancelling headphones have become worth every penny you spent.

This is reality, and we, the world, is in it together. COVID-19 has become the great equalizer.

I am so impressed with how remote work experts have stepped up to provide free resources to those ‘work-from-home’ newbies: videos, articles, how-to’s…Remote work advocates like Distribute Consulting, Workplaceless, Nomad City, Remote Work Association, Running Remote to name a few. Amazing!

However, the weekend is upon us. It’s been a long, trying week, and now your social plans are cancelled! What to do? Have you thought about a virtual happy hour? We use video platforms for meetings, FaceTime for connecting with our grandkids and families, so why not try out a virtual platform like Zoom,  Google Hangout or GotoMeeting and instigate a video meetup or morning coffee with your friends? Take screen shots and save for those ‘remember when’ moments. It’s also a great way to practice for the many virtual meetings that are now part of daily life.

We all know Monday will hit as the weekend becomes a distant memory; remote working and learning will resume (look how far you’ve come already!). I trust the calm after the storm soon settles in and your confidence and comfort around these new working arrangements will grow.

May I offer some advice from a remote work advocate and researcher (that’s me)? In the midst of this norming, please remember the importance of communication; its value cannot be overstated…professionally and personally. Those with significant remote work experience state that good communication is a vital competency for successfully working in this context.

Don't forget the phone still works

…and yes, the phone still works

Here are four guidelines for both good communication:

  1. Communicate clearlywe, you and I, are responsible for making sure our messages are received and interpreted in the spirit in which they were send. (Hint, if someone reacts in a way that surprizes you…it would be safe to assume the message did not come across clearly. Reword, rephrase, resend.)
  2. Communicate often…err on the side of over-communication.
  3. Communicate using appropriate channels...even without the privilege of face-to-face, we have options: email, video calls, (Collaborate, Zoom, Google Hang out, Slack), phone calls, posting on discussion boards, or chat lines. Before hitting ‘send’, pause and ask, “Is this the best channel to use for the message I’m sending?”
  4. Communicate 360 degrees…who is in your circle? Your boss, co-workers, those you lead, internal and external customers, students, family, friends… make a list of people with whom you communicate on a regular basis and set a plan to continue to build those connections.

And most important, when communicating, wrap every message with empathy. If you are feeling the pressure, remember that others are also feeling the pressure with challenges you may not even be aware of.

We’ll get through this…together.

Remember…wash those hands!

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Reflections from NomadCity2019…#68

Speaker Lineup

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?

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. WherebyBuffer, 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!
  4. 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.

Generation Jones…What about us?

Zandvoort, start of bike ride in dunes.

I’m currently writing from our Airbnb in Zandvoort, Netherlands, a location we will undoubtedly return to. Not only is the town lovely, the beach spectacular (9km long), the eateries delicious, the dune-winding bike trails amazing, and the coffee from our favourite Café (Blue Zone Espresso) top notch… the people are lovely. I’m also impressed by the very obvious age variety; young children through retirement everywhere we go. And, of course, I’m intrigued by the high percentage of Generation Jones, or Jonesers (born between 1955-1965). I’ve been wondering how many live and work in Zandvoort, and how many commute into larger business centers i.e. Haarlem or Amsterdam.

Why am I so intrigued by this? As I continue to investigate various aspects of remote work, I am drawn to the working contexts of the Gen Jones demographic (that’s me). So much is being written about how the millennials are shaping the future of work, but I want to stand up and shout ‘what about me?’ How are those in my generation shaping the future of work? (Just a note, I’m not a strong believer in labelling people…I’m simply using the terms for a talking point.)

Millennials entered into an environment where it is not uncommon to expect flexible work hours and remote work arrangements. My generation has come through the years of raising these same millennials (my husband and I raised a gen x and a millennial, both amazing!), instilling in them a mindset that encouraged them to think and innovate, not be bound by tradition. We Jonesers have spent much of our lives working the 9-5 routine, and, quite frankly, we’re not satisfied to continue working within those boundaries as we consider moving toward potential retirement. And here lies the tension, many of us simply don’t want to retire, but nor do we want to continue with the same, tired, 9-5 routine.

Research is showing that many of us will migrate to freelancing as we approach 65-ish, for multiple reasons: freedom, finances, not wanting to stop working, wanting to continue contributing to a workforce we spent our lives building into. But what if we really like what we do…is the only option to leave fulfilling jobs and take freelance gigs? What if the organizations we work for took proactive steps to prevent the potential, and reported, brain drain, and offer options for flexible or remote work options? What if organizations transitioned my Joneser compatriots into roles that not only engaged us in the on-going success of the business, but also facilitated the opportunity to mentor those amazing young people following in our footsteps? What if we actually created environments where a

Not ready to ride into the sunset!

younger generation taught and inspired us trailblazers, while we shared our journeys of success, and failure, as a foundation for the past informing, (not controlling), the future?

I am sure some organizations are doing just that…I want to hear from them. I want to learn how they are making it happen, and why others are not innovating in this manner. And I want to hear from my fellow GenJonesers…what does the future of work look like for you?

It’s not just millennials who are shaping the future of work…it’s all generations! Together, we can make ‘work’ the thing we do with intentionality, efficiency, and passion.

 

Trust…how do I interview for that?

Trust…

If you say you’re going to do it…do it
If you didn’t do what you said you’re going to do…own it
If there were barriers that keep you from doing it, communicate that, once barriers are removed, if possible …do it
If you don’t know how to do it, ask for help, then do it

In my previous blog  we looked at the competency of trust, or trustworthiness. What is trust and how do we develop, earn, and keep it. Trust, in all areas is vital, but our research respondents shared that when working in a remote or virtual context is foundational to effective communication and collaboration.

That being so, what kind of interview questions will help identify the level of trustworthiness evidenced in the lives of the candidates. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

1. Describe a time when you needed to earn the trust of others.
Listen for humility in the answer. Did the candidate take the responsibility to earn trust vs depending on a position to demand trust.

2. Doing the right thing doesn’t always result in a win. Tell me about a time when you experienced a loss for doing the right thing in order to preserve the trust of others.
Listen for values, for the candidate to be more concerned with retaining trust (vs fav our), than potential reward or recognition.

3. Based on your values, is there any circumstance in which it is justifiable to break a professional confidence?
The answer to this can be both easily identified, and challenging. You want the candidate to acknowledge the seriousness of breaching a confidence; however, you want them to also recognize the fact that certain lines of ethics and legalities warrant the risk of breaking a trust in order to do the right thing.

4. Tell me about a time when you were given credit for something a co-worker did. How did you respond?
This question gets to the heart of meritocracy. Listen for reflections on the importance of giving credit where credit is due, for responses that reflect a level of trust where co-workers know their team mates will be their greatest champions.

Trust…a safe harbour

Trustworthiness…growing the competency.

I grew up in Ireland. We lived in a town called Bangor and loved to visit grandparents in Annalong, a small fishing village. What I loved about both places was the location…right on the Irish Sea. I loved the smells, sounds, sights, and yes, the feeling of that sea salt on my lips and skin. Even now, years after immigrating to Canada, every chance I get I head to the ocean. It’s my place of refreshment, rejuvenation, and reflection. However, I have a very healthy respect for the power of the sea and the need for warning signs that both guide sea faring travellers, and bathers. Warnings that can be relied on, depended on, warnings that are constant. I think often of my grandfather sharing how he would stand at the Annalong Harbour watching for my uncle to return home after a fishing trip. At times the waves were so big, vessels would disappear from view, being tossed by the rise and fall of the sea.

For years, before the use of electronic navigational systems, sailors depended on the beacon of a lighthouse to guide them to shore, steering them away from being dashed

The Tower of Hercules, A Coruna

against treacherous coastlines and hidden rocks. They knew they could trust the lighthouse, that it was reliable, constant, a lifeline to guide them into the safety of the harbour.

Trust…a ‘thing’ we base a belief on…an action we employ when expecting people to do what they say they will do. Respondents to our research reported that trustworthiness, was a competency critical to success in the remote world. To be sure, trust is critical in all work contexts, but they suggested that in a virtual environment it becomes even more important. Sadly, many people mistake presence for progress.

Trust can be earned, and lost. Many books have been written on the topic; countless articles and blogs tout its’ value. But how do we develop it? How do we preserve it? If lost, how do we earn it back? I would offer the following three simple actions:

  1. If you say you’re going to do it…do it
  2. If you didn’t do what you said you’re going to do…own it
  3. If there are barriers that keep you from doing it, communicate that; once barriers are removed, if possible …do it.
  4. If you don’t know how to do it, ask for help, then do it

Ok, so not so simple! However, if you want to be a person worthy of trust you need to own it, preserve it, and value it. Are you a trustworthy person? If you’re not sure, ask those you work with, your family and friends, if they view you as a person they can trust. Warning, only ask if you are willing to act on what they tell you!

Bangor, N. Ireland.

Self-directed – how do I interview for that?

In my previous blog I offered suggestions for how individuals could grow in their ability to be self-directed. Being intentional about growing such skills will increase your success as a remote worker, and set you up to answer interview questions related to that important competency. What kind of questions can an interviewer ask if they want to discern the candidates proficiency in being self-directed or self-motivated? Below are some suggestions to get you started, but first, a definition. Because it is important to use the same language when discussing competencies, clarity needs to be provided for this specific context.

Self-directed involves taking responsibility for personal decisions and effectively organizing activities based on intrinsic motivation without pressure from others. Without being self-directed, remote workers stated they might not have what it takes to organize multiple contracts in order to achieve the deliverables identified.

True, this is a great competency to possess when working in a colocated setting, but our research showed that a much higher level of proficiency is required when working in a remote or virtual setting. Let’s not forget that working remote refers to individuals who are not required to physically show up at a specific location on a regular basis.

Back to the interview, the focus is to ask behavioural questions to see how a candidate handled him or herself in the past. While it is always desirable, it is not necessary that they have previously worked remote, but it is important that they can demonstrate transferable skills that will contribute to their future success. While interviewing, don’t hesitate to dig deep with follow-up questions. Sometime the secondary questions are the ones that get you to the most vital information; listening carefully to the answers provided can’t be overstated.

As noted in previous blogs, answers should 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)

Question 1

  • Tell me about a time when a goal was difficult to achieve because of the many barriers before you. How did you address the barriers? (You are looking for answers that will help you discern not only the ability to identify barriers, but will describe the action taken to either overcome, or remove the barriers. Remote work can present more barriers that colocated settings. These barriers are by no means insurmountable, however, a self-directed person will not be put off by them, but will rise to the occasion and eagerly find workable solutions.)

Question 2

  • Tell me about a time when you took the initiate to collaborate with others in order to more effectively accomplish a task. (Listen for an indication that they believe collaboration is important, why it is important, and how working with others can aid in the effective completion of a task. As well, listen for how they chose who to collaborate with. In remote settings, it takes more determination and intentionality to reach out and build a collaborative network.)

Question 3

  • Describe a time when you lacked the drive to accomplish a task. How did you work through the apathy? (Listen for the humility of acknowledging they are not perfect…it’s rare to find someone who has never lacked drive. The important aspect of this question is to learn how they dealt with the inevitable lack of drive, accomplished the task, and moved on. Once more, in a remote setting there may be more distractions that pull the individual away from a task at hand…especially if it’s a task they don’t particularly enjoy.)

Question 4

  • Describe a time when you lacked the necessary information to accomplish a task. What sources did you use to provide the missing information or learn a new skill? (This question is driving at the importance of knowing how to access learning in order to get the job done. Some people simply rely on the person in the next cubicle to provide the answer; however, when working remote, there is no one in the next office. How resourceful are they with self-directed learning?)

Question 5

  • What process do you have to ensure all commitments and deadlines are met? How do you prioritize deliverables and responsibilities? (Self-directed people are pro-active. This question will give you insight into how the individual gets ahead of the game by having process and practices in place to deal with multiple deadlines and deliverables. In remote settings, performance is measured by deliverables, not how many hours a person sits at a desk in any given day…that’s why this is such a key element.)

Question 6

  • What book has had the most impact on your work habits? Describe your learnings. (The books people read tell you a lot about a person. In previous blogs the importance of communication is outlined; reading books is a powerful way to grow this skill. Listening to podcasts for learning is wonderful, but doesn’t contribute to growth in written communication. This question also provides the opportunity to learn if the candidate reads, AND what they choose to read and why…the ‘why’ being key. I have found that reading fiction can contribute to my creativity…many problems can be solved more effectively by putting them aside and focusing on something totally unrelated.)

These suggestions should provide a foundation for developing your interview questions. My next blog will address the topic of how remote workers can grow their trustworthiness, followed by another set of interview questions on the same competency.

Till next time…I would love your feedback and suggestion for further blog topics.

Self-directed: just do it!

Growing competency as a remote worker #2: self-directed/self-motivated

As we move through the list of ‘should have’ competencies for success as a remote worker, the second most crucial competency, as identified by remote workers, speaks to being selfdirected and motivated. What does this mean?

For the purposes of this application, self-directed speaks to a state of ‘being’, while the similar, often-misused self-motivated speaks more about ‘doing’.

The dictionary explains self-directed from the perspective of having an inner drive or ability to make one’s own decisions, and organizing one’s own work rather than being told what to do by others. Other references include the idea of regulating and adapting behaviour based on needs and demands in order to achieve whatever goals or achievements have been identified.

Contrast that to ‘self-motivation’, which draws attention to the ability to follow through and carry on in the direction one needs to go, and keep going. This forward motion happens regardless of what external circumstances may be present and working against whatever momentum one might have! It truly is driven by an audience of one, the individual.

There is much written about both these areas, however, I would offer that there are three parts to this being and doing that require intentionality:
1. Searching…What specifically do I need to know to do this or accomplish that? Where do I find the answer/information? Who/what can help me access the information/skill I need?
2. Learning…following through with gathering the information needed (read a book, take a course, get a mentor, join a meet-up…)
3. Doing…once I learn the what and the how…do it, use and apply the learning.
How are you doing with self-direction and motivation? Have you recently taken on the responsibility to search for the solution to something? Did you take action accordingly? If not, what’s holding you back?

When I conduct workshops, I often have participants set immediate action plans to implement their learning by engaging in a simple exercise…you may find it helpful.
For the next two weeks, in order to grow in self-direction and motivation, consider what you should:
1. Stop doing (what’s keeping you from being self directed/ and motivated?)
2. Start doing (what actions or thoughts do you need to start doing to be more self-directed/ motivated?)
3. Continue doing (what’s working that you want to keep as part of your practice?)

Perhaps you’ve heard this proverb, every time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. Consider this, the reason you may be struggling with self-direction/motivation could be because of some other commitment that is superfluous in your life at the moment. Just a thought…

In a previous blog I offered a suggestion regarding journaling to grow your written communication skills. Why not use this growth area as a topic to journal about and keep track of how much stronger you are becoming with self-direction and motivation?

One final note. Perhaps the greatest compulsion I know to being self-directed and motivated, is to be clear on my ‘why’. (Simon Sinek’s Start with Why is a must read on this topic.) When I understand why I’m doing something, the what and how become so much clearer and natural.

Ok, one more final thought. Sometimes we over think actually doing something. My son, Nathan, would be the first to admit that sometimes, the block of doing is as simple as stopping the analysis paralysis and, as the famous swoosh suggests, “just do it!”

(Watch for a follow-up blog regarding self-directed/motivated questions to ask when hiring for remote workers)

 

The start of a new day in Salou, Spain

 

Interviewing for remote work competencies…communication

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.

Written:
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.)

Oral:
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.

Growing your remote work competencies—communication

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?