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.
I recently had the honour of being part of NomadCity2019 in Gran Canaria…amazing! In preparation for the event, the presenters were asked to respond to several questions by way of introduction. I found that exercise to be an amazing reflection.
So, in that context, what is my remote working story?
While I didn’t realize it at the time, I have been working remote in some form for the past 29 years! I was a stay-at-home mom until our kids went to kindergarten. At that time I was approached to take on a leadership role in a non-profit organization. Before accepting, I laid out some conditions: if my kids were sick, I could work from home; if there was a school field trip, I could attend and complete my work in the off hours; and I would be able to adjust my work hours to facilitate volunteering in the school. I also assured them that in no way would the quality of my work or leadership of my teams suffer. To my surprise and delight, they agreed! That set the precedence going forward, and never once was I denied the privilege of such a flexible schedule. Unknowingly, this lay the foundation for both our children to desire non-traditional work options. Our son is a digital nomad, in his fourth year of travelling and working in Europe (with his wife and 6 kids), and our daughter has just transitioned to a remote leadership role in a collocated organization.
In 2008, Canada suffered a recession and jobs were being cut. I led a team that was responsible for developing and sourcing leadership training resources. Because we were not generating revenue it was the ‘logical’ area for jobs to be cut…my job was one of those. At that time I made the decision to start my own consulting business working from home. Fast forward to today and I still have my consulting business focusing on all things remote, but I am also a business professor at the Okanagan College School of Business (British Columbia, Canada) specializing in Human Resources and Management. This academic involvement has provided the access and funding to become involved with research; my area of interest and passion is of course remote work. As well, I have been afforded the freedom to travel internationally to both research and speak about the research. I’ve also been privileged to make work happen where it will be most effectively and efficiently done. One of my current roles is orienting and supporting new faculty…term and full time. Many of these individuals are not on campus on a regular basis, some located on campus’ in other locations. A remote work perspective has opened the door for virtual meetings and collaborations, saving the professors valuable personal and travel time, while still being connected with their colleagues.
Now, I love a challenge! That means sometimes saying ‘yes’ to things before thinking through my current capacity. As a result I have suffered burnout and been forced to pull out of activities, and even commitments, that drain me. This becomes magnified when straddling the ‘virtual’ world and ‘physical’ world. I need to honour my employer, as well as the clients I work with through SAM. The upside of such a challenge is that it serves as a reminder to focus on my strengths, and to pour my energies into areas where I can have the greatest impact.
Support, whether working in a fully collocated business, as a digital nomad, or somewhere in between, is vital! I have an amazing group of women with whom I meet on a regular basis. They serve as my sounding board, accountability partners, comic relief, and general support. We all have different work focuses (researcher, educator, dentistry, writer, business developer, executive coaching, mental health…), some work remotely, some collocated, and some hybrid like myself. Great support, and of course getting to the ocean as much as possible helps to put everything back in perspective (I grew up in Ireland right on the Irish Sea, so the ocean is my happy place). I also have an incredibly supportive family (specifically my husband, kids, niece) who serve as the best support a person could ask for…and have no problem speaking truth to me when the need arises.
I started off asking ‘what is my remote story’, well, that’s pretty much it. I have learned that stepping up and asking for a flexible schedule, or to work remote really isn’t such a scary thing, and it’s not an all-or-nothing equation. Some people work 100% remotely, and some 1 day a month…do what works for you, your organization, and your community. While there are challenges, none of them are insurmountable if you reach out and ask for help. Remote work can have such a powerful impact not only for individuals and organizations, but also the whole area of economic development.
My advise to others starting a similar journey? Stay open minded…embrace opportunities that come your way, and it’s never too late to start a new rendition of your career. Always remember that we were created to live in community, be that face to face or virtual…so make sure you stay connected!
So, what’s your remote working story? Where is your journey taking you?
Remote work, working from home, freelancing, telecommuting…whatever name we give it, is not a new phenomenon. Let me explain.
I recently gave a presentation at an event in Budapest…let me say it was an amazing experience to come along side people passionate about remote work. Represented were remote workers, professors and students from Corvinus University in Budapest, and decision makers from the halls of government. All were interested in learning and advocating for remote work.
In preparing to speak I came across two articles that gave me some perspective on the history of remote work. What amazed me was how much remote work has been an integral part of our lives from cave man days to today.
I was also struck by how similar the concerns regarding remote work in the 1970s are to what we hear today. As noted in the above mentioned articles, The Washington Post (1979) in the US shared these three reasons why working from home is not ideal…
- How do we know they are actually working?
- How will they stay connected with the office and team members?
- How will they handle all the distractions of working from home?
Fast forward to today…Millions of people globally work remotely, a high percentage being employees of organizations, not just self-employed, freelancers, or digital nomads.
Research shows these people:
- Are more productive
- Experience a better work/life balance
- Save organizations money on office space and equipment
- Save time and money on driving back and forth to the office
- Leave a smaller environment footprint
And this is all made possible by advances in communication technology. However, many organizations still offer the same objections as to why remote working should not be considered…46 years later! Fortunately, research (and experience) has proven the objections offered no longer need to be issues.
So what might be the root of these concerns? Let me offer some suggestions
- Lack of trust
- Lack of understanding regarding the technology available.
- Concern over employee’s lack of self-motivation or self-leadership.
- Unwillingness to give up control.
Are these concerns actually valid? Do those things really describe the work habits of remote workers? Only one way to find out…ask remote workers. That’s exactly what we did. Over the past year we interviewed and surveyed over 200 remote workers in North America and Europe. We wanted to know, from their perspective, what they knew was key in being successful as remote workers. The results? They identified, in this order of importance:
- Tech savvy
- Taking initiative
Notice the top 4 they identified. The very competencies that counteract what was just noted as being the root causes of organizational skepticism.
Remote work is not a new phenomenon, but it has evolved, and the tools enabling it to happen effectively have developed to levels beyond what our predecessors could have imagined. And, work will continue to change and evolve, as will the technology enabling it to be even more effective.
These 4 things, communication, self-leadership, trust, tech savvy, all lay a foundation that will prepare you for whatever the future of work looks like. So let me ask, how might we…
- build our communication skills? Are you reading books that challenge you? Are you taking every opportunity possible to speak publicly? Are you honing your writing skills?
- become more self-led? Are you taking the initiative to get better at what you are already good at? Are you continually challenging what you know? Are you taking responsibility for your own decisions and actions?
- become people worthy of trust? When you say you are going to do something, do you do it? Are you honest, do you demonstrate integrity?
All these things are under our control, and only we can truly own them.
*Note…I’ve decided to start numbering my blogs for ease of reference. I was shocked to see this is already #65!
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 self–directed 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)
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?