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?
It’s Dec 15, 8 above, and I’m sitting outside working…in Canada!
I am taking a much needed break from writing a report (a paper actually) on our research. Ok, to be honest, I just needed an excuse to take my iPad and sit on the patio of my favourite Kelowna coffee shop, Esther and Sons, and reflect on this past year of delving into the amazing world of remote work. If I were to sum it up, the words I would use are grateful, amazed, inspired, and overwhelmed!
Some highlights have been:
- meeting many of you;
- traveling to Europe and chatting with many remote workers in co-working spaces (intentionally), and in cafés (accidentally);
- hearing your experiences and adventures;
- learning so much from the experts (you!);
- experiencing amazing cafés (to name a few: Buro Espresso Bar, Robert’s Coffee, The Barn, Lucifer’s Specialty Coffee, Utrecht Onz Cafe, Amsterdam Lot Sixty One, House of Tribes, Kaafi);
- virtual conferences and conversations
- connecting with remote workers in my own continent of North America, and of course right here in British Columbia;
- the willingness of many of you to share resources, both your knowledge and connections;
- the honesty of remote workers in sharing their joys and challenges;
- and, last but by no means least, doing all this in collaboration with Nate Sawatzky (my son)…so great! (big thanks to the incredible support of our families)
So, where am I with all of this? 12 pages into a paper on our findings…being reminded how frustrating (but important) citations are in validating the research and findings.
One of the words I used to describe my experience was ‘overwhelmed’; let me be clear, it’s a great sense of being overwhelmed! Our focus was on learning the competencies necessary for success as a remote worker, how feedback is desired, from whom, and what support is needed. You taught me that…and so much more!
As I look at the findings, the implications for business schools, managers, HR professionals, city planners, and potential remote workers is powerful. I have so many “ how might we…” questions arising from this that narrowing down my next focus of research will be a challenge!
What do I need from you?
- I hope to have the research summarized by the end of January. If you would like a copy send directly to you, please let me know.
- If you were to identify an area of remote work that you would like to see research focused on (again, a joint industry/academia approach) what would it be?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with both your requests and suggestions.
That’s it…back to the report fuelled by coffee and vitamin D!
And by the way…Merry Christmas to all.
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.)