As this remote worker research journey continues, so far we have visited 8 cowork spaces (Canada, Finland, Amsterdam & Germany), and as many specialty coffee shops (ok, more than 8 cafes, but that’s for another blog). Each space presents it’s own unique feel and appearance; some have similar characteristics while others are so diametrically opposed, it’s bizarre. Still, all have the intent of providing a place where individuals and teams can work effectively outside the realm of a traditional collocated work space.
To generalize, we have observed two main areas of differences: 1) the physical layout and elements of the space and 2)the culture or ‘feel’ of the space. Let me give a further explanation of each. Physical layout is easy to describe and observe…as they say, a picture paints a thousand words.
As you can see in these pictures, some spaces are open and airy, most have dedicated office spaces and hot desks you can rent on a monthly basis, or you can choose to ‘drop in’ and use an open space when it suits, simply paying by the day. You can choose to work in a living room type area, or have a conversation while sitting on a swing. Perhaps you need to use a board room for some presentation, or alternatively require a higher level of privacy for an on-line conversation and access a phone booth type space with a drop down desk. One day you may decide that sitting at a large work table with 8 other people is what you want, while the next a quiet, tucked away couch is what’s called for. And, not to be ignored is the need for socializing. That may look like a game of ping pong, or grabbing a cup of tea or coffee with a coworker…or stranger. Alternatively, depending on the day, or time of day, or country, you may help yourself to a beer on tap while you chat with a business startup or a remote worker from another part of the world. You may enjoy wide open work spaces or prefer more intimate, communal type spaces. No matter what your preference, in all likelihood there is a space that fits you.
The cultural differences between spaces are not quite so easy to identify, or describe. Pictures don’t adequately portray the ‘feel’ of the space. And, the ‘feel’ can be rather subjective in many cases. For example, one space we visited felt like a great fit for Nathan, while I felt like a stranger, an outsider when we walked in. Even after working there for a couple of hours, I still felt like I didn’t belong; Nathan could have unpacked his knapsack and set up shop! Yet another space we visited felt uninviting to both of us; it seemed to lack any attention to the importance of aesthetic value in making it’s users (or visitors) get a sense of the occupants and users of the space. On the other hand, a couple of the other spaces we visited provided such a warm and welcome feel that we immediately felt a sense of affinity with the space and it’s users.
Being in these different locations has caused me to consider the importance of space as it relates to how effective, creative, innovative, or productive a person can be in the pursuit of doing their ‘work’. When an individual works for a business that is colocated, their space is provided for them…it is generally dictated by way of assigned offices, departments, geographic location…the worker does not ‘choose’ their workspace, or choose where to set up the framed pictures of their families, friends, or pets. Finding or created a space or spaces to work is not a matter that calls for much thought or attention (not as much perhaps as it should?). This is not as true for individuals who work remotely either as freelancers or for distributed companies. Finding appropriate places and spaces to work, to create, to innovate, calls for greater intentionality when the
traditional office (or desk) doesn’t exist. Knowing what kind of space to use is also a challenge when the option, or need, to do so has not previously existed. So what’s person to do? I would suggest that a foundational need for the remote worker is to have a clear self awareness and understanding. A perfect work space for me is not the same as a perfect work space for Nathan…even though our values, work ethics, and passions are very similar (never mind the fact that I represent ½ of the duo that raised him). Still, we both recognize the fact that different stages of work development calls for
different spaces, and what a creative space looks like for me may not be the same that of Nathan’s choosing. When work gets frustrating or overwhelming, you may need a space that allows for quiet reflection while a co-worker may need a rousing game of pool. To work through a challenging client issue, you may need a room with several white boards to storyboard the problem, while someone else may need space to walk and talk through the muddle until clarity breaks through.
The point is, the need to know yourself well enough to actually identify the type of space you need in order to work, and simply be the best version of you, could possibly make or break your ability to operate successfully in a remote work context.
Mid October and I am full into teaching again at the Okanagan School of Business. That means my scholarly/academic hat is on, but always tempered with ‘why?’ and ‘so what?’ questions (from myself, to myself). One of the topics we explore is motivation; what causes people to do what they do? How do you move people from solely working for a pay check (we all still need that), to also working towards contributing to something greater than themselves? This doesn’t have to be solving world hunger, or obliterating child exploitation (although these are right up there in the hierarchy of importance). Most great organizations have a cause, a reason to exist, a purpose, a why?, that fuels the motivation for their people to see beyond the day to day tasks.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one theory that we offer up to our students…the ultimate level being self-actualization. Meeting the needs of our employees should be foremost in the minds of all managers, something that those working with remote workers need to pay special attention to. This issue was well addressed in an article by Yonder ‘What Does Maslow Have to do with Remote Work?’
Self-actualization is great, but for me it has always come up short…it feels rather self-focused and self-centred. Needless to say I was intrigued when presented with the idea that Maslow’s later work actually added a 6th level…Self-less Actualization. This moves the individual from self fulfillment, to helping others realize fulfillment.
Koltko-Rivera (2005) sums it up as
“At the level of self-actualization, the individual works to actualize the individual’s own potential [whereas] at the level of transcendence, the individual’s own needs are put aside, to a great extent, in favor of service to others …”
Ok, a little heavy for a blog on supporting remote workers…I get it, but stay with me on this. If the greatest level of motivation happens when we take the reality of who we are: the gifts, talents, and strengths we have, and use those for the betterment of others, then we immediately realize the importance of also helping our remote workers be able to connect with and contribute to a cause outside of their need for connectedness, trust, or communication. What does that look like? Is it possible to measure that for success, and not simply performance outputs and deliverables?
This challenges and expands the traditional scorecard…how do we measure a worker’s contribution to the growth and well-being of others?
I met a lady at a coffee shop recently while working on a presentation for Finland. She shared that her 3 kids work in different industries (business, urban planning, and medical support), all of them work remotely in varying degrees: two have office space that they use… sometimes, and the other has a home office and also uses coffee shops when appropriate. The lady herself had a season of working from home, but openly admitted that the discipline to stay focused and not jump into house keeping tasks became a loosing battle, so she moved back into the formal office setting.
This ‘moving back to the office’ is not about failure or defeat, it’s more about knowing yourself, the environments in which you thrive, and your limits.
Over the past few weeks I have been considering what I like about remote work, and what elements I’m not crazy about. I’ve also been chatting to others, researching, and brainstorming with peers to learn about their experiences. The short and sweet of it? Remote workers like the ability to be flexible and have a choice about how, when, and where the work gets done. As well, the idea of intentionality regarding work results in great productivity, and calls for much creativity in overcoming possible barriers.
The flip side? Things like poor communication, inadequate technology, and undependable Internet access can create great frustration for both workers, and employers. This in addition to the on-going struggle to balance work and personal space (thus the need for good self-discipline!). One final aspect that many individuals working remotely battle with is a sense of isolation and lonelyness.
Like any work situation, you take the good with the not so good…the question lies in whether or not you can overcome, or accept, the aspects that are less than ideal. For me, and for most remote workers that I have engaged with, the pros are great enough that the commitment to finding a way to make remote work, work…is worth the effort.
The number of people working remotely (in varying formats) is growing; next blog join me as we take a closer look at how both the workers and the employers are creating some really successful outcomes.
In the meantime, check out this interview conducted with a remote worker regarding his experiences. And yes, it does beg the question… “What are the key differences between remote working and nomadic working?” Nathan describes the first as being in a position of having an office (whether a home, shared, or separate office space) and the second being in a state of having no constant. What are the advantages, draw backs, and risks of each? A question to be answered by a nomadic worker?
I have become more than simply curious about all that it means to work remotely. In fact, it has become one of those topics that seem to be ‘popping up’ in various conversation these days. I know it is not a totally new concept, but I do believe it is going to continue to impact the way we design work across all industries. In a recent conversation with my son, he described how his attention is being drawn to how we design customer experiences (check him out at http://nathansawatzky.com). To me, this is the flip side of the same coin; are we considering how we design work in light of how we design the customer’s experience? It is also interesting to note that Nathan works remotely from various countries around the world.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. Suffice to say, my focus for the next few months will be on investigating how different organizations – large and small, local and global – creatively design jobs that intentionally build in opportunities for employees to work remotely…and considering how this then informs the customer experience.Here is an interesting article published by the New York Times on the topic…Out of the Office: More People are Working Remotely, Survey Finds.
Over the course of the summer I will be traveling and look forward to doing some work remotely, AND connecting with others who also have the opportunity to enjoy such freedom.
Any book recommendations, research, organizational examples are greatly appreciated! I’m starting off by reading Remote: Office Not Required by Fried and Hansson. Hope you join me for this wide open (by design) journey.
Image Posted on Updated on
I’m not a ‘navel gazer‘, in fact I would probably get my back up against the wall if anyone accused me of being one. For many people, spending time doing various assessments to learn more about oneself falls into this category; I get that. We can get so fixated on taking self discovery assessment after assessment, after assessment in pursuit of self discovery…but to what end?
So where am I going with this, especially with a blog title of ‘Thinking about thinking’? In my lifetime I have completed many assessments: True Colours, What Color is Your Parachute?, Anchors, StrengthsFinder, MBTI, Values-Based-Indicators, DISC to name a few. Each one of them have contributed to my self-understanding, but to what end? In college, we use various assessments to help students learn who they are, how they perform, what matters to them, what they should do with their lives…again, to what end?
Ok, so this is sounding like a gloom and doom reflection…bear with me, that’s not where I’m going.
Lately I have been passionately curious about the whole idea of diversity, and loving every moment of it. In fact, in my previous few blogs I focused on diversity in the classroom, which really served as the impetus to keep digging into this intriguing area of thought. The intent of my attention to this matter was for the purpose of bringing students from multiple cultural backgrounds together, and through appreciating each one’s unique contribution, greatly enhance their own learning and that of their classmates. I left the semester feeling enriched, as did many of the students.
However, through conversations with my son, Nathan, we began considering the fact that the practice of many organizations is to design diverse teams based on such things as culture, gender, religion, ability, or age. The theory is that bringing individuals from diverse people groups together will result in heightened creativity which would then lead to greater innovation, which would lead to greater productivity and profit. Logical, and supported by research. But…is it accurate? Not necessarily…in fact, other research is showing that while much good can be generated from such diversity, there are challenges that can block the desired results. In an article entitled Diversity in Teams: a Two Edged Sword the authors remind us that there is more to receiving creative and innovative outcomes than simply putting together a diverse team.
The question then arises…If diversity truly is the key element in creating diversity of thought, how do we harness and grow it? And…how do we define diversity?
Here’s where I’m going with this. When most of us think of diversity, we think about the visible…the things we see that make us different: race, color, age, ability/disability, gender… But what about “Invisible diversity”? Bersin by Deloitte defines this as… ‘the traits or characteristics of a person that may not be obvious, such as diversity of thought, perspectives, and life experiences (which may include education, family status, values and beliefs, working-style preferences, and socioeconomic status).’
Is it possible that the best path to creativity and innovation doesn’t lie in visibly diverse teams, but in teams that also strive for invisibly diverse teams?
Closing the loop…if I want to successfully work with an invisibly diverse team, one that embraces differenct ways of thinking based on such things as values, beliefs, experiences, perspectives…I need to understand where I’m coming from; I need to first be a student of myself before I can understand those unique individuals I will be privileged to work with.
Thus starts the journey into re-learning about, and appreciating, my own uniqueness, FOR THE PURPOSE of learning about, and appreciating others, so that together we can innovate and create amazing things.