Expectations

Settling in and moving on in uncertain times…Blog 71

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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

Recalculating: How should I then live?…Blog #70

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Warning: Coffee Has Given Me Unrealistic Expectations of Productivity

I cannot lie — sometimes I take a different route to a destination just to see if I can frustrate my dashboard companion. Who of us have not, in the midst of directional challenges, imitated the impatient GPS voice letting us know that we have taken a turn not laid out according to the infinite wisdom of Google Maps?

If it’s not the GPS warning us we need to recalculate, it could be a health scare, a global virus, a job loss, a new baby…you name it.

I’m currently in the throes of a graduated return to work plan following a surgical medical leave. In my last blog you would have read how my mind basically turned to mush, obliterating any plans I had for ‘enjoying’ my recovery time. However, as the fog cleared I began to think about life pre-surgery, and how it truly felt like running full out, but on a treadmill. I knew something had to change, I knew a recalculation was in my future.

To be honest, only a short six month previous my doctor informed me that the exhaustion, lack of focus and ambition I was experiencing was the result of burn out. It took me a while to get to that point, and he cautioned it would take a while to fully climb out of the hole I dug for myself. So the extraction began…I made appropriate small changes that really did make a difference, but the journey is not over. Soul searching is still in its infancy.

What does it look like to recalculate? I’m not totally sure, in fact I’m still exploring that deep mystery. What I do know is that while my home bound recovery didn’t go as smoothly as planned, mostly because of my unrealistic expectations, it did give me time to think through how I want to emerge from my cocoon and reintegrate into life in a manner that is not only sustainable, but fulfilling, impactful to those I interact with, and with an even deeper curiosity to learn…a curiosity that is contagious

How Should We Then Live?

I don’t know at what time in my life I was introduced to this phrase by Francis A. Schaeffer (American Theologian), but it seems to be ingrained in my very psyche; however, it has recently crept its way from the recesses of my mind to a still, small voice begging to be heard. I do believe it is patiently awaiting resolution…yearning for me to pay attention and recalculate.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am a researcher (for whatever reason, this term or concept has always conjured up some less than desirable images). However, I will only engage if the research has practical application and is accessible to those who can most benefit from the resulting discoveries. I am an advocate for remote work and care deeply that is it done with excellence. While policies and processes are vital, my passion lies with people. I am concerned that we prepare students for the unknowns of their future careers, and I am concerned that those already experiencing the joys and challenges of remote work have been correctly selected and are being well supported. I also am impassioned to ensure those providing leadership to remote workers are doing so with integrity, empathy, and selfless support. I care that they are being selected effectively and provided the training necessary to be true champions of those entrusted to their supervision.

Knowing my passion, how should I then live? In what direction does this query point me? What precisely does this path look like for me as I reintegrate into the world of academia, research, and remote work? Good questions – and that is exactly where the new adventure begins!

Generation Jones…What about us?

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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.

 

Competencies: self-efficacy and initiative…one enables the other.

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There are 3 more competencies that I want to discuss in this series regarding success as a remote worker: taking initiative, being adaptable/flexible, and having high self-efficacy. In this blog I want to tie two of them together; while very different from each other, I believe it’s fair to say that doing one, not only indicates the presence of the other, but also contributes to growing it. Let me clarify.

In many cases it take guts, courage, and confidence to take the initiative to make something happen. To put it another way, people with high self-efficacy would be more likely to step up and take the initiative to make something happen than someone who lacks the confidence and belief in their own abilities to do so.

Back in the 1700s, the term ‘initiative’ was used when referring to someone having “the power to originate something”. Since we are talking in a business context, an appropriate definition would be… “An individual’s action that begins a process, often done without direct managerial influence.”

Taking action, starting a process, not needing managerial influence, originating something…all challenging to do if an individual is low on self-efficacy. Psychologist Albert Bandura defines this as “a personal judgment of how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”. Pulling it all together…if an individual does not have the personal confidence to deal with a given situation, they will be hesitant to take the initiative to begin a process that does not come with managerial direction.

The question then remains, how does one grow their self-efficacy in order to have the confidence to take initiative? I recently came across an article entitled ‘5 Easy Rules to Improve Self-Efficacy’ While I suggest taking time to read the short article, let me give you a quick overview of what the author suggests:

1. Set your goals above your ability: We are talking about stretch goals here. Not impossible ones, but goals that call on your current strengths and require you to flex them beyond what you have already done.

2. Simplify your goals into small pieces: We know this already…bit size chunks, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and before you know it…you have reached your goal!

3. The big picture should be your main focus: This seems somewhat opposite to the point mentioned above; however, if we don’t have the big picture in mind, knowing the ‘why’ behind our desire to grow in this area, it is easy to get lost in the quagmire.

4. Obstacles have to be reframed: We can’t always change or control our situations, nor can we always remove certain barriers. What we can do is change how we view these situations…then move forward.

5. Take control of your life: (or at least take responsibility for your decisions) “A strong sense of self-efficacy is about the deep belief in your abilities and not about the cockiness of just your self-esteem. Stay humble and open to new ideas and eventually achieve the mastery.” (I love this!)

Self-efficacy is really a mind game. In a previous blog I talked about self-leadership. Part of this is growing in the understanding and utilization of your strengths and emotional intelligence. Bottom line, life is a journey of discovery. Own your mistakes, learn from them, grow your strengths, and lead from that point of confidence. Then, take the initiative to grab hold of the many opportunities that come your way.

Self-directed – how do I interview for that?

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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.