We have all heard the term ‘writers block’ tossed around by those who identify themselves as writers; those talented individuals who depend on the free flow of words to give voice to the fantastic worlds floating around in their heads. I don’t claim to be a member of that class. I also have great appreciation for those types of writers who seem to have endless thoughts, ideas, and advise to share on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. If any of you happen to stumble across this blog, I’m in awe of your discipline and creativity and would love a sip of your secret sauce, and I’m amazed that writer’s block doesn’t hit you far more frequently!
But here’s the deal…even though I have a very full, satisfying, challenging, inspiring, rewarding, and fulfilling life, I totally get mental stagnation when it comes to narrowing down, or sifting through the swirl in my brain, and focusing on a theme, or topic, to articulate in words that will hopefully have some impact on a reader. All my life I have been a learner, and that has not changed, nor will it ever. I’m a business professor, researcher, remote worker, consultant/coach, international speaker (now that’s a privilege!), wife, mom, sister, grandmother, friend…I am truly blessed. Needless to say each of those ‘roles’ provide an endless array of learning and reward. Every conversation has potential to teach, inspire, drain, encourage, challenge, or even bore me.
So with all that input, why do I have such a difficult time putting words to paper? Certainly not because of lack of content! Perhaps the simple fact that there is so much input, or ‘information overload’, nothing is fully landing. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and filling your plate with everything in sight because it all looks amazing, tastes great, and is available–right under my nose.
Even as I write this, my inner voice is sending me sarcastic messages…like ‘seriously, you don’t see an issue here? You know the answer, you know better!’ And that little voice is right.
The very things, the tools, that make constant contact possible, information access more readily available than ever before, communication between the person next to me or 3000 miles away as easy as breathing, are both the cause and the cure.
I’m currently preparing a workshop on self-management. Ironic, right? One of the questions I am asking is ‘what do we need to manage?’ Perhaps time, stress, commitments, multiple deadlines, or life balance. Yes to all of these, and more. For me, I do a great job of managing my commitments; I am organized and can discipline my time well. But as I write this I am again reminded that what I don’t manage well is time to reflect, to slow down and relish the moment I am in, to ponder those special moments that happen each day. To call up the smile on the face of a grandchild or grandniece you’ve had a chance to cuddle with, to share in the joy of good news offered, or to simply walk through the falling leaves of autumn. Check out this video by Manoush Zomorodi called Bored and Brilliant And…finally realize that when your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems.
What about you? What is cluttering your mind and keeping you from finding clarity around new opportunities; current and future? What can you do about it? What are you willing to do about it?
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
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.
In a previous blog, I used Bandura’s definition of self-efficacy… ‘a personal judgment of how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations’. Also discussed was the competency of taking initiative. Based on the suggestion that when one has higher levels of self-efficacy, they are more likely to take initiative, we could safely conclude…if an individual does not have the personal confidence (self-efficacy) 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.
Based on that conclusion, here are some questions you might ask in an interview to determine if the candidate has what you are looking for regarding these two competencies.
1. Tell me about a time when you intentionally took on a task or activity that required you to stretch the limits of your strengths. (First of all, you are looking for an awareness of strengths and self-awareness. Secondly, you want to hear the candidate describe a situation that was out of their comfort zone, perhaps even risky. How did they approach it, and what was the outcome?)
2. Describe a time when you had to clarify your ‘why’, your end goal, in order to gain motivation for growth. (Effective growth comes when it is tied to a purpose, rather than doing something for the sake of doing it. Listen for clarity of direction and intentionality.)
3. We all make mistakes. Reflect on a time you were in the wrong. How did you handle it, and what did you learn as a result? (This is all about taking responsibility for mistakes, doing something about them, and gaining confidence as a result of learning from them.)
4. Tell me about a time when you stepped up, without being specifically asked, to head up a new initiative. (Stepping up when asked is one thing, but putting your hand up for a task without being approach to do so demonstrates initiative and courage. Listen for how the person made the determination to take on such a task.)
5. Managers don’t always provide the support and leadership their team members need. Describe a time when you took the initiative to ask for support, or offer a suggestion for receiving feedback. (This is a reality. Many individuals complain about not receiving support or constructive feedback; however, not many take the initiative to ask for it. Listen for both the commitment that support and feedback are desired, and how they were requested.)
6. You have been working remotely for company ABC for three months. Even though you are part of a team, you are feeling somewhat isolated. What would you do about this. (A not uncommon reality of working remote. Because those you are interviewing may not have experienced remote work previously, this type of situational question will not only identify a challenge they may face, but get them to immediately start thinking about how they would deal with it. You want to hear specific action the candidate would take, the personal responsibility, to remedying this challenge.)
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.
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.
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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)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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?)
- 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.)
- 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.
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?
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?