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!
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.)
In my last blog we discussed the concept of self-leadership and its importance in an individual’s success. As a refresher, this definition of self-leadership directs our focus. ‘…the ability to influence your thinking, feeling and actions to achieve your objectives.
We know from our research that taking on the responsibility of self-leadership is important for everyone, but even more so in a remote working context. In previous blogs we considered what questions could be asked in an interview to discern such competencies as communication, self-directed, and trust. In this piece we offer interview question suggestions for self-leadership.
1. How have you taken the initiative to grow your strengths in the recent past? What was the impetus to grow that specific strength? (You are wanting to identify two things here: a) does the individual have an awareness of their own strengths, and b) are they intentionally getting better at what they are already good at.)
2. What have you learned about yourself from working collaboratively with others?
(Working with others is like holding up a mirror to our own actions, reactions, patterns and processes. Responses should give you insight into the individuals ability and desire to collaborate, as well as their openness to learn from others.)
3. Tell me about a time when you received critical feedback from either a peer or a supervisor. How did you respond? What did you do about the critique? (We know how important feedback is, even if we don’t always like what we hear. Listen for honesty around both positive and negative feedback, AND action taken as a result of that critique)
4. What book or podcast series has most impacted your on-going development and growth? Why was it so impactful? (Reading, or listening to audio books and podcasts, is a great way to grow as we learn from others. Hearing about the choice of books an individual reads, and what they do with what they have learned will provide a glimpse into how a individual goes about accessing resources for growth.)
5. How have you benefited from being mentored? (Listen for indication of the value learning from others brings to one’s self-awareness and growth. Is mentoring something that they value? Have they mentored others?)
6. Self-awareness is a key element of self-leadership. Describe yourself using internal factors such as your strengths, passions, values, personality, goals. (Most people introduce and describe themselves by their career, culture, hobbies…external aspects. A self-aware individual is able to speak about themselves in terms of who they are vs what they do.)
“How we lead ourselves in life impacts how we lead those around us.”
If you say you’re going to do it…do it
If you didn’t do what you said you’re going to do…own it
If there were barriers that keep you from doing it, communicate that, once barriers are removed, if possible …do it
If you don’t know how to do it, ask for help, then do it
In my previous blog we looked at the competency of trust, or trustworthiness. What is trust and how do we develop, earn, and keep it. Trust, in all areas is vital, but our research respondents shared that when working in a remote or virtual context is foundational to effective communication and collaboration.
That being so, what kind of interview questions will help identify the level of trustworthiness evidenced in the lives of the candidates. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
1. Describe a time when you needed to earn the trust of others.
Listen for humility in the answer. Did the candidate take the responsibility to earn trust vs depending on a position to demand trust.
2. Doing the right thing doesn’t always result in a win. Tell me about a time when you experienced a loss for doing the right thing in order to preserve the trust of others.
Listen for values, for the candidate to be more concerned with retaining trust (vs fav our), than potential reward or recognition.
3. Based on your values, is there any circumstance in which it is justifiable to break a professional confidence?
The answer to this can be both easily identified, and challenging. You want the candidate to acknowledge the seriousness of breaching a confidence; however, you want them to also recognize the fact that certain lines of ethics and legalities warrant the risk of breaking a trust in order to do the right thing.
4. Tell me about a time when you were given credit for something a co-worker did. How did you respond?
This question gets to the heart of meritocracy. Listen for reflections on the importance of giving credit where credit is due, for responses that reflect a level of trust where co-workers know their team mates will be their greatest champions.
Trustworthiness…growing the competency.
I grew up in Ireland. We lived in a town called Bangor and loved to visit grandparents in Annalong, a small fishing village. What I loved about both places was the location…right on the Irish Sea. I loved the smells, sounds, sights, and yes, the feeling of that sea salt on my lips and skin. Even now, years after immigrating to Canada, every chance I get I head to the ocean. It’s my place of refreshment, rejuvenation, and reflection. However, I have a very healthy respect for the power of the sea and the need for warning signs that both guide sea faring travellers, and bathers. Warnings that can be relied on, depended on, warnings that are constant. I think often of my grandfather sharing how he would stand at the Annalong Harbour watching for my uncle to return home after a fishing trip. At times the waves were so big, vessels would disappear from view, being tossed by the rise and fall of the sea.
For years, before the use of electronic navigational systems, sailors depended on the beacon of a lighthouse to guide them to shore, steering them away from being dashed
against treacherous coastlines and hidden rocks. They knew they could trust the lighthouse, that it was reliable, constant, a lifeline to guide them into the safety of the harbour.
Trust…a ‘thing’ we base a belief on…an action we employ when expecting people to do what they say they will do. Respondents to our research reported that trustworthiness, was a competency critical to success in the remote world. To be sure, trust is critical in all work contexts, but they suggested that in a virtual environment it becomes even more important. Sadly, many people mistake presence for progress.
Trust can be earned, and lost. Many books have been written on the topic; countless articles and blogs tout its’ value. But how do we develop it? How do we preserve it? If lost, how do we earn it back? I would offer the following three simple actions:
- If you say you’re going to do it…do it
- If you didn’t do what you said you’re going to do…own it
- If there are barriers that keep you from doing it, communicate that; once barriers are removed, if possible …do it.
- If you don’t know how to do it, ask for help, then do it
Ok, so not so simple! However, if you want to be a person worthy of trust you need to own it, preserve it, and value it. Are you a trustworthy person? If you’re not sure, ask those you work with, your family and friends, if they view you as a person they can trust. Warning, only ask if you are willing to act on what they tell you!
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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.