December 20, 2019 was the day life changed significantly for me. I had a total knee replacement. Believe me, the purported timelines for recovery are not to be trusted…nor is it wise to use other’s recovery milestones as targets for which to aim.
I was just starting to emerge into ‘the real world’, trusty cane by my side, when the second significant change landed bringing as much joy as an unwelcome guest. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was turned around by this global pandemic we soon came to know as COVID-19. My ‘coming out’ was quickly shut down, and the excitement of re-entry was snatched away. Conferences already registered for were cancelled, a greatly anticipated trip to Hawaii with our daughter and son-in-law was cancelled, and a scheduled vacation to Helsinki to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids faded away before becoming a reality.
But life did not slow down, in fact it become busier than I could have imagined. Almost immediately I began receiving invites to present at virtual events; the answer to each invite was a resounding ‘yes!’ This remote community welcomed me with open arms when I began my journey into remote work research…this was my opportunity to return the favour. But the business went beyond that. You see, I’m an educator as well as a remote work advocate. I teach Human Resources and Management courses at the Okanagan School of Business, in Kelowna, British Columbia. We immediately went into pivot mode; face to face classes had to be transformed into on-line delivery. Within a week of the self-isolation announcement, every one of our students were fully engaged in a whole new way of learning (for them), and a new delivery platform for us (professors). Unbelievable to say the least.
Not only did our faculty have to reframe their delivery method, they were called on to facilitate learning in a manner that embraced synchronous and asynchronous learning in an effort to continue fostering impactful relationships with their students. And, they had to do this while suddenly working from home where a workspace had not yet been created. More pivoting.
I say ‘they’ in this reference, because I was not teaching in the Winter 2019 semester due to the assimilation of a new body part! However, I was able to fully engage in the facilitation of the transition and bring my expertise around remote work to bear on the situation. Ironically, it wasn’t until this event happened that many in our greater institution were even aware of the research I had conducted on remote work — research the College had funded. However, it was fortuitous that I was able to provide some support and insight to my colleagues and peers during a period of disequilibrium.
Remote work is not new to me, in fact, I have been engaged working remotely for quite a few years. However, as many of my remote work advocate colleagues confirm, working from home is not the same as remote work. By definition, remote work relates to those who don’t have to show up at a physical location on a regular basis. They are mostly location agnostic or location independent
Contrarily, COVID-19 turned the majority of us into location dependent workers — our homes. This was not a choice; time to prepare a home office was not afforded those used to going to a physical building to conduct their work. For many, the kitchen table, living room couch, or bedroom floor became their ‘home office’. Add to that the reality of a partner also looking for a quiet corner to work, while carving out space for newly homeschooled children to meet teachers on-line for the purpose of receiving their (and their parent’s) marching orders for the week. Our homes became co-working/co-living spaces. Major pivot.
In all fairness, this is not a clear picture of the realities of remote work. Sadly, for some, this experience has tainted their view of the value of remote working; being able to comprehend the benefit to individuals, teams, organizations, and communities has been greatly overshadowed by a working context that has caused overwhelming stress. I’ve heard some of your stories and can’t fathom the life challenges you are experiencing.
On the other hand, many are realizing a glimpse of ‘what could be’. Your work from home experience has opened your eyes to a way of life and work that decreases stress, allows for greater productivity, gives a sense of control over your time, and allows you to sneak extended moments to enjoy precious time with your loved ones (albeit in closer quarters than you would prefer). These pivots are positive.
We in BC, Canada are experiencing wWe keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? hat is being called ‘stage 2’ of re-opening. What does this mean for you? Time to pivot again? Are your children heading back to school this week? Are you opening your ‘bubble’ to invite in friends and loved ones? Are you venturing out to the grocery store more often? Frequenting parks and beaches? Are you honouring social distancing? Are you feeling some anxiety…is this all happening too soon? Is this pivot more difficult that the absolute of self-isolation?
What does work look like for you now? For the organizations you work for? Will you transition back to working co-located in the office? Will you join the ranks of remote workers around the world? Or will you and your organization embrace the many who are moving to a hybrid (some folks working remote while others co-located) approach to working?
We keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? From what I see, much of the pivots we have been asked to take are actually behaviours that we should have adapted a long time ago. Granted, the results of not adhering to these certain behaviours come with serious consequences in these current days. But let’s think about some of these suggested behaviours:
- Stay home if you are sick
- Respect those around you
- Take care of each other
- Wash your hands
- Respect other’s personal space
- Work from home…if at all possible
- Support local business
- Stay connected with friends and loved ones using whatever means possible
This brings to mind the wisdom shared by Robert Fulghum in “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten”
As blogs go, this one has found me rambling and wandering down some rabbit holes; Sunday afternoon with no virtual meetings, no marking, no schedule, tends to foster such ramblings. It actually ties into the name of my blog site ‘Probe and Ponder’. I would love to hear your thoughts; what is making you pivot, or causing you to stop and ponder life around you?
“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”Michael Chabon
I totally get that. Despite my plans and intentions for medical recover, the past ten weeks have been nothing short of life controlled by…not me!
Imagine ten weeks of reading for the joy of reading, journaling everyday to capture the healing process, time to catch up on Netflix series a hair back kind of schedule doesn’t afford, afternoon snoozes, and crafting well researched blogs that would encourage and challenge remote workers in their exciting contexts. Imagine was exactly what I did; none of this actually materialized.
I think when the anesthetic was administered it not only knocked me out for the ninety minute surgery, it also contained a time release drug that lasted for at least eight weeks! Seriously, I’d pick up a book and not remember the story line from one page to the next. Game of Thrones? I managed five minutes of viewing before being overwhelmed, and I had previously read the first book!
Many of you share my love for roller coasters — crawling up an impossible vertical 250+ feet at a snail’s pace, then plummeting down to the bowels of the earth, only to hit a turn that just about propels it’s screaming riders into outer space. Fun on a roller coaster, not so much when this describes your emotional state. Name an emotion and I’m pretty sure I lived it. Rational? Logical? Not necessarily, but very real and very exhausting. For example, one particular interaction with another knee replacement patient left me feeling totally shamed when she commented that I wasn’t as far along the healing process as she. I’m an adult, but the power of peer pressure hit me like a ton of bricks.
But today…ten weeks later, I actually feel that one day in the future I will once again engage in most of the activities I was missing out on, pain free, and ready to take on the world.
At one point in the post surgery days, I signed up for an on-line writing course tutored by my friend Karen Barnstable. This one thing I could do; there was no pressure to complete within a given time frame. I could write, maybe day dream for a time, or reminisce on life experiences that led me to this point in life. Each lesson submitted resulted in thoughtful, constructive feedback that informed my next attempt at telling more of my story. And the writing continues.
You see, I’m working on a memoir that focuses on my life and learning in the realm of remote work. It may take a while to complete because I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about, and living this phenomenal approach to work. The discipline of writing is also helping me to focus on my next research topic that builds on what we’ve previously completed (still needs work to clearly articulating).
My understanding is that the path to full recover is not a short one; however, the good news is that day by day, I’m getting there. And the great news is that the roller coaster has slowed down to more resemble a bike ride through the dunes connecting Zandvoort and The Hague; hills that still make you breathe hard, but reward you with moments allowing you to catch your breath and appreciate the journey.
It’s been almost 2 weeks since NomadCity2019 ended and I continue to be asked by friends and colleagues about my main learnings and take always. My honest answer has been that I haven’t had the time to sit and reflect on the amazing event it was. I continue to read the reflections of others, and want to add an emphatic ‘YES!’ to all they have shared. Well, a forced slow down has finally provided the think space I need (2 fractured ribs!)
Imagine being in a auditorium with 250 plus people, representing 15 some countries, sharing a common passion to make a difference in how work gets done. Gender, age, culture, religion, sexual orientation…nothing mattered to anyone except coming together with one voice to advocate for working remote (to whatever degree possible). I appreciated each and every question I was asked, the answers offered to me for each question I asked, and the unique views found in the welcome of such diversity. How can learning not be the outcome?
- My first takeaway is about the people. I have attended, and organized, many conferences throughout my career, and would say that the attendees at Nomad City were among the most welcoming, humble, focused, and passionate individuals I have encountered. There is something special about being in the same physical space with people you have connected with in a virtual context. I gained a greater understanding of the importance of scheduling opportunities for individuals and teams to have face to face (physical) time together. I get that this isn’t always possible, but if organizations would consider dedicating some of the money saved by having people work remotely, and use the savings to create such gatherings, the benefits would far outweigh the cost. Events like NomadCity also provide a place where teams can meet, hangout, build relationships, learn together, and strategize on how they can be more effective in the way they work together.
- The second takeaway was a call to move the focus away from the benefit of remote work for the individual and organization, towards the incredible contribution remote work can, and does, have on economic development. I was privileged to moderate a panel organized by Nacho Rodriguez, founder of Nomad City, that focused on how remote work has made a difference in communities around the globe, and how it is making an impact already in Los Palmas. This call also right sizes the reality of remote work. The ‘working on the beach’ vision created by some folks, simply is not the actuality of what this working context looks like. Sure, you can work from the most amazing places, but having a productive and appropriate work environment is both necessary, and at times challenging to find. The concern with embracing remote workers in your organization is not ‘will they stay focused on work’, but ‘will they shut off from work’. These are hard working, dedicated people who truly want to make a difference in whatever community they find themselves working.
- Another takeaway was the amount of collaboration that happens in this community. Collaboration, not competition, was the goal of the individuals and organizations represented at the event. It was great to see how organizations like Basecamp, a fully distributed company, want to learn how they can continue to provide an effective platform for remote workers. Whereby, Buffer, and Hello Monday…all platforms who are growing and adapting to meet the needs of their clients. Workplaceless, another fully distributed company develops and supports training courses to help remote workers and organizations succeed in this space. Amazing individuals, (way too many to mention…check out the speaker line up on the NomadCity2019 link above), who bring their own unique strengths to the movement for the purpose of support and advocacy. The list goes on. The desires expressed regarding helping collocated organizations ascertain how they can make remote or flexible work available for their employees was one of support, not pressure; the common theme was to discover the smartest way, the most effective way to get work done, honoring both employees, employers, and communities. The final day of the event was an ‘unconference’ or ‘Open space’ event for 60 invited remote work advocates. Working together, we identified burning issues which then became the topics of discussion for the day; these participant led conversations truly revealed the challenges and opportunities faced by this community…the discussions were inspiring, challenging, and stimulating. Exciting!
- My final takeaway was the importance of research in this area that provides support for individuals, organizations, and communities regarding remote work. I especially love this because it calls for academia and industry to work together, to collaborate, to need each other. When this happens, we influence not only the current work force, but all those coming behind.
Wrapping up…remote work is not a fad, it’s not some passing trend, it’s the face of work…today. It may look different for each situation, but the bottom line is that we need to consider how we can best build environments where people are allowed the freedom to work in contexts where they are most productive—always balancing freedom and flexibility with responsibility. Where organizations, if appropriate, provide opportunity for their employees to work from anywhere, and trust them to do the work assigned without micro managing, all the while supporting a life balance, and where communities are built and restored to a level of economic health. The remote work movement, and each of the participants at NomadCity2019 all offered a loud ‘amen’ to this collaborative goal. I am honoured, and humbled, to part of this amazing community! See you all at NomadCity2020.
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?
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.)