Research

Academia meets Industry

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Earlier this week, Nathan and I had the privilege of presenting this research project at JAMK’s Global Colloquium in Jyväskylä, Finland. The focus of the event was the challenge faced by higher education regarding how to deliver and support innovative learning solutions in environments characterized by changing technology, economic condition and globalization. It was great to dialogue around this important topic with faculty from France, England, Turkey, South Africa, USA, and of course, Finland.
I believe it is important to keep asking the ‘why’ behind all the research we undertake. When we get our heads around ‘why’, only then can we move forward with more ‘how’ type questions. In a previous blog, ‘Remote Workers-what makes you great’ I touched on the ‘why’ behind this remote research… but what might the ‘how’ questions be? What design thinking type questions will open new doors of possibilities once the research findings have been gathered and analyzed?
As we posed these questions to the colloquium attendees…wonderful ideas began to emerge!

  • How might we deliver learning in innovative spaces such as we do with trades and technology?
  • How might we help students experience the life of a remote worker?
  • How might we prepare our students for the global impact of work?
  • How might we design our curriculum in such a way as to prepare for the competencies or ‘soft skills’ needed by our students to be successful in this context?
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Innovative classroom at JAMK’s Tiimiakatemia

The exciting thing is that as educators:

  • We have direct access to the workers of the future…we owe it to them to provide insights as to what they need to be successful (opportunity)
  • We are charged with preparing these young minds (responsibility)
  • We have the ability to reframe education in a way that reflects industry (ability), and,
  • Our students need to know how they can thrive in an every changing world (compulsion)

In an ever changing world, we may not be able to prepare students for the specifics of the jobs they will do, so perhaps we need to focus more on the nature of how the work will get done. I suggest this kind of rethinking around how we prepare students must be done in collaboration with industry, with the experts, with remote workers and those who fully support remote work. Which circles right back to the research regarding what are the keys to success for remote workers, and in what ways do they need to receive feedback and support.

Next blog…what we’ve learned so far from interviews with remote workers in Kelowna, Vernon, Vancouver and Helsinki.

And we’re off…well almost

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I am sitting at the Kelowna airport for the first leg of my research trip…still sitting because my flight got cancelled due to mechanical issue. I had hoped to get to Vancouver in time to attend a social event at WeWork and make some connections in preparation for the meetup scheduled there tomorrow. Not to be. It’s ironic that one of the key competencies for remote workers is flexibility…check!

Seriously though, travel is often part of working remotely. At times it’s because an individual has chosen remote work for the freedom of working from anywhere they desire. At other times it’s because their remote or virtual work calls for them to travel for a meeting with a client. When travel is for personal reasons, while frustrating, schedules can be more accommodating (unless you have airport connections). However, if a client is expecting you to arrive for an important meeting at a certain time, these schedule changes can be more problematic. Nathan Sawatzky, my research collaborator, experienced this only a couple of weeks ago when 3 meetings were cancelled because of multiple flight delays. Or what about the last minute cancellations made by the clients? Don’t they know how important this was to you? Flexibility, adaptability…you get the idea.

How do you deal with these unavoidable challenges? Practically, whenever possible, plan for them. Ideally, book to arrive a day ahead (my meeting is at 10am tomorrow…yup this isn’t my first cancelled flight). But even the best laid plans can go amuck calling for rearranging and rebooking of meetings. And what about the emotional toll it can take on the remote worker? Often these appointments have been made after considerable communication with existing, and potential, clients…much is on the line. How do you pick yourself up from the let down and start working on marking those new arrangements? I would suggest you make that kind of decision ahead of time. Will you choose to adapt? Will you pass on the ‘right’ to nurse a poor attitude about how ‘those’ people just can’t be depended on?

We’ve all heard the saying ‘two sides of the coin’. Well, there are two sides to the flexibility coin. The vast majority of remote workers I have chatted with cite that flexibility is one of the reasons they love their chosen work situations. They can build their work around their lives, allowing them to work when and where they choose, basically being the master of their own calendar. Flexibility also means honouring the schedules of others…when a ‘better offer’ comes along, be it for personal or professional reasons, the responsibly side of flexibility says that you get to choose which route to take. Do you honour the commitment to a client, or do you flex your ‘freedom’ muscles and go for the better offer. Again, you need to decide. It may help to consider that you may be the flip side of someone else’s flexibility coin.

I’m rebooked on a flight 5 hours later. I am hopeful that I’ll get to my meeting tomorrow (and my afternoon flight to Finland)…and the friendly Air Canada check-in lady gave me a $15 meal voucher instead of a $10 one…things are looking up.

Remote Workers…what makes you great?

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Curious, Self-directed, Empathetic …three of the competencies that are vital for the success of a remote worker. How do I know? I asked a bunch of remote workers, and they answered…but we have only just begun asking!

Thanks to a grant (CSBER)  from the Okanagan School of Business in Kelowna, BC, Canada (I’m a business prof there), I am formally embarking on a research study of remote workers. I want to know what competencies contribute to the success of remote workers? What effective feedback looks like, and from whom? What qualifies as a great workspace?

Why am I asking?

  • Because remote work is the new reality of a growing and changing workforce;
  • because organizations need to know how to best support their people who work remotely;
  • because we need to know how to prepare our business students for the nature of the careers they will be entering, and
  • because the best people to learn from are those already working remotely…they know what works and what is important.
WeWork, Vancouver BC

Because remote workers are not restrained by co-located offices, hours of operation, nor physical location, it’s important that the scope of this research is globally focused. The remote worker can change locations–even continents–every month or so. The various maturity of each co-work space reflects the unique cultures developing around this growing working context (this is a topic we will jump into in a later blog…amazing spaces!)

The Dock, Victoria, BC

I’m excited about the co-work locations on the itinerary so far: Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Edmonton, Vancouver, all in Canada, then Jyväskylä and Helsinki (Finland), London (England), Amsterdam and Einhoven (Netherlands), and Berlin (Germany). Each of these locations supports several co-work spaces of varying maturity, design, and purpose.

Add to this is the privilege of collaborating with Nathan Sawatzky, a global remote worker (and my son), who has already spent a great deal of time working from various co-work spaces across Europe. I can truly say that he has introduced me to a world of amazing people who experience opportunities, challenges, AND great rewards.

So, whether you are a remote worker, support one, know one, or want to be one…follow along and explore the world of work ‘outside the walls’.