It’s almost the end of the week. One more day. Actually, it’s the Victoria Day weekend and I long for even two days to shut down and be totally off-line. How quickly life has changed from truly enjoying connecting with folks virtually, to being so screen weary that the thought of settling in with a real, hold-in-your-hands book is ripe with anticipation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the times I get to visit and work with individuals across physical distance. I am truly blessed to participate in thought provoking, encouraging, challenging, and stretching conversations with amazing minds around the globe. But I miss going to a coffee shop for a visit with a good friend, or simply having dedicated, productive time working while sipping on a rich americano created by a favourite barista.
It’s the small things I miss. Happy hours on a patio catching up on the happenings of life around us, bike rides that end with a dark beer at a local brewery, hugging friends at will, holding a new born baby without fear of endangering their fragile life, sitting by the bedside of a dad who still remembers me…but for how long? Planning weekend getaways to…anywhere!
Still, I have much to be grateful for. I am still working, enjoy health, have a safe home in which to dwell with an amazing husband, have a loving family who are committed to staying connected without compromising health, have a great community of friends who make the extra effort to reach out and share life, I have amazing colleagues with whom to create and plan, live in a town/province/country where residents respect the need to ban together to fight this crazy virus, and I have purpose.
But it’s tough. I have deep empathy for those who must live life in compromising environments, not always of their own choosing. I struggle with isolation even though my days are filled with virtual conversations, and I long for the days when we can confidently plan to meet up with loved ones who live in far off lands. It will happen again, I know that. But for now, life is not what any of us expected, or even dreamed of.
It’s…well, it’s life! Let’s pray for a brighter tomorrow.
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones
There are times in life when I so desperately want to have something profound to share…like right now. You know what I’m talking about…some way to offer comfort or encouragement to family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Those whose experiences during these days vary from sadness to fear, despair to frustration, from loneliness to exhaustion, appreciate to being totally overwhelmed. Some are even expressing gratitude for the forced slowing down of life. Even the simplest comforting touch or high five is not an option. All we truly have to express our love, concern, empathy, praise, appreciation or whatever, are our words.
All we have is words? All we have? Perhaps we need to remember how powerful words actually are. Remember the old saying’ “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me.” So not true. How many of us have been hurt beyond measure by the words spoken by friend or foe? Then again, how many of us have been ministered to by the power and beauty found in a thoughtful, genuinely crafted message offered in a time of need. Words have the power to hurt, yes, but more important, they have healing power that goes beyond what we can imagine.
“Beautifully crafted words have the power to captivate the mind of anybody.” Sam Veda
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” George Herbert
“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.”
Lawrence G. Lovasik
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“Go inside where silence is. Stay there. Let words bubble up.” Maxime Lagacé
Words are powerful. When time is taken to connect with what we want to express, to identify the feelings, the emotions, then paint a word picture that expresses those deep thoughts to someone who needs to hear them, the outcomes are nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, the beauty of the written word is in the reading, and re-reading, prolonging the joy or affirmation received by the ‘other’.
I’m not a great orator, nor am I capable of orchestrating a magnificent symphony with words, but I want to learn. Not for self-edification, but to put into words–spoken and written, what I have lived, what I feel, what I am learning, and offer them up as a gift to bring meaning and edification to others.
Perhaps together we can create verbal touches and virtual hugs offered to others through the sharing of thoughtful, genuinely crafted words, seasoned with a healthy measure of empathy.
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!
I recently had the honour of being part of NomadCity2019 in Gran Canaria…amazing! In preparation for the event, the presenters were asked to respond to several questions by way of introduction. I found that exercise to be an amazing reflection.
So, in that context, what is my remote working story?
While I didn’t realize it at the time, I have been working remote in some form for the past 29 years! I was a stay-at-home mom until our kids went to kindergarten. At that time I was approached to take on a leadership role in a non-profit organization. Before accepting, I laid out some conditions: if my kids were sick, I could work from home; if there was a school field trip, I could attend and complete my work in the off hours; and I would be able to adjust my work hours to facilitate volunteering in the school. I also assured them that in no way would the quality of my work or leadership of my teams suffer. To my surprise and delight, they agreed! That set the precedence going forward, and never once was I denied the privilege of such a flexible schedule. Unknowingly, this lay the foundation for both our children to desire non-traditional work options. Our son is a digital nomad, in his fourth year of travelling and working in Europe (with his wife and 6 kids), and our daughter has just transitioned to a remote leadership role in a collocated organization.
In 2008, Canada suffered a recession and jobs were being cut. I led a team that was responsible for developing and sourcing leadership training resources. Because we were not generating revenue it was the ‘logical’ area for jobs to be cut…my job was one of those. At that time I made the decision to start my own consulting business working from home. Fast forward to today and I still have my consulting business focusing on all things remote, but I am also a business professor at the Okanagan College School of Business (British Columbia, Canada) specializing in Human Resources and Management. This academic involvement has provided the access and funding to become involved with research; my area of interest and passion is of course remote work. As well, I have been afforded the freedom to travel internationally to both research and speak about the research. I’ve also been privileged to make work happen where it will be most effectively and efficiently done. One of my current roles is orienting and supporting new faculty…term and full time. Many of these individuals are not on campus on a regular basis, some located on campus’ in other locations. A remote work perspective has opened the door for virtual meetings and collaborations, saving the professors valuable personal and travel time, while still being connected with their colleagues.
Now, I love a challenge! That means sometimes saying ‘yes’ to things before thinking through my current capacity. As a result I have suffered burnout and been forced to pull out of activities, and even commitments, that drain me. This becomes magnified when straddling the ‘virtual’ world and ‘physical’ world. I need to honour my employer, as well as the clients I work with through SAM. The upside of such a challenge is that it serves as a reminder to focus on my strengths, and to pour my energies into areas where I can have the greatest impact.
Support, whether working in a fully collocated business, as a digital nomad, or somewhere in between, is vital! I have an amazing group of women with whom I meet on a regular basis. They serve as my sounding board, accountability partners, comic relief, and general support. We all have different work focuses (researcher, educator, dentistry, writer, business developer, executive coaching, mental health…), some work remotely, some collocated, and some hybrid like myself. Great support, and of course getting to the ocean as much as possible helps to put everything back in perspective (I grew up in Ireland right on the Irish Sea, so the ocean is my happy place). I also have an incredibly supportive family (specifically my husband, kids, niece) who serve as the best support a person could ask for…and have no problem speaking truth to me when the need arises.
I started off asking ‘what is my remote story’, well, that’s pretty much it. I have learned that stepping up and asking for a flexible schedule, or to work remote really isn’t such a scary thing, and it’s not an all-or-nothing equation. Some people work 100% remotely, and some 1 day a month…do what works for you, your organization, and your community. While there are challenges, none of them are insurmountable if you reach out and ask for help. Remote work can have such a powerful impact not only for individuals and organizations, but also the whole area of economic development.
My advise to others starting a similar journey? Stay open minded…embrace opportunities that come your way, and it’s never too late to start a new rendition of your career. Always remember that we were created to live in community, be that face to face or virtual…so make sure you stay connected!
So, what’s your remote working story? Where is your journey taking you?
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 our research, 58% of respondents stated that to be successfully as a remote worker it’s important to be disciplined. We defined discipline as showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working. Respondents agreed that discipline is about the long commitment in the same direction, doing something because it is the right thing to do, not because it felt like it. As I consider the practice of discipline, I’m learning that self-leadership and discipline are closely connected.
Sue Stockdale, a British polar adventurer, athlete and motivational speaker, wrote a insightful article regarding this topic. Her 3 suggestions for becoming more disciplined were:
- Be clear about what’s important
- Imagine yourself at the end point and work backwards
- Short term pain vs. long term gain
Let’s consider self-leadership as being the fuel that enables us to be disciplined, to stay in the game for the long haul. A definition of self-leadership shared in an article by Charles C. Manz is helpful…
A comprehensive self-influence perspective that concerns leading oneself towards performance of naturally motivating tasks as well as managing oneself to do work that must be done but is not naturally motivating.
The question is, how do we develop self-leadership? Here are five practical suggestions:
1. Take time to learn and grow your strengths: I am a strong proponent of knowing our individual strengths , and taking responsibility for growing them. Realizing individual uniqueness and ability is important, as is recognizing that our strengths are most effective when used in collaboration with other’s strengths. If you are serious about discovering your strengths, click here to start the journey.
2. Be aware of, and grow your emotional intelligence (EI): EI measures your ability to recognize and manage emotions in yourself and others. A TedX talk by Ramona Hacker not only explains EI, but provides some great insights regarding how to grow your EI. Also, this free on-line tool will help assess your EI level, and pose questions to walk through some growth steps. The great news about EI is that no matter where you score today, you can grow to new levels!
3. Collaboration: by collaborating with others we are privileged to learn from their expertise. Another benefit of collaborating is having our weak areas and blind spots uncovered; as the Proverb says…“Iron sharpens iron.”
4. User Manual for ‘me’:
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist Philosopher.
It’s difficult to grow in self-leadership if you don’t know yourself, or know where to start. On a recent web conference I was introduced to the idea of creating a User Manual on ‘me’ to share with my team or co-workers. It basically summarizes who I am, how I operate, my ideal work environment, what I excel in, and even where I am not so strong. When looking at developing and growing in self-leadership, this is an important tool. In a video produced by Kevin Kruse, the audience is encouraged to create such a manual on a semi-regular basis…perhaps at significant milestones in life.
5. Turn discovery to action: Self-discovery is most valuable when you do something about it. What’s your action plan. How will this learning enable you to lead yourself AND contribute to the growth and success of others? Self-leading cannot be self-serving…it can’t be motivated by a desire for personal power. Rather, the discipline that results from self-leadership should contribute to the greater good of the teams and organizations you are part of.
How do we pull it all together? In a nutshell…know who you are and what you love doing. Consider what motivates you intrinsically and use that knowledge and passion to turn work that is not naturally motivating into something meaningful. Finally, use that motivation as the impetus to inform your disciplined approach to committing to excellence in the long run.
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?