“What if…?” is the great crippler. Think about it, how many people use this question in the positive sense? What if I win the race? What if the sun shines for our wedding day? What if I don’t get sick on this trip? What if I don’t make a fool of myself? Rather, we worry about losing the race, having a special event rained out, getting seasick, or being humiliated over a poor performance.
These questions of ‘what if’ can consume us to the point of paralysis. As a young girl, I remember standing on the second highest diving board of the local outdoor, sea water fed swimming pool in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Frozen (not just because of the Baltic temperatures), I rehearsed all the horrors that could mark the outcomes of a failed landing. Or even worse, the humiliation of retreating to ground level. “It’s now or never!” I remember thinking just before taking the step of no return. Nose held tight by shaking fingers, it was the longest fall of my life—but it wasn’t the last time I stepped off that platform! The positives what ifs won. What if I make it? What if my friends are totally impressed with my bravery? What if the water is bathtub warm by the time I land? (nope, that didn’t happen!)
As I write this blog, most of us are living in self-isolation due to COVID-19. The what ifs are very real. Our concerns around elderly parents, pregnant daughters, children living in other parts of the world, family members with health issues, friends losing their livelihoods, are very real. No one should be shamed for obsessing on the what ifs in such a reality.
It would be reasonable if our doubts were limited to such global pandemics, but they are not. As we consider a temporary leave from the life we really do enjoy in British Columbia, trading it for a year traveling with me working remote, many ‘what ifs’ bubble to the surface. What if one of us gets sick? What if we can’t find suitable accommodations? What if we can’t stay within our budget? What if we can’t rent our home out? What if we don’t get to see our daughter and son-in-law and new baby for a year? (He/she will be one by then). What if another pandemic strikes? What if my dad passing away while we’re gone? What if a family member or close friend has a crisis? What if I go through all the planning and my funding proposal is rejected? What if…? I get depressed just thinking about all the possible catastrophes!
“You’ll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that.”
― Roald Dahl
But…what if we pass up such an opportunity? What experiences and adventures might we never have, never get to share with our family and friends when they come to visit (and they will)? What new learning experiences might we lose out on, or new relationships never built? What if the funding approval is given enthusiastically and all this planning actually becomes a reality? Now I’m starting to feel giddy with the possibilities!
Interesting, nothing about my current situation has changed, I’m no closer to having the trip planned or approved. However, my outlook, my state of mind, my level of excitement has brought a smile to my face, and added a few BPM to my heart rate.
What if we chose to face each day, each adventure, or each challenge, from the perspective of positive potential. What if we face life with expectancy—like a child on Christmas morning, rather than channeling Winnie the Pooh’s dear old friend Eeyore?
A year of travel and remote work would be both influenced and impacted by how we choose to face the joys and challenges presented. What if it turns out to be the greatest year ever?
It’s Dec 15, 8 above, and I’m sitting outside working…in Canada!
I am taking a much needed break from writing a report (a paper actually) on our research. Ok, to be honest, I just needed an excuse to take my iPad and sit on the patio of my favourite Kelowna coffee shop, Esther and Sons, and reflect on this past year of delving into the amazing world of remote work. If I were to sum it up, the words I would use are grateful, amazed, inspired, and overwhelmed!
Some highlights have been:
- meeting many of you;
- traveling to Europe and chatting with many remote workers in co-working spaces (intentionally), and in cafés (accidentally);
- hearing your experiences and adventures;
- learning so much from the experts (you!);
- experiencing amazing cafés (to name a few: Buro Espresso Bar, Robert’s Coffee, The Barn, Lucifer’s Specialty Coffee, Utrecht Onz Cafe, Amsterdam Lot Sixty One, House of Tribes, Kaafi);
- virtual conferences and conversations
- connecting with remote workers in my own continent of North America, and of course right here in British Columbia;
- the willingness of many of you to share resources, both your knowledge and connections;
- the honesty of remote workers in sharing their joys and challenges;
- and, last but by no means least, doing all this in collaboration with Nate Sawatzky (my son)…so great! (big thanks to the incredible support of our families)
So, where am I with all of this? 12 pages into a paper on our findings…being reminded how frustrating (but important) citations are in validating the research and findings.
One of the words I used to describe my experience was ‘overwhelmed’; let me be clear, it’s a great sense of being overwhelmed! Our focus was on learning the competencies necessary for success as a remote worker, how feedback is desired, from whom, and what support is needed. You taught me that…and so much more!
As I look at the findings, the implications for business schools, managers, HR professionals, city planners, and potential remote workers is powerful. I have so many “ how might we…” questions arising from this that narrowing down my next focus of research will be a challenge!
What do I need from you?
- I hope to have the research summarized by the end of January. If you would like a copy send directly to you, please let me know.
- If you were to identify an area of remote work that you would like to see research focused on (again, a joint industry/academia approach) what would it be?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with both your requests and suggestions.
That’s it…back to the report fuelled by coffee and vitamin D!
And by the way…Merry Christmas to all.
One day a week I dedicate time to researching and developing (R&D) my skills and understanding of the world of remote work. I really love those days. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other elements of my professional life, but there’s something invigorating and exciting about setting time aside to focus on learning from various sources.
Today, for example:
- I had a virtual meeting from my home office with Ayush Jain from Remote Panda;
- enjoyed a research collaboration conversation with our son in Europe, while sipping coffee at one of my favourite cafes here in Kelowna, Canada;
- continued reading chapters from ‘Work Together Anywhere’ by Lisette Sutherland and ‘Remote Revolution’ by John Elston (I highly recommend both);
- attended a farewell lunch for a colleague at Okanagan School of Business where I’m a business professor;
- set up a November virtual meeting with some of our new faculty;
- researched resources for a winter course I am teaching on Organizational Change and Development;
- and perhaps the most important activity of the day, took time to reflect and journal about what I’m learning from various experiences and people who continue to cross my path as I continue to examine the world of remote work. (I journal with an actual paper journal using a Lamy fountain pen…definitely slows down my thinking and helps me process more effectively)
Even though I love these days, they don’t happen by accident…I have to intentionally schedule them into my week.
So why am I sharing these details of my day? So glad you asked. Technology is wonderful and is essential for just about all the work we do, even more so when the nature of your job calls for technology to connect you with your clients, teams, managers and other key people. However, for me it’s vital that I make sure part of this R&D time is spent unplugged. I need to cut out the ‘noise’ and meditate on the learning to allow time for it to connect with what is important, what’s relevant, and if necessary, file it away for further consideration, or for the ‘interesting but not vital’ file.
As a remote, (or co-located) worker, how are you building intentional time into your schedule to learn, to cultivate your craft, and to ponder the amazing experiences you are having? You’ll never regret it.
“We bring forth our best selves when we are fully activated as human beings, not just as workers.”
The Remote Revolution by John Elston
A tension that should never exist!
Those of you who have been following my blog know that I am a business professor at Okanagan School of Business doing research on remote work. You may also know that I am a coach/consultant who focuses on all things people development, and have a clear passion for those working remotely, or managing remote teams.
From my perspective, the conversation should not be industry vs academia, but rather ‘how can industry learn from academia, and how can academia learn from industry?’ It’s a new face to the age old ‘experience vs education’…each has incredible value on its own, but when the two are combined the outcomes are incredible.
What I find frustrating is that conversations are still happening that pit one against the other. Some say that academia is where invention and innovation happens, while other feel that academia is archaic and that new thinking happens in the ‘real world’ by people actually working in the field.
I came across this article that reported those interviewed “…don’t pay much attention to the publications about fundamental discoveries by universities because they don’t trust them.” Ouch!
Another article representing the flip side states that people don’t trust scientific research when companies are involved because of the propensity for bias. Ouch again!
While I respect the opinion of these perspectives, I tend to believe the best learning lives in the coming together of both sides, each doing their part. I appreciate the sentiment expressed by Martha Crago, VP of Research and Innovation at McGill University.
In addition, like any good partnership, industrial research partnerships need to be based on recognizing the value of the partnership, on trust, and on the ability to meet the other’s needs.
As we move through this project of learning about what makes remote workers great, I am thrilled to be collaborating with both academia and industry. Nathan Sawatzky has been working with me from day one on the research, and Rodrigo Bruno, a student at Okanagan School of Business, has recently joined as a research assistant. Both of these individuals bring immense insight from industry, and as Rodrigo digs into the academic research side of things, he is able to filter it through his own experiences and those he has worked with in remote settings.
Academia and industry collaborating for the purpose of bringing clarity and support to those working in a new era of work. I love it!
My summer was amazing! I got to travel to 10 different countries over the course of 9 weeks; some travel was for business, all for pleasure. My travel companions varied from my spouse, to adult children, to grandkids, and of course good friends.
You know how you start noticing certain things around you when you’re learning or experiencing something new? Like the first time you are pregnant…you notice so many other pregnant women around. Or you bought a new car…suddenly you see the same kind everywhere you go! Well that’s what is happening to me regarding remote work…everywhere I go I notice and meet people who are working remotely either on a company’s payroll, or freelancing. And they are wonderfully interesting people.
If you are following my blogs you already know that I am researching the keys to remote worker success, and learning how they want to be supported…all from the perspective of the remote worker. I’ve learned so much…and the research continues.
However, what I have also been learning from interviews and observations is the importance of those leading and managing remote workers. If that’s you…do you realize the impact you have, both for the good and not so good, on those you lead? I hear your frustration and challenge around leading in this new context, and yes, it can be daunting; but those of you who are determined to support and champion your remote workers deserve to be recognized.
For a remote worker to know their manager…
• has them front of mind,
• is committed to removing any and all barriers for success,
• will connect just to see how they are doing (love the example Lisette Sutherland shares in her podcast),
• and will take the time to figure out how to create virtual environments that remove the idea of ‘remote’. (Follow Dr. Karen Lojeski to learn about virtual distance.)
…is like celebrating their favourite birthday everyday!
My daughter, Shannon Fieber, is a team lead for a global organization. She is responsible for leading 19 customer service reps, 13 of them work remote. While not a simple task, her determination to make each team member feel valued, heard, and supported is admirable.
So, my challenge for you…
• If you are a remote worker who has an amazing manager/leader, let them know! Thank them…you are one of the blessed ones.
• If you are a remote leader, take a moment to reach out and check in with your team members…just for the sake of letting them know you care, even if you have never done so before.
• If you are feeling somewhat removed and isolated from your leader or team members, take the initiate to start the conversation…be the creative innovator of change that is needed.
There’s no downside!
In a previous blog I promised to talk about the many specialty cafés we visited while on our remote research trip…and I do mean places to drink a great cup of coffee!
Coffee shops such as Lot Sixty One play an important role in the life of a remote worker…possibly more than originally imagined. For example, while writing this blog I am sitting at one of my favourite coffee shop in Kelowna…my friends and family refer to it as my ‘other office’. In fact, this would be my 3rd space…I have an office at the college, a lovely one at home, yet still I feel the need to come to Esther and Sons Cafe to create and write. (Never underestimate the contribution of caffeine to creativity!)
I previously talked about the importance of space as it relates to where we work and connect. When researching remote workers, we set up appointments to meet with such individuals in cowork spaces…and we were awarded with some wonderful, insightful, conversations. Reflecting back on those visits, we noticed some things…to be clear, these are simply observations, but we think they warrant further inquiry.
- The majority of people we met working in co-work spaces seem relatively fixed to that space.
- Many users are either small businesses, or stationed at a location distant from the organization they work for.
- The gender demographic appears to be a higher representation of male vs female.
- The age demographic appeared to be slanted toward a younger generation (younger than boomers).
- These shared spaces are not frequented as often by ‘traveling’ remote workers (those who frequently travel globally, but do have a home base).
So this is where the coffee shop space comes in. We know there are various forms of remote working…no surprise there. If it is true that a challenge for remote workers is loneliness and isolation (and this certainly was verified through our interviews), and if our observations are accurate, then where do these ‘traveling’ remote workers go to feel some sense of belonging? Enter the coffee shop.
As mentioned in previous blogs, my son Nathan is collaborating with me as I look at remote work. In his travels he often uses coffee shops to work out of…some of which we visited on our recent trip. The cool thing was that as soon as they saw Nathan, he was warmly welcomed and immediately drawn into a ‘catch up’ conversation. Places like Five Elephant Coffee in Berlin, Lucifer’s Specialty Coffee in Eindhoven, or Kaafi in The Hague.
It’s important to note that he had not been to these specific locations for months! Yet the commitment of the staff and owners was to create a space that didn’t just serve amazing coffee (and they did), but a space were the customers could feel a sense of belonging.
Another coffee shop we enjoyed was House of Tribes in The Hague. The space was intentionally designed by Jerome Vester of Ninety Nine Architects for people to come and work while enjoying a good brew. We had a choice of a ‘living room’ type space, individual seating, and even a long table that could be booked for 1 hour meetings. No matter where you sat there was a plug in within arms length…intentionally blended in as part of the décor! They advertise strong internet connection (free of course). Add to that the cheery welcome you received as soon as you walked in the door, and you have a place any lonely traveler would love to open a laptop to get some work done.
I would be negligent if I didn’t mentioned one inherent problem here…how long can someone work in one coffee shop, nursing maybe only 1 or 2 drinks, before overstaying their welcome? In fact, based on conversations Nathan had this week in London, he shared that “it’s becoming an increasingly difficult issue in the local coffee shops. Too many people are opting to use cafes as their office and feel emboldened to do so by the proliferation of cowork spaces and others doing it. Businesses find themselves in a really difficult spot.”
I don’t have an answer for this, but wonder if there might be an opportunity for some forward thinking café owners to provide a ‘remote worker’ package that includes a certain number of coffees, a snack, and a warm welcome for a predetermined amount of time? Hmmm, worth pondering.
It’s been a great 2 weeks of traveling in Europe learning about remote workers in the tech industry…from remote workers in the tech industry. After initial meetings with people in Kelowna, Penticton and Vancouver, I then met up in Finland with my son (who is himself a remote worker currently based in France), and visited remote workers in Helsinki, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, The Hague, Berlin, and finished up in London.
One thing I’ve been told about research is that it often creates more questions than answers…how true it is. Before heading on the trip, my research had identified various competencies demonstrated by people in the remote tech world, all confirmed through our conversations. However, we were also rewarded with some surprising new insights that will impact our learning. It will now take some time to filter through the data and make sense of what we observed, heard, felt, and experienced…I promise to get back to you on all that as the blog series continues. As well, a quick glimpse at some great coffee shop spaces totally conducive to remote work.
In the meantime, some ponderings from our travels…
• When traveling in Europe, it is possible to be on more trains, planes, busses, trams, and subways in a 2 week period than in one’s lifetime!
• Don’t ever assume you’ve figured out the ‘right’ mode of payment on any mode of transportation…will that be cash, swipe, contactless, get ticket before boarding…??
• Don’t ask for a coffee shop in Amsterdam if you truly are looking for a cup of coffee.
• When putting on 20,000 steps everyday on cobbled paths, foot massages are not considered a luxury…and they hurt! (But worth the pain)
• Never eat fish and chips by the sea without covering them with a napkin.
• Baby seagulls are the cutest things…beauty for them is truly fleeting.
• There is nothing quite so lovely as sitting outside by the Baltic Sea at 10pm, full daylight, enjoying a bevy.
• Kiitos is the most lovely word for ‘thank you’, offered by a gracious country of people.
• Freikörperkultur is a real thing quickly discovered when enjoying a German sauna!
• Appreciating and taking time for a good cup of coffee (and I do mean coffee) is a globally shared passion (at least in the places we visited).
• Having a shower in the kitchen is a wee bit strange.
• Seeing remnants of the Berlin Wall and walking through Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is both awful, and awe-full…lest we forget.
• While carry-on is the way to travel, it sure curtails shoe shopping!
• Avoiding being run over by a bike in the Netherlands is a full time endeavor.
• Everyone should have the privilege of traveling and working with their son (or daughter)…amazing!