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?
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
“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?
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!
“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.
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?