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?
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!
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.)