Curious, Self-directed, Empathetic …three of the competencies that are vital for the success of a remote worker. How do I know? I asked a bunch of remote workers, and they answered…but we have only just begun asking!
Thanks to a grant (CSBER) from the Okanagan School of Business in Kelowna, BC, Canada (I’m a business prof there), I am formally embarking on a research study of remote workers. I want to know what competencies contribute to the success of remote workers? What effective feedback looks like, and from whom? What qualifies as a great workspace?
Why am I asking?
- Because remote work is the new reality of a growing and changing workforce;
- because organizations need to know how to best support their people who work remotely;
- because we need to know how to prepare our business students for the nature of the careers they will be entering, and
- because the best people to learn from are those already working remotely…they know what works and what is important.
Because remote workers are not restrained by co-located offices, hours of operation, nor physical location, it’s important that the scope of this research is globally focused. The remote worker can change locations–even continents–every month or so. The various maturity of each co-work space reflects the unique cultures developing around this growing working context (this is a topic we will jump into in a later blog…amazing spaces!)
I’m excited about the co-work locations on the itinerary so far: Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Edmonton, Vancouver, all in Canada, then Jyväskylä and Helsinki (Finland), London (England), Amsterdam and Einhoven (Netherlands), and Berlin (Germany). Each of these locations supports several co-work spaces of varying maturity, design, and purpose.
Add to this is the privilege of collaborating with Nathan Sawatzky, a global remote worker (and my son), who has already spent a great deal of time working from various co-work spaces across Europe. I can truly say that he has introduced me to a world of amazing people who experience opportunities, challenges, AND great rewards.
So, whether you are a remote worker, support one, know one, or want to be one…follow along and explore the world of work ‘outside the walls’.
Mid October and I am full into teaching again at the Okanagan School of Business. That means my scholarly/academic hat is on, but always tempered with ‘why?’ and ‘so what?’ questions (from myself, to myself). One of the topics we explore is motivation; what causes people to do what they do? How do you move people from solely working for a pay check (we all still need that), to also working towards contributing to something greater than themselves? This doesn’t have to be solving world hunger, or obliterating child exploitation (although these are right up there in the hierarchy of importance). Most great organizations have a cause, a reason to exist, a purpose, a why?, that fuels the motivation for their people to see beyond the day to day tasks.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one theory that we offer up to our students…the ultimate level being self-actualization. Meeting the needs of our employees should be foremost in the minds of all managers, something that those working with remote workers need to pay special attention to. This issue was well addressed in an article by Yonder ‘What Does Maslow Have to do with Remote Work?’
Self-actualization is great, but for me it has always come up short…it feels rather self-focused and self-centred. Needless to say I was intrigued when presented with the idea that Maslow’s later work actually added a 6th level…Self-less Actualization. This moves the individual from self fulfillment, to helping others realize fulfillment.
Koltko-Rivera (2005) sums it up as
“At the level of self-actualization, the individual works to actualize the individual’s own potential [whereas] at the level of transcendence, the individual’s own needs are put aside, to a great extent, in favor of service to others …”
Ok, a little heavy for a blog on supporting remote workers…I get it, but stay with me on this. If the greatest level of motivation happens when we take the reality of who we are: the gifts, talents, and strengths we have, and use those for the betterment of others, then we immediately realize the importance of also helping our remote workers be able to connect with and contribute to a cause outside of their need for connectedness, trust, or communication. What does that look like? Is it possible to measure that for success, and not simply performance outputs and deliverables?
This challenges and expands the traditional scorecard…how do we measure a worker’s contribution to the growth and well-being of others?
For the past 5 months I have been looking into the area of remote workers…I have learned much and I know I have only begun to scratch the surface. So, as summer comes to a close I want to hit pause and reflect on what I have gleaned so far.
- Remote work is alive and well across all industries, in all sizes of organizations from start ups to those that are well established.
- Remote work is not a ‘fad’…it’s here to stay and will only grow in it’s reach and impact.
- People are at the centre of a successful remote workforce
- Many reasons exist for people to choose this form of work: freedom, flexibility, increased productivity, and greater opportunity for creativity to name a few.
- There are also challenges inherent to working remote: limited communication, lonliness, poor or limited technology, time management, self discipline, focus …however, each can successfully be overcome.
- Trust is the key ingredient that will make or break a successful romote working arrangement.
- Communication needs to be intentional and customized to each situation.
- Face to face interactions still need to happen, even if only once every 6 months.
- Distributed vs co-located work arrangements does not necessarily mean organizations will save money…that can’t be the motivation.
- Organizational fears that remote workers will slack off is unfounded; research actually shows the opposite is true…remote workers have a tendency to over-work.
- Great locations like Co-Lab in Kelowna are available around the world so that remote workers (and those amazing digital nomads) have a place to connect and collaborate.
- The resources available on this topic are excellent…people continue to learn, to perfect, to mentor, to share, and to dedicate their efforts to support others entering into this exciting world of remote work.
- Working remote is not for everyone…and that’s ok.
So where do I go from here? I keep learning, keep experiencing, keep asking questions, and do whatever I can to share what I learn with those who want to know.
Some ideas? Continue to include this critical aspect of work with my business students (both in class and on-line); create a case study on the topic; be a resource to managers transitioning from supporting co-located teams to supporting distribute teams…pretty exciting from where I sit as a remote worker, business coach, and professor
Aside Posted on
According to Jeff Robbins with Yonder,
All communication needs to be intentional.
Seems fairly simply and straight forward…but is it?
Think about it…how much time do we honestly put into choosing our words? To be fair, some of us take time to measure and analyze our thoughts before giving voice to them while others are more apt to give voice and then reflect…or not!
In face to face interactions, even though our thoughts have been voiced, we generally have the opportunity to ‘take back’, or clarify as soon as we realize the message was not received in the manner intended. Not so easy to do when communication is shared through virtual channels.
Not only do we need to pay attention to the content of our messages, but also to the channel, the breadth of who receives the message, the frequency of communication, and the amount of information shared.
Working remotely, or virtually, calls for excellence – and intentionality – in communication. In fact, it can be our life line to clients, colleagues, contractors, and bosses! So how can we ensure that we are communicating to the best of our ability…and beyond? How can we be so intentional about our communications that ‘delete’ is not the first reaction when our name shows up on someone’s screen?
I believe this can be as simple as 4WH…yup, the old who, what, where, why, when, and how. Let’s build that out…
WHO addresses the receivers. Who needs the information that I am communicating? Who really needs to be included in the communication? Do I honestly need to hit ‘reply to all’?
WHAT considers the core or content of the message. What is the most important information that needs to be communicated?
WHERE thinks through the location of both sender and receiver. Where should each be when the communication takes place. Does the communication call for interaction that is best suited for a phone call, FaceTime, or Skype? Is privacy of utmost importance? Is dependable internet vital? Should there be limited noise?
WHEN pays attention to the timeliness of the communication. When does this information need to be communicated? When does the receiver need to receive this material: Immediately? By the end of day? No urgency at all? I like this excerpt from Fried and Hansson’s Remote: Office not Required
Questions you can wait hours to learn the answers to are fine to put in an email. Questions that require answers in the next few minutes can go into an instant message. For crises that truly merit a sky-is-falling designation, you can use that old-fashioned invention called the telephone.
HOW thinks about the channel of communication. How can I communicate this information in the most concise manner without compromising the content, urgency, sensitivity, or clarity?
WHY…perhaps the most important question of all. Why am I sending this message? What is the purpose? What is the expected outcome? What is my motive?
When you think about it, we can think through each of the 4WH filters in a very short amount of time, but the result of doing so will have long term benefit. Ready to give it a try? Ready to be intentional in your communication?
In my previous blog, I discussed how trust is a valuable and oft times rare commodity that doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, it is the result of intentional and focused effort, and a willingness to dedicate time to create such relationships. I also listed 5 challenges faced by remote workers as identified by Jeff Robbins, the first of which was the lack of non-verbal communication. This, I would suggest, can be a barrier to building trusting relationships with clients, and managers.
As I speak with both remote workers and their managers, a common piece of advise offered is, whenever possible, build in face to face time before the hire, during the process, and on an on-going basis after the contract has been signed. Yes, this adds to the financial cost of doing business, but it is money well spent in order to build a solid foundation of trust.
We are aware of the importance of non-verbal communication. Peter F. Drucker has been quoted as saying
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
‘The importance of non-verbal communication‘, a blog created by ethos3 provides excellent insight, and tips, on how to increase your non-verbal communication when speaking in public…presenting, negotiating, leading meetings, in fact anytime you are face to face and wanting to clearly communicate both a message and build trust with your listeners.
Let’s put this into the remote context. If this can be accomplished when we are face to face with others, how can we replicate it if the situation does not allow for such interactions? (The academic in me feels the need to provide you with further research into this.)
While there may not yet be a substitute for pure face to face, the addition of a Skype, FaceTime, or video conference call can increase the likelihood of connecting on such a level, providing a starting point on which to build a trust relationship. (Good site for virtual meeting tools)
When in the recruiting and selection process, the difference in a person from what I have imagined through cover letters, resumes, or even phone conversations, to when we actually meet face to face in an interview never ceases to amaze me. Not only does a face to face interaction remove the screen that can hide the tell tale signs of exaggeration, or dare I say, out right lies, but it can provide a lovely opportunity that opens the door to connect on a level that lets me see the gem shrouded on the pages of documents submitted. It would be a mistake to think that because you’ve had this f2f connection, you’ve covered all the bases…three months down the road you may again see an even different person! However, this is a great first step that is crucial for subsequent interactions that will result in a successful, right-fit hire.
A commitment to building trust through face to face doesn’t end once a connection has been made…it needs to be fostered in order to realize continued growth and development. In a conversation with Clint Schnee (founder & designer UXperts), he shared from his remote worker management and support experiences. His advise? “Following initial on-boarding face to face interactions, the maximum amount of time to wait between such times is 6 months.” This applies no matter where the employee is located around the world. He went on to say that “any longer than that and you will see the attrition and turnover rate greatly increase”.
While challenging, I do love the fact that as humans we still thrive when in face to face community with others, making those trusting connections…a practice worth striving for and fostering.
You don’t get too far along in the discussion of trust-building before hitting on the importance of communication: verbal, non-verbal, written… and the channels used to convey the desired message. A message delivered effectively can provide the platform on which trust continues to be developed; however, a message miscommunication can create barriers, misunderstanding, and even offense that could lead to the shredding of progress made along the road to trusting relationships.
Kavi Guppta, a self-declared digital nomad, in a recent webcast “How to survive work in the 21st Century”, spoke about his ‘Holy Trinity Model’…skills you need to master no matter the job. Communication makes the top three:
– Organization: time management, billing, get jobs…
(How organized are you?)
– Process: how you do the work (music, selling shoes, cooking…)
(How well do you implement an idea?)
– Communication skills: how to talk to all involved in your work…all stakeholders.
(How well do you communicate that idea?)
Jeff Robbins – PIAF: Management Distributed (Yonder), speaking in the same webinar addressed the communication challenges faced by distributed teams and remote workers. They are:
– Very little nonverbal communication
– All communication needs to be intentional
– Most communication is archived (forget the delete button!)
– Very asynchronous
– Communication can by syndicated
The above list could be expanded on (and I intend to in future posts), however, the bottom line is that good communication takes skill and intentionality, AND it matters!
Remember back when reading and writing were the cornerstones of education? A time when the very act of writing was something of an art form? While I concede that artful handwriting may not be as important as it once was, the ability to create word pictures that enable your readers to truly get what you’re saying without the use of emoticons has never been more important to the business person than it is today.
For remote workers, much of their communication is indeed in written form: introductions, proposals, contract negotiations, documentation for all sorts of agreements… the list goes on. Needless to say, when creating a written message attention needs to be given to what you are saying, how you are saying it, how it will be received, and the all important emotional intent of the communication.
One final note… communicating with individuals is different than communicating with a team as a whole…fortunately there are great tools to help with that (yes, yet another post 📝).
I have become more than simply curious about all that it means to work remotely. In fact, it has become one of those topics that seem to be ‘popping up’ in various conversation these days. I know it is not a totally new concept, but I do believe it is going to continue to impact the way we design work across all industries. In a recent conversation with my son, he described how his attention is being drawn to how we design customer experiences (check him out at http://nathansawatzky.com). To me, this is the flip side of the same coin; are we considering how we design work in light of how we design the customer’s experience? It is also interesting to note that Nathan works remotely from various countries around the world.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. Suffice to say, my focus for the next few months will be on investigating how different organizations – large and small, local and global – creatively design jobs that intentionally build in opportunities for employees to work remotely…and considering how this then informs the customer experience.Here is an interesting article published by the New York Times on the topic…Out of the Office: More People are Working Remotely, Survey Finds.
Over the course of the summer I will be traveling and look forward to doing some work remotely, AND connecting with others who also have the opportunity to enjoy such freedom.
Any book recommendations, research, organizational examples are greatly appreciated! I’m starting off by reading Remote: Office Not Required by Fried and Hansson. Hope you join me for this wide open (by design) journey.