Working remotely

Settling in and moving on in uncertain times…Blog 71

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I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that this blog feels a little willy nilly, a true representation of my mind these days. Can you relate?

We have just come through a week of firsts in varying degrees…first time working from home, first time in self-isolation, first time feeling like that your skin is crawling with dryness from all that hand washing! And to top it off, all this is happening in a true coliving/coworking space…your home! Your new coworkers are partners, spouses, kids, pets, and whoever else may be sharing your abode. Not only has your world got noisy, it’s gotten cramped! So much for having a door to close so work can get done. Those noise cancelling headphones have become worth every penny you spent.

This is reality, and we, the world, is in it together. COVID-19 has become the great equalizer.

I am so impressed with how remote work experts have stepped up to provide free resources to those ‘work-from-home’ newbies: videos, articles, how-to’s…Remote work advocates like Distribute Consulting, Workplaceless, Nomad City, Remote Work Association, Running Remote to name a few. Amazing!

However, the weekend is upon us. It’s been a long, trying week, and now your social plans are cancelled! What to do? Have you thought about a virtual happy hour? We use video platforms for meetings, FaceTime for connecting with our grandkids and families, so why not try out a virtual platform like Zoom,  Google Hangout or GotoMeeting and instigate a video meetup or morning coffee with your friends? Take screen shots and save for those ‘remember when’ moments. It’s also a great way to practice for the many virtual meetings that are now part of daily life.

We all know Monday will hit as the weekend becomes a distant memory; remote working and learning will resume (look how far you’ve come already!). I trust the calm after the storm soon settles in and your confidence and comfort around these new working arrangements will grow.

May I offer some advice from a remote work advocate and researcher (that’s me)? In the midst of this norming, please remember the importance of communication; its value cannot be overstated…professionally and personally. Those with significant remote work experience state that good communication is a vital competency for successfully working in this context.

Don't forget the phone still works
…and yes, the phone still works

Here are four guidelines for both good communication:

  1. Communicate clearlywe, you and I, are responsible for making sure our messages are received and interpreted in the spirit in which they were send. (Hint, if someone reacts in a way that surprizes you…it would be safe to assume the message did not come across clearly. Reword, rephrase, resend.)
  2. Communicate often…err on the side of over-communication.
  3. Communicate using appropriate channels...even without the privilege of face-to-face, we have options: email, video calls, (Collaborate, Zoom, Google Hang out, Slack), phone calls, posting on discussion boards, or chat lines. Before hitting ‘send’, pause and ask, “Is this the best channel to use for the message I’m sending?”
  4. Communicate 360 degrees…who is in your circle? Your boss, co-workers, those you lead, internal and external customers, students, family, friends… make a list of people with whom you communicate on a regular basis and set a plan to continue to build those connections.

And most important, when communicating, wrap every message with empathy. If you are feeling the pressure, remember that others are also feeling the pressure with challenges you may not even be aware of.

We’ll get through this…together.

Remember…wash those hands!

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Hibernation is over…blot #69

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I don’t do hibernation well, but that’s what I feel I have been doing since December 20 when I was gifted with a new knee. This ‘Christmas present’ came with unexpected packaging. 

“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.    

Reflections from NomadCity2019…#68

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Speaker Lineup

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?

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. WherebyBuffer, 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!
  4. 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.

Remote work by any other name…#65

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Budapest Parliament Buildings

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

  1. Lack of trust
  2. Lack of understanding regarding the technology available.
  3. Concern over employee’s lack of self-motivation or self-leadership.
  4. 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:

  1. Tech savvy
  2. Communication
  3. Self-leadership
  4. Trustworthy
  5. Taking initiative
  6. Adaptable
  7. Confidence
  8. Empathy

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.

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*Note…I’ve decided to start numbering my blogs for ease of reference. I was shocked to see this is already #65!

Self-leadership ~ a competency worth growing

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Let him who would move the world first move himself.”
― Socrates

In our research, 58% of respondents stated that to be successfully as a remote worker it’s important to be disciplined. We defined discipline as showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working. Respondents agreed that discipline is about the long commitment in the same direction, doing something because it is the right thing to do, not because it felt like it. As I consider the practice of discipline, I’m learning that self-leadership and discipline are closely connected.

Sue Stockdale, a British polar adventurer, athlete and motivational speaker, wrote a insightful article regarding this topic. Her 3 suggestions for becoming more disciplined were:

  1. Be clear about what’s important
  2. Imagine yourself at the end point and work backwards
  3. Short term pain vs. long term gain

Let’s consider self-leadership as being the fuel that enables us to be disciplined, to stay in the game for the long haul. A definition of self-leadership shared in an article by Charles C. Manz is helpful…

A comprehensive self-influence perspective that concerns leading oneself towards performance of naturally motivating tasks as well as managing oneself to do work that must be done but is not naturally motivating.

The question is, how do we develop self-leadership? Here are five practical suggestions:

1. Take time to learn and grow your strengths: I am a strong proponent of knowing our individual strengths , and taking responsibility for growing them. Realizing individual uniqueness and ability is important, as is recognizing that our strengths are most effective when used in collaboration with other’s strengths. If you are serious about discovering your strengths, click here to start the journey.

2. Be aware of, and grow your emotional intelligence (EI): EI measures your ability to recognize and manage emotions in yourself and others. A TedX talk by Ramona Hacker not only explains EI, but provides some great insights regarding how to grow your EI. Also, this free on-line tool will help assess your EI level, and pose questions to walk through some growth steps. The great news about EI is that no matter where you score today, you can grow to new levels!

3. Collaboration: by collaborating with others we are privileged to learn from their expertise. Another benefit of collaborating is having our weak areas and blind spots uncovered; as the Proverb says…“Iron sharpens iron.”

4. User Manual for ‘me’:

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist Philosopher.

It’s difficult to grow in self-leadership if you don’t know yourself, or know where to start. On a recent web conference I was introduced to the idea of creating a User Manual on ‘me’ to share with my team or co-workers. It basically summarizes who I am, how I operate, my ideal work environment, what I excel in, and even where I am not so strong. When looking at developing and growing in self-leadership, this is an important tool. In a video produced by Kevin Kruse, the audience is encouraged to create such a manual on a semi-regular basis…perhaps at significant milestones in life.

5. Turn discovery to action: Self-discovery is most valuable when you do something about it. What’s your action plan. How will this learning enable you to lead yourself AND contribute to the growth and success of others? Self-leading cannot be self-serving…it can’t be motivated by a desire for personal power. Rather, the discipline that results from self-leadership should contribute to the greater good of the teams and organizations you are part of.

How do we pull it all together? In a nutshell…know who you are and what you love doing. Consider what motivates you intrinsically and use that knowledge and passion to turn work that is not naturally motivating into something meaningful. Finally, use that motivation as the impetus to inform your disciplined approach to committing to excellence in the long run.

Trust…how do I interview for that?

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Trust…

If you say you’re going to do it…do it
If you didn’t do what you said you’re going to do…own it
If there were barriers that keep you from doing it, communicate that, once barriers are removed, if possible …do it
If you don’t know how to do it, ask for help, then do it

In my previous blog  we looked at the competency of trust, or trustworthiness. What is trust and how do we develop, earn, and keep it. Trust, in all areas is vital, but our research respondents shared that when working in a remote or virtual context is foundational to effective communication and collaboration.

That being so, what kind of interview questions will help identify the level of trustworthiness evidenced in the lives of the candidates. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

1. Describe a time when you needed to earn the trust of others.
Listen for humility in the answer. Did the candidate take the responsibility to earn trust vs depending on a position to demand trust.

2. Doing the right thing doesn’t always result in a win. Tell me about a time when you experienced a loss for doing the right thing in order to preserve the trust of others.
Listen for values, for the candidate to be more concerned with retaining trust (vs fav our), than potential reward or recognition.

3. Based on your values, is there any circumstance in which it is justifiable to break a professional confidence?
The answer to this can be both easily identified, and challenging. You want the candidate to acknowledge the seriousness of breaching a confidence; however, you want them to also recognize the fact that certain lines of ethics and legalities warrant the risk of breaking a trust in order to do the right thing.

4. Tell me about a time when you were given credit for something a co-worker did. How did you respond?
This question gets to the heart of meritocracy. Listen for reflections on the importance of giving credit where credit is due, for responses that reflect a level of trust where co-workers know their team mates will be their greatest champions.

Trust…a safe harbour

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Trustworthiness…growing the competency.

I grew up in Ireland. We lived in a town called Bangor and loved to visit grandparents in Annalong, a small fishing village. What I loved about both places was the location…right on the Irish Sea. I loved the smells, sounds, sights, and yes, the feeling of that sea salt on my lips and skin. Even now, years after immigrating to Canada, every chance I get I head to the ocean. It’s my place of refreshment, rejuvenation, and reflection. However, I have a very healthy respect for the power of the sea and the need for warning signs that both guide sea faring travellers, and bathers. Warnings that can be relied on, depended on, warnings that are constant. I think often of my grandfather sharing how he would stand at the Annalong Harbour watching for my uncle to return home after a fishing trip. At times the waves were so big, vessels would disappear from view, being tossed by the rise and fall of the sea.

For years, before the use of electronic navigational systems, sailors depended on the beacon of a lighthouse to guide them to shore, steering them away from being dashed

The Tower of Hercules, A Coruna

against treacherous coastlines and hidden rocks. They knew they could trust the lighthouse, that it was reliable, constant, a lifeline to guide them into the safety of the harbour.

Trust…a ‘thing’ we base a belief on…an action we employ when expecting people to do what they say they will do. Respondents to our research reported that trustworthiness, was a competency critical to success in the remote world. To be sure, trust is critical in all work contexts, but they suggested that in a virtual environment it becomes even more important. Sadly, many people mistake presence for progress.

Trust can be earned, and lost. Many books have been written on the topic; countless articles and blogs tout its’ value. But how do we develop it? How do we preserve it? If lost, how do we earn it back? I would offer the following three simple actions:

  1. If you say you’re going to do it…do it
  2. If you didn’t do what you said you’re going to do…own it
  3. If there are barriers that keep you from doing it, communicate that; once barriers are removed, if possible …do it.
  4. If you don’t know how to do it, ask for help, then do it

Ok, so not so simple! However, if you want to be a person worthy of trust you need to own it, preserve it, and value it. Are you a trustworthy person? If you’re not sure, ask those you work with, your family and friends, if they view you as a person they can trust. Warning, only ask if you are willing to act on what they tell you!

Bangor, N. Ireland.