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!
I’m currently writing from our Airbnb in Zandvoort, Netherlands, a location we will undoubtedly return to. Not only is the town lovely, the beach spectacular (9km long), the eateries delicious, the dune-winding bike trails amazing, and the coffee from our favourite Café (Blue Zone Espresso) top notch… the people are lovely. I’m also impressed by the very obvious age variety; young children through retirement everywhere we go. And, of course, I’m intrigued by the high percentage of Generation Jones, or Jonesers (born between 1955-1965). I’ve been wondering how many live and work in Zandvoort, and how many commute into larger business centers i.e. Haarlem or Amsterdam.
Why am I so intrigued by this? As I continue to investigate various aspects of remote work, I am drawn to the working contexts of the Gen Jones demographic (that’s me). So much is being written about how the millennials are shaping the future of work, but I want to stand up and shout ‘what about me?’ How are those in my generation shaping the future of work? (Just a note, I’m not a strong believer in labelling people…I’m simply using the terms for a talking point.)
Millennials entered into an environment where it is not uncommon to expect flexible work hours and remote work arrangements. My generation has come through the years of raising these same millennials (my husband and I raised a gen x and a millennial, both amazing!), instilling in them a mindset that encouraged them to think and innovate, not be bound by tradition. We Jonesers have spent much of our lives working the 9-5 routine, and, quite frankly, we’re not satisfied to continue working within those boundaries as we consider moving toward potential retirement. And here lies the tension, many of us simply don’t want to retire, but nor do we want to continue with the same, tired, 9-5 routine.
Research is showing that many of us will migrate to freelancing as we approach 65-ish, for multiple reasons: freedom, finances, not wanting to stop working, wanting to continue contributing to a workforce we spent our lives building into. But what if we really like what we do…is the only option to leave fulfilling jobs and take freelance gigs? What if the organizations we work for took proactive steps to prevent the potential, and reported, brain drain, and offer options for flexible or remote work options? What if organizations transitioned my Joneser compatriots into roles that not only engaged us in the on-going success of the business, but also facilitated the opportunity to mentor those amazing young people following in our footsteps? What if we actually created environments where a
younger generation taught and inspired us trailblazers, while we shared our journeys of success, and failure, as a foundation for the past informing, (not controlling), the future?
I am sure some organizations are doing just that…I want to hear from them. I want to learn how they are making it happen, and why others are not innovating in this manner. And I want to hear from my fellow GenJonesers…what does the future of work look like for you?
It’s not just millennials who are shaping the future of work…it’s all generations! Together, we can make ‘work’ the thing we do with intentionality, efficiency, and passion.
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.)
There are 3 more competencies that I want to discuss in this series regarding success as a remote worker: taking initiative, being adaptable/flexible, and having high self-efficacy. In this blog I want to tie two of them together; while very different from each other, I believe it’s fair to say that doing one, not only indicates the presence of the other, but also contributes to growing it. Let me clarify.
In many cases it take guts, courage, and confidence to take the initiative to make something happen. To put it another way, people with high self-efficacy would be more likely to step up and take the initiative to make something happen than someone who lacks the confidence and belief in their own abilities to do so.
Back in the 1700s, the term ‘initiative’ was used when referring to someone having “the power to originate something”. Since we are talking in a business context, an appropriate definition would be… “An individual’s action that begins a process, often done without direct managerial influence.”
Taking action, starting a process, not needing managerial influence, originating something…all challenging to do if an individual is low on self-efficacy. Psychologist Albert Bandura defines this as “a personal judgment of how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”. Pulling it all together…if an individual does not have the personal confidence 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.
The question then remains, how does one grow their self-efficacy in order to have the confidence to take initiative? I recently came across an article entitled ‘5 Easy Rules to Improve Self-Efficacy’ While I suggest taking time to read the short article, let me give you a quick overview of what the author suggests:
1. Set your goals above your ability: We are talking about stretch goals here. Not impossible ones, but goals that call on your current strengths and require you to flex them beyond what you have already done.
2. Simplify your goals into small pieces: We know this already…bit size chunks, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and before you know it…you have reached your goal!
3. The big picture should be your main focus: This seems somewhat opposite to the point mentioned above; however, if we don’t have the big picture in mind, knowing the ‘why’ behind our desire to grow in this area, it is easy to get lost in the quagmire.
5. Take control of your life: (or at least take responsibility for your decisions) “A strong sense of self-efficacy is about the deep belief in your abilities and not about the cockiness of just your self-esteem. Stay humble and open to new ideas and eventually achieve the mastery.” (I love this!)
Self-efficacy is really a mind game. In a previous blog I talked about self-leadership. Part of this is growing in the understanding and utilization of your strengths and emotional intelligence. Bottom line, life is a journey of discovery. Own your mistakes, learn from them, grow your strengths, and lead from that point of confidence. Then, take the initiative to grab hold of the many opportunities that come your way.
In my last blog we discussed the concept of self-leadership and its importance in an individual’s success. As a refresher, this definition of self-leadership directs our focus. ‘…the ability to influence your thinking, feeling and actions to achieve your objectives.
We know from our research that taking on the responsibility of self-leadership is important for everyone, but even more so in a remote working context. In previous blogs we considered what questions could be asked in an interview to discern such competencies as communication, self-directed, and trust. In this piece we offer interview question suggestions for self-leadership.
1. How have you taken the initiative to grow your strengths in the recent past? What was the impetus to grow that specific strength? (You are wanting to identify two things here: a) does the individual have an awareness of their own strengths, and b) are they intentionally getting better at what they are already good at.)
2. What have you learned about yourself from working collaboratively with others?
(Working with others is like holding up a mirror to our own actions, reactions, patterns and processes. Responses should give you insight into the individuals ability and desire to collaborate, as well as their openness to learn from others.)
3. Tell me about a time when you received critical feedback from either a peer or a supervisor. How did you respond? What did you do about the critique? (We know how important feedback is, even if we don’t always like what we hear. Listen for honesty around both positive and negative feedback, AND action taken as a result of that critique)
4. What book or podcast series has most impacted your on-going development and growth? Why was it so impactful? (Reading, or listening to audio books and podcasts, is a great way to grow as we learn from others. Hearing about the choice of books an individual reads, and what they do with what they have learned will provide a glimpse into how a individual goes about accessing resources for growth.)
5. How have you benefited from being mentored? (Listen for indication of the value learning from others brings to one’s self-awareness and growth. Is mentoring something that they value? Have they mentored others?)
6. Self-awareness is a key element of self-leadership. Describe yourself using internal factors such as your strengths, passions, values, personality, goals. (Most people introduce and describe themselves by their career, culture, hobbies…external aspects. A self-aware individual is able to speak about themselves in terms of who they are vs what they do.)
“How we lead ourselves in life impacts how we lead those around us.”
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:
- Be clear about what’s important
- Imagine yourself at the end point and work backwards
- 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.
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.
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
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:
- 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 are 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
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!
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In my previous blog I offered suggestions for how individuals could grow in their ability to be self-directed. Being intentional about growing such skills will increase your success as a remote worker, and set you up to answer interview questions related to that important competency. What kind of questions can an interviewer ask if they want to discern the candidates proficiency in being self-directed or self-motivated? Below are some suggestions to get you started, but first, a definition. Because it is important to use the same language when discussing competencies, clarity needs to be provided for this specific context.
Self-directed involves taking responsibility for personal decisions and effectively organizing activities based on intrinsic motivation without pressure from others. Without being self-directed, remote workers stated they might not have what it takes to organize multiple contracts in order to achieve the deliverables identified.
True, this is a great competency to possess when working in a colocated setting, but our research showed that a much higher level of proficiency is required when working in a remote or virtual setting. Let’s not forget that working remote refers to individuals who are not required to physically show up at a specific location on a regular basis.
Back to the interview, the focus is to ask behavioural questions to see how a candidate handled him or herself in the past. While it is always desirable, it is not necessary that they have previously worked remote, but it is important that they can demonstrate transferable skills that will contribute to their future success. While interviewing, don’t hesitate to dig deep with follow-up questions. Sometime the secondary questions are the ones that get you to the most vital information; listening carefully to the answers provided can’t be overstated.
As noted in previous blogs, answers should provide insight into the following:
• Situation/Problem faced
• Action (what they did, how they did it)
• Result/outcome (what was the outcome of the action taken, and was it positive or negative)
- Tell me about a time when a goal was difficult to achieve because of the many barriers before you. How did you address the barriers? (You are looking for answers that will help you discern not only the ability to identify barriers, but will describe the action taken to either overcome, or remove the barriers. Remote work can present more barriers that colocated settings. These barriers are by no means insurmountable, however, a self-directed person will not be put off by them, but will rise to the occasion and eagerly find workable solutions.)
- Tell me about a time when you took the initiate to collaborate with others in order to more effectively accomplish a task. (Listen for an indication that they believe collaboration is important, why it is important, and how working with others can aid in the effective completion of a task. As well, listen for how they chose who to collaborate with. In remote settings, it takes more determination and intentionality to reach out and build a collaborative network.)
- Describe a time when you lacked the drive to accomplish a task. How did you work through the apathy? (Listen for the humility of acknowledging they are not perfect…it’s rare to find someone who has never lacked drive. The important aspect of this question is to learn how they dealt with the inevitable lack of drive, accomplished the task, and moved on. Once more, in a remote setting there may be more distractions that pull the individual away from a task at hand…especially if it’s a task they don’t particularly enjoy.)
- Describe a time when you lacked the necessary information to accomplish a task. What sources did you use to provide the missing information or learn a new skill? (This question is driving at the importance of knowing how to access learning in order to get the job done. Some people simply rely on the person in the next cubicle to provide the answer; however, when working remote, there is no one in the next office. How resourceful are they with self-directed learning?)
- What process do you have to ensure all commitments and deadlines are met? How do you prioritize deliverables and responsibilities? (Self-directed people are pro-active. This question will give you insight into how the individual gets ahead of the game by having process and practices in place to deal with multiple deadlines and deliverables. In remote settings, performance is measured by deliverables, not how many hours a person sits at a desk in any given day…that’s why this is such a key element.)
- What book has had the most impact on your work habits? Describe your learnings. (The books people read tell you a lot about a person. In previous blogs the importance of communication is outlined; reading books is a powerful way to grow this skill. Listening to podcasts for learning is wonderful, but doesn’t contribute to growth in written communication. This question also provides the opportunity to learn if the candidate reads, AND what they choose to read and why…the ‘why’ being key. I have found that reading fiction can contribute to my creativity…many problems can be solved more effectively by putting them aside and focusing on something totally unrelated.)
These suggestions should provide a foundation for developing your interview questions. My next blog will address the topic of how remote workers can grow their trustworthiness, followed by another set of interview questions on the same competency.
Till next time…I would love your feedback and suggestion for further blog topics.