What does working remotely look like for me?

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As I embark on this path of investigating the world of remote work and workers, I decided a good starting place was with my own experience: What does working remotely look like to me? What do I enjoy about it? What drives me crazy?

A point of clarification is called for here to ensure we have a shared understanding of terms. When I say ‘remote’ I am referring to individuals and/or teams who are not physically based in a designated office space to do their work…it could be full time, part time, seasonal…the options are many. Other important terms that I will refer to are distributed teams and digital workspaces. Checkout this article on What’s Your Company’s Definition of Remote Work?

Remote working looks different for everyone; however, as I share my experiences, you may find points of connection that perhaps will put expression to your realities.

Connecting with a client at Theirry in Vancouver, BC

Like many of you, I work in a few roles. The majority of my time is spent as a business professor, focusing on Human Resources and Management. The classroom provides a wonderful opportunity to be face to face with some incredible students…but we also have a learning management system that provides a platform for virtual communication and interactions. I also teach online courses, where the only interaction we have is virtual. This is one area of working remotely where my ‘office’ never seems to close.

I also do business coaching/consulting. This role offers opportunities to mset one on one with clients (face to face or virtually), developing training materials, or collaborating with others to provide services to various organizations.

So, I get to enjoy both …working in a specific office space at the college, and working remotely (home, coffee shop, Canada, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Finland…the world’s the limit).

My ‘office’ for exam marking in Naxos, Greece

For me, the key is to fit the task or activity with the most appropriate working environment. One of my favourite experiences was being in Ireland working in a beautiful hotel cafe with my son – Guinness, coffee, and soda bread on the table. I was reviewing research papers submitted by my distance students while Nathan worked on material for one of his clients. We did take breaks from screen time to chat about what we were focusing on…remote working at it’s finest! Another experience had me Facetiming one of my advisors from a cave house in Santorini, to her location in Africa!

The thing I am passionate about is helping people realize their greatest potential in whatever career path they choose…whether they work in a physical office, work remotely, or a combination of both. No matter the context, it is important that both employer and employee have a clear understanding of each other’s strengths and needs in order to realize both individual and organizational potential…success on all counts. I truly believe that one contributor for individual and organizational success lies in opportunities for flexible work spaces, thus my curiosity around investigating this concept.

Next time I’ll get more specific about what I enjoy most about working remote, AND provide responses from others’ positive experiences. In the meantime, you might find this article interesting to muse over: Are Remote Workers Happier than Office Employees?

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Office Not Required

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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.

Thinking about thinking…

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I’m not a ‘navel gazer‘, in fact I would probably get my back up against the wall if anyone accused me of being one. For many people, spending time doing various assessments to learn more about oneself falls into this category; I get that. We can get so fixated on taking self discovery assessment after assessment, after assessment in pursuit of self discovery…but to what end?
renderedimageSo where am I going with this, especially with a blog title of ‘Thinking about thinking’? In my lifetime I have completed many assessments: True Colours, What Color is Your Parachute?, Anchors, StrengthsFinder, MBTI, Values-Based-Indicators, DISC to name a few. Each one of them have contributed to my self-understanding, but to what end? In college, we use various assessments to help students learn who they are, how they perform, what matters to them, what they should do with their lives…again, to what end?

Ok, so this is sounding like a gloom and doom reflection…bear with me, that’s not where I’m going.

Lately I have been passionately curious about the whole idea of diversity, and loving every moment of it. In fact, in my previous few blogs I focused on diversity in the classroom, which really served as the impetus to keep digging into this intriguing area of thought. The intent of my attention to this matter was for the purpose of bringing students from multiple cultural backgrounds together, and through appreciating each one’s unique contribution, greatly enhance their own learning and that of their classmates. I left the semester feeling enriched, as did many of the students.

However, through conversations with my son, Nathan, we began considering the fact that the practice of many organizations is to design diverse teams based on such things as culture, gender, religion, ability, or age. The theory is that bringing individuals from diverse people groups together will result in heightened creativity which would then lead to greater innovation, which would lead to greater productivity and profit. Logical, and supported by research. But…is it accurate? Not necessarily…in fact, other research is showing that while much good can be generated from such diversity, there are challenges that can block the desired results. In an article entitled Diversity in Teams: a Two Edged Sword the authors remind us that there is more to receiving creative and innovative outcomes than simply putting together a diverse team.

The question then arises…If diversity truly is the key element in creating diversity of thought, how do we harness and grow it? And…how do we define diversity?

Here’s where I’m going with this. When most of us think of diversity, we think about the visible…the things we see that make us different: race, color, age, ability/disability, gender… But what about “Invisible diversity”? Bersin by Deloitte  defines this as… ‘the traits or characteristics of a person that may not be obvious, such as diversity of thought, perspectives, and life experiences (which may include education, family status, values and beliefs, working-style preferences, and socioeconomic status).’

Is it possible that the best path to creativity and innovation doesn’t lie in visibly diverse teams, but in teams that also strive for invisibly diverse teams?

Closing the loop…if I want to successfully work with an invisibly diverse team, one that embraces differenct ways of thinking based on such things as values, beliefs, experiences, perspectives…I need to understand where I’m coming from; I need to first be a student of myself before I can understand those unique individuals I will be privileged to work with.

Thus starts the journey into re-learning about, and appreciating, my own uniqueness, FOR THE PURPOSE of learning about, and appreciating others, so that together we can innovate and create amazing things.

The Appreciative Classroom.

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It is amazing how quickly 6 weeks goes by when you’re having fun…at least for the professor! I think the best way to sum up this recent teaching experience was that of appreciation; appreciation for the students, appreciation for the diversity they brought to the classroom, appreciation for the support they demonstrated towards one another, and appreciation for their appreciation!

Let me recap somewhat. I began this summer session with the desire to bring an appreciative environment and attitude into the classroom. In my previous blogs, Appreciating and Learning and  The Learning Continues , I expressed the challenges I was facing with an increase of international students in my class. In fact, I ended a previous semester rather discouraged and overwhelmed. In the process of researching appreciative inquiry, I made a commitment to not only change my attitude toward teaching, but to create a classroom environment where each student would feel valued and appreciated for who they are and for how they have contributed to the great moments in their learning journeys. Well, the semester is finished and I am excited about their feedback as well as my own learning.

Let me share just a few of the feedback comments shared with me by a few students:

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Results of a team activity.

* ‘I felt accepted, I was able to share my opinions without fear of judgement.’
* ‘Males from my own culture actually encouraged me to share my opinion…this is not the way it is at home.’
* ‘Students from different nations come here…professors respect this by not making the environment awkward for the foreigner.’
* ‘Our class culture is that of trust and acceptance; these are the foundations for establishing an environment in which students are empowered and comfortable. Because of this, students provide feedback to improve the classroom teaching and learning environment, which helps students to learn from their mistakes and gain achievements. Another element of the class culture was innovation; more ideas come from each students as we worked in a groups to solve the problems and teach each other.’

As already stated, I began this semester with the desire to experiment with appreciate inquiry in the classroom and it truly was impactful. Besides the incredibly positive manner in which the students responded, I learned some valuable lessons regarding cultural diversity in the classroom. Here are some highlights…

* Remember that our ‘North American’ approach to classroom facilitation can be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable for some cultures.
* Don’t make assumptions about everyone’s technical ability, no matter what generation they represent.
* Resistance to speak out in class, especially in front of the whole class, does not indicate lack of engagement…it can be an indicator of great lack of self-confidence. This lesson coming from strongly male dominated cultures.`
* Based on the previous point, small group discussion is appreciated by students and provides great opportunity to share from their own unique experiences.
* Provide opportunities for culturally diverse small groups…heterogeneous vs homogeneous.
* For many cultures, living in the moment overtakes the desire to get the work done…if a friend is in need, that overrides any other commitment, even to the point of personal failure.
* Making time to meet one on one with each student is time well spent! The time taken greatly enhances the ability to make the learning relevant…and builds trust between student and teacher.
* Speak openly about diversity…intentionally invite the sharing of opinions from various perspectives; and listen with respect creating a safe, enriched environment
* Don’t ever stop checking our own assumptions and stereotyping; don’t be afraid to ask students for clarity and understanding regarding cultural differences.

Each one of these lessons call for deeper reflection, in fact they compel me to imageruminate, to probe, to ponder, and to enter into meaningful dialogue to further explore the ramifications of each.

As I work through each, I then need to consider how these learnings will impact other aspects of classroom facilitation…evaluation being one area that comes to mind. In the past, team evaluations have taken the stance of deducting marks from those who did not equally contribute to an assignment…in other words, finding a practical way to deal with social loafing. What would a team evaluation look like if marks were awarded from the perspective of the great contribution each team member made to the outcome of an assignment? Would this appreciative approach help group members to focus on the strengths of their team mates rather than their lack of effort? Worth investigating!

This semester provided the platform for me to learn and experiment with one class made up of 21 students, representing 5 diverse cultures. Is it possible, or even realistic, to replicate and build on this with 4 different classes of 30-40 students each? I intend to find out and continue my learning journey. I love the idea of starting from a place of what works and building on that…appreciative classroom facilitation!

The learning continues…

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I am committed to taking a positive approach to teaching and learning…join me in the journey?

5 classes are now finished, and I am very much enjoying getting to know my students individually, and applying what I’m learning to deliver a more effective learning experience for them.

As mentioned in my previous post, we began the first class with a discussion around positive learning experiences, and how they personally contributed to that learning.

The follow up to that activity was one on one meetings between the students and myself. The stories they shared were humorous, inspiring, emotional, and insightful; it was wonderful to see how positive their body language was, and how animated and excited they were as they reflected on the joy of those experiences.  I can’t stress enough how eye opening those 15 minute ‘chats’ were. Using the questions on the hand-outs as a foundation, the students shared information from their lives in their home countries, and how life has changed since they came to Canada (70% of this specific class are from countries other than Canada). Without exception, they love this ‘new world’ (this in no way minimizes how much they miss their families back home).

One topic we discussed this week was values…a potentially hot topic when dealing with cultural diversity; having 5 different cultures represented in the class it was inevitable that there would be varying opinions regarding what each holds close as a value or guiding principle. I’m happy to report that, once again, the class discussions were rich with mutual learning and respect. The class started with an exercise that dealt with one of my values…punctuality. Based on the various student arrival times to class, I was fairly certain that this was not a shared classroom value. Here is a brief overview of that activity.

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  1. As students arrive pass out coloured mini clothes pegs (one colour to those arriving early, another for those arriving just on time, another for those arriving late)
  2. Introduce the topic of values and the importance of understanding and respecting the values of those we work with (the context is a class of business students).
  3. Let them know that I have a high value of punctuality, but that I realize it may not be a shared classroom value.
  4. Explain the meaning of the different colours of clothes pegs, and have student divide into those groups.
  5. Stage one discussion is to dialogue around whether or not punctuality was a shared value, and how their opinion was reflected in their actions.
  6. Stage two, mix the groups up so that each group has representation from the ‘early arrivers’, ‘on timers’, and ‘late arrivers’. In these groups they are to discuss how they feel about the actions of others, and how they are impacted by other’s actions.
  7. The final instruction…I would not be in the room to facilitate the discussion. I explained that I didn’t want my presence to in anyway influence the discussion.
  8. After what I thought was an acceptable amount of time I came back in the classroom, but was immediately told that they needed more time! I was thrilled that the self-directed discussion was so energy filled.

The activity went well, I could hear laughter, the murmur of discussion, and also silence. The ah-ha learning? It appears that I was the only one that was really bothered by people coming in late. The collective opinion was that if you come in late and miss some of the learning, it’s your choice and the responsibility is on your own shoulders. The tension came when I asked how they feel when someone shows up late for a meeting or event that they have planned…would they be OK with that? At first I was faced with shrugged shoulders and comments such as, ‘it depends on the situation’. However, as small group discussion continued, they did agree that this would not be so favourable.

So, how are those perspective reconciled? I would suggest that the outcome is indicative of how truly values based we all are. In organizational behaviour we talked about stated values and actual values; perhaps this is an example of that being played out individually. It also made me consider how my values are lived out…in this situation, I needed to be willing to accept tardiness if I truly want the classroom to be about my students, and about shared values. I need to be true to my value of punctuality by showing up on time (in this case, early), prepared, and ready for whenever the students show up. I also need to honour those students who are punctual and start class on time…even if only 3 students are there! I think it’s also important to add that from experience, the cultural mix has an impact on the outcome of such a discussion. Students in other classes I have facilitated included punctuality in their classroom agreement (or code of conduct).  The learning for me? A reminder that every class is different and unique. What works for one will not necessarily work for another…even if the subject material is the same.

And so the learning continues…for me, and for my students.

Appreciating and Learning!

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It’s been a while since I last blogged; amazing how life gets in the way of creative time. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that I do, it’s just that building time into a full schedule for such things ends up being easily overlooked.

imageSo what am I ruminating on? Anything to do with appreciate inquiry (AI). New concept? A great definition can be found on The Appreciative Inquiry Commons …“Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them.” I was first introduced to this approach back when working on a masters in leadership and management…I immediately connected with the concept, it simply made sense to me. However, over the years I haven’t given it much thought…until recently when teaching AI in Organizational Behaviour. In one class I had the students engage in an appreciative experience that was very impactful; so many of these students had never been affirmed for their strengths, successes, and amazing potential. From that experience I also began looking at Appreciate Inquiry in light of organizational change…again, not a new concept to me, but one that had left my radar.

I don’t know about you, but I find that when a topic grabs my attention, I end up seeing and connecting to resources (both print and people) that contribute to my drive and passion to learn more! I’ve been introduced to great authors on the topic, and other professionals from various industries who are applying the concepts in their practice. One connection I made with a professor from Royal Roads University really impressed me with his application of AI to enhance the student’s learning. Which brings me to where I am right now…

At the post secondary institution where I teach, we are experiencing an increase in the number of international students enrolling in our business program. This is wonderful! I love the diversity it brings to the classroom, and the sharing of experiences it affords. However, it also brings challenges that I have found, at times, overwhelming. At first I was very discouraged, doubted my ability to effectively facilitate learning, and very saddened by hurtful emails received from unsuccessful students. BUT…once I got over the hurt and frustration, the fighting started. Not with the students or the institution, but with myself. I love classroom diversity, I love a good challenge, and I am not a quitter!

Brave words, but what to do about it? Back to AI. My personal mission is to ‘Equip and encourage others to discover their strengths and use them to reach their fullest potential’. That holds true no matter the focus…family, friends, clients, AND students. So, how am I taking that mission, that commitment, and living it in a diverse classroom? This quote inspired me to start figuring it out.

“Appreciative leaders hold each and every person in positive regard. They look through appreciative eyes to see the best of people. They seek to treat all individuals positively, with respect and dignity, no matter their age, gender, race, religion, or culture—even education or experience. They believe that everyone has positive potential—a positive core of strengths and a passionate calling to be fulfilled—and they seek to bring that forward and nurture it.” Appreciative Leadership by Whitney, Trosten-Bloom & Rader

First step…help my students appreciate who they are as learners, focus on positive learning experiences, consider what they contributed to those successes, and consider what they can continue to do in their current learning environments to realize similar success. I did this in the first class by giving the students a handout asking  questions that would help them identify and think through such experiences. I allowed an appropriate amount of time for them to reflect and write down their responses to the questions, then share their reflections with a small group. The experiences shared were varied and provided a wonderful opportunity for students from 5 different cultures to share about their learning successes.

Second step…our next class started by inviting group members to share about how individuality is celebrated in their country of origin. Again, wonderful discussions that embraced their diversity in a positive manner.

So far so good…but it has only been 2 classes. The next major step happens this week as I have one on ones with each student for the purpose of getting to know them, and talking about their learning experience reflections. I will be asking them to share how they could apply what they learned from their past successes in realizing their learning goals for this semester; I’ll also invite them to identity how I can support them in this endeavour.

Stay tuned…this is a new learning journey for me…and my students!

Mental Health in the Workplace is everybody’s issue.

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I was asked by a friend to write something that normally would not have been a topic of choice, an area that feels very exposing. However, if I truly believe in integrity and transparency, I need to pull open the blinds of a challenge shared by many.

Time to take off the masks.
Time to take off the masks.

It all starts with volunteering… something I believe strongly in, not out of a sense of duty, but because I want to, and I know how rewarding it can be when you find the right fit.

The cause I am currently engaged with is the Canadian Mental Health Association; I believe in the work CMHA does, I can relate to the issues they deal with, and the folks at our local association deeply care about what they do, and who they do it with.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘mental health’? Does it make you cringe? Is it something that only affects ‘other’ people? Or does it stir up feelings that are all too real…too close to home. You’re not alone! The specific area that I’m engaged with is mental health in the workplace, an issue that is very real to employers and employees alike. Did you know that everyday in Canada; over 500,000 people miss work due to mental health issues? That’s huge! Think of the impact those absentees have on the individual, their families, their co-workers, their organizations! And yes, the cost to business is in the neighbourhood of $33 billion each year. Take a read through this sobering Maclean’s article. These are people we rub shoulders with on a daily basis…and many of us are one of those people.

It doesn’t matter what you call it; stress, anxiety, burn-out…it’s the pile up of demands (personal, professional), expectations (others and our own), deadlines, conflicts, pressures that get us to the point of _______ … you finish the sentence. For me it looks like heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and an inability to make even the simplest of decisions.

As a training and development professional and business professor, I speak with many people who feel like an elastic band that’s about to snap; these people are from a variety of industries, representing all generations, are male and female, formally educated (or not), experienced, and capable individuals. CEO’s, leaders, and managers be aware, these are the people who are the very core and life of your organizations…many are even sitting beside you in the boardroom.

CMHA’s Mental Health Voices represents the need for greater awareness to be brought to such matters in the workplace. If you are in a role of people leadership or run a business, this is a cause that begs your attention. If you live in the Okanagan, BC, I would invite you to attend our Mental Health Voices breakfast with Brett Wilson on November 4th. Check out the website www.cmhakelowna.com/mental-health-voices for both information on the event and ticket purchase.

No matter your location, I would invite you to take some time to think through how your place of business could be proactive about this growing area of concern and join the growing crowd of business leaders who are endeavouring to take the stigma out of the mental health issue.

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax