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
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 📝).
As I have been traveling in Portugal, Finland, Spain and England these past weeks, I have once again been struck by the commonalities we share as humans…both in our need for meaningful work and renewing play time. This balance is especially important for those who have chosen the path of remote work. However, the degree to which cultures intentionally plan for playtime is varied.
While in Finland I was honored to be part of a Global Faculty Colloquium held at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyvascula; 18 individual from around the globe presented their practices related to applied research in the post secondary classroom. Inspiring, informative, and innovative ideas were shared, and each brought their unique culture and perspective to the conversation. However, the learning that left the strongest impression on me was the intentionality demonstrated by the Finnish people…our hosts. These people are hard workers, but take seriously their time to step back and enjoy the wonder of the country they are blessed to live in. Time and again, we heard guides and locals alike refer to ‘living room spaces’…spaces where people take time out of their work to simply sit, visit, get to know one another, and reflect on life. Time to be still, to think, to watch, to simply…be. I would suggest this is one of the two most important tools for a remote worker, the pre-cursor to innovative and creative thinking.
You may have intentional playtime all figured out, but for many this is a necessity that all to easily gets pushed aside. There is almost a panic that sets in if we are not doing something that contributes to existing contracts or to the pursuit of new business. While in Helsinki it was a treat to sit among the many people taking time out of their busyness to enjoy a pastry and coffee from one of the many sidewalk cafes, or simply sit on a bench along the city’s central linear park…intentionally taking advantage of the many ‘living room spaces’. But this is not a new concept…we are all keenly aware of the need for such ‘playtime’…aware, of , but perhaps not committed to .
I was also stuck by the intentionality of the Finns regarding building relationships in business. The value they place on taking time to create a foundation of trust before moving forward with business dealings is commendable; people first, business second. Read the rest of this entry »