For some time now I’ve gotten regular requests to do phone calls and consulting. I enjoy talking, listening and helping people, particularly entrepreneurs and young people looking for career direction.
Today, I’m taking a step to do that even more, by setting up my expert profile at Clarity.
Sometimes it just helps to get an outside perspective and opinion from someone who’s been there and done it. And I want to help you blow up the roadblocks in the way of your happiness and success, sharing my experiences to help you do just that.
If that’s you … schedule a call with me today and here are three ways I can help you best:
- Founder Issues: Handling the Ups and Downs of Entrepreneurship — Too often we work IN and ON our businesses … but not on ourselves. That has to change.
- Entrepreneurial Leadership: Growing a Team and Culture — You need a fully committed, passionate, loyal and talented team to get to your summit, together.
- Purposeful Paychecks: Finding Lasting Career Happiness — You don’t just want work that pays the bills … you also want work that frees you to be fulfilled and happy in your work.
In the past couple years of leading and “managing” people, especially young people right out of college, or those who haven’t had many jobs, I’ve seen a gaping hole in the form of teaching people how to be a professional. (Maybe it’s always been there but either way, it’s there.)
When I think about this topic — helping young people know how to survive and thrive in their first jobs — I think about star college athletes who are drafted into the pros. One day, they wake up and find that their lifelong passion (football, baseball, basketball, whatever) — the thing they’ve always done without much effort and with outstanding success — has now turned into a full-time job tied to all their lifelong hopes and dreams. And often it’s the job of the veterans to teach the rookies how to be a pro.
It’s usually someone’s job to help the “rookies” figure out how to be a “pro.”
So with that … I’ll offer my suggestions for the next generation to succeed in the workplace (and be a little blunt):
1. Be interested or even passionate
This means being interested in what you’re doing. Do something you have a great opportunity to enjoy or even LOVE.
If you take a job simply because it’s a crapload of money, I’ll make a bet now you’re going to be miserable in 10 years if you stick with that job. Don’t waste your precious time or talent on a job you hate simply because you want a BMW.
Take a cue from your Baby Boomer parents … happiness isn’t found in material things.
Loathing or hating a job is misery … that’s called prison.
You don’t necessarily have to love what you do … but I think you should at least LIKE IT.
Find a job you can like or enjoy, doing work that challenges you and plays to your strengths.
2. Be eager
I hire for drive and fit over talent. Being eager means you are internally driven to make your organization a success and with it, yourself. You should want the job. You should want to work hard to keep it and be better.
Being eager is typically a result of doing work you enjoy. Looking forward to going to work because you want to use your time and talents to produce something of quality.
3. Be a sponge
Just because you’ve graduated from college doesn’t mean you stop reading for the rest of your life. Be a lifelong learner. After you get over your college “I hate books” hangover, get realistic and realize that the key to growth comes cheaply by reading dead trees.
So if you’re not a reader, become one.
A key core value we hold close at iThemes is Learn, Grow, then Teach and Share.
Always be learning. Always be growing. Seek ways to do so. Find mentors at the workplace and ask questions and listen. Buy their lunch, make and bring them their morning coffee.
But by the way, listening is so undervalued. Most people want to talk about what they do best.
Be a sponge for all of it.
4. Get better on our own time and dime
Someone should tell you this and it might as well be me: You haven’t magically “arrived.” You probably won’t ever arrive. Neither will I. At least I hope I don’t or think I ever will. I always want to be improving and honing my craft.
Just because you land some fancy title doesn’t mean you’re set for life or done learning or growing.
Graduation is simply the first step in a journey that’s called your professional career. Now it’s time for you to use that base knowledge and those experiences to build your career.
It means constant improvement. And if you want to make more, do more, then that means you hone your skills on nights and weekends (yes, on your own dime!).
Let me be clear: Getting better at night and weekends is an investment in yourself.
If you learn and grow, when you get another job, you TAKE that with you. It’s yours.
You always want to achieve work-life balance and you need downtime … but consider using a large portion of that time investing in yourself.
Trust me … as a boss, this type of team member rises to the top. They are the clear leaders you take for the future of your organization. At least I do.
5. Everybody starts somewhere
Call this paying your dues or whatever, but yes, everybody starts somewhere and typically that’s at the bottom of the ladder. That might mean taking out the trash, being someone’s assistant, taking direction from someone else, or whatever.
You aren’t above it. And neither am I. Even as the founder of a company, I still do these things.
If you don’t have the humility to accept that, you’re going to struggle for a long time. You might even think it’s not you, but everybody else.
Realize now that this is the first step to a great adventure. Use this time to figure out what you want to do in your organization and in life. Solidify the place you want to be in and work hard to get there.
6. Be the solution
No one likes a complainer. Be a change agent instead. Be someone who sees a problem and owns the solution.
Initiative is an amazing, standout quality. The majority of people simply point to a problem and see if someone else comes to fix it.
A lone minority see the problem and realize they could fix it themselves and try. To them, go the rewards and recognition.
I want 100 more people like that in my business and in my life.
7. Be flexible
Flexibility and adaptability are assets in your career. Things won’t always go your way or the way you expected them to go. Sometimes you might be asked to work late, or switch roles, or do something your job description didn’t talk about ….
Be willing to adapt and change if needed.
The people who are the most flexible and adaptive, who just want to contribute and provide value, are the ones who rise above.
8. Be helpful
Yes, this means changing the printer cartridge, or taking out the trash. It means answering the phone when someone isn’t close to it.
It means helping someone else with their problem, even if it isn’t yours.
As a boss, I want a group of individuals who WANT to help each other. Who want to help their teammates take their vacations and will work to fill the gap so they can do so without worry. Or who understand we are all humans being with struggles and challenges and needs … and there to be helpful and generous with our time and energy.
9. Be on time, all the time
This should be implied but I’ve realized it’s not. Show up for work on time, every time, and even before time. When you walk in late, it shows a lack of respect for everyone else.
When in doubt, ask what the expected times are. And be early and stay later. It adds up. People see it. It shows commitment.
I did that in every job I had and it paid off richly in terms of my value and reputation. Because I simply showed up.
And by the way, just because other people on your team don’t respect this and are habitually late doesn’t mean you follow the herd.
10. Find out how you fit in, quickly
Like I’ve said before, we hire for fit over talent. In a small business especially, it’s vital that you fit in. Otherwise, you’re simply a distraction.
Find your unique place, quickly. Discover your unique role in your organization and what you can contribute to it. Look for the place where you uniquely help others be better and where your talents and strengths are best suited and plug into that.
11. Show up, work hard and you’ll standout
Don’t shortchange your organization by not showing up — and I don’t mean simply skipping work. Although being mediocre, giving partial effort is the same I think.
If you agree to take a job, with specified hours, pay and responsibilities, do your best, every day. That’s what you agreed to when you got the offer, so be a person of your word and honor it. (Some of the best advice my father gave me.)
And let me give you a hint …. do more than expected. It makes you stand out and people will take notice in a very positive way.
By the way, conversely, doing the bare minimum makes you stand out in a completely opposite way.
12. You’re not a rockstar
Companies and businesses might say they want to hire “rockstars” but I’ve found those with the rockstar mentality don’t usually work well in teams. Rockstars are about themselves and their own fame and fortune. They are solo acts and that is divisive to teams.
Be the opposite of a rockstar … be a team player.
This African proverb says it all: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
On average, cohesive teams will always do more and go farther than rockstars in their selfish silos. Join a team and be the glue or compass or role player (whatever it takes) that makes you all better, together.
BONUS TIP: Get a job before your first “career” job.
If you’re still in college, I’d highly suggest you get a job, an internship NOW. Yes, before you graduate. Start working somewhere so you can learn what it means to make money for your time and talent … and how to work with other human beings … and under the direction of someone else.
Our awesome developer Chris Jean, one of the hardest working and talented people I know, often says that working in the fast food industry was one of the best things he ever did. It forced him to develop work habits that we now benefit from. For me, that was working alongside my father, uncles and grandfathers in their businesses.
I have a couple of disclaimers as well as context before diving into my thoughts on working remote.
First, this post is written from a manager’s perspective, not the team member’s, particularly my own as I’ve led and grown iThemes from one person to now over 20+ since 2008. I’m focusing these thoughts and experience sharing on a situation where you (a current team member) are wanting and requesting to go from working in a dedicated office to working from home or “remote.”
Additionally, we’ve been a hybrid team from the beginning — with remote team members and in-office team members. (We currently have a 5,300 square foot office in Oklahoma City, that we call iThemes HQ.)
It’s all written in the context of a small bootstrapped company, who has been in business for 9+ years. I know a lot of companies, particular Automattic, have very progressive perspectives and expectations on remote work. But that’s not us and we don’t expect them to be us either. Every company and situation is different.
But in that context as a small team, we’ve seen what seemed like minor changes have drastic and negative effects on our team and HOW we get our work done.
We have a really really really good team who collaborates and communicates well and is extremely productive. And because our culture is very important to us … we’re very guarded and careful how we make changes to that as it’s vital to our continued success and health.
Our job and responsibility, as managers and leaders (just as your managers), is to ensure every team member, whether in our office or remote, is connected, productive and fulfilled in their job and work.
And ultimately our charge is to do what’s best for our company, team and customers and to evaluate each request situation carefully to ensure maximum success for each team member, our greater team and our company.
And yes, we’ve made mistakes and learned lessons that I want to share so you have the best chance at success.
We have a very diverse variety of team members, work, teams, and setups. They don’t and won’t work for everyone, in every situation or position.
My hope is this post will help you prepare and frame your requests in your unique position and situation and leadership, as well as prevent the problems and mistakes we’ve made and seen in the past.
The following are the things I think you, as a team member in your own organization, requesting to go remote, should be prepared for and consider as you move forward with those conversations.
Much of this also applies to in-office team members too, by the way, but there are some key things that managers do to ensure that success that often get taken for granted. For instance, we lock our office up tight. We have a doorbell that rings to our Office Manager’s office very softly. She is the distraction-cancelling protector of productivity. She knows that any time there is a disturbance or distraction in our office, we all lose.
So take it from that perspective ….
Some Thoughts and Ideas I’d Mention Upfront to You:
- Realize remote work is NOT for everyone, every situation, or every position — Some of the most social people I know think they will be happy in a quiet home office with no regular interaction with other humans. Additionally, some job or teams may not simply be ready or right for it.
- Know yourself, search yourself — All of this is an effort to make sure this is a win for everyone. But that starts with knowing yourself. And more importantly … WHY you’re wanting it.
- Ask for and expect a trial evaluation period — Or even starting with one day a week. Be open, honest and transparent about how it goes. If you just give a report of all roses and no thorns, it’s liable to raise suspicion. No environment (even a dedicated office) is perfect. Far from it. Give the pros and cons, the opportunities and obstacles, the good and the bad.
- If you’re really green, with lots to learn, this might not be the best for you — We’ve hired a number of people in our office we would never have hired remotely. Namely because they were rookies, with lots to learn and needed the mentoring and coaching that happens more easily when you can simply roll your chair over to a veteran and ask questions. Including at lunches, breaks, etc. If you’re just starting out into your career, check out my How to Be a Professional primer, before moving on.
- Understand that failure could mean jeopardizing your job — If it doesn’t work out, there’s a likelihood beyond requesting you come back to the office, that you’re also out of a job. And ALL of the things I’ll mention here are to help you have the BEST chances to not just survive, but thrive, from a manager’s perspective.
Key Questions I’d Ask You:
- What’s in it for you? I probably already know this already. But what are the benefits for you and the reason WHY you are requesting it?
- Where specifically will you be working?
- What is your remote setup specifically? Do you have a dedicated, private, distraction-free home/office setup?
- Are there other people who will be in the same space during your work hours? (i.e. your home, kids, spouses, roommates, etc.)
- How will you manage work/home/life boundaries and distractions? Goes both ways …. if you’re officing out of your house, that’s the same place you sleep.
- What’s in it for us? The company, your teammates, your work? I ask this because most of us get what’s in it for you … but rarely think about it from the company and team’s perspective.
- Why do you think you’re ready for this? If this isn’t crystal clear for everyone, then it becomes a rhetorical question.
The Key Dangers Of Going Remote I’d Mention To You:
These dangers are specifically in taking an otherwise great productive teammate and potentially losing or damaging all of that. These are the dangers that I’ve seen and to look out for.
- Getting lost, disconnected, disengaged — One of the biggest complaints we’ve heard from our remote team is feeling disconnected from the team and each other. This is the toughest one for us. It’s not always anybody’s fault, just nature of the beast.
- Getting distracted — From the laundry that needs to be done to the dogs insisting on sitting in your lap during a work call.
- Poor communication — I’ll talk more about this, but going dark, not sharing with others what you’re doing.
- Getting stuck and spinning your wheels — Not sharing struggles so you can get and receive help and move on to productivity.
- Not maintaining good work/family boundaries — Not just from a work perspective of ensuring family members in your house know when you’re “working” or off, but if you’re officing out of your bedroom, for instance, when you go to bed, you can still see “work” and sometimes “worry.”
- Not maintaining consistent work schedule or routines — I believe there are few people who can work haphazard hours and still be productive. It also rearranges the purpose of work … are you working for a team and company, or is the team and company working at your whim?
- Not approaching it as a professional — Professionals show up, get the work done, communicate with their team … and frankly, take work as serious as it should be — the thing that allows me to buy a home, or food, or pay for my children’s college and my retirement.
- Having the wrong mindset, attitude and approach about it — this goes back to the “What’s in it for us?” question. Make sure you deeply evaluate your attitudes and reasons for being remote.
Key Expectations and Responsibilities Of Being Remote I’d Expect:
- It’s your job to make this a smashing success — It’s not my job either, but I want it to be a success. So make this an overwhelming and obvious win for everyone, not just you. If the promise is that it’ll enhance productivity, prove it.
- Have a dedicated, private, consistent work space with good, reliable Internet — a comfortable private place without interruptions or distractions. We can control what happens in the office for the most part, but won’t know about them at your house or remote office. A key thing we’ve learned is setting good boundaries.
- Good communication is non-negotiable — Going dark and off the grid does not instill trust and responsibility in your team. You should not assume anything, clarify it and overcommunicate. Like if you’re away from your computer for a time (taking a child to school, or an errand that may run long, etc), you should let everyone who relies on you, and ESPECIALLY your manager, know that you’re out. And if it’s longer than expect, talk to your manager about it first. This is even more of a priority for those positions where you are collaborating and communicating with other team members to get projects done. Don’t assume your team knows that you have ran out on a quick errand, or need to step out. I’ve heard it said — communication is oxygen for a team. It’s true. And even more so for remote teams. And conversely when you don’t communicate well it becomes distracting and damaging for everyone.
- Availability and responsiveness is a must, especially in collaborative teams — Meaning if others rely on you to get their work done, you gotta be there and show up with them. For our team that means being Green on HipChat (the chat tool we happen to use today) and working set hours so the rest of your team knows when they can expect you, ESPECIALLY if you’re in different time zones. Additionally that goes back to other things like having access to good, reliable Internet, not being distracted by people in your remote office (i.e. caring for children or other family members or people), and establishing good boundaries.
- Routines are everything — You may not think about it, but the structure of an office provides for many things that you will not have by default as a remote team member. One of our remote team members told me he makes sure to put on his shoes every day. For him, it’s a routine and a signal that says, “I’m at work.” Ditto for set schedules. When I first started iThemes, I was working from a home office and kept my same schedule, the one I’ve maintained for the last 9 years.
- Traveling is disruptive and distracting — So don’t plan on it. Many people are allured by the thought of being remote so they can travel the world, or work from a hotel room off by a beach. It doesn’t work, especially if you have a very involved job, or have to take calls or attend regular meetings. I know because I’ve tried it. At best, I’m 50% productive as being in a fixed location with reliable Internet and set routines. Traveling is disruptive to routines and work, no matter how good you think you are at juggling it all. Nothing goes to plan. Flights get delayed. Time zones disrupt fixed expected schedules. And yes, you can NEVER rely on hotel or AirBnB for reliable or fast Internet, or being able to get to a coworking space in a new city. So if you want to travel the world, take your vacation or Paid-Time Off for those things and get real rest and recharging that comes from being away from work that you need.
OK, that’s it for now … I readily admit I might have missed some things and as always reserve the right to change my mind. But I hope this is helpful for you as you navigate working remote in your situation. Good luck!
I had the opportunity to give the keynote talk at WordCamp Ann Arbor in October 2016. In this talk I share what I think are the keys to surviving and thriving in the very future — Pivot and Purpose.
Here is the full video:
Here is the slidedeck: