Photo: Chris Montgomery

#WorkTrends: Navigating the Obstacles of Remote Work

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

Working from home has been a learning experience for many of us. Maria Orozova and Scott Thomas, co-founders of MODintelechy, joined me on #WorkTrends to share their perspective on how to navigate the many obstacles of WFH, from kids to focus to time management — and how to reap the benefits of remote work. 

Maria and Scott are veterans of working from home — their strategies have proven invaluable for their hectic days. And full disclosure: they not only work together, they share a family and a home as well. They’ve learned to stagger work hours so they can spell each other on the day-to-day. And instead of video calls all the time, they decided it depends on the client. What a relief to balance “strategic video versus no video time on Zoom calls,” said Maria. Scott swears by “simple stuff,” like taking a quick swim or walk to stay sane. I can relate.

Of course it’s not just about the leaders and managers. It’s about employees. One way this power couple keeps their employees engaged and balanced now is by “really being conscious” of how and when to show their human side. They know when to keep the camera off, and they stay present for people. Maria talked about the importance of giving people “some grace” for the mundane disruptions that can occur with WFH. After all, we agreed, this isn’t just bringing our whole selves to work. It’s bringing work to our whole lives.

Embrace it, they said. “Sharing your own vulnerability first kind of gives people the task or permission to share,” said Scott. When the Zoom fatigue is real, take the pressure off by just picking up the phone. Is there a bright side to all this? I asked them. Absolutely, they said: WFH enables us to gain new focus and clarity into how we work, and how we can work better together.

We covered so much ground in this discussion, and I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. And feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn with your feedback. (Just make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

 Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: How can brands create and drive a positive remote work culture? #WorkTrends
Q2: How can brands help remote workers adjust and be productive? #WorkTrends
Q3: What tactics can remote workers use to maintain their mental well-being?#WorkTrends

Find Maria Orozova on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Scott Thomas on Linkedin and Twitter

(Editor’s note: In August we’ll be announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

How To Make Work Matter

It’s the great challenge of leadership: how to inspire employees to bring their best selves to work and deliver consistent, stellar performance. It is accepted wisdom that happy (ok, I will even take content) employees are better performers. While there is much truth to this, it can lead to some common leadership mistakes.

Yes, the perks in the form of benefits, free food, a gym, casual days, game rooms, etc. are important tools in creating a positive culture that makes people feel appreciated and happier. But these sweeteners don’t necessarily translate into increased productivity and performance. 

Creating a Work Zone of Zen 

Think of your own life. When you’re fully engaged in what you’re doing, to the extent that you lose track of time and even of your surroundings, don’t you feel a sense of total engagement, stimulation, energy, satisfaction, and happiness? I know I do. It’s almost a Zen place, the zone, and when I’m there I almost always perform a little bit better than other zones. Nothing – and I mean nothing – beats that feeling of a job well done. It gives our career life meaning in a profound way.

So how do leaders and employees make the work matter?

5 Steps to Make Work Matter: 

  1. Build a community of support.It’s tough to focus, which is essential for getting into the Zen zone, when you don’t feel that you’re in a supportive culture that allows you to ignore distractions, i.e. anything that pulls focus away from the work. Employees who feel a sense of community in the workplace, who know that their interests are covered, that the distractions will be handled by their colleagues, can slip into a cocoon of concentration that leads directly to the zone.
  2. Link the work to the mission.Nothing is more demoralizing to an employee than the feeling that what they’re doing isn’t really adding much value. Make sure people know how important their contribution is. Be clear and explicit. And this applies to people at all levels in the organization. People will feel pride in their work if they understand its importance to the whole enterprise. This will boost focus and facilitate “zoning” in. 
  3. Give people space.This means both literal space and figurative space. Yes, wildly decorated cubicles can be fun, but they can also be concentration killers. What works at Zappos may not work at your organization. Quiet can be a beautiful, inspiring thing. To the greatest extent possible, create a workspace that accommodates people’s spatial needs. As for figurative, don’t be a helicopter leader – no hovering! It’s hard to get into the zone when someone is breathing down your neck. Trust your people, we’re all grownups here. Within the needs of the project, give them free rein and let them run with it.
  4. Watch the workload. If people have too much work, they stress out and shut down. They start to attack it mechanically, desperate to get the load down to a manageable size. This is a zone killer. On the other hand, make sure people have an engaging project. It’s so depressing to see employees killing time in random ways. Hours socializing, playing video games, surfing the web, organizing excursions, etc. do not lead to the zone.
  5. Play to people’s passions.It’s much easier to be fully engaged and in the zone when you’re working on something that excites you, intellectually and emotionally. Obviously, not every project can thrill us. But to the greatest extent possible, help people connect what they’re doing to what they care about. This gives work real meaning.

Work Will Matter, But Not Forced

Happiness is a loaded word in our culture, and in our workplace cultures. It’s important to keep in mind that we all have our own personal definition of happiness. But I firmly believe that a fulfilling career is a direct result of doing work that matters – that engages us mind, heart, and soul. Leaders can’t force employees into the zone, but they can certainly facilitate and nurture the process and make this more of a reality by making decisions that keep this in mind. And for employees – it’s a satisfying challenge if you decide to make it matter.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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Considering Team Chemistry: Would You Hire Stephen Colbert?

To many, Stephen Colbert is an American icon: A comedian with a sharp, sardonic wit who has had a huge impact on our culture.

You may find Colbert hilariously entertaining. But would you hire him?

At first glance, this may seem to be a great idea–everyone loves a funny guy, right? Well, to a point. Have you ever worked with a funny person who just can’t stop making jokes, even when you’re trying to get work done? What would a personality as big as Colbert’s do to your work culture?

Hiring managers and HR professionals are starting to take these questions into consideration, especially with the growing awareness of the impact that work culture and employee engagement have on an organization’s productivity and bottom line.

Who IS Stephen Colbert?

Julie Raynor Gross, master practitioner of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, analyzed Colbert’s personality on The Late Show–an assessment of his responses to 144 questions that indicate his preferences on four different scales:

  • Extraversion (E) or introversion (I)
  • Thinking (T) or feeling (F)
  • Sensing (S) or intuition (N)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

Naturally, there’s humor in the segment, but Gross also explains the core values of the assessment and what they mean, and she makes it clear that there is no single, “best” personality. “The best personality is actually the personality that you were meant to have, your innate personality,” she said. “Believe it or not, people want to see the real you.”

Colbert’s results showed him to be INFP (introversion, intuition, feeling, perceiving). People who are INFP, Gross explained, are “typically the most brilliant, creative, intellectual minds,” and they include some heavy hitters, including William Shakespeare, Tim Burton, and Johnny Depp. The downside to being an INFP personality? They can sometimes be seen as cold or not easy to warm up to.

In the workplace, understanding a new hire’s personality is important because it can potentially have an impact on factors like team dynamics, communication, and work style.

How Understanding Personality Types is Pivotal for Hiring Managers

Colbert’s personality analysis results may come as a surprise. It’s probably only natural that most would consider someone with a “big” personality and who regularly performs in front of large audiences to be a natural extrovert. That Colbert’s personality type is actually introverted illustrates what personality assessments can reveal: Judging someone’s personality based solely on how they “perform” during a job interview could be a mistake.

Including personality assessments as part of the hiring process can help you pay attention to the most important issues during interviews. The results can also support team building; when managers and other employees understand each other on a deeper level, communication becomes easier. Combined with talent analytics, personality analyses can help you identify candidates who are the best fit, build teams based on complementary personality types, build a solid and positive work culture by understanding team dynamics, and zero in on the personality types that best suit specific roles.

But Don’t Rely Solely on Personality Assessments, Either

As much I’m a big advocate for using data and analytics wisely, the hiring process is still about finding the right human being for your work culture. You still have to trust your gut and approach the hiring process more as an art than a science.

Make sure that before adopting a personality assessment as part of your interviewing processes, spend some time looking for the right company to provide that assessment. There is no government regulation in this business sector, so choosing established companies offering personality assessments – like the Myers-Briggs indicator or the Caliper Profile or the Kolbe Assessment – is important.

Make sure to remember that personality assessments should be only a part of your processes – and they certainly aren’t the Holy Grail of decision-making when it comes to talent recruitment. In fact, many are wary of the use of personality assessments in the interview process, and that’s definitely worth considering. Whitney Martin outlined some relevant considerations for this research. “They can provide tremendous value for self-discovery, team building, coaching, enhancing communication, and numerous other developmental applications,” she said, referring specifically to the four quadrant DiSC personality testing. “But due to limited predictive validity, low test-retest reliability, lack of norming and an internal consistency (lie detector) measure, etc., they are not ideal for use in hiring.”

In the End, It’s About Nurturing Work Culture

I started the post asking whether you’d hire Stephen Colbert–a hypothetical that you and I will likely never face. I’m using Colbert and his tremendous personality to make a point: All of the individual personalities at your workplace impact work culture, and the most charming interviewee is not necessarily always the best match. As a recruiter, it is important to look beyond hard skills and consider the individual personalities of each candidate, because it matters. A lot.

Organizations and employees benefit when there is a good work culture groove. And it only takes one person who doesn’t fit into that groove to upset your entire workplace dynamic. By being cognizant of this issue, you will not only create a happier and more productive workplace, you’ll also save a lot of time and money. Most importantly, you’ll make your employees happier people.

Increasingly more business leaders understand how important individual employees and corporate culture as a whole are to the overall health of their organization. In today’s workforce, these are the leaders focused on success.

Image : BigStock

A version of this post was first published on Huffington Post 12/4/15