Working remotely or pretending to work?

Imagine this. You’re sitting in Amsterdam. Your direct co-workers are based in Singapore, South Africa, China, England and the U.S. Yet, somehow, you manage to be communicative, efficient, cohesive and highly productive as a team. Before I found myself in a situation where I was a remote worker for some years, I viewed remote working cynically, convinced that “working from home” and “pretending to work” were one and the same thing. I swiftly realized that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here’s what I learned:

– As with any successful long distance relationship, you have no choice but to communicate, and communicate often. There are no casual coffee chats, come-over-to-my-desk-and-talk opportunities or after-work “borrels”. Focused conference calls/video conferencing become second nature.

– You have to present your efforts regularly as that’s the only way to make others aware of them. Brush up on those presentation skills and be prepared to report across all levels of the organization.

– You work harder on deliverables because that’s all there is as opposed to “being seen” to demonstrate value.

– Professional and personal lines blur as work-life balance takes a different meaning. You may find yourself scheduling conference calls over dinner especially if you’re working in different time zones, but if you plan well you might balance it out by getting a workout in the afternoon.

– You learn to discipline yourself, challenge yourself and progress yourself on your own merit. There are no peers or managers you can build an in-person rapport with.

Once you go remote, you can’t go back. It can be lonely at times but the flexibility that comes with it, be it working in a space you designed to suit you (my glass desk with its copper legs and the desktop globe perched on top bring me much joy) or eating lunch at home, is priceless. Love it or hate it, look around you – it is increasingly the present and most certainly the future. Let’s get with the program!

What’s fitness got to do with it?

I imagine most if not all of us reading this spend a significant portion of our daily lives seated, facing a screen, going without fresh air for numerous hours at a time. We complain about gaining pounds, lethargy and dwell on the past when we were fitter, healthier, did the activities that brought us joy and generally moved more. A lot of us reminisce about the days when we were free of the responsibilities of parenting and were members of sports clubs. Being an avid observer and keen listener, I deciphered patterns in behavior around me and asked myself – how can we a strike a balance to get fitter in the parameters of our professional and personal lives?

Scenario 1: You work from home

Congratulations! You’re in a very luxurious position and shouldn’t take it for granted. You may even be able to choose your hours if you’re in an international team and the boss approves. Even if not, you gain extra hours every day from omitting commute time. There is absolutely no excuse not to factor in an early morning run or yoga session or a spinning class over lunch. Be creative with your time but don’t let work suffer. It’s not one at the expense of the other.

Scenario 2: You are office based

Congratulations! You have a job. As for fitness, your options are certainly limited, but I believe where there’s a will there’s a way. Can you discipline yourself to work out at 7am and still make it to work on time? Does your employer have a gym (with showers!) where you can squeeze in a sprint workout during lunch? Is there a fitness studio near work so you can grab a workout en route home? I myself have found the journey to be the deciding factor. Is it en route work/home? Can you make the journey to and from the gym a little easier for yourself?

Scenario 3: You have family responsibilities

I once had a colleague who had the discipline of an athlete. She had two young boys and an extremely demanding job that included business travel. We shared a bus to work in the mornings and she would hop out mid-way to drop off her kids to school. Some evenings, she worked out. I was always amazed how she managed to do this. Her approach? She took her boys to karate class with her. While she worked out, the boys waited. When it was their class, she waited. After that they went home together. It meant bed time was a little later, but they made it work and kudos to her for that!

Scenario 4: Your job demands travel

When I was an Events Manager in Amsterdam, I was on the road a lot. At the time, I was still in procrastination phase and never once used the gym of any hotel I stayed at. Travelling with another company during my London days, I watched another colleague who traveled a lot more frequently than I did go through a complete physical fitness transformation. He hit the treadmill every morning without fail followed by a healthy breakfast. I regret not having the same discipline at the time.

Scenario 5: You treasure weekends

Weekends. Two short days to sort out our lives. Family. Friends. Chores. Rest. Travel. Sleep. Am I really about to suggest that you work out in these precious days? Yep. Do it. You’re investing in yourself. It needn’t be the gym. Go for a long walk instead. Make it an activity. Reward yourself with a smoothie at your favorite café after. It will give you more energy in the week to follow and prepare your mind and body.

Scenario 6: Your health speaks

Our health isn’t always up to par. I have to admit this one plays on my mind more so now than it did in my 20’s. A combination of losing elders, watching those older than me suffer from ailments, or my own health demons creeping their head around now and again has made me acutely aware of the fact that we won’t have health forever, and without health none of the other stuff matters – not the job title, not the next big promotion, not the travel plans, nothing. Find what works best for you. Listen to your body. Health first.

I haven’t reached nutritional nirvana yet. Once I do I promise to blog about it. Watch this space.

What motivates you?

The next promotion, the next job title, the next challenge, making impact, helping others. What motivates you every day? How do you stay motivated after reaching the goal you set for yourself aeons ago or even earlier this year?

My theory is that if you either do what you love or what you’re really good at (the two needn’t be mutually exclusive), that translates into tangible and lasting motivation. I spoke to various professionals who I respect and whose achievements make me feel proudly. They’re at the top of their game and I wanted to know exactly what motivates them to give their 100%.

MOTIVATION TO ME IS … 

“Knowing that you can use your experiences to help others see their situation differently and turn what might have been seen as mission impossible into mission doable”Rashik Parmar, Technical Executive Europe at IBM.

Seeing those succeed who I have mentored or guided gives me the most satisfaction – those people have also remained part of my network and whilst reciprocation is never expected, it always occurs” – David Salmon, Head of Business Improvement at Lloyd’s Register.

“We stubbornly believe that simple loving care, embracing nature and authenticity can help us find peace in an increasingly complex and image driven society. We believe this is infectious and we like to infect as many people as possible and allow the critical mass of positive energy bring about change in the world”Aleid Warmelink and Doby van de Berg, Co-founders at Sharanam Retreats Majorca.

“To know that I’ve had a positive impact on the world, improved lives, and had fun along the way”Kartik Kumar, Co-founder and CEO of satsearch.co.

“Fear of failure. I believe that a big part of success in life is luck/circumstances and if you are given a shot to succeed, then you ought to take it and give it your all. Also, I am a big believer in hard work and meritocracy. If I work hard, I’ll get there. That’s not always a given in life, so wherever the principle holds, I go hard. I also don’t think I deserve anything just like that. I think you need to work for everything you get” – Fariza Kadieva, Vice President at Lazard, London.

“What motivates me are people, what motivates me more are clever and intuitive people and what motivates me the most are clever and intuitive people who are nice. I draw inspiration from people and I have learned that it’s a myth that nice people can’t get things done. If I can be successful , and help to make others successful, and be nice whilst doing it, that to me is motivating”Jonathon Dillon, Commercial Director North Europe at DNV GL.

“Would you consider the sight of this to be enough of a motivating factor in your job?” – Paul Mooney, GCP Auditor and Clinical QA Consultant at SMS Oncology.

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What motivates you

The power of networking

I remember my surprise when I learned that an astonishing 70% of jobs in The Netherlands are a direct result of networking.

Early in my career, a very charming and curious colleague approached me repeatedly with great interest in a project I had been shortlisted for. Taking people at face value, I was completely transparent in our conversations. Occasionally, I’d look up from my laptop to find him engaging in useless banter with the project manager. Before I could put two and two together, the project manager had placed him on the project and the colleague in question wasn’t so curious anymore.

So what is this magical concept of networking that we’re all supposed to be doing and expected to be naturally gifted at? The good news is that networking can be an acquired skill. Over the years, I have observed some key behaviors in individuals who have managed to ace the networking game.

NETWORKING 101

Networkers know how to carry a conversation
They are subject matter experts and/or demonstrate curiosity in their interactions

Networkers ask a lot of questions
They are not worried about interfering or appearing nosy. Knowledge = power

Networkers are great at their job and smooth in their delivery
Observe them and take pointers

Networkers tend to have or display positive dispositions
Positivity is contagious and everyone wants to keep positive energy close

Networkers always make time for after-work drinks
Joining your work “borrel” on a Friday can be an investment in your professional network. Try not to see it as time away from a personal life

Networkers love frequent coffee breaks
Remember that favorites are often made at the coffee machine. Also remember to always let your work speak for itself first

Of course, there’s more to networking than coffee breaks. Check out Top 9 benefits of business networking.

Conference calls 101

Remember this video?

Having worked in international teams for the most part of my career, I couldn’t have done my job(s) justice without conference calls. While conference calls still cannot substitute good old fashioned face-to-face meetings starting with a handshake, they go a long way. But what happens when they start to make everyone less productive?

10 do’s and don’t’s of conference calls

  1. Time management: Try to respect everyone’s time especially when you’re in different time zones when scheduling calls
  2. Invite only necessary colleagues – identify critical stakeholders on a given project
  3. Send out an agenda prior to the call so everyone knows what to expect and is cognizant of the topics to be covered vis-a-vis the allocated time
  4. Your agenda should have a clear objective and intended outcome
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. We can hear your dog/baby/traffic/colleagues
  6. Speak up. If you tend to muffle or speak fast, learn to enunciate
  7. Stay on topic. If you find yourself or someone else going off on a tangent, agree to take the conversation offline
  8. If it’s a video conference, try to use video. The absence of video could give the impression that you’re not brave enough to face the hard questions
  9. Give a heads up to the call organizer if you need to drop off
  10. Have a follow up plan e.g. an email with meeting notes outlining next steps

Good luck!

Passion projects – what’s in it for you?

Passion projects are what I call adult hobbies. No, not that. I’m referring to investing your time and energy in projects that broaden your horizon, enrich your mind and nurture your soul. Passion projects allow you to focus on outcomes that don’t include performance reviews. Because your efforts aren’t being evaluated on pre-established KPI’s or being monetary or competitively incentivized, the drive will inevitably come from another stream of consciousness.

Passion projects can also be an opportunity to give back. For me, this blog where I share my experiences in the hope that they can benefit someone else, is a passion project. Being a contributor of Circle Women is a passion project as female empowerment is a subject I’m close to. Outdoor boot camp is another passion project – well, maybe that one’s a necessity but I’m passionate about it.

I have learned that the biggest growth comes from the school of life and passion projects allow me to decide which courses I want to be a part of. Rather than spending those free hours on Netflix or procrastinating about your to-do list, consider doing some soul searching to realize what drives you and turn that into a passion project. It will give you energy, widen your personal (and professional) network and maybe even make an unforeseeable contribution to society.

Curious about Circle Women? Get up to speed here.

What you didn’t know about Event Management

You wear many caps when you are in the event management space. As an Event Manager, you are the ultimate stage master, piecing together a complex, moving puzzle of teams with unique needs, locations and logistics. What “Event Manager” job descriptions won’t necessarily advertise is that you will also be a combination of:-

  • Business Continuity Manager
  • Communication Guru
  • Confidante
  • Executive Right Hand
  • Customers’ Best Friend
  • Content Specialist
  • Sales Support
  • Budget Owner
  • Project Manager
  • Caterer
  • Courier
  • Tour Guide
  • Airport Guide
  • Party Planner
  • Taxi Fare Person
  • Baby[Adult]sitter
  • Sleep, what’s that?

If any of the above are daunting or not something you aspire to do as a bi-product of being a meticulous event manager, you may want to consider another career path. If, on the other hand, you want to challenge your organizational and leadership skills, the sky’s the limit in the life of an event extraordinaire.