The Evolution of Work: Coworking

MP900433182The evolution of work has continued a fascinating process whereby the structure of work changes to meet the state of the external world. In a previous post, I have discussed the development of permalancers and slashers. These groups have grown significantly in recent years, partially in response to the ongoing challenges of economy and the job market. To work is to live — and the structure of that work has had to flex with the times. For many, working independently (or even remotely) has become the best and most viable option.

Freelancers have become a force in today’s world of work. (In the US alone, there are over 40 million independent workers.) Moreover, with less physical real estate an increasing number of employees work remotely while still affiliated with an organization than ever before. With the emergence of this larger “solo” presence, more and more of us are looking for innovative methods to stay productive while on our own. But, we are challenged to do so without the added social benefit of coworkers or colleagues by our side. The problems solo workers face can run deep — and the accompanying symptoms often fester undetected.

We are social beings after all, and loneliness can be a formidable challenge. As a psychologist, the thought of millions sitting alone in front of a computer monitor, challenges much of what I have learned about meaningful work. We are designed for interaction and collaboration — and to many freelancers this state of  “aloneness” can become untenable. Studies show that perceived loneliness can lead to multiple problems, including sleep disturbances and the inability to fight disease. People need people. Certainly as individuals, we may have a unique level of contact that works for us. However, most people benefit from some level of human interaction in their work life. We may not always require coworkers to help us become productive every day, but to have the option is often preferable.

For others the basic notion of working at home is the issue, where the myriad of distractions can break concentration, provide ample opportunities for procrastination and limit productivity. To make matters worse, these distractions are always present and available in a home setting. As a result, many find that a location specifically designated for work is the best option – increasing the opportunity for both focus and effectiveness.

Enter coworking

Coworking is a brilliant option. Personally, I find the founding principles of the movement inspiring. The tenets, which include openness, collaboration and a sense of community, are workplace attributes which individuals working on their own are  challenged to replicate within a home office. Of  key note, is that coworking is the product of evolution, and not a momentary blip. As described by Anna Thomas, former Chief Happiness Officer at Loosecubes, “People talk about coworking as a hot trend, which inherently implies that it’s not sustainable. In fact, shared workspaces provide the opportunity for one to create a more sustainable (and potentially fulfilling) work lifestyle.”

Indeed, this movement has fulfilled real needs within the work life realm. As explained by Jenifer Ross, owner of W@tercooler, a coworking space located in Tarrytown, New York, “The coworking environment offers a sense of community and camaraderie, shared beyond industry specific backgrounds.” Moreover, to some the experience can be described as a “Cheers” of office spaces – a place to call their own, connect and combat that feeling of “office homelessness”.

What you gain

Coworking spaces provide the basics, as well as some of the social-emotional benefits of an office community. Office essentials such as access to conference rooms, copy/fax capabilities and locked storage are often provided. But, other perks such as sponsored events like hackathons, pop-up shops for entrepreneurs and networking events really seem to make these spaces feel like home.

A developing segment of co-working spaces, such as Chicago’s  Enerspace, have cleverly combined other components that support or enhance work life. The brain child of University of Chicago’s Booth School alum Jamie Russo, Enerspace addresses key heath and wellness initiatives that might affect work life. With scheduled classes in meditation, an on-site fitness studio and a full-service kitchen – heath, wellness and work, combine in one unique space.

Old problems could still emerge

Of course, some of the problems you experienced when working at home, could still occur in another workspace. (Who could forget the classic TedX talk about offices?) As with any work environment, distractions do exist and problems such as interruptions, could still befall your time in a coworking space. Specific personal productivity issues, not impacted by a work space, must be addressed as well. For example, if you had a tendency to procrastinate at home, you may see the same issue reemerge. Be sure to utilize the tactics and routines that help you remain focused and on track.

I encourage you to visit the Coworking Wiki page for more information about coworking. Also consult sites such as LiquidSpace and OpenDesks, to help you book that space.

One last note: If you find that perfect place — be sure to share your good fortune with others.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Poor Review? Four Ideas to Get Back on Track

Experiencing a poor performance review can be an unnerving experience – but you can find a way to move forward. Try to control your negative feelings and concentrate on a plan for the future. Give yourself some time to mourn the event, but then make the commitment to look ahead.

Get a complete view of your performance

Gaining a well-rounded view of who you are as a performer is the first step – and information is power. If your organization doesn’t use a 360 degree appraisal format, obtain additional information on your own. If you have a peer you can trust, ask for their honest perception on how you are doing and access your “invisible resume”. (For those who have a role similar to yours, also inquire about the strategies they utilize to attack the tasks you find challenging). Also consider gathering feedback from those who depend on you on a daily basis, as they can also offer a unique vantage point concerning your performance.  Are you meeting their expectations? Find out. (You can read more about that here).

Put your own plan in motion

Don’t be a passive bystander if you feel that your job may be in trouble.  Set up a follow-up session with your supervisor to discuss specific performance improvement strategies. Be your own training and development advocate and do your homework on programs that might help your performance. Bring along any information you have collected to the session. If you have a good candidate, discuss an individual who could serve as your mentor going forward. (Read more about mentoring here).

Set up a feedback system that works

While meeting with your supervisor discuss regular performance feedback. We know that feedback which occurs once a year is simply inadequate. But, you can’t always put the blame on your supervisor. If you need more feedback, ask for it. Negotiate with your supervisor to receive enough feedback for your needs and design a feedback plan which is mutually acceptable. Build more feedback into your work life (some pointers here) and set up a “personal feedback program” which gathers performance information from various sources on a regular basis.

Stay relevant

Become knowledgeable as to how organizational goals might impact your job in the future. For example, learn about planned changes in service or product lines and how your role might support those endeavors.  Stay on track and obtain company  information that will not only help you stay on track personally, but make a positive organizational impact as well.

We all hit plateaus in our careers – but what we make of those obstacles is what really defines our work lives.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

When It’s Your Job to Present Bad News

fear4Many of us deal with numbers for a living — and this role poses unique challenges. As a corporate researcher, I’ve had the responsibility of analyzing customer/employee opinions and developing meaningful explanations. Sometimes, I would crunch a data set that would put me in quite a stressful predicament — as an explanation did not exist that would make the results more palatable. My heart would actually begin to race, as I saw the initial tabulations. There were big problems to address —  and I dreaded that I would be the one to initially deliver the news.

Strategy is key
Psychology can play a major role in these situations. Personally, it wasn’t the actual numbers that unnerved me — it was the uncomfortable “push back” that I anticipated when presenting the findings. I realized that someone in the audience would likely want to “kill, question, or at least injure the messenger” (which just happened to be me). I was fully aware, that the fallout from the data could hit like a hailstorm, if I didn’t properly map out a communication path.

Prepare for panic mode
Unfavorable numbers can throw any group into emotional chaos — so be prepared to lead the group to a safer ground. When presenting unfavorable results, many can quickly become very uncomfortable. (Often, you can almost feel the tension building in the room).  Key here, is keeping the group calm and and building on the information presented.  “I let my audience know that a rear view mirror is small for a reason.” says Marianne Rose Hines, Senior VP of Sales at Byram Heath. “Your windshield is larger, as it is a view of what lies ahead. If you focus too much upon the rear view, you can actually put the organization in jeopardy.”

Numbers are a snapshot in time as to where you stand. But, the information is only as helpful as the strategy that follows. Encourage your group to focus on what can be done to positively impact the future — as panic can quickly become a large reservoir of wasted energy.

Here are a few other techniques to consider:

  • Craft your opening statements carefully. Prepare your audience for what is to come. This includes helping them put the results in perspective and take a balanced view of the implications.
  • Engage you audience. Avoid a developing “you” vs. “them” scenario — and reinforce your role as role as communicator. Remind the audience often, that you are playing on the same team.
  • Don’t sugar coat results. Be direct and attempt to stay on message. The numbers are simply the numbers —and  staying true to them is the first step in improving future outcomes.
  • Remind the audience that information is power. What we do not know can hurt us. Information on our radar — is information that can be acted upon. Point out that what the group doesn’t know, can become increasingly problematical as time goes on.
  • Keep the group forward focused. Crying over spilled milk never, ever helps — so attempt to get beyond the initial shock and move into “strategy mode”. Always attempt to keep the group moving forward. If someone becomes “stuck” in negative mode, try to re-direct their efforts.
  • Present solution “starters”. Provide information to help the group begin to solve the issues. Guide the group to the areas that can be impacted.

Finally, always offer to meet privately with members of the group to take a closer look at their specific situation. Many may require  time to process the data and weigh the implications. This gesture is often appreciated, and can lead to an open discussion of  potential solutions.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You also can connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Dealing with That Difficult Person at Work

 

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Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

It is a simple fact that just like family, you cannot choose your co-workers. It’s also likely that at some point, you will be forced to deal with a seemingly erratic or mean-spirited individual in the workplace. It’s difficult to prepare for this scenario. However, when it does occur, most of us are shocked, dismayed and at a complete loss for words. But take heart, you are not alone.

One co-worker that really gets the blood pressure going, is the individual who loves to discuss, dwell and highlight your mistakes. “Sorry that presentation wasn’t a total home run…”  they quip. Or after witnessing a bit of a criticism directed your way, they chime in to agree, “Yes, I was thinking that was a weakness of the plan.” Their timing is always perfectly awful. My all-time favorite, after a less than stellar showing — “Wow, are you upset with how that went?” (Take a guess, what do you think?)

Most of us aren’t able to react in the moment, as the interaction catches us completely off guard. (You silently kick yourself later for not responding.) But don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a common reaction to this subtle type of workplace bullying. You have to train yourself to respond effectively, and this takes a good deal of practice.

More than likely, the memory of the interaction will get stuck on replay — as you mull over the interaction and your lack of an effective response. This is completely normal. However, you cannot allow the individual gain access to your stores of self-worth and start a potentially negative internal script. Talk yourself through the situation with a calm clarity and put the interaction where it belongs — completely out of play.

Remember that the intention of the interaction was most likely to rattle you, so take control and starve the feedback loop.

Your first reaction might be to duck around corners to avoid your offender. To the contrary, you must take the attitude that you can handle any situation that comes your way. Remember the goal should be to end the negative behavior and retain your dignity, not to sling another insult in return.

Accept that you cannot change this person, only how you digest and respond to their anti-social behavior.

Above all, you need a method to deal with the madness. Try to take control and master the situation.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Don’t feel the need to defend yourself. These individuals are not the ultimate judge of your work. When all is said and done, only your supervisor’s opinion and your own assessment truly matter.
  • Limit the “payoff” of their negative behavior. Stay calm. Without the anticipated reaction from you (to be thrown off-kilter) the motivation to converse about your work is greatly reduced. As a result, the possibility of a repeat performance is lowered.
  • Role play for the next time around. You’ll likely have another opportunity to set things on a better course. You can alter the dynamic with a new internal script. Re-play the scenario in your mind, but this time respond diplomatically to the comment. If you are armed with some quick responses — you can approach a similar situation with a bit more confidence

Some suggested responses:

  • “I am so glad you’ve pointed that out — I’ll be sure to consider it.”
  • “It wasn’t perfection. But, I’m more than OK with how things went.”
  • “Is that how you saw it? I am actually satisfied with the outcome.”
  • “Live and learn.”
  •  My personal favorite: “Gee, (fill in the blank), I hadn’t looked at things that way. But, thanks so much for your concern.”

The next time a co-worker shows an unhealthy interest in your blunders — take a moment to collect yourself. Then remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Organizational Psychologist, coach and speaker. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Just in Case: How to Handle a Less Than Fantastic Performance Review

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Hopefully, your performance review will go remarkably well. But just in case, let’s discuss strategies to help you move through the process if things become somewhat complicated.

Don’t Panic

A less than stellar review —like any form of rejection is extremely unsettling. Make an attempt to get a hold of your emotions, handle the pressure and put the brakes on negative thoughts – at least for the time being. While phrases like “I’m going to be fired” or “I have absolutely no future here” may begin run through your head – try not to jump off that proverbial cliff.  Remind yourself that nearly everyone will have a less than glowing performance review at one time or another. They got through it – and so will you.

Extract the Positive

Admittedly, extracting the positive side of the coin can be quite difficult in the midst of  a review – but it is a skill that will serve you well over time. It may seem that the notion of “constructive criticism” is simply an oxymoron – but, we need people to tell us like it is. If you can manage to keep a cool head, at least you can leave with information that will help impact future performance and put you back in the driver’s seat.  Try to separate your feelings from the information presented and try to apply the information – even the negative bits – constructively.

Get Specific and Get Back on Track

If there is one thing to do in the event of a negative review, it is to ask the following question: “Will you please tell me exactly where my performance has gone off track?” You must leave the review knowing where the problem lies. Was it a specific project? Did you miss a deadline? An important metric? Is the problem interpersonal? Information is power – seize the moment.

Discuss Performance Goals

Was there a specific performance goal where you were falling short?  Now is the time to clear up all issues related to goals of your position. Is there a roadblock to achieving your set goals? If you have any doubts concerning the course set for you, voice your concerns and hammer out an understanding before you attempt to move forward.

Get Tough and Discuss Your Weaknesses

It is challenging, but talk about specific weaknesses and how those areas might affect your future. If a specific weakness is a deal breaker, discuss opportunities to improve your skills. Ask for the help you need to set things right. This could include training (internal & external) and mentoring opportunities available through your organization.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist teaches work survival strategies to organizations and individuals nationwide. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Even More About Mentors

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Much has been said about mentoring, since an early discussion of the construct in the Harvard Business Review. Since that time — volumes have been written — and the topic has been examined and reexamined, from various vantage points. This has included the functions of mentoring (career-related vs. psycho-social support), intended outcomes (skill attainment, compensation, promotions) and its impact upon work life, in general (job satisfaction, retention).

Mentoring is by no means a new concept — although it remains one of the most powerful workplace constructs. If you consider the term for a moment (think of Socrates), you’ll discover that mentoring has existed for ages. Because of the sheer power of the mentoring relationship, mentoring will continue to evolve with changes in both organizational culture and technology. Of course, the basic concept of mentoring is simple and brilliant — you spend time with someone who possessed great knowledge or experience about a specific subject  — you observe, reflect and absorb information that enhances your work life.

There has been evidence that the process may work a bit better for men than women. But whether we are discussing men or women, problems with mentoring may arise because some basic tenets are not followed. Other problems can arise because we are not utilizing newer, more creative applications of the process.

Here are some guidelines to help power the process:

  • Are you seeking a mentor, a sponsor (a form of mentorship) or both? Where a mentor may help with a skill set or knowledge base — a sponsor might focus on moving you through the organization, helping you to secure challenging assignments or enhance your visibility.
  • Mentoring relationships must be mutual, not assigned. The matching process should be left to ultimately to choice — where the mentor and mentee agree to work together. If possible, consider more than one potential mentor to ensure there is potential for a real bond. In an ideal world, formal programs would allow mentees the opportunity to meet a number of possible matches before a choice is made.
  • Define the goals of the relationship. If you feel it is imperative to enter into a mentoring relationship, you should outline a clear picture as to what you really require and where you’d like to go.  Set specific long and short-term goals with your mentor or sponsor. Do you want to master a specific skill or knowledge base? Are you seeking increased visibility? Have the “goals” discussion early and often.
  • Think outside of the box when choosing a mentor. There has been an interesting suggestion to convene a “Board of Directors” for your career — a group that would not be entirely left behind if you should change organizations. So, you would not only seek an internal mentor or sponsor, but a group of external experts to help guide you as well. Moreover, don’t rule out less established or younger employees as potential mentors. If an individual is an expert in an area, actively consider them a mentor candidate.
  • Be open. Don’t subscribe to the notion that “dissenting opinions are not allowed”. Strive to embrace constructive criticism (some tips for that here). This can be a challenge, but remember you are in the relationship to learn. What you don’t know can hurt your career — so be open to whatever honest feedback comes your way.
  • Be respectful. However, don’t trade things running smoothly at the cost of a productive relationship. Ask for what you need and “rock the boat” just a bit if necessary. Be diplomatic, and voice your concerns if you find that the relationship has reached an impasse.

All in all, mentoring should be a positive process, however things can go wrong. If you have a concern that the dynamic is less than stellar — you may need to explore moving on.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She serves as an adviser at MentorCloud. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.