Thursday, 28 February 2013

Telecommuting: Is Banning it a Terrible Idea?

In light of the alleged ban of telecommuting by Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, I took the opportunity to address some key points on the issue. I read the memo and despite the media coverage, there was no mention of a “ban.” Employees were “asked” to come to work physical locations in the interest of fostering a more collaborative environment … and then the world exploded.

As someone who has worked on both the administration of a telecommuting policy, and telecommuted myself, the media coverage of this issue struck a chord with me.  First, let’s take a look at a few of the issues.

Granting your employees the ability to work from home gives them the flexibility to balance their personal lives and their work. This type of flexibility really lets your employees know you appreciate that they can benefit from not having to be in the office all day. Nothing says work-life balance like being able to take a conference call on the toilet, while there’s a roast in the oven. Employees who have enjoyed this privilege up until now will be just as outraged and offended as if their pensions had been rolled back.

Legal Obligations
Employers are required to provide telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation for disabled employees. An all-out ban would be completely illegal. The interesting component to this will be how Yahoo addresses employees who refuse to come back to the office on a full time basis. Do they have a clause in their contract that requires an employee to be in the physical office when asked, and does it cover the frequency with which they are now being asked to be present? Could an employee argue that the terms of their employment included the assumption that they would have telecommuting privileges?

A remote workforce obviously reduces overhead for the company, but also reduces the cost to the employee. This includes daycare, transportation, parking and more. This is going to be another bone of contention as employees start to experience increased work-related costs as a result of this new initiative. It’s not good for Mayer’s PR that she’s increasing daycare costs for some of her employees after building a nursery onto her office. However, she paid for that nursery with her own money, and rich people have babies differently than the rest of us.

The whole purpose of the change in Yahoo’s telecommuting perspective is to foster innovation within the company (I used the term perspective, because there doesn’t appear to be any changes to a policy anywhere in the memo). There are many strategies and tools companies can use to encourage employees to communicate with their peers remotely, but honestly nothing really beats living with your co-workers for 8 hours per day. You never accidentally bump into anyone at your home office, and you rarely interact with anyone you don’t work with directly. Being physically present in the office creates a lot more opportunity to interact with co-workers on a more personal level.

Example: Employee A bumps into you in the hallway and complains about project X, and you (as an outsider) can provide input that may different from other employees assigned to the project.

Yahoo is really just going to have to gauge the feedback from employees to determine how this will play out. The media backlash is really coming from people talking about efficiency, and it WAS implied that employees cannot be as efficient from home, which contradicts a whole lot of recent research. Many are shocked that this reduction in flexibility is coming from a working mom…she went to work two weeks after childbirth…why would you think she would sympathize with someone who doesn’t want to drive to work in the morning? 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Personal Marketing: The New Job Search

If you’ve been unemployed recently, you’ll notice that the job hunt has changed drastically from what it used to be. You used to submit applications to job postings, sit home and wait for someone to call you for an interview. People don’t do this anymore. We’re still in a recession and unemployment rates are still high. Because of this, it’s likely that someone more qualified than you had applied to these open competitions anyway. If you’re sitting home waiting for the standard process to work, you’re going to be sitting there for a long time.

I've spoken at length about how to use social media to network and get yourself noticed outside the traditional channels. In addition to doing this, you need something about you that stands out from the other candidates, and then you need to effectively convey that to potential employers. You basically need a personal marketing plan.

1. Describe Your Dream Job

First you need to identify what you want to be doing.
  • What are the skills someone doing that job needs to have?
  • What are that person’s daily tasks?
  • What behavioural competencies are required for this position?
  • What type of experience does that person need?
  • What does this person’s career path look like?

You should be able to answer most of these questions before even starting to think about applying. Then you need to identify the gaps between you and the ideal candidate for this position. Before applying for this position, you may need to upgrade some skills or gain some experience. Don’t sit there defeated saying “I can’t get experience because no one will hire me.” There are internship opportunities or not-for-profits, and small businesses who would gladly accept a volunteer to do whatever it is you do. Then when you introduce yourself, you can replace the word “unemployed bum” with “freelancer” or “professional consultant” even if you’re not getting paid.

2. Identify Your Key Differentiators
  • What is unique about you?
  • Why do you stand out from the other candidates?
  • Do you have accomplishments that other candidates may not have (i.e. awards, publications, relevant memberships, etc.)?

Get to know your own personality. Ask some friends how they would describe you. You need recruiters to look at your resume and online profiles, and really feel like they know you. Unless you’re just a miserable person… then hide your personality at all costs.

3. Build Your Brand

Once you’ve done this, you need to be able to describe yourself as the ideal candidate. Seamlessly link your description of yourself to the description of the ideal candidate. When you introduce yourself to people, they will often ask what you do. You need a brief description of yourself that highlights your key differentiators. You should also tailor it to your audience. There may be more than one career path to your ideal job, or more than one job that interests you. Know your audience, and make sure you’re telling them what they want to hear from you. Companies wouldn’t use the same marketing collateral across all clients. They tailor it to highlight the products or services most valued by different target markets. You should do the same for your target companies.  

4. Execute

Once you’ve created the outline of your candidate brand, update all of your social networking sites well as your resume, business card, etc. to reflect this brand. Then you can start to develop an application process. Much like a sales process, you’re going to be generating leads and identifying the most effective methods of reaching out to those companies, that is consistent with your personal brand. I have an entire series of “How To” posts about using social networking for the job hunt called “Dude Where’s My Job?” Take a look back through for more tips on interacting with these companies online.

Sitting at home, filling out applications and applying to open ads is old-school. That job search model is not productive in this type of economy, so why would you sit home and do the same thing over and over again with no results? Stand out and be productive.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Job Hunt Blues

People often tell you that looking for work is a full time job. Those people are correct. It is actually the WORST job ever because you don’t get paid and the more you have do it, the worse you feel about yourself. Like a regular job, you need a work-life balance. This is actually more important than it is in a regular job, because companies need to see you at your best. If you’re too eager, or mopey, or tired your chances of success decrease slightly. Sitting at home doing the same thing over and over again with little or no success really demotivates a lot of people and they start complaining about everything, including the lack of employment in their respective areas. This is not attractive to any prospective employer.

Lucky for you, I’ve put together one of my famous numbered lists to solve all your problems.

1.       Wake Up at an Appropriate Time

It’s really easy when you don’t have a place to be, to sleep in, watch cartoons and live the sedentary life. You still have to put in the hours to be an effective job seeker. Also, interviews are always during work hours, so you’ll most likely need to be alert for a morning interview. It’s hard to do that at a 9am interview if you’re used to waking up at noon.

2.       Plan a Full Workday

It’s really easy to get sidetracked when you don’t have a plan. Create a job hunting strategy and map out all of the tasks involved.  You know when you are the most effective, so you can plan the heavy stuff for those times. You need to take into consideration the time it takes to fill out applications, write cover letters and tailor your resume. Make sure you include time to use social networking for job hunting purposes, and attend physical networking events as well. A former employer of mine once told me not to work on any one task for more than two hours at a time. He says after this time, you become less interested and less efficient. Change it up every now and then.

3.       Take Breaks

The reason steps 1 and 2 are important is that if you do them properly, you won’t feel guilty about taking regularly scheduled breaks. Your employer is required to give you a 15 minute break every four hours and 30 minutes for lunch on a full shift. If he’s not a douchebag, he gives you a full hour. Take those breaks. They are government mandated for a reason. Don’t be your own douchebag boss.

4.       Don’t Forget About Your Hobbies/Personal Life

If you are a regular gym-goer, now is not the time to stop. You should also take this opportunity to start eating healthier. Continue to go out and see people on a regular basis. Doing stuff from a computer at your kitchen table and then moving to the couch at 5pm, and then to bed and back to the table in the morning can make you a little crazy. The networking events you attend won’t be enough. Plan things with your friends and go out at night. Be a regular person even though you don’t have a job…just do it cheaply cause you’re poor.

When you neglect to properly plan and execute your job hunting strategy, you start to feel guilty about how little you’ve done. Then you don’t take time for yourself. This results in you being less effective. It’s a vicious cycle that ultimately results in a pint of ice-cream, a lot of crying and still no jobs. The worst thing you can do for yourself at this juncture is take away the things that make you sane. Also, if you have good friends, they will pay for things because they feel sorry for you. You won’t get this kind of treatment again until someone you love dies (true story).

P.S. These strategies can also be applied to people who work from home or for themselves.