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Remote Career Development: Bobbie Racette Of Virtual Gurus On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

Work-life balance might worsen in some cases, for those who find it challenging to draw a clear line between work life and home life.

Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaborating with others, and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bobbie Racette.

Bobbie Racette is the Founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus, a talent marketplace that leverages proprietary technology to match organizations and entrepreneurs with highly skilled Canadian and American fractional administrative workers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I was raised by my Indigenous mom and her life partner, my other mom, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. When I turned 18, I lived up to my nickname ‘Gypsy’ and traveled anywhere and everywhere, from living in orchards in the Okanagan Valley and picking fruit to traveling the UK for a few years to living in Mazatlán, Mexico. I chose to travel over school at the time. Years later, I went on to college to learn sign language, as my aspiration when I was younger was to be a music teacher for deaf children.

I moved to Montreal and ended up living there for about 9 years — a time which I absolutely loved. But I knew I needed to leave there and live closer to home as I (and my parents) were getting older.

I moved to Calgary and worked in Oil and Gas for a number of years. I lost my job during a downturn where many others were also laid off. My pivot was to become a freelancer, so I started contracting myself out as a virtual assistant.

It was then that I realized that there were many talent agencies claiming to provide quality talent, but the talent was sourced offshore, and in many cases, they were poorly paid. It was challenging for North Americans to make a decent living that way, given our higher cost of living, causing poor job satisfaction and high churn.

There was also a lack of opportunities for underrepresented folx, me included, to secure meaningful, fair paid work in general, and perhaps even more so in the freelance talent space. It was often difficult to get work, since there was a lot of bias.

I decided the only way to fix this was to create something myself, so I took up a part-time job working at a coffee shop to pay the bills while I launched Virtual Gurus. At the time, I only had a few hundred dollars to my name and needed to borrow money from my parents just to make rent.

My goal was, and always will be, to provide fair paid work to underrepresented folx.

And now Virtual Gurus is the largest freelancing Virtual Assistant platform in Canada.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I would have to say that my acceptance into the International Women’s Federation (IWF) Fellowship has been one of the most interesting experiences so far. Last year I was nominated by some lovely ladies at the IWF Chapter in Calgary, Alberta to represent Canada in the 2022 cohort. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing powerful women that were nominated to represent Canada. Being nominated beside them, but also being selected as Canada’s representative, was something I am so proud of.

This is a year-long program where 32 women are selected from countries like India, Nigeria, Canada, US to name a few — we attend INSEAD and Harvard for fast-track programs in leadership and business. We also have the opportunity to build a legacy project and my legacy project is a platform where I will give under-represented women a lift up by helping them with the tools and resources they need to find a job such as clothing, transportation, computer equipment etc.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started Virtual Gurus I thought because of my lack of experience that I wouldn’t be able to run the company so I posted a job on Kijiji for a CEO to take my idea and run with it — the only kicker was that I wouldn’t be able to pay them because, well… I had no money. It was still at the idea stage.

Surprisingly, I had a response. I met with a fellow from Edmonton (a city about three hours from me), had one phone call and decided ‘Yes, that’s the one.’ — so I hired him. Unfortunately, after eight months we realized it wasn’t working and parted ways.

It wasn’t funny at the time, but I look back at it now and can laugh at it. I truly didn’t believe in myself enough — if I was posting an ad for a CEO on Kijiji of all places and trusting a stranger to run my business when ultimately I am/was the best person for the job. Since then, I’ve learned to trust myself more and have really embraced the adage, “Hire slow, fire fast.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I get asked for advice a lot, especially from young Indigenous people who look up to me. And one of my favorite quotes that I say to them is, “Be Bold. Be Brave. Be you!”

Growing up with my mom and her life partner in a biracial family was tough. My mom being a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community and being a strong Indigenous Woman presented our family with barriers, and we’ve had to break through them. We are often told NO because of who we are and had very little support.

When I started Virtual Gurus I didn’t believe in myself because of what I’d been told, directly or indirectly, to think of myself. I felt that people would look at me differently and that people would never believe in me. I knew I needed to get over my fears and be bold. I needed to take back my power and be brave to run this business. And most importantly, I needed to be myself.

Be bold. Be Brave. Be you!

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

This is something I’ve kept top of mind from the beginning, and even more so during the pandemic. Because it’s not just being overworked that creates burnout; things like job satisfaction, teamwork and connecting to the corporate culture are just as important to help team members thrive.

We need to ensure that roles are manageable, and goals are achievable. We have to spend time assessing individual roles, as well as team and organizational structure to make sure we optimize and leverage each person’s abilities. When you’re growing as quickly as we are, this is an ongoing effort, since we’re adding new roles at a fast pace, and each new role changes the team dynamic.

It’s important to help every team member understand how they contribute to our success. That means taking the time to communicate how their role, efforts and contributions helps us succeed as an organization.

We also need to keep our team’s mental health top of mind. That means really listening to them; working to understand pain points; and actively engaging in continuous improvement. The environment has to promote physiological safety and support.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

From an employee perspective, there is the time and money saved on commuting — time which can then be shifted over to the “life” side of the work-life balance equation. Many people also find themselves more productive at home, away from the noise, walk-by traffic, and other distractions of a busy office. That’s both rewarding for the employee, and of course beneficial to the organization.

The flexibility of where to work is also appealing, whether that be a home office, coffee shop or even another geographic location. Sometimes flexibility extends to working hours as well. That might not be the case for all organizations, but it’s a key benefit for our virtual assistants.

The ability to set their own hours is one of the main reasons many of our assistants make the choice to work as a VA. And whether they’re employees or fractional workers, the feeling of having control over working hours and conditions can be really empowering, which can boost both satisfaction and productivity.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

  1. The feeling of isolation that can be associated with remote work.
  2. Communication breakdowns, whether from the lack of “hallway conversations,” or just an out-of-sight, out-of-mind effect.
  3. Increased need for meetings, leading to meeting fatigue — what was once a casual question in the office now has to be a scheduled conversation.
  4. Distractions at home, especially when sharing space with multiple people and/or pets.
  5. Work-life balance might worsen in some cases, for those who find it challenging to draw a clear line between work life and home life.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

Rethinking communication addresses many of the challenges. Think about creating a variety of ways, both formal and informal, for your team to connect virtually. That could include a chat/messaging tool for quick discussions and some “fun” conversation threads, regular virtual meetings for each level of team, perhaps an “open phone” policy for leaders, and some virtual happy hours or online games.

For our virtual assistants, we’ve created a robust online community hub where they can connect and mingle with each other for support. We organize some scheduled virtual mingling sessions and lunch ‘n learns, and the VAs also self-organize other ways to connect online. For corporate office staff during the pandemic, we took the games and happy hours we used to do in the office and found ways to replicate those experiences online.

Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?

Stay connected to your team — leverage technologies to keep up with regular communication and collaboration. Challenge yourself to learn new ways of doing this and be deliberate about sharing amongst team members.

Regularly scheduled meetings and check-ins help to make sure everyone continues moving in the same direction. Leaders need to stay on top of how their team members are doing and be sure to address any issues that arise.

Help your teams connect with others in the sector, and encourage the sharing of newfound knowledge, community resources, and educational opportunities. Help team members who are actively engaged in learning and development to source and participate in remote learning.

Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?

Spend time learning about the team — what they’re good at, areas that they’re interested in developing, and any gaps or roadblocks to them achieving success. Whether you’re trying to help an existing team be more effective or helping someone plan their learning journey to support a future career move, leaders need to understand what’s needed now and in the future.

I’m a big fan of cross-functional learning to help team members understand what life looks like for their colleagues in other areas of the business. For example, we encourage new team members to listen on some sales calls, which also gives them exposure to real-life prospective customers.

We’ve recently added a Director of People & Culture to our team, and she’s helping us focus more on learning and development as well. We’re working to give our team clarity on the skills that are needed to excel in their current roles and steps they need to take to advance in their career. It’s important that we take the time to understand the development goals of our team members, help them make plans to achieve those goals and provide the support and opportunities they need to accomplish them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d inspire a movement to have companies hire and train, reskill or upskill people who traditionally are told NO when looking for work. If every business reached deep within and hired one traditionally under-represented person even if they did not have the skills, but then spent the time upskilling/reskilling and lifting them up — the world would be a different place.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with me on Twitter (@Bobbie_Racette ) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbiejoracette/) and follow Virtual Gurus on Twitter (@virtual_gurus), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/3009747) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/virtual_gurus/ )

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

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David Liu

David Liu

134 Followers

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication