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Remote Career Development: Katrina Kibben Of Three Ears Media On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

Technology. There are times when you just don’t have Wi-Fi. We have to be more flexible, and sometimes that can be frustrating to make adjustments in real-time. → I’ve had to cancel entire days the day of because I needed to get ahead of a storm. We do calls with and without cameras. We constantly adjust and remind each other we can’t control technology, just like you can’t control the weather.

Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaboration 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 Katrina Kibben.

Keynote speaker, non-binary LGBTQ+ advocate, and writing expert Katrina Kibben [they/them] teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that still attract exceptional talent. Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes and has been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading HR media and technology companies like Monster, care.com, and Randstad Worldwide.

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 an Army brat growing up — I moved 13 times before graduating high school. I worked my way up in marketing at companies like Monster.com and Care.com before finding my niche in recruitment writing, creating employer values and candidate experience content for Fortune 100s. I figured out that a lot of problems in recruiting could be solved with better communication, so I created a company that did just that — writing for recruiting.

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

The way I found my career in HR and recruiting was interesting. I was working in a strip mall teaching kids to read and write. I taught one girl named Hope (swear I’m not making that up) how to read. Her dad came in for a sales conversation and left after offering me a job. He said, “You’re smart, and I like you. You’re going to work for me.” It changed the entire trajectory of my career. He was starting a company to create digital resumes, and I got access to some of the smartest people in tech and recruiting. It made me stand out, even in the dot com bubble, to companies like Monster.com, where I got to work on Super Bowl campaigns. Pretty unexpected for a kid that grew up on military bases.

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?

I worked in social media long before big companies had social media managers. I wrote an email to one of my idols and told her how much I admired her writing. Here’s the catch: I sent it with my work email. She tweeted, “F*ck yeah (my company Twitter handle),” and my CEO definitely saw it. He laughed it off and loved that we got so many new followers. I was scared — that was the era of the “You can be fired for social media” headlines, and I was sure this was my fireable offense. The lesson I learned is that when you are yourself — her supporting us — that’s when you get people to react, click, and take action. Not from saying the right thing all the time.

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

Do you want to be right or happy? We — society, individuals, everyone — make a lot of rules, and they aren’t real. You have to, you should, you can’t — most of the time, it’s something in our heads powered by a fear of ours. Instead, I think people should choose happiness. I even wrote a blog with a funny story that showcases my point — https://katrinakibben.com/2022/02/04/do-you-want-to-be-right-or-happy/

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

  • Ask a lot of questions. You’ll never know if someone is burnt out if you assume poor performance over assuming something might be happening outside of work. It’s usually the latter.
  • Ask twice. When you ask, “how are you?” ask again in a different way. People will often give you a blow-off answer first, then a real answer if you ask twice.
  • You have to avoid burnout to help your employees avoid burnout. You are the best role model. How do you manage your time? What boundaries do you set?

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?

  • Flexibility. Work-life balance is about making sure you can apply time to the life part, not just work. It should be expected and encouraged that people take care of their life as needed during the workdays assuming that the workload is taken care of.
  • Happiness. You feel happier when you’re not surrounded by stale office lighting. The data supports it: https://www.flexjobs.com/employer-blog/new-study-finds-remote-workers-happier-more-productive/.
  • Productivity. I work less and get more done when balancing. We can’t sit and stare for eight hours and expect to be just as productive at 8 a.m. as we are when we wrap up the day. I find I get more done in less time consistently. Data also supports that broadly.
  • Less turnover. We have been 100 percent remote since Day 1, and no one has quit my company.

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

  • Timing. There’s no “can you join this meeting now?”
  • Perception. Whether it’s in our heads or others, there’s a perception that you’re not working as hard. Note: this is not real.
  • Technology. There are times when you just don’t have Wi-Fi. We have to be more flexible, and sometimes that can be frustrating to make adjustments in real-time.
  • For hybrid teams — it’s hard to make sure everyone is present and can participate in the same ways. Often the people in the room dominate the conversation.
  • Time zones. For my team and me, we’re always looking at what time zone I’m in and adjusting accordingly. I have done some *very* early meetings.

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?

  • Timing. There’s no “can you join this meeting now?” → We have a rule: 24 hours’ notice. That’s a boundary that helps create balance in real-time. We learned this the hard way when someone put something on my calendar last minute, and I never even saw it. We also even added something to our email signature that lets people know to expect a response from us in 48 hours. This has helped our work-life balance and real-time flexibility.
  • Perception. Whether it’s in our heads or others, there’s a perception you’re not working as hard. Note: this is not real. → Not an issue with my team. I think daily standups would be helpful if it were.
  • Technology. There are times when you just don’t have Wi-Fi. We have to be more flexible, and sometimes that can be frustrating to make adjustments in real-time. → I’ve had to cancel entire days the day of because I needed to get ahead of a storm. We do calls with and without cameras. We constantly adjust and remind each other we can’t control technology, just like you can’t control the weather.
  • For hybrid teams — it’s hard to make sure everyone is present and can participate in the same ways. Often the room dominates the conversation. → Not an issue for my team, but it has changed how I facilitate meetings in the past. You have to include people on the phone regularly.
  • Time zones. For my team and me, we’re always looking at what time zone I’m in and adjusting accordingly. I have done some *very* early meetings. → We’re using Calendly, and we also put time zone in the meeting invite, so we’re all on the same page. I took a meeting at 6 a.m. once for a training on the East Coast. The funny part? It was so dark outside that I had to use a ring light. Well, the ring light made my face very pale, and I looked like I had no eyebrows. I panicked, but once the team came on, I made a joke, and to this day, I joke about my eyebrows every time I present, and it gets a great response on our social media. Back to the being real thing.

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?

You need to be more intentional about reaching out to people and connecting about real-life items and projects you’re working on. The best career advice is to make sure your colleagues think of you when they think of one type of work. That way, they will call you when roles that have that aspect are involved. Be specialized and vocal about what you love. Being good at everything is not a memorable strategy.

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

Again, you need to ask a lot of questions. Give people projects. Ask, “do you want to try this? Do you have an interest in this? What would you love to try?” Then, create opportunities. When the work didn’t exist in my realm, we’ve purchased coaching sessions from other experts to learn then apply their skills in a role. You need to know their next best role and coach them toward it. Talk about it. Don’t assume they know.

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 would say #VanLife, but then I would never find another parking spot, so I’ll say remote work *and* a 35-hour workweek. We are conditioned to believe we belong behind a computer screen for 40 hours a week, or we’re not working hard enough, and that’s not real. I want to see people working less and living more. They do better work when there’s better balance.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the Three Ears Media site.

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

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David Liu

David Liu

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