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Remote Career Development: Kristin Ihle Molinaroli Of Avant On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

… Dress for work to get in the right mindset and cue other family members that you are “at work”; working in pajamas all day makes for blurry lines. If you have a daily work schedule, post it somewhere visible so others at home have a sense of what you are doing and when you will have a break so they can speak with you.

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 Dr. Kristin (Ihle) Molinaroli.

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Kristin (Ihle) Molinaroli has focused on accelerating human performance both personally and professionally. She was a seven-time All-American athlete who was sponsored by Nike post-collegiately and was on seven different U.S.A. teams. Professionally, she earned her Ph.D. in multicultural psychology, and began consulting in sports psychology with NCAA teams and individual athletes. Currently, she’s president of Avant, a firm dedicated to talent, team, and organizational performance for Fortune 500 companies and startups.

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’s your backstory?

Not sure I have much of a backstory. I grew up all over the U.S. My stepfather was in a growing business, which meant moving to a new state with each promotion. I lived in five different states by the time I was in fifth grade. We had international families come to our home for business meetings and get-togethers. The impact of those two elements equated to a deep appreciation for others’ cultures, foods, [and] values, as well as the need to plug into a network quickly. As a grade-schooler I am not sure I understood “network” but those were the behaviors in which I was engaging.

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

When I was working at Notre Dame as a therapist, completing my final Ph.D. requirements, I was working with some of the best sport psychologists, primarily learning from them. As I gained experience and credibility, the sport psychologists provided more autonomy and allowed me to hold the reins. I was often accepted on the sport psychology team across different sports because of my athletic “pedigree,” if you will, having been on seven U.S.A. teams, a collegiate All-American, and a Nike professional athlete. One day we got a call from an executive chef who wanted us to work with his culinary arts team as they got ready to compete in an event where they could then qualify for the world championship. That was so incredibly interesting because while the premises of team performance remained the same — communication, roles, goals, etc. — both the sport psychologist and I had to learn about the different facets of the culinary arts competition. This was invigorating, refreshing, and nerve-wracking. Here was this team putting their trust in us and we didn’t want to fail them. We spent time engaging with them, learning about their sport, roles, and individual personalities. Our work together was a learning experience for all. The team shared their gratitude for the insight and tools they gleaned. Most importantly, they qualified for the world championships!

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?

Smartphones and texting had just been on the market about one year. Some of the executives with whom I worked used texting as another channel to enhance their leadership and team performance. What I didn’t realize was the impact autocorrect could have. One day I was rushing out the door to drive 45 minutes when a leader and I had a brief text exchange. One of her last notes to me elicited a response of “oops.” However, what I didn’t realize was I said “poops” due to autocorrect and that message sat out there for 45 minutes until I got to my next location. Luckily she realized what I had intended to say. My main takeaway was to double- and triple-check any written communication email or text, particularly since autocorrect can do funny things to your intended message.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

When I meet people, they are quick to remark on my achievements because that’s what is in my bio. What are unseen are the innumerous failures and setbacks I faced along the way. Now, none of them come close to Mr. Mandela’s journey. Yet his words of wisdom ring true for me. I want people to determine my character by my resilience and grit to get back up. When I meet leaders and community influencers it is their history of overcoming adversity, pushing through that is compelling.

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

Leverage all wellness tools they have today or consider integrating products that have a holistic orientation. With increased mental health needs in the new COVID era, more than ever we need to understand our employees as a “whole person.” WFH (work from home) has accelerated the “work-life alloy” — I don’t even use the word balance. Now more than ever, our environments are getting blended like an alloy. This elevates the need to help employees build a routine with daily goals that address both work objectives and well-being intentions.

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?

— More Time. Reduced or eliminated commute means more time back in the day. This allows for things like a 30-minute walking routine or meditation you always wanted to do. Or perhaps getting laundry done during your lunch break.

— Less Stress. Not commuting means no commute-related stress — traffic, spilled coffee, accidents, bad weather, etc. However, there may be different stressors that arise in WFH.

— Reconnecting. Having more time back in the day and maybe even having students with online classes provides a greater connection with family/community. It means you might be able to have breakfast or coffee with your child before you both begin your days

— Career Opportunity. Working from anywhere is no longer an aspiration; it is more of a reality than it’s ever been. The notion of geographic restrictions have shifted significantly.

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

  1. Belongingness/network/relationships: Working remotely has impacted our sense of belonging and even taken a toll on relationships since we don’t walk together to meetings anymore — we just click “exit” on the video.
  2. Schedule fluidity: [There could be] blurry boundaries and the risk of working long hours, leading to burnout.
  3. Project Pace: People say they feel more productive working remote versus in the office. But the data is variable and often productivity ratings depend on the type of task and nature of the work (complex versus mundane, individual versus team). The organizations with whom I work suggest productivity, as well as a timeline, and accurate and in-budget project results are not as strong as they used to be. There are many reasons for this — fewer “hallway chats” with Zoom after Zoom after Zoom. Hallway chats are also called “watercooler” talk. It can be about work or what we did on the weekend. But often information is exchanged that helps projects run more smoothly. Other project pace inhibitors include: fewer human resources to tackle projects, environmental distractions that previously weren’t there, and not all homes have the internet speed to handle video calls. A Stanford study found only 65% of Americans have internet fast enough to handle video calls.
  4. Health and Wellness: There are so many options at home — from ordering delivery to grazing in the fridge — whereas in the office there can be support and peer pressure to make healthy choices. Some office settings have walking and lifting groups.
  5. Distractions: How many times have you said, “I wish people would not drop into my cube/office for just one day; I could get so much done”? WFH seems to have offered that request but has inserted different distractions. I can recall having to reeducate my high school teenagers about what constituted an emergency so they knew when interrupting a call or writing session was legitimate.

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?

  1. Belongingness/network/relationships: Set up 5-to-10-minute calls to connect with work buddies you used to walk to meetings with or find ways to create “get-togethers” online. While these ideas are not new, I believe it is more of building a habit to connect with your co-workers because it is easy to move from meeting to meeting. Other creative approaches include creating a wellness challenge, such as training to participate in a charity walk (remote or in person) or a service challenge that ties to your local community.
  2. Schedule fluidity: Establish boundaries. This is more critical with the convergence of work and home space. You need to make sure you are performing your role at work but also manage the temptation to “do one more thing” for work. It may be easier to blur lines when your work life and home life are in the same four walls.
  3. Project Pace: Software such as Slack and Basecamp can help keep people, tasks, and urgent requests aligned and top of mind. Consider having and even posting daily goals: It’s important to feel productive. The best way to drive this is to set doable, daily goals — a mix of work and personal. For example, consider going for a walk after lunch or reading a book chapter as a personal goal. As well, find manageable daily work tasks to accomplish. Setting daily goals can lead to a sense of accomplishment and closure at the end of a day.
  4. Health and Wellness: With a little extra time back from no commute, consider adding one healthy habit into your week. It can be going for a 15-minute walk after lunch, drinking 8 ounces of water with each meal, or turning off all social media and other media for 30 minutes. Repeat it for a few weeks until you have built the habit, then add another habit — rinse, wash, repeat. The concept is to build a routine. Build a new “regular” schedule in your WFH. Determine your meal plan and stick to it. Being at home means you have access to extra snacks and drinks that you otherwise wouldn’t. Set normal mealtimes that allow you to avoid temptation.
  5. Distractions: Dress for work to get in the right mindset and cue other family members that you are “at work”; working in pajamas all day makes for blurry lines. If you have a daily work schedule, post it somewhere visible so others at home have a sense of what you are doing and when you will have a break so they can speak with you.

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?

Regardless of where you do your job, the fundamentals to career development are the same. It is important to reflect on where you have been (education, life, and career experiences) that have provided you knowledge and skills. The reflection should lend itself to self-assessment. Be sure to seek input from others on your self-assessment to ensure that how you see yourself lines up with how others see you. If there are gaps, be sure to understand them.

Next, clarify your career aspirations — determine ongoing growth and experience needed to get there. Finally, communicate with mentors and advocates about assessment, others’ insights, and what specific help you need from them to enable your career development. Specific requests make it easy for others to help you.

The Fundamentals

— Self-assess and get feedback from others

— Clarify career aspirations and experiences needed to achieve

— Mentors and advocates — be specific about the coaching and help you need from them

Connecting and communicating with colleagues, mentors, and career advocates becomes even more critical in a WFH environment. Working from home nearly eliminates hallway discussions and is instead replaced with back-to-back videoconference calls. This means insights about special projects or business needs that “pop up” at the end of team meetings or while walking to the next meeting need to be gathered in a different manner. Now, your mentors and advocates need to be your eyes and ears to help you look out for experiences that would help your career development. Be diligent about setting a cadence for career coaching. Keep in mind these can be five-to-10-minute calls. That means the second tip is to reframe your thinking about career coaching and mentoring. It often happens in 30 seconds, so why do we always default to needing 60 minutes?

Be patient. This next idea is complicated and frankly could be an interview unto itself. Here is the best way I can describe it. I watch my sons push the limits of their bodies and express a clear desire to gain more experience at higher levels of their sports. But this does not come overnight. They must master certain elements of the game before they are ready to join the “next level.” The same is true in careers. I am not sure that career “instant gratification” is sustainable or even beneficial. There are other ways to recognize and reward high potential and/or high-performing talent than a recurring promotion. If one gets promoted every 12 to 24 months, they never hang around long enough to deal with the consequences (favorable or unfavorable) of their decisions, and as a result, may not optimize the learning they needed at that level. While “be patient” seems disconnected from career advancement, I believe patience is quintessential to career development. There is nothing more important than career readiness and nothing more evident when someone lacks the fundamentals at the “next level.” The notion of patience, or lack thereof, can be exacerbated when disconnected from the traditional office environment — there is an immense fear of missing out (FOMO). “What if I am missing out on a career opportunity because I am working from home?” is a common concern I hear from clients. This means it is important for employees to connect with their mentors, supervisors, and HR team regarding ongoing development.

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

Given that people working from home may feel less connected or engaged, it is crucial that an organization or supervisor finds ways to host remote career-development activities and builds a cadence around coaching. The latter can be done in minutes rather than hours. Finally, companies need to find ways to plug employees (in good standing) into cross-functional projects that will open their eyes to different aspects of the business while also allowing them to contribute their unique skill(s). In traditional office environments, such things tended to happen organically, unless a company had an established program. Now, organizations will need to be more intentional about such special projects.

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.

Build basic habits that will help you fulfill your big dreams and be kind to yourself. It is never a straight line to a worthy achievement. We often get overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal — losing 50 pounds — that we set ourselves up for binary results rather than looking at incremental steps to get there. More critically, we lack tolerance for ourselves when we suffer a setback along the way. Those setbacks in theory should make us stronger, but they can derail our journey and we start back at the beginning. I am not sure this is really a movement so much as a philosophy.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I can be followed on LinkedIn or Twitter or read our blogs.

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