Remote Career Development: Mark Zides On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely
Take your paid time off and personal leave. It’s there for a reason. Do something for yourself. Take a trip. Take on a new hobby; or invest deeper into one you already have. There is more to life than work. Take a workout class, go for a walk, FaceTime with your friends. Take time to unplug.
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 Mark Zides.
Mark Zides is the author of The #PACE Process for Early Career Success (https://www.markzides.com). Zides is the founder and CEO of CoreAxis Consulting, an award-winning learning and development, and talent management firm. He has a passion for helping companies mold their future, drive growth, and create things that matter, and for helping individuals find the success they’ve always desired.
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 am the founder and CEO of CoreAxis, a company that provides custom learning and leadership experiences for companies like Amazon, BankofAmerica, Dell, Netflix, and more. I founded CoreAxis twenty years ago with the mission to help and educate people, and that mindset is what drove me to write this book and share how my business and I have been able to adapt with the many of the changes in the workforce. Particularly, the future of work and the shift to a virtual / hybrid workplace has driven many companies to think differently on how they attract, develop, and retain employees.
There’s a lot to my story, but the most important thing you need to know is that I was not born into a wealthy family. I was brought up in Massachusetts by two working parents — my mom was a phlebotomist and my dad was a truck driver — and that experience taught me entrepreneurship. I’ve been hustling all my life, from shoveling driveways as a kid to selling my 401k to fund my first company, which I founded from my small one bedroom apartment. My goal has always been to find success while making a positive impact on other people’s lives, which was why I took the risk and dove into entrepreneurship after being pigeonholed into a finance job after college.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I went to college with this woman back in the 90s whom I did not take one class with. We had totally different career paths, but we were friends. She took the path of working in Corporate America working on leadership and organizational development. I took the path of sales, then entrepreneurship.
20 to 25 years later we reconnected on LinkedIn and she ended up being one of my top consultants at CoreAxis. She helped me build my company, and for that I am forever grateful.
The reason this is so interesting is because you never know who is going to come in and out of your life. We were on totally different paths, but somehow we came to a similar crossroads and we grew together. Pay attention to your network — and stay connected. You never know where opportunity lies or when it will come knocking on your door.
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 guess it depends on how you define “funny”. At the beginning of my career in 1996 I was working for a large company selling their learning solutions platform. I was prospecting and cold calling when I connected with Dana. I was convinced she was going to bring us a ton of money, our contract would be tight, and I was extremely excited to share with my colleagues the opportunities this woman could provide me. I was on the phone with Dana and invited her to the office in downtown Boston, so she could see where our trainings are conducted and to see our culture first hand.
When Dana showed up he was a six-foot-three-inch well built man, and boy was I embarrassed. When I shook his hand I kept thinking to myself, how did I get this wrong? We were on the phone…was it me? When my colleagues walked by and saw that Dana was not a female, it began. They were relentless and found it to be the funniest thing. I never heard the end of it — until I left the company.
Moral of the story, do your research. This was back in 1996, so LinkedIn was not an existing platform, but I could have done more research. I could have gone on the company website (sure enough there was a picture of Dana) and done some leg work. I would not have changed the way we communicated, but I wouldn’t have been ragged on for as long as I was. I definitely ate some humble pie, but at the end of the day it was good for me and I learned from it. When prospecting of speaking with clients, I never assume anything about someone’s gender or identity because historically I have been way off.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I can honestly say I never had a moment where someone said something to me that profoundly changed me. You see it in the movies all the time, but I cannot relate. However, there are three “life lesson quotes”I try to live by:
Work hard, stay humble
If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life
Listen more than you speak
I remind myself of these life lessons every morning when I wake up. They are what keep me grounded and I have done my best to instill these mottos in my children’s lives as well.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
I think the first thing any organization or manager should do is take a pulse survey on how their employees are doing. By providing an anonymous survey about the state of your employee’s jobs, their likes and dislikes about the culture, and any other aspect of their job can provide a lot of clarity. As you probably know, people do not leave companies, they leave bosses, so it really starts there.
From this survey, it is extremely important to stay open to the feedback and not lash out on your team if you’re reading something directly about you that you either don’t like or do not agree with. With this feedback, you can implement change, you can create an action plan to motivate your team and align them with any organizational policy or change, which will hopefully lead to growth. You can take a deeper look into the work they are doing and see if there’s a way to streamline their process or eliminate duplicity in their roles.
As a manager, you need to remember that your employees will be happiest and most comfortable in their roles if they have a strong work/life balance. As a leader, you need to have awareness around this when asking more of your employees. You have may a go-to employee who is a “yes” person — check on them, they’re probably close to burning out. You may have an employee that holds the majority or your clients — check on them, they’re definitely tired and dealing with client issues you may not have full clarity on. If you like your people, treat them right, or they will leave you.
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?
I love this question and recently wrote a blog post on it, which you can check out at https://www.markzides.com/blog/
I would say the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely are: being able to work when most productive, as long as you don’t miss your meetings and deadlines, which also increases autonomy over your schedule. Another benefit is something we’ve never fully experienced which is that you are no longer tied to living in a specific location based on your job’s location. How great is it that you can work for a tech company out of San Francisco while working from your home office in Tampa? How great is it to not have to deal with commuting in New York City, when you can work from your living room in Phoenix?
The benefits go beyond yourself, they also directly affect your family. You have more time with them, you spend less money on gas commuting, which can be reallocated to paying debts or for family events. You can be more engaged with your children’s lives and not have “hard stops” with work — if you need to pick up your child from school, you do not need to perform a full shutdown of your computer, drive to get them, bring them home, then either log back in at home or head back to the office. Now, it’s a quick pick up and back to work.
I will say, another one of my favorite parts of working from home is making myself homemade meals everyday. I live a healthier life. I get to take a spin class on my Peloton in the middle of the day, rather than wake up extremely early, head to the gym, and workout half-asleep.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
I believe the five main challenges when it comes to working remotely are: there is less in-person contact with colleagues, you are not on site for the in-office perks, there is a lack of physical separation between work and leisure time, electronic communication with colleagues can result in misread cues, and you must make an effort to get a change of scenery.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what works best for you. For some, the positives outweigh the negatives. If the negatives do not align with what you’re looking for in a career, find a job where you can go into the office part-time or even full-time, if that’s what you want. We live in a world where we can create out own path — it may just take some time to get there.
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?
To create a healthy remote working environment, if it’s possible , management should consider offering a hybrid work model where employees can come into the office and meet in person. This gives employees the opportunity to make their own decisions about their work environment. Additionally, management should establish monthly all-hands on deck meetings to discuss the company’s goals, successes, and highlight leaders that are have been “winning” over the prior month.
For employees, I believe 80% of the issues people have with working remotely can be solved with communication. Building a rapport with your managers, teammates, and other colleagues can help create a more cohesive working environment. Creating these relationships will naturally develop trust amongst your peers.
Finally, take your paid time off and personal leave. It’s there for a reason. Do something for yourself. Take a trip. Take on a new hobby; or invest deeper into one you already have. There is more to life than work. Take a workout class, go for a walk, FaceTime with your friends. Take time to unplug.
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?
I think self-awareness is the first step in any type of career development. Write down what you want out of your career. Establish a list of expectations relative to your role with your manager and do a personal check-in on a monthly basis. Did you meet your sales goals? Did you create all the assets assigned to you? Did you conduct all of your trainings effectively? Be hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, no one else will be. And it’s no one else’s responsibility to keep you in check.
Part of career development is engaging with your organizational leaders to discover the opportunities available at your current job. Reach out to your manager to see if they want to grab a coffee and talk about how you’re doing as their employee. Stay on their radar. If you want to grow, they need to know you’re the right person for the job.
Also, growth is key. Take professional development courses and invest in virtual learning. You are investing in yourself. You can also see if the company offers educational reimbursement programs that may help you take part in classes or certification programs you didn’t know were available. If there’s a special project, volunteer to join. You can always learn from others. Surround yourself with successful people and it’s sure to rub off.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
As a manager, you should want to see your employees succeed, so pay attention. Applaud those who are doing a good job. Provide coaching sessions to those who are not. Encourage the attendance of developmental programs that can help your employees grow. You are only as strong as your weakest teammate — help make them great! Have the difficult conversations — they can boost the trajectory of your department, your role, and even your employee’s roles.
Make sure you take the time to reinforce that a life outside of work is important. You do not want to invest all of your time and energy into an employee’s development just for them to burn out six months later. Emphasize the importance of technical skills, soft skills, as they are an integral part of success.
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. :-)
As our world becomes more and more complex (global pandemic, geo-political challenges in Europe, and more) my fear is that we’re going to lose site of another critical challenge — protecting our planet. According to Bloomberg News, the Gen Z population is projected to grow to 51 million by 2030. As a person of influence, I would activate this population, who has already declared the environment as their top priority and concern, to push their companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their operations, make a pledge of carbon neutrality, and build a long-term commitment to sustainability. The younger generations have the inherent passion and in their numbers, the ability to drive permanent change in support of our struggling planet.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can visit my website: https://www.markzides.com
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.