Respect boundaries, embrace them and make them visible. Establish your “working hours” and block the time you need to take care of you –on your calendar and visible to your colleagues.
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 Shaun Spearmon.
Shaun Spearmon is a Director at Kotter. He leads strategic planning, process improvement and transformation engagements with clients across industries, including technology, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, retail, and financial services. Shaun is a firm believer in the power of servant leadership, and its ability to both create excellence in individuals and to produce extraordinary results for organizations.
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’ve always been fascinated by change and transformation. It has been the focal point of my career, not because I love it, but because I learned at a very early age just how constant change is and the incredible opportunities it creates. I was born in the Midwest, although my mother and I relocated to the Pacific Northwest when I was young. I hated this change and didn’t understand it at the time, but for so many reasons it proved to be one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.
My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration from Morehouse College — another transformational change that sent me once again across the country. I still refer to this decision as one of the best I’ve ever made because of the extraordinary educational experience I received and because it was here that I met my wife, Brooke. She is my partner in life and in business. We’ve had 17 wonderful years of marriage and we parent three amazing children, Ava (10), Olivia (8) and Vaughn (3). We are also each other’s biggest fans and our unparalleled support of each other has enabled each of us to achieve excellence throughout our professional journeys.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My oldest daughter was born a few weeks before my MBA graduation. When I walked across the stage to receive my degree, she was in my arms. I hoisted her high above my head as I approached the center of the stage to acknowledge that the title of “father” far exceeded the credentials I had just earned. This was a defining moment that continues to remind me that my professional aspirations will always be a distant second to my family.
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’m a card-carrying Virgo so rarely, if ever, do we see the humor in our mistakes. However, time has allowed me to see the humor in some of my early career missteps. One of my first jobs was in a very tall building and only a certain set of elevators allowed you to get to a specific range of floors in the building. My office was on the 33rd floor and as I raced into the building, not wanting to be late on my first day, I completely missed the signs indicating the set of elevators I should have been using. Naturally, I got on the wrong elevator. I panicked because I didn’t see the “33” button to press and picked the highest number available, thinking that perhaps I could change elevators when I got to that floor. That didn’t work.
After about five minutes of frustration and silent cursing, I decided to start all over again. I left the building and slowly re-entered, then scanned the lobby and discovered the signage that I missed the first time. As I got on the right elevator and ascended, I realized that getting where you need to go often requires slowing down and understanding the big picture. I also recalled a saying I heard throughout college: “To be early, is to be on time; to be on time, is to be late; and to be late is unacceptable.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Unfortunately, during my early academic years, most lessons (especially math) did not come easy for me. However, my mother made it clear that despite what I perceived to be a learning challenge, she expected excellence. And excellence was achieved when I could look her in the eye and say that I did my very best. Her question to me was always, “Shaun, did you go the extra mile?” If I said yes, she’d be happy with whatever grade I received on the test or project. If I said “no,” that was unacceptable. I quickly learned that going the extra mile meant that I had to work harder and longer than some of my peers to get good grades and test scores. That willingness to outwork my counterparts has stayed with me. As a parent, I carry the same expectation for excellence as my mother, asking my kids, “Did you go the extra mile?”
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
Now, more than ever, it is critical for leaders to provide clarity and focus for their employees. Excelling at multiple priorities has long been a challenge for most employees. The pace of change and the additional stresses brought on by the COVID pandemic has demanded that leaders elevate critical work and eliminate the non-essential. This means limiting the amount of “noise” each employee receives by asking: What data or reports are being shared with people who don’t need them? Are there any activities we do just because we have always done them? How often do meetings really need to be held? Leaders should also create space to thrive by leaning on opportunities (not just threats), loudly celebrating progress to boost positive energy, and delegating control to encourage investment in achieving outcomes.
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?
The rise of remote working has blended personal and professional lives, which created the kind of flexibility that many employees longed for pre-pandemic. It has dramatically reduced the amount of pre-workday prep, eliminated the commute to an office, and given employees more opportunities to support kids or other dependents. For many employers, not being constrained by the geographic location of an office has expanded talent acquisition opportunities. It has also created a shared collaboration experience for employees at the headquarters (or home office) and those in satellite locations.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
- Although the blending of work and life is a benefit, it is equally challenging for some to draw the necessary boundaries and signals to colleagues, especially supervisors, where one begins and the other ends.
- Establishing new working relationships in a virtual environment is significantly harder than it is in the same physical space. Trust takes time and space to build, which makes it harder to build virtually.
- It’s impossible to get those 10,000 steps in while staring at a computer all day long. Many of us took for granted what the daily walking in and around a physical work location contributed to our physical and mental health.
- For even the most introverted individuals, the isolation of remote work makes it less fulfilling.
- As some employers transition from 100% remote work to a hybrid approach, the pre-pandemic collaboration challenges have started to re-emerge.
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?
- Respect boundaries, embrace them and make them visible. Establish your “working hours” and block the time you need to take care of you –on your calendar and visible to your colleagues.
- Turn your camera on and come off mute. Don’t underestimate the impact of the non-verbal communication from colleagues. The chat function in most virtual meeting platforms makes it very easy to passively engage, but when new teams are forming, there is no substitute for direct and verbal engagement.
- Block time on your calendar to get up and move for at least 20–30 minutes. The daily pause for some form of exercise can also be a great strategy to build community with colleagues by doing a virtual walk or workout together.
- You are less likely to feel isolated when you feel seen. Whether you are a manager or individual contributor, at the start of your next 1:1 with a colleague, ask them how they are doing, and mean it. Pause and actively listen to what they have to say. With every team I’ve led, a working norm has been that no one on the team will worry alone. That often means simply asking the question and responding accordingly.
- Create a digitally inclusive environment. Never forget what it feels like to be the only person not physically in the room for a hybrid meeting.
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?
Intentionality is the hallmark for success in the virtual working world. The networking that aids career growth is no exception. Employees must not only proactively create moments for connection with their managers (i.e., performance reviews), but should also allocate time with peers and cross functional colleagues. Instead of scheduling a Zoom call, schedule a walking video chat- which checks both the exercise and informal networking boxes.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
To attract and retain top talent, employers and managers must offer career paths that create opportunities for growth and impact. As younger generations enter the workforce, leaders will need to quickly adapt their expectations and organizational frameworks to meet a workforce that increasingly values purpose and driving positive change in the world. This might involve creating additional training opportunities or allowing time and space to engage in developmental cross functional work. Supporting opportunities for growth and development may also involve volunteering or serving on a non-profit board that aligns with employees’ passions given the increasing desire to work for a purpose-driven company.
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.
Lead with empathy. Listen — at a minimum — twice as much you speak.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.