Remote Work: Sonya Gankina On How To Successfully Navigate The Opportunities & Challenges Of Working Remotely Or From Home
An Interview With David Liu
Distractions: figure out a schedule with your spouse for childcare so your kids don’t interrupt you every 5 seconds. Carve out a working space for yourself wherever possible. Invest in sound-muting headphones. Work when the distractions are limited e.g., when the children are sleeping. With personal distractions, keep your phone in the other room and focus on completing the most important tasks before plugging off for the day. Not every day will be productive and that’s okay.
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 Sonya Gankina.
Sonya Gankina started her own freelancing business at the age of just 22 in her bedroom in Ottawa, Ontario. She completed more than 48 projects for 32 clients in just her first year, drawing on 4 years of experience in the digital marketing industry and working to generate revenue for both big companies and local businesses. Sonya now works with both Russian- and English-speaking clients on many fascinating projects.
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 immigrated to Canada from Russia only 10 years ago, in 2011. I learned English from my peers in high school and was fully fluent when I started my first year of university in Ottawa at the Telfer School of Management at uOttawa. My mom is a professional artist, so I combined my passion for creativity and business in one with my Marketing degree. I am a writer at heart, and telling founders’ stories through digital marketing and writing has been personally and professionally fulfilling.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Last year, I attended a virtual conference for women entrepreneurs called StrikeUP and introduced myself in the event’s live chat. There were hundreds of messages flowing in from people all over the world, and my message immediately disappeared. Somehow, an agency owner noticed my intro in that flurry and emailed me in a few days to work together. We signed a contract and I successfully worked with her for a few months! You never know where you might find your next client or business contact.
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?
At the very beginning of my career, when I wasn’t working for myself yet, I posted a personal Story on my Instagram account. Turns out the Story got posted to a client’s business page! Thankfully it was just a picture of a coffee and not a big deal, but I learned to pay close attention to the social media account I am on whenever I post anything. Now I check like 10 times!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I recently saw this quote and it really resonates with me — it inspires me to keep moving even when I don’t see the whole picture. Or when I lose sight of my dreams. To keep going. To maintain the momentum. To put in the work, and opportunities will present themselves to you, probably even better than you ever expected!
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
Make your expectations clear from the get-go. Ask your employees questions that will help you manage better, for example: “Do you prefer to work all your hours at once, in a typical 9–5 fashion, or split them up into chunks throughout the day?” As many are working from home, asking the right questions will help align expectations. Having trust in your employees and letting them be independent is fantastic, but make sure you provide enough information and the right training for them to do their jobs, so they don’t feel lost or abandoned. Assign tasks as ahead of time as possible to minimize last-minute stress and urgency. Communicate, stress the importance of social connections, host fun virtual happy hours, send them a present once in a while. Compassion can go a long way.
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?
Working remotely means you aren’t doing a stressful commute every morning, spending valuable time out of your day stuck in traffic going to and from work. Remote work gives you the opportunity to prepare healthy meals at home and take the time to savour them, instead of relying on takeout in the office and overpriced coffee. You get your time back. You can be comfortable and not stuck in restricting clothes all day. Finally, you get more time at home with your loved ones, be it family time, being able to spend time with your kids, or cuddling with your pets the whole day. You also support local businesses when you step out to get a coffee and you see your neighbourhood with fresh eyes when you have time to go for a morning run before work.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
The five main challenges of working remotely are 1) loss of social interaction 2) many people overwork themselves due to blurred boundaries between work and home life 3) challenges with productivity with distractions or at home 4) missing out on work opportunities 5) personal motivation and structuring of routines at home — it can be tough to roll out of bed, get straight to work, and be productive for 8 consecutive hours.
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?
- Loss of Social Interaction: focus on creating personal bonds with your coworkers. Schedule times just to socialize or have a drink together, or a morning coffee, or lunch. If you work for yourself, create your own community — find people that inspire you on LinkedIn and connect with them, have virtual coffee chats. Outside of work, join an in-person class in something that interests you, whether it’s yoga or learning a new language. Go to the same coffee shop during the week so you get to know the baristas and other regulars. We greatly underestimate the important of small human interactions like that.
- Overworking: focus on creating strict boundaries, whether it’s being honest with your manager about your workload or delegating more and learning to let go — you don’t have to do everything yourself. If you work for yourself, structure your workdays based on when you work best. For example, I don’t torture myself with 6am alarms because I hate them. I get up around 9 or 10am, do a few hours of work then take an extended break and continue working in the afternoon or evening. Have a sharp unplug time. I don’t work past 8pm and I don’t often work on weekends.
- Distractions: figure out a schedule with your spouse for childcare so your kids don’t interrupt you every 5 seconds. Carve out a working space for yourself wherever possible. Invest in sound-muting headphones. Work when the distractions are limited e.g., when the children are sleeping. With personal distractions, keep your phone in the other room and focus on completing the most important tasks before plugging off for the day. Not every day will be productive and that’s okay.
- Missing Out: working remotely does remove certain social interactions like drinking with your coworkers after work or the occasional golf game. BUT that doesn’t mean your work opportunities are limited. There is lots you can do online to meet new people, make business connections, and acquire new clients. I talk more about this in the interview answers below.
- Personal Motivation: working remotely exposes the areas where we need to work on ourselves more. If you feel tired all the time and don’t want to do any work, make sure you get your bloodwork done and take the right vitamins and supplements to optimize your health. If you don’t enjoy the work you are doing, see how you can create opportunities for yourself to do something you like. That could mean finding a new job or asking to be moved to a different department.
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?
Use LinkedIn. Update your profile regularly and add everything you can on there, from courses and certifications, to volunteer experiences. Then, connect with people you already know AND with people you may not know yet. Follow those that inspire you. Try posting to LinkedIn consistently — there must be lessons learned that you could share with your network!
LinkedIn is an awesome platform to make new business connections. Contribute to other people’s posts regularly by commenting. Then, ask people you find inspiring to meet with you virtually for a coffee chat. You can learn so much from others. Note down the advice they give you.
Always take new online courses to learn new skills, and so you can add a badge to your LinkedIn portfolio. Your courses don’t have to be connected directly with your work. For example, I am currently completing a Cinematic Storytelling course with California College of the Arts through Kadenze and it’s been really fun. Many lessons from there are applicable to my life as a freelance writer too.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
Set aside a budget for your employees to use for career development. This way, teams can buy books and courses they are interested in, without having to spend their own money. Invite guest speakers to your team meetings so your employees can meet someone new and learn from them. Offer separate times for your employees to meet with the executives. In a casual setting, like a virtual coffee chat, employees can ask questions that may not be directly related to work and learn from the people they work with. Plus, this helps with social connections and bonding.
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. :-)
Support local farms. Moving away from commercial agriculture helps the environment, the animals that are poorly treated in those facilities, and the people who consume those products. If we support local farms that treat the soil and the animals with respect, not only will we be eating high-quality products from happy animals, we will also be helping the environment. Sustainable and bio-diverse local farming is the key. We have to go back to our roots. Commercial agriculture is cruel and not sustainable long-term.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I post frequently on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/sonya-gankina/ and my home base is my website https://sonyagankina.ca/. Connect with me on LinkedIn! Always open for a chat.
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.