Tom Henricksen is a tech leader, speaker, and career coach at www.MyITCareerCoach.com. He also the organizer of theAgileOnlineSummit which gives you a chance to see great agile speakers from your device! We discuss what IT people struggle with when trying to find online careers as well as some great tips for finding work-life balance.
His tips on working remotely:
- Try out remote working first before jumping in.
- If you have a family and a home office, develop boundaries and rules together with your family.
- Reach out and build connections wherever you can.
- Communicate with your team where you are and what you are working on.
- Outline expectations as well as you can and minimize making assumptions.
- Take breaks and go outside.
- Try out different tools and see what works for you.
Hello everybody and welcome to episode number one hundred sixty five, today I am doing an interview with Tom Henricksen. He’s a tech leader, a speaker and a career coach at myitcareercoach.com and he’s also the organizer of the Agile online summit which gives you a chance to see great agile speakers from the comfort of were ever you are on whatever device you happen to be using. And yes I am a speaker at the summit that’s how I met Tom but when I heard how much experience he had with remote teams then I just had to interview him for the podcast, but before we get into that I want to give you guys this week’s one minute tip.
Now this week’s tip came straight from the interview and it’s something that actually I’ve heard a lot but I didn’t think of myself because well I don’t have a family around me. Not to say that I don’t have a family, it’s just that I don’t live with them. So if you’re working from a home office and you live with your family then the tip is set up ground rules for your family, so that they know when you’re working and they know when you’re free because while many of us love that work life integration there are times when work and family life need to be separated so that we can focus on what we need to focus on in the moment. So these ground rules can include, if the door is closed then don’t interrupt, or during specific hours during the day don’t interrupt, whatever it is that you need to set up those ground rules.
Okay but on with the interview, as I said before I’m interviewing Tom Henricksen and for his day job he is a career coach at myitcareercoach.com and in his spare time he is organizing the agile online summit, which is a collection of over twenty online speakers talking about all things agile including distributed agile. In this conversation we talk about what IT people struggle with when they’re trying to find online careers as well as some great tips for finding work life balance. Without further ado I give you Tom Henricksen.
First let’s start with the first question, what does your virtual office look like and what do you need to get your work done?
Tom: That is a great question Lisette, my virtual office many times just is really a laptop and a Wi-Fi depending on where I’m at and what I’m doing but I really have tried to embrace the remote working environment and make it as flexible as possible because depending on family demands or things you have to work from wherever we’re at and I try to be as flexible as possible. So if it’s I need to take my kids or have to be at home for a… this morning actually we have a heating and cooling man coming later in the morning after our call, so it’s helpful to be flexible because as you know sometimes things break and we need to have people come and fix things so it helps to have that flexible remote availability.
Lisette: Indeed and did you transition from an office job at some point or how long have you been working from a home office?
Tom: I’ve been working kind of that a flexible environment for about four years now, where I work remotely quite a bit. So it’s one of those things that I enjoy, like I mentioned it’s helpful depending on, like actually a year or so ago my mother actually was having a surgery and I was able to work remotely from the hospital. So it’s one of those things that depending on what comes up in life that’s one of the beauties of this remote working.
Lisette: Indeed I misspoke, I should say it’s not necessarily the home office it’s a flexible environment that you are working in, so you’re working from anywhere literally.
Lisette: Okay, so let’s dive into the agile online summit because I’m going to premier this podcast a couple of weeks before the summit starts, and we’re doing that on purpose because I want people to actually be there. A lot of listeners are also in the agile community, what is the agile online summit and what inspired you to organize this event?
Tom: Well Lisette that is a good question, what’s inspired me it’s really talking and working with people like yourself. So as I mentioned I think we had spoken before about this but I’ve been involved with many agile people and people here locally. Here in Des Moines in central [inaudible – 04:41] we have a good agile community, but then I’ve been really impressed as I’ve traveled and been to other conferences how willing people are to talk and work and really help each other out and that’s one of the things as I’ve started to reach out to people and been inspired to think about how can we take all this information and give it to people because everybody, you know it’s hard to get everybody to, try to think I think the agile twenty seventeen conference was just maybe it was in Orlando or somewhere, a big city like that. You can have all these great speakers but I think it’s hard to get people, I know you live in the Netherlands to go to a big conference would be pretty expensive and same thing for me if you’re not invited, or if you have to pay, if your company doesn’t pay for this it’s a lot of money to put together to get to a big summit or something like that so…
Lisette: And time, it’s not just expensive with money it’s expensive with time.
Tom: Yeah definitely as you as you imagine getting stuck in an airport or traveling it’s a lot to do that. So what I wanted to do, I have a friend that has done this with a different industry. So he has done some summits and I thought why not try a summit with agile speakers to put this online, and so people can be at home or their office or maybe they want to be in a Starbucks or some coffee shop somewhere or wherever they are, they have an internet connection they can watch and talk to really listen to some of these people on the agile online summit, people like yourself Lisette.
Tom: Yeah I was honored to be asked to be a part of that, but one thing in the agile world that I come across all the time is that agile cannot be done online. It has to be face to face and I’m not sure, what kind of things are you hearing from your other agile speakers or have you heard anything from other agile speakers about online and agile?
Lisette: Well I think Lisette you’re really kind of at the vanguard of a lot of companies are moving their agile teams online or remote because they want to embrace that talent base that lies wherever those people might be. So for instance did I mentioned I’m here in Des Moines you know we only have so many people that want to move to Des Moines. It can get a little cold here, it’s probably going to snow here a month or two. So some people don’t like that I know, I have a brother who recently moved to Arizona because his wife grew up there and they like it warm but not everybody likes the cold climate we have. We were talking before we started the recording that you were out hiking and enjoying the fall foliage in the Netherlands, that’s something to. Everybody likes to live in a different part of the country, some people like to be close to a beach, some people like to be up near the mountains, wherever they may be but that talent what we want on our agile team can be anywhere and I think that’s one of the great things that you talk a lot about to people is how important to embrace that remote or virtual office experience and let people work from where they feel the best and I think that’s important.
Lisette: Yeah indeed I’m always really surprised at how strong the kickback is against that in the agile community. I mean I think that there are people who recognize how important having the best people on the team are but there’s really a lot of kickback from people in terms of ‘well can it be done remote or does it have to be co-located. I mean in the manifesto it says face to face I always say that the manifesto was written back in two thousand and eleven and a lot has happened, oh wait was it two thousand and eleven or two thousand and one?
Tom: It was two thousand and one.
Lisette: Yeah two thousand and one, I mean think about how much has happened since two thousand and one and so I’m thinking face to face could just be e-face to e-face but I am surprised at how much kickback there is for co-location and don’t get me wrong co-location I’m sure is great for some teams. It’s just I think that the expansion is so important.
Tom: Oh yeah, yeah.
Lisette: Have you had any anti online people join your summit or anti remote I should say?
Tom: I would say pretty much everyone on the summit I think is pro remote working in promoting that flexible work environment. I think like you mentioned this manifesto came in two thousand and one, a lot has changed. As we kind of talk over this zoom technology there’s so many options for people to remotely work together. I just think things are moving in a way that the Tele-presence technology is, you think about are smartphones and things we can use to really talk face to face. Very rarely is there a time where we can’t connect or communicate in a more feature rich environment.
Lisette: I totally agree of course, I totally agree, so you’re hoping with this online summit to get people together to share their knowledge without having to spend the time and money of going to a conference and so you’ve organized, how many speakers do you have?
Tom: Right now I think we have about twenty two speakers involved in the summit so, that’s the thing I know I had a couple other people reach out to me as well as I’ve been putting it together and people like you’ve been promoting it I know, and many of the other speakers. So a lot of people want to be involved, a lot of people are registering so it’s this really building and so I’m excited to see it come to fruition so.
Lisette: I can imagine, fun to organize something like that and a lot of work as I came to know when I tried to organized my own conference once. It was an in person conference and that was a lot of work, so respects there and so people can sign up and they get a recording is that how it works and I’m sure the recordings will be available later, so tell us a little bit about that.
Tom: The summit is during the week, or so it’s going to start October thirtieth and during that week it will be free to everyone with the general admission pass. So we do have a VIP pass if people want to see it later and then we also have a VIP plus a group coaching that’s available to and people have been asking about that. So there will be some coaching involved where some of the coaches, the people, the speakers will come on and be coaching people through some of the things they struggle with and that they’ve talked through. So I think that’s going to be exciting as well, so will be free that week. There will be a schedule, I’m putting up the schedule now. We’re going to have, I believe we’re going to try to do about four speakers a day, there might be a couple days where we have more like I said with a number and getting everything set up, and so it will have e-mails that will go out during the day to have share those videos to everybody and then there’s also going to be a Facebook group as well and so we’re just trying to build in ways to make it, make that connection, give people the ability to talk kind of like, I know a lot of people talk about conferences. Talk about those hallway conversations and how important that is, so I think we’re going to try to do a lot of that connection with social media via Facebook and Twitter. So we’re really trying to build in that feature rich full conference feel.
Lisette: Right, so you can interact with people also while you’re watching the videos, sometimes when I’ve been involved with or when I’ve attended online conferences one of the things that we’ve done is start a slack channel in one of the groups that I’m in so we can as we’re watching the talk we can kind of talk back and forth. Sounds like that’s the same kind of thing that you’re doing with the Facebook group and also I have to say it was really pretty powerful to be able to talk with your friends during somebody’s speech or to ask questions or to post links together so I recommend that for other people out there who have their own online groups starting a specialist slack channel, yeah that’s good. So let’s talk a little bit about your history and how you got to the stage. So you are, you started myitcareercoach.com, tell us a little bit about that, how did you start that and what do you do?
Tom: So a few years ago as I was learning about agile and a lot of these different techniques, I wanted to kind of share a lot of the things I was learning so I started this blog My IT Career Coach and I try to help people with their IT Careers as well as topics like agile remote working. Things kind of, work around that technology spaces, those technology careers because I find that a lot of times people in technology careers will focus strictly on the technology but there’s so many other, I guess I’ll call them challenges that people run into outside of that. For instance just simple things like we’re doing working together, that collaboration. There’s people that really can struggle with that, I know a few people that I’ve worked with or simple things like just communicating with people, because when you work on a project like with an agile team or any team really. Especially on a remote team you’ve got to foster that communication and make sure people understand what is expected, what people want. A lot of times there’s so many horror stories in technology about maybe it’s a requirements or user story in an agile team that people assume things and really, I forget who said it but I know when I was going through my agile training a few years ago and of course listening to a lot of other speakers on the topics but a user story is really to start a conversation and that’s what agile and even in the manifesto talks about fostering those communication, conversations and getting people to talk. And I think when we do that that’s when people can really understand what’s expected and really be successful with their career and putting together whatever it is they’re working on, which meet those expectations because if we assume, we just have a quick conversation you and I Lisette you say ‘hey Tom do this,’ and I don’t ask a lot of questions I might assume ‘oh Lisette wants me to build a bridge,’ and you just said ‘oh I just want Tom to cut this board.’ Something simple, so those expectations we need to communicate and clarify and I think that’s what I try to do with people and their technology careers.
Lisette: So what kind of people are coming to you for help?
Tom: Well it’s really interesting because I know sometimes I’ll get people who are just starting out or even considering a technology career I know I’ve worked with some local community colleges which are a two year school here in the United States, and I’ll get a lot of people I know some people from the local one here that will talk to me have… you know there’s a couple of people that are interested, they have some questions maybe something like that or it could be to… for instance I recently worked with a gentleman here in the States that have been downsized. He’d worked for a major telecommunications company for over fifteen years, hadn’t really done a job search, didn’t really have a LinkedIn profile that was up to date or résumé, didn’t really know how to approach the interview process and job search. So it just ranges the whole garment of people in technology and what they’re looking for. Maybe it’s just something new, maybe they want a new challenge, and maybe it’s just updating some things or just kind of depends. There’s is a lot of different people out there and a lot of different challenges that they have.
Tom: Interesting so yeah I can imagine, I was thinking yeah newbies people who are just out of school, but the downsizing that is an interesting category of people because I hear about that a lot. Companies downsizing and they’ve been there for a really long time and the job market and the way we market ourselves has changed a lot and I mean speaking of since two thousand and one things have changed a lot in the job market there. To that’s really interesting okay and do you find that there’s a lot of people who are looking for remote jobs in particular, is there any preference for that now or what do you see?
Tom: Yeah I see a lot more of that and it’s growing. I know of a few years ago I wrote a book called Cracking the Career Code and in that book I profiled a gentleman that I worked with. His name is Brian and he kind of was one of the first people that exposed me to this remote working life style. So Brian he’s still a friend of mine and I follow on Facebook and he travels around the world but he works as a software developer and he’s a… I remember few years ago my family and I were on a vacation to Playa Carmen he Cuncun Mexico and I met Brian. Brian and I had lunch and he just kind of told me how he does this and how he was in Playa Carmen, he had rented a flat there and was working for I think six months there, and he said he gets up in the morning takes a walk on the beach, works for four hours or so and then he’ll grab lunch and then work a little more in the afternoon then he might do something fun in the evening, might relax so it’s just depends but it kind of opened my eyes and really I know this is a lot of people you work with but he’s traveling all over and I see him like he was in Russia recently or in Europe, has been to Southeast Asia. So it’s kind of neat how people take that remote lifestyle.
Lisette: Oh yeah indeed and it’s interesting because a lot of people think like ‘oh the glamour of being on the road,’ but like for me personally I’m not a digital nomad at all I like my home base, I love to travel but I like coming back to my home base. So yeah I’d say it sounds really glorious but it’s definitely a type, it’s definitely something that people want to do.
Tom: You really need to find what works for you.
Lisette: Right, right and a lot of employers are scared they’re like ‘oh my God people are going to go and travel all over the world and I’m going to have a company of digital nomads,’ but I find that that tends to be, it’s not most people doing that. There are some people who do that but it’s definitely not most people who do that. What is it about the flexibility that you like so much personally?
Tom: I think for me it’s really that flexibility kind of to really help with that work life balance for people, depending on what’s going on in… Because I’ve mentioned like maybe there’s a family illness or something like that. We have two kids so it’s something I know we’re busy with them, but like you mentioned some of us want that digital nomad lifestyle travel. Others do not, but it’s whatever works for you and then kind of finding that good fit. Perhaps it’s maybe finding a quieter place to work, I’ve talked to a few people about, a few years ago I worked with a gentleman who really needed that quiet time to really, he was a software developer to really kind of hone in. He needed a quiet place to do his work and really, so I think that sometimes is really helpful. So I think that’s one of the things we have to consider.
Lisette: I agree, I’m one of those people that really likes to have a quiet space and to be totally alone. I mean I’m never alone because I’m connected with all, I belong to a virtual co-working space I’m on online all day but I really do need it to be quiet. An open office was killer for me so I can imagine and programmers you guys are looking for semi-colons in all kinds of code and number sometimes. I can only imagine the constant interruption must be just killer for some people to be able to do that. So one of the things I want to ask about is family and how do your kids take to you being home all the time or what kind of boundaries did you have to set there?
Tom: That’s a good question, to kind of set that up we really have to have a good place to work and have a kind of time where the door has to be closed and we need to be in, if for on a call like this or if I’m meeting with some other colleagues but it’s helpful when the kids are sick or something like that that I can be home or if I need to run. For instance my son has a lot of activities and my daughter too. If I need to run and get them and I just have to quick, I am people say ‘hey I’m going to be back, I got to go pick up my son or whatever.’ Just kind of really communicating well because that’s one of things I know at first I didn’t do a good job of communicating and that’s one of the things that’s really important to let the people know that you’re working with where you’re at. If you’re going to be out for a few minutes let them know and communicate that with them so they’re up to speed.
Lisette: Right, yeah I really like that in fact, it’s yeah ‘I’m going to be gone fifteen minutes and taking my son to baseball practice or whatever it is,’ and then coming back, indeed communicating it with them well. Okay so what is something that you struggled with when you first went to the remote working lifestyle, what was hard for you?
Tom: One of the things I struggled with I think is really kind of building in the connections and stuff and trying to make sure I’m staying in touch with people who I work with. Sometimes you can kind of feel out of the loop when you’re remote working, so it’s important I think to really touch base with people and really reach out to kind of foster the communication.
Lisette: How do you do that, how did you get yourself to do that?
Tom: One of the things that I’ve done is to try to make sure I think about who I’m working with during the day and interact. Sometimes it might be as simple as asking a question maybe you think you know the answer but just trying to clarify or to try to kind of go over something with somebody when you have an idea. Making sure for instance, I know the other day I was struggling with something I try to say okay I’m going to look at this for twenty minutes, thirty minutes. If I can’t find a solution, if you’re goggling, you’re looking around, you’re looking at stuff, if you can’t find a solution then okay I’m going asked so and so.
Lisette: Okay that’s a good plan actually so setting a deadline or a time limit okay. Give yourself twenty, twenty five minutes and then reach out. So just find, it sounds like what you’re saying is you’re finding excuses and ways to reach out. Like maybe you don’t have to reach out, maybe you just spent an hour on the problem you would be able to figure it out by yourself but instead setting maybe a shorter time limit reaching out to more people, communicating when you’re leaving. It sounds like this concept that I like to tell people about which is called ‘working out loud.’ So you’re making your work observable to others and communicating more than you normally would I would think.
Tom: Yeah that’s important kind of like you said work out, let people know where you are, what you’re doing, what you’re working on, that’s where I think if there’s ways to share status. I know I’ve seen some people talk about maybe you have a status call or something like that but also I’ve seen some people on remote teams sharing like an a synchronous status report where they put some… like on a slack channel, I’ve seen some people talk about that. Okay what are you working on, so you put that on the slack channel because as you know people work at all different times in the day and wherever time zone they’re in.
Lisette: Yeah indeed like for instance it’s almost seven thirty AM your time. You will not find me working at that time normally, its two thirty PM for me, so that’s a more reasonable time but indeed, some people are morning people but you will find me at ten PM on my computers so [inaudible – 23:41] people like that. What about some of your favorite productivity hacks, how do you keep yourself on track?
Tom: I really try to make sure I keep a list of items that I need to work on and then if its simple things of getting outside I think really help me because if I get kind of holed up inside for long periods of time I try to, I have a fit bit that really [inaudible – 24:07] spend fifteen minutes and you’ve only taken a hundred steps or something like that, because that helps me kind of get the blood flowing. I find just a simple, okay ten minutes away, five minutes away can really help you recharge.
Lisette: That’s a good idea, okay and then you have an ongoing sort of a to-do-list of, what tool do you use?
Tom: I’m a big fan of Ever Note, so I’ve been using Ever Note for quite a while which I find really helpful. I know it just kind of depends on what people like. I know some people like One Note from Microsoft as well but I’ve really enjoyed Ever Note. I’m a big fan of Michael Hyatt, he’s a blogger out there he shares a lot of tips about things like Ever Note and some of the other tools he uses but that’s what’s worked for me. What I’d like to suggest to people is really to try some things out for five days, ten days, see if it works because I’ve tried a lot of things and a lot of them haven’t worked but that’s okay. Your just kind of learning what works for you, so I’m sure Lisette you have some things that you use but it’s just finding what’s best for you.
Lisette: Indeed and in fact I was listening to in preparation for somebody interviewing me later today. I was listening to one of his podcast where he interviewed Jim Benson of course of Personal Kanban or Konban I can’t, it depends on where in the world you are and so it inspired me actually to create my own personal Kanban board last night. So yeah an in the past I’ve used Toodledo which is an online tool but then I thought oh I’d like to do it physical. So indeed I’m experiment. I always experiment with these kind of things and I’m curious how do you use Ever Note, what is it, how do you use it? I know people keep notes in there but people use it in many different ways. What’s the way that you use it?
Tom: So I have, like an ongoing list for like each day and then I have a kind of a backlog I keep for various items for different projects. So for instance like working on the agile out online summit I have notes on that about different things I need to do, people to contact, things to do to promote it, things that I need to update. So each project that will have a maybe a note and then things to, along with my calendar to kind of keep me on task and to make sure I have everything together.
Lisette: Okay wow interesting, so I’ve never thought to use Ever Note as a to-do-list I kind of keep it as like a repository of random thoughts so that’s a great way or using it and I just interviewed one of the directors of Ever Note a couple episodes back. So very impressive and they also highlight remote teams, so for people looking for, I’m also a big Ever Note fan so I’ll promote that episode. We’re nearing the end of our time I should say but I’d like to end with what advice do you have for people, let’s make it even more specific, what advice do you have for people in the IT industry since you’re an IT career coach, if they’re just starting out and they want to find remote work what advice do you give them?
Tom: What I do is I think first to kind of test it out with maybe if they have a job now that gives them that flexibility to test out that remote working and see if it is for them because like you mentioned a lot of companies are flexible where they’ll let you do that. I think test it out first maybe a couple days. I know people that have jumped into it completely and really floundered especially new people. I find it really helpful to start out maybe a couple days a week or maybe an afternoon a week and really build up from there to see if it’s… if you do need to put in safeguards. For instance one gentleman I know he really struggled with it, trying to do it and just had a hard time working remote after he had made a move. So test it out first and see if it works for you.
Lisette: What didn’t he like about it, was that the loneliness or discipline, what was it for him that wasn’t working?
Tom: It was really the discipline, he had to struggle with getting the work he needed to be done on a certain time. A time frame, I think when he had worked in an office environment she could focus better and that’s the thing at home you can find a lot of distractions if you want to. So you’ve got really structure your environment as like your talking to your virtual office so those distractions are there.
Lisette: Yeah that is for sure, I mean even I get completely distracted. I’ll find myself some days like you’re cleaning and you think ‘oh no I’ve been doing this for far too long I have a task list to get through.’ Just going for a walk and going extra-long, so indeed and in fact my husband tried remote working, tried working from home and hated it, absolutely hated it. Felt totally alone and disconnected and I gave him all the tips in the world but it just didn’t suit his personality and so he went out and bought an office where people now meet and likes it much, much better and his team even likes it better. So of course he gives them the option to work from home or I would have to divorce him but they do find that the office works better for him. So yeah it’s great advice test it out first because you never know if you’re going to like it or not, and maybe working from home isn’t good, maybe a co-working space is good or virtual co-working space is helpful. Yeah great advice so the best way to get, last question which is what is the best way to get in touch with you and find out more information and you should give both the agile online summit and your website as places so people can go there.
Tom: Yeah the agile online summit is the agileonlinesummit.com and that is starting October thirtieth. So it’s great if people would sign up and check that out, lots of great speakers like Lisette who is going to be there and then also My IT Career Coach if they want to if they want to go to myitcareercoach.com and you can sign up for my newsletter. We have a free giveaway and we’re having a book there where it helps people kind of develop their IT career. It has some things, some similar challenges that people have and kind of walks them through some of the things they can do to help them develop a great IT career.
Lisette: Okay well so all of you people out there who want to build your IT career up to another level then I suggest going to my myitcareercoach.com and for all the people that want to hear great speakers like myself and lots of other great people on there to. I know Jason Little is on there and a whole bunch of people are there, agileonlinesummit.com and you can find all about distributed agile and how to make that work. So for all those naysayers out there this conference is for you, come and see what other people are doing to make remote work, work for their agile teams. Tom thank you so much for your time today I hope that the agile online summit isn’t a huge success and that it becomes a regular summit that you do more than just this one time.
Tom: Well thank you for letting me come on here Lisette I appreciate it and thanks for being on the agile online summit, I appreciate you being willing to come on.
Lisette: It’s my honor, okay everybody thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed that conversation, if you want to hear more stories of remote teams doing great things head on over to the Collaboration Superpowers website and sign up for the newsletter every other week will send you all the best tips, stories, best practices, interviews, everything you need to know about how to successfully work remotely directly to the inbox of wherever you are.
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