Remote Work: A “Dream-Turned-Reality” for a Millennial Writer

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When I first realized I wanted to be a writer, something everyone seemed to tell me was that I could write from anywhere. If I wanted to travel, I could write in different cities. If I wanted to move across the country, or the world, I could write from there. I always thought this was wishful thinking. Only now, a year later, am I truly understanding that I can make this dream a reality.

I know I’m not alone in having the desire to travel, make money and be successful all at the same time. In fact, according to Inc, 82 percent of millennials say they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. We’ve grown up around technology; why wouldn’t we rely on it to work remotely?

As a recent graduate of the Professional Writing and Communications post-graduate program at Humber College, I’m required to complete at least 400 hours at an internship placement within the professional writing or communications field. Funny enough, I scored two remote, part-time, placements in communications. During my time at both of these placements, I got an awesome taste of what it would be like to work remotely. From crafting social media calendars, writing blog posts, entering data, managing internal/external communications and attending virtual meetings, I didn’t ever have to be in a physical office.

My first placement didn’t have an office; everyone worked from home. My second placement had a head office about a half hour from my house, but my position was remote. I thought this was interesting because I had never been exposed to a remote working environment before. After conducting some research, I realized how common remote work is in 2018.

The potential for remote work is only just beginning

The reality is, remote work is the way of the future. The concept of working 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. is outdated by 200 years, says Forbes.  Who’s to say you can’t work perfectly well at night as opposed to the morning? What’s wrong with starting your day at 11:00 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m.? As long as you are able to complete quality work, collaborate when necessary and meet deadlines, it shouldn’t matter where you are nor what time you’re getting your work done.

According to Totaljobs, 28 percent of employees would move jobs if they were not allowed to work from home. Specifically, with millennials, there has been a huge shift towards prioritizing working remotely when looking for a new job. Businesses must appropriately tailor their remote working policy to attract top talent.

Not to mention the myriad of benefits that comes with workplace flexibility. Everyday expenses such as transportation and food can be almost completely eliminated. That’s less wear and tear on your car, less junk food intake on lunch breaks, and most importantly, less damage to your wallet. Yearly savings can range between $2000 to $7000, says Forbes, depending on how often you buy lunch and/or coffee and how far your commute is. However, time is money and the savings in time from remote work are phenomenal.

Take a doctor’s appointment as an example. You don’t need to stress about having to leave work in the middle of the day if you can only get an appointment at 11:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. As long as you don’t have an important meeting at that time, why not wake up a little earlier and use that time to make up for your appointment? Or, spend some time after dinner finishing up anything you weren’t able to because of that commitment.

In my opinion, the biggest benefit is to be able to wake up, turn the coffee maker and the laptop on, and start my day. No need to drive in awful, bumper-to-bumper morning traffic; no need to stress and count the minutes until you arrive at work; and no need to worry about whether you have time to brew a coffee in the morning or pick one up on the way. It also translates to more time I get to spend with friends and family, and for that, I am grateful.

According to Upwork, about 63 percent of companies today have remote workers and we are only going to see this number increase. Why? Simple. The benefits are endless for not only remote workers but also for employers.

Employer benefits of remote work

Offices can consider going virtual, or at least cut down the need for a large office space, which leads to thousands of dollars in savings. The benefits to the environment are even greater, as fewer employees need to commute to work every day.

“Companies that refuse to support a remote workforce risk losing their best people and turning away tomorrow’s top talent,” says Stephanie Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, and I couldn’t agree more. Why restrict your talent pool to strictly those who are within commuting distance from your organization?

Thanks to new and improved video conferencing solutions out there, employees can connect from all over the country or the world and still feel like they are in the same room as one another. Collaboration and productivity are made possible no matter where you are. There isn’t a need to have in-person meetings because video conferencing is more convenient and, arguably, more productive.

Research shows video calls lead to higher retention, better knowledge transfer and better collaboration. According to Human Productivity Lab, we remember only 20 percent of what we hear from an audio call but combined with video conferencing, knowledge transfer rates jump up to 70 percent. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, which consists of body language and tone of voice. From my experience using video conferencing, it really does create an authentic and transparent emotional connection between you and the person you’re talking to—even if you’ve never met before!

The only drawback to remote work…productivity!

How can you use your time wisely when there is no supervisor watching you? How can you get your work done when there is always a list of housework accumulating around you? It’s important to have time management skills and to give yourself regular breaks to maintain productivity.

If you are someone who needs to feel pressured to get things done, try going to a local coffee shop to get your work done. Perhaps the busyness of that environment may motivate you to be more productive.

Try getting dressed in the morning as if you are going to an office and sit in your designated home office space. It’s important to have a workspace so you know you need to be in “work mode” when you are sitting there.

I sometimes go for a short run during my workday. Whether it’s during the morning or afternoon, this is a great way to get some fresh air and increase your productivity, especially when the majority of your work involves staring at a computer screen. Whenever I feel myself getting a little stir-crazy, I go for a run and once I get back, I am rejuvenated and ready to tackle what I need to complete for the rest of the day.

Final thoughts

Working remotely has heaps of benefits over drawbacks. There are so many technologies out there to make you feel like you are in the same room as another person that there isn’t a need to collaborate in a physical office, especially when you can collaborate just as well remotely.

Of course, remote work is not plausible for all industries; take the retail or service industry as an example. Typically, any position where you spend the majority of your time on your computer or in meetings, your job can be done remotely.

Productivity is critical to doing your job well, so experiment with a few tips and choose whichever method helps you to become the most productive.

Remember to get acquainted with this reality because remote work is only just beginning to become the new normal!

Carla Haddad is a content writer and recent graduate of the Professional Writing and Communications program at Humber College. She obtained her undergraduate degree from McMaster University in Justice, Political Philosophy and Law where she read voraciously within the field of philosophy. She will begin her master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communication Design in September where she will further study the art of language, philosophy, communication and persuasion. In her spare time, you can find her reading, writing, running or baking healthy, gluten-free snacks. 

Not All Things are Written in Stone: How to Find Flexibility in Your Writing Career

By Risa de Rege

The summer after I completed all my coursework for Humber’s Professional Writing and Communications graduate certificate was pretty representative of how my life has gone since.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I finished an internship that offered me a few cool opportunities scattered through three months of boring ones and, after a too-brief visit to England to perform, went back to school part-time at UofT. I have a BA in history, art, and medieval studies, and always wanted to learn more sciences and anything else of interest. After spending a few months convincing myself that if it was what I wanted to do, then it was worth it, I went for it. It’s been great.

So since graduating, I have balanced a bit of school, a bit of opera, and a lot of work. I am living out the millennial dream of working three part-time jobs, but it actually works well for me. I have more flexibility in my schedule, more diverse work, and more time to myself. When doing my internship I found that a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five office job is not for me. I like a bit of interaction and variety. I don’t want to get bored, and by only being at a job ten hours a week (times three), I can mostly avoid the downfalls of being full-time while still earning enough.

To answer the question I would obviously have asked former graduates if I hadn’t been in the first cohort to graduate from the PWC certificate: yes, I did find work in my field after graduating. Thanks to a combination of talking to the right people and focusing on the right skills, I have been editing professionally for about two years. I initially went into writing and editing because there are opportunities to cover so many different areas and interests (these days I edit for the condo industry, but I still hold this statement to be true).

(A side note about working from home, for anyone considering it: it’s what you’d expect. It’s great to have flexibility in your hours and to be able to work wherever. But sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation or to have to cancel plans because you let yourself get behind and have deadlines the next morning. Generally, I like it and it works for me, but I’m not enough of a self-starter to make it work full time).

One of my jobs is editing, but the other two are at libraries. Earlier this year I made the decision to pursue this field more seriously; I’ve worked at UofT libraries for the better part of the past six years, but to land any real full-time work in the industry you either need credentials or to have been born well before the early 90s. I considered applying for a master’s but decided, for now, to do my library technician diploma instead. There is lots of merit in both, but the diploma program offers a more hands-on, technical approach than a master’s – and the tuition is much more affordable. After graduating university I actually almost went to Seneca for this program, but ultimately chose Humber – in part due to its close location and gentler schedule.

I don’t really see this as a career change from what I studied at Humber; all of my communication skills are transferable, and there is more crossover in course material than I expected. Library workers (and, arguably, most workers) won’t succeed if they aren’t good communicators.

I never wanted to be the kind of person who used the metaphor of a “career path” unironically, but I can’t emphasize enough how it doesn’t have to be a straight line from education to an entry-level job to a better job in your field that you work at until you retire. For most people, that’s not a realistic expectation these days, anyway. And for someone like me with more interests than I know what to do with, it’s boring! It’s worth it if you can manage it, to try new things, learn new skills, and see what works for you (and, equally important, what doesn’t). Every experience will be worthwhile, one way or another.

Risa de Rege is a Toronto-based copy editor/student/library worker/musician. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (BA, history, art, medieval studies) and Humber College’s Professional Writing and Communications certificate. Interested in the intersections of technology, culture, and information, she is now studying digital humanities at UofT and working on her library technician diploma through Mohawk College. An active classical soprano, past roles include Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Leila in Iolanthe at an opera festival in England.

Hashtags and Rabbit Holes: Confessions of an Academic Writer

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” – Alexander Pope

“I want you to take a Post-It and write, ‘Don’t write like an academic.’” said my new Digital Communications professor. “Stick it on your desk, your wall, your computer. Anywhere you’re working. And don’t forget it.”

I blinked. But, ever the conscientious student, I slowly wrote it out in my notebook. (Yes, in ink, on paper.) I underlined it twice.

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As a mature student, I had enrolled in Humber College’s Professional Writing & Communications post-graduate program. I came armed with 6 years’ experience as a teaching assistant in Brock University’s English department, and a Master’s degree which focused on 18th and 19th century literature and gender studies. I loved studying that period, where manicured sentences wound long and lush as a garden path, heroic couplets were the chosen form of intellectuals, and you could stand on a Richardson novel to change a light bulb. Sadly, no one ever did beat down my door after graduation to discuss Judith Butler or Mr. Darcy’s masculine performance in Pride and Prejudice. So here I sat in this classroom, fluorescent lights buzzing, OSAP accruing, determined to bridge the distance between the ivory tower and the landscape beyond.

And, over the next eight months, my writing changed. Write for screens! Know your audience! Drop those adjectives! Bullet points! I ducked red pens and track changes, as my clauses fell away like petticoats. Watched as my murdered darlings dropped breathless to the floor, certain I’d never recover from the sacrifice. In time, I learned to step over them.

But if I bristled at changing my writing, I positively shut down when I was told to sign up for Twitter. As part of a teeny generation that has recently been dubbed “Xennials,” I grew up with the luxury of picking and choosing the parts of digital life in which I participated – and Twitter was not one of them. I dutifully claimed my handle, but I certainly didn’t see how I would ever need it in the workplace.

Is a tweet different than a heroic couplet? Yes, that’s a silly question. And no, it’s not silly at all. Alexander Pope may not have constrained himself to 140 or 280 characters, but he did know how to pack a nice, salty punch into two short lines. I learned to make my peace with the fact that a tweet is a similar burst of information, deliberately chosen to display its author’s worldview. As with any writing, both form and content are debated. Some are written poorly. Some are politically charged. Some will send you careening down a bot-peppered rabbit hole into chaos. Some are profound, impactful, and memorable.

When I did my internship at House & Home Media, in the third term of Humber’s program, I was surprised at how many of my days were spent focused on their social media and online presence. From there, I did a short contract at the Toronto International Film Festival, where my work was solely for web. And when finally, happily, I was hired for the Journals Division at the University of Toronto Press, it was as their Digital Marketing Coordinator. Now, one of the largest parts of my job is to run their Twitter accounts. And I’ve been pleased to find out along the way that Alexander Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu both have hashtags, and that a “Swiftie” not only refers to songstress Taylor, but satirist Jonathan.

I slid back into the academic world like a hand finds its glove. I knew this world. I loved this world. But what was different now was that I knew how to promote this world. And I also knew that, in some ways, it would be a challenge. Part of each day is spent finding newly published contributors on Twitter in order to market their articles and gain a wider reach. I search for the handles of their university departments. I track and promote the work of grad students. Though they are often quite sparing with their words, I try to get scholars talking on social media. Much like I once balked, some don’t see the point of being on the platform at all.

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As humanities majors, we’re told we have a wide variety of skills; we just need to market them. But we are rarely taught how, and many of us are more comfortable curled up with a good book than we are singing our own praises to potential employers. One week into my job at UTP Journals, I went home to my own academic, a quiet historian who’s writing his dissertation in Russian history, and told him to make sure he uses social media to promote his research. That when the time comes to apply for one of those coveted academic positions, to show not only that he can write, teach, and produce, but that he can help promote the department on its digital platforms. Useful advice? Academics on hiring committees would know more than I.

Is the debate about writing for social media similar to the heated debates about the potential dangers of the novel when it first appeared? Poetic license with the sonnet? The modern, post-Victorian aesthetic?

Today I saw a man reach out to another I follow on Twitter: “It grieves me that I’ve had to degrade myself to contact you over Twitter. Is there really no other way to reach you?” I trust by this point you know I understand the sentiment, but here is the truth, the raw truth for those of us who, as author Tim Bowling puts it, are “dragging the bloodied pelt of the twentieth century” behind us: social media is simply an exchange. A hand reaching out across a shrinking globe to create and participate in community. How does Alice not fall down the rabbit hole? If I ever find out, I’ll let you know. Sometimes I feel like I’m leasing space down there.

But here is what I also know to be true, as the world in which I once belonged shifts shape into something new: there is a way to marry the two, and still retain the integrity and traditions of the former.

I was recently in Washington at the American Historical Association meeting, and my colleague was attending the Modern Language Association convention in New York City. As I was tweeting from both, what struck me was just how many academics were reaching out to each other in kind and positive ways. During the worst of the January storms, there were offers of child-minding services for presenters if daycares were closed, promises to post grad student papers online if they couldn’t attend their sessions, and gentle reminders to tenured professors that a drink and a chat with a vulnerable adjunct can go a long way.

Can you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice? God help you, yes.

But you can also find support in an online academic community that will help you market your research, increase your career options, and put you in contact with new publications. You just need to make sure you’re opening the Twitter handle to the right door.

Tanya Rohrmoser is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at University of Toronto Press Journals, a freelance writer, and a graduate of Humber College’s Professional Writing & Communications Program. She holds an M.A. in English Literature from Brock University. Tanya currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, and is a lover of basil, toile, and William Morris wallpaper. You can follow her on Twitter at @TanyaRohrmoser.

Millennials in the Workplace

Integrating a blend of older and younger workers in a workplace presents managers with unique challenges.  Differences in values, interests and communication styles are just a few of these challenges.  A lot has been written about the generational clash that’s occurring in work places today as the boomers struggle to accept millennial hires.  For the first time in history, there are five generations of employees sharing office space: traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, millennials, and generation Z, so it’s bound to feel crowded.

The dynamics have shifted as many boomers are reluctant to retire and are working longer than ever before.  The latest census data from Statistics Canada show more and more Canadians are working past 65 “whether for their health, their finances or just for the fun of it.”  This means that there simply hasn’t been as much room for millennial hires, and that the lucky ones who do get hired are unlikely to be making salaries commensurate with their qualifications.

It is unfortunate that millennials have gotten the short-end-of-the-stick so to speak.  Adjectives such as “lazy,” “disloyal,” “self-interested,” and “entitled” are used with abandon.  The reality is that millennials are the best-educated yet worst paid generation, and they are the ones with something to gripe about.

Derek Thompson, a contributor to The Atlantic, writes in his article “The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials?”, “Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you’re disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials–and only for millennials.”

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Millennials are a by-product of an unstable job market where part-time and contract work proliferates.  Companies downsized drastically in the second half of the last century and this trend continues today.  Only this past October we were reading about Loblaw laying off 500 office workers in an effort to cut costs.  Millennials have heard the message loud and clear; job security is no longer the norm.

Gone are the days of defined benefit pensions that workers can count on in retirement.  The Sears fiasco illustrates this uncertainty as long-time Sears employees learned that their severance and pension payments are in jeopardy and that it’s very likely they won’t be able to recoup the full amounts owing to them.

In her Toronto Star article “Will the defined benefit plan disappear?” Vanessa Lu writes,

“Things were good in the 1980s and 1990s, but after the 2008 financial crisis, companies were hit with huge deficits thanks to poor stock market returns, and many employers got out of the defined benefit pension business.  Some switched to defined contribution plans, where individuals have investment accounts, but the payout at retirement depends on how those investments fare.  Other employers simply don’t offer a pension plan at all.  Nearly 1.3 million workers in Ontario do not have access to any type of employer-sponsored workplace pension.  In Canada’s private sector, only one person in five has a workplace pension.”

It’s clear that times are tough and millennials are feeling the pressure.  They have been forced to adapt and have come to see themselves more as freelancers.  This doesn’t make them disloyal; it makes them adaptable.  Although they value job security, they have low expectations, and who can blame them?

Adding insult to injury is the cost of post secondary education.  As millennials well know, a bachelor’s degree is often no longer enough and a master’s degree is no guarantee.  This phenomenon is called credential inflation and its costing millennials big time.  A recent survey from the Bank of Montreal found that most students expect to graduate with more than $20,000 in debt, and more than a fifth are anticipating debt of more than $40,000.

A 2012 HuffPost article entitled “Generation Y vs. Boomers in Canada: Is it Tougher for Millennials to Get Ahead Today than Past Generations?” summarizes as follows:

“Yet a high school diploma today is hardly a guarantor of success in the workforce, as most are well aware. So Canadian millennials now face a new financial obstacle in life: While their predecessors struggled with the costs of housing and transportation and food, millennials find themselves struggling with the cost of education as well.”

By the time millennials enter the work force it’s likely they have at least one degree and a variety of jobs under their belt that helped pay for that degree.  They have also likely worked for free as they completed unpaid internships.  Boomers tossing around the word “lazy” should keep these things in mind.

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Millennials have a lot of positive traits to bring to the table.  They are collaborative by nature and work well with diverse groups of people; they are tech-savvy and multi-task with ease, and they care about the kind of work they do and want work with a purpose.  Unfortunately, a large percentage of millennials don’t feel they are being used to their full potential and say there’s a lack of mentorship available to them.

The problem stems from the top and it’s not the boomers or the millennials fault that the system is broken.  Issues like ageism, internal competition, and a fragile sense of job security are infecting workplaces.  Companies are focused on profit margins, not people.  As Dani-ElleDubé writes for Global News, “Companies decided it wasn’t worth investing time and money into recruiting and retaining millennial employees.”

It’s therefore high time the boomers cut the millennials some slack and stop making them the scapegoats.

Shawna Wynne, Author

Shawna is a Humber graduate who has worked as a legal assistant since graduating from the paralegal program in 2013.  The part about law she enjoys most is writing, and after careful consideration this past summer she decided to pursue a career in writing, as opposed to becoming a licensed paralegal.  When she is writing, she is content and utterly in the moment.  She also enjoys reading and reads a bit of everything.  She’s read thousands of books throughout her life and always has one (or two) on the go.

Top Ten Tips: Research

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Cobi Ladner

PWC students are always learning new things, and once in a while we like to share some top tips. From professor Cobi Ladner, who teaches the Writers as Researchers course, here are (in no particular order) ten tips on her topic:  

Always check with the organization you’re working for about which style guide to use (also check on the dictionary).

Consider the credibility of the sources you use (rely on official sources or those who are paid to do research, such as journalists or government).

Go beyond the first page of Google when you’re searching for information, and experiment with more complex searches.

Avoid using sources that are out of date, unless they are central to the topic.

Always proofread citations to make sure your punctuation is in the right place.

Don’t wait too long to transcribe your interviews so that the conversation is still fresh in your mind.

Make sure you re-read the assignment or research brief so you understand what is being asked for.

Keep fact-checking in mind by documenting your research and sources as you’re doing it – don’t assume you’ll remember where information came from.

Consider bias in your sources and aim for a variety of perspectives.

Fact check your own work before submitting it to save your editors the trouble.