Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: work/life balance

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to work/life balance.

Asking a Favour From Your Boss: A Contractor’s guide.

Asking a Favour From Your Boss: A Contractor's guide.

Brianne Risley By Brianne Risley,
Director, Delivery Strategy & Development at Eagle

A question I am often asked is “What is the best way to approach my boss to ask for something important?”

As an independent contractor, it can be daunting asking your leader for something you need. This is particularly true today when most workers do not want to ‘upset the applecart’ during a precarious time for companies in the market.

You may be looking to address one of the following big topics affecting your work-life:

  • Work hour concessions during the pandemic
  • Accommodations for a return-to-the-office work plan
  • A recommendation/reference for a new project
  • New project work, or a transfer to another department

In this article, I will give you an easy way to frame a conversation where you have an important ‘ask’ in a way that it will work for any audience – your client, family, friends, anyone.

The Format:

The message is best delivered in person (voice-to-voice) first, with a follow-up via email in a work setting. The verbal delivery helps the listener understand the tone of your message and helps convey the sincerity and importance of the ‘ask’. The written follow-up is like any business proposal – it helps to ensure follow-up.

The Opener:

This will be a gracious expression of a heartfelt thank-you, and appreciation for the current state of affairs. Your focus is to establish a sense of gratitude, and convey your positive energy – both as a team player, and a core contributor to your organization. You will also take the time to list out your personal key, results-based achievements. When listing your achievements, try to include as much detail as possible including facts, figures, earnings, time-saved, users helped, recommendations, etc.

The past few months with a reduced staff have been hard work, but have been motivating for me. Thank-you for retaining and supporting our team members. We’ve worked well together to deliver significant achievements on the project, and on a personal level I’ve really been able to excel in the following areas: 

  • 15 integrations completed resulting in a 20% reduction of admin time
  • Completed 3 remote workshops, and trained team members on how to achieve good meeting facilitation results via Zoom Meetings.
  • A business user had this to say about my customer service ________.

The Ask:

A common mistake people make when asking for something is not stating how it benefits the employer on a business level, and themselves on a personal level. In my view, you can’t ask for more of something while still offering the same work results or benefits.

State what you want, and then explain how that change will save you time/money/piece of mind that you will reinvest in other areas to get a return. Make sure there is a carrot to motivate the decision maker to side with you.

Next month, I will continue the complex integration work on this project to make both us and the project stakeholders happy. That said, there is an important impediment that I need your help and support with. I would like to shift my work hours from 9am – 5:30pm to 7:30am – 3pm in the month of September to help balance my remote work schedule with my children’s re-entry into the classroom.

  • The early-morning hours will allow me to clear off after-hours work orders before my colleagues start, thereby promoting faster ticket response times. (employer benefit)
  • On a personal level, this would give me piece of mind that I am able to handle any school-related issues well outside of my core working hours and avoid unnecessary distractions. (Personal benefit + employer benefit)

The Closer:

Finish with a quick recap of the ‘ask’, and invite the chance to answer questions.

  • I like being a top contributor to this team, and I enjoy doing it for an organization that values customer satisfaction and work-life balance.
  • I welcome the chance to discuss this with you further. What questions can I answer?
  • Thank you for the continued support, and I look forward to discussing how we can be even more successful moving forward.

As the ‘hired gun’ on a project team, consultants are paid to be self-sufficient and low-maintenance. If you find yourself needing something big from your leader, let this framework give you the tools you need to get it.

3 Boundaries You Need to Set as an Independent Contractor

3 Boundaries You Need to Set as an Independent Contractor

IT contracting and running your own business has a number of perks, including the fact that, generally, you get to set your own rules. It’s your business and as long as you deliver on your contract, the rest of the decisions are yours. All too often though, independent contractors fall into a trap of trying to please everybody and deliver the best service to earn that reference. You do more than you need to, which is fantastic for your client, but not doing yourself any services.

As an IT contractor, it’s important to set boundaries with a number of people — your client, colleagues, recruiters, friends, family and even yourself. Few people in your life are out to take advantage of you maliciously, but the more you give them, the more they’ll take. Eventually, you’ll find yourself doing things that don’t align with your goals. Here are three types of boundaries you should be setting as an IT contractor:

Time Boundaries

Probably the most common boundary we think of, and also the one most of us can improve. Your time is valuable, and even if a client is willing to pay you for the extra time worked, it doesn’t mean you need to work more hours than agreed to in your contract. Set office hours so clients know when your day begins and ends. Let them know which hours they should not expect to receive an email response.

Your office hours should not only be communicated with your client. First, setting these boundaries with yourself allows you to optimize your personal time outside of office hours. Next, other people in your life need to be aware of the hours you choose to work. Independent contractors enjoy flexibility with their hours, but friends and family sometimes think that means you’re available to help or chat at the drop of a dime. They too need to know that although you can take an hour off to run to the store, you’ve already scheduled that time for your client’s work.

Finally, time boundaries can be set at a more micro level as well. For example, when scheduling meetings, decide on the topic and set the exact length of time you intend to be on that call. Do not let the topic shift or the timeframe to change.

Ethical Boundaries

Your integrity must be a top priority if you want to continue hearing from recruiters about new opportunities and getting called back by clients. Similar to how your time can creep away because you keep giving a little more, there are countless stories of people who kept pushing their ethical boundaries slightly over the line until eventually they found themselves in an unimaginable dilemma.

One example of a little white lie that can get out of control is lying on a resume. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for recruiters to see this happen. Perhaps you expand the length of a project to fit the job description criteria or claim you have plenty of experience with a technology even though you only touched it briefly on a project. Regardless, if this continues to happen with every job application, these little stretches can turn into big lies. If recruiters don’t recognize them by comparing different resumes and your LinkedIn profile, it will surely stand out when you finally land a contract and can’t deliver. You’ll end up being blacklisted by that staffing agency and the client.

There are many other ethical boundaries that can be pushed and lead down a slippery slope. Billing for an extra hour or two when you weren’t actually working, discussing confidential client information with close friends (they won’t tell anyone, right?), and lying about other opportunities to negotiate a better rate — these all seem minor but can quickly come back to bite you.

Client Relationship Boundaries

Finally, it is critical to set boundaries with your client to prevent yourself from being deemed as an employee. This is important for both you and your client. Should the CRA do an audit and decide that you were, in fact, an employee, you will both be on the hook for some serious, unexpected payments.

Many of these boundaries are simple and just require you not to get sucked into the client’s every day activities. For example, those office hour boundaries we discussed above are a good example to show that you operate under your own business’s policies, as opposed to the client’s. Furthermore, you want to refrain from attending company events typically reserved for employee appreciation or using too many office supplies and equipment paid for by the client. Your accountant or lawyer can help you better understand what other boundaries you should be setting to help separate yourself from your client’s employees.

Setting boundaries is a wise idea to maintain your work-life balance while building a strong relationship with your client… but it’s easier said than done. Take time early-on to know understand your boundaries, so you’re not setting them on-the-fly. Then, be upfront, honest and clear about your boundaries with clients, recruiters and anybody else who needs to know them.

What other boundaries do you set as an independent contractor? How do you ensure they’re respected by clients, colleagues, recruiters and others in your life?

Make Every Weekend a 3-Day Weekend!

In our society, working overtime is not an uncommon practice. According to recent research, picking up all those extra hours might be negatively impacting our health and putting us at risk of various physical and mental health issues. InvestmentZen believes that instead of making employees work an entire 5-day week, we should be giving them an additional day off. Latest scientific studies support the idea that we can resolve this ever-growing problem with 3-day weekends which have proven to be beneficial to not only employees, but companies as well.

There is already a multitude of companies giving an extra day off to their employees in Japan, America, United Kingdom, and Sweden. If companies are doing it for their employees, why aren’t you doing it for yourself. As an independent contractor, you’re your own boss, so it’s just a matter of negotiating it into your next contract. In addition to increased productivity as these studies show, working different hours from your client’s employees will also help separate you as a contractor in the eyes of the CRA.

Why Every Weekend Should Be A 3 Day Weekend

Via: InvestmentZen.com

Are You Addicted to Work? (Infographic)

As much as clients and recruiters love to know they’re working with a hard-working IT contractor, it is possible to work too hard, to the point where you may be addicted to work. The result can lead to overall unhappiness in life, an unhealthy body, and, ironically, lower productivity.

What can you do about a work addiction? The first step is to find out if you really are addicted. From there, work at breaking that addiction. This infographic from The Business Backer provides advice on both of those, making it the perfect tool for an independent contractor to review. Take control of your work in 2017, before it takes control of you.

Courtesy of: The Business Backer

Top 10 Things to Do on a Business Trip (Video)

Travelling for business isn’t all that glamourous, especially after the day is over and you find yourself bored in a hotel room. According to Vlog Travel, there’s no reason to be bored and you have a lot of options, whether you want to relax or go out for a night on the town. Here are a few ideas to help you fill your time.

How to Stay Happy Throughout the Day

Demanding clients, frustrating team members, insufficient resources, dysfunctional equipment — just a few things that can easily take your mood from great to terrible. You have very little control over any of these factors, so don’t let them destroy your day. Instead, take a look at this infographic from Career Savvy and find out how you can quickly turn your workday into 8 positive hours.


Best Practices for Working from Home

One great benefit of being an independent contractor is the ability to work from home, or any other location for that matter.  Unless it’s critical to a project to have you onsite, most clients don’t care where you perform your work and some may even prefer you work from a separate office.  In addition, working off-site is another simple way to distinguish yourself as a contractor and not an employee.

Home OfficeWhen you first begin contracting and working remotely, being by yourself in your home office can present some challenges.  Although nobody’s physically around to hold you accountable, you can be sure that your client is aware of your productivity and will be making sure that the hours you’re billing are actually going towards their project.

In a recent article for Entrepreneur.com, Jacqueline Whitmore shared her experiences and challenges  when she started working from home, as well as six best practices she developed to overcome the obstacles.  Here’s what Jacqueline suggests:

1. Set and keep regular office hours. 

Most people who work from home find they work too much rather than too little. Other remote workers struggle to keep a regular schedule — working a few hours one day and pulling an all-nighter the next.

Some interruptions can’t be avoided. Client deadlines may unexpectedly require extra hours. Family obligations can interfere as well, especially if children are home during the day.

Do your best to set work hours and stick to them. Then try your best to leave work at the “office” and turn your phone on silent and enjoy the rest of your day. Give yourself some time to recharge so you can be as productive as possible.

2. Plan and structure your workday.

Structure your workday to maximize efficiency. Take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms and plan your work around your most productive hours.

If you know you focus best in the morning, resist the temptation to check email until 10 a.m. or later. A quick review of your calendar when you first start work can set you up for a productive workday.

Make a list of your most important tasks before you move on to less urgent business. If possible, shut your office door (if you have one) to signal to others that you’re working and don’t wish to be disturbed.

3. Dress to impress (even if it’s just for your dog).

As enticing as it is to stay in pajamas all day, this is not the best work habit. The way you dress affects you psychologically.

Taking the time to shower, have breakfast, brush the teeth and dress can make someone feel more confident. Maintain a casual (not sloppy) work wardrobe to help you transition smoothly between home and office — even if they’re in the same place.

4. Set aside a designated work area.

Consistency is an important aspect to working from home. Try to work at the same spot every day. It could be a spare bedroom that you’ve turned into a home office, a desk located in the corner of the living room or even the dining room table.

Make sure your workspace functions efficiently for you, your business and your style. Surround yourself with things that inspire you and make you happy including flowers, music and pictures. Make your workspace a place you enjoy going to each day, an area where you can focus and do your best work.

5. Take breaks.

Schedule time for frequent breaks throughout the day. Rise from your desk, stretch or walk around the house or down the street. Take a lunch break and enjoy a midday meal.

If you need a little socializing, go out to lunch with friends or clients. A major advantage to working from home is having flexibility. If fitness is important to you, a quick trip to the gym can reinvigorate you and make for a productive afternoon.

6. Avoid distractions.

One challenge of working from home is accountability. With no colleagues or partners nearby, it’s easy to become distracted. There are always errands to run and chores at home to do. Do your best to put off household tasks, like laundry and dishes, until you’ve gone “home” for the evening.

Stay focused on work throughout the day to maintain consistent productivity. Avoid online distractions as well. Limit the time spent on email, social media and websites unrelated to work.

Set a timer on your phone or computer if necessary. Don’t waste time or money on meetings or activities that are counterproductive to your success.

10 Basic Work Rules You Already Know

If you speak with almost any manager, whether they’re managing contractors or full-time employees, they’ll be able to tell you countless stories of conflict in the workplace dealing with interpersonal issues and personality clashes. The fact is, these situations could be avoided if everybody just followed the most basic rules of being in the workforce.

Here are 10 basic rules every contractor should remember when at a client site. As simple as they are, many people (not you, obviously) seem to ignore them and end up being the cause of conflict in the office. As you read through this list, see how many people you can think of who could use a refresher.Teacher teaching basic rules of the workplace

  1. Build balance in your life. Work should not be your life, yet it should be an important part of your life. Give each part its due and always give your client 100%.
  2. The people working around you did not choose to be your spouse, your partner or even your friend. When at work be a professional “work colleague”.
  3. If you have issues in your private life, then you should deal with them during your own time and not bring them onto your client site.
  4. Your lifestyle requirements should be formed based upon your income, not the other way around. If you demand more money from a client, it should be because you’re worth it, not because you want to go on vacation.
  5. Your client, their employees, and your colleagues are at work to focus on work so they appreciate everyone else who takes that same approach. (Don’t be a distraction)
  6. Take the emotion out of your dealings with colleagues. It doesn’t matter if you like them or not, you all have a job to do.
  7. Make decisions based on facts, business realities, best practices etc.
  8. Communicate professionally with all around you.
  9. Always treat the other person the way you would like to be treated in the workplace.
  10. Get thick skin.

These rules are common sense but we’ve all worked with people who never got the memo.  For that reason, there’s a button at the top of this post that will let you to email these rules or share them on a social media profile (not that we’re trying to start conflict, we simply want to help you improve your work environment).

Smartphone Etiquette

As our iPhones, Androids, Blackberries and a host of other hand-held “offices” continue to invade our lives, basic rules and etiquette around their usage becomes more imsmartphoneportant.

There is no doubt that independent contractors benefit from always “being connected” as
you can stay in touch with clients, projects and recruiters without being shackled to the office.  However, setting some limits will ensure that you are effectively managing your usage and limiting the impact to those around you.

  1. Meetings

Smartphones are extremely disruptive in meetings. How many times do you see the people around you looking intently at their kneecap, and all of a sudden their attention is absolutely somewhere else? It’s rude, creates the perception that the other people in the meeting are not valued and a lack of focus wastes their time.

At the very minimum, devices should be set to silent. Even when on vibrate, they can be heard going off and those around you will notice your body language change every time it happens.

  1. Meals

It’s very impolite to leave your phone on the table during a meal. Leave it holstered, turn it off or turn it to silent. Do not take calls or look at emails unless there is some emergency brewing, in which case, it’s courteous to state that up front and excuse yourself to take the call privately.

  1. At Home and on holiday

Unless you are the President of the United States, or some equally important person, there is absolutely no reason to need 24 hours access to email while you are on “personal time”.

Very often, it’s important to know what is going on, so it’s fine to keep in touch. However, constant checking for emails or typing while on the beach or out on tour or when you and your family are “relaxing” isn’t necessary.  It sets a bad example for the kids, it’s rude to those around you and it impedes your ability to have fun!

Smartphones are a great tool and most of us today would be lost without them.  It’s still, however, important to understand and abide by the rules of etiquette with your phone, whether you’re on a client site, meeting with a recruiter, or spending time with family and friends.  Do you have any pet peeves about people act with their phones?  Start the conversation in the comments below!

Steps to Finding YOUR Life Balance

It is difficult to achieve balance in our lives. Balance means different things to different people and for most of us, other people affect those different areas that we are trying to keep in harmony!

Juggling Time as an Independent ContractorAs a contractor, you may juggle multiple clients and all of their priorities (plus any additional commitments you make) conspire to keep you busy.  It’s important to understand your “tipping point”. If you want to do a good job, be successful and be fulfilled by your work then it needs to be enough to achieve that end, without adversely affecting the other parts of your life.

At home you may have family commitments, hobbies and activities that you commit to, self-improvement projects or health targets all of which require time and energy.  You may also be involved in charitable work or other not for profit work that needs your time and skills.

There are always going to be demands on your time and it is up to you to determine where you want to put the emphasis. For some people, family and home life is the only priority and earning money is a necessary evil to pay the bills. For others, work is a huge priority because it is fulfilling. For most there is a middle ground where success at work is important, but family is equally important. Regardless of the scenario, there will always be certain periods when the balance tips one way or another, but as long as it is temporary its all good.

None of the above is wrong in any way shape or form but the disconnect may come in expectations. The contractor who is not willing to put the same amount of effort into a project/client as the next contractor may still expect the same kind of results. Equally, the contractor who devotes all their energy to their clients cannot reasonably expect to have the same kind of time at home as the person who makes family and home their top priority.

The ONLY way to achieve YOUR balance is to know yourself, to understand your motivations and adjust your expectations accordingly. Success in anything will always bring some kind of compromise and hitting the right “balance” to suit your needs will lead to a life that is full and rewarding.

To discover the right life balance for you, ask yourself:

  1. How much difference would it make to your life if you put in a few extra hours or a few less hours for your clients each week?
  2. Can you find a way to get to 90% of your children’s activities — soccer, hockey, dance etc.? Is that enough? Would you settle for less?
  3. Would you accept a less fulfilling, lower paying or less demanding contract if it meant you could spend more time with your family? More time doing your hobby? More time working with non-profit organizations?
  4. Is the time you spend with your family maximized now? How much time is spent in front of a TV? How much time is spent interacting with your family?
  5. Do you dash home from work right at 5pm and do nothing? Or dive into a passion (hobby, etc.)? Or spend quality time with your family?
  6. How many hours of your week are productive in the context of all your activities? Is the mix right? Are you “wasting” too much time?
  7. If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, would you have regrets about what you have done with your life? If so, then what would you do differently?

If you ask yourself the hard questions about how you live your life, it can lead to a different perspective and with a little planning could lead to small changes that make big differences and subsequently increased satisfaction.

Fortunately, the flexibility afforded as a business owner and independent contractor can be very beneficial in achieving your goals.  We are all different and you only get one shot at this, so make the most of it.

Where do you stand?  How do you balance your business and family life?  Let us know in the comments section below.