Last week, I stumbled upon the PBS mini-series Twice Born. Over 3 hour-long episodes, the series follows specialized fetal surgeons and their brave patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Read: doctors performing delicate surgeries on unborn babies.
Each episode follows articulate, detailed, and compassionate surgeons. Work, to them, is a passion driven to an apex through crushing blows and thrilling successes.
They’re motivated and skilled individuals, free of fluff. Their focus is on solving patients’ problems. Loving the work, living in that space, and learning from their mistakes. Aiming to become better versions of themselves and never settling for just okay at the end of each day.
Roughly 4 years ago, the work and clients at my solo freelance company began evolving. I eventually pivoted, mindfully co-creating a remote web design and technology studio called Authentic Form & Function.
Authentic F&F, with an entirely dispersed team, has always lived and died in faux environments. Environments we create, tend to, fail in, thrive through, and perhaps most importantly, experiment within.“What will sustain remote employees beyond salary, benefits, and a stable position?”
With a unique company culture comes unique challenges. One specific challenge is laced with plenty of speculation and opinion: what will sustain remote employees beyond salary, benefits, and a stable position?
We ponder this not only for ourselves as team members, but also managers and owners for a company we continue to water. I’ll often hear stereotypical remote life anecdotes in response, whether it be online or at local events:
- Put pants on each day
- Create a distraction-free office
- Use the best communication tools
- Carve out time to take breaks
- Establish a daily routine
To be clear, I’m not debating that the right tool at the right time isn’t a difference maker. Or that creating the best possible office environment for your needs isn’t absolutely critical. Those are important factors to consider when beginning, without a doubt.
But what I am questioning—for all remote employees—is what comes beyond the physical act of remote working. In other words, understanding and grappling with why we’re remote working in the first place, and how employees will remain satisfied in the long run.“How will remote workers remain satisfied in the long run?”
As we expand our team at Authentic F&F, the topic has become a sticky note.
Finding alignment, then fulfillment
Authentic F&F’s backbone has always rested squarely on the notion that when we’re working on things we truly love, we won’t be “working” a day in our lives.
We believe that when we allow our unique culture to inform the work we do, we won’t spiral into static landscapes. That if we have the freedom to make our own decisions while also adhering to a general company expectation, the result will be a fulfilled environment through results-based autonomy.“Remote work isn’t for everyone.”
Being remote is a new way of living and a new way of aligning yourself in the workplace. Establishing personal routines and coming to terms with weaknesses all become major roadblocks. Failure in a remote culture is unavoidable if basic patterns and observations go unchecked and unattended.
But if an employee has drive and thoughtful levels of commitment to their craft, we’ve found that a new depth of fulfillment can be established.
For me, fulfillment comes when I blend personal culture with work culture. Knowing that I can inject what I learn through an interpersonal relationship to the workplace, for example, is paramount.
Or, perhaps, that I can apply what I intrinsically learn deep inside a taxing physical workout to a difficult decision we need to make as a company. In that sense, my personal life begins to color my professional life.
For others it may be performing on stage, attending a book club, playing video games, or making time for their children.
Creating objectives, targeting results, and creating purpose
If you’ve ever listened to a vocals-only version of one of your favorite songs, you probably imagine the backing track that gives it greater meaning. Without the kick drum, jazzy guitar, or maybe some cowbell, it’s simply an artist singing.
That’s how I view professional fulfillment without direction. We can sing our hearts out, but without reason or direction, it somehow loses meaning. That’s also why we now assign objectives and metrics to each team member to understand what we’re striving for beyond the 9 to 5.
We’re asking ourselves: personally and professionally, where are we headed?
We talk about why something is a goal, how it relates to the company’s greater vision, and what success would look like. In other words, a specific direction put together by a backing track then executed by team members.
Purpose in the work we do is a concoction of what drives and informs us. Through our unique personal and professional cultures, yes, but also in how we frame results within greater goals. Our purpose becomes whole as the sum of each smaller part comes together.“Purpose in the work we do is a concoction of what drives and informs us.”
A workplace revolution
As we continue to usher in young talent as a society—young talent that has come to expect more from a job than a paycheck—we need to rethink how fulfillment and purpose can be cultivated and sustained. A new way of framing the workplace.
As our society evolves, so too does our workplace. As our workplace evolves, so too does the way we find fulfillment. As our sense of fulfillment evolves, so too does the way we need to address what we’re doing in the first place.
Which brings me back to the surgeons.
I watched with pride as each surgeon was completely aligned in their work. Fulfilled through lessons learned and small wins along the way—personally and professionally—that inform how they treat patients in the present.“We need to rethink how fulfillment and purpose can be cultivated and sustained.”
But these doctors were also directed by a greater meaning and purposeful next steps. For where they’re headed as individuals, and for what comes next within their organization.
In the end we all want fulfillment, which is a given. And yet, beyond that layer, lies so much more we’ve yet to tap into.
How our personal culture informs our work culture can have many faces—as it should. Once aligned, fulfillment starts to become second nature. But it doesn’t mean it gives anyone meaningful direction. And without direction, we’re floating.
Finding purpose—within something larger than ourselves—is the key.
Photography by Sarah Addy.