The CareerExplorer Discord Community had the opportunity to speak to Alysia Hamilton, a Service Design Consultant, in a live, fireside Q&A.
Alysia started her entrepreneurial journey at 20 years old, creating and selling one of the first mobile-forward spas on the west coast of Canada. Driven by a never-ending desire to learn and grow, the sale of that business in 2015 inspired international travel and led to a career in service design. Alysia spent three years scaling, hiring, and leading experience and community for the first global network of co-live and work spaces, Roam.
In 2017 Alysia transitioned to full-time consulting in service and communications design for corporate housing, boutique hotels, developers, and co-working communities — bridging the gap between traditional business models and a remote-forward workforce.
She has been working remotely for six years, spanning 15 countries and three continents so far. Alysia is passionate about the future of remote work and the freedom it allows us to experience.
The transcript below has been modified and abridged from the original conversation.
Did you go to college after you graduated high school? Or did you decide to go the entrepreneurial route right away?
I went to school for Film & Television Make-Up and Special Effects when I was 17 years old, directly after graduating high school. I then studied communications at university for two years and also started my part-time business, doing both at the same time. The entrepreneurial route started by accident. I never planned on it.
Was there something specific that inspired you to start your own business at the age of 20?
I worked for a very small spa in my hometown. I learned everything — client service, accounting, and management — all while on the job. After working there for three years, six days a week, I thought I would take everything I had learned and do it myself. I knew I could make more money and have more time if I did this. It was a new challenge for me — and I love challenges.
When I started working for myself, I saved my tips and paid my own rent. I made sure that I had enough to last for a few months, and also got two part-time jobs on the side to make sure I had a safety net. Once I started making enough money, I left the side jobs.
Did you get any negative feedback from family members or friends when you decided to be an entrepreneur?
Not really. I think my family expected me to do something different. However, they did laugh at me when I shared that I planned to ride my bicycle to people’s homes to do spa services — until it worked!
I think you just need a couple of people to believe in you. I didn’t know what I was doing, just that I wanted to try. I gained confidence as I went on.
The Customer Experience Industry
You mentioned that the sale of your business in 2015 inspired a career in service design. What does that entail?
Service design is basically the experience that customers have with a brand, from the first moment they interact with that brand to all the touch points thereafter. It’s making sure that the brand qualities translate to an excellent customer experience.
A great example is a hotel you recognize — for example, the Hilton. You know all the Hilton hotels are high quality, and are known for their incredible customer service. Maintaining and designing that experience for people is true service and communications design.
It’s a way of thinking. It can be applied to product development, management, and even engineering. I focus mostly on communications now, but really love being on the ground floor with new projects as well.
My time working in a spa and having my own business really taught me more than anything else. I learned to listen to people, observe them, and understand what they want in order to make their experience exceptional.
This article explains service design in a more detailed way.
Is service and communications design a career option that you would recommend to others?
I didn’t even know that service and communications design was a career option until I started working at my first hospitality job. And now I love it!
Would I recommend it to others? It really depends. Personally, I’ve always been a people person and have a lot of energy and empathy. If you are an empathetic person who considers the experience of others and has attention to detail, it’s really wonderful and you can make a lot of money in this career. It can be challenging to find work until you are experienced — but any career is that way.
Do you need any technical knowledge to do the work you do?
Yes, I think we all need some technical knowledge these days. I pay attention to online experience — sales funnels, engagement, social media, copy writing etc. However, I am not an engineer, nor a very technically focused person.
Staying curious about things has always helped me. I ask a lot of questions and read books about sales, marketing, and thinking.
Do you find it difficult to stay motivated and focused when doing remote work? Do you have any tips that you can share?
I definitely have days where it’s hard to stay motivated and focused, especially now during COVID. It’s tough as an extrovert!
This is the best advice I can give:
- Set up habits and routines for productivity
- Decide how many hours you will dedicate to work
- If you are working remotely, you will most likely be working on something project based. So, hours vs outcome is important. Hours put in doesn’t mean productivity, or that you are working any harder.
- Focus on producing results and implement ways to reward yourself once you’ve completed things
- Always be over prepared and ask many questions
- Stay in touch with others who work remotely
I love the trade-off though — the freedom to have afternoons or mornings off, or to cram work in so I can be where I want to be. Flexibility is really important to me.
What resources and advice do you have for adapting your thinking to a more productive mindset?
When I first started working remotely in 2014, the idea of ‘output vs time’ just made sense. Clocking hours without clear metrics of success isn’t productive and it most definitely isn’t efficient.
Basecamp CEO, Jason Fried, thinks offices are the worst place for productivity. He co-authored the book Rework. In addition to being an essential guide to working remotely, it covers all of the basic principles of productivity, effective teamwork, and leadership. It was the first book that truly impacted the way I work, and still refer to it now.
My other favorite books related to remote work are:
The New Rules of Work
“Finding work, networking and success online.”
“Learn about your strengths and how to lead/collaborate with a team.”
The One Thing
“Getting things done, organizing your day and workload.”
My essential productivity principles are:
Focus on your goals — really make sure you are clear on them.
Project and time management is essential. I’m a huge fan of Trello and Notion and I like to plan the days and weeks ahead. Some people prefer to write things down or use documents. Whatever works for you is what will work for you.
Pick three things in a day that you MUST complete and try to keep your daily list short to avoid being overwhelmed. Personally, I make a long list at the beginning of the week and then I break the high level items down to smaller tasks for each day.
Most of us do well if we have an incentive, so give yourself a reward for each task you finish.
If you are working remotely, you should really care about what you are working on because if you don’t, you will definitely get bored and lack motivation. It isn’t always full of fun every day. Nothing is. But it is very important to work on solving problems you care about, or to work on a bigger mission that matters to you.
Find at least one part of your day that you look forward to. I like to kick start the day with my favourite task, and take the feeling of accomplishment into the rest of the workday.
You have to have a strong work ethic. Don’t be lazy. You’ll be productive if you are proud of your accomplishments.
Take frequent breaks, especially if you are working remotely. If your brain is exhausted, you’ll hit a wall. I use a Pomodoro timer every day and take walks to clear my head.
Find the hours that work well for you to do certain tasks. I like writing in the morning, and also get another boost in the late afternoon. Everyone is different. Experimenting with this is worth the effort and will help you find flow.
In this time of COVID-19 and online learning, many students are having a hard time with not being able to interact with other people. Do you have any advice on how to keep a positive mindset?
COVID has been the WORST time for sure. It’s hard on everyone, even people who have worked remotely for years. I have days where I really struggle through ups and downs that wouldn’t usually be there. My best advice would be to make sure you are kind to yourself when you can be.
COVID has added such a layer of complexity. It isn’t human nature to be isolated this way and inundated with so much information at the same time.
Take breaks, work on creative projects that grow your knowledge, keep learning, focus on what IS working as much as possible instead of what isn’t, and definitely exercise. If you can, therapy is a really healthy way to work things out as well. We all need to get out of our own heads these days!
How did you adjust to working and travelling for extended periods of time? Do you have a specific schedule that you keep?
It helped that I was working in an industry focused on remote work and coworking, so I was surrounded by similar-minded people. I made a lot of friends abroad and gradually started building networks all over the world. There was always someone to visit or a job to be done.
In regards to having a specific schedule that I follow, I pay close attention to my most productive hours. I work well in the morning and late afternoon, so after adjusting to time zones, I focus on that as a routine.
Do you find that keeping a healthy work/life balance is difficult when working remotely?
With remote work specifically, not exactly. Self employment is a whole other thing though. I think the real issue is that we all have an unhealthy digital work/life balance. The ‘need’ or perception of always having to be available, or online, is a choice we each have to make.
If you feel good about your workday and output and you set up boundaries for yourself, people will learn to respect those boundaries. We have to learn to respect ourselves and our needs. Log off at 6pm and let people know, “Hey, I log off at 6pm and will get back to you tomorrow.” Then stick to it, and see that the world doesn’t end because of that decision.
How did you get into consulting work? Was it difficult to find work?
Consulting isn’t something you start out doing. You need to have some work experience and credibility behind you.
I met a lot of people when I was working with my first start-up. Since it was a niche industry, I got hired through my networks. I guess as an entrepreneurial-spirited person, I’ve always been good at selling and connecting. I am not afraid of reaching out, asking questions, introducing myself, or pitching ideas.
Consulting work was a way to stay flexible without starting a new venture that kept me in one place. Again, I didn’t set out to do it — it happened organically.
Do you think more and more companies are moving towards remote work? Do you see a trend?
Yes. In fact, next week I am working with a couple of offices out of Berlin that are transitioning to a ‘hybrid’ office model — meaning a few days at the office and a few days out. It will take some time, but I can see the headquarters being decentralized and our ideas about the office changing a lot — much faster because of COVID.
Changes in how we work have been happening for a long time. Things have been accelerating in the past few years, and it will continue.
What advice do you have for someone looking to work abroad?
It depends on what you want to do! There are endless resources online and remote job boards. You could work remotely and live anywhere if you can make the time zone work.
I am almost 33 years old now, and after six years of travelling, I am starting to get a little tired. But I would absolutely travel and do it all over again if I was just starting out.
If you are young, there are so many study or live/work abroad programs open to explore. Everything from tech talent to teaching English.
If you have a specific destination in mind, check it out before you commit, and then decide. If you want to get a job in another city and you have the right degree or credentials, then go ahead and apply for it and see what happens. A lot of countries have quotas for hiring globally, similar to Canada.
Just know what it is you want to try; you don’t necessarily have to know what you want to do. You will meet people when you get to your destination, and just like home, you will network and things will happen.
Tips and Trends
Do you feel that trading time for salary — vs outcome-based work — is out of date?
Absolutely! I have felt that way for a long time, particularly since 2013 when I read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? and also saw him speak.
The eight-hour workday originated during the Industrial Revolution and hasn’t been updated to meet the modern workforce. We aren’t built for extended productivity in front of a screen. Can you remember a time when you sat down and completed your ‘to do’ list for eight hours straight? Me neither!
Clocking time vs output, in most cases, just isn’t practical in our digital-forward economy. Of course, there are some jobs that require a certain number of hours, but it doesn’t make sense as a measure of contribution, in my opinion. Research suggests that the average employee in a traditional office setting spends just three out of eight hours actually working.
A study conducted with The Bureau of Labour Statistics in 2018 highlights the breakdown of how the average employee spends their time — four plus hours on social media, snacking, texting, browsing websites, and even job searching! That leaves us with less than three hours of productive time in the day AND that doesn’t even include meetings and other social distractions.
If you’re a nerd like me, you might also find value in this Harvard article which highlights why the eight-hour work day isn’t ideal for us in a digital workforce.
It’s definitely work to train yourself to work more productively in less time, but it’s possible.
Try this: next time you are working or studying, write down EVERY TIME you get distracted and see if you can add the hours and minutes up. Do this for three days and see how much time you TRULY spend focused on work.
Since COVID-19, most interviews are being conducted by Zoom. Do you have any tips as to how to prepare for them?
Yes, my advice would be to:
- Make sure to do your research, just like a regular job interview
- Practice, practice, practice and know what you are applying for
- If you can find out who is interviewing you in advance, learn a bit about their position and ask questions. I’ve often reached out to employees that worked at companies I wanted to pitch, and asked about their work and expressed interest. Any foot in the door is a foot in the door.
- Make sure you check your set up in advance to avoid any technical issues last minute (sound, camera, etc.)
- Keep notes nearby, but don’t look at them too often
- Ask questions! When I have interviewed or hired, I’ve always appreciated curiosity about the company or job.
I know you think a lot about the future of work. What trends are you seeing? What skills do you think will become even more important in the future?
This is my favourite topic! There have been a lot of trends challenging the traditional workforce recently, but it’s been in progress for long enough that the foundation is already solid enough to keep building on.
- Most offices will be hybrid and decentralized — you will be able to work from home and/or the office.
- Emotional intelligence, empathy, and leadership are really important skills to hone in on. Those human qualities will inform a lot of the digital workforce, and as things are automated, they will continue to be valued.
- Technical knowledge is important to have, whether it’s programming, engineering, or product design — something that helps you think holistically about how things fit together.
- Being well rounded is more valuable than being super specific in one skill because things are changing so quickly — for example, sales or engineering with additional knowledge in design or marketing.
- Adaptability — if you can stay flexible and are open to new ideas with a growth mindset, you will succeed in the digital workforce.
- Community and co-working with people from all kinds of jobs and backgrounds will begin to replace ‘office colleagues’ as we expand and move around. We will have more friends from a diverse background, and share our experiences vs just our workplace.
What advice would you give your younger self about choosing and building a career?
Follow your curiosity and let it lead you. You’ll always get further by honoring your strengths than you will by trying to constantly improve your weaknesses.
You are in control. Learning to find the confidence to find what you want to do is much healthier and more fulfilling than what you feel you ‘should do’. That could be as an office worker, taxi driver, entrepreneur, whatever — just try to be your own guide.
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