In the Remote Workforce, no one can Feel your sneeze
On Tuesday I woke up feeling like I put on an extra hundred pounds. I stumbled through my morning routine wondering what was wrong with me. I went to bed at a decent hour, but felt like I’d pulled an all-nighter. It wasn’t until later that morning that I realized I was sick. I excused myself from work and slept for another five hours.
On Wednesday I was quasi-sick. That’s when you’re too sick to do more than sit still, but too healthy to sleep. Had I worked in an office separate from my home, I would have had to take another sick day. Instead, I worked through my to-do list, bottle of DayQuil at my elbow.
Most managers new to remote work worry that their employees are slacking. The reality is that most of us work more. Could I have taken another day off? Sure. I didn’t want to. I have things to do. Not having to worry about infecting my colleagues gives me greater control over my paid time off.
It’s not a sick day unless I decide it is, and that’s exactly how I like it.
Access to a Couple of Articles on Remote Work
I may have missed my weekly blog post last week, but that I wasn’t completely unproductive. The Meeting Magazine did a feature on the future of work, and I appear in it. You can find the article on page 34.
Forge, a Medium publication, just published another excerpt of my book ‘Working Remotely.’ This one has to do with email management. It’s called ‘How to Manage Your Inbox.’ As usual, this is the friend link, so you can read the article without the paywall. Do you do something different to manage your inbox? I’d love to hear about it.
I Was On the Radio Again
Last of all, I spoke to Dean Rotbart on the podcast Monday Morning Radio about why remote work is important for small businesses. Can you tell I’m hopped up on DayQuil? I hope not. Don’t tell anyone.
It’s been a privilege appearing so many places to talk about remote work. The biggest privilege, though, is talking to all of you. Thanks for sticking with me, and I’ll see you next week.
I don’t like the term work life blend. It makes me think of a scene in Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel ‘Sisters,’ where one of the girls forgets to put the lid on the blender before using it. She leaves a mess everywhere.
Work life blend feels messy to me–and not in a good way. Think about what happens in a blender. Everything you throw into it breaks down and mixes into everything else. It’s a destroyer of structure, a creator of amorphous mass. Work life blend is taking care of a sick kid while running a work meeting. It’s talking an employee through a tough situation while eating dinner with friends.
That’s not to say that I haven’t done these things. I have. I’m very glad that I don’t have to miss work or take a pay hit when life intrudes on my business hours, but I pay for that privilege in other ways. Generally, the currency is my focus, my sleep, or my peace of mind.
Does anyone really want to clean their house and put in a full day of work? Is this the ideal that we should all aspire to? That sounds too close to have it all hustle porn.
There’s a healthier way to think about our lives.
Let’s Talk about Soup
Somebody is out there thinking but Teresa, people blend soup too. Yes. They do. But as it turns out, I am the boss of this blog post, and my metaphor is about the sort of soup pictured at the top of this post. The bowl pictures your life, and the liquid is the time you’re allotted on this earth. The ingredients bobbing about in the liquid are what you do. Sometimes things sink to the bottom for a time, only to reappear when other things are removed. The activities remain distinct but mobile.
And in the end, that’s the ideal that most of us aspire to if we think about it. We aren’t looking for opportunities to hold a screaming baby while interviewing clients. Instead, we want the freedom to move our day’s activities around to accommodate a richer life.
So the next time someone asks if I have a good work life blend, I’m going to say no. I’m working on a work life soup, and the day has never been tastier.
What’s Teresa Been Up to, Anyway?
The interviews keep rolling in! I’ve decided that instead of taking up an entire post for these things, I’ll sometimes just add a post script after a blog. Last week I did my first ever Facebook live event with Bert Martinez from Money for Lunch. That was super fun, especially since the construction across the street was quiet during the entire interview. Woo! And the podcast episode from Humanize Your Workplace with the fabulous Alyssa Carpenter just came out today. Interviewing people is an art, and both Bert and Alyssa are at the top of their game. Check them out if you’re so inclined.
Or, what your friendly neighborhood Remote Blogger has been doing in her copious free time.
Happy Thursday everyone! The snow from last week is gone, and we’re back to our usual soggy winter. This post is more of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ remote work roundup of the things I’ve been up to in the last two weeks. My current work/life balance resembles a kid who just learned to ride a bike–as long as I keep moving, everything’s fine.
Somebody Said They Liked the Book
Book Authority named ‘Working Remotely’ as one of ‘11 Best New Remote Working Books to Read in 2020.‘ I am beyond chuffed. I tried to play it cool when I first found out, but I was definitely more Sally Field at the Oscars than Will Smith in MIB.
I Was On The Radio
Four times in 11 days. Business Lunch is a numbers-driven live radio program that broadcasts out of Chicago. My analyst heart loved the excuse to let my nerd flag fly. I really appreciated the way Ji Suk Yi kept things flowing. That’s a real art. Last Thursday I did a double header. First I talked with Alyssa Carpenter of Humanize Your Workplace. That episode will air in the future, but if you like quality programming, check her out. She has a lot of interesting guests. An hour after that I was on live radio with the Frankie Boyer show. Once I get a link to that interview I’ll share it here.
For those of you who are counting, that’s three episodes. There’s a fourth one, but the conversation was wide ranging and we’re still figuring out what the end product might look like. I’ll talk about that one more once we know what it’s going to be.
As an aside, it’s been interesting seeing the differences between pre-recorded podcasts and live radio. I’m not sure which I like better. Podcasts give you a chance to really dig into a topic–and if the host thinks you go on too long, they can edit you down. There are no do-overs on live radio. When your time is up, you’re done. It’s a little stressful, but it’s also a grand opportunity to be succinct.
I Wrote a Manifesto
Porchlight Books asked me to write a manifesto about getting along with your boss and others in the remote work space. I didn’t know until that moment that writing a manifesto was a life goal. Part of me wants to take the article and nail it to a door or something. The part of me that is older than age of three voted that down. Sometimes I’m really no fun.
Naomi Cahn writes about women and gender issues on her Forbes column. We traded some emails back and forth about how remote work can both help and harm gender equity. That resulted in an article she published Wednesday called Getting the Most out of Telework.
If this sounds like I have a lot going on, I do. And I need to give a special shout out to my publicist Valerie, who knows how to find thoughtful places for me to talk about remote work. You’re awesome Valerie! I wouldn’t be this happily busy without you.
What’s On the Go Now
I just wrote a draft of another article that’s due at the end of this month. Once that’s done I have two other articles to write in February. Other than that, I’m trying to take brain breaks by practicing my guitar and knitting socks. And running. I restarted my couch to 5k nearly three weeks ago, and it was the best decision ever. I run because it’s hard and I play guitar because I don’t have to be good at it. It works for me.
Working from home means opting out of morning rush hour. This is a huge bonus when the weather outside is frightful. On Tuesday we had a heavy snow event that closed the schools and stranded buses on bridges. I was very happy to miss all of that mess.
Of course, there’s a less positive side to that privilege. If you aren’t careful, you can get to an unhealthy mental place where you both hate the inside of your house but have no motivation to leave. If you’re in this boat, there are things you can do that will help. Here are some ideas that have worked for me. Feel free to use them as jumping off points for your own troubleshooting toolbox.
Get Outside Anyway
Some people enjoy rambling walks. They don’t need an excuse to get outdoors. That isn’t me. I need a specific destination or a workout plan to get me out the door. This is why I’m always on some kind of run plan, usually with a race at the end to keep me focused. Not wanting to die during my spring half marathon kept me running through the rain and snow of 2016.
It wasn’t until the Spring of the following year that I realized the other benefit to running in nasty weather. I didn’t mind the weather so much because I was out in it. You would think that running in icy rain would demoralize me. Nope. Somehow going for a jog in the rain makes me feel like the weather isn’t winning. As a bonus, there are fewer people to dodge on the sidewalk.
Not all places have temperate winters. I have several friends in Winnipeg, where temperatures can easily get to -50 Celsius. That’s not something you linger in. If this describes your weather, you may want to consider a gym membership. Heck, I have a gym membership and my weather only dipped to -10c.
Pick a Second Office
Your second office could be a coffee shop, a library, or a co-working space. Take some time during your non-work hours to investigate new places and try out their wifi. And don’t be afraid to get creative. I once went to my local yarn store early and worked for a little while before the weekly knit night. I’ve worked in bars. If you try this, remember to support the establishment by purchasing something. And make sure it’s okay for you to be there. Don’t be that creepy person squatting in the aisle.
These first two ideas assume you can leave your house. Sometimes a blizzard comes along or you have to care for sick family members, and you can’t leave. These next two tips are for you.
When my children were in kindergarten, they had something called ‘stations’ spread across the classroom. These were spaces with a specific activity all set up. All the children had to do was go there and begin playing.
Consider setting up stations in your house. I have my guitar on a stand next to my couch, ready to play. My purse is a mobile knitting station. I have at least one project in there at all times. Sometimes you just need to walk away from your computer for a minute. Try placing a project in a different room or a different part of your work space. Separating your hobby from your work area can help you “leave” work when you can’t leave your home.
Some enterprising soul is reading this thinking ‘I should clean my house or do laundry if I’m taking a work break.’ If cleaning makes your soul sing, go for it. Cleaning doesn’t feel like a break to me, so I focus on other things.
Take a Virtual Coffee Break
Sometimes your house isn’t the problem. The issue is that you need human contact. Consider arranging a video call with a friend or colleague. If you want to talk to people outside your organization, you can join an online networking event like Networkplaceless. Or spend time talking to people via social media. I’ve met people on Twitter and ended up setting up meetings so we can talk about remote work in real time.
Working from home has a lot of positives, but it also has a unique set of challenges. One of those challenges is feeling marooned in your home during the winter months. The good news is that you can ease those claustrophobic feelings. Try these suggestions. Come up with some of your own. Do you have something that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.
Happy New Year friends! The last couple of weeks have been long-ish stretches of quiet time interspersed with short bursts of crazy. On January 4th we celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary with a family party.
I knit and crocheted many things for the kids.
Slowly Walking Down the Hall Faster Than a Cannon Ball
In between making stuffed animals, I completed interviews for various outlets interested in remote work. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you saw the post from Digital Nomad Sage last week. Another interview came out today from Remoters. I was also on the radio with Money Matters based in Houston. I’m on the radio again next week with Drive Thru HR.
I’ve been simultaneously on vacation AND working like a maniac. I took 2 weeks off from my day job so I could relax with the kids’ during their winter break. I scheduled that time off 8 months ago, before I knew the date my book would launch. Friends, my book launched today.
I nearly spent my entire vacation working on book stuff. Launching a book resembles planning a wedding. There are a lot of moving pieces and different players that work together before the main event. My book launch to-do list runneth-ed over. (We’ll just pretend ‘runneth-ed’ is a word.)
There’s a Fine Line Between Optimism and Delusion
I planned to cram a lot of writing time into the two weeks I was off. I use the word ‘plan’ loosely here. It was more of a wish list that had nothing to do with reality. I was going to: 1) Read a lot of research on psychological safety, 2) Work out every day, 3) Write three articles about remote work, 4) Spend quality time with my kids in between 5) Planning our family party and 6) Launching my book.
Then my oldest kid got sick on the first day of winter break. Shortly thereafter the second one got sick. And the rain of Vancouver closed in. Instead of focusing on my writing, I spent the first days of winter vacation knitting on the couch in between taking care of the kids. It should have frustrated me more than it did. But the fact was, I was mentally depleted. I needed time to let my brain go fallow. So I made the last-minute decision to work in short sprints so I could spend the majority of my time lazing about with the kids.
Who Says You Have to Vow to Resolve Anything in 2020?
Taking a break is hard if you’ve been running yourself ragged. It feels weird to just do…nothing for stretches of time. At least it was for me. I am a woman of action. It’s especially hard at the beginning of the year when everyone wants to hear your New Year’s Resolutions.
But you know what? New Year’s Resolutions aren’t the boss of you. If this is where you’re at right now–mentally depleted–the best resolution might be no resolutions in 2020. Or if you can’t quite do that, consider ‘take better breaks’ as your resolution of choice. My resolutions are usually hedonistic. One year I resolved to eat awesome cookies. Several years ago I went in search of better cheese. I wasn’t going to pick a resolution at all this year, but ‘take better breaks’ is growing on me. I’m going to sit with the idea in the back of my brain for the month of January and see how I like it.
Do you make hedonistic or subversive New Year’s resolutions? I’d love to hear about them.
Greetings on the last day of 2019! Before we leave this decade and enter the ’20s, I wanted to note some of the books that influenced the way I engage with people in the remote space. This was the decade that kicked off my remote adventure, after all. What better way to send it out in style than to talk about books?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Before you can be a great manager, first you must learn to manage yourself. That is doubly true for managers of remote workers. So much of our employee’s experience of the company comes directly through us. Kahneman’s book changed the way I thought about trusting my gut.
From Values to Action by Harry M. Jansen
There are a couple of reasons I liked this book. First, it actually shows you how to translate the values you want to live by into action. It’s not only an idea book, but also a how-to manual. Jansen provides a framework of questions instead of a ‘one-size-fits-no one’ recipe for success. I don’t use the whole framework, but I do I try to end the day by asking myself if I’ve done everything I said I was going to do. If not, why not? If find the questions clarifying.
Platform: Get Noticed in Noisy World by Michael Hyatt
When the first iteration of my book was nearing it’s publication date, my publisher’s marketing team told me I needed to go post on Twitter every day to get the word out about my book. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Fortunately I like to research, and I found this book and the one that follows. I listened to ‘Platform’ on Audible. Hyatt read his own book, and I enjoyed his energy. This book is like your big brother giving you advice with a big shot of ‘you can do it’ cheer leading on the side.
30 Day Book Marketing Challenge by Rachel Thompson
If Hyatt was my cheerleader, Rachel Thompson was my coach. Her book is half the reason I didn’t send out a dozen ‘buy my book!’ tweets before giving up on Twitter entirely. Instead I’ve met many lovely people, and had enjoyable conversations. That’s what social media is supposed to be about anyway. Conversations.
Creative Quest by Questlove
I picked up ‘Creative Quest’ at an airport bookstore on a whim. I’m so glad I did. If this book had a secret subtitle, it would be ‘the working person’s guide to creativity.’ I especially love the way he describes creativity as being open to things vs digging deep inside yourself. As someone who produces researched articles pretty regularly, I am always looking for things outside of my own head to spark the next article. It was interesting seeing how Questlove’s process works.
The Remix: How to Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace by Lindsey Pollak
I was pretty excited about Pollak’s book when it came out. At Kaplan, I manage at least three different generations of people–Boomers, GenX, and Millennials. I was hoping ‘The Remix’ would provide an overview of the differences between groups, and it didn’t disappoint. It has some great ideas for communicating across different platforms, too.
In one way or another these books influenced how I interact in the remote space. Do you have any books that shaped your online identity? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Most of us won’t finish December as billionaire super models. But you CAN close out the year as a hero for your employees, you clients, and yourself if you take time to do these three things.
Post Your Year End/Holiday Hours
One of the many perks of remote work is the ability to hire (and sell to) people in different parts of the world. But different countries have different traditions. The end of December is a holiday in some, but not all, parts of the world. Post your hours on your website, email/phone out-of-office message, and everywhere else your clients and colleagues may try to reach with you.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that people will remember that it’s a holiday in your country. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving a month before the United States. I’m from the US, and I work for a company primarily based in the US, and I still forget about US Thanksgiving because no one around me celebrates it. Your client in Qatar shouldn’t wonder why it’s taking you so long to respond to the email he sent on Christmas. Post your hours.
Send a Year End Message
The savvy remote worker looks for any excuse to connect with clients and colleagues. The end of the year is a great pretext to communicate with everyone in your network. Your message doesn’t have to be long or particularly masterful so long as it’s sincere. On Tuesday I sent the teachers who work with me a short email, and included this graphic I made in Canva.
It didn’t take long to put this together in Canva and add it to my email. The writer in me cringes a little at the wording–it comes across as ho-hum to my internal editor–but a sincere ho-hum message is better than no message at all, when you want to make sure people know you like working with them.
If you have more time to craft a nicer message than the one I produced, do so. But if you don’t, don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. If you like this idea but feel overwhelmed just thinking about making a meme, feel free to use mine. I won’t tell.
Choose A Year End Tradition
The first two tips in this article focus on ending the year right for your clients and colleagues. This last tip is designed to help you build a meaningful transition into the new year.
Transitions were one of the things I didn’t think about before I went remote. I am so happy that I gave up my commute. It’s given me hours back into my day. But I missed the way a commute created a natural transition into and out of work, so I had to make up my own transitions.
The end of one year and the beginning of another is a big transition. As someone who works in an office of one, it’s pretty easy to ignore it in favor of hitting the items on my to-do list.
I would suggest that taking a moment to ceremonially end your year is good for your mental health. The end of the year can be a fraught time for some. It’s all to easy to think that if you haven’t ended the year (or the decade) as a billionaire super model, or cured cancer, you must be defective. Implementing a small year-end ceremony is a nice way to commemorate what you have done, and start the new year with a clean slate.
Your ceremony doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. If you can afford to spend a week in Tahiti to clear your head, great. Personally, I need something a little more cost-efficient. So I clean my office. Cleaning isn’t my favorite thing to do, but I do like the symbolism of wiping the dust from the old year out of my office before the new year shows up. I am literally giving myself the gift of a clean start.
I spend the time remembering the things I did in the year that I’d like to do again. I think about the things I didn’t get a chance to do that I might work into the new year. And when I finish my cleaning, I say (to myself) ‘I declare this year closed.’ It’s a simple ceremony that works for me.
Life is messy, but your year end doesn’t have to be. If you keep these three tips in mind, you can close your year in an orderly fashion, and start the new one with a clean slate.
There’s a lot going on both in Remota HQ, and with my family personally. Last Wednesday evening, just as I put the finishing touches on last Thursday’s blog post, we got a call from a sick family member. This relative hasn’t authorized me to tell personal details so I am going to skip over the particulars and move to the next bit, which is this: after that phone call we made a plan to drive to California.
For some reason I like knowing that I can get out of Dodge with very little notice. Maybe it’s because I grew up in California, with the threat of the next big earthquake always sort of looming in the background. Maybe it’s hearing about all the fires and evacuations that have spread across the state. In any event, I’m glad we can pull everyone out of their routine and go when we need to.
I could have chosen to work on this trip. My job is remote and I can carry it all in my laptop, but that’s not why we took the kids out of school and drove for two days. This week, I’m focusing on family.
So that’s why you don’t have an article from me today. However, I can offer you this link to an article from N.F. Mendoza for Tech Republic. She interviewed me (as well as some others) about ‘The Top 13 Ways to Manage Remote Employees.’ It’s a solid checklist of things to think about and practice if you want your remote employees to be efficient and engaged. Check it out.
Access to 2 new articles and a story that didn’t make it into print
It’s been a busy week here at Remota HQ. I live in Canada and work for a US company, which means I had two days to dive into my writing. That means I have 2 articles and a deleted scene to share with you. Two of my remote work pieces went live in the last five days. One of them is behind a paywall, but I have a friend link for you. Anyone who reads this blog is a friend of mine.
Turn ‘Them’ into ‘Us:’ How to Make Remote Workers Part of the Team
I wrote this for ‘The Startup.’ If you’re part of a partially remote, partially office-bound team, this one is for you. If you’ve been looking for a way to tell your boss that you can’t hear half of what’s said in team meetings because your office colleagues all crowd around one computer, now you don’t have to. You can just send this article. Remote employee managers: this is what your employees wish you knew.
Working from Home During the Holidays
This appeared in CEO World on December 3rd. If you work remotely, you’ve had to juggle working in your home. You probably have go-to strategies that you use to set boundaries with the people who live with you. This article delivers 5 tips to help you work when you’re visiting family who don’t understand what ‘working from home’ means.
It wasn’t until just now that I realized both of these articles talk about mixing in one way or another. In one we’re mixing on-site and off-site employees. In the other, we’re mixing family with work. Hopefully the advice listed will let you adeptly DJ your own life. Up next is something that was pulled from the mix.
The Story that Didn’t Make it into ‘Working from Home.’
When I first envisioned this piece, I planned to start with my own experience trying working from my mom’s house. However, I’m part of a remote work Slack chat, and when I put out a request for people to contribute personal experiences, I received far more than I expected. I don’t know why I was so surprised–the reason I visit that group is because they’re intelligent, generous people. They were simply acting like they always do.
In any event, I scrapped my original idea and reworked the article to fit in as many of the pithy tips as possible. Here’s the story I cut:
It’s the summer of 2010. I’m sitting in my step-dad’s home office, presenting at a work meeting via video call. All of a sudden my audience erupts in laughter. I don’t know why. It isn’t until I hear “Here you go, Auntie Teresa,” that I realize my nephew is standing behind me, mug of tea in one hand, and plate of toast in the other.
My husband, baby daughter and I had driven up to San Jose from Los Angeles the night before to see family, but I needed to work part of the time to extend our visit.
It took several interruptions spread across many days before I figured out that I was the reason I was getting interrupted. My step dad works in sales. When he works from home, he’s either making phone calls to schedule appointments, or completing paperwork. He makes zero video calls.
I hadn’t explained to my mother what I do when I work from home. So she assumed my work day would look a lot like my step-dad’s. She did everything she could to make sure I had a good working conditions: 1) She kicked my step-dad out of his own office. 2) She told everyone to be quiet when they walked into the room, and wait until I wasn’t talking before speaking to me.
If my work had been the same as my step dad’s, then this would have been the perfect set up. Instead, it was a learning experience. I learned that telling people that I need to work from 10 until 2, for example, isn’t enough.
Help Family Visualize Your Work Day
If you want to work with family around, they need to know when it’s okay to talk to you. Often you also have to explain how much the camera can see. Fortunately for me, when my nephew walked into my video meeting, all he did was make faces at the camera. When my company first went remote, a colleague’s partner walked behind him while we were holding a video meeting, wearing a very brief towel. There are some sides of people’s partners you just shouldn’t see.
Help your family avoid embarrassment and explain how you do your work.
Once my mother knew I was on video calls with people who could see when family walked in the door, she kept everyone–including my step-dad*– out of the office. I could have avoided so much frustration with one conversation. Learn from my mistake.
So that’s the story that didn’t make it into my article ‘Working from Home During the Holidays.’ Hopefully you find it helpful if you have to mix extended family with work. May your family not flash anyone on camera, nor interrupt you when you’re trying to focus.
*For the record, while I did feel sort of bad about colonizing my step-dad’s office, I didn’t feel bad enough to give up the space until I was done with it. This probably makes me a bad person. Ah well.