The Art of Not Gathering

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels Alt text: Little girl wearing a virtual reality headset, arms out for a hug.

I dream about sitting at my Grandpa Pete’s table. Grandpa Pete is my maternal grandfather, and growing up, his was the house we went to when we hung out with my mom’s side of the family. Grandpa Pete and Grandma Bea are the sort of people who keep their house ready for visitors to drop by. You could call him at noon on a Tuesday, and when you showed up at five with a six pack of beer and a pasta salad, he’d have the chips and salsa set out, and beans and rice warming on the stove. I learned how to host gatherings by watching my grandparents work a room.

Every year, the week before Thanksgiving, my family gathers at Grandpa Pete’s to make tamales. We buy masa preparada–prepared masa–from a specific Mexican grocery store because we aren’t masochists, but otherwise make tamales from scratch. My grandparents always made the fillings ahead of time, so when you walked in the door, you were hit with the smell of chilies and corn, pork and oregano.

This year, there’s no tamale party. And I couldn’t go visit in any case. My grandpa is in his eighties, and my kids are in school. The risk is too great. Instead, I watch videos on how to make my own masa harina from dried heirloom corn and dream about visiting when I’m vaccinated in the summer.

How are you doing? Are you travelling to see family or friends for American Thanksgiving? Canada had Thanksgiving in October, and we’ve seen an exponential rise in cases in the weeks following that holiday. I’m going to take a harm reduction approach and give you a link to an article in The Atlantic that gives strategies for making a risky action safer if you choose to travel and gather with family this coming Thursday.

Working On: A Remote Work Article

A little over a week ago someone asked me for advice about online parties. This person was tasked with throwing a team party over Zoom and had no idea what to do. I gave an off the cuff answer and then realized that I have a better, more researched answer that I should give. I’m working on that article now and hope to have it up for you soon.

If you’re looking to answer more existential questions, like why are many gatherings so bad, check out Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. I borrowed it from the library after the fine folks over at Workplaceless talked about the book in a recent blog post. I’m only a chapter into the book but I’m impressed so far. I’ve definitely gone to events that felt alienating for no reason. I’m hoping to learn some tips to keep that from happening to anyone else when I throw parties. Because I dearly love to throw a party–online and off.

Procrastination is Magical

There’s nothing more inspiring for my writing than procrastination. If I’m feeling blocked with one type of writing, I can get over it by diving into a different type of writing. My inner toddler feels like it’s getting away with something. You could say that most of my work is fuelled by manic glee.

I was feeling a little blocked in the nonfiction and comedy departments, so I dove head first into writing a Fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. I did that for the first two weeks of November before I ran out of glee at 28 thousand words. My creativity compensated me for this loss with a whole bunch of ideas for comedy and nonfiction articles. It was like being hit with a firehose of shiny distractions. (I realize this metaphor only works if you squint really hard, but let’s go with it).

I’m not saying it makes a lot of sense. I’m just saying it works. You should try it sometime. Something similar happened in October, which is why I can present the following comedy pieces for your reading pleasure.

Comedy Articles

If People Appropriated White, Midwestern Catholicism the Way They Appropriate Yoga is up at Points in Case. A few years back, a Buddhist friend from India mentioned how off putting it was to attend her first week of college classes in Vancouver, only to be asked to hold a church session (yoga) before they talked about research methods. That comment stayed with me ever since.

Are You Parenting a Toddler or Napoleon? is up at Slackjaw. I love writing lists because you can be clever about the things you’re comparing. And really, toddlers are little Napoleons. Put them in a French officer’s uniform and give them a hat and a sword and they’d probably take over Europe.

Should You Fly on the Boeing 737? A Flow Chart was one of two pieces I wrote last week and published in Greener Pastures Magazine, the comedy magazine I co-edit. There might be a worse time to clear an airplane for flight than the Pandemic, but I’m not sure when that is. I will not be applying my butt to one of their seats any time soon.

Incidentally, if you write comedy I’d love to consider it for publication. Give our submission guidelines a once over for all the info.

Speaking Gigs

I have an upcoming virtual keynote for a summit based in Australia. I was a little worried that I would have to try to sound articulate at 3am. It’s hard enough for me to filter my words before 9 in the morning. I’m not sure there’s enough caffeine in the world to make me make sense between the hours of 11pm-6am. Fortunately my portion will be pre recorded. I’m tempted to open my home office window and shout “I’m huge in Australia!” Instead I’ll share the link when the summit goes live in January.

I’m excited about getting a link to share. The majority of my keynotes have been for private companies. I hope you get something out of it.

Finding New Boundaries When Everything Happens in One Place

Photo by Diana from Pexels Alt Text: Great Wall of China with trees displaying fall colours.

In the play Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson comes back from France to the tune ‘What I miss?’ While Jefferson was in France, the newly formed United States of America was working on establishing the sort of country it would be. The new Secretary of State had some catching up to do.

This week feels like that process in reverse. Last week, if it wasn’t about the election, few in the US wanted to talk about it. Even the news sites here in Canada were dominated by the election down south. This week will still be dominated by US news, but there’s room now to talk about other things too.

Like COVID. British Columbia is staring down an exponential increase in cases, and if we can’t get ourselves together we might go back into a lockdown. Just the thought of my kids going back to online school has me writing like I’m about to lose my ability to do so disruption free.

Which made me think of all the people who are still involuntarily working from home, with or without children. These next suggestions are for you.

Rethinking Your Boundaries

Successful remote workers erect boundaries between their home and work lives. But for some folks, putting actual walls between their personal and professional lives isn’t possible. Perhaps you have to parent your children during video meetings. Or you may have to get work done while your roommate teaches music lessons over zoom.

When the literal walls between your work and home life go away, that’s when you need to rely on psychological boundaries. This can mean starting (or recommitting to) a routine to enter and exit work. Pavlov taught dogs to salivate when he rang a bell because he associated something they understood (treats) with something that wasn’t intuitive (the bell). Getting yourself to slide into work mode when you haven’t left your home works the same way.

If possible, start and stop your work day at the same times every day. Rituals can also be powerful tools for building a routine. Pour your morning beverage into a “work” mug. Choose a work uniform. Build a “go to work” playlist and listen to it at the start of your work day. Take a 4pm tea break. Or put dinner in the oven.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which actives you choose so long as you perform them consistently over time. Doing certain things at certain times will create a sense of movement and structure in your day. And there is a lot of value to having structure when COVID can make you feel like somebody took the distinct pieces of your life and ran them through a blender.

What’s that Douglas Up to Now?

Four days ago InfoQ published a Q&A about my book Working Remotely. All three of us authors participated in this one. Ben Linders was a great interviewer, and I am especially appreciative that he took the time to help us edited our responses so we didn’t all say the same things.

At the end of October I gave a keynote about balancing mental health and caregiving duties while working from home. Can you believe October was two weeks ago? It feels like a decade has passed.

The biggest news right now is that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t plan to. It’s just that I kept getting those emails about National Novel Writing Month and I fell in with a bad crowd. I have over fifteen thousand words written on my novel and I am a little gobsmacked that this hasn’t turned into a train wreck yet. It still could, but for now I’m riding the novel-writing wave.

The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

I’ve been working remotely for more than a decade. And no matter how many great tech products come out to make remote work easier, I’m even more convinced that the ultimate success or failure of a remote company rests on the people.

Does your company feel like a safe place to try new things? Or is it the sort of place where colleagues swoop in to judge you for errors? There’s always the danger that a remote business will acquire trolls. The same conditions that allow trolls to flourish on social media–anonymity, a lack of empathy, and no oversight–can develop in a distributed company if we aren’t careful. Today’s post was going to be about how to build empathy for colleagues you don’t see every day. When I hit 1000 words and still had more to say, I decided to post it over on Medium. You can read ‘How to Build Empathy for Remote Colleagues–3 Techniques to ‘See People as Fully-Realized Human Beings’ using this friend link.

We live in difficult times, and when we feel anxious, it’s hard to remember that other people are also afraid, stressed, and generally not their best selves during a pandemic. Build empathy now for the people at the other end of those emails and instant messages. Doing so will lower the chances that you’ll ruin a relationship–or your career–when you’re too anxious to think straight.

I have a lot to say on this topic. If I get a few hours of quiet any time soon, I’ll figure out if what I have to say fits in a series of articles, a short ebook, or something longer. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Keynote

Last week I have the privilege of speaking to the Puget Sound Chapter of the Association for Talent Development. These folks are communications professionals, which meant we could take a deep dive into inter-colleague communication. I may be the presenter during these keynotes but I always feel like I learn something new from each engagement.

This time, one of the participants pointed out that we shouldn’t forget to provide equal resources to people going back into the office if we don’t want them to resent their remote colleagues. This is such a great point, I needed to share it with you. Equal resources can mean a lot of different things–schedule flexibility is the first thing that pops into my mind. The world of work has been turned upside down due to this pandemic. Let’s use this as an opportunity to ask what else needs to be changed.

Things I’ve Published

The ‘How to Build Empathy’ article is the only remote-related thing out there right now. The rest of my publications are all comedy. I wrote ‘Are You Getting Laid off or Divorced‘ back in September, after a round of layoffs at my company. ‘2020 or Country & Western Song‘ came to me when I thought of that old joke, what do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your house back, your wife back, and your dog back. ‘MLMs and Mompreneurs: A Half Baked Recipe‘ popped into my mind when I thought about companies that prey upon women who want to raise their children AND be financially stable.

I partnered with a super talented illustrator/cartoonist to create this single panel cartoon we’re calling Retirement Fund. Which is also a good way to say that if you are a cartoonist, the comedy magazine Greener Pastures (where I am an editor) is accepting illustrations for our Saturday morning cartoons section. Woo!

And finally, ‘Paul Simon Finds 50 Ways to Leave Online School‘ has been playing in my head as an online school parody for almost the entire pandemic. I had to write it out so the parody would leave me alone already. I’m very proud of the fact that you can actually sing my lyrics to Paul Simon’s original song. My husband thinks I should actually sing this in real life, after learning the chords on my guitar. I’m not sure anyone needs that. The point was to get the song OUT of my head, not weld it into place.

Goings On in the Douglas Household

It only took about 8 tries to get this photo, which is a world record when you need kids to stand still, look at you, and stop touching their sibling. Alt Text: Two children and one man posed in front of a tree, with fall leaves all around.

On Saturday we attended a Zoom funeral for a relative. This was 2020 loss number three for our family, but it was the first one that my kids really felt. A wise friend once told me that however you feel after a death is the right way to feel. It was my privilege to pass that wisdom on. Another friend told me about a place in Japan where someone has an old style phone attached to a telephone pole. It’s impossible to make an actual phone call because the phone isn’t wired into any system. People go there to use the phone to say goodbye to relatives that have died. We don’t have that phone here in Canada, so my daughter wrote a poem instead. It helped.

As is true in most things, these weeks haven’t been all sadness. The temperature dropped enough for the leaves to change colours, and Vancouver is bathed in glorious light. This year I took Fall celebrations a little further by making my own apple cider. I’m a little embarrassed that it took so long to figure out how easy it is–just boil apples in water, add seasonings and sugar, and Bob’s your Uncle. And there’s nothing better than making a hot toddy on a cold night, out of cider you made yourself. Yesterday I sipped a hot toddy while knitting a sweater and I felt like I won Fall.

I hope you’re savouring your own small joys. I’ll see you next time.

Sometimes You Need to Ditch the Formal Email Voice

I’ve been dying to use this photo of an elderly man in a suit dancing with headphones on. You’re welcome. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A blog is a funny thing. I write, and hit send, and my words go out into the internet like a bubble into the wide blue sky. I know there are readers at the other end–I’ve spoken to some of you–but I don’t know when you read what I write. So I don’t know if anyone has noticed that I switched publishing my posts from Thursday/Friday to Tuesday.

Before the pandemic I wrote these posts over the course of 5 days, in the hour in between when my day job ended and when I picked up my kids from school. Now–well. That no longer works, even though my kids are back in school. So I switched my blog to Tuesdays so I could write over the weekend and focus on research for the blog during the week.

And that worked great two weekends ago. It worked less well this week because I caught a cold from my son. Do you remember when getting sick wasn’t terrifying? Fortunately several kids caught the cold at the same time, and one of them was tested, so I know this isn’t covid.

Which is a long explanation for why I have one short thing to say to you about remote work, and this is it:

Professional Communication Is a Little More Nuanced When You Work Remotely

Every few months someone puts out lists of words you need to eliminate from your writing. There are entire classes that teach you how to write pithy business communications that get straight to the point. I’m not knocking that information Everyone should know how to be direct and professional.

But remote workers need to know when to put those rules aside and let their personalities shine through. We don’t see each other as often as colocated employees. Our writing, therefore, has to both convey business information, and help people get to know us. And you can’t do that if all of your communication has been calibrated for maximum efficiency.

Manage Your Soundtrack

Ideally, your colleagues should “hear” your voice when they read emails and instant messages from you. This doesn’t mean you need to crack a joke with every email. If work were a dinner party they wouldn’t pay you to be there.

I’m inviting you to consider where you can inject a little humanity into your written communication. Sometimes that’s as simple as starting an email with ‘I hope this day is treating you well.’ Or perhaps end your email with ‘I appreciate you!’ Depending on the message, you might add some contextual colour. If I have to ask somebody I don’t know well for something they’re late delivering, I sometimes add in a message at the bottom of my email that says ‘And since it’s really hard to convey tone in emails, I want to let you know that this isn’t me getting annoyed. These are crazy times. If you need some extra time, I can give it to you. This is me sending supportive vibes.’

Sometimes, though, a work-appropriate informal email will go along way toward building goodwill. I made a friend at work when I sent am email to someone after a presentation that looked something like this: “Hey Brenda, fab presentation. You has mad skillz.” This email breaks at least three rules, but you know what? “Brenda” didn’t mention any of them. We ended up trading emails back and forth, and we’re friends to this day.

Sometimes we have to button up and send formal emails. But every once in a while, give people a peak at the less formal you. You’ll make make it easier to get things done at work, and forge friendships along the way.

September Went By in a Whoosh

Remote work is better when you have people to talk to. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

It feels like we went from summer, to fire season, to back to school, to both kinds of Vancouver Fall in the space of 3 days. September was a veritable weather buffet–a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and way, way too much smoke.

In case anyone is wondering, Vancouver’s Fall comes in two flavours. Fall number one is soggy and dark, and it usually hits right after Labour Day, during the first week of school. Fall number two is crisp air, crunchy leaves, and glorious light. That’s where we’re supposed to be now, but it’s so warm I’m not sure the leaves will get a chance to change before they fall off the trees. On the other hand, the Dark and the Wet is coming, so you’ll hear no complaints from me.

There have been many articles and podcasts (like this one from NPR) floating around in the last couple of weeks, talking about preparing now for a winter with COVID. There’s a nice cartoon with some great high level tips for creating your happy place. Even I wrote a ‘find your happy things’ blog post two weeks ago. Gathering supplies to get into your personal happy place is a great idea.

It’s also a great idea to take actions that will make your remote job easier to deal with in the last months of the year. Let’s talk about that.

Relationships Are Like Bank Accounts

Yes, I do know that relationships shouldn’t be purely transactional, but stick with me on this one. Like bank accounts, relationships are healthier if you feed them on a regular basis. Second, if all you do is take, someone is going to close that account.

At some point in the winter, you’re going to feel sad and isolated at work. You’ll need someone to remind you that you aren’t alone in your home office. While you can forge connections with colleagues at any time, it’s easier if you aren’t in crisis mode. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Attend a networking event. Most professional networking groups are now meeting online. A Google search can help you find networking groups of all stripes. Shop around until you find a group that feels like your people.
  2. Invite a work colleague to a zoom coffee break. Screens are definitely optional here if you’re on too many video calls. Take 30 minutes every other week or once a month to catch up.
  3. Play games. At my company, we’ve played Would You Rather, and board games like One Night Ultimate Alien. You would be surprised at the number of games you can play via video call.

Someone is reading this and cringing at the idea of online forced fun. Fair enough. If I never get asked to share fun facts about myself, that will be too soon. What you really need is a vehicle for people to talk while spending time together. You want to avoid inviting people to hang out, only to find that there is a lot of awkward silence because folks don’t know each other well enough to just talk.

Scheduling a few of these activities goes a long way toward forging real relationships. You only need to spend a little bit of time laughing with someone before you’re comfortable enough to reach out when you want to take a work break or need to vent. Start now, and you’ll have solid relationships to take you into (and through!) the end of the year.

What’s That Douglas Up to Now?

The last few weeks have been an odd mix of holding goodbye parties for departing colleagues, and speaking at different companies about remote work. I wrote an entire article about How to Say Goodbye When a Remote Worker Leaves. Leaving your job for any reason is hard. For remote workers, it can be doubly hard, because you just sort of close your computer at the end of your last day. Fortunately it doesn’t take much effort to do better than that. The above article assumes you’re a colleague of the person leaving. At some point I’ll write the how-to article aimed at managers.

On the comedy side of things, I have a list coming out on Wednesday called ‘2020 or Country & Western Song.’ I was thinking of that old joke that goes: What do you get if you run a country song backwards? you get your house back, you get your wife back, you get your dog back. Turns out there are a lot of parallels to the bonkers plot line that is 2020.

And finally, the big story (because I live a truly wild life) is that my eleven-year-old and I will be bullet journalling. The kid is in sixth grade and finally needs to use a planner to keep track of her stuff, and she’s artistic, so I think she’ll like it. My job is concluding at the end of December, and my freelance work is ticking up, so I’m also feeling the need to keep track of all the things.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

How to Work in Self-Care When You’re Overwhelmed

All this parent wanted to do was lay down for a minute alone. Image of smiling man laying on a bed, with small child whispering in his ear. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

In January 2013, I started an MBA. I was working full-time, and had two children under the age of two. One of those children was still nursing. I had no free time for two years. Whether it was a school assignment, a work deadline, or a child who needed to eat, there was always something or someone who wanted my attention.

For many people, this pandemic is a lot like that. Work and family commitments keep them sprinting from sunrise to sunset in a desperate bid to keep everything from crashing down. Maybe this is your situation. Maybe it describes the situation of a friend or colleague.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to catch a break when you haven’t been alone or uninterrupted since early March. Veteran remote workers understand that they are their own first line of defence when it comes to taking breaks. This is even more true during the current pandemic, when many have lost access to their personal safety net.

We’ll talk a little about how to think about taking breaks when crafting your own. After, I’ll end by offering some resources if you don’t have the energy to craft your own plan. I am not affiliated with any of these offerings, and do not receive compensation for mentioning them.

When There’s Too Much to Do, You Might As Well Take Time Off

There is only so much one person can do. We all acknowledge that fact in general, but we act as if we aren’t allowed to stop trying to complete our impossible to-do lists until we drop from exhaustion. We feel bad. Or think that there’s a life hack out there for fitting 30 hours of work into a 12 hour day.

There isn’t. When you have too much to do, the best you can do is choose which balls you drop. That may mean missing a non-critical work deadline. Or not signing your kid into zoom class. Deliberately choosing to drop a ball doesn’t mean the dropped commitment isn’t important. It’s just less critical at that moment than something else you care about. And if you’re thoughtful about what you miss, you stand a better chance of preserving the things that are important to you over the long haul.

Let’s call this strategic neglect. Generally I call it ‘choosing who I’m going to piss off,’ but strategic neglect sounds so much nicer.

Practicing this strategy can feel scary. But if you eye the items on your task list through the lens of your values, you’ll start to see places where you can build in a little breathing room in your day. That breathing room may look like fifteen minutes a couple days a week, but even five minutes of break time is better than zero minutes. You take what you can get.

Break Time Doesn’t Always Have to Be Productive Time

Once you start dropping things strategically, you’ll notice pockets of time in your day. And you’ll be tempted to shove something else on your to-do list into that slot. You may have visions of starting a side business or writing a book. But if you’ve been doing too much for too long, then you may need to spend some time doing nothing at all. You might sit on your couch and pretend to read a book. Or stand in the hallway in-between your kid’s zoom meetings taking slow breaths while wearing headphones.

I can’t tell you how long you’ll need to stay in this stage. You’re waiting for that internal voice inside of you that says “you should be doing x, y, or z,” to start saying “I’m bored. I want to do something.” That’s the signal that you’ve recovered enough to make your break time a little more active.

Prep For Your Break

When you only have five or ten minutes of free time, you need to have a grab-bag of activities ready to go. Spend some time prepping for your future activities. Put all of your workout clothes in one place. Wind your yarn. Order a sketch pad from Amazon. Choose a bread recipe–and make sure you have the ingredients.

Have a couple of possible activities ready to go. I love to read, but sometimes, if I crack open a book after work, my entire family takes that as the cue to interrupt me 42 times a minute. I’m less frustrated if I switch to knitting or playing my guitar at those times.

Think in Terms of Bite-Sized Breaks

Lao Tzu once said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It also turns out that exercise, or learning a new hobby, or developing positive coping skills can also be done over the course of a few consistent minutes spread across the week. This is basically how I’m learning guitar. I have a 30 minute lesson with my teacher over FaceTime, and I fit in a few minutes of practice most(ish) days of the week.

Get creative with your definition of down time. Do you have to sit in your car while waiting for your pet to leave the vet? That’s break time. Are you stuck in a zoom meeting? Get your knitting and call it down time. Do you wake up early because you’re stressed out? Grab a mindfulness app, and learn new ways to destress.

If You’re Looking For Ideas for Your Breaks, Try These

Sometimes you’re ready for a break, but too overwhelmed and stressed out to figure out what to do, so you do nothing. Maybe one of these ideas will work for you. I use an app called Movr for bite-sized fitness. You can build a 15 or 30 minute workout, or you can pick one of the 5 minute pre-planned workouts. If you want someone to plan your meals for you, I’ve used The Fresh 20 in the past. Be aware that you have to pay for it. And if you want to work on coping with stress, I’ve found Mood Mission to be helpful.

Whatever self-care you choose, don’t give up on it just because your to-do list is out of control. Those little breaks may not change your circumstances, but they can give you enough of a boost to carry on. We’re in this pandemic for the long haul. Spend some time recharging your mental and physical batteries. You’ll be a better person for it.

It’s Fall, Y’all–Ring in Autumn with this Checklist

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels Alt Text: Black woman’s hands holding pen and writing a checklist.

So technically Fall doesn’t begin until Sept 22. But if it’s September and you or someone you live with is back in school, psychologically, it’s Fall. The changing of the season is a good time to take stock of yourself and your remote work. But don’t worry–this isn’t going to be one of those checklists that assumes you have any free time or bandwidth. It’s an opportunity to reflect in whatever moments you have.

How Much Bandwidth Do You Have?

Hint: If you laughed when you read that sentence, then the answer is ‘none,’ and you are nearly done with this step. You know what you have going on in your life right now. Some of you are trying to work while virtually schooling/homeschooling your children. If that’s your situation, I have a badge for you:

If you’ve had to manage your kid’s schooling, you have unlocked this achievement. ALT Text: Image says ‘Homeschool hero, you survived! You are amazing! Crying is okay!’

The only thing left for you to do is let go of the idea that you should be able to manage your kid’s schooling (whether online or homeschooling) while killing it at work, without breaking a sweat. You aren’t a bad caregiver. You are, in fact, amazing. Full stop. No exceptions. Rock on with your bad self.

If you find yourself with more bandwidth in September, I encourage you to take some time to think about what you need more of in your life. This doesn’t have to be profound. It may be that you really just need a nap. Or, in my case, I need to work on a health issue that got pushed aside at the beginning of the pandemic. The important thing is to make sure your aspirations don’t exceed your bandwidth.

Perhaps you have enough bandwidth to help other people. That leads into the next question to ask yourself.

How Are Your Friends and Colleagues Doing?

Whether or not you have extra bandwidth, it’s good to check in with your friends and colleagues. You might not be able to do anything with the information, but at least they’ll know you care. If nothing else, you can send each other memes and other gallows humour to help you through the current craziness. A text or email that says ‘I was thinking about you. Hope things are less crazy’ can make people feel seen. This is super important when we’re all living our lives remotely.

And if you do have extra bandwidth, you might try to help. Recently, an childless acquaintance reached out to a group of us with an offer of help. She suggested something specific-that she could look stuff up on our behalf. It was a very specific and thoughtful form of support. You can also show support by being calm. Anxious, overwhelmed people can be short-tempered and rash. The biggest gift you can give someone in that moment is your forgiveness.

Do You Have Your Supply of Happy-Makers?

Covid hasn’t gone away. There will be days when our uncertain situation will weigh heavily on you. You’ll need a small cache of simple things that make you happy. For me, those things are yarn, chocolate, and books. Whenever I feel anxious I crochet hexagons. They’re simple enough that I have the pattern memorized, but interesting enough that I get a little break from whatever’s bugging me. As a bonus, I will have a hand-made blanket at some point.

As you see, this isn’t a complicated checklist. But if you take a small amount of time to check-in with yourself, your friends and family, and your supply of happy-makers, you’ll enter fall on the right foot.

Stuff I’ve Published

This week’s published writing is all comedy. Some of you might suspect that I use comedy writing to cope with the Pandemic. You would be correct. On Thursday my humorous nonfiction piece Dye-ing for Alone Time, a Henna-Made Tale went live on Sallymag. I wrote this piece in April with no idea where to place it. My writing often has humorous elements, but it was the first intentionally funny piece I’ve written for publication. This was the story that pushed me to take satire classes with The Second City.

On Tuesday I published volume 2 of Good Girl, Aggie! This is my advice column written by Aggie Green, the mascot of the comedy magazine Greener Pastures. I had no idea if other folks would like Aggie. Imagine my delight when I had messages from people I don’t know, thanking me for giving them something to laugh at. I don’t know if there will be a third Aggie column. We’ll see.

Also on Tuesday, I published Emergency Meeting of Bigger, Better Gender Reveal Parties: New Products to Top the California Fire! On Monday, around 10am, I saw the news about the gender reveal party that sparked yet another fire in my home state of California. Evidently my subconscious had a lot of opinions about people who set off incendiary devices in the middle of a drought, and I wrote this piece in a couple of hours.

Goings On in the Douglas Household

The kids started school. I’d like to say that I did a ton of stuff during the 2.5 hours that they were gone (the first day was a health and safety orientation) but I don’t believe in lying to you. I sent emails to people who were waiting on me for things. I stared at my screen and thought of nothing at all. The fact is, I’m so accustomed to being interrupted that I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to focus. I expect I’ll get that back again if Covid case counts stay low enough in Vancouver that the kids stay in school. If I had to make a prediction, I predict that the kids come home to online school in November. So after a few days of recovery, I’m going to use the child-free time to write as much as I can.

That’s it from my neck of the woods. I’ll see you next time.

Turning of the Season

Photo by Daniel Jurin from Pexels

We’re in the home stretch of summer. The last few mornings of August were chilly here in Vancouver, and I’ve been trying to push off Fall through sheer force of personality. I think it worked because the first few days of September have been spectacular. Anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

A Podcast, and an Article on Influence

Today’s post is going to be a short roundup of some of the things I’ve done in the past week or so. First off, I had a great time talking to the folks at Olympia Benefits about getting stuff done at your remote job. I really liked talking to Morgan, the host, because we spent some time talking about team dynamics. When most of your communications happen over text, it’s very easy to view your colleagues in a more negative light. We talked about some ways to get around that. You can also check out Olympia’s YouTube account if you would rather listen to the episode there.

I also wrote an article about building influence so you can be a force for positive change at work. To put it bluntly, if you want to make a difference inside your company, you have to be someone others listen to. In this article I talk about how to asses where you are as an influencer, and how to increase your influence.

The Kids Go Back to School Next Week

And now you know how the kids feel about school. This said ‘First day of school’ until they modified it.

I’ve spent as much time as I can giving the kids a good end of summer. We ate popsicles and potato salad (not at the same time). We went to the beach. I read Charlotte’s Web to my son, and was there to see his face when the spider dies. My daughter read the book on her own two years ago, and I remember how puzzled she was that I would let her read something so sad. But when my son had trouble sleeping a week or so ago, she was the one that suggested the story.

It’s a bittersweet tale, and the message of joy and loss and the changing of the seasons felt apropos this week, as many of my colleagues were laid off. I’m trying to lean into the good memories I have with them. There are a lot to choose from.

We’ve been fortunate here in Vancouver. Our COVID numbers are low and the kids can go to school in person. I assume that at some point our numbers will go up, and the kids will go back to learning from home. So if you are looking for me, I’ll be the one writing at a picnic bench outside, savouring the warmth and the light.

Out In A Cabin In The Woods

This is not the literal cabin we’re staying in, but you get the idea. Photo by Eneida Nieves from Pexels

Happy Friday everyone! I’m writing this post from a small cabin on the Sunshine Coast. It’s been raining all day which seems pretty ironic now that I’m thinking about it. I wonder if the people who named this area had a sarcastic bent.

In any event, the area has mostly lived up to its name. We’ve been paddle boarding, kayaking, and generally enjoying the last days of Canadian summer. Fall is a gorgeous time of year here, but before the fiery colours of fall touch the maple trees, we will have days and days of rain. I need a few more days (or even weeks!) of hot sweaty weather before I can look forward to the crispness of Fall.

The kids, just before they stood up and paddled away from us.

Writings and Appearances

In between all off the summer frivolity I’ve been writing a lot. I have an article entitled ‘How to Build Influence to Improve Your Company Culture–Even if you aren’t in charge‘ up at Medium today. In it I share how I think about building influence in a company.

On August 10th I was on the Ask Sharifah show, talking about the issues of the day. This one wasn’t strictly related to remote work since there were six of us, and we were talking about things that entrepreneurs are most concerned with. But if you want to hear about how people transformed personal pain into nonprofit work, or why you need to work on your website, this might be the episode for you.

On August 8th my piece ‘Choose Your Own adventure: K-12 Back to School, Pandemic Edition‘ went live on Humor Outcasts. This one is on the more ‘biting’ end of the satire spectrum. I also co-launched a comedy publication with some of my fellow satirists from my Second City class on August 17th. It’s called Greener Pastures Magazine, and you can read a fake column I wrote from the perspective of the Greener Pastures’ mascot, Aggie Green. It’s called ‘Good Girl Aggie! An advice Column from Man’s best friend.’ It’s basically gentle comedy, because Aggie is a Very Good Girl. Check out some of the other work published there. My fellow writers are a talented bunch. I’ve always wanted to be an editor for a magazine, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.

Change Is In the Air

I’m enjoying these last few weeks of August, because changes are coming to Douglas HQ. I’m not quite ready to give details on that yet. As with any big change, this one touches a lot of other people. But I hope to have more for you soon.

Until then I wish you well from a quiet little corner of the BC countryside.

How to Tell if Your Remote Company Culture Needs a Reboot

Does your company culture energize or suck the life out of workers? Photo of a woman sleeping at her desk by Marcus Aurelius via Pexels

In the 1996 movie ‘Phenomenon,’ John Travolta plays George Malley, an ordinary man who develops the ability to learn and retain everything he reads. In one scene, he’s sitting in his house when some neighbors drive up and wave a book at him. “George!” They yell, “We need you to learn Portuguese!”

For many, the pandemic in March was our collective George Malley moment. We were going about our lives when suddenly we had to work remotely without a social safety net. Those first few months we were in survival mode. There was no time for deep thought or best practices. Business leaders and employees needed hacks and cheat sheets, not an esoteric conversation about meaning and fulfilment in remote work.

But here we are on the cusp of August. And honestly, some people still don’t have a lot of space for deep questions. Some of us are working while parenting. Others are trying to work in cramped living conditions, or in the ringing silence of isolation. Employees who haven’t been laid off are doing the work of multiple people. And all of us are dealing with the psychological effects that come from living in a pandemic.

Lead with Curiosity First

Good news for the time-strapped: Rebooting a culture doesn’t start with a grand gesture or a ten-point plan. Begin with reflection. When your company is at it’s best, what does that look like? Is the company friendly and productive? Energetic and data-driven? Write down some descriptive words or sentences.

Next, think about what those qualities look like on a day to day basis. If you said your company at its best is ‘a safe place to collaborate and try new things,’ then you might expect to see employees at all levels leading projects. Or perhaps you would see leadership asking for–and acting on–honest feedback. Write these ideas down as well.

There’s one very important caveat to keep in mind as you work through this exercise. It’s all too easy to stray from neutral actions into overly prescriptive descriptions of the “right” way to work.

Let’s take collaboration as an example. Saying ‘I expect that employees in a collaborative culture would reach out to different stakeholders when working on a project’ is neutral. Saying ’employees in collaborative cultures brainstorm in daily live meetings’ assumes that this is the only way to collaborate. Stick with the former and avoid the latter.

Next, Observe Your Company’s Current State

Once you have your list, it’s time to observe your remote company culture in action. When a company is distributed, it often uses different channels to communicate and disseminate information. Look at email strings, instant messaging chats, and video meetings. You might find it helpful to create a column for each communication channel and take notes over a period of time. How (and when) do employees and leaders talk to each other? Who gets to ask questions? Who influences decisions? What is the general tone in each medium?

Once you have this information, compare the results to your pre-pandemic company culture. Do things look better, the same, or worse than before COVID? Try to disprove your results. For example, you may decide that your company culture is just as collaborative now as it was before the pandemic, because you see employees talking through projects on Slack. Ask yourself, ‘Are the same three people influencing all of our project decisions? Are any groups consistently silent–or absent–during the collaborative process?’

As many of us have recently learned, testing can come with false positives and false negatives. Putting your conclusions through a second level of scrutiny can help you to minimize the level of error.

So how does your company culture stack up? Does your culture need a reboot? In my next post, we’ll discuss things you can do to tweak company culture, even if you aren’t the person in charge.

Behind the Scenes: Goings-On in the Douglas HQ

For those of you who are here just for the business articles, I’ll see you next week. The rest of this is pure frivolity.

Image is of three out of four Douglases laying out on a blanket at the beach. The fourth one was out swimming. Some of us were more excited to be there than others.

First, and most pressing, we are still pet rat-less. And my Betta fish of two and a half years died. I bought Mac the fish when he was already mature, so I’m hoping this was old age, but between the lack of rats and the death of my fish, I feel like I’m in the middle of a COVID-themed country song. The kids were less disappointed this week because I did a better job of managing their expectations. Fingers crossed that I have more rats in my house next week. And who would have ever thought that sentence would come out of my keyboard? Weird times, y’all. Weird times.

In more positive news, I won a grant to bring kids’ books to my local community. I run two little free libraries in my neighborhood and I asked the fine folks at UTown for funds to buy books for 6-12-year-olds. Saturday is the day I get to purchase the books. Next week I’ll start dispensing them. Feel free to call me Teresa Claus, because that’s what I feel like right now.

The kids are taking more online classes. About three weeks into my satire class I noticed that my son is basically trying to build his own comedy skits. So I put him in improv. As one does. He loves it, and we’ll probably continue with it once the school year starts. My daughter is taking Spanish from a teacher from Mexico. That last bit is important to me because I want her to pronounce things the way my family does. We can’t visit our loved ones in the States, but at least we can cuddle up to our shared heritage.

Hasta la próxima semana.