When to Worry About A Company’s Remote Work Policy

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels Image description: Two people sitting on a couch, looking very worried.

On June 7th Flex Jobs published a study called 10 Red Flags of a Toxic Hybrid Workplace. Whether you’re looking for a new job or transitioning to a more permanent hybrid work style, it’s worth a read. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

Companies don’t plan to become toxic. They get there largely through complacency. “We hire the best of the best,” they may reason “We’ll figure out our hybrid work model as we go along.” Or they threw something together for the pandemic and assume that plan is sufficient going forward.

Here’s the thing: March 2020 was a collective “uh oh” moment. We had no idea how the virus spread and we didn’t have a vaccine. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to step up and unite under the common goal of earning a paycheck while not dying.

The Thrill is Gone

But we’re fifteen months past March 2020. And as researchers discovered in studies with skydivers, the human body acclimates to its environment. If you jump out of a plane enough times, the stress you experience is “more akin to the stress you get from driving in slow traffic that’s making you late.” (Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman)

We’re habituated to COVID19. And that means anyone who was scared into a better version of themselves may lapse into their old (bad) work habits. The pandemic forced us to rip down the wall between our home lives and work lives. Children video bombed work calls and we collectively had to get over it.

But what happens when part of your workforce re-enters a traditional office space? Many unvaccinated children in the northern hemisphere are (or very shortly will be) on summer break. If your company doesn’t have explicit, inclusive guidelines, some managers may penalize staff that must work and parent at home.

Secondly, people who are less scared are going to be pickier about their company’s remote work processes. I strongly suspect that many employers will discover that the information and communication channels they set up in March were powered by fear of the virus and employee goodwill. Employees will only attend ten Zoom meetings a day for so long before they decide to mutiny.

Smart leaders get ahead of the mutiny.

Look for Curiosity and Plans to Iterate

A company isn’t necessarily toxic if they lack a final version of their remote work plan. This is chapter two of the great remote work experiment, after all. But you should be worried–very worried–of employers whose plan is nothing more than a set of high-level ideals. Worry about the employers who think they’ve “solved” remote work and have no mechanisms in place to review their processes down the road. Worry about leaders who don’t show curiosity and a willingness to change.

In the end, work systems are living things. They should grow and adapt with the needs of the business. Leaders won’t always get things right on the first try. But if they begin with a concrete plan for efficient, inclusive processes, and iterate along the way, they’ll develop a great place to work.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I’m up to my eyeballs in moving boxes. My living room looks like a warehouse organized by a kleptomaniac. This, despite the amount of stuff I’ve given away or donated. Why was I keeping my kids’ old preschool lunch sacks? What was the plan with that?

In any event, I haven’t written much in the last few weeks. Widget published my comedy piece Mary Poppins Adopts Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week, which I wrote a month ago. Tim Ferriss is someone I love to hate because his whole system is based on exploiting low-paid workers. One of his acolytes once asked me to ghostwrite a book, in two weeks, for very little money and was surprised when I told him no. He didn’t understand that writers have to eat too.

I might post next week, or I may give in to the all-consuming beast of this move and post the second week of July. Either way I’ll see you soon!

Guest Post: Easy Task Management Strategies for Everyday Life

By Stephanie Haywood

Image of calendar with words “this week” and a camera. Image via Unsplash

Note from Teresa: I am in the middle of all the logistics leading up to my move, so this week I’m turning the blog over to guest poster Stephanie while I make high-stakes decisions such as, ‘do I really need that spiralizer in the back of my kitchen cabinets?’ And, ‘is it normal to have this many books?’ I’ll see you all next week.

Small business owners have had to learn the hard way that proper task management is vital to both the survival of a business and the mental health of its owner. Balancing the demands of both work and life (while also having personal time to recharge) is no easy feat. Thankfully, you can learn the skills necessary to free up more of your time so you can concentrate on what is most important to you. 

Here are some easy strategies to task manage like a pro.

Prioritize

You can’t do everything at once, so you’ll need to prioritize. First, create a system for determining which tasks are most important and/or time-sensitive. Move these tasks to the top of your to-do list. Next, determine which tasks need your individual skills or attention. Then you may be able to delegate the rest, creating more time and energy for yourself. 

Create deadlines

For tasks that aren’t time-sensitive or don’t already have a clear endpoint, creating deadlines yourself will help keep you on track. Research shows that deadlines (even if arbitrary) can improve focus, boost productivity, and increase perseverance. Even if you find time constraints stressful, learning to work with them can decrease your overall stress in the long term. 

For example, if you struggle to stay on top of your email inbox, tell yourself that you have until a certain time to respond to the most urgent ones and can then take a break. Both the time deadline and the reward of the break can help motivate you to complete the task quickly and efficiently. Another benefit of deadlines is that they provide a burst of energy and focus when you’re close to the end (much like a runner ‘smelling the barn’ and sprinting to the finish line).

Define ‘finished’

While it’s obvious when some tasks are done (such as washing the dishes or mowing the lawn), it’s not the case with everything. If you tend to tinker or overthink, you could be wasting time on projects that are already complete. For tasks where it isn’t as easy to identify completion (such as editing a piece of writing, processing a photograph, or organizing your garage), you may need to decide ahead of time what ‘done’ means to you so that one project doesn’t hijack your entire to-do list. 

If you’ve delegated tasks to others, be clear about what ‘finished’ means to you so that you don’t have any misunderstandings or incomplete tasks. To ensure that the person doing the task knows what your expected end goal is, communicate your requirements both in writing and verbally if possible. If you’re hiring freelancers, it’s beneficial to you and the contractor to create a freelance contract that specifies the type of work and services, payment terms, and the terms of termination. People have different learning styles, so multiple forms of communication can be very helpful. Time deadlines also help define what ‘finished’ is, but they aren’t the only indicator. 

Our daily lives (both personal and professional) revolve around continually completing tasks. When we occasionally bite off more than we can chew or haven’t mastered task management, it can create problems. Thankfully, prioritizing, creating deadlines, and determining clear endpoints can go a long way toward improving your efficiency. Once these habits become second nature, you’ll be free to concentrate on what you enjoy most in life. 

Sometimes Multitasking is a Bad Idea

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels Image: Asian woman in workout clothes checks watch and looks at cell phone.

We’ll start with a remote work cautionary tale.

Last week I contacted someone in a Facebook writing group I’m in to talk about a passion project I’ll launch in Fall. It’s an audio literary magazine for Latinx writers, and this person offered to help get it off the ground.

I was in a hurry. My message was a little meandering, and I hit send before checking my spelling. We were using Facebook Messenger. I assumed that a few spelling errors would be fine on an informal message asking when she might have time to chat.

Mistakes Were Made

Well. I left out the word ‘mag’ (short for magazine) in the URL I manually typed into messenger. Then, iPhone autocorrect helpfully separated the three-word URL into separate words and decided the last word was a website. Only it couldn’t find a website spelled the way I spelled it, so it made its best guess.

Folks, it linked to a Latinx porn site. But that wasn’t the worst thing.

Not only had I just sent a professional contact —a contact I’d only spoken to once before, mind you—a porn link, I did it in my chiropractor’s office. He was taking a long time to come into the room, and I panicked. Was I on the office wifi? Did his admin person call him over to see what I was watching in his patient room? I’ve knit baby bonnets and booties for this man’s children.

Visions of his wife picking up the knitted socks with salad tongs and throwing them into the fire roared up in my head.

Did you know that you can’t delete Facebook Messenger chats off your phone? You have to do that on a laptop. This is a real big oversite. Maybe the functionality was there but I couldn’t see it while I was panicking and my eyes were (metaphorically) bleeding.

How Did I Get Here

I consider myself a remote work pro, but I made a rookie mistake. Namely, I decided not to check my message for the right tone and spelling. Had I done so, I would have caught the spellcheck disaster before it happened.

More importantly, I didn’t honour the way I like to work. Some people enjoy blending their personal life and work tasks. That’s not my style. I like to keep things compartmentalized. Personally, I’m faster, less stressed and more accurate if I focus 100% on work tasks during designated work periods. The only thing I should have been doing in my chiropractor’s office was knitting.

The answer is always more knitting.

The real point of this long-winded story is that each of us has a preferred way to work. Figure out your preferences, and honour them as much as possible. Right now, some folks can’t have what they need to be happy remote workers. You’re working and caring for kids. Perhaps you’re stuck working in your home when you’d rather work from a coffee shop. Or the countryside.

I wish I could wave a wand and change that for you. Until then, figuring out what you want in your post-Pandemic office will help you get there more quickly once we’re on the other side.

Fortunately my chiropractor did NOT kick me out for accidentally linking to a porn site on my phone, and the person I contacted on Facebook messenger forgave my gaff. This could have ended so differently. Maybe I’ll look back and laugh about this? Someday?

What’s That Douglas up To?

I have something like four-ish pieces that have been accepted for print but won’t see the light of day until the summer.

But the biggest, most exciting news is that I’m getting my first dose of Pfizer on Wednesday, May 12th. I knit a new top for the occasion. It matches my teal face mask and I bought some teal eyeliner so I can be matchy-matchy. This will be my own personal Golden Globes event, where the prize for one vaccine goes to ME.

We’ll Throw the House Out the Window

Image description: Three pineapples wearing party hats, surrounded by balloons. Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. from Pexels

I have exactly one remote work-related thing to tell you and it’s this: Tuesday, April 27th I’ll be part of a Twitter panel discussing the future of meetings. If you’re reading this post before 12 Eastern, come check it out as we Tweet live and answer questions. Fellow app is hosting the discussion under the hashtag #ManagerChat. If you missed the live event you can skim through the discussion at your leisure.

For those of you who only read this blog for the remote work articles, feel free to ignore the rest of this update.

A Doctor in Da House

Seven years ago my husband, two small children, and I left California to start a new life in Vancouver Canada. When you have skin as light as ours you get to say you emigrated and are American ex-pats. Whatever you call it, we moved to Canada so my husband could get his Ph.D.

Last Friday the man successfully defended his dissertation, becoming Dr. Douglas. We partied like two middle-aged married folk with kids locked down during a pandemic. There were naps. There were limited edition Russian Imperial Stouts for the Dr. and Canadian Ice Wine for the woman who stayed married to him throughout the making of the degree. We ordered Malaysian takeout. Our daughter congratulated her father. Our son called him Dr. Dad.

Wine, Woman, and Song

I was a one-woman cliche of celebration—I’m a woman, I had wine, and I sang songs (after the wine). And since we’re in a pandemic, and Canada is in the midst of its third wave, and all our family is in the US, that’s as much in-person celebration as this life event gets.

But just you wait until we’re all vaccinated. As my grandmother would have said “Nosotros pasarmos un buen tiempo.” (We’ll have a good time.) In fact, we’ll tirar la casa por la ventana. In English, you raise the roof, but in Spanish, you throw the house out the window. Sounds to me like Spanish speakers throw better parties since the whole house is involved.

Either way, I plan to make up for lost time.

Let’s Stop Assuming There’s One Right Way to Work

One person’s perfect work situation is another person’s prison. (Try saying that ten times fast) Image description: Man sitting at a work desk, eating noodles while looking at a computer screen.)

In a recent Atlantic article, The Hidden Toll of Remote Work, author Arthur Brooks argues that “going fully remote forever could exacerbate one of the worst happiness disasters of the pandemic.” He quotes statistics from Buffer’s 2020 survey (which uses data from 2019) to show that remote workers struggle with loneliness and collaboration.

It seems like a pretty grim picture. The only problem is that this tale is incomplete. If you look at Buffer’s 2020 survey (which isn’t the most recent one), 98% of respondents want to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career. If you look at the latest survey, 96% of all respondents, and 99% of workers who started to work remotely due to COVID, wish to continue doing so, in some capacity, going forward. Ninety-eight percent would recommend remote work to others.

Your Job Isn’t Your Mother

It’s undeniable that remote workers can struggle with loneliness. It’s also true that working in a traditional office is an important component of some employees’ mental health. But recommending that all workers resist transitioning to permanent remote work is a step too far: “If the office permanently closes, consider whether your employer has your best interests at heart, and if you can, think about moving to another company.” 

That last quote, in particular, gets under my skin. Office buildings weren’t invented because someone asked themselves, “Hey, how can we make our workers happy?” They did it to increase productivity and control the working environment. A company isn’t a family. It’s a unit designed to make money. A company should be ethical, and the best ones hope you’re happy, but they aren’t your mother. 

Let’s Put Down the Pitchforks

Before we ask folks to join a back-to-the-office revolution, let’s first consider pointing people toward the tools they need to ward off loneliness no matter where or how they work. That information is out there. I know because I’ve written some of it. But I’m not the only one. There is a veritable army of people waiting to help you make the jump. Working from home isn’t synonymous with isolation. If you like working remotely and are motivated to make connections with people, you can learn how to do so. 

Someday the pandemic will be over, and those of us who love to work remotely will once again spend time with the people we met in our communities because we weren’t chained to an office. 

In the end, we need workplace choice. If Mr. Brooks wants to work from his pre-COVID office, I hope he gets the opportunity to do so. But I don’t want to be forced back into a traditional office because someone else doesn’t like working from home. That would be as ridiculous as insisting everyone should raise children because some people enjoy doing so. Instead, let’s respect each other’s differences and work together to create humane workplaces, no matter where we sit.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

The big news is that we’re moving this summer. My husband is finishing up his PhD, and so we’re moving away from campus. The Vancouver housing market is pretty insane. And oh my goodness, the applications! It was like applying to college. We had to write a personal essay, talk about our extra curricular activities, and submit references. I wish I were kidding. I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a lock of hair and a vial of blood.

In between looking for places to live, I wrote stories for the book of essays about my family’s pandemic year. I also did a voice-over for my micro-fiction piece Spores, which will be appearing in the audio-lit mag Micro at some point in the near future. I found them while researching audio literary magazines as part of an upcoming project. More on that later. Meantime, check out Micro. They’re doing some fun things.

I hope you and yours are coping as best as you can. I’m rooting for you!

Will Remote Work Change Cities? Yes, If We’re Lucky

Image description: City skyscrapers at night. Photo by Peng LIU from Pexels

On March 29th the New York Times ran an article from Matthew Haag entitled Remote Work is Here to Stay. Manhattan May Never Be the Same. In it, Haag reports that “As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.”

If New York wishes to fund the services that keep the city functional, something has to give. Either everyone needs to go back into offices in the city (which isn’t a good idea before we achieve widespread herd immunity) or government officials need to rethink where they get their revenue.

Businesses are Incentivized to Keep Remote Work

Rethinking a city’s revenue mix is the strategic thing to do. The pandemic has been billed as a once-in-a-hundred-year event. However, assuming that the next catastrophe will happen in our great-grandchildren’s lifetimes (and therefore is something we can leave them to deal with) is short-sighted at best. Climate change has already led to more destructive hurricane and fire seasons. Many of the major cities of the world grapple with housing shortages.

Hefty real estate costs and adverse weather events give businesses solid reasons to offer remote work options for their employees. To put it bluntly, remote work is an important part of a company’s risk management. Remote work offers businesses the opportunity to lower costs and continue operating during disasters. No CEO in his or her right mind would give up that advantage.

If cities want to recover from the pandemic and remain relevant, then they need to operate as if employees have more choices about where they live and work. If a white collar employee can work from anywhere, then they don’t have to live in a 500 square foot basement apartment with eight other people.

It’s Time to Think About Cities Differently

People have to want to live in a city for other reasons. Personally, I love cities. Nightlife! Culture! Restaurants! I’ve lived in some great ones–New York, Los Angles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently I live in the suburbs of Vancouver. It’s quiet, and boring, and exactly the sort of place I need to stay because it has a good school for my kids and I can afford things like music lessons and summer camps. I would move to downtown Vancouver in a hot minute if 1) comfortable housing was affordable 2) there were good schools for my kids and 3) there were reasonably priced, family-centric activities to participate in.

Families move out of cities and into the ‘burbs because cities aren’t set up for anyone but the wealthy or the single. Let’s change that dynamic.

The technology that enables remote work has been with us since at least 2009. The only thing standing in the way of mass migration of white-collar jobs to remote work has been the old-school management mindset. The pandemic wiped away a great deal of that “remote doesn’t work for MY company.”

New York isn’t dead. No city has to die. But if the world’s cities want to keep up (and keep the revenue rolling in) then they need to shift along with the times.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I’m in a toxic relationship with my printer. The thing generally refuses to print anything and blames me for the issue–it says I’m out of paper when I’m not. Then, just when I’m ready to throw it away I decided to try printing something one more time. And you know what? Magically it starts working. But not for long. Oh no. Just long enough that I hesitate to throw it out the next time it fails to perform.

There are very few times I wish I worked in a traditional office, but dealing with failing home office equipment is one of those times. I would LOVE to hand this problem to someone else to deal with. Sadly, I need to break up with my problematic printer on my own.

Recent Publications

I wrote a running-themed quarantine piece back in March 2020, and it took until February 2021 to find a home for it. In Zombie Run, I talk about finding safety as a woman running during quarantine.

For Weekly Humorist, Cassie Soliday and I teamed up to create a tongue in cheek piece on celebration our one year COVID anniversary entitled 5 Ways to Make Your Pandemic Anniversary the Best on the Block.

And last but not least, Bombfire just published my 100 word story Spores, which is a weird take on past experiences affecting the way we see the world.

I procrastinated about writing on my book this week, which is not good. Instead I wrote something else while will be showing up in Quarantine Review some time in August. I’ll share that when it comes out.

See you next time!

You Can Fire People Humanely Over Video Call

Image description: Person holding box full of desk supplies.

In the 2009 movie Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man whose job it is to fly to workplaces and fire people. His nemesis is a woman who wants to fire people via video meetings in order to save money. By the end of the film, you’re left with the impression that the only humane termination is one done in person.

The recent Huffpost layoffs seem to bolster that idea. Staff were reportedly told at ten am that if they didn’t get an email by 1pm, their job was safe. This means some folks waited three hours to find out if they had a job or not. Worse, they couldn’t be together when it happened since the team was working from home due to the pandemic. The people manager in me wonders why Buzzfeed didn’t just send out those infamous emails all at once. Getting fired by email isn’t great, but waiting three hours to get fired by email is even worse.

The thing Up in the Air and Buzzfeed both seem to miss is that you can, in fact, conduct humane terminations via video call. Just as you can conduct terrible layoffs in person. The mode of work–in person vs remote–doesn’t change that fact. Employees don’t lose their humanity just because leadership can’t see them.

I have a lot more to say on this topic. I’m in the middle of writing the “how to fire humanely over zoom” chapter in my upcoming business book right now. But here are two things to keep in mind if you need to lay off a remote worker in the next couple of weeks.

This is Not the Time to Hide Behind Business Speak

Human Resources and Legal Departments will want to vet whatever communications go out to your employees. That’s only natural. But make sure that your employees–both the ones leaving and the ones staying–get to see a human take responsibility for the layoffs. And make sure you show them your very human regret.

The Employees that Stay Are Watching You Too

Few people expect to stay a a company for life. But they’ll still hold it against you if you toss people aside like empty printer cartridges. They may put their heads down and continue working, but they’ll remember how you treated their colleagues. And how you act once the dust settles.

Think of it this way: you would never attend a funeral and expect the deceased’s family to go to a party right after to celebrate that they are still alive. And you would never tell the survivors that you’re happy they’re alive because they’re brilliant at what they do. The same holds true for layoff survivors. This is a case where doing the right thing is good from both a people and results perspective. Show a little respect for your employees’ feelings and they will more quickly refocus on the job at hand.

There is no magic formula that will make people happy to be fired. You’re separating people from their livelihood, after all. But you can–and should–take a human-centered approach when you do it. Doing so will both help your employees process the trauma of the terminations, and benefit your business results.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

Writing, writing, writing. I was having a tough time finding the opening for my business book’s chapter ‘How to Fire Humanely Over Zoom,’ until I had a conversation with someone about how not to lay people off a week or so ago. And just like that, the first few pages unrolled in my head and I had to type furiously to get it all down.

As a result, I don’t have a lot of other writing to share with you. I have no fewer than three accepted pieces waiting to be published in other outlets, but this is from work I wrote weeks ago. Two of them are literary and one is comedy. (When I’m blocked in one type of writing I usually switch to another so my subconscious can work through the issue on its own time.)

I’m Teaching My Kids How to Cook

This has resulted in some truly spectacular dishes. Some of them are spectacularly good while others…are learning experiences. So far we’ve learned not to use as much pickling salt as you would table salt, and that tortilla soup does not need to be thickened with tomato paste because soup is supposed to be runny. I think we’ve avoided having to learn that you shouldn’t put marshmallows in butter tarts even if you like both of those things separately. Whew!

That’s it from Douglas HQ. I hope you can find little pockets of joy this week. I’ll see you next time.

So Close to Free

Someday soon, we will get to meet people for coffee indoors. Image: Woman sitting in an indoor cafe across from a man. Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

On March 10th, 2020, I gathered supplies for what I thought would be a three-month hunker in my house. Ha. I bought a sweater quantity of yarn, a pound of chocolate, and two books from the sci/fi slash mystery bookstore White Dwarf. It was a farewell tour of some of my favourite indoor places. At the time, it seemed a little melodramatic–maybe even silly–so I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. But I believe in saying goodbye, and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t let feeling silly stop me.

This year, on March 8th, 2021, the US CDC released guidelines that say fully vaccinated people can gather together indoors. BC’s provincial health officer went one step further and said that Canadians wouldn’t necessarily have to wait for shot #2 before we can gather indoors in some capacity.

So I find myself thinking about the supplies I’m going to need to go out into a less socially distanced world.

Sewing pants topped the list. What better way to commemorate meeting people than making an article of clothing you can’t see on Zoom?

I love working remotely, but I am VERY EXCITED to see people in person. The first time I get to sit in a cafe and ignore my fellow human beings, I’ll probably be grinning like an idiot the entire time. Or ugly crying. Possibly I’ll be grinning while ugly crying. That will make me very popular, I’m sure.

Do you have post-vaccine plans? I’d love to hear about them. We’re so close.

What Does Any Of This Have to Do With Remote Work?

Not a ton. I actually planned to talk about how to discuss the pandemic on the anniversary of the lockdown. I’ve been hearing people in various industries talking about the gains remote work made during the pandemic. This is understandable. It’s in our nature to try to make sense of things that happen to us, to try and find a bright side to the last year. But if we’re not careful, we can start using phrases like “blessing in disguise” and “it turned out for the best,” and that would be wrong.

There is no world where my grandma dying from COVID was for the best. Many of us would gladly return the lessons we learned this year to get our loved ones back.

Remote work will continue into our post-pandemic world. And as I’ve said before, it’s the people with high emotional intelligence that thrive in this space. Our ability to “see” the people at the other end of our emails and texting platforms will help us do business effectively and humanely. Let’s remember that many of those people are grappling with losing loved ones and phrase our enthusiasm for remote work accordingly.

The Pandemic Didn’t Ruin Remote Work

Smiling man holds smiling child.
I’d like to think this is a parent making the best of things on a Zoom call. Image by Gabby K from Pexels

Feeling weird about seeing this piece pop up on a Thursday? Me too! Unfortunately, WordPress decided saving changes wasn’t a thing and I had to rewrite the whole article. Not cool WordPress, not cool.

How Did the Pandemic Impact Remote Work? An Analysis of Buffer’s 2021 Report

Buffer’s State of Remote Work is part survey, part data analysis. It’s a high-quality report that has been taking the pulse of remote workers since 2018. The entire thing is worth reading, but let’s spend a little time analyzing a couple of specific data points.

Specifically, if COVID is the reason you’re working from home, how does your home life impact your perception of remote work?

Where Are All the Single Ladies (And Laddies)?

The majority of survey respondents reside in the US and UK, where 28% of the population live in single-person households (Source: Gov.UK and Census.gov). It’s likely that some of those folks answered this survey. Sadly, Buffer didn’t ask respondents if they live alone. Humans are social creatures and it would have been interesting to see if the answer to the question “what’s your biggest struggle with working remotely” changed based on household makeup. If I could add a question to Buffer’s next Stae of Remote Work, this would be it.

Widespread vaccination will (hopefully) end the need for social distancing in the latter half of 2021. But the relationship between household size and perception of remote work is relevant going forward. If nothing else, if you live alone and are considering remote work, this information can help you craft a plan to get your daily human contact from other areas in your life.

Parents Didn’t Pan Remote Work

Truthfully, I thought that parents would NOT want to work remotely once it’s safe to go back to the office. Trying to work and parent while locked down is tough. As Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “27% of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, and 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children.”

And yet, 96% of total respondents who started to work remotely due to COVID say they want to continue doing so, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. This is only a drop of 1.6% as compared to last year.

My first thought was that parents weren’t represented in this survey. However, thirty-five percent of the respondents identified as parents or caregivers. According to an analysis done by The Washington Post, “About 41 percent of [American] workers between the ages of 20 and 54 have a child at home.” Since Buffer combines parenting and caregiving into one category, parents are likely under-represented in their survey. However, it’s fair to say that enough parents took the survey to affect the results.

The benefits of remote work must outweigh the trauma of working and parenting in the same locked-down space. Let’s look at what respondents had to say about this.

Losing the Commute Is The Biggest Win

‘Not having to commute’ was the biggest benefit (28%) for respondents who started working remotely due to COVID. ‘Ability to have a flexible schedule’ and ‘flexibility to work from any location’ rounded out the top three slots.

On the surface, the answer seems self-evident. If you lose your commute you get all of that time back. That’s great for everybody. However, parents aren’t necessarily feeling the full effects of that benefit during the pandemic. Remember that most respondents live in the US or UK, where the majority of children were out of (in person) school for months. Some districts–like many in California–have yet to go back to in-person teaching. So all of that “extra” time is going to schoolwork or childcare duties.

Parents might recognize that working from home would give them more time in a post-pandemic world. We can’t say that they are conflating losing the commute with more family time. Buffer has a separate question for that. Only 11% of newly remote workers cited spending time with family as the biggest benefit. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.

What’s Missing in the Traditional Office Space

We asked ‘what remote work benefits outweigh the trauma of working and parenting from home in a pandemic?’ Instead, let’s think about what parents need that is missing from a traditional office.

I talk to a lot of people who worke remotely. And with the parents, especially, the conversation invariably turns to how we’re managing under the current crisis. Working and parenting and homeschooling all at the same time is rough, but at least remote work lets you parent badly while earning a paycheck. Parents who can’t work remotely have to choose between leaving their kids home alone, sending them into settings where they might catch COVID, or giving up their income.

Office spaces aren’t family-friendly. Many companies refer to themselves as families, but it’s a family that doesn’t include kids. We live in an age where eating at your desk, staying late, and generally giving your all to your company is how you get ahead. If eating an unhurried lunch is sketchy, what happens if you need to deal with an issue at your kid’s school?

Remote workers have to make themselves visible in order to be top of mind when promotions and stretch assignments get handed out. But that lack of visibility has an up side.

You can take care of family obligations during dead time at work without someone questioning your commitment. And that is a large benefit for parents who want to grow their careers.

What Does This Mean for Business Leaders?

A recent PWC survey shows that business leaders are more bullish about returning to a traditional office than employees. It also shows CEOs think companies do a better job at helping employees navigate childcare challenges than employees do.

Leadership needs to think long and hard before trying to reinstitute business as usual. When office workers went home to work and parent in the same space, not one company died because someone had to hold a toddler during a business meeting. Instead, we all learned to work around each other’s messy lives. The pandemic proved what many of us already knew. Caring for a family isn’t antithetical to driving business results. Let’s take this hard-earned learning and create business cultures that live in balance with an employee’s life.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

For first time blog readers, this is the space where I share links to other articles I’ve written across the web.

In early February the president of the Tokyo Olympics committee made a statement that meetings with women take too much time. I took exception to this and wrote a satirical list of why he might think so. He later resigned. Did this happen because of my crushing expose? I’ll let you be the judge.

In mid-February I teamed up with talented comedian and cartoonist Cassie Soliday to write this piece entitled Pandemic Looks for Fashion Week. That whole bit about business on the top and athleisure on the bottom is my actual work wardrobe, though I definitely wear my shirt buttoned, unlike the model pictured.

I have three other pieces that have been accepted various places, but they don’t come out until mid to late March. I’ll share them at that point.

Silliness: A Home Office Secret Weapon?

Because Who Needs Another Self Improvement Project?

Image of me and my son wearing fake moustaches.

The dark and wet of December was getting to me, so I put on a fake mustache and beret and let my son chase me around our living room with a cactus balloon. This story isn’t going on my resume. Truthfully, it almost didn’t make it onto the blog. Then I read an article by Kaki Okumura entitled ‘The Very Serious Benefits of Being Silly,’ which changed my mind. 

Okumura discusses how she is using playfulness to cope with the Pandemic. And she may be on to something. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, said in a TED talk that he believes“the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” 

The field of adult play research is woefully underfunded–when I researched ‘benefits of adult play,’ the most recent article I found was the 2017 study Okumura cites in her article. In it, Dr. Rene Proyer says that “Playful people are able to reinterpret situations in their lives so that they experience them as entertaining or are able to reduce stress levels.”

This seems like a useful skill to have during the dark cold months of a pandemic winter. 

In a Home Office No One Can See Your Cowboy

When you work from home, you can inject a little silliness into your day without consequences. If you showed up to the office in a fake mustache and chaps, HR would probably require you to take a drug test. Or get counseling. 

Either would harsh your entire groove.

But when you work from home, you can dress like a cowboy if you want to. Just remember to have some way to get rid of the evidence. You might need to take a video call with someone without a sense of humor. 

Bring a Little Playfulness to Your Day

You can interject playfulness into your day without investing in a full costume. Personally I love a good hat. I have a beret, a velvet top hat, a baseball cap with the word ‘NO!’ in large font on the front, a couple of fedoras and a sun hat. A good hat can give you a whole lot of swagger.

But maybe hats aren’t for you. One of my children draws on themselves when they’re bored. This annoys me (which is probably the point). But giving yourself a little temporary body art might be just the pick me up you need.

Or perhaps you can balance an orange on your forehead.

Don’t be afraid to try out different things. And if another adult catches you being silly, brazen it out. That’s what I did when my neighbour saw our family wearing moustaches outside while we hit our piñata. I was also wearing a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat at the time.) As Mr. Bennet said in Pride and Prejudice, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” I enjoyed myself. Hopefully she also got a good laugh. She still talks to me so we can’t have freaked her out too bad.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

A bunch of things, actually. I spoke at a Flexjobs event called Beyond the Application. One of the resume coaches gave some excellent tips on getting past the resume bots, and then I came on and talked about ways to connect with people to land your next job.

Narelle Todd hosted a remote summit for women entrepreneurs, and she asked me about working at home with children. Narelle is a lovely person and I enjoyed talking with her.

I’m also reading through a bunch of research on empathy and grief, as it relates to remote work. This is going into a chapter of my next book. But you all may see some of this research sooner, because it’s pretty great stuff. And definitely not as depressing as it sounds.

But don’t worry. If it gets to be too much, I know what to do. Putting on a hat and moustache was just the thing I needed to lift my spirits in December. I’m sure it will help again. May you also find some silliness to light these dark winter days.