My Nana taught me to crochet when I was eight. I remember sitting on her plaid couch, canary yellow yarn in hand, watching her loop yarn around a crochet hook. Crochet, unlike knitting, is a “handed” sport. If you’re right-handed like Nana, you made the stitches one way. If you’re left-handed like me, the process works in reverse.
So Nana taught herself to crochet backwards while I watched. Then she put the hook in my hands and showed me how to make loops. I had no idea what a virtuoso lesson this was until much later. It’s a bit like teaching yourself to write with your non-dominant hand before giving someone writing lessons. Completely. Amazing. With her help, I made a “blanket” the size of a dishcloth, shaped like the state of Texas.
Then I chucked the blanket into my closet and forgot about crochet until I moved to New York to get an Master’s in Fiction. Six months later, I dropped it again in favour of knitting.
But there’s something primal about crochet for me. That particular fiber craft will forever be tangled up with memories of sitting with my Nana, learning something special from someone who thought I was great. So when the Pandemic hit, and I needed some comfort, it was only natural that I pulled out my crochet hook and made hexagons for a blanket. It was my way of connecting to the family far away.
And as of March 26th 2022, it’s the only way for me to connect with Nana because she passed away unexpectedly. Sophia Margaret Hernandez was a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother. Nobody called her Sophia. Nana Margie read Danielle Steel novels and put puzzles together when she wasn’t crocheting. She liked her Coors Light cold and her salsa hot. She kept a bottle of Tobasco sauce in her purse, for emergencies.
I miss her. But every time I crochet, I will have a little piece of her memory at my side.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
The last two months have been a grab bag of all the things. I lost one grandparent at the end of January and another at the end of March. In between those things my daughter and I published our first artistic collaboration. It’s a single panel comic and I’m proud of my kid’s newly developed professonalism. Check it out if you’re so inclined. Two days after Nana died I started a new remote job in a Project Management office for a global company. A week later I published another work related comic.
So I’m basically both in mourning and celebrating. If I needed proof that life isn’t all one thing or another, the first quarter of 2022 has definitely been it.
I’ll have more to say about my adventures as a remote worker in a truly global company as I get a little further into my role. Until then, I invite you to try crochet. And if you teach a kid something you love to do and they end up dropping it right after, don’t dispair. The skill is there, waiting for the right time to reemerge.
I’ve been waiting for weeks to share some positive professional news. It’s not earth-shattering info, but I wanted to talk about it, and I couldn’t think of anything else to write about until I could share it. So I didn’t post anything.
I still can’t share it. But it’s been too long since my last post, so we’ll talk about working vacations. And it’s a good thing this is a blog, and we aren’t talking together face to face where you would see me fidgeting like a two-year-old who needs a potty stop.
Why People Take Working Vacations–A Study
Passport-Photo.online polled 1,000 Americans who took working vacations about their experiences. They found that 81% of respondents felt more creative at work, and 69% were less likely to quit after a working break.
Studies about working vacations leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, mixing workdays with vacation time is an absolutely brilliant way to see a new place (or family) without burning through all of your vacation days. If you work remotely, you could even arrange things so you work during your normal business hours and see the sites during evenings and weekends. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.
I’ve used both of these strategies to take long trips to see family. The only place working vacations get tricky is if:
You’re mixing work with pleasure because your job never lets you unplug,
Your company provides an inadequate mix of vacation and sick days or
You won’t unplug from work even though they want you to.
Does it Really Need to Be a “Working” Vacation?
Unless you work for a company that offers unlimited vacation time, most folks are one bout of COVID away from burning through their vacation days. Others might have used their time off to focus on the kids during school closures, or to grieve the loss of a family member. If any of these scenarios describes you, then a working vacation is a great way to unplug despite your circumstances.
If you can take vacation time and don’t, then my friend, please question why that is. Especially if you manage people. If you don’t think your direct reports can carry on for a week or so without you, you might be a micromanager. If your company will not support your vacation by dividing up your work among other employees or hiring a temp, then you might want to consider whether your current role is sustainable over the long term.
We all deserve down time. Even when bad things are going on in the world. Even if you took a lot of time off to handle health or personal issues. Just make sure you mix in as many “completely unplugged from work” days as you possibly can.
Your body and your mind will thank you for it.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing. When I’m not talking about remote work, I also write about parenting topics. I just turned in several articles to my editor at Tiny Beans over the last ten days. The Latinx Lit Mag is poppin with a lot of fun stories and poems. Check them out here if you are so inclined. And finally, I’ve started drawing and submitting single panel cartoons about the world of work. Once they find homes, I’ll share them.
“There’s no such thing as the Mexican race,” says Grandpa Pete.
We’re drinking margaritas on my mother’s patio in the heat of late afternoon two days before my niece’s wedding. My mom’s plants block most of the sun’s punishing rays, straining them like tea through lush ivy and morning glory vines. Hummingbirds dart overhead, red and green jewelled soldiers fighting over the bird feeders. We’re supposed to catch up on what happened in the year since I last visited Canada.
Instead, we’re in the middle of a Mexican standoff.
“My birth certificate says ‘Caucasian,’” He continues. “So does yours. We’re Caucasians.”
I’d done some research for my son’s school project, and in the middle of it, I remembered that my grandpa’s father was either full or part indigenous. All I want to know is the name of the tribe. This seems like a straightforward question.
But it’s the wrong question. Grandpa doesn’t identify as Mexican or part-indigenous.
Grandpa Pete became a foreman in construction at a time when Mexicans were laborers. The way he would handle people who didn’t want a Mexican family in “their” neighborhood is the stuff of family legend. Once, when a neighbor said he didn’t want to live next to Mexicans, my grandfather recoiled in horror and said, “There are Mexicans here? Where?!”
He worked on his neighbors one at a time, trying to make them see that they had a lot in common with him. He was born in San Jose, California. His family was as American as theirs. We just tanned better. Thanks to a conversation with a neighbor, he found out about the petition to “get the Mexicans out” going around the neighborhood. He insisted on signing it in big letters. PETE HERNANDEZ.
For some reason, the petition fizzled after that.
Grandpa Pete was the boss who would see a cocky young man going down the wrong life path and try to teach him to be better. He would give his workers room to see their mistakes and give them a chance to fix them.
Some of those young men became life-long family friends. They would regularly show up to the revolving dinner party in my grandpa’s backyard. It’s a little hard for me to describe what Grandpa Pete and Grandma Bea’s hospitality meant to so many of us. I always had it. Maybe my husband said it best: “Nothing bad would ever happen at Pete and Bea’s house. They accepted me and made space for me.”
So when Grandpa Pete went to the hospital for the last time on Friday, it didn’t surprise me that a train of friends, coworkers and family arrived to say their goodbyes and to thank him. Some of them even brought wine and cheese, and they had a party for him outside of the hospital. Grandpa would have approved.
The hospital staff wanted to know who this person was that all of these people were there to see.
I learned my lesson since that moment in my mom’s backyard two years ago. Pete Hernandez was an American who spoke Spanish at home. In his heyday, he looked like a tanned James T. Kirk from Star Trek. He was a consummate host, beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and even lived long enough to become a great-great-grandfather. Grandpa Pete passed away on Wednesday, January 26th. He wasn’t perfect, but when he learned better, he did better. There are a lot of people who are better off having known him.
Happy New Year! We made it. And if your inbox looks anything like mine, it’s absolutely overflowing with forty-eleven ways to spend your way to a “new you.”
I expected the emails from my old run groups. But the email from my grocery store encouraging me to “step up my workouts” with their marketplace? Not so much. That email came after the grocery order where I bought pistachio ice cream, so I’m feeling personally attacked right now. Stay out of my freezer, Mr. Real Canadian Superstore!
My point (and I do have one) is that many entities have a vested interest in making you feel inadequate right now. You would never ask your local chocolate company to advise you on the amount of chocolate you should eat in a week and expect an unbiased answer. The same goes for the gym across the street or that Instagram influencer selling their latest diet plan. There is no functional difference. They’re all biased.
It’s Extra Hard to Make Balanced Decisions Right Now
We have had to make tough decisions for the last two years. Should we get on a plane to visit grandma? Should our kids go back to in-person school? Is it really safe for me to go back to the office? Would it be better to just get Omicron and be done with it?
As Daniel Kahneman shows in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, mental exertion can be just as fatiguing as physical effort. In fact, “…if you have to force yourself to do something, you are less willing or less able to exert self-control when the next challenge comes around.” (page 41). This is called ego depletion. Signs of ego depletion include “deviating from one’s diet, overspending on impulse purchases…[and] performing poorly in cognitive tasks and logical decision making.” (page 42).
In other words, surviving this pandemic makes us extra vulnerable to making impulsive plans and less equipped to carry out our resolutions.
You’re Probably Too Hard on Yourself, Too
A landmark study of Israeli parole judges found that the further the judge was from a food break, the fewer requests for parole were granted. You might not decide the fate of people in the justice system. But you are the judge of your own actions. Please consider the idea that you might be judging yourself too harshly when you look back at what you did or didn’t accomplish in 2021.
YOU aren’t a substandard person. Our collective situation is substandard. Putting yourself on a punishing regimen won’t make COVID go away faster.
If you managed to get through 2021 without stabbing someone, you’re amazing. Cut yourself some slack, okay?
And if you did stab someone and went to jail for it, I hope the judge that reviews your case does so after a delicious lunch.
Think Rewards Instead of Punishments
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do something new in the new year. Just approach the whole situation as something that should be fun or interesting, that lasts a week or two. Do the first week of that couch to 5k app. Sample new wines. Learn something. Take better naps. Whatever it is you choose, assume you’ll only do it for 14 days, and invest accordingly.
For example, I purchased a 12-month calendar from Michaels for $16. I’m trying to change up my weekday routine. If this calendar helps me do that, great. If it doesn’t, no problem. I can afford to lose $16.
If you enjoy the feeling of new possibilities that comes at the start of the year, great. We all need more joy in our lives. But if you’re listening to all of that ‘new year, new you’ messaging and feeling a sense of despair, consider this your permission to opt-out.
What’s The Douglas Up To?
I am recuperating from my 25th wedding anniversary. The husband and I managed to go to a very nice dinner on the big day, despite the snow. And then we got sick with something. British Columbia hit its COVID testing limit weeks ago. Since our symptoms were mild (all hail vaccines!) we didn’t bother to get tested. Instead, assumed we had Omnicron and cancelled all of our other plans. I’m grateful the kids didn’t get it.
Other than that, I’m interviewing for jobs and working on a nonfiction piece for CBC’s Nonfiction contest. I’ll gladly take any positive thoughts you have to spare.
I feel like I blinked, and we went from September to the end of December. This is extra weird because there have been whole weeks when we finished Tuesday, and it felt like it should be Friday night already. If there ever was proof that time is relative, 2021 is it.
That’s one reason I build in rituals to close out the end of the year. Remote work can make you feel like your home-life and work-life bleed into each other in unfortunate ways if you aren’t careful. In a year where many of us experienced lockdowns or restrictions in one way or another, it’s doubly important that we find ways to signal the passing of time.
Here are a few things I do to mark the end of the calendar year. Perhaps one of these rituals will work for you.
Ritual One: Clean Something
I like to end the year with a clean desk. Right now, I’m surrounded by a pile of books to read, yarn from the various secret presents I’m knitting, thread for the anniversary gown I’m going to sew, chocolate, tiny pots for succulents I need to transplant, and notes for my book-in-progress. The weekly cleanup isn’t making much of a dent in the physical manifestation of my to-do list. But come December 30th, I will wipe the slate clean one way or another. I like to wake up to a clean desk in the new year.
Now that the kids are old enough this year, I’m giving them a new task for the end of the year. They’re going to clean all the walls in our house. This is only fair since they leave 99% of the grime in the house. Incidentally, I figured out that my eldest sometimes reads my blog. Child, if you see this, surprise! I love you.
I love the meta-message behind cleaning the year off the walls.
Ritual Two: Set Fire to Your Inbox
On Twitter a while back, a few editors I follow confessed that they periodically erase their email backlog. They weren’t getting to all of the emails, they knew they never would, so they just reset their inbox to email zero.
This sounds terrible. How could you erase those messages if you haven’t even read them? I think it’s genius. But then, at one point in my professional life, I would get roughly one hundred emails a day. There is no way a person can read that many emails and do anything else during the day. Think of it as radical candour. If you know that you will never get to all those emails, then in some ways, they have already been erased. Your inbox is Schrodinger’s kitten, and you need to lift the lid and let the cat move on.
I archive the majority of my inbox once a month. There are only so many New York Times newsletters I will read in my lifetime. I keep some emails until the next month and try to answer them–I get a lot of reports and studies from different PR groups that I try to follow up on if they’re on topic. But if I didn’t open the email from that person three months ago, it’s unlikely I’ll open it now.
Like Magellan in the new world, burn those ships and move into 2022 without any dead weight.
Ritual Three: End on Gratitude
The Atlantic had a fantastic article on the difference between toxic positivity and tragic optimism. Tragic optimism “involves the search for meaning amid the inevitable tragedies of human existence, something far more practical and realistic during these trying times.” This was a term coined by existential-humanistic psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
Meditating on what we are genuinely grateful for helps our mental health and stress levels. This is how I’m currently dealing with the latest round of restrictions in British Columbia. Read the article and consider giving a gratitude practice a go. This could be as simple as reflecting on the fact that you live in a warm place. Or sending a colleague an email to tell them that they’re great.
Do you have year-end rituals you engage in? I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to comment or send me a message.
What’s that Douglas Up To?
Baby, it’s cold outside. As I type this, it’s -14 Celcius/ 7 Fahrenheit in Vancouver, with a wind chill that makes it feel like -21c / 6f. This isn’t normal. The kids have outgrown their snow clothes, so we’re spending winter break playing video games, reading, and catching up on Avengers movies.
There’s so. Much. Yarn. Everywhere. I am up to my EYEBALLS in it. Family Party (aka my anniversary) is coming on January 4th, and we always hold a party with cake and presents with the kids. It seems only fair. They put up with us all year long just as much as my husband and I put up with each other. The husband and I will go out to dinner alone that night (Omicron willing), but before then, our house will look like a kids’ birthday party.
I have two presents knitted, which is pretty amazing considering that I have to knit while the kids aren’t looking, and two to go.
My literary audio podcast is currently on break, but I’m gearing up for season two, which starts in late January. I have a couple of guests already lined up, and we’re working on getting episodes recorded. Check out season one if you like listening to stories with a hopeful edge. Each week, an author reads their work, followed by a behind-the-scenes episode where we break down the story/poem.
I’m also reading ‘Save the Cat Writes a Novel’ by Jessica Brody and ‘The Heroine’s Journey’ by Gail Carriger. I recommend them both for people who like to nerd out about story structure. After getting halfway through both books, I started watching Captain Marvel, and I nearly shouted ‘Buddy Cop story!’ at the screen after the first 20 minutes. Fortunately, my entire family has already seen this movie, so they didn’t mind my comments. Much.
Ending on a Note of Gratitude
This will be my last blog post for the year. I couldn’t enter 2022 without saying how much I appreciate you for reading what I write. We writers send out our words into the ether, but the magic doesn’t truly happen until someone else interacts with it. You are all my magic makers. Rock on with your bad self.
On the face of it, this sounds like good news. A person in power is being held accountable for disrespecting employees in a, particularly vulnerable moment. That’s precisely what should happen. But when you take a second read of how the board of directors handled this situation, the outlook isn’t as clear-cut.
The board didn’t fire Garg. They sent him on what amounts to a time-out. Additionally, they delayed the close of their $7.7 billion reverse merger. This smells like an attempt at damage control. Theoretically, the board could use the CEO’s time out to set up a more humane employee experience. Or they might wait for the news cycle to move to a different target and then bring Garg back and proceed with the status quo. If you read through the variousnewsarticles about Vishal Garg, he has a hostile behaviour pattern dating back to at least 2019. He should have been fired when he threatened to burn his business partner alive.
This time, the only thing that’s different is the increased public scrutiny due to the reverse merger.
Follow the Money
I was talking about this story with someone close to me, and the person said, “How does a guy like that keep his job?” To that, I say, follow the money. People like Garg get results by burning through people. If your overriding goal is year-over-year profits or shareholder value, then it’s hard to make the case to fire the Gargs of the world. They deliver the results demanded of them.
In business school, you learn a lot about incentives. Are you incentivizing people correctly? How should you set up incentives to reach business goals without driving people to unethical or criminal behaviour? Most companies say that they value a respectful work environment. But if a leader’s performance isn’t tied (at least partially) to delivering a healthy work culture, then those are empty words with no teeth behind them.
It shouldn’t take public scrutiny around a 7.7 billion dollar deal to oust a toxic boss. Robbing employees of their dignity should come with the same sort of consequences as misappropriating investor funds. You can make the argument that the consequences should be more severe. You can give back the money.
Business leaders (and investors) need to do better. Otherwise, the abuse will never stop.
The fire engines woke me up first. There are always fire trucks rushing somewhere in a city, but these ones screamed their way closer and closer until they sounded like they stopped right in front of my building. But it was the smell of burning plastic that got me out of bed.
I stumbled over to the bedroom window, in that sleep drunk state you get in when you’ve only been asleep for forty minutes. My husband said, “You smell burning, too?”
He went onto our balcony and I went to check the kids’ bedroom doors. We have smoke detectors and sprinklers in the apartment throughout the building, and they should be going off if there was a fire anywhere inside, but I could smell something burning.
I touched both bedroom doors and verified they were cool when my husband called “You have to come see this.”
I walked onto our sixth-floor patio, the cold air biting through my t-shirt. Immediately to my right, orange-red fog poured out of the abandoned houses in the cul-de-sac next door. It looked like a scene from the rock concert from hell, and we had a front-row seat.
We might need to leave in a hurry. I went back to the kids’ bedrooms. There is no gentle way to wake up your kids and tell them to get dressed, there’s a fire, and we might need to leave, but I tried. Maybe it worked because my youngest fell right back asleep once he had his clothes on. My eldest stared at the fire with her father until the smoke drove her back inside.
It took less than five minutes to pack a small go-bag. Phone, laptop, chargers, snacks for the kids, and a knitting project for me. It was almost as if I’d practiced evacuating all week. Maybe on some level I had. Four days earlier, a month’s worth of rain landed on Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in less than 48 hours. Much of Abbotsford was underwater. All of the major highways connecting us to points East shut down. Some closed due to landslides while others had whole sections washed out by flooding rivers.
And yet, our little piece of Vancouver was mostly untouched. We were stranded with the Port of Vancouver on our side of the break. Unlike our friends in the interior, we didn’t need the National Guard to fly food in. Nobody had to evacuate their homes. All we had to do was ration gas and not panic.
I sat down on the couch and waited. Every part of me felt heavy with the need to sleep. A couple of neighbours stood outside near the firetrucks and updated the building Discord channel with news and pictures of the fire. A little after midnight the firefighters had the blaze contained. I sent my eldest back to bed.
Once again, we were disaster adjacent.
You Might Not Want to Live Just Anywhere
The fire could have been so much worse. We live in a city, reasonably close to a fire department that stayed at the site of the fire through the night. The flooding could have been worse. Only five people died in the mudslides.The damage is plenty bad–one of our highways might be fixed within two months, depending on winter weather conditions. And as I write this, we have another storm queuing up to drop another heck-ton (technical term) of water on the Lower Mainland. But for those of us in Vancouver, it’s unlikely that we’ll need to ration more than gas.
My family’s close encounters with disaster made me realize that just because remote workers CAN live anywhere, doesn’t mean we should. We can’t be location agnostic. We need to think in terms of extreme weather events before choosing a place to live. While climate change will affect the entire globe, some places will be less livable than others.
If you live in the U.S., you can use FEMA.gov to look up your flood risk. For those of us outside the US, a Google search using your city’s name and ‘floodplain mapping’ will usually yield results. If you want to know what areas will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, a little tool called ‘Surging Seas’ can help you with that. I found the book ‘How to Prepare for Climate Change’ by David Pogue useful, though the ‘where should I live’ section focuses on the U.S.A.
Of course, not everyone can move. Health issues, aging relatives, economic limitations, and other factors can keep us in a place with known climate risks. If that describes your situation, then you may want to focus on disaster preparation. I can shelter in my home, but the fire scare revealed that I need to pack a better go-bag.
Disasters can hit at unexpected times and places. Do you have supplies ready if you need to shelter at home or get out in a hurry? It might be time for a little audit.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
Staring out at the weather and seething. All kidding aside, I’m in the middle of informational interviews with a few people. I also finished up season one of Latinx lit mag and am beginning the planning for season two.
I want to be in the middle of planning my 25th wedding anniversary party, but with the highways closed and omnicron finding its way around the world, I have no idea what the world will look like on January 4th. I’ll be happy if we can go out to dinner somewhere nice and maybe see a show. Cross your fingers for me?
When my eldest kid was seven, she asked me to cut her hair and give her bangs. When I was finished, she looked at herself in the mirror, smiled, and asked me to call her by her middle name.
The name change lasted 24 hours. She was disappointed that people at school still recognized who she was.
I thought about my kid’s temporary name change when Facebook announced that it was changing its corporate name to Meta. My first reaction was overwhelming cynicism. Does Zuckerberg really think he’s fooling anyone with this name change? I thought to myself. We all know it’s the same ol’ Facebook under the haircut.
Let’s be honest here. Zuckerberg probably doesn’t care what we think. The Atlantic calls Facebook “the largest autocracy on Earth.” Autocrats aren’t known for taking surveys before they do things. Facebook wants to be seen as a player in the future metaverse and has decided to proactively rebrand itself to lay claim to a frontier that doesn’t exist yet.
It’s aspirational. And annoying, if you think a business should transform before renaming itself. It feels unearned. It’s the same basic problem with changing the “look and feel” of your business. Your logo may be blue now, but has anything changed under the hood? Are the same people making the same decisions in the same ways?
Maybe you’re just the same old thing in new clothes.
Transformation is More than Skin Deep
Cosmetic transformation is beguiling because it’s concrete. You pay someone to create a story about who you are and pay someone else to update your website and logo. And you know how much the change is going to cost you ahead of time.
Ground-breaking transformation is scary. This is true whether you’re switching to remote work or branching out into a different industry. Your first couple of attempts may fail. Or you might end up offering a product or service different from your initial idea.
True transformation comes from keeping your eyes open and your experimental mindset strong. You earn the things you were looking for–relevancy in a changing industry, better profits, longevity–the hard way.
Take Microsoft Teams. According to Statista.com, “The number of daily active users of Microsoft Teams have almost doubled the past year, increasing from 75 million users in April 2020 to 145 million as of April 2021.”
Microsoft released Teams in 2017. If you read their initial news release, the product was seen as a way to collaborate while using other Microsoft Office products in the cloud. They didn’t know a pandemic would disrupt the way we work a little over two years later. But they were there with an actual solution when COVID changed the rules of the game.
If Facebook/Meta wants to plant their flag on a virtual reality concept introduced in a dystopian science fiction novel, let them. Unless they do the work to transform into something other than a social media company, they’ll just be the same ‘ol Facebook with new haircut. And we’ll all recognize them for what they are.
What’s That Douglas up To?
I’ve upgraded my job search now that my kids are back in school. It’s time. I can (and do) make money writing and speaking about remote work, but at heart I love working at a company with a tight-knit group of colleagues. I’m also studying for my PMP. I’ve acted as a project manager for various projects over the years, so it’s time to make the designation an official one.
I’m still writing, but at a slower pace. No NaNoWriMo for me while I’m looking for work. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to write about looking for a job. The entire process reminds me of dating. You dress nice and try to figure out if the other party is insane. Have I mentioned how glad I am that I got married back when dinosaurs roamed the earth? I’ve been off the (dating) market so long I don’t even know where the market is.
Anyway, we’ll see how this goes. May your November be full of warm beverages and good cheer. I’ll catch you next time.
They are also less than half as likely to get promoted or receive bonuses as those who work mostly in-office. This is true even if you take age, industry, and occupation into account.
And if this weren’t concerning enough, consider why employees might elect to work from home. Members of federally protected groups could go remote to escape microaggressions, cover gaps in childcare, or work in spaces that better accommodate a disability.
If employers aren’t careful, they run the risk of further marginalizing these groups. This is wrong on a human level. It’s also risky from a litigation perspective.
Process is the New Sexy
The good news is that you can do things to keep your remote workers from becoming second-class citizens in a hybrid company. And it doesn’t even have to cost much. Creating an equitable office is more about retooling processes and mindsets than buying shiny software.
For example, think about how you hand out glamour assignments. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re the jobs that get people in front of leadership, and give them a chance to show high potential. In an inequitable hybrid workplace, a manager might see someone in the halls, and ask if the employee wants the assignment. The remote folks never get a chance to raise their hands.
A manager interested in equity has many different options. He or she might rotate assignments through the whole team. That way, everyone has a chance to participate. If you favour a more democratic approach, you can make a channel on the company messaging platform for upcoming opportunities, and post assignments that are up for grabs. If this option appeals to you, be sure to leave enough time for people who work flexible schdules to see and respond to the message.
This latter example is what we mean when we talk about an asynchronous, remote first workplace. And managers are often the difference between a company that says it’s remote first and actually behaving remote first.
Asynchronous Work Lets You Rob Peter to Pay Paul
The UK study mentioned earlier says that “homeworkers may be overlooked when being considered for a promotion due to reduced face-to-face interaction with colleagues and managers.” If you want to make sure your remote people get more face time with the people who can promote them, then you have to find the time for those activities somewhere.
Look at all of the meetings that you control. How many of them can be replaced with better documentation? If the information needs to be conveyed in a meeting, can that meeting be asynchronous?
Companies like Gitlab and Buffer have been using this type of meeting style for some time now. Gitlab says they use asynchronous communication for weekly announcements, new team member introductions, planning, quarterly team results recaps, and even as a way to cover workers who go on paid time off.
Use this reclaimed time to get your folks in front of leadership. Oragnize meet and greets, nominate your people for cross functional projects, or invite leadership to remote events to celebrate wins.
The Equity is in the Details
Making work equitable for your remote staff doesn’t have to mean taking big, splashy actions or spending a lot of money. Even something as simple changing how you push out announcements can have an outsize impact on equity.
Which is great, because that means you don’t have to wait for your company’s CEO to get on board before you invite that manager to your team meeting. You don’t have to wait before you tell your direct reports you’re going to try asynchronous weekly reports. With a little planning today, you can make your team more equitable, tomorrow.
What’s That Douglas Up To?
I have a 100 word story coming out in Scotland-based Epoch Press’ upcoming Transitions issue. I’ve started submitting to places with longer turn around times and I’m pleased as anything that I finally say that a story of mine is in a print mag.
Speaking of exciting developments, the trees are starting to change colour in earnest around my house. We’re always playing a game of Fall chicken in Vancouver. Will the leaves change before the rain washes them all away? Will the sun come out long enough for me to grab my kids and the camera? If everything aligns just right, tomorrow I’ll drag the kids into the forest so we can find some proper leaf piles to pillage. Wish me luck!
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”–Thomas Edison
Today’s business managers might be forgiven if they think this phase of the pandemic should be called the “hurry up and wait.” In March 2020, knowledge workers fled their office buildings to work from home. A year later, many of those folks had to start making plans to return to the office because COVID was supposed to be over by summer.
And now here we are in the Fall of 2021, with the Delta variant, vaccine controversies, and major companies like Apple and Amazon pushing back their return to office start dates. It’s enough to make a manager question their career path.
Whether you believe that remote work will permanently transform modern business practices or fade away with COVID, many managers are dealing with some version of a remote or hybrid team dynamic right now.
Winston Churchill once said that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” And if you’re a manager with a hybrid team, you have the opportunity to make the most of the hand you’ve been dealt. But only if you’re intentional about it. Here are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself if you want to get the most out of your hybrid team.
But First, a Definition
Hybrid work comes in all shapes and sizes. This article assumes that all of your direct reports work from home some of the time and in the office at other times. Hybrid teams with two dedicated worker tracks–some work remotely 100 percent of the time while the rest return to the office–have specific issues that we’ll discuss in a future article.
It’s Only the Best of Both Worlds If You Treat them Like Different Worlds
Ask Yourself: Do my team’s in-office days look measurably different from their work from home days?
It makes no sense to bring people into an office so they can sit in front of a computer and not talk to each other. Instead, prioritize work that takes more planning and intention if done remotely. Going to lunch with a cross-functional colleague or grabbing coffee with your direct reports probably doesn’t feel like work. But those in-person interactions help your coworkers see you as a human being. They help your team to “hear” your voice and add in the context of your personality to the emails and text messages you send. They’re better able to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Everyone is busy. We make decisions every day about when to open someone’s email or answer a phone call. That lunch could make the difference between Claudia from Sales saying to herself, “Why don’t I answer Artin’s email before I stop for the night? It will only take a few minutes,” and “Eh, I’ll answer Artin’s email Monday. I was just about to stop work for the night.” It’s a lot harder for Claudia to say no if she feels that Artin respects her as a person.
A Successful Hybrid Team Flips the Office
Ask yourself: Could this entire in-office workday have been an email?
I’m not suggesting that you should turn in-office time into an eight-hour brunch session. Or pack in back-to-back meetings that could have been an email. Instead, take a page from education called flipping the classroom.
According to the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, “flipping the classroom means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class…and then use class time to do the harder work…of assimilating that knowledge…in class, where they have the support of their peers and instructor.”
In a flipped hybrid office, employees would devote home office time for head-down work, low stakes/routine collaboration, and research. Office time would prioritize trust-building, brainstorming, creating buy-in, and resolving conflict. All of these activities benefit from a period of solitary preparation.
Only you can decide the extent to which your team can flip the office. There will always be people who need to complete head-down work in the office for various reasons. Additionally, managers work within the context and constraints of their company culture. But taking the time to optimize your hybrid team’s time inside and outside a traditional office is well worth the effort. You will find that they are more effective and productive, no matter where they do their work.
What’s That Douglas up To?
Well. I didn’t think my break from the blog would be a month long. How are you doing? I hope you’re well. Shortly after my last post, I went to see my grandpa in California, and it did me a world of good. I haven’t been back home since December of 2019. I hugged my mother. We spent the first night on her back patio drinking rum and juice and talking about music and painting. I met my 14 month-old grand-nephew.
And most of all, I listened to my grandpa tell stories. We talked about his time as a demolition expert for the army. We talked about how he met my step-grandma. I learned the one true way to make carnitas even though I am a vegetarian and there were entirely too many pig feet involved. And the first thing I did when I got back to Canada was to start telling those stories to my children, while my grandpa is still alive, when we sat down to dinner.
In more writerly news, I had a story published on The Syndrome Mag, called An Open Letter to the Man Looking for Love On LinkedIn. It’s a comedy piece dedicated to the men who think it’s cool to proposition professional women on LinkedIn. I’m thinking of just sending a URL to the piece any time that happens to me going forward.
I also launched a Latinx literary audio mag called (super creatively) LatinX Audio Lit Mag. We (and by that, I mean I) publish fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction from people who are part of the Latinx diaspora. I’ve been blown away by the beautiful submissions I’ve received. You can find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, Google, and Radio Publica. Have a listen if you’re so inclined.