True Transformation is More than a Name Change

And There’s Nothing Meta About It

Image: Boy wearing a pair of glasses with a fake nose and mustache attached. From Canva.

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

Steve Buscemi’s character in 30 Rock changed his clothes and tried to pass as a teenager. How well did that work for him? (Image: How Do You Do, Fellow Kids? meme) Screenshot from YouTube, Fair Use

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.

How to Keep Remote Workers from Becoming Second-Class Citizens

Image description: Two women working on a laptop in a living room. Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

According to a recent study by the UK Office of National Statistics, remote workers put in more hours of unpaid overtime and take fewer sick days.

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!

How to Make the Most of Your Hybrid Team

Photo by Jopwell from Pexels

“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?

Grandpa Pete and I were sitting in his backyard after spending many hours cooking Carnitas.

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.

Don’t Throw the Remote Baby Out With the Bathwater

Photo by Georgia Maciel from Pexels

Back in 2011, I had a colleague we’ll call James who started an executive MBA program while fully employed. He had the full support of our director, who we’ll call Wayne, who was also enrolled in an evenings and weekends MBA program.

The only problem was that James decided to take daytime classes while pretending to work during the day. He missed team meetings, or showed up late and pretended his camera didn’t work. His staff couldn’t reach him since he never answered his phone. Our boss fired him a few weeks later.

Recently the Wall Street Journal published an expose revealing that some employees have decided to take on two jobs. And some employers are going to read this and think ‘I knew it! If you don’t watch employees they’ll cheat you! Everyone needs to come back to the office.’

In reality, you can structure the remote environment so it’s clear when people are working–without resorting to surveillance equipment. I wrote about How to Know if Your Remote Employee is Really Working over on Medium if you want an overview of what to do. But here are some quick tips:

Hold Regular Check-Ins

Wayne exposed James’ deception very quickly because he had a set of regular check-ins with his direct reports. James wasn’t doing his work. He had nothing to talk through with his boss (or with us, during team calls) because he wasn’t doing anything. Wayne’s check-ins were short, interactive, and tailored to the needs of the team. In other words, you couldn’t just log in and ignore the meeting.

As a side note, I’m not suggesting that all meetings need to happen in real-time, on camera. That isn’t realistic. You should “meet” in some fashion, often enough that you have a sense of what your direct report is working on. That can happen just as easily over chat, phone, or email.

Focus on Outcomes

Is your direct report turning in a reasonable amount of work in a reasonable amount of time? Is it high quality? If so, then your direct report is working. If not, spend some time diagnosing the issue. Did you provide enough training? Is the employee spread too thin between departments? There are many reasons why someone’s work might suffer.

Many employers find that, if they provide the right environment, their workers are even more productive when they work from home. And many employees enjoy the benefits that come from working remotely. Don’t let a few bad apples cause you to miss out on the very real benefits remote work provides.

What’s That Douglas Up to?

Well. There’s really no gentle way to say this. I had a lovely vacation with my family, and then two days after I got back I found out my maternal grandpa has liver cancer. He has three to six months to live.

I’m grateful that Canada opened its borders to US travellers because that means I can afford to book a flight to see him in a couple of weeks. My grandpa taught me many lessons about how to deal with people. I am the person and manager I am today because of the stories he told about work around the kitchen table.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during COVID, it’s that my grief expresses itself in different ways. One day I’ll do nothing but feed the kids and stare blankly into space. Then on the next, I’ll get up and bury myself in multiple projects. So you’ll continue to hear from me. But maybe not as often. this isn’t an apology; it’s more of a head’s up.

You Need to Manage High Performers Differently

Photo of Olympic symbol at sunset, near a beach. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

Last week Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympics all-around gymnastics final, and much of the world lost its ever-loving mind. Biles is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. She has no equal in gymnastics. Therefore, the only person who can legitimately decide whether she’s fit to compete, is her.

The same is true for extraordinary performers in all fields. That’s what makes managing them so uncomfortable for some bosses. Often, managers expect to lead by showing their team how to do things or coming up with the right answer. But you can’t do that when your direct report is better than anyone else at their job–including you.

I’ve managed elite performers during my time as a people manager, and I’m here to tell you that these folks still need you. They just need you differently than average performers. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you’re lucky enough to manage extraordinary people.

Even Simone Biles Has a Coach

There’s a school of thought that says, when you have a top performer, your only job is to get out of their way. That’s not true. You actually need to be a hands-on manager. Think of those elite race cars at the Daytona 500. They go through an average of 20-28 tires during that race. With elite performance comes elite maintenance. But the maintenance is different.

Act as a sounding board.

Elite performers need to bounce ideas off of people too. And they have few, if any, equals to collaborate with. So a good manager acts as a coach by asking leading questions, and encouraging experimentation. You may never tell them what to do, but you can help them clarify what they should try next.

Check your insecurities at the door.

When some managers are confronted by greatness, they compensate by taking the “everyone has something they can improve” approach. Then they pick something minor and spend time reminding the elite performer that they suck at it. This is about as effective as trying to get Simone Biles to improve her basketball game. The woman is 4’6.

Don’t confuse this with ignoring bad behaviour. If an employee is acting violently or inappropriately, deal with it. I’m talking about picking people apart because you feel intimidated. Don’t do it. Your job is to be as good at managing them as they are at doing their job.

Keep other people from slowing them down–or boxing them in.

We live in the era of mass-produced everything. And chances are, someone higher up the hierarchy would like to turn your high performer into an army of high performers. But not all extraordinary people are good teachers. And let’s face it, even if Simone Biles taught us gymnastics, I doubt you or I could do half the moves she does.

You may have to protect your high performer’s time. You may also need to protect their ability to perform their job to the best of their ability. Just as the judges at the US Classic underscored Bile’s Yurchenko Double Pike to keep things “fair” for everyone else, you may encounter leaders who essentially want to slow your direct report down because nobody else in the company can keep up.

This is an irrational decision. In business, EVERY company should want to outperform their rivals. The only way to overcome this maneuver is to be well connected. That way, you can talk the right people out of setting unnecessary limits on your people.

Managing elite performers is immensely rewarding. You get to watch people with extraordinary abilities do their thing up close, and benefit from their talents.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

My desk is set up! Image of a desk with a laptop, a second monitor, and shelves with plants on the wall.

I almost typed “finally done emptying boxes!” Unfortunately, that isn’t literally true. I still have boxes of yarn that need to be put in their new home. But I’m at the point that I can ignore those boxes with abandon and get on with my life.

My desk is set up. Wahoo! I think better when I have a dedicated space. My desk will never be super clear because I have many interests and they all cross my desk in one way or another (that’s a sewing box on the right) but it’s pretty.

I was supposed to have a comedy piece out last week but the fine folks who accepted it last year haven’t published it yet. I’m also waiting on a short story that is supposed to be out “soon,” and a comedy piece that was accepted last week.

Now that I have my desk set up I’m hopeful that I’ll begin writing regularly again. Hopefully, I’ll have more news to report on that front in my next blog post. Stay safe out there, friends.

Bookshelves Are My Own Private Windex

In my wild fantasies, my home looks sort of like this, but with a fainting couch and a margarita machine in the corner. Photo by Ivo Rainha from Pexels. Image description: Old world library with floor to ceiling books.

In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, patriarch Gus is convinced Windex can solve any problem. I think bookcases are my own private Windex. We own three of Ikea’s five-by-five bookcases, and I take up half of that real estate with my books, crafts, yarn, and fabric supplies. 

My husband would probably tell you that I use up more than half of the family bookshelf space. Since this isn’t his blog, we’re going with my story. Ha!

I love the way big bookshelves section off spaces. As Maya Middlemiss so aptly said in her excerpt from her book Finding Your Edge, “There have to be edges, where the workplace stops and the home begins.” 

And I find myself needing those edges as I transition from a private office with a door to an open space in my new living room. My enormous bookshelf is a “wall” that separates me from the dining area. Soon I’ll set up small shelves for my office plants and hang up my calendar. There may not be actual walls, but my office will be visually distinct from the living room, and that’s all I need for now. We’ll see what happens in a month after I’ve lived with my office for a bit. A new place is an opportunity to try new ways of working and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

Mostly recovering from moving during the Pacific Northwest heat dome. Vancouver normally has only a couple of weeks of true heat, so most homes lack air conditioning. Heck, some businesses don’t have air conditioning. There were blackouts and fires, and people died in their overheated homes.

On a more personal level, the temps were almost high enough to kill our pet rats. I spent a lot of time keeping them cool with a constant supply of ice and cold fruit. And our movers almost didn’t come because some of them fainted from the heat the day before. I am incredibly grateful they felt up to moving our stuff for the few hours they could give us. I’m also grateful for my friends who came over and helped us get everything out of our house, so the movers only had to load the truck from our yard.

That’s how you know your friends really like you. When they’re willing to come out in the heat during COVID to schlep your stuff.

On a more writerly note, I had a piece of literary flash fiction show up in National Flash Flood Journal on June 26th, entitled A Command Performance for the Only audience that Matters. What I wouldn’t do for an unexpected sprinkler to run through right now. The heat dome is off plaguing other people but it’s still hot for Vancouver.

I might settle for a margarita slushy machine. Do you think I can find one that comes with a fainting couch? I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

Guest Post: Working from home, or living at work?

Photo by Maya Middlemiss. Image description: Woman sitting at a desk with a Mac computer and second monitor.

by Maya Middlemiss

Note from Teresa: Today is my moving day! Fellow remote work advocate Maya Middlemiss has graciously agreed to step in this week with an excerpt from her newest book ‘Finding Your Edge: Establishing and Maintaining Your Boundaries When You Work From Home.’ I think you’re going to enjoy it.

While most people end up working in one particular space or location, part of the joy of working from home is that you can be a lot more flexible, and indeed I urge you to think about the space you have around you more creatively than you might be able to in somebody else’s building.

Perhaps there are different parts of your working day, or different activities, which lend themselves to different locations? Reading and research can be done just as well from a sofa, standing meetings at a bookcase or a kitchen counter, to switch up the energy and vary your working day.

A word of caution on the boundaries front, though. While this can work very well, particularly for highly integrated homeworkers, you might want to keep a few hard edges here.

I go out of my way to consider different needs and avoid being prescriptive, and I often find myself in a quirky blend of irritated and amused by the various ‘Rules for working from home’ articles you find, which are frequently written by columnists who never do so regularly. I believe that when it’s your home, no real rules apply other than your own.

I do encourage you to think through your rules though, and at the very least have a couple of red lines you will not cross, where work cannot be permitted into your personal life, time, and space.

The Rules type listicles will say ‘Never work from your bed’ – which you might want to consider. Perhaps you have to work from your bed though, because you’re sick and you’re on a deadline, or your central heating is broken and it’s the warmest spot. Perhaps instead there’s one favourite armchair where you love to read magazines and watch TV, and instead THAT is the boundary you will impose, and you’d rather sit on the floor than ever work from that spot. This is really important, so protect that space, ensuring that it will always signify home/not-work whenever you sink gracefully into its familiar upholstery.

Or you may have a favourite view out of the window which common sense might suggest is a good location for your desk, but actually, this aspect is so personal and relaxing to you that you’d prefer to turn your desk to the wall and save that vista for non-work appreciation.

There have to be edges, where the workplace stops and the home begins.

The Rules also say never work in pyjamas, or even wear full-on business dress to ‘go to work’ from home. This one has never worked for me in any way. I regard clothing as highly functional, and the function of clothes for working from home is to be comfortable and appropriate to the ambient temperature, plus whatever else I might be doing that day. This could mean a slightly smart top if I have an important call, or it might mean swimwear or yoga pants or whatever other healthy thing I think I might be more inclined to do later on. It might even mean both.

For me, it will never involve a suit or anything similar, but if it helps you to go to work in formal wear, then go for it. Just like you might be more confident in that online meeting if you wear full makeup, or a perfume that no video-conferencing platform can yet convey the effect of, even if you download the latest version, if helps YOU feel more confident or professional or beautiful, then have at it.  Wear a ballgown or fancy dress, or yes, even your PJs if they are comfortable the rest of the time, because it’s YOUR home, your work, your mood, your boundaries, and that’s all that matters. You can always pretend you left a filter on Zoom by mistake, if you accidently show up to a work meeting in your Monsters Inc onesie.

Alternatively, change into your PJs to signal to yourself that the work is at an end and the day is done, if that helps.

Here are some ideas for creating boundary conditions. They won’t always make it into an odd-numbered clickbait listicle of ‘rules’ on popular websites, but you might want to think about instigating the following:

·  No TV or radio on in ‘the office’/during office hours, in shared areas. Anything which creates distraction will just make the working day longer and less productive anyway.

·  No eating at your desk – take a proper break for meals, even if it’s a few feet away. I observe this one as strictly as I can, but obviously coffee is an exception and can be mainlined at any time.

·  Stay off work-related messaging and social media during the evenings at home (or at the very least, during mealtimes).

·  No work apps on the front page of the home screen of your phone (see tech and boundaries, below).

·  No removal of chargers, cables, post-it notes, highlighters, or ANY OF MY STUFF from my desk, at any time. Not even when you’re just borrowing it and I wasn’t there to ask and you really need it right now and anyway… “You weren’t even using it Mum!” Anyone with teenagers in the house, can you relate to this?

Excerpted from Finding Your Edge: Establishing And Maintaining Boundaries When You Work From Home by Maya Middlemiss at Healthy Happy Homeworking. And if you are looking for a legitimate job you can do from home or anywhere of your choosing, Maya’s new self-study course, Successfully Securing Your Remote Job, is available now.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

The beginning of the purge and pack for our move. My son rediscovered the stereo cabinet he used to play in as a toddler. Image description: Boy stands in a box with his head sticking out of a rectangular shaped hole.

Welcome to the ‘never-ending move’ edition of the Living La Vida Remota blog! I’m your host; Teresa “should have just set my possessions on fire last month,” Douglas.

We move in a week. On Sunday, I finished packing the kids’ room, and they’re living out of suitcases and sleeping on mattresses on the floor. On Monday morning, my son asked if we would do something special to mark the day we leave our house, which is also the last day of school, and the answer is yes, of course, we are.

I’m a big proponent of saying goodbye. I threw the goodbye party at work when I (and rather a lot of other people) got laid off from my previous job, and I invited everybody. And you know what? A whole whack of people came. Humans need closure.

Humans also need to be realistic, so our closure event will be getting ice cream from the shop around the corner after school. If I’m feeling really extravagant, I’ll buy fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast. As my son would say, we’re “ballin’ on a budget.”

What’s the Douglas Up To?

Leave-taking and transitioning. I have been the sole moderator of my neighbourhood Facebook group for the last six-ish years. I tried to give this role to someone else at least three times, but no one stepped up. It turns out all I needed to do was move away. I’m handing that role over to three competent people.

I’m so glad. If you want a healthy online culture, you need people who are willing to manage the experience. You need a person or people who care a lot but are willing to kick people out if they violate group norms. Not everyone is willing to bring the hammer down. But as every gardener knows, a thriving garden needs both planting AND pruning.

This is true both on social media and in your work and business life. Don’t be afraid to pull out the weeds and trim out the dead weight. The people who should be there will get more room to thrive.

Catch you next time.

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.