There’s Nothing Wrong With the Old You

What the world needs now are more naps. Image description: Family sleeping in a bed. Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels

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.

How Is It Already the End of the Year?

I feel like we drove this year like we stole it. Image description: Red race car driving on a racetrack. Photo by Daniel from Pexels

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.

I’ll see you in 2022!

We Need Tougher Consequences for Toxic Bosses

Pictured: A football referee calling time out (presumably so the players can think about what they’re done.) Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

On Friday, December 10th, the board of directors for Better.com announced that CEO Vishal Garg would be “taking time off effective immediately” after the controversial way he laid off 900 employees over Zoom. 

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 various news articles 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.

Fire in the Night

Photo by Pexabay from Pexels Image description: House-sized pile of wood engulfed in flames.

Thursday, November 18th. 

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?”

“Yeah.”

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?

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.