How to Get Better at Riding the Chaos Wave

Change isn’t going away so let’s get good at dealing with it.


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The era of the job for life ended before my generation joined the workforce. Most of us know that our employment situation could change with little warning. Maybe it was the recent layoffs at Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, or the government shutdown in the U.S., but I’ve been thinking about how the average person can get better at dealing with change.

I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to how to do this. I DO have an approach. I call it riding the chaos wave. There have been long stretches of my professional life where my role, my boss, and my entire company structure has changed every few months. This is how I surf the wave.

Learn Fast

My goal in any new role is to start functioning nearly autonomously by the end of the first week. Some people drink and know things–I talk to people, read, and write stuff down. This is how I learn.

You may learn a different way. Figure out what works for you. Learning how you learn can make change less scary. You may not know everything now, but you will have confidence in your ability to succeed in your new situation.


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Don’t Take the Drama Personally

Everyone around you is anxious. It has nothing to do with you. It will look personal because people will question your decisions. They may even act resentful or cold.

For me, it helps to pretend that I’m wearing my ‘newbie’ hat and that people are reacting to it, not me. Remember that the person who keeps a cool head the longest, wins.

Do Take Time to Grieve

Most job changes and restructurings mean losing things and people you like. Give yourself time to process your feelings. Think of your grief as a forest fire–it’s better to hold a controlled burn.

I am not a therapist or a mental health expert. I do know that going for a run helps me process many things. Find what works for you.


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Make New Connections

This one can be hard if you’re grieving. Or perhaps your company has gone through so many changes that you’re burned out on change. You may also have some survivor guilt if you kept your job when others didn’t.

Make connections anyway. I have never, in the history of ever, learned how to excel in a job by reading the company manual and doing exactly what I was told. In my experience you get the real scoop from the people around you. Even if everyone else thinks they’re clueless, you can start to get a sense of the bigger picture by putting together the little bits everyone knows.

Change is Like Coffee

It’s an acquired taste. I don’t like losing coworkers. I do like learning new things, and pursuing new challenges. If you can’t stop change, then it makes sense to try to find something to enjoy about it along the way, even if you have to do the metaphorical equivalent of dumping a metric ton of cream and sugar into your change cup before you choke it down. Do this often enough, and change may not taste so bitter.


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Change is Also a Chaos Wave

It can come at you from any direction, and if you stand still it will crash into you. I believe that each one of us can learn the skills to ride the wave instead. This is my approach to riding the wave. Do you have a similar or different approach for dealing with change? I’d love to hear about it.

How to Talk Smack about Your Co-Worker’s Superbowl Team

Without Losing the Relationship

I love to talk about the Seattle Seahawks with one of my coworkers. The Seahawks are her home team, and I hate them on principal. I’m not a big football fan–I’m in it for the Superbowl half time show–but the Seahawks got on my bad side after one particularly painful game against the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago, and now I root for whoever plays against them.

Talking smack about someone else’s sports team is a time honored way of building a human connection. And if you are a remote worker, it’s easier to build a connection with colleagues if you have something to talk about. But you have to be careful. Here are some things to keep in mind before you try to make friends with your remote colleague by talking smack about her sports team.

How Well Do You Know Your Co- Worker?

Does your coworker already joke with others about her team? Are you sure she’s joking? Some people have no sense of humor when it comes to sports. It’s also very hard to read tone in a text exchange. You may see the talk in the team Slack channel as playful and engaging. Your coworker may see it as harassment. Take the time to figure out if everyone is enjoying the banter before you target any particular person. And if you could rate smack talk on a scale of 1-10 in intensity, start off at level one and check to see how people react. Go slowly.

Start the Smack Talk Over Video

Video meetings are the best place to gauge your smack talk opportunities. Most remote meetings should begin with a few minutes of off-topic chit chat, and an upcoming game can be a good excuse to bond with your coworkers. Pay attention to visual cues and change your approach if necessary. Your coworker may enjoy an impassioned debate, but the rest of the attendees may find it distressing. If that’s the case, enjoy your smack talk one on one.

In one video meeting, I figured out that the head of my department enjoys bantering about the Dodgers. In a different meeting, I found out that a colleague hates LeBron James with the fiery heat of a thousand suns, and enjoys having a chance to explain why. I feel totally confident that if I try to talk smack about the Dodgers or LeBron James, a good time will be had by all. It’s nice to have colleagues to chat with during the day, especially as I work in an office of one. There may be no one else in my office space, but thanks to these incidental conversations, I don’t feel alone.

Talking smack about someone’s sports team is a time honored way of forging a human connection through friendly rivalry. If you keep your remote context in mind, then you and your remote coworkers can trade quips without ruining the relationship.

Remote Work Traffic Jam

Alexander Popov via Unsplash

This has been one of those days where I’ve spent all day frantically not getting quite enough done. As I write this, it’s Wednesday evening, and I am studiously ignoring the lack of a dinner plan in favor of writing a blog post before I have to drive my kid to dance class.

Remote work usually gives me more time to enjoy my life. Ditching the commute lets me cuddle my kids, knit most evenings, and run in the middle of the day. But there are some days–some weeks if we think about summer–when working from home means I’m constantly fighting interruptions.

I’m not talking about family interruptions though I have my share of those. When you work in a traditional office, people can usually look up and see that you’re busy. Either you’re frantically typing away at email, answering the phone, or speaking to someone standing at your desk–or attempting to do all three.

In the remote office no one can see that your instant messenger is pinging with three different conversations and that your email is blowing up. No one else in your office of one can tell those folks that you are on another line and can’t answer right now. There’s just you.

Wouldn’t it be great if our email and instant messaging apps had a way of telling people that you are currently busy, and added an expected wait time for a response? Something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry, but Teresa is responding to 2 different gChats and a Slack channel right now, and is unavailable. If this is an urgent matter, please resend your message via email, with the word URGENT in the title,’ would be genius.

The key here is that it needs to happen automatically. I can (and do) tell people that they are my fourth instant message ping and I need to get back to them, but typing that out takes time and focus away from the other three conversations I’m having. There is only so much juggling I can do before I start sounding like an idiot. Or feeling like the little old lady who lived in a shoe, who had so many chats going she didn’t know what to do. That’s how that goes, right?

Of course, this functionality might already be out there. If you’ve heard of it, let me know because I would love to use it.

Join the Remote Work Conversation

You don’t have to go it alone


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In November of 2010, there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance for people who wanted to ditch the traditional office in favor of a home office. I looked. My company had given me the option of going remote or finding a new job, and I desperately needed tools that could help me navigate this new world.

Most of what I found fell into one of two categories. First, there was the ‘scam group.’ The less said about these folks, the better. The second group I’ll call the ‘C-Suite Club.’ These people targeted their advice at the senior decision makers in a company.

I was a mid level manager, not a senior decision maker, and my concerns were more personal. How did I keep my work and home lives separate if they now happened in the same building? How could I keep my family from interrupting me during the day? No one seemed to be answering my questions in any venue I could reach. I stopped looking. Several of us figured out our own answers to these questions, and eventually some of us wrote a book about it. It’s called Secrets of the Remote Workforce.

This summer, as I began blogging, I found that there are many conversations going on about remote work. I wasn’t the only one who thought we needed to be talking about how to navigate the remote space. Here are some of the things I’m currently reading/listening to. This isn’t an exhaustive list of what’s out there–just what I’ve enjoyed.

Trello has a simple (but effective!) guide on How to Embrace Remote Work that is visually lovely. It’s easy to read, and a good document to send to your in-office coworkers or managers if you want to give them a gentle hint about how to work better with their remote coworkers. After all, YOU aren’t the one telling them that they need to stop crowding around a single computer to talk to you, it’s TRELLO doing it.

21st Century Work Life is a podcast about the different ways people work. Many of the episodes focus on remote work issues. I am not a podcast person, mainly because I can only listen while I knit or run. If I try to listen while working, I either stop working or I stop listening. This podcast is my exception, because there is a treasure trove of information in each episode. Pilar Orti is the host, and she also blogs at Virtual, Not Distant.

I found out about Lisette Sutherland through the 21st Century podcast. She has her own podcast called Collaboration Superpowers, and she just came out with a book called Work Together, Anywhere. The podcast is a great way to hear about what other remote people are doing, and how they get their work done. I just started the book and so far I’m enjoying the personal stories.

I am also a part of a couple of remote focused Facebook groups. The Remote Workers group is a good mix of job postings, commiseration, and links to articles about remote life. It’s a moderated group, and that seems to keep everything positive. Grow Remote is trying to build out remote opportunities in rural Ireland. I don’t live in Ireland, remote or otherwise, but it’s interesting watching them implement their dream of growing the local economy with remote jobs.

The deeper I dig, the more conversations I find about remote work. Do you have any books or podcasts about remote work that you enjoy? I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments so I can check it out.

When You Have to Call Tech Support

Down the Rabbit Hole


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I spent the better part of two days not getting access to a work system. Of all the things I didn’t think of when I went remote, tech issues are probably in the top ten. When your computer crashes at a typical office, you can move to a different computer. If the internet drops or the power fails, everyone is at least in the same boat.

The closest thing remote workers have to a company-wide power outage is if a shared system stops working. Otherwise, tech issues are localized. This means that a company can continue operations even during a natural disaster–employees in unaffected parts of the world can take over for those that may need to evacuate.

The down side is that when you have a tech issue, you are more or less on your own. I can’t take my computer to the tech team and stand there until they fix it. It’s a lot easier to put off my particular issue, or ignore me to answer a phone call. Or, as happened at the end of my workday, stop texting with me when my problem isn’t easy to solve. Side note: Ghosting in the middle of a work conversation is still rude even if the conversation is in instant messenger.

To be successful in this environment, you need to become your own tech support. Or at least become tech support adjacent. Some companies (like mine) will lock you out of certain computer functions in the name of security. If this is your situation, there are still things you can do to help the tech team find what’s broken.

Try to figure out what the problem is NOT. Restart your computer. Restart your modem. Consider resetting your password. The faster you can move away from tech asking you ‘did you turn it on?’ the faster you will arrive at a solution.

Some apps have code embedded in their error reports. I found out last year that sometimes, this code is invisible unless you select everything on your screen. Copying the error code(s) and including that in the email or support ticket can save time.

Document EXACTLY where things went pear shaped. I save myself a lot of aggravation if I write down my problem in a separate doc so that I can cut and paste it when I’m asked repeatedly to describe my problem.

Tech issues seem to drag out longer than when you can’t visit tech support in person. Don’t make the mistake of suffering in silence. Your colleague may know how to fix your problem, or have a work around. If nothing else she may have a moment to let you vent. This may not resolve the issue, but the shared experience may lead to a work friendship. And that’s something.

Morning Cuddle

Yesterday I had to tell the kids that today’s morning cuddle needed to happen an hour earlier than usual. I had a meeting with someone who works on Eastern time, and that meant an early start for my Pacific time zone self.

I promised my son that I would wake him up in time to cuddle. If I didn’t, the boy would be up at 1am, checking to see if it was time yet, and nobody wanted that.

I woke my son and daughter at the appointed time, and they followed me back to bed, still half asleep. My son was quite annoyed at the way work encroached on our family time. He’s never quite given up hoping that his father will take over my job so I can take care of him full time. He figures that if I just stopped taking video calls, no one would ever know the difference.

I transitioned to remote work while 7 months pregnant with my second child. I’ve had to take the occasional business trip, but for most of his life I’ve worked in the next room. I am at home when the kids leave for school. I am home when they come back again. During school vacations I am still there, doggedly trying to work as the kids stampede through the house and argue about who’s turn it is to play Minecraft.

My work/life situation is neither idyllic or horrific. I get to see my kids more than I would if I worked in a traditional office. I am happy for the opportunity, and aggravated at how often random people assume that working from home means they can give me things to do.

Of all the opportunities remote work bestows upon me, the morning cuddle is by far the most luxurious. It’s a little (okay a lot) squishy. The bed hasn’t grown the way our children have, so somebody is always balanced on the edge. My husband gets kneed in the back more often than anyone should have to deal with.

And yet I remember dropping off my infant daughter at daycare in the early morning dark, and picking her up again in the evening twilight, already nodding off to sleep. I hold a child in each arm, and I am grateful. Grateful that I replaced a morning commute with fighting over blankets and talking about weird dreams. Grateful that we can spend most mornings cuddled up together for a few minutes before we scatter to our various responsibilities. I hope my kids remember these times fondly.

I already do.

Loneliness and the Remote Worker


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In Buffer’s 2018 survey, 22% of surveyed remote workers said that loneliness was a top struggle, tying for first place alongside communication and collaboration issues. This is worrying on a couple of levels.

In an age where we are less likely to know our neighbors, workplace friendships have an increasingly important place in our social lives. The coworker you chat with today can become your movie buddy tomorrow. According to the folks at Gallup, having a best friend at work can also lead to better business performance, both in terms of profit and fewer safety incidents. Lonely workers, therefore, can miss out on a chance to feel fully engaged and to work at their full potential.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Working remotely doesn’t have to lead to loneliness. There are many remote workers who make work friends, and enjoy a sense of camaraderie with people whom they never meet in person. They may occasionally feel isolated, but they have a set of steps they follow to bring more human connection into their lives. Those steps vary, depending on work configuration and personality. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If we share what works for us, then that may help someone else to think of a strategy that will work for them. Anything that can help someone to feel less isolated in their office of one is a good thing.

How You Can Help

And this is where you come in. I am conducting research on how remote workers make work friends. Can you spare five minutes to fill out this survey? Once I’ve compiled the data I will write up an article with a toolkit of resources for making friends at work, and share it. Together we can help remote workers feel less isolated.