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.

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.

Should You Leave Your Remote Job?

Take some time to understand the problem before giving up on remote work.


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Remote employment won’t work for everyone. Before you decide to give it up in favor of a more traditional office, take some time to clarify what isn’t working for you. You can start by asking yourself the following questions.

Is this Really a Work Culture Problem?

Do you dislike working from home, or is your employer making you miserable? This can be surprisingly hard to differentiate. Do you have a flexible work schedule, or does your boss require you to rigidly adhere to a specific set of hours? Are you expected to complete reports whose sole purpose is to “prove” you’re working? Does your company use tracking software to keep tabs on you?


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None of these things, by themselves, necessarily point to a culture problem. Call centers record calls in order to train their agents. All employers require that you show up to work on a consistent basis.

The question is if you feel trusted to do your job. Can you leave your desk to make a cup of tea without the world falling apart? Does your work treat you like a slacker looking for an opportunity to loaf? If so, you may have a work culture problem.

Alternatively, you may have problematic boss. If the problem is your boss, you might consider transferring to a different department or role in the same company. If there is very little trust anywhere in your company, it may be time to move on. In both of these scenarios the problem lies with the people running the show, not with your home office.

Has Your Mental Health Taken a Hit?

Some people need to work in an office because it acts as an early warning system for their depression or other mental health issue. No one will notice if you don’t bother to shower when you work from home. This can be a godsend for those of us who run on our lunch breaks–I am often glad that no one, including my Betta fish, can smell me after I run–but this freedom can be disastrous for others. If you discover that you need to be surrounded by coworkers to keep your mental health in check, you are not alone. Many high-performing people do their best work in an office.


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Other people find that remote work actually enhances their mental health. Before you ditch the home office, add mental health breaks to your day. Go for a run. Take a few minutes to work on a craft. Read a book. Lately I’ve been listening to audio books while running, and I come back to work refreshed. When you work in an office of one, you don’t have to explain why you decided to carve stamps on your coffee break. You get to do you.

Remote work may not be for everyone, but don’t be too quick to assume that it doesn’t work for you. Take some time to zero in on the specific cause of your unhappiness. It might be remote work. However, you might find that with a few tweaks, remote work allows you to live your best life.