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. 

Sometimes Multitasking is a Bad Idea

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels Image: Asian woman in workout clothes checks watch and looks at cell phone.

We’ll start with a remote work cautionary tale.

Last week I contacted someone in a Facebook writing group I’m in to talk about a passion project I’ll launch in Fall. It’s an audio literary magazine for Latinx writers, and this person offered to help get it off the ground.

I was in a hurry. My message was a little meandering, and I hit send before checking my spelling. We were using Facebook Messenger. I assumed that a few spelling errors would be fine on an informal message asking when she might have time to chat.

Mistakes Were Made

Well. I left out the word ‘mag’ (short for magazine) in the URL I manually typed into messenger. Then, iPhone autocorrect helpfully separated the three-word URL into separate words and decided the last word was a website. Only it couldn’t find a website spelled the way I spelled it, so it made its best guess.

Folks, it linked to a Latinx porn site. But that wasn’t the worst thing.

Not only had I just sent a professional contact —a contact I’d only spoken to once before, mind you—a porn link, I did it in my chiropractor’s office. He was taking a long time to come into the room, and I panicked. Was I on the office wifi? Did his admin person call him over to see what I was watching in his patient room? I’ve knit baby bonnets and booties for this man’s children.

Visions of his wife picking up the knitted socks with salad tongs and throwing them into the fire roared up in my head.

Did you know that you can’t delete Facebook Messenger chats off your phone? You have to do that on a laptop. This is a real big oversite. Maybe the functionality was there but I couldn’t see it while I was panicking and my eyes were (metaphorically) bleeding.

How Did I Get Here

I consider myself a remote work pro, but I made a rookie mistake. Namely, I decided not to check my message for the right tone and spelling. Had I done so, I would have caught the spellcheck disaster before it happened.

More importantly, I didn’t honour the way I like to work. Some people enjoy blending their personal life and work tasks. That’s not my style. I like to keep things compartmentalized. Personally, I’m faster, less stressed and more accurate if I focus 100% on work tasks during designated work periods. The only thing I should have been doing in my chiropractor’s office was knitting.

The answer is always more knitting.

The real point of this long-winded story is that each of us has a preferred way to work. Figure out your preferences, and honour them as much as possible. Right now, some folks can’t have what they need to be happy remote workers. You’re working and caring for kids. Perhaps you’re stuck working in your home when you’d rather work from a coffee shop. Or the countryside.

I wish I could wave a wand and change that for you. Until then, figuring out what you want in your post-Pandemic office will help you get there more quickly once we’re on the other side.

Fortunately my chiropractor did NOT kick me out for accidentally linking to a porn site on my phone, and the person I contacted on Facebook messenger forgave my gaff. This could have ended so differently. Maybe I’ll look back and laugh about this? Someday?

What’s That Douglas up To?

I have something like four-ish pieces that have been accepted for print but won’t see the light of day until the summer.

But the biggest, most exciting news is that I’m getting my first dose of Pfizer on Wednesday, May 12th. I knit a new top for the occasion. It matches my teal face mask and I bought some teal eyeliner so I can be matchy-matchy. This will be my own personal Golden Globes event, where the prize for one vaccine goes to ME.

We’ll Throw the House Out the Window

Image description: Three pineapples wearing party hats, surrounded by balloons. Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. from Pexels

I have exactly one remote work-related thing to tell you and it’s this: Tuesday, April 27th I’ll be part of a Twitter panel discussing the future of meetings. If you’re reading this post before 12 Eastern, come check it out as we Tweet live and answer questions. Fellow app is hosting the discussion under the hashtag #ManagerChat. If you missed the live event you can skim through the discussion at your leisure.

For those of you who only read this blog for the remote work articles, feel free to ignore the rest of this update.

A Doctor in Da House

Seven years ago my husband, two small children, and I left California to start a new life in Vancouver Canada. When you have skin as light as ours you get to say you emigrated and are American ex-pats. Whatever you call it, we moved to Canada so my husband could get his Ph.D.

Last Friday the man successfully defended his dissertation, becoming Dr. Douglas. We partied like two middle-aged married folk with kids locked down during a pandemic. There were naps. There were limited edition Russian Imperial Stouts for the Dr. and Canadian Ice Wine for the woman who stayed married to him throughout the making of the degree. We ordered Malaysian takeout. Our daughter congratulated her father. Our son called him Dr. Dad.

Wine, Woman, and Song

I was a one-woman cliche of celebration—I’m a woman, I had wine, and I sang songs (after the wine). And since we’re in a pandemic, and Canada is in the midst of its third wave, and all our family is in the US, that’s as much in-person celebration as this life event gets.

But just you wait until we’re all vaccinated. As my grandmother would have said “Nosotros pasarmos un buen tiempo.” (We’ll have a good time.) In fact, we’ll tirar la casa por la ventana. In English, you raise the roof, but in Spanish, you throw the house out the window. Sounds to me like Spanish speakers throw better parties since the whole house is involved.

Either way, I plan to make up for lost time.

Let’s Stop Assuming There’s One Right Way to Work

One person’s perfect work situation is another person’s prison. (Try saying that ten times fast) Image description: Man sitting at a work desk, eating noodles while looking at a computer screen.)

In a recent Atlantic article, The Hidden Toll of Remote Work, author Arthur Brooks argues that “going fully remote forever could exacerbate one of the worst happiness disasters of the pandemic.” He quotes statistics from Buffer’s 2020 survey (which uses data from 2019) to show that remote workers struggle with loneliness and collaboration.

It seems like a pretty grim picture. The only problem is that this tale is incomplete. If you look at Buffer’s 2020 survey (which isn’t the most recent one), 98% of respondents want to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career. If you look at the latest survey, 96% of all respondents, and 99% of workers who started to work remotely due to COVID, wish to continue doing so, in some capacity, going forward. Ninety-eight percent would recommend remote work to others.

Your Job Isn’t Your Mother

It’s undeniable that remote workers can struggle with loneliness. It’s also true that working in a traditional office is an important component of some employees’ mental health. But recommending that all workers resist transitioning to permanent remote work is a step too far: “If the office permanently closes, consider whether your employer has your best interests at heart, and if you can, think about moving to another company.” 

That last quote, in particular, gets under my skin. Office buildings weren’t invented because someone asked themselves, “Hey, how can we make our workers happy?” They did it to increase productivity and control the working environment. A company isn’t a family. It’s a unit designed to make money. A company should be ethical, and the best ones hope you’re happy, but they aren’t your mother. 

Let’s Put Down the Pitchforks

Before we ask folks to join a back-to-the-office revolution, let’s first consider pointing people toward the tools they need to ward off loneliness no matter where or how they work. That information is out there. I know because I’ve written some of it. But I’m not the only one. There is a veritable army of people waiting to help you make the jump. Working from home isn’t synonymous with isolation. If you like working remotely and are motivated to make connections with people, you can learn how to do so. 

Someday the pandemic will be over, and those of us who love to work remotely will once again spend time with the people we met in our communities because we weren’t chained to an office. 

In the end, we need workplace choice. If Mr. Brooks wants to work from his pre-COVID office, I hope he gets the opportunity to do so. But I don’t want to be forced back into a traditional office because someone else doesn’t like working from home. That would be as ridiculous as insisting everyone should raise children because some people enjoy doing so. Instead, let’s respect each other’s differences and work together to create humane workplaces, no matter where we sit.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

The big news is that we’re moving this summer. My husband is finishing up his PhD, and so we’re moving away from campus. The Vancouver housing market is pretty insane. And oh my goodness, the applications! It was like applying to college. We had to write a personal essay, talk about our extra curricular activities, and submit references. I wish I were kidding. I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a lock of hair and a vial of blood.

In between looking for places to live, I wrote stories for the book of essays about my family’s pandemic year. I also did a voice-over for my micro-fiction piece Spores, which will be appearing in the audio-lit mag Micro at some point in the near future. I found them while researching audio literary magazines as part of an upcoming project. More on that later. Meantime, check out Micro. They’re doing some fun things.

I hope you and yours are coping as best as you can. I’m rooting for you!

The Pandemic Didn’t Ruin Remote Work

Smiling man holds smiling child.
I’d like to think this is a parent making the best of things on a Zoom call. Image by Gabby K from Pexels

Feeling weird about seeing this piece pop up on a Thursday? Me too! Unfortunately, WordPress decided saving changes wasn’t a thing and I had to rewrite the whole article. Not cool WordPress, not cool.

How Did the Pandemic Impact Remote Work? An Analysis of Buffer’s 2021 Report

Buffer’s State of Remote Work is part survey, part data analysis. It’s a high-quality report that has been taking the pulse of remote workers since 2018. The entire thing is worth reading, but let’s spend a little time analyzing a couple of specific data points.

Specifically, if COVID is the reason you’re working from home, how does your home life impact your perception of remote work?

Where Are All the Single Ladies (And Laddies)?

The majority of survey respondents reside in the US and UK, where 28% of the population live in single-person households (Source: Gov.UK and Census.gov). It’s likely that some of those folks answered this survey. Sadly, Buffer didn’t ask respondents if they live alone. Humans are social creatures and it would have been interesting to see if the answer to the question “what’s your biggest struggle with working remotely” changed based on household makeup. If I could add a question to Buffer’s next Stae of Remote Work, this would be it.

Widespread vaccination will (hopefully) end the need for social distancing in the latter half of 2021. But the relationship between household size and perception of remote work is relevant going forward. If nothing else, if you live alone and are considering remote work, this information can help you craft a plan to get your daily human contact from other areas in your life.

Parents Didn’t Pan Remote Work

Truthfully, I thought that parents would NOT want to work remotely once it’s safe to go back to the office. Trying to work and parent while locked down is tough. As Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “27% of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, and 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children.”

And yet, 96% of total respondents who started to work remotely due to COVID say they want to continue doing so, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. This is only a drop of 1.6% as compared to last year.

My first thought was that parents weren’t represented in this survey. However, thirty-five percent of the respondents identified as parents or caregivers. According to an analysis done by The Washington Post, “About 41 percent of [American] workers between the ages of 20 and 54 have a child at home.” Since Buffer combines parenting and caregiving into one category, parents are likely under-represented in their survey. However, it’s fair to say that enough parents took the survey to affect the results.

The benefits of remote work must outweigh the trauma of working and parenting in the same locked-down space. Let’s look at what respondents had to say about this.

Losing the Commute Is The Biggest Win

‘Not having to commute’ was the biggest benefit (28%) for respondents who started working remotely due to COVID. ‘Ability to have a flexible schedule’ and ‘flexibility to work from any location’ rounded out the top three slots.

On the surface, the answer seems self-evident. If you lose your commute you get all of that time back. That’s great for everybody. However, parents aren’t necessarily feeling the full effects of that benefit during the pandemic. Remember that most respondents live in the US or UK, where the majority of children were out of (in person) school for months. Some districts–like many in California–have yet to go back to in-person teaching. So all of that “extra” time is going to schoolwork or childcare duties.

Parents might recognize that working from home would give them more time in a post-pandemic world. We can’t say that they are conflating losing the commute with more family time. Buffer has a separate question for that. Only 11% of newly remote workers cited spending time with family as the biggest benefit. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.

What’s Missing in the Traditional Office Space

We asked ‘what remote work benefits outweigh the trauma of working and parenting from home in a pandemic?’ Instead, let’s think about what parents need that is missing from a traditional office.

I talk to a lot of people who worke remotely. And with the parents, especially, the conversation invariably turns to how we’re managing under the current crisis. Working and parenting and homeschooling all at the same time is rough, but at least remote work lets you parent badly while earning a paycheck. Parents who can’t work remotely have to choose between leaving their kids home alone, sending them into settings where they might catch COVID, or giving up their income.

Office spaces aren’t family-friendly. Many companies refer to themselves as families, but it’s a family that doesn’t include kids. We live in an age where eating at your desk, staying late, and generally giving your all to your company is how you get ahead. If eating an unhurried lunch is sketchy, what happens if you need to deal with an issue at your kid’s school?

Remote workers have to make themselves visible in order to be top of mind when promotions and stretch assignments get handed out. But that lack of visibility has an up side.

You can take care of family obligations during dead time at work without someone questioning your commitment. And that is a large benefit for parents who want to grow their careers.

What Does This Mean for Business Leaders?

A recent PWC survey shows that business leaders are more bullish about returning to a traditional office than employees. It also shows CEOs think companies do a better job at helping employees navigate childcare challenges than employees do.

Leadership needs to think long and hard before trying to reinstitute business as usual. When office workers went home to work and parent in the same space, not one company died because someone had to hold a toddler during a business meeting. Instead, we all learned to work around each other’s messy lives. The pandemic proved what many of us already knew. Caring for a family isn’t antithetical to driving business results. Let’s take this hard-earned learning and create business cultures that live in balance with an employee’s life.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

For first time blog readers, this is the space where I share links to other articles I’ve written across the web.

In early February the president of the Tokyo Olympics committee made a statement that meetings with women take too much time. I took exception to this and wrote a satirical list of why he might think so. He later resigned. Did this happen because of my crushing expose? I’ll let you be the judge.

In mid-February I teamed up with talented comedian and cartoonist Cassie Soliday to write this piece entitled Pandemic Looks for Fashion Week. That whole bit about business on the top and athleisure on the bottom is my actual work wardrobe, though I definitely wear my shirt buttoned, unlike the model pictured.

I have three other pieces that have been accepted various places, but they don’t come out until mid to late March. I’ll share them at that point.

What Kenny Rogers Can Tell Us About Working Remotely

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels. Image is of a person in a grass field, holding a guitar.

In Dr. Seuss’ book Oh the Places You’ll Go there’s a moment when the unnamed character ends up in the waiting place. People go there to wait for their ship to come in, for a break, for a job, for that fateful phone call. Seuss makes it clear that you should get out of this place as soon as possible because life stops in the waiting place.

In other words, don’t wait for life to give you what you want–go get it! I read this book to my children when they were small. Two things occurred to me. First, is this the message you want to send a toddler? They already run after what they want with reckless abandon.

The second was this: Sometimes the best thing you can do is wait. This Pandemic is a good example. The vaccines are out and the world is in the middle of the largest logistical undertaking of our time. The best thing we can do right now is to keep our social distance from folks outside of our households, and wait our turn for the vaccine.

Kenny Rogers Gets It

The older I get, the more I’m convinced we need a children’s book based around The Gambler, as sung by Kenny Rogers. Because really, all of us need to “know when to hold ’em/know when to fold ’em/ Know when to walk away/know when to run.” His advice predates Marie Kondo, telling us we need to learn “what to throw away, and what to keep.” And let’s not even go into how important it is to accurately read people’s faces. That’s a lot of wisdom in a few minutes’ worth of a country song.

Or maybe we need to tell people that it’s okay to wait when they’ve done enough. It’s okay to take rest breaks when you’re looking for a job. There are only so many applications you can submit in one day and retain your sanity. It’s okay for managers to offer an appropriate amount of support to their employees, and then wait for them to either complete the task or ask for help.

Successful remote workers know when to hold off on that snarky email, know when to walk away from their computer at the end of the day, and know when to run and help their colleagues.

You have to make good decisions when no one is watching. That’s a lot easier to do when you periodically take a moment to reflect on what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Which is easier to do if you give yourself some down time. So don’t be afraid of the waiting place. Sometimes you’re exactly where you need to be.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I am spectacularly lucky to live near a beach, and to have the luxury to walk along its coast. Image is of the coastline in Vancouver, with Downtown Vancouver in the distance.

I gave a short keynote for Flexjobs on three strategies job seekers can use to land their next job. This was extra fun because it gave me the excuse to talk to three very lovely people who used informational interviews, networking, and LinkedIn to find their jobs. I will get the recording for this in about a week and I’ll share it here if that interests you.

On Monday P.S. I Love You published my personal essay Every Stitch a Goodbye Kiss. It has nothing to do with remote work and everything to do about crocheting stuffed animals for my kids, knowing that someday they won’t want them any more.

On January 5th Greener Pastures published my short comedy piece called Taylor Swift Says We’re Never Ever Ever Hanging Out Together

Last week I gathered all the articles I’ve written on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in the remote workspace, and started making an outline for my next book. I can’t say too much about it yet or my brain will think I’ve written the dang thing and stop bugging me to write it. This would be a no bueno situation.

And finally, I’ve taken a lot of walks along the beach near my house. The end of December and beginning of January were wet and grey, and the sunshine is a gift. It was also an opportunity to take my own advice and reflect on where I am, and what I want to be doing.

Stay well friends. I’m writing this on the eve of Biden’s inauguration in America. I’m hoping the day will be uneventful and that my friends in DC stay safe. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

It’s December and I resent the dark. The sun will rise at almost 8am tomorrow, and set a little after four. I’m a little worried my neighbours think I’m mad at them–I’ve been scowling at the dark outside my window all week.

Still, there is light–both literal and metaphorical–during these dark days. A vaccine is coming. My 24th wedding anniversary is coming up in January, and my husband bought me an electric guitar.

I bought him sweatpants. And yes, I’m feeling a little self-conscious about the relative awesomeness of our presents. Before you think bad things about me, please understand that he really wants nice sweatpants. And he hates expensive presents unless he’s the one buying them. Also, I’ve agreed to hem them, which basically means I’m making bespoke clothes. People pay thousands of dollars for bespoke clothing. Really, my gift is super classy.

Anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Hosting Year End Parties Online

I wrote an article called How to Host a Fabulous Online Party. It’s up on Medium and I hope you find it useful. I discuss some principals to keep in mind during your organization process and offer some specific suggestions for party activities that fit every budget. Even if your budget is zero dollars. I made sure all of the things I suggest are doable in both the US and Canada. For those of you who live in Europe and Asia, I hope this gives you an idea of how to find similar resources in your country.

What’s That Douglas Doing Now

More interviews and speaking gigs. Last week I did a ten-minute podcast on the Gifters that isn’t quite up yet. Tuesday I’ll be taping a segment for a virtual summit run by a nice group of folks from Australia.

I’ve also started planning out my next book. I’m not sure how other people write, but I tend to write the middle pieces first–I think in subheadings, and my intro and conclusions usually come last. The same thing is happening with this book. I was stuck for a little while because I didn’t know exactly how it was going to open. Once I gave up on starting from the beginning, pieces of the outline started falling into place. It works for me.

I also had another comedy piece published. I’m a huge Jane Austin fan, so when it came time to talk about travelling for American thanksgiving, I decided to move the Bennet family to an undisclosed location in the United States. The piece is called Pride and Prejudice and COVID. Have a read if you’re so inclined.

I hope you’re finding your own glimmers of light in the dark. Don’t be afraid to make them if you need to. To paraphrase Aerosmith, sometimes “the light in the tunnel may be you.”

The Art of Not Gathering

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels Alt text: Little girl wearing a virtual reality headset, arms out for a hug.

I dream about sitting at my Grandpa Pete’s table. Grandpa Pete is my maternal grandfather, and growing up, his was the house we went to when we hung out with my mom’s side of the family. Grandpa Pete and Grandma Bea are the sort of people who keep their house ready for visitors to drop by. You could call him at noon on a Tuesday, and when you showed up at five with a six pack of beer and a pasta salad, he’d have the chips and salsa set out, and beans and rice warming on the stove. I learned how to host gatherings by watching my grandparents work a room.

Every year, the week before Thanksgiving, my family gathers at Grandpa Pete’s to make tamales. We buy masa preparada–prepared masa–from a specific Mexican grocery store because we aren’t masochists, but otherwise make tamales from scratch. My grandparents always made the fillings ahead of time, so when you walked in the door, you were hit with the smell of chilies and corn, pork and oregano.

This year, there’s no tamale party. And I couldn’t go visit in any case. My grandpa is in his eighties, and my kids are in school. The risk is too great. Instead, I watch videos on how to make my own masa harina from dried heirloom corn and dream about visiting when I’m vaccinated in the summer.

How are you doing? Are you travelling to see family or friends for American Thanksgiving? Canada had Thanksgiving in October, and we’ve seen an exponential rise in cases in the weeks following that holiday. I’m going to take a harm reduction approach and give you a link to an article in The Atlantic that gives strategies for making a risky action safer if you choose to travel and gather with family this coming Thursday.

Working On: A Remote Work Article

A little over a week ago someone asked me for advice about online parties. This person was tasked with throwing a team party over Zoom and had no idea what to do. I gave an off the cuff answer and then realized that I have a better, more researched answer that I should give. I’m working on that article now and hope to have it up for you soon.

If you’re looking to answer more existential questions, like why are many gatherings so bad, check out Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. I borrowed it from the library after the fine folks over at Workplaceless talked about the book in a recent blog post. I’m only a chapter into the book but I’m impressed so far. I’ve definitely gone to events that felt alienating for no reason. I’m hoping to learn some tips to keep that from happening to anyone else when I throw parties. Because I dearly love to throw a party–online and off.

Procrastination is Magical

There’s nothing more inspiring for my writing than procrastination. If I’m feeling blocked with one type of writing, I can get over it by diving into a different type of writing. My inner toddler feels like it’s getting away with something. You could say that most of my work is fuelled by manic glee.

I was feeling a little blocked in the nonfiction and comedy departments, so I dove head first into writing a Fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. I did that for the first two weeks of November before I ran out of glee at 28 thousand words. My creativity compensated me for this loss with a whole bunch of ideas for comedy and nonfiction articles. It was like being hit with a firehose of shiny distractions. (I realize this metaphor only works if you squint really hard, but let’s go with it).

I’m not saying it makes a lot of sense. I’m just saying it works. You should try it sometime. Something similar happened in October, which is why I can present the following comedy pieces for your reading pleasure.

Comedy Articles

If People Appropriated White, Midwestern Catholicism the Way They Appropriate Yoga is up at Points in Case. A few years back, a Buddhist friend from India mentioned how off putting it was to attend her first week of college classes in Vancouver, only to be asked to hold a church session (yoga) before they talked about research methods. That comment stayed with me ever since.

Are You Parenting a Toddler or Napoleon? is up at Slackjaw. I love writing lists because you can be clever about the things you’re comparing. And really, toddlers are little Napoleons. Put them in a French officer’s uniform and give them a hat and a sword and they’d probably take over Europe.

Should You Fly on the Boeing 737? A Flow Chart was one of two pieces I wrote last week and published in Greener Pastures Magazine, the comedy magazine I co-edit. There might be a worse time to clear an airplane for flight than the Pandemic, but I’m not sure when that is. I will not be applying my butt to one of their seats any time soon.

Incidentally, if you write comedy I’d love to consider it for publication. Give our submission guidelines a once over for all the info.

Speaking Gigs

I have an upcoming virtual keynote for a summit based in Australia. I was a little worried that I would have to try to sound articulate at 3am. It’s hard enough for me to filter my words before 9 in the morning. I’m not sure there’s enough caffeine in the world to make me make sense between the hours of 11pm-6am. Fortunately my portion will be pre recorded. I’m tempted to open my home office window and shout “I’m huge in Australia!” Instead I’ll share the link when the summit goes live in January.

I’m excited about getting a link to share. The majority of my keynotes have been for private companies. I hope you get something out of it.

Finding New Boundaries When Everything Happens in One Place

Photo by Diana from Pexels Alt Text: Great Wall of China with trees displaying fall colours.

In the play Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson comes back from France to the tune ‘What I miss?’ While Jefferson was in France, the newly formed United States of America was working on establishing the sort of country it would be. The new Secretary of State had some catching up to do.

This week feels like that process in reverse. Last week, if it wasn’t about the election, few in the US wanted to talk about it. Even the news sites here in Canada were dominated by the election down south. This week will still be dominated by US news, but there’s room now to talk about other things too.

Like COVID. British Columbia is staring down an exponential increase in cases, and if we can’t get ourselves together we might go back into a lockdown. Just the thought of my kids going back to online school has me writing like I’m about to lose my ability to do so disruption free.

Which made me think of all the people who are still involuntarily working from home, with or without children. These next suggestions are for you.

Rethinking Your Boundaries

Successful remote workers erect boundaries between their home and work lives. But for some folks, putting actual walls between their personal and professional lives isn’t possible. Perhaps you have to parent your children during video meetings. Or you may have to get work done while your roommate teaches music lessons over zoom.

When the literal walls between your work and home life go away, that’s when you need to rely on psychological boundaries. This can mean starting (or recommitting to) a routine to enter and exit work. Pavlov taught dogs to salivate when he rang a bell because he associated something they understood (treats) with something that wasn’t intuitive (the bell). Getting yourself to slide into work mode when you haven’t left your home works the same way.

If possible, start and stop your work day at the same times every day. Rituals can also be powerful tools for building a routine. Pour your morning beverage into a “work” mug. Choose a work uniform. Build a “go to work” playlist and listen to it at the start of your work day. Take a 4pm tea break. Or put dinner in the oven.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which actives you choose so long as you perform them consistently over time. Doing certain things at certain times will create a sense of movement and structure in your day. And there is a lot of value to having structure when COVID can make you feel like somebody took the distinct pieces of your life and ran them through a blender.

What’s that Douglas Up to Now?

Four days ago InfoQ published a Q&A about my book Working Remotely. All three of us authors participated in this one. Ben Linders was a great interviewer, and I am especially appreciative that he took the time to help us edited our responses so we didn’t all say the same things.

At the end of October I gave a keynote about balancing mental health and caregiving duties while working from home. Can you believe October was two weeks ago? It feels like a decade has passed.

The biggest news right now is that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t plan to. It’s just that I kept getting those emails about National Novel Writing Month and I fell in with a bad crowd. I have over fifteen thousand words written on my novel and I am a little gobsmacked that this hasn’t turned into a train wreck yet. It still could, but for now I’m riding the novel-writing wave.