Picking It Up On the Bounce

Photo by Diego Ponteshttps://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-crochet-hook-2897128/

My Nana taught me to crochet when I was eight. I remember sitting on her plaid couch, canary yellow yarn in hand, watching her loop yarn around a crochet hook. Crochet, unlike knitting, is a “handed” sport. If you’re right-handed like Nana, you made the stitches one way. If you’re left-handed like me, the process works in reverse.

So Nana taught herself to crochet backwards while I watched. Then she put the hook in my hands and showed me how to make loops. I had no idea what a virtuoso lesson this was until much later. It’s a bit like teaching yourself to write with your non-dominant hand before giving someone writing lessons. Completely. Amazing. With her help, I made a “blanket” the size of a dishcloth, shaped like the state of Texas.

Then I chucked the blanket into my closet and forgot about crochet until I moved to New York to get an Master’s in Fiction. Six months later, I dropped it again in favour of knitting.

But there’s something primal about crochet for me. That particular fiber craft will forever be tangled up with memories of sitting with my Nana, learning something special from someone who thought I was great. So when the Pandemic hit, and I needed some comfort, it was only natural that I pulled out my crochet hook and made hexagons for a blanket. It was my way of connecting to the family far away.

And as of March 26th 2022, it’s the only way for me to connect with Nana because she passed away unexpectedly. Sophia Margaret Hernandez was a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother. Nobody called her Sophia. Nana Margie read Danielle Steel novels and put puzzles together when she wasn’t crocheting. She liked her Coors Light cold and her salsa hot. She kept a bottle of Tobasco sauce in her purse, for emergencies.

I miss her. But every time I crochet, I will have a little piece of her memory at my side.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

The last two months have been a grab bag of all the things. I lost one grandparent at the end of January and another at the end of March. In between those things my daughter and I published our first artistic collaboration. It’s a single panel comic and I’m proud of my kid’s newly developed professonalism. Check it out if you’re so inclined. Two days after Nana died I started a new remote job in a Project Management office for a global company. A week later I published another work related comic.

So I’m basically both in mourning and celebrating. If I needed proof that life isn’t all one thing or another, the first quarter of 2022 has definitely been it.

I’ll have more to say about my adventures as a remote worker in a truly global company as I get a little further into my role. Until then, I invite you to try crochet. And if you teach a kid something you love to do and they end up dropping it right after, don’t dispair. The skill is there, waiting for the right time to reemerge.

Working Vacations are Great if Done for the Right Reasons

Image description: Toy VW Van with suitcases on top, sitting on pavement. Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) from Pexels

I’ve been waiting for weeks to share some positive professional news. It’s not earth-shattering info, but I wanted to talk about it, and I couldn’t think of anything else to write about until I could share it. So I didn’t post anything.

I still can’t share it. But it’s been too long since my last post, so we’ll talk about working vacations. And it’s a good thing this is a blog, and we aren’t talking together face to face where you would see me fidgeting like a two-year-old who needs a potty stop.

Why People Take Working Vacations–A Study

Passport-Photo.online polled 1,000 Americans who took working vacations about their experiences. They found that 81% of respondents felt more creative at work, and 69% were less likely to quit after a working break.

Image posted with permission from Passport-Photo.online

Studies about working vacations leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, mixing workdays with vacation time is an absolutely brilliant way to see a new place (or family) without burning through all of your vacation days. If you work remotely, you could even arrange things so you work during your normal business hours and see the sites during evenings and weekends. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

I’ve used both of these strategies to take long trips to see family. The only place working vacations get tricky is if:

  • You’re mixing work with pleasure because your job never lets you unplug,
  • Your company provides an inadequate mix of vacation and sick days or
  • You won’t unplug from work even though they want you to.

Does it Really Need to Be a “Working” Vacation?

Unless you work for a company that offers unlimited vacation time, most folks are one bout of COVID away from burning through their vacation days. Others might have used their time off to focus on the kids during school closures, or to grieve the loss of a family member. If any of these scenarios describes you, then a working vacation is a great way to unplug despite your circumstances.

If you can take vacation time and don’t, then my friend, please question why that is. Especially if you manage people. If you don’t think your direct reports can carry on for a week or so without you, you might be a micromanager. If your company will not support your vacation by dividing up your work among other employees or hiring a temp, then you might want to consider whether your current role is sustainable over the long term.

We all deserve down time. Even when bad things are going on in the world. Even if you took a lot of time off to handle health or personal issues. Just make sure you mix in as many “completely unplugged from work” days as you possibly can.

Your body and your mind will thank you for it.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing. When I’m not talking about remote work, I also write about parenting topics. I just turned in several articles to my editor at Tiny Beans over the last ten days. The Latinx Lit Mag is poppin with a lot of fun stories and poems. Check them out here if you are so inclined. And finally, I’ve started drawing and submitting single panel cartoons about the world of work. Once they find homes, I’ll share them.

Until next time!

In Loving Memory: Pete Hernandez

Grandpa Pete and Grandma Bea. Image description: A man and woman dressed in black formal wear.

“There’s no such thing as the Mexican race,” says Grandpa Pete.

We’re drinking margaritas on my mother’s patio in the heat of late afternoon two days before my niece’s wedding. My mom’s plants block most of the sun’s punishing rays, straining them like tea through lush ivy and morning glory vines. Hummingbirds dart overhead, red and green jewelled soldiers fighting over the bird feeders. We’re supposed to catch up on what happened in the year since I last visited Canada. 

Instead, we’re in the middle of a Mexican standoff. 

“My birth certificate says ‘Caucasian,’” He continues. “So does yours. We’re Caucasians.”

I’d done some research for my son’s school project, and in the middle of it, I remembered that my grandpa’s father was either full or part indigenous. All I want to know is the name of the tribe. This seems like a straightforward question. 

But it’s the wrong question. Grandpa doesn’t identify as Mexican or part-indigenous. 

Grandpa Pete became a foreman in construction at a time when Mexicans were laborers. The way he would handle people who didn’t want a Mexican family in “their” neighborhood is the stuff of family legend. Once, when a neighbor said he didn’t want to live next to Mexicans, my grandfather recoiled in horror and said, “There are Mexicans here? Where?!” 

He worked on his neighbors one at a time, trying to make them see that they had a lot in common with him. He was born in San Jose, California. His family was as American as theirs. We just tanned better. Thanks to a conversation with a neighbor, he found out about the petition to “get the Mexicans out” going around the neighborhood. He insisted on signing it in big letters. PETE HERNANDEZ. 

For some reason, the petition fizzled after that. 

Grandpa Pete was the boss who would see a cocky young man going down the wrong life path and try to teach him to be better. He would give his workers room to see their mistakes and give them a chance to fix them. 

Some of those young men became life-long family friends. They would regularly show up to the revolving dinner party in my grandpa’s backyard. It’s a little hard for me to describe what Grandpa Pete and Grandma Bea’s hospitality meant to so many of us. I always had it. Maybe my husband said it best: “Nothing bad would ever happen at Pete and Bea’s house. They accepted me and made space for me.”

So when Grandpa Pete went to the hospital for the last time on Friday, it didn’t surprise me that a train of friends, coworkers and family arrived to say their goodbyes and to thank him. Some of them even brought wine and cheese, and they had a party for him outside of the hospital. Grandpa would have approved.

The hospital staff wanted to know who this person was that all of these people were there to see.

I learned my lesson since that moment in my mom’s backyard two years ago. Pete Hernandez was an American who spoke Spanish at home. In his heyday, he looked like a tanned James T. Kirk from Star Trek. He was a consummate host, beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and even lived long enough to become a great-great-grandfather. Grandpa Pete passed away on Wednesday, January 26th. He wasn’t perfect, but when he learned better, he did better. There are a lot of people who are better off having known him. 

May we all have reason to say the same. 

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!

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!

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.

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

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

by Maya Middlemiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!