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!

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.