Greetings from Autumnal Vancouver! It was 8 c Tuesday morning (that’s 47 f for the Americans), and if I could bottle the buttery light that poured through the branches of the Douglas Fir trees near my house, I would have sent it to you.
The rain will be back–I live in a temperate rain forest–but for now we’re in shorts with sweaters weather. Is this a Pacific Northwest specific thing? It’s not the most fashionable way to handle this transitional season, but I support wearing hand-knit sweaters.
And speaking of transitions, and slowing down, the cadence of this blog is going to slow down for the month of October. I have a second book to write. I know my topic, and the research I need to conduct. I’ve known for months. The only problem is that I’m not doing it. This blog will come out every other week instead of every week so I can dedicate solid chunks of time to writing.
Once I get rolling on my research, I’ll have plenty of material for both the blog and the book. So (for now) I plan to go back to weekly blog posts in November.
So What’s the Book About?
I’m so glad you asked. I’m looking at psychological safety in the remote workforce. There’s a lot of good research out there about the benefits of psychological safety in uncertain times. There’s even research on creating a sense of safety inside a company. I want to discuss how we might do this in the remote work context.
There’s more to what I’m going to write but I’m not going to outline it here. If I talk about my book in too much detail, it makes it harder to write. Some people write books by plotting everything out. Others write by the seat of their pants. The writing world calls these two groups plotters and pantsers. I am a plantster. I outline a bit, then write, then outline a little bit more and write.
Writing a book is like hiking. I like to pick my destination point but let the research tell me which pathways I should use to get through the woods. The blog will be the place where I drop little breadcrumbs along the way.
Yesterday I nearly forgot to pick up my kids from school. My only excuse is that it was their first full day back. I had finished work for my day job and was deciding between writing or practicing my guitar when I remembered that I had somewhere to be.
Technically, I could have waited a little longer before driving to the kids’ school, but I knew that if I left home early enough I could write in the pick up line while I waited. The plan would have worked perfectly, too, if it hadn’t been for those dang kids. My son was on the playground and he saw me drive in. At that point he and his friend spent a good two minutes trying to get my attention before the supervision aide told them to “let your mom chillax in the car!”
While I appreciate the sentiment, that innocent comment reminded me of all the assumptions school staff make about parents generally and remote workers in particular. We may look like we’re all scrolling through social media in the car, but the truth is a little more nuanced. If you work at a school and want to get more participation from the remote working parents, then here are some things you should know.
Summers Are Stressful
We remote workers usually have more flexible jobs than our office-based spouses. This usually means we’re the ones who’ve spent the summer attempting to work while the kids are home. It’s tempting to say that teachers work surrounded by children all the time and seem to do okay. However, children are the work in this case, so the comparison isn’t a good one. Picture holding a sensitive parent/teacher conference in the middle of a classroom while surrounded by all the other children in the class. Now picture doing so for 8 hours a day for 40 days. Summers aren’t restful.
School staff will have a better chance of getting remote workers involved in school activities if they assume we’re exhausted and behind at work. We do want to meet our children’s teachers and school staff. We don’t want to come to multiple events scheduled closely together. Instead of holding a meet the teacher event one week and a back to school BBQ the next, combined those two events into one meet the teacher BBQ. Please and thank you.
Our Remote Jobs Are Real Jobs
I no longer tell my children’s teachers that I work from home. I used to, but I had one particular teacher who took this as a euphemism for ‘unemployed and available for last minute requests’. Now I tell them that I work full time and leave it at that.
This is a lost partnership opportunity both for me and for any school who has parents that work remotely. We remote workers can flex our schedules around to a greater or lesser extent. Give us enough notice, ask respectfully, and many of us will move things around to help you out. We know that schools are under funded and rely on parent participation to get work done. Some of us chose remote work in order to get more involved with our children’s lives. But that doesn’t mean we can drop everything to attend a field trip with 48 hours notice.
Be Strategic with Your Requests
Personally, I either need to work late into the night or use a vacation day to make room in my schedule for you. Other remote workers might have to work on the weekend or take a pay hit. There is always a cost. The shorter the notice, the higher the cost. We’re much more likely to volunteer if we can trust that you will minimize that pain for us.
You’ll Get A Faster Response From Us If You Go Digital
Not everyone has access to the internet at home. I am not suggesting that digital communication replace paper communication. Rather, give us the option to choose electronic communication over paper. Someone creates 90% of those forms on a computer anyway. Send them to us via email or upload them to the school website.
100% of my children have lost paper permission slips. I think their back packs eat them. It would be really great if six year olds could responsibly manage their own paperwork and day planners. But even some university students can’t do that consistently and they have a much better grasp on reality. My kids don’t always know what day it is. Once, when my son was six, I interrupted him in the middle of tying a jump rope around his neck. The other half was already tied to the stair railing. He thought this was a great way to jump off of the top of the stairs without killing himself. Teaching my kid to give me notices is a lower priority than keeping him from dying. There are only so many hours in the day.
Digital Payments Are a Thing
Last year my children’s school gave us the option to pay for school expenses online. It’s wonderful. Now I get an email when I need to pay something, and I go in and do so. This cuts down on the number of phone calls I get from the school asking if I will allow my daughter to go on the field trip I didn’t even know about. Canadians are indeed a polite people, but they can weaponize that politeness like you wouldn’t believe. I only wish the website came with the ability to sign permission slips, too. A woman can dream.
Digital Communication is Also a Thing
And speaking of dreams, many of us would love to sign up for things like parent/teacher conferences electronically. Please don’t make us sign a paper taped to the classroom door. Trying to find a parking space at the school during pick up or drop off time is like going to fight club. I have seen people pull up onto the sidewalk right in front of small children, or speed the wrong way down the two lane road, just to grab the last spot in the loading zone. Don’t make me leave the car protecting me from those people.
I would love to tell my children’s teachers that I have a flexible work schedule. Remote work provides greater opportunity for parental involvement at school. Maybe some day things will change. However, that can only happen if there is respectful, efficient communication between school staff and parents. That sort of healthy relationship starts with a few tweaks to existing assumptions about remote workers. School staff should plan school events strategically. They should provide a variety of options to communicate, pay for items, and sign up for events. If they do so, they may find that more parents—not just remote workers—become more involved in school activities, to the benefit of the children.
Today is pretty special at Livin la Vida Remota HQ. As of today I have written at least one blog post a week, every week, for an entire year. I thought about all the things I could say about this momentous event and I scrapped most of them as self indulgent.
Instead I want to share two things. First, my thanks. Thank you, dear reader, for being here. Throwing a party is only fun if people show up. I had no idea if anybody would. I’m not a celebrity—I’m just an opinionated woman with a lot to say about remote work and distributed teams.Thanks for coming. I appreciate each and every one of you.
Second, I want to share some of what a I learned writing this blog. I write how-to articles because I want to help people and I see no reason to change things up on my blogiversary. (Incidentally my iPad wanted to change that last word to blog overstayer, which I shall try to avoid even as I suspect that my iPad just made that phrase up.)
Lesson One: Find an angle that is specific and deep
I actually tried to start a blog twice before I settled on this one. The first time I had a vague idea that a I would write about the funny things I saw and thought of during the day. I wrote exactly one blog post. It’s really hard to write a blog if you haven’t answered the ‘why would anyone read this?’ question.
The second time I tried to start my blog I thought I would talk about running and knitting. Turns out I don’t actually have much to say about these things other than ‘I really like to do them.’ This is not scintillating reading. If you’re looking for a great knitting blog, my favourite is the Yarn Harlot. She doesn’t always talk about knitting, but everything is yarn adjacent and I love it.
Those last two bits were the key to finding my blogging groove. I talk about work and management through a remote lens. And because remote work is most often done inside the home, that means I also talk about how remote work affects our personal lives. If you are struggling to find a topic to write about, try to think of a shared experience that you have strong opinions about. I have wrestled with a lot of remote work issues, and I love to help others shorten their learning curve. This one is a win win for me.
Lesson Two: Know your boundaries
That sub title almost read ‘this isn’t about you.’ The fact is, I don’t actually know that. For some, blogging is a way to process their thoughts and feelings in public. I don’t write that kind of blog. You’ll hear—occasionally—about my kids, my knitting and my running. You won’t ever get a blow by blow account of the last time I fought with my husband.
My boundaries won’t be the same as yours. But it’s important to be clear on what those boundaries are. When I’ve struggled to find something to write about, sometimes it’s because I’m violating one of my boundaries. Either I’m too wrapped up in an issue and I can’t yet find the teachable moment, or I don’t know how to talk about something without violating someone’s privacy. If I didn’t have a clear sense of my boundaries, I wouldn’t know why I was blocked. The same might be true for you.
Lesson Three: Treat your posts as important appointments
There have been times during this year of blogging when I thought about skipping the blog for a week. I didn’t because I worried that a week would turn into a month, and then guilt might keep me from starting up again at all. It’s like picking up my kids from school. I can’t just skip it because I get busy at work. Child services has strong feelings about that. And you know what? I always manage to get my children.
When you treat your blog like an event you can’t ditch, the posts get easier to finish. They may not be perfect—I should have posted this Thursday morning—but done is better than perfect. And the whole writing process gets faster. It takes me half as long to write a post now compared to when I began this party last year. I still sweat over every word, but it’s way more efficient sweat.
Writing a blog isn’t for everyone. But if you’re considering taking the plunge (again or for the first time) then keep these lessons in mind. It can take time to find your subject. Your first idea may not work out—but if you stick with your blog, you WILL find your groove. And then you’ll meet great people and learn interesting things. I know I have. Thanks for being one of those interesting people. I’ll talk with you again next week.
Today’s post comes to you from a small town in the state of Washington. The picture above is the view from the back porch of the house where we’re staying, and I couldn’t ask for a more peaceful place to write. I have visions of sitting at the table outside, cup of chai at my elbow as I write in the cool of early morning. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a great dream. I might feel bad about sleeping in except that there are folks here who are awake by five am, and there is no way I’m getting up before then. This is a vacation, not a boot camp.
The closest I’ve come to my own personal writer’s retreat is to step outside while everyone else is busy elsewhere. The solitude doesn’t last long. I’m sharing the house with nine other people. My family is here, my husband’s friend is here with his wife and kids, and we’re all benefitting from the generosity of the friend’s mom and dad, who own the house. As soon as one person moves to the deck outside, the rest of the crew inevitably follows.
There’s an article I want to share with you. It’s about how to network when you either don’t have colleagues (because you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer) or you want to network outside of your company. There are some really great resources out there to connect with other like-minded remote workers. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to write that article another week.
I started writing this post on the deck outside. It took about ten minutes for someone to notice that I was alone, and join me. I tried relocating to the back bedroom with the bad internet. That worked for a little while. Then my kids came back from their bike ride, and I had a series of visitors checking in to see if I was okay, and say hi, and ask for Gatorade, etc.
At this point I have two choices. I can wedge a chair under the doorknob and refuse to talk to anyone who tries to interrupt me, or I can go with the flow. I haven’t seen this particular family in more than five years, so I’m going to go with the flow. Enjoy your week. I’ll be spending mine enjoying the company of lovely people, in a nice house by the lake.
Writing is my go-to solution for presenting information, but the instant feedback that comes from a live audience can jump start all sorts of things.
North Carolina on my mind
I came back Sunday from my latest (and last) work-ish trip for the summer. I say ‘work-ish’ because while I was definitely at the MBA@UNC alumni weekend in a professional capacity to speak about remote work, I also got to enjoy the event as an alum of the program.
My first talk was ‘How to Survive and Thrive as a Remote Manager,’ and I already know that I need to turn this into a blog post, or a YouTube video or something. Maybe several somethings. I had people come up to me throughout the weekend to ask follow up questions and share their experiences managing remote employees. My talk—both my talks—tapped into a need.
Public Speaking is Scary and Awesome
Have I mentioned that I enjoy public speaking? I get nervous, but back when I sang in my college choir I learned how to harness the nerves and use it to energize my performance. I had one moment right at the beginning of the first talk where I had to stop and take a deep breath, but just like singing, after that the rhythm of the words I put together stepped in and carried me through to the end.
With writing, you assemble your argument, polish your prose, and then send it out into the air. Hopefully it lands well. Talking (or singing) in front of an audience forces me to know my material well enough to change it on the fly if I’m losing them.
Public Speaking is Performance
I deliberately use the term ‘performance’ to describe these talks. Anytime you’re delivering something in front of a group, it’s a performance. And if you think of it that way, you’re more likely to be an engaging speaker.
Each live performance is a conversation between me and whoever is in that room. I scripted out my talk, then changed it as I spoke it out loud. I revised it again when I found the slides I wanted to pair with my performance. It morphed a third time when I converted my script into an outline. The actual talk bore a strong resemblance to my final outline, but it wasn’t exact. I kept a few different jokes in my back pocket, and left room to incorporate the audience into my delivery.
Departures as Compost
Writing is my go-to solution for presenting information, but I love the instant feedback that comes from a live audience. And it’s been a long time since I’ve performed something in front of a collocated group. I’ve forgotten how it can jump start all sorts of things.
In his book ‘Creative Quest,’ Questlove describes these sorts of artistic departures as powerful fertilizers. This rings true. I feel like this weekend fed that part of me that makes things. I don’t know quite what will come out of it, but I have the seeds of several ideas, and I can feel them trying to sprout.
I was talking with a fellow author today about where we are in the publishing process. My book came out a few months before hers, so we’re both in the thick of the new book activities.
We’re getting many things done, but writing on other long term projects isn’t one of them. I touched on this lightly in the article ‘How to (Successfully) Write a Book as a Team‘ that I wrote for the Writer’s Cooperative on Medium, but these specific issues deserve their own post, so here it is.
You’re Not Done When the Book Gets Published
Writing a book is a monumental task. If you finish writing a book, go celebrate. If your book gets published, celebrate even more. I celebrated by signing up for a weaving class because I’m cool like that. You do you.
Once you’ve had your victory lap it’s time to move into the next phase of the book publication process: getting the word out about your book. Ideally you’ll have your author platform in place before your book is ready to buy. If you haven’t, it isn’t too late to start.
In October 2018, Publisher’s Weekly stated that “the number of self-published books topped the 1 million mark for the first time in 2017.’ Add in books published by micro-presses and traditional publishing houses, and the number is even larger. If you want to be seen in the vast sea of published books, become your book’s advocate.
It’s Hard to Mess Up Your Author Platform
Running taught me that discomfort isn’t an emergency. When you’re reaching for that next big distance, your body is going to feel tired and uncomfortable and that’s okay. It will adapt. Turns out that the same goes for learning how to position yourself as an expert.
I agonized over every little detail at the beginning. I procrastinated about coming back to writing this blog, and creating my Facebook author page because I was worried about getting it right. Turns out no one was watching me. And when I finally did have readers, most of those first readers were friends and family (hi friends and family!). They aren’t a hostile audience.
Once I let go and began posting regularly, I started noticing that other were also talking about remote work and distributed teams. It’s been rewarding listening to what they have to say. Joining the conversation has also led to some interesting opportunities in the near future. It’s even given me my next big research topic. Will this turn into another book? I don’t know. I do know that I wouldn’t have thought of the topic if I hadn’t been participating in discussions online.
I’ve learned a lot in the months after the publication of the ‘Secrets of the Remote Workforce’ book. But if you’re a writer looking for advice, this would be mine. Start your author platform, understand you’ll be working at it over the long haul, and keep your eyes open for new opportunities. Your next book may just find you.