So Close to Free

Someday soon, we will get to meet people for coffee indoors. Image: Woman sitting in an indoor cafe across from a man. Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

On March 10th, 2020, I gathered supplies for what I thought would be a three-month hunker in my house. Ha. I bought a sweater quantity of yarn, a pound of chocolate, and two books from the sci/fi slash mystery bookstore White Dwarf. It was a farewell tour of some of my favourite indoor places. At the time, it seemed a little melodramatic–maybe even silly–so I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. But I believe in saying goodbye, and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t let feeling silly stop me.

This year, on March 8th, 2021, the US CDC released guidelines that say fully vaccinated people can gather together indoors. BC’s provincial health officer went one step further and said that Canadians wouldn’t necessarily have to wait for shot #2 before we can gather indoors in some capacity.

So I find myself thinking about the supplies I’m going to need to go out into a less socially distanced world.

Sewing pants topped the list. What better way to commemorate meeting people than making an article of clothing you can’t see on Zoom?

I love working remotely, but I am VERY EXCITED to see people in person. The first time I get to sit in a cafe and ignore my fellow human beings, I’ll probably be grinning like an idiot the entire time. Or ugly crying. Possibly I’ll be grinning while ugly crying. That will make me very popular, I’m sure.

Do you have post-vaccine plans? I’d love to hear about them. We’re so close.

What Does Any Of This Have to Do With Remote Work?

Not a ton. I actually planned to talk about how to discuss the pandemic on the anniversary of the lockdown. I’ve been hearing people in various industries talking about the gains remote work made during the pandemic. This is understandable. It’s in our nature to try to make sense of things that happen to us, to try and find a bright side to the last year. But if we’re not careful, we can start using phrases like “blessing in disguise” and “it turned out for the best,” and that would be wrong.

There is no world where my grandma dying from COVID was for the best. Many of us would gladly return the lessons we learned this year to get our loved ones back.

Remote work will continue into our post-pandemic world. And as I’ve said before, it’s the people with high emotional intelligence that thrive in this space. Our ability to “see” the people at the other end of our emails and texting platforms will help us do business effectively and humanely. Let’s remember that many of those people are grappling with losing loved ones and phrase our enthusiasm for remote work accordingly.

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.

Silliness: A Home Office Secret Weapon?

Because Who Needs Another Self Improvement Project?

Image of me and my son wearing fake moustaches.

The dark and wet of December was getting to me, so I put on a fake mustache and beret and let my son chase me around our living room with a cactus balloon. This story isn’t going on my resume. Truthfully, it almost didn’t make it onto the blog. Then I read an article by Kaki Okumura entitled ‘The Very Serious Benefits of Being Silly,’ which changed my mind. 

Okumura discusses how she is using playfulness to cope with the Pandemic. And she may be on to something. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, said in a TED talk that he believes“the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” 

The field of adult play research is woefully underfunded–when I researched ‘benefits of adult play,’ the most recent article I found was the 2017 study Okumura cites in her article. In it, Dr. Rene Proyer says that “Playful people are able to reinterpret situations in their lives so that they experience them as entertaining or are able to reduce stress levels.”

This seems like a useful skill to have during the dark cold months of a pandemic winter. 

In a Home Office No One Can See Your Cowboy

When you work from home, you can inject a little silliness into your day without consequences. If you showed up to the office in a fake mustache and chaps, HR would probably require you to take a drug test. Or get counseling. 

Either would harsh your entire groove.

But when you work from home, you can dress like a cowboy if you want to. Just remember to have some way to get rid of the evidence. You might need to take a video call with someone without a sense of humor. 

Bring a Little Playfulness to Your Day

You can interject playfulness into your day without investing in a full costume. Personally I love a good hat. I have a beret, a velvet top hat, a baseball cap with the word ‘NO!’ in large font on the front, a couple of fedoras and a sun hat. A good hat can give you a whole lot of swagger.

But maybe hats aren’t for you. One of my children draws on themselves when they’re bored. This annoys me (which is probably the point). But giving yourself a little temporary body art might be just the pick me up you need.

Or perhaps you can balance an orange on your forehead.

Don’t be afraid to try out different things. And if another adult catches you being silly, brazen it out. That’s what I did when my neighbour saw our family wearing moustaches outside while we hit our piñata. I was also wearing a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat at the time.) As Mr. Bennet said in Pride and Prejudice, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” I enjoyed myself. Hopefully she also got a good laugh. She still talks to me so we can’t have freaked her out too bad.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

A bunch of things, actually. I spoke at a Flexjobs event called Beyond the Application. One of the resume coaches gave some excellent tips on getting past the resume bots, and then I came on and talked about ways to connect with people to land your next job.

Narelle Todd hosted a remote summit for women entrepreneurs, and she asked me about working at home with children. Narelle is a lovely person and I enjoyed talking with her.

I’m also reading through a bunch of research on empathy and grief, as it relates to remote work. This is going into a chapter of my next book. But you all may see some of this research sooner, because it’s pretty great stuff. And definitely not as depressing as it sounds.

But don’t worry. If it gets to be too much, I know what to do. Putting on a hat and moustache was just the thing I needed to lift my spirits in December. I’m sure it will help again. May you also find some silliness to light these dark winter days.

What Kenny Rogers Can Tell Us About Working Remotely

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

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

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

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

Kenny Rogers Gets It

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

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

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

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

What’s That Douglas Up To?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Go Nuts With the Resolutions

This is what heaven looks like. Photo of woman sitting by a river, writing in her notebook. Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

I love new notebooks. The blank pages are fresh and ready for anything. And while we can’t say that 2021 is exactly like a brand new notebook–we humans are definitely starting this year with some holdover scribbles–there is room for new things.

Hopefully, you kicked 2020 to the curb in a way that works for you. I bought a nice bottle of ice wine and a zoom ticket to The Second City’s Happy Hour show. The cool thing about living in Pacific Time while watching stuff that happens in Central Time is that I can pretend I’m the sort of person who is cool enough to attend evening shows AND still go to bed on time. I beat the system, yo.

This is going to be a fairly short blog because I’m neck-deep in Family Party (otherwise known as my anniversary) planning mode. I can’t tell you what I’m making because I found out my 11yr old reads this blog. I’ll post pictures after January 4th.

Let’s jump into the first of two things I want to tell you about.

I’m On the Fearless Leader Summit

A rather lovely person named Narelle Todd is putting on a no-cost summit January 4th – 24. She’s a long time remote businesswoman and author who decided to research HOW women entrepreneurs and small business owners can work remotely AND build a strong and vibrant team. The result is a series of succinct interviews (between 15-30 min) with people who work in the remote space.

I’ll share the link to my segment when I get it, but I encourage you to watch all the videos. They’ll be released one at a time over the course of the month. Topics include:

– The power of your leadership in creating a highly effective remote team;

– How to delegate and stop doing the jobs you hate in your business;

– How to release control and perfectionism as the Jill of All Trades in your business to build a kickbutt team that serves your clients just like you;

– How to automate your business so you can spend more time with family;

– The struggles business owners who are parents/carers have adapting to working remotely and how to overcome them; AND

– How to setup your business team for success right from the start!

The summit is free to attend. You can register using this link https://www.narelletodd.com/fearlessleader/.

I hope you enjoy the summit! And now for the last thing I wanted to talk to you about.

New Year, But the Same You Is Good Enough

You’re pretty great just as you are. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exercise or eat more vegetables or whatever it is you’re thinking about doing. Just that you should pick something from a mindset of joy instead of punishment. COVID didn’t kill you. You’re a ninja! Pick a healthy thing to celebrate surviving.

And only commit to it for 48 hours. Or maybe 24 hours. Then, once you hit your goal, keep going if you want. This is how I picked up my running habit in 2014. I downloaded a couch to 5k app and promised myself that I would stop after the first 15-minute session if I hated it too much. My stretch goal was to use it three times over one week.

It’s a lot easier to try new things when you don’t invest too much time/money/emotional pressure into the whole venture. Because you might just hate running or green smoothies or that Coursera course with the fury of a thousand suns. If that happens, drop that bad boy and find something you like better. You didn’t get married to that green smoothie. It’s okay to quit it. To this day, I take bus money with me when I run so I can bail if I need to.

And for those of you who like explicit permission, I’ve made a badge you can use whenever you want:

Alt text: Photo of child sitting in front of a plate of salad. The expression on her face says she doesn’t want to eat it. Text on photo says Tried it. Hated it. Moving on.

See you next week!

New Beginnings

Image of person with backpack walking down the road. Photo by Sharefaith from Pexels

Today is my last day at my day job. I’ve worked there for 12 years–most of my professional life. Had COVID not come along, I’d work there still. There was nothing personal about the layoff. It’s just one of those things that happened because of the pandemic.

I’ve made my peace. And I’m not the type of person that can stay sad–or at least, not only sad. This has been a tough year. I’m up to four dead relatives since April. Yet compared to many, I’ve been fortunate. Our family has enough food to eat and I’m sitting inside a warm house. There are people who love me and tell me so. I write things that people want to read.

On average, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all the wonderful things in my life. And it’s rather poetic to end a career the day after the winter solstice. Things will literally get brighter from here on out.

And speaking of brighter things, watching footage of people getting vaccinated last week made me happy. So happy that it sent me into a dream sequence. What is a dream sequence, you ask? This thing I’m about to share with you right now. This flash fiction piece has nothing to do with remote work so if you don’t like frivolity feel free to skip to the next subheading.

Absurdist Fictional Interlude: I Dream of Vaccine-y

When it’s my turn to get the vaccine, my phone rings with the Mission Impossible theme song. A vaccinated Laurence Fishburne steps out of the bushes dressed as Morpheus and says “Get on it, my light brown sista!” 

I reach for my car keys only to discover that I’m dressed in a leather duster and black combat fatigues. My hair is perfect. I slide into the window of my sportscar like a Duke of Hazard and tear out of the parking lot, Boss Hog hot my tail. 

Traffic parts for me. I’m a one-woman police motorcade. Boss Hog gets stuck behind a downed taco truck, his shouts fading like cigar smoke as I speed away. 

I pull right up to the steps of the clinic and flip my car keys to the vaccinated valet. We’re at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A vaccinated nurse in 80’s workout attire hands me a form, then I jog up the stairs to the Rocky song. Despite the leather coat and months of couch-surfing, I fly up the steps like Olympian marathoner Eliud Kipchoge.

The shot burns like freedom. It opens a portal to a new location, where I’m at the head of a Soul Train line. James Brown sings Get Up Offa That Thing. Vaccinated octogenarians dressed like candy stripers boogie on either side as I dance until I feel better. This is a three-month process. At the end of the train, I get a purple wristband with the word ‘Vaccinated!’ printed in sparkles. I join a congo line of the newly vaccinated, and we dance to the nearest bar, where we cram ourselves into a karaoke room and sing until the sun goes down. 

Things I’m Working On

I have two major writing projects. One of them is a book of personal essays about my time during COVID. Many of those are in first draft status. The other is the business book I talked about in my last post. I won’t have the outline done by end of the month, but I’ve decided I’m going to take a month or two to focus on the book before becoming an employee again.

This has been a big year for my writing. I submitted roughly 32 pieces out to 104 publications, and 26 of them were published. That doesn’t count writing on the blog or writing the keynote speeches I’ve given this year either. Nor the single-panel cartoons I’ve collaborated on.

This is why I keep a spreadsheet. I was feeling a little inadequate the other day–feeling like I hadn’t written as much as I wanted to write this year. But really, that’s just the inner mean voice talking. I took a look at that spreadsheet and told that voice to go take a hike. If you suffer from the same mean voice, maybe try keeping lists so you, too can throw data at it.

What’s That Douglas Up To?

I was on the Gifters Podcast in early December. This podcast asks guests to share a succinct gift with the world. We talked about remote work (for about 10 minutes), and managing interruptions from children.

I also wrote a bunch of different things, not all of which have been published yet. My fearless dog columnist Aggie is back in Good Girl, Aggie! (No3). I heard the phrase ‘twat waffle’ in a runner’s forum a few years back, and I’ve wanted to use it ever since. Aggie gave me that chance.

Right around Thanksgiving a squirrel got drunk on some fermented pears in Wisconsin, and fellow comedy writer Susan Sassi and I paired up to write I am Lil’Red, the Squirrel that got Drunk in Minnesota, and I need to Clear My Name. Someone asked me to describe our writing process for this one, and the best I could come up with was “a Google doc free for all.” We wrote it in 34 minutes, and then spent hours editing it. It was big fun.

This is Probably the Last Blog Post for the Year

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to hug my people while I can. My kids are on winter break and my husband’s workload is light. We’re going to eat cinnamon rolls, beat the crap out of a piñata, and enjoy each other’s company. We have fake mustaches and we aren’t afraid to use them.

The next installment of the blog will come out around Thursday, January 7th. Before I take my break I want to say thanks for reading the blog. I wish good things for you. I can’t wait to see what we all do in 2021.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

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

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

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

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

Hosting Year End Parties Online

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

What’s That Douglas Doing Now

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

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

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

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

The Art of Not Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

Working On: A Remote Work Article

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

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

Procrastination is Magical

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

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

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

Comedy Articles

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

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

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

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

Speaking Gigs

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

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

Finding New Boundaries When Everything Happens in One Place

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking Your Boundaries

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

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

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

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

What’s that Douglas Up to Now?

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

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

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

The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

I’ve been working remotely for more than a decade. And no matter how many great tech products come out to make remote work easier, I’m even more convinced that the ultimate success or failure of a remote company rests on the people.

Does your company feel like a safe place to try new things? Or is it the sort of place where colleagues swoop in to judge you for errors? There’s always the danger that a remote business will acquire trolls. The same conditions that allow trolls to flourish on social media–anonymity, a lack of empathy, and no oversight–can develop in a distributed company if we aren’t careful. Today’s post was going to be about how to build empathy for colleagues you don’t see every day. When I hit 1000 words and still had more to say, I decided to post it over on Medium. You can read ‘How to Build Empathy for Remote Colleagues–3 Techniques to ‘See People as Fully-Realized Human Beings’ using this friend link.

We live in difficult times, and when we feel anxious, it’s hard to remember that other people are also afraid, stressed, and generally not their best selves during a pandemic. Build empathy now for the people at the other end of those emails and instant messages. Doing so will lower the chances that you’ll ruin a relationship–or your career–when you’re too anxious to think straight.

I have a lot to say on this topic. If I get a few hours of quiet any time soon, I’ll figure out if what I have to say fits in a series of articles, a short ebook, or something longer. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Keynote

Last week I have the privilege of speaking to the Puget Sound Chapter of the Association for Talent Development. These folks are communications professionals, which meant we could take a deep dive into inter-colleague communication. I may be the presenter during these keynotes but I always feel like I learn something new from each engagement.

This time, one of the participants pointed out that we shouldn’t forget to provide equal resources to people going back into the office if we don’t want them to resent their remote colleagues. This is such a great point, I needed to share it with you. Equal resources can mean a lot of different things–schedule flexibility is the first thing that pops into my mind. The world of work has been turned upside down due to this pandemic. Let’s use this as an opportunity to ask what else needs to be changed.

Things I’ve Published

The ‘How to Build Empathy’ article is the only remote-related thing out there right now. The rest of my publications are all comedy. I wrote ‘Are You Getting Laid off or Divorced‘ back in September, after a round of layoffs at my company. ‘2020 or Country & Western Song‘ came to me when I thought of that old joke, what do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your house back, your wife back, and your dog back. ‘MLMs and Mompreneurs: A Half Baked Recipe‘ popped into my mind when I thought about companies that prey upon women who want to raise their children AND be financially stable.

I partnered with a super talented illustrator/cartoonist to create this single panel cartoon we’re calling Retirement Fund. Which is also a good way to say that if you are a cartoonist, the comedy magazine Greener Pastures (where I am an editor) is accepting illustrations for our Saturday morning cartoons section. Woo!

And finally, ‘Paul Simon Finds 50 Ways to Leave Online School‘ has been playing in my head as an online school parody for almost the entire pandemic. I had to write it out so the parody would leave me alone already. I’m very proud of the fact that you can actually sing my lyrics to Paul Simon’s original song. My husband thinks I should actually sing this in real life, after learning the chords on my guitar. I’m not sure anyone needs that. The point was to get the song OUT of my head, not weld it into place.

Goings On in the Douglas Household

It only took about 8 tries to get this photo, which is a world record when you need kids to stand still, look at you, and stop touching their sibling. Alt Text: Two children and one man posed in front of a tree, with fall leaves all around.

On Saturday we attended a Zoom funeral for a relative. This was 2020 loss number three for our family, but it was the first one that my kids really felt. A wise friend once told me that however you feel after a death is the right way to feel. It was my privilege to pass that wisdom on. Another friend told me about a place in Japan where someone has an old style phone attached to a telephone pole. It’s impossible to make an actual phone call because the phone isn’t wired into any system. People go there to use the phone to say goodbye to relatives that have died. We don’t have that phone here in Canada, so my daughter wrote a poem instead. It helped.

As is true in most things, these weeks haven’t been all sadness. The temperature dropped enough for the leaves to change colours, and Vancouver is bathed in glorious light. This year I took Fall celebrations a little further by making my own apple cider. I’m a little embarrassed that it took so long to figure out how easy it is–just boil apples in water, add seasonings and sugar, and Bob’s your Uncle. And there’s nothing better than making a hot toddy on a cold night, out of cider you made yourself. Yesterday I sipped a hot toddy while knitting a sweater and I felt like I won Fall.

I hope you’re savouring your own small joys. I’ll see you next time.