Greetings on the last day of 2019! Before we leave this decade and enter the ’20s, I wanted to note some of the books that influenced the way I engage with people in the remote space. This was the decade that kicked off my remote adventure, after all. What better way to send it out in style than to talk about books?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Before you can be a great manager, first you must learn to manage yourself. That is doubly true for managers of remote workers. So much of our employee’s experience of the company comes directly through us. Kahneman’s book changed the way I thought about trusting my gut.
From Values to Action by Harry M. Jansen
There are a couple of reasons I liked this book. First, it actually shows you how to translate the values you want to live by into action. It’s not only an idea book, but also a how-to manual. Jansen provides a framework of questions instead of a ‘one-size-fits-no one’ recipe for success. I don’t use the whole framework, but I do I try to end the day by asking myself if I’ve done everything I said I was going to do. If not, why not? If find the questions clarifying.
Platform: Get Noticed in Noisy World by Michael Hyatt
When the first iteration of my book was nearing it’s publication date, my publisher’s marketing team told me I needed to go post on Twitter every day to get the word out about my book. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Fortunately I like to research, and I found this book and the one that follows. I listened to ‘Platform’ on Audible. Hyatt read his own book, and I enjoyed his energy. This book is like your big brother giving you advice with a big shot of ‘you can do it’ cheer leading on the side.
30 Day Book Marketing Challenge by Rachel Thompson
If Hyatt was my cheerleader, Rachel Thompson was my coach. Her book is half the reason I didn’t send out a dozen ‘buy my book!’ tweets before giving up on Twitter entirely. Instead I’ve met many lovely people, and had enjoyable conversations. That’s what social media is supposed to be about anyway. Conversations.
Creative Quest by Questlove
I picked up ‘Creative Quest’ at an airport bookstore on a whim. I’m so glad I did. If this book had a secret subtitle, it would be ‘the working person’s guide to creativity.’ I especially love the way he describes creativity as being open to things vs digging deep inside yourself. As someone who produces researched articles pretty regularly, I am always looking for things outside of my own head to spark the next article. It was interesting seeing how Questlove’s process works.
The Remix: How to Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace by Lindsey Pollak
I was pretty excited about Pollak’s book when it came out. At Kaplan, I manage at least three different generations of people–Boomers, GenX, and Millennials. I was hoping ‘The Remix’ would provide an overview of the differences between groups, and it didn’t disappoint. It has some great ideas for communicating across different platforms, too.
In one way or another these books influenced how I interact in the remote space. Do you have any books that shaped your online identity? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Most of us won’t finish December as billionaire super models. But you CAN close out the year as a hero for your employees, you clients, and yourself if you take time to do these three things.
Post Your Year End/Holiday Hours
One of the many perks of remote work is the ability to hire (and sell to) people in different parts of the world. But different countries have different traditions. The end of December is a holiday in some, but not all, parts of the world. Post your hours on your website, email/phone out-of-office message, and everywhere else your clients and colleagues may try to reach with you.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that people will remember that it’s a holiday in your country. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving a month before the United States. I’m from the US, and I work for a company primarily based in the US, and I still forget about US Thanksgiving because no one around me celebrates it. Your client in Qatar shouldn’t wonder why it’s taking you so long to respond to the email he sent on Christmas. Post your hours.
Send a Year End Message
The savvy remote worker looks for any excuse to connect with clients and colleagues. The end of the year is a great pretext to communicate with everyone in your network. Your message doesn’t have to be long or particularly masterful so long as it’s sincere. On Tuesday I sent the teachers who work with me a short email, and included this graphic I made in Canva.
It didn’t take long to put this together in Canva and add it to my email. The writer in me cringes a little at the wording–it comes across as ho-hum to my internal editor–but a sincere ho-hum message is better than no message at all, when you want to make sure people know you like working with them.
If you have more time to craft a nicer message than the one I produced, do so. But if you don’t, don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. If you like this idea but feel overwhelmed just thinking about making a meme, feel free to use mine. I won’t tell.
Choose A Year End Tradition
The first two tips in this article focus on ending the year right for your clients and colleagues. This last tip is designed to help you build a meaningful transition into the new year.
Transitions were one of the things I didn’t think about before I went remote. I am so happy that I gave up my commute. It’s given me hours back into my day. But I missed the way a commute created a natural transition into and out of work, so I had to make up my own transitions.
The end of one year and the beginning of another is a big transition. As someone who works in an office of one, it’s pretty easy to ignore it in favor of hitting the items on my to-do list.
I would suggest that taking a moment to ceremonially end your year is good for your mental health. The end of the year can be a fraught time for some. It’s all to easy to think that if you haven’t ended the year (or the decade) as a billionaire super model, or cured cancer, you must be defective. Implementing a small year-end ceremony is a nice way to commemorate what you have done, and start the new year with a clean slate.
Your ceremony doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. If you can afford to spend a week in Tahiti to clear your head, great. Personally, I need something a little more cost-efficient. So I clean my office. Cleaning isn’t my favorite thing to do, but I do like the symbolism of wiping the dust from the old year out of my office before the new year shows up. I am literally giving myself the gift of a clean start.
I spend the time remembering the things I did in the year that I’d like to do again. I think about the things I didn’t get a chance to do that I might work into the new year. And when I finish my cleaning, I say (to myself) ‘I declare this year closed.’ It’s a simple ceremony that works for me.
Life is messy, but your year end doesn’t have to be. If you keep these three tips in mind, you can close your year in an orderly fashion, and start the new one with a clean slate.
There’s a lot going on both in Remota HQ, and with my family personally. Last Wednesday evening, just as I put the finishing touches on last Thursday’s blog post, we got a call from a sick family member. This relative hasn’t authorized me to tell personal details so I am going to skip over the particulars and move to the next bit, which is this: after that phone call we made a plan to drive to California.
For some reason I like knowing that I can get out of Dodge with very little notice. Maybe it’s because I grew up in California, with the threat of the next big earthquake always sort of looming in the background. Maybe it’s hearing about all the fires and evacuations that have spread across the state. In any event, I’m glad we can pull everyone out of their routine and go when we need to.
I could have chosen to work on this trip. My job is remote and I can carry it all in my laptop, but that’s not why we took the kids out of school and drove for two days. This week, I’m focusing on family.
So that’s why you don’t have an article from me today. However, I can offer you this link to an article from N.F. Mendoza for Tech Republic. She interviewed me (as well as some others) about ‘The Top 13 Ways to Manage Remote Employees.’ It’s a solid checklist of things to think about and practice if you want your remote employees to be efficient and engaged. Check it out.
Access to 2 new articles and a story that didn’t make it into print
It’s been a busy week here at Remota HQ. I live in Canada and work for a US company, which means I had two days to dive into my writing. That means I have 2 articles and a deleted scene to share with you. Two of my remote work pieces went live in the last five days. One of them is behind a paywall, but I have a friend link for you. Anyone who reads this blog is a friend of mine.
Turn ‘Them’ into ‘Us:’ How to Make Remote Workers Part of the Team
I wrote this for ‘The Startup.’ If you’re part of a partially remote, partially office-bound team, this one is for you. If you’ve been looking for a way to tell your boss that you can’t hear half of what’s said in team meetings because your office colleagues all crowd around one computer, now you don’t have to. You can just send this article. Remote employee managers: this is what your employees wish you knew.
Working from Home During the Holidays
This appeared in CEO World on December 3rd. If you work remotely, you’ve had to juggle working in your home. You probably have go-to strategies that you use to set boundaries with the people who live with you. This article delivers 5 tips to help you work when you’re visiting family who don’t understand what ‘working from home’ means.
It wasn’t until just now that I realized both of these articles talk about mixing in one way or another. In one we’re mixing on-site and off-site employees. In the other, we’re mixing family with work. Hopefully the advice listed will let you adeptly DJ your own life. Up next is something that was pulled from the mix.
The Story that Didn’t Make it into ‘Working from Home.’
When I first envisioned this piece, I planned to start with my own experience trying working from my mom’s house. However, I’m part of a remote work Slack chat, and when I put out a request for people to contribute personal experiences, I received far more than I expected. I don’t know why I was so surprised–the reason I visit that group is because they’re intelligent, generous people. They were simply acting like they always do.
In any event, I scrapped my original idea and reworked the article to fit in as many of the pithy tips as possible. Here’s the story I cut:
It’s the summer of 2010. I’m sitting in my step-dad’s home office, presenting at a work meeting via video call. All of a sudden my audience erupts in laughter. I don’t know why. It isn’t until I hear “Here you go, Auntie Teresa,” that I realize my nephew is standing behind me, mug of tea in one hand, and plate of toast in the other.
My husband, baby daughter and I had driven up to San Jose from Los Angeles the night before to see family, but I needed to work part of the time to extend our visit.
It took several interruptions spread across many days before I figured out that I was the reason I was getting interrupted. My step dad works in sales. When he works from home, he’s either making phone calls to schedule appointments, or completing paperwork. He makes zero video calls.
I hadn’t explained to my mother what I do when I work from home. So she assumed my work day would look a lot like my step-dad’s. She did everything she could to make sure I had a good working conditions: 1) She kicked my step-dad out of his own office. 2) She told everyone to be quiet when they walked into the room, and wait until I wasn’t talking before speaking to me.
If my work had been the same as my step dad’s, then this would have been the perfect set up. Instead, it was a learning experience. I learned that telling people that I need to work from 10 until 2, for example, isn’t enough.
Help Family Visualize Your Work Day
If you want to work with family around, they need to know when it’s okay to talk to you. Often you also have to explain how much the camera can see. Fortunately for me, when my nephew walked into my video meeting, all he did was make faces at the camera. When my company first went remote, a colleague’s partner walked behind him while we were holding a video meeting, wearing a very brief towel. There are some sides of people’s partners you just shouldn’t see.
Help your family avoid embarrassment and explain how you do your work.
Once my mother knew I was on video calls with people who could see when family walked in the door, she kept everyone–including my step-dad*– out of the office. I could have avoided so much frustration with one conversation. Learn from my mistake.
So that’s the story that didn’t make it into my article ‘Working from Home During the Holidays.’ Hopefully you find it helpful if you have to mix extended family with work. May your family not flash anyone on camera, nor interrupt you when you’re trying to focus.
*For the record, while I did feel sort of bad about colonizing my step-dad’s office, I didn’t feel bad enough to give up the space until I was done with it. This probably makes me a bad person. Ah well.
My book for remote employees is going to launch with Simon Schuster in January 2020. I’ve known about this for some time, but we had to hit a certain point in the book launch process before I could share details with you. Today, as a thank you for sticking with me during the great blog post slowdown of October/November 2019, I want to give you a peak behind the book launch curtain.
The Book is Getting a New Title
My co-authors and I signed a book contract that says our publisher has the right to change the title if necessary. This is The Way Things Go in traditional publishing, and I have no problem with it. Titles aren’t my forte. I don’t know how a person can write a book and post articles (nearly) every week for more than a year and still have trouble coming up with good titles, but that’s me in a nutshell.
We’re really lucky that our original indie publisher 750 is committed to keeping its authors looped in as much as possible. Instead, they gave us Simon Schuster’s feedback and let us propose another title.
If you or anyone you know is thinking of writing a business book, Simon Schuster thinks that the best business book titles are clear. The title should not only tell you what the book is about, but who it’s for. I love our old title ‘Secrets of the Remote Workforce,’ but that doesn’t tell you who the book is for. We fixed that with the new title.
May I present Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams. Holly, Mike and I came up with this title the same way we wrote the book. We proposed different titles, talked through what we liked and disliked, and came up with something together.
For those who aren’t familiar with the book, we discuss how to survive and thrive as a remote employee. We cover how to set up your office, how to combat loneliness, and how go grow in your career when you work from an office of one.
The Team Has a Publicist
Publishing a book is a little surreal. Most people have opinions about the things they’ve done. Some of us decide to write a book about what we know. We believe we wrote a book with a lot of useful information to share with remote employees. We spent a lot of time making sure we covered remote-specific topics. On some level, though, it’s still surprising that a traditional publisher agreed to release our book out into the world.
Getting a publicist brings the surreal feeling to another level. We have access to an expert to help us get the word out about our book. That’s pretty neat. I collect skills the way crazy cat ladies collect cats, and I can’t wait to see what I learn from this experience. We’re working on a few things that aren’t quite ready to talk about yet, but I look forward to sharing them with you in due course.
Did you like this sneak peak? Leave me a comment to let me know either way. Is there anything about book publishing you would love to know about? Leave that question in the comments. If there’s enough interest in the business side of book publishing I’ll post other tidbits as we gear up to launch the book.
Give people solid reasons for changing their over-working ways and they will do so.
People Problems Need People-Centric Solutions.
The BBC published this article discussing why banning email outside of work hours might do more harm than good. The arguments focused on why highly anxious or highly ambitious people might need to access work email outside of work hours.
The bigger question is why are employees anxious if they can’t check email after work? Why does an ambitious go-getter need to log long hours in order to get promoted? There is a difference between occasionally working longer hours in order to finish a project, and chronic hyper-connectedness. Failure to disconnect from work is a symptom. If we really want people to disconnect and recharge, we need to address the root cause of the behavior.
To better illustrate this, let’s pretend that you are at a friend’s house for dinner. You’re both in the kitchen–you are cutting up vegetables and your friend is tenderizing meat with a mallet. Suddenly your friend takes the mallet and repeatedly pounds his hand with it.
There are a lot of things you would do in that moment. You might shout ‘stop!’ You might wrestle away the mallet.
Under no circumstances would you think you solved the problem by taking away the device your friend used to harm himself. Until someone uncovers why your friend did what he did, you can’t be sure he’ll never do it again.
Burnout was a significant predictor of the following physical consequences: hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hospitalization due to cardiovascular disorder, musculoskeletal pain, changes in pain experiences, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems, severe injuries and mortality below the age of 45 years.
These consequences are just as harmful–if not more so–than hitting your hand with a hammer. And getting at the root causes of burnout in your company will require a thorough diagnosis.
How to Get at the Root Causes of Burnout
Employees experience burnout for a variety of reasons, just as people get sick for a variety of reasons. Going back to our earlier example, a doctor would treat your friend by asking a series of questions and making observations. A leader interested in delivering an effective solution for burnout can do the same.
It’s tempting to assume we know what’s causing the burnout and skip this step. Perhaps we have a lot of experience leading people. Perhaps we’re burned out because we receive too many emails and assume that solving our problem will solve everyone else’s, too.
As a leader, your experience at work is different from that of your employees. Your pain points may be different as well. Don’t assume you know what the problem is.
However, there are some things you CAN assume.
Assume Your Employees Know the Consequences of Overworking
People understand that working too much is unhealthy. There is an abundance of information on the consequences of burnout. Many major news feeds covered the story when the World Health Organization ruled that burnout is a medical diagnosis.
If most people know that overworking is unhealthy, then the next question we need to ask is why are they doing it anyway? It’s tempting to assume that they’re working off of faulty information. This leads to our next assumption.
Assume Your Employees Have a Solid Reason for What They Do
Most of our decisions are self-protective on some level. We wear nice clothes to protect our dignity and social status. We count to ten in our head to stop ourselves from saying something that will ruin a relationship. And we work too much because we think doing so protects us in some way. Or we are being overtly rewarded for doing so.
This is why simply implementing an email ban won’t work in the long run. If your people are convinced that they need to work long hours to keep their jobs or get promoted, they will continue to do so.
For many years, Kaplan had a “summer hours” policy. During the summer months, you could elect to work a little longer Monday through Thursday, and take off early on Friday. I took advantage of this policy for many summers, until I was given a new manager. This manager claimed that the summer hours policy was only for employees who worked in an actual office, not for remote workers. Therefore, her expectation was that our team would not participate.
I knew that manager was wrong. I tried to point out that the other remote teams were taking advantage of summer hours, and we should too. Unfortunately this manager wouldn’t listen. When faced with the choice of defying my new boss or working longer than necessary, you can guess which decision I made.
Your employees have a solid reason for overworking. They will share this information with you under certain circumstances.
Create Protected Spaces for Honest Feedback
Telling your employer that you’re overworked feels risky for many people. As a leader, you can minimize the risk of honesty. It isn’t enough to say ‘please be honest,’ or ‘we value your honesty.’ You may foster an open and inclusive company, but your employees may be carrying baggage from previous employers. Or you may have a problem manager that you don’t know about yet.
Even if neither of these things are true, you must stay conscious of the power dynamic between you and your employees. You have the power to fire them. Your employees will always keep that in mind when deciding what to tell you.
One of the easiest ways to minimize risk for your employees is to use an anonymous survey. If you lead a large company then it may be easiest to retain a third party to handle creating a survey for you. If your company is small or there are budget concerns, you can build your own survey. Consider using a format that allows you to collect nuanced answers. I personally like ‘rate how much you agree with the following statements’ sorts of questions. This is what they look like:
Rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements 1 = disagree, 2 = neither agree or disagree, and 3 = agree
In my company, you have to work long hours to get promoted.
I have a reasonable workload.
My immediate manager cares about my work/life balance.
You can get more complicated and use a wider scale to ask if people “strongly” agree or disagree. Before you do so, ask yourself if the benefit is worth the added time it takes to create a more complicated survey. If this is your first time surveying your employees, understand that you may not get your questions right the first time. You might even consider adding a question at the end that asks ‘what other questions should we ask?’ to speed up your learning curve. As a bonus, you can learn a lot from the questions people suggest you add to the survey.
Everyone Has Time to Survey Their People
Back in my Faculty Manager days, I sent my direct reports an anonymous, annual survey in December. This was completely separate from the big engagement survey my company conducts every year. The big survey asks a lot of questions about many subjects–the point of my survey was to figure out how I could improve as a manager.
Your employees know what you have to work on. Mine were no different. Once I processed the information, I always did two things: 1) I shared the results with my people and 2) told them what I would work on in the following year. They could judge for themselves if I did what I said I was going to do.
I had anywhere between 50-100 direct reports spread across the state of California. Even with my hectic schedule–and no added administrative support– I found the time to create, deliver, and respond to the results in my employee survey. You can, too.
Employee surveys are humbling experiences. Sometimes you’re humbled by the trust your employees place in you as a leader. Other times you’re humbled by the things you have to work on. Often it’s a mix of both. But if you’re serious about identifying the cause of burnout at your company, don’t skip this step.
Share the Results and Talk About Next Steps
When you’re fixing culture problems, it’s really important to bring people along in every step of the process. Share the group results. Your employees are dying to know if everyone else feels the way they do. They’re anxious to see how you react to what the group has said. Choose your words carefully. You want to make it clear that you understand the problem, and are committed to fixing it. This is a huge opportunity to built your employees’ trust and respect for you and your company. Don’t blow it.
Then let your actions back up your words. Give the good assignments to the people who go home on time. Promote the people who fight for reasonable work loads. Bonus the teams that use all of their vacation time. And retrain (or rehome) the managers who perpetuate poor work/life balance.
Give people a solid reason to change their habits, and they will do so.
Burnout culture is a people problem that requires a people-centric solution. You CAN get at the root cause of the problem. Approach the process with humility and honesty–and put your actions where your mouth is. You’ll not only change your work culture, but also create a team that trusts you and will follow wherever you lead.
Happy mid-October everyone! Vancouver has reset back to normal, and we’re in for a week of rain. I spent a large portion of the long weekend soaking in the last of the beautiful Autumn sunshine before the rain moved in. It was Thanksgiving in Canada this past Monday and I was thankful for the weather. My kids found a leaf pile and I discovered that I never want to get into a leaf fight with them. They take no prisoners.
I also participated in the first ever Remote Work 5k, put together by Cantilever and Workplaceless. It was big fun. We all jumped into a zoom room at the beginning of the race, and then ran the course of our choice. I won recognition for Coldest run! I hope this is the first of many such virtual races because it was fun completing a 5k with my fellow remote workers. Some of us ran, some walked or hiked, and at least one of us swam the distance.
I also spent time studying psychological safety. A quick internet search showed that I should start with Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School. Her research is at the foundation of this subject. This is the link to the article if you want to read what I’m reading.
This article represents some of the early work Edmondson has done on the subject, and few things stood out:
Psychological safety leads to learning behaviour.
When I started this research I thought psychological safety led to high performing teams. Based on what the article hyperlinked above, it really has more to do with team learning. A team that can learn quickly may lead to high performance under certain conditions. If your team deals with a high degree of uncertainty and complexity, then you want people who can learn and adapt. Most (if not all) knowledge work falls into this category. However, if your team doesn’t work in these sorts of conditions then learning isn’t a good predictor of high performance.
As an aside, I believe we should create psychologically safe spaces at work anyway. It’s the right thing to do. But the problems you’ll prevent are turnover and burnout.
Context support and leadership can impact psychological safety.
This one sounded like a real no-brainer to me. If you give your team the tools and information they need (context support) and act as a coach who sets a direction and helps people get there, then they should feel safe to learn and experiment.
The article I read focused more on whether psychological safety leads to learning, so Edmondson didn’t spend a lot of time proving that these were THE factors that lead to feeling safe. She merely said that there seemed to be a positive relationship between those factors and a healthy team dynamic. Still, there were still some interesting details. I was surprised to see that there were teams who felt safe even if one of these factors was missing. She concludes by saying that more research was needed on what causes psychological safety.
I suspect that it’s a lot harder to experience psychological safety in the remote workforce if you have a micro-managing boss. This paper was written in 1999 and Edmondson studied co-located teams. It’s entirely possible for a team to bond over the shared experience of a bad boss if they work in an office. I’ve lived that experience. The boss says something regrettable, and the team makes eye contact behind his back. Next thing you know everyone is taking lunch together so they can compare notes and vent.
It’s a lot harder to do that as a remote worker. So many of your interactions happen one on one. It’s one thing to make eye contact with your coworker when you share an experience. It’s quite another to call your co worker and ask if they like the boss. I have some theories about how to create psychological safety in the remote workforce despite having a bad boss. I can’t wait to see if some else has studied this as I continue my research.
Do you work in a team that is remote and psychologically safe? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment on this post or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you.
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.
I have a problem with sick days. My problem is that I don’t always take them. I caught my kids’ flu (thanks kids) Sunday evening, and still went to work on Monday.
Why Is it So Hard to Take Sick Days in the Remote Workforce?
I blame my children. (It’s what all good mothers do.) When the kids were very small I saved my sick days for when they got sick. And I’ve never broken out of the habit. Working remotely means I don’t have to.
I once worked in an office where one guy—we’ll call him Typhoid Mary—would come to work even when sick. Inevitably the entire office would catch his plague. It didn’t take very long before the office adopted a “stay home if you’re sick” work culture.
But when you work from home, you can’t infect anyone. The social pressure to stay home is gone. Now (at least for me) it’s hard to tell when to take a sick day. I don’t have to drive anywhere. I don’t even have to sit upright. If I’m well enough to binge watch Netflix, why aren’t I well enough to work?
I’m not the only one who does this. According to SoftChoice, a North American IT solutions and managed services provider, 57% of the 1,700 people they surveyed admitted to working on sick days. 80% of those folks spent sick days working through email.
There are many reasons people do this. Perhaps they don’t want to return to work and find an overflowing inbox. Maybe they’re worried that everyone will assume they’re slacking. Whatever the reason, I believe there are things we can all do to help people rest when they’re sick.
Bring Back the Social Pressure
I went to work on Monday while I was sick, and my team told me to go back to bed. Forcibly. (In a very professional, HR appropriate kind of way.) We should do this more for one another. I’ve seen other colleagues working while sick and I haven’t suggested they go back to bed. I’m going to start doing this from now on. We’re all adults. We need to make our own decisions, but sometimes we need that extra kick in the pants to make the right one. I certainly did.
Some folks may not feel comfortable telling people to go back to bed. As an alternative you might tell someone that took a sick day that you’re glad they took time to rest. Let’s reward each other for taking a balanced approach to work.
Reevaluate Work Loads
If your direct reports work while sick, you may want to perform a work load audit. Can an actual human being finish enough tasks to do a good job in an assigned role? How do you know? Do your direct reports have the tools needed to complete work efficiently? How do you know? Managers aren’t always responsible for the amount of work a company places on its employees, but we can always take on the role of advocate for our people.
Employees have to share the burden when it comes to evaluating task loads. Remote employees work out of sight for most of the day. It won’t always be obvious that we’re drowning under too much to do. If your boss is reasonable, give that person a chance to lighten your load. Speak up–and come prepared with examples.
Provide a Safety Net
If a colleague is sick, offer to take care of their time-sensitive tasks. I had two things weighing on my mind, and when I was still sick on Tuesday my team took over those tasks so I could rest with a clear conscience. It’s pretty great working on a team that has each other’s back. Don’t wait for your boss to build this sort of culture. A trusting work place begins with you.
It can sometimes feel hard to justify sick days when you already work from home. Like so many other things in the remote workforce, we each have the ability to craft the work life we want to see. Offer to help people take needed time off either through social pressure or taking tasks of their plate. Let them do the same for you. If we all work on this, we will create a more humane work culture. We’ll work for companies where people take the time they need to recover, and return rested and ready to go.