Is Racism Rampant in Your Remote Workplace?

Photo by Karol D from Pexels

On Monday afternoon I walked through a field of daisies in the sunshine. It was stupidly idyllic. And surreal. A cool breeze drifted through the long grass and played with the leaves on the maple trees. My son ran ahead of me, demonstrating how fast he was in the black sneakers he inherited from his sister.

I’ve spent hours trying to think about what to say in this week’s blog. The murder and violence taking place in my former home horrifies me. It doesn’t surprise me, you understand. I’m a Mexican-American woman, and my family history contains stories of discrimination and aggression. I don’t want to act as if everything’s fine because it isn’t. But I also have no interest in inflicting my feelings on people who are already traumatized.

So I’ve decided to link to some articles to read if you’re interested in building diverse remote companies. Then I’m going to focus on light things that happened in the Douglas household this past week. Feel free to jump to the section that fits your current mental state.

Remote Work isn’t a Magic Wand for Diversity

Many people (including me) write about how remote work can create a more diverse workforce. But just because your company is office optional doesn’t mean it’s diverse. Or welcoming. Victor Ray’s HBR article Why so many organizations stay white can just as easily be applied to remote-first companies. Nicole Young discusses her experience with Remote Year in the Zora piece Remote Year is not safe for women of color.

Danielle Abril’s Fortune article Remote work may exacerbate diversity and inclusion problems for companies lists some reasons remote doesn’t necessarily equal diverse. One example: “distance reinforces people’s tendency to favor people who are similar to them.” Remote work runs on trust. Ask yourself, have I (or has my company) demonstrated trust in people that belong to marginalized groups? How many people of color report to you? Who gets promoted? Who gets laid off first?

Who’s Getting the Goodies?

Trust is hard to measure directly. You can’t take a ruler or a scale to figure out how big it is. But you can measure who gets the goodies during the good times and who gets cut in a downturn. And you can measure the average tenure for people of color in your company. As Jermaine Haughton points out in 4 Signs that racism may be an issue in your workplace, some workplaces explicitly or implicitly hold POC to higher standards than their white counterparts.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the first author I’ve quoted appears to be white. I looked for an article by a BIPOC author on the whiteness of corporations and came up short. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Just that my search results didn’t prioritize them. If you know of a similar article written by a BIPOC, please send it my way.

The remote work community also needs a survey/study on the percentage of remote workers that are people of color, broken down by managers vs employees. According to Americanprogress.org, “By 2030, people of color will comprise the majority contributions to the labor force and are projected to account for virtually all of the growth.” How much of that will carry over into remote work? And of that number, what percentage of the population will progress into management and leadership?

Let’s make remote work live up to its diverse and inclusive potential.

Light Stories about the Douglas Household

Last week I read an article in the New York Times about community cookbooks making a comeback. What a great idea. Food is primal, and sharing food is often how we connect with others. We talked about the concept in the neighborhood Facebook group I moderate, and now we’re going to make our own cookbook. I’ll be editing it and we’ll probably publish it as an ebook.

I’m going with the theme ‘feeling better.’ We can’t be with each other in person, but we can share food by exchanging recipes. There will be stories and poems to go with the recipes, and hopefully pictures too.

I have no idea how I’m going to fit this into my life, but I can’t wait to do it anyway.

The Kids are Back in School

Monday, when I was walking through the field of daisies, I told my son “Don’t be a smart butt.” He isn’t old enough to know what I’m really saying, but he thinks it’s funny just the same. He laughed and declared at the top of his voice “My butt is of average intelligence!”

We ignored the people who gave us funny looks.

I’m writing this blog late on Wednesday night. My daughter went to school for the first two days of the week, and the boy will go to school Thursday and Friday. We tried dying the kids’ hair (temporarily) indigo for the occasion, but I either have weak dye or did it wrong, because the color didn’t show up on the one lock of hair my daughter wanted done. My son’s hair just looks sort of eggplant purple if you squint at it. We called the result ‘punk rock raspberry’ and called it a night.

Speaking of which, I am going to knock off for the night too. See you all next week!

Let’s Bake Inclusion into Remote Work

Pacific Spirit Park in British Columbia

We’ve reached that time of year in Vancouver where the weather makes up for the way it acted in winter. I live in a temperate rain forest. It rains, on average, 168 days a year. February is downright dismal. The dark and the wet feel never-ending.

But then we get to the end of May, and like a deadbeat boyfriend who knows he’s about to get kicked to the curb, Vancouver turns charming again. The days become long and saturated with light. The forest glows in the sunshine.

It’s all a lie. The rain and the dark will come back again soon enough. But it’s a beautiful lie, and I enjoy it too much to fight it. Lie to me Vancouver. I promise I’ll believe.

What I Hope for Remote Work in the Coming Months

A few people have asked me where I think remote work is going. I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you. But before I do you should know that I assume we’re going to have a second period of time where many if not most knowledge workers will have to work from home again. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, recently said that every pandemic in recorded history has had a second wave. Therefore it makes sense for companies to integrate sustainable distributed processes into their day to day operations.

Those operations need to be more inclusive. Right now, we can bake this into our systems from the beginning. Let’s take the opportunity to create more asynchronous workdays so people can manage their health and well-being. Let’s use teleprompters and provide transcripts at meetings for the hearing impaired. This isn’t an exhaustive list. But it’s a start.

And let’s give up, once and for all, the idea of an “ideal” personality type for roles. It doesn’t matter if someone is introverted or extroverted. It doesn’t matter if they are a thinker or a feeler or whatever else that personality test says they are. What are they doing with what they have? That’s all you need to know.

Remote work is a medium driven by people. Depending on how it’s used it can be good, bad, or neutral. Let’s use this time to chuck bad habits and build a more humane work environment.

I’ll get off my soap box now and talk about what’s going on in Livin la Vida Remota HQ.

It’s Back to School, June Edition

My children go back to school next week. I am both excited and terrified. Up until Thursday afternoon I would have told you that I was overjoyed and terrified, but that was before I learned that they would go to school two days a week, and not on the same days. That’s right, I’ll still have a child home asking for snacks during the work day 100% of the time.

I don’t blame the school. They can’t institute social distancing provisions AND keep all siblings in different grades together. I was really looking forward to some kid free time though. At least I can have the children hand back work instead of uploading it on Microsoft Teams. That’s something.

Speaking Gigs

Recently I gave a presentation at a professional organization for Diversity and Inclusion professionals. That was super rewarding. And in a little over a week I’ll be interviewed on a pirate radio station in New Jersey. I didn’t agree to this interview just because it’s on pirate radio. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a factor though.

I’ll probably yell “I’ve been pirated!” for way too long afterward. You’ve been warned.

Mental Health During COVID is a Marathon Not a Sprint

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.com

Long ago in a (pre-COVID) galaxy far, far away, I ran four half marathons in a year. And while it takes a certain level of physical fitness to run for multiple hours, the truth is that endurance races are won or lost inside your head. There comes a time in every long run when you’re tired, uncomfortable, and questioning your life choices. That’s the point when you are most at risk of quitting. The people who make it out of the rough patch talk themselves through it.

It made a lot of sense to me the first time someone framed coping with COVID as a marathon. This virus has been around far longer than many of us expected, and we still have plenty of road ahead of us before we get to cross the finish line. Buying mountains of toilet paper isn’t going to save us. The only way we’re going to get through is by tending to our mental wellness.

Everything I Learned about Mental Toughness I Learned from Running

I’m not a mental health expert. I also don’t want to imply that I’m skating through this pandemic without a care in the world. Two of my relatives died in April in the space of six days. I live with the same financial uncertainty that touches us all. But running taught me a technique for slogging through the tough bits. Maybe it will help you.

Acknowledge the feeling.

At the beginning of my run training I couldn’t run more than two miles. I tried running at different times of the day. I experimented with when I ate in relation to when I ran. Nothing seemed to work. Twenty minutes into my run my energy would tank and I would quit running.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to pay attention to what I told myself when I got tired. Usually, I said ‘I’m so tired. I don’t know if I can do this.’ Then I tried talking myself out of my exhaustion. (This is what I thought positive self-talk was.) It didn’t work because I was lying. And no one believes a liar.

After a lot of trial and error I discovered what works for me. I treat the whole thing like a cross between a therapist’s visit and a hostage situation. When my brain says ‘I’m tired,’ I think ‘Yes I’m tired, but I’m not injured, and I know I can go a little bit longer.’ And you know what? I usually can.

Re-frame the Situation.

At some point you’re going to feel like you’re doing the pandemic wrong. If you’re a parent, you worry that you’re breaking your kids because you can’t home school with a smile. If you’re childless you may be disappointed with your inability to write a novel or get in the best shape of your life.

Here’s the thing. None of us were meant to function optimally in a pandemic. They don’t cover how to do that in school. Our circumstances have changed. And as any savvy business person will tell you, when the market changes, a savvy business leader changes her approach. She changes her goals and expectations to suit the current conditions.

So when that little voice inside of you tells you that you’re a bad person for eating cupcakes for dinner, or for letting your kids play Minecraft for 10 hours straight, you tell it that you aren’t lowering the bar. You’re being adaptable. And when the pandemic passes, you will adjust your approach like the resilient person that you are.

You’re doing your best. And your best is good enough.

My Book is Turning Japanese I Really Think So

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

How is it even May? On some days it feels like the date is March 147th, 2020. Still, as I write this at 8:40, there’s some light left in the sky, so I know Spring is well and truly here. Time doesn’t stop because we have to spend a lot of it indoors. And it’s been a pretty busy Spring.

At the end of March an agent who handles Japanese translations emailed me. She wanted to represent my book. I referred this respected person to my publisher, and tried to forget about it. Just because someone offers to represent your work doesn’t mean it will get published. All it meant was that someone liked my book and thought it was marketable to their particular audience.

On Wednesday my publisher told me they had signed a contract for the translation rights. My book will be translated into Japanese! I’m going to get a copy once it’s done and everything. What makes this even more meaningful is that one of my co-authors has a deep connection with Japan. He went there to teach English back in his college days, and ended up meeting his future wife. They spend time living in Japan every year so their kids can maintain a connection with that part of their culture.

Traditional publishing takes time even when you don’t have to translate the book first, so I don’t expect to see a physical copy of my translated book this year. It’s nice knowing it’s coming though. I’m celebrating the occasion on Thursday by getting some takeout and drinking a margarita.

April was Hairy

I’m learning new things during the pandemic. At the beginning of April I learned that inviting my children to steal my stuff and write me ransom notes to get it back in an effort to make education fun was probably a bad idea. At the end of April I learned to cut male hair. It was super intimidating. I don’t know why. Hair grows back. And we all had to stay home and stay away from people in April, so the stakes were low.

It can’t be the idea of cutting hair in general. I layered the front of my own hair in April, and tasked my ten year old daughter with trimming the bits I couldn’t reach. I cut my son’s hair when he was a toddler. None of that scared me. But all of that cutting was with scissors.

The little buzzy shaver intimidates me. I feel a little stupid admitting this but it’s true. Just the idea of accidentally lopping off a hunk of hair makes me wince. It’s like the semi-automatic rifle of the hairdresser world. I had visions of accidentally driving that thing right through the middle of my husband’s hair and giving him the world’s worst male-patterned baldness.

I dealt with my feelings of inadequacy the way I usually do. I researched the crap out of hair cutting. There are approximately eleventy-hundred ‘how to cut men’s hair’ videos on YouTube, and I watched them twice. Then I girded my loins in courage and practiced cutting hair on my son. The boy doesn’t care what he looks like, and I care more about what his father looks like, so my son became the guinea pig.

There’s a Reason I Outsource my Son’s Haircuts

I promptly remembered why I outsourced his haircuts when he turned three. The boy hates sitting still for me. He’ll do it for his hairdresser. All of the ladies at the salon make a big deal about how handsome he is, how good he is, and he eats it up. Also, they give him lollipops. And they can finish his hair in ten minutes.

The social distancing haircut took an hour. Right at minute 45 he had a great haircut going, if a little long. I should have stopped right there. But I got greedy. Just a little more feathering in the front, I thought, would make this masterpiece complete. I swapped the buzzer for my scissors and leaned in to cut a bit off the front.

And my son, who was tired of standing still, looked down just as I snipped. I ended up cutting a chunk off the front that made him look like a Vulcan from Star Trek. I was so upset. I spent fifteen minutes trying to fix it before I gave up in disgust. “This is what happens when you move!” I said sternly. Unrepentant, he glanced at the mirror and said “It’s rough, I like it,” and wandered off.

My husband thought I did a good job on the boy’s hair, and asked me to do his next. Fortunately my husband has some personal dignity and an idea of what his hair should look like, so the haircut went a lot better. I won’t be hanging up my pen to pursue a career in haircuts, but at least I can keep the Douglas males from looking shaggy. Mostly.

The Writing Keeps Rolling On

Some point soon I’ll have an actual remote work article to share with you. I have it partially written, and if I can manufacture some alone time I’ll finish it off. There are two other finished pieces currently making the rounds looking for a good home. Once they find somewhere to land I’ll share the links.

As Do the Appearances

On Friday I’ll be on The Round Table Talk Show with Sharifah Hardie at 8am Pacific, 11am Eastern. Log on and have a listen if you’re so inclined. Other than that, I’m doing various presentations on working remotely while parenting, and on remote worker wellness, for various organizations. Those talks have fallen into my lap, and it’s been super fun talking to people about how to make the best of the current circumstances.

I hope you’re doing okay in YOUR current circumstances. Every day isn’t a holiday over here. We’re all doing the best we can. And just in case someone hasn’t told you lately, your best is good enough.

In Remembrance

Me and Grandma Elena at my wedding many years ago. Can you see the resemblance? We have the same nose and cheekbones.

My grandmother’s name is Magdalena, but I never heard anyone call her that. To my grandfather, she was always Elena. So when it came time to pick my daughter’s middle name, I gave her the name Elena, not Magdalena, to honor my grandma.

Last Sunday morning my grandma died of covid.

I’m not going to tell that story. Most of you have never met my grandma, and I refuse to let her ending define her. Instead I will say this about her:

Grandma Elena moved to the US from Mexico shortly after marrying my grandfather. Great Grandma thought that if she married her wandering son to a good village girl, he would leave the US (where he was a citizen) and raise his family in Mexico. Turns out he was a good enough son to marry the woman his mother picked out, but not good enough to stay in their village. Instead, he moved his new wife back to California, where they raised six children.

My grandpa told me this story when I was 13. To hear him tell it, he and grandma took two weeks to get to know each other before they agreed to marry. Looking back, I wonder if Grandma sized up Grandpa and decided he was worth taking a chance on. She always struck me as the more deliberate of the two.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to marry a man and move to a country where you don’t speak the language. I always thought it must have taken a great deal of fortitude and resourcefulness. My father says she ran their house like a captain, feeding and bathing the children–my aunts and uncles–in an assembly line. My grandpa was the head of the family, but to paraphrase a quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, she was definitely the neck, who could turn the head whichever way she wanted.

All I know is that she could cook anything. Growing up we ate menudo, buenuelos, and choritzo sausage that she made from scratch. When I went vegetarian, she was the one who tried to figure out how to make vegetarian tamales. She brought the ingredients to my mother’s house, and we spent all day, just the two of us, learning out how to make masa preparada taste good without lard.

I learned three things that day. First, Crisco is magical. Second, never make tamales with fewer than 10 people. Third, grandma really wanted me to know how to make our traditional foods, even if I didn’t follow a traditional diet. She gave me a tortilla press before I moved to New York. With that and my newfound tamale knowledge, I was set loose to spread Mexican meals wherever I wandered.

My daughter bears her great grandma’s name. I hope that she carries the same fortitude and resourcefulness inside of her. I will use strong words if she tries to marry a man after two weeks of dating. Some day I will teach her to make tamales and tortillas. And then I will let her wander. It’s what grandma would have wanted.

Moments of Gratitude

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of chili? Please squint and pretend this is it. Photo by Naim Benjelloun from Pexels

I made chili the other night in my Instant Pot. It’s a pretty easy meal, and I get a lot of good press from the kids when I make it, so chili shows up in the Douglas house often for dinner. I’ll play with the types of beans I use, but on Tuesday I used all kidney beans. The kids like their chili topped with cheese and chopped raw onions (I am as flabbergasted as you are about this. Raw onions? They’ve been known to turn up their noses at bananas that are the wrong shade of yellow) so the chili was a very pretty deep red with dots of yellow and white.

Part way through chopping the onions my eye started itching. My hand twitched toward the vicinity of my eye, but as is so often the case these days with all of us, I reflexively squashed the urge to touch my face.  

I was busy loading chili into bowls while stopping the kids from eating the cornbread before I put it on plates, so it took a minute for me to realize that social distancing saved me from rubbing onion juice straight into my eyeball.

We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but I’ll take all the opportunities for gratitude I can get. I had a few good ones this week.

Flame Thrower Store

On Wednesday the entire family went for a walk in the afternoon sunshine. This sounds idyllic, but as any parent can tell you, you have five seconds of peace before the children start fighting, complaining, or fighting and complaining while trying to crawl all over things that don’t belong to them. Or one tries to run ahead while the other walks as slow as possible. At one point I threatened to give my son extra pages of math to do if he didn’t straighten up. He replied that he would just go to the flame thrower store and get a flame thrower to burn up all of his math.

The entire family had a good laugh over the idea that someone would open up a flame thrower store at all, let alone one that was open to children. My son didn’t even seem to mind the gentle ribbing. He’s an extrovert and any attention is better than no attention.

I won’t lie; trying to work and parent and home school all at the same time is tough. But in the middle of the stress, there are golden moments of relaxation that I wouldn’t access without kids. None of the adults I know want to talk about how to turn wood into weapons that Ewoks can use. I’m not sure I do either, but I love getting a sneak peak at how my child’s mind works.

Free eBook

I was also pretty excited that the ebook version of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams is free through April 21st in both the US and Canadian Amazon stores.

My book is traditionally published. This means that I’m not fully in charge of what can be done with it. My publisher is great, and I get royalties every time someone buys a book, but I can’t decide to make it free unless my publisher agrees. Not only did my publisher agree, they asked me if we wanted to make the book free before I got up the nerve to ask them. Feel free to download a copy, and tell your friends. I’m glad to help folks who may need some pointers during this crazy time.

The Writing Well Isn’t Dry, But It’s Slow Flow

In his book Creative Quest, Questlove describes his creativity as the state of cultivating openness vs trying to pull something up from the depths. For me, creativity is a little bit of both. I have to be open and notice things, but then I have to let whatever it is percolate through me before trying to write about it.

This process requires a certain amount of solitude and silence. Both of these have been in short supply during the pandemic. I’ve been trying to work within my constraints–I wake up early and read in bed, and go running as often as I can–but it’s hard to notice things when someone wants to talk to me every moment of my day.

It was such a gift to sit down last Friday and decide to write, and to actually have my creativity cooperate. I wrote half of a story in a few hours, and then finished it on Saturday with very little fanfare. I hope some day soon I’ll get to show it to you.

There are a lot of things to be upset about these days. Sometimes though, it’s good to act like artists of our own lives, and choose to focus on the small good things that surround the bad. What are you grateful for? I’d love to hear about it.

‘How Are You?’ Is Becoming A Real Question

Video calls aren’t just for business anymore. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

In large swaths of a California and in the parts of Vancouver I frequent, the accepted answer to this question among acquaintances is ‘Fine.’ No one expects to find out how you really are. The question is just a greeting, or a prelude to a different conversation.

I feel like this pandemic is changing our answer. We’re in the middle of a mass trauma; things aren’t fine. The old knee-jerk answer feels a little silly right now. We may not bare our secret fears during Zoom happy hour, but few people claim to be fine.

This is the sort of balanced honesty we need to take to work.

We Can’t Be All Business

Business runs on relationships, whether that business takes place in a physical, shared office, or in a video call. But you have to tend to those relationships differently when you’re remote. When you work in a shared office, you can wave to people as you walk to your desk. You can glance significantly at your work best friend when someone says something ridiculous. And then you can laugh about it over lunch. There are so many opportunities to see each other, you can afford to focus purely on business in team meetings.

The same can’t be said when you work from home. Remote workers have fewer opportunities to see each other, so we have to make the most of them. We need to reach out proactively to see how people are doing. At the beginning of video calls, we need to ask colleagues how they are.

Managers need to take the lead in modelling this behaviour. If you want your workforce to do it’s best, if you want to help them avoid burnout, then make sure you know how they’re doing. And provide some outlets for stress relief. Consider hosting a coffee break over video call. You can even hold a company sponsored group lunch. Give everyone a dollar amount to spend, tell them to submit an expense report, and let them order their own take out.

When you mix personal attention with business, you show your remote employees that you care. And we can all use a little bit of caring during this time.

Places Where I’Ve Talked About Remote Work

it’s been an action-filled week at Remota HQ. I spoke to a reporter in the United Arab Emirates about tending to your mental health when you’re cooped up inside. I was also on the Radio Health Journal on Sunday talking about how to ease the stress that comes from working at home. Incidentally, the host Reed Pence has a very knowledgeable and soothing voice. He was born to be on the radio. On Tuesday my interview with Andi Simon went live, as did the interview in USA Today, where I was interviewed about employee wellness. Check them out if you’re so inclined.

The Douglas Family is Surviving

On Sunday my daughter made a Devil’s Food cake. It was moist and delicious. She even modified the frosting so it was flavoured with peppermint. By the time this pandemic is over I’m going to have a mini dessert chef on my hands. I will also weigh 300 pounds, but that’s a problem for later.

Right now, the kids are dealing with being cooped up by making nice things. It’s an urge I can understand and support. I also make nice things when I need to cope, which explains why I’m designing a sweater as my pandemic activity. My son is making a rope ladder. My husband bought a mini fire pit. He told the kids he bought a flame thrower. They were severely disappointed to find out what it actually was. On the other hand, we can now roast marsh mellows on our patio and pretend we’re camping. I’ll take all the breaks from the news I can get.

How are you doing? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Doing Our Best Cooped Up at Home

If you have to sit at your kitchen table, take extra stretch breaks. Your back will thank you later. Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

On Tuesday I was making lunch for my kids when the song We Speak No Americano came on, and we had to pause lunch to hold a dance party. It wasn’t a planned thing. I just started grooving while putting mayonnaise on bread, and glanced at the children to see that they were also dancing. Nobody was fighting or complaining. We didn’t even say anything to each other. We just danced.

It was a perfect moment in a week that’s had it’s ups and downs. At one point this week I shouted “No I’m not making cookies! I realize I make this whole working and parenting thing look easy, but it’s not!” It was not my finest moment. I made up for it a day later by teaching the kids to make apple pie.

These are stressful times, and we’re all going to say or do something we wish we hadn’t. All we can do is pick ourselves back up again and try to do better. I find that it’s a lot easier to be patient if I find small ways to recharge. I thought I would share some of the things I do when I need a break. After that I’ll share some of the articles I wrote to help you if you find yourself working at home for the first time.

Ways to Recharge

Craft. Long time readers of this blog know I like to knit. There’s something life affirming about creating an object stitch by stitch when the world seems to be unraveling. Some people stress bake. I stress knit. I once knit an entire sweater in three weeks because doing so kept me from saying some truly unfortunate things.

If knitting isn’t your thing, try something else. Many people swear by drawing or sewing or painting. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, you can find lessons on You Tube. Now is a great time to pick up a new skill.

Workout. I love to run. Not everybody does, and some of us can’t leave our homes right now. There are a lot of exercise apps out there that can help you break a sweat and work through corona-angst. I can’t do HIIT or I get injured, so I focus on stretching and strengthening when I work out indoors. There are a lot of folks streaming exercise routines over the internet. Try a few things until you find the activity that works for you.

Connect. I said this last week but it bears repeating. Find people to call or text. Talking to others gets you out of your own head. Humans are social creatures, and you need to feed the beast.

But please, for the sake of everyone, don’t feed the beast by yelling at people online. Instead, look for ways to help. Serving others is empowering during a time when many of us are feeling a little powerless.

I try to help by writing how-to articles. And I’ve been on a writing bender because giving people tips they can use helps me cope. Here are some of the things I’ve written, or interviews I’ve given, to try and help ease the shock of working from home unexpectedly.

If Your’re Working From Home Unexpectedly, This Might help

Last night I published Tips for Managing Temporary Remote Teams in The Startup on Medium. I published it there instead of here because more people will see it if they need it. In that article I talk about management do’s and don’ts, and what you should think about when transitioning to remote work.

Tuesday The Muse ran my article 7 Tips for Working From Home With Kids When Coronavirus Has Shut Everything Down. One of the tips in there is to use noise cancelling headphones if you can’t work in a separate space. I wrote much of that article while wearing noise cancelling headphones, my 9 year old son playing Minecraft at my side. They work.

The New York Post quoted me in two different articles. I liked the reporters’ takes in both Here’s How To Cope If You Need to Work From Home and Everything You Need to Know About Working From Home During Coronavirus because they focused on people living in small spaces, who don’t have a lot of money to spend.

There are more things waiting in the wings, including a very exciting announcement that I’m not supposed to talk about yet. I can’t wait to share it with you though. More on that soon.

That’s it for this week. I hope you and yours stay safe and well.

Physical Distance Doesn’t Have to Mean Social Isolation

Photo by Afta Putta Gunawan from Pexels

My son had 24 books ready to pick up at the local library. I didn’t know this when I went to pick up his stash. There I was, with my one inadequate canvas bag, ruing the day I taught that child how to do a simple catalog search. He’s a ‘more is more’ sort of kid. I swear he requested every Minecraft book in the entire library system.

Still, the one bag might have held everything if I hadn’t promised to pick up a new series called The Unwanteds for my daughter. And of course I had books waiting to be picked up. So maybe this is more of a ‘apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ sort of situation.

I wear red in a town that loves grey. I’m already conspicuous. But today, the three other people in the library were giving me the side eye for a different reason as I lined up my stacks of books at the self checkout. It was like they thought I was trying to prepare for a quarantine. Or maybe a toilet paper shortage.

Really, if I was going to buy up irrational amounts of anything, it would be tea and chocolate. Some would argue I already do. I don’t hang out with those people any more.

All joking aside, I wanted to talk about something you should be collecting for a possible long stint inside your house.

We Should Call it Physical Distancing, Not Social Distancing

Unless you live under a rock outside of wifi range, you’ve heard the term social distancing. And the thing I don’t like about this term is that it conflates physical togetherness with social togetherness. There’s a reason we do that of course. Most of us gather in physical groups in order to be social. Getting together is fun.

But we don’t have to gather physically to hang out with people. And that’s important if we need to stay home. One of the number one struggles remote workers face is feeling isolated. Fortunately there are things you can do now to fight this particular issue down the road.

Far Away But Still Ready for a Close Up

Thrive Global has an excerpt from my book called How to Connect Socially With Your colleagues, Even While You’re Working Remotely that you can read for free. It focuses on the world of work, but a lot of the advice can be adapted to purely social gatherings.

For instance, you don’t need to be a business to download video conferencing software. Skype, Zoom, and Whereby all have free versions. Load one onto your device. Then set up standing appointments to meet up with your friends and family over video calls.

Holding a happy hour over video feels a little awkward at first, but I can tell you from first hand experience that you soon get over it. And talking to friends on social media isn’t always enough. We need to see each other’s faces. Consider doing this even if you live with other people. I love my children, but there is an upper limit to the amount of Minecraft chat that I can listen to and stay sane. I’m sure there are other people out there in the same boat.

And if you try it out, drop me a line and let me know how it goes. I’ll be over here planning video calls with far away family and tripping over the Minecraft books covering the floor of my house.

Remote in the Time of CoronaVirus

Yes you need the right tools, but this is still a people issue.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On Wednesday, my eldest child came stomping into the living room to declare that her brother farted on her book, and she was forced to wash it because it “Stunk SO bad!” I double checked that no books were harmed in the cleaning process, and thought ‘I really hope we aren’t cooped up in the house because of COVID.’ Half of my parenting strategy involves yelling “Go play outside!” when they get too fidgety indoors. I’ll have to be a better parent if we must quarantine inside. Or we’ll need to re-institute the indoor laps the kids used to run when they were toddlers.

I’m luckier than many. My job is already fully remote, my husband and I know how to work while both of us are home, and none of us have any underlying health conditions. We bought our (small) box of non perishable foods and extra toilet paper to augment the emergency supplies we already had in storage. And most importantly, I have a lifetime supply of yarn, books, and other craft supplies at the ready. As far as I’m concerned this makes me a hard-core survivalist. 

In the Right Place at the Right Time

Still, it’s been a wild week. On Friday my publicist said that a reporter from CNN wanted to talk to me. On Monday morning she interviewed me about staying productive if you have to work from home due to CoronaVirus. Later that evening I spoke to someone from the New York Post about remote work. (That story isn’t live yet at the time of this writing). Monday was also the day that my article on how to rock your first month at your new remote job went live at Training Magazine, so it was a big news day for me personally. This is all heady stuff for this poor kid from San Jose.  

Both reporters focused on the concrete things employees can do now to prepare for remote work. What we didn’t talk about were the emotions. And folks, we need to talk about the emotions.

How to Mess Up Remote Work

There are two main ways to fail at remote. You can 1) fail to provide the right tools, and 2) fail to provide the right employee support. It’s a lot easier to fix the former because your employees will tell you if they don’t have the right software at home. They are far less likely to tell you that your management style leaves them feeling like you don’t trust them to do their work.

This is true under normal circumstances. But we aren’t dealing with normal circumstances. They folks who go remote due to COVID will be under additional pressure.

Remote, Without a Support Structure

There will likely be a lot of people who feel well enough to work, who must stay home. Perhaps they’ve been exposed to the virus, or have to care for a sick relative. Perhaps their child’s school has closed.

Regardless of the circumstances, most companies will have people who are trying to work with family or housemates in the background. The single biggest service a manager can do for her team is to acknowledge that these are extraordinary circumstances. No one will be at their best, but together, you will do your best. Someone’s kid is going to scream the second they come off of mute. Someone’s internet isn’t going to be as good as advertised. Provide some forgiveness up front, and your team will forgive you when you inevitably hit a snag.

None of us asked for this. But if you play your cards right, your team will come out the other end stronger, and united.