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.
Not all stories are safe. Some have fangs and claws and they bite.
I have an MFA in fiction, which makes me an actual, professional B.S-er. I make stuff up. Worse, I’ve done it for money. Not much money, mind you; creative writing isn’t like trading stocks–but I have exchanged words for lucre on more than one occasion.
And yet, recently, at a friend’s dinner table, when asked to tell the story of my family coming from Mexico to the United States, I edited out certain details. Here’s the thing about stories–and any dictator can tell you it’s so: Stories are not safe. They have claws and fangs and they bite.
When I think of my relatives coming to the United States from Mexico, I always think of my paternal grandfather. His story is the most vivid, and I only know it because of a school assignment. I was supposed to interview someone older than 65, and at the time, the only person who qualified was my great grandmother, who spoke no English. My grandfather agreed to translate. Grandpa wanted me to become a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher. If my school wanted a story about someone older than 65, then I would get that story.
Things started off tame enough. I don’t remember everyone who was in my grandparents’ house at the time, but a bunch of us were sitting on the plastic covered couches as I rattled off my list of questions. Where were you born, how many siblings did you have, blah blah blah.
The problems started when I began asking questions about my great grandmother as a young woman. She could remember her childhood home perfectly, but when I asked about anything from her teens to early twenties, she claimed she didn’t remember. This included the story about the birth of my grandfather. And how he came to be born as a US citizen. This incensed grandfather. He promptly took over telling the story.
My grandfather wasn’t a particularly nice man. He was a survivor, a fighter. I wasn’t afraid of him because he saved his rough words for adults, but he wasn’t the guy who let you climb all over him either.
Which made it all the more shocking when he began to cry. I like to think that telling his story was cathartic. The words came out so fast that it was hard to write them all down. I will never know. He never referred to his history again in my hearing, and he died five years ago. My dad later told me that he had never heard some of the things grandfather said that day.
As a Sophomore in high school I didn’t really understand the depth of what my grandfather gave to me. The events he talked about were, at that time, almost forty years in the past, but anybody with eyes to see could tell that his story still made him bleed when he thought about it. Even as a teenager, some instinct of family protection made me edit the story into a safer form. And now?
Is this my story to tell? The man quite literally gave it to me. I will tell it to my children because it is a part of who they are. I may even tell it to my friends in certain circumstances. But not at a dinner with acquaintances, curious about my exotic (to Canadians) heritage. It isn’t a comfortable story. And it isn’t just another episode of Game of Thrones, packaged for public consumption.
This story’s fangs bite me too. I didn’t know that until my friend’s dinner party. It’s my story, and I’m not telling it to you.