How to Tell if Your Remote Company Culture Needs a Reboot

Does your company culture energize or suck the life out of workers? Photo of a woman sleeping at her desk by Marcus Aurelius via Pexels

In the 1996 movie ‘Phenomenon,’ John Travolta plays George Malley, an ordinary man who develops the ability to learn and retain everything he reads. In one scene, he’s sitting in his house when some neighbors drive up and wave a book at him. “George!” They yell, “We need you to learn Portuguese!”

For many, the pandemic in March was our collective George Malley moment. We were going about our lives when suddenly we had to work remotely without a social safety net. Those first few months we were in survival mode. There was no time for deep thought or best practices. Business leaders and employees needed hacks and cheat sheets, not an esoteric conversation about meaning and fulfilment in remote work.

But here we are on the cusp of August. And honestly, some people still don’t have a lot of space for deep questions. Some of us are working while parenting. Others are trying to work in cramped living conditions, or in the ringing silence of isolation. Employees who haven’t been laid off are doing the work of multiple people. And all of us are dealing with the psychological effects that come from living in a pandemic.

Lead with Curiosity First

Good news for the time-strapped: Rebooting a culture doesn’t start with a grand gesture or a ten-point plan. Begin with reflection. When your company is at it’s best, what does that look like? Is the company friendly and productive? Energetic and data-driven? Write down some descriptive words or sentences.

Next, think about what those qualities look like on a day to day basis. If you said your company at its best is ‘a safe place to collaborate and try new things,’ then you might expect to see employees at all levels leading projects. Or perhaps you would see leadership asking for–and acting on–honest feedback. Write these ideas down as well.

There’s one very important caveat to keep in mind as you work through this exercise. It’s all too easy to stray from neutral actions into overly prescriptive descriptions of the “right” way to work.

Let’s take collaboration as an example. Saying ‘I expect that employees in a collaborative culture would reach out to different stakeholders when working on a project’ is neutral. Saying ’employees in collaborative cultures brainstorm in daily live meetings’ assumes that this is the only way to collaborate. Stick with the former and avoid the latter.

Next, Observe Your Company’s Current State

Once you have your list, it’s time to observe your remote company culture in action. When a company is distributed, it often uses different channels to communicate and disseminate information. Look at email strings, instant messaging chats, and video meetings. You might find it helpful to create a column for each communication channel and take notes over a period of time. How (and when) do employees and leaders talk to each other? Who gets to ask questions? Who influences decisions? What is the general tone in each medium?

Once you have this information, compare the results to your pre-pandemic company culture. Do things look better, the same, or worse than before COVID? Try to disprove your results. For example, you may decide that your company culture is just as collaborative now as it was before the pandemic, because you see employees talking through projects on Slack. Ask yourself, ‘Are the same three people influencing all of our project decisions? Are any groups consistently silent–or absent–during the collaborative process?’

As many of us have recently learned, testing can come with false positives and false negatives. Putting your conclusions through a second level of scrutiny can help you to minimize the level of error.

So how does your company culture stack up? Does your culture need a reboot? In my next post, we’ll discuss things you can do to tweak company culture, even if you aren’t the person in charge.

Behind the Scenes: Goings-On in the Douglas HQ

For those of you who are here just for the business articles, I’ll see you next week. The rest of this is pure frivolity.

Image is of three out of four Douglases laying out on a blanket at the beach. The fourth one was out swimming. Some of us were more excited to be there than others.

First, and most pressing, we are still pet rat-less. And my Betta fish of two and a half years died. I bought Mac the fish when he was already mature, so I’m hoping this was old age, but between the lack of rats and the death of my fish, I feel like I’m in the middle of a COVID-themed country song. The kids were less disappointed this week because I did a better job of managing their expectations. Fingers crossed that I have more rats in my house next week. And who would have ever thought that sentence would come out of my keyboard? Weird times, y’all. Weird times.

In more positive news, I won a grant to bring kids’ books to my local community. I run two little free libraries in my neighborhood and I asked the fine folks at UTown for funds to buy books for 6-12-year-olds. Saturday is the day I get to purchase the books. Next week I’ll start dispensing them. Feel free to call me Teresa Claus, because that’s what I feel like right now.

The kids are taking more online classes. About three weeks into my satire class I noticed that my son is basically trying to build his own comedy skits. So I put him in improv. As one does. He loves it, and we’ll probably continue with it once the school year starts. My daughter is taking Spanish from a teacher from Mexico. That last bit is important to me because I want her to pronounce things the way my family does. We can’t visit our loved ones in the States, but at least we can cuddle up to our shared heritage.

Hasta la próxima semana.

Performance Reviews and Robots

Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

Good morning! I’m writing a short post today to share some of the writing I published last week in other places. I was working on a different post for today but sadly, my time this week was spent kicking some spam bots off my blog.

Incidentally, if you’re a subscriber who hasn’t re-subscribed to my blog AND clicked the link in the confirmation sent to your email (I sent out a note about that Monday July 20th), this is the last one you’ll get in your email before I retire the old list. You can sign up again over on the right side of my website. Check your spam folder for the confirmation email. Dang bots.

How Do We Rate People Working in a Pandemic?

In this article, I talk about whether we should hold people accountable for underperformance during the current crisis. Managers, please ask yourself, ‘Is this person really the problem, or am I trying to fire the virus?’

Satire About Micro Managers

Last month I enrolled in a satire class from The Second City. Before I did so, I wrote a comic personal essay about finding accidental alone time via dyeing my hair in my bathroom. I realized after writing that essay that I don’t really know the common structures for humour. So I remedied that gap in my knowledge. Humour–especially short humour–is a tricky beast. Which makes it addictively interesting if you’re me.

In any event, I published this piece on a humour site called Robot Butt. Satire is the humour of outrage, and it probably comes as no surprise that I am outraged by micromanagers.

Summer Writing

I’d forgotten what life was like before I had to educate my children and work at the same time. The kids’ last day of school was June 25. A week after school ended I wrote both of the pieces linked to this article, plus an assigned article that hasn’t been published yet, and a couple of satire pieces that aren’t yet ready to shop around. It’s like all of the creative energy I funnelled into making my circumstances work turned into a creative writing tsunami.

Summer Learning

I swore that I wasn’t going to put my kids into online summer camp. We’ve had enough online class to last us the entire summer, thank you very much. Then I saw a ‘how to make mods in Minecraft’ class that had some good reviews and decided to let the kids do that for a week.

And you know what? The class was fabulous. And required very little involvement from me. I shouldn’t be surprised by this. When you approach remote work thoughtfully, you can have great outcomes. I’ve been living that dream for the last 10+ years. Remote learning is no different. If there are educators or decision makers reading this, please–for the sake of kids and parents everywhere–spend this summer researching how established online schools run their classes.

Pandemic Pets

We’ve also become the people who get pets in a pandemic. It’s Friday morning as I write this, and I’ll find out this afternoon if the pet rats we’re getting from a breeder are ready to go home with us.

I made the mistake of telling the kids about the rats two weeks ago. In my defence, I had to set up the three storey rat palace in their bedroom, and that isn’t the kind of thing you can tell them to ignore. The rats were supposed to be ready for us last Friday. If you have kids, you can imagine what happened when we found out that they weren’t ready yet. Here’s hoping I have better news for next week’s blog.

The First Rule About Fight Club

Two people doing fake karate moves at sunset. Photo by Snapwire on Pexels

Sunday I sprained my hand. I would love to say that I did it while landing a wicked punch at Fight Club, but we all know the first rule about Fight Club, so my hands are tied. Metaphorically. I definitely didn’t do it by putting my hand down on my mattress and preparing to get up. Nope. That would be too embarrassing.

So in an effort to rest my hands, you’re getting pictures of my trip to Vancouver Island. British Columbia moved to stage 3 of our Covid response. This means we’re allowed to travel within the province for fun if we can maintain social distancing and proper pandemic hygiene.

We took a ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. Why are these two places named the same thing? Was George Vancouver compensating for something? We may never know. In any event, BC Ferries asked everyone to stay in their cars if possible during the passage, so our ride looked a lot like getting through Seattle traffic.

Photo of parks parked close together. There is no difference between I5 and sitting still on the Ferry

While we were there I did a video interview with a news outlet I’m not going to name because I don’t know if my part of the video is going to be used. I was out in the country on terrible wifi, talking about remote work. Very meta.

I thought about the folks at Grow Remote, working to make distributed work a reality for rural communities. I don’t know if I would move to a rural area if I had strong internet, but people who want to get away from cities, or move back to the hometown they love, should have that option. Some of us city-folk would love to rent a place for the summer if we could rely on the internet. The video quality of my interview was pretty bad. I probably won’t be included in the montage. Still, the porch was lovely.

Turns out this porch was perfect for writing, and playing guitar. In the background is a vegetable garden.

There’s something so bewitching about new places after spending so much time within 5k of my own home.

Photo of children on a country road. On the way to see the horses.

Vacationing on a farm is such a city-kid thing to do. I freely admit it. You could tell who grew up rural in my team call when I mentioned my vacation plans. My fellow city-dwellers thought it was a great idea. A colleague who grew up on a farm looked at me like I was crazy. She doesn’t like chickens. I was afraid to ask what went down. I didn’t want to have nightmares.

The kids fed dandelion greens to the horses. Apparently they’re nutritious and very tasty if you’re a horse.

The farmers who rented the cottage to us gave the kids a tour of the barn, social distance style. The kids helped bring in the horses. It looked a lot like following the farm dog as he did the actual work, but nobody seemed to mind. Afterwards they held some baby chicks.

I have this fantasy that someday I’ll own a small-ish bit of land not that far from town. It would have to be big enough for me to have chickens and a dog, and a small vegetable garden. In my mind’s eye, there’s a small studio separate from the house, where I can write and knit in peace. My husband will have his own workshop. I don’t know if I would actually LIKE this lifestyle. All my lived experience is in and around a city. I enjoy getting lost in a crowd. Who knows? Maybe I too would grow to hate chickens.

But for four days and three nights, I lived out that fantasy. And it was fun.

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.

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.

Why Remote Workers Take Fewer Sick Days

In the Remote Workforce, no one can Feel your sneeze

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On Tuesday I woke up feeling like I put on an extra hundred pounds. I stumbled through my morning routine wondering what was wrong with me. I went to bed at a decent hour, but felt like I’d pulled an all-nighter. It wasn’t until later that morning that I realized I was sick. I excused myself from work and slept for another five hours.

On Wednesday I was quasi-sick. That’s when you’re too sick to do more than sit still, but too healthy to sleep. Had I worked in an office separate from my home, I would have had to take another sick day. Instead, I worked through my to-do list, bottle of DayQuil at my elbow.

Most managers new to remote work worry that their employees are slacking. The reality is that most of us work more. Could I have taken another day off? Sure. I didn’t want to. I have things to do. Not having to worry about infecting my colleagues gives me greater control over my paid time off.

It’s not a sick day unless I decide it is, and that’s exactly how I like it.

Access to a Couple of Articles on Remote Work

I may have missed my weekly blog post last week, but that I wasn’t completely unproductive. The Meeting Magazine did a feature on the future of work, and I appear in it. You can find the article on page 34.

Forge, a Medium publication, just published another excerpt of my book ‘Working Remotely.’ This one has to do with email management. It’s called ‘How to Manage Your Inbox.’ As usual, this is the friend link, so you can read the article without the paywall. Do you do something different to manage your inbox? I’d love to hear about it.

I Was On the Radio Again

Last of all, I spoke to Dean Rotbart on the podcast Monday Morning Radio about why remote work is important for small businesses. Can you tell I’m hopped up on DayQuil? I hope not. Don’t tell anyone.

It’s been a privilege appearing so many places to talk about remote work. The biggest privilege, though, is talking to all of you. Thanks for sticking with me, and I’ll see you next week.

One Big Mix

If life is music, then sometimes you have to step up and mix different tracks together like a DJ. Photo by Isabella Mendes from Pexels

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.

Epiphany

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.

What I Wish School Staff Knew About Remote Working Parents

Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

Yesterday I nearly forgot to pick up my kids from school. My only excuse is that it was their first full day back. I had finished work for my day job and was deciding between writing or practicing my guitar when I remembered that I had somewhere to be. 

Technically, I could have waited a little longer before driving to the kids’ school, but I knew that if I left home early enough I could write in the pick up line while I waited. The plan would have worked perfectly, too, if it hadn’t been for those dang kids. My son was on the playground and he saw me drive in. At that point he and his friend spent a good two minutes trying to get my attention before the supervision aide told them to “let your mom chillax in the car!” 

While I appreciate the sentiment, that innocent comment reminded me of all the assumptions school staff make about parents generally and remote workers in particular. We may look like we’re all scrolling through social media in the car, but the truth is a little more nuanced. If you work at a school and want to get more participation from the remote working parents, then here are some things you should know.

Summers Are Stressful 

We remote workers usually have more flexible jobs than our office-based spouses. This usually means we’re the ones who’ve spent the summer attempting to work while the kids are home. It’s tempting to say that teachers work surrounded by children all the time and seem to do okay. However, children are the work in this case, so the comparison isn’t a good one. Picture holding a sensitive parent/teacher conference in the middle of a classroom while surrounded by all the other children in the class. Now picture doing so for 8 hours a day for 40 days. Summers aren’t restful. 

School staff will have a better chance of getting remote workers involved in school activities if they assume we’re exhausted and behind at work. We do want to meet our children’s teachers and school staff. We don’t want to come to multiple events scheduled closely together. Instead of holding a meet the teacher event one week and a back to school BBQ the next, combined those two events into one meet the teacher BBQ. Please and thank you.

Our Remote Jobs Are Real Jobs

I no longer tell my children’s teachers that I work from home. I used to, but I had one particular teacher who took this as a euphemism for ‘unemployed and available for last minute requests’. Now I tell them that I work full time and leave it at that. 

This is a lost partnership opportunity both for me and for any school who has parents that work remotely. We remote workers can flex our schedules around to a greater or lesser extent. Give us enough notice, ask respectfully, and many of us will move things around to help you out. We know that schools are under funded and rely on parent participation to get work done. Some of us chose remote work in order to get more involved with our children’s lives. But that doesn’t mean we can drop everything to attend a field trip with 48 hours notice. 

Be Strategic with Your Requests

Personally, I either need to work late into the night or use a vacation day to make room in my schedule for you. Other remote workers might have to work on the weekend or take a pay hit. There is always a cost. The shorter the notice, the higher the cost. We’re much more likely to volunteer if we can trust that you will minimize that pain for us. 

You’ll Get A Faster Response From Us If You Go Digital

Not everyone has access to the internet at home. I am not suggesting that digital communication replace paper communication. Rather, give us the option to choose electronic communication over paper. Someone creates 90% of those forms on a computer anyway. Send them to us via email or upload them to the school website. 

100% of my children have lost paper permission slips. I think their back packs eat them. It would be really great if six year olds could responsibly manage their own paperwork and day planners. But even some university students can’t do that consistently and they have a much better grasp on reality. My kids don’t always know what day it is. Once, when my son was six, I interrupted him in the middle of tying a jump rope around his neck. The other half was already tied to the stair railing. He thought this was a great way to jump off of the top of the stairs without killing himself. Teaching my kid to give me notices is a lower priority than keeping him from dying. There are only so many hours in the day. 

That may look like an ordinary back pack, but it’s really where permission slips go to die. This is also the only first day of school picture my kids allowed me to share on the internet.

Digital Payments Are a Thing

Last year my children’s school gave us the option to pay for school expenses online. It’s wonderful. Now I get an email when I need to pay something, and I go in and do so. This cuts down on the number of phone calls I get from the school asking if I will allow my daughter to go on the field trip I didn’t even know about. Canadians are indeed a polite people, but they can weaponize that politeness like you wouldn’t believe. I only wish the website came with the ability to sign permission slips, too. A woman can dream. 

Digital Communication is Also a Thing

And speaking of dreams, many of us would love to sign up for things like parent/teacher conferences electronically. Please don’t make us sign a paper taped to the classroom door. Trying to find a parking space at the school during pick up or drop off time is like going to fight club. I have seen people pull up onto the sidewalk right in front of small children, or speed the wrong way down the two lane road, just to grab the last spot in the loading zone. Don’t make me leave the car protecting me from those people. 

I would love to tell my children’s teachers that I have a flexible work schedule. Remote work provides greater opportunity for parental involvement at school. Maybe some day things will change. However, that can only happen if there is respectful, efficient communication between school staff and parents. That sort of healthy relationship starts with a few tweaks to existing assumptions about remote workers. School staff should plan school events strategically. They should provide a variety of options to communicate, pay for items, and sign up for events. If they do so, they may find that more parents—not just remote workers—become more involved in school activities, to the benefit of the children. 

How to Make Professional Connections When You Work Remotely and Don’t Have Colleagues

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

A little while ago I wrote an article to help remote workers network inside their places of employment. I stand by that advice (it’s what I do in my own work life) but that advice comes with a set of assumptions.

First, it assumes that you have coworkers. If you write, freelance or consult, you may only have clients. Second, I focus on connecting within your company. If you plan to work remotely for any length of time, it makes sense to connect to the greater remote community.

This article discusses resources to do just that. The remote community is large and growing. This is not an exhaustive list–these are the places I frequent because they fit my personality. We’ll also discuss some ways to find communities that fit your particular style.

Remote Communities I Think Are Great

These aren’t affiliate links. I’m not compensated in any way for mentioning these groups. I just like them a lot.

Workplaceless

Workplaceless offers training for remote workers, leaders, and companies. They also run a free monthly networking event. I found out about them in June. They’re well put together, last 60 minutes, and run in Zoom. The Workplaceless folks do a great job of organizing the event so strangers can get together and discuss a remote-centric topic without a lot of awkward silence.

June’s topic touched on the physical and mental health issues of remote workers. We spent 30-40 minutes talking about the topic in small groups of 4-6 people. Then we broke into different groups and had an informal networking session for roughly 20 minutes. In July we followed the same format. Only this time, we brainstormed solutions to the issues we discussed in June. The next event is in September and I am definitely going.

#RemoteChat

This is a discussion that Scott Dawson (@workingrem on Twitter) leads on Twitter on Wednesdays. I really enjoy these chats though you would never know it by how often I manage to answer the questions during the actual session. I’m usually the person who starts writing five minutes before the whole thing ends and forgets to add the #remotechat label to my answers half the time. It’s good fun though. I love reading everyone else’s comments. Someday I’ll get my act together and ask Scott to add me to the reminder list. He also wrote a book that just came out called ‘The Art of Working Remotely.’

Virtual Team Talk

Lisette Sutherland runs this Slack group. The link above leads you to a form where you can apply to join. Lisette describes this as a ‘friction-free’ community to discuss topics related to virtual teams. It’s a good place to find out what other folks are doing in the flexible work space. I’ve helped people with their research and they’ve helped me with mine. The group discussion cadence is pretty relaxed. If you hit a busy period and forget to check in for a week or two it doesn’t take long to get caught up again. We all need those drama-free zones. This one is mine.

Remote AfterWorks

I haven’t actually attended one of these yet, but Laurel Farrer described them to me and it’s my intent to attend one. It’s an in-person meet up of remote workers and thought leaders to discuss the future of location-flexible work. If you go to the link above you can see what the folks in San Francisco will be talking about. It all sounds terribly interesting. If you’re in the SF area, go and then tell me how you liked it.

Ways to Find Remote Work Communities

Everyone is different, and you might decide that the groups I’ve listed above aren’t for you. Each group has it’s own personality and you’ll know when you find your tribe. I thought it might be useful to describe how I found mine so you can find yours.

Cast Your Net Wide

There’s an expression that says ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ I find most of my connections by leading with curiosity. Most of us have a preferred way to learn. I like to read things, so I spent a lot of time reading books and articles about remote work.

If you like to listen to learn, do a search for remote work podcasts. I took a look on my iPhone’s podcast app and on Spotify, and the search term ‘remote work’ gave me lots of results. My favorite is 21st Century Work Life, but you do you.

If you want to add face to face interactions into your remote work life, search for meet ups near you. You can use sites like meetup.com, or join a local coworking space. Many of them have mixers or happy hours for their members.

Engage Often

Once you find people whose work you like, find them on social media. And then start commenting on their posts. Those of us who create content and source articles would love to hear what you think of them. Speaking for myself, I love it when people share their thoughts if they’re phrased politely. Just remember to keep the comments relevant to the content. I wish it went without saying, but responding to someone’s work with ‘hey I think you’re cute and would love to get to know you better’ isn’t a compliment. It’s creepy. And ‘good job!’ is patronizing.

Instead, find a specific piece of the creative work that you liked, and tell the person why it resonated with you. If the work makes you think of something else that’s relevant, share that. If you learned something new, say so. If you have additional questions after reading/listening/ watching, ask them. If someone just won an award, congratulate them.

Social media gives you many ways to meet people and build professional connections if you’re a reasonable human being. The big name celebrities may never respond to your comments. Plenty of other folks will. The remote work community is full of smart, generous people. I feel very lucky to know some of them.

Making connections outside your office of one can seem intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. Take the time to engage in the remote work conversation. You will find your tribe. All it takes is a little curiosity mixed with persistence. And if you find a great place to meet other remote workers, let me know. I’d love to share in the fun.