Sometimes Multitasking is a Bad Idea

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels Image: Asian woman in workout clothes checks watch and looks at cell phone.

We’ll start with a remote work cautionary tale.

Last week I contacted someone in a Facebook writing group I’m in to talk about a passion project I’ll launch in Fall. It’s an audio literary magazine for Latinx writers, and this person offered to help get it off the ground.

I was in a hurry. My message was a little meandering, and I hit send before checking my spelling. We were using Facebook Messenger. I assumed that a few spelling errors would be fine on an informal message asking when she might have time to chat.

Mistakes Were Made

Well. I left out the word ‘mag’ (short for magazine) in the URL I manually typed into messenger. Then, iPhone autocorrect helpfully separated the three-word URL into separate words and decided the last word was a website. Only it couldn’t find a website spelled the way I spelled it, so it made its best guess.

Folks, it linked to a Latinx porn site. But that wasn’t the worst thing.

Not only had I just sent a professional contact —a contact I’d only spoken to once before, mind you—a porn link, I did it in my chiropractor’s office. He was taking a long time to come into the room, and I panicked. Was I on the office wifi? Did his admin person call him over to see what I was watching in his patient room? I’ve knit baby bonnets and booties for this man’s children.

Visions of his wife picking up the knitted socks with salad tongs and throwing them into the fire roared up in my head.

Did you know that you can’t delete Facebook Messenger chats off your phone? You have to do that on a laptop. This is a real big oversite. Maybe the functionality was there but I couldn’t see it while I was panicking and my eyes were (metaphorically) bleeding.

How Did I Get Here

I consider myself a remote work pro, but I made a rookie mistake. Namely, I decided not to check my message for the right tone and spelling. Had I done so, I would have caught the spellcheck disaster before it happened.

More importantly, I didn’t honour the way I like to work. Some people enjoy blending their personal life and work tasks. That’s not my style. I like to keep things compartmentalized. Personally, I’m faster, less stressed and more accurate if I focus 100% on work tasks during designated work periods. The only thing I should have been doing in my chiropractor’s office was knitting.

The answer is always more knitting.

The real point of this long-winded story is that each of us has a preferred way to work. Figure out your preferences, and honour them as much as possible. Right now, some folks can’t have what they need to be happy remote workers. You’re working and caring for kids. Perhaps you’re stuck working in your home when you’d rather work from a coffee shop. Or the countryside.

I wish I could wave a wand and change that for you. Until then, figuring out what you want in your post-Pandemic office will help you get there more quickly once we’re on the other side.

Fortunately my chiropractor did NOT kick me out for accidentally linking to a porn site on my phone, and the person I contacted on Facebook messenger forgave my gaff. This could have ended so differently. Maybe I’ll look back and laugh about this? Someday?

What’s That Douglas up To?

I have something like four-ish pieces that have been accepted for print but won’t see the light of day until the summer.

But the biggest, most exciting news is that I’m getting my first dose of Pfizer on Wednesday, May 12th. I knit a new top for the occasion. It matches my teal face mask and I bought some teal eyeliner so I can be matchy-matchy. This will be my own personal Golden Globes event, where the prize for one vaccine goes to ME.

Silliness: A Home Office Secret Weapon?

Because Who Needs Another Self Improvement Project?

Image of me and my son wearing fake moustaches.

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

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

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

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

In a Home Office No One Can See Your Cowboy

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

Either would harsh your entire groove.

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

Bring a Little Playfulness to Your Day

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

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

Or perhaps you can balance an orange on your forehead.

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

What’s That Douglas Up To?

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

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

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

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

What Kenny Rogers Can Tell Us About Working Remotely

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

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

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

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

Kenny Rogers Gets It

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

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

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

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

What’s That Douglas Up To?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.