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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the Remote Workforce, no one can Feel your sneeze
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
I’m flying out early Thursday morning to speak at the University of North Carolina about remote work. The two talks use some material from my book, mixed with my personal experience as a remote manager and employee. I’m honored to speak about how to survive and thrive as a remote manager and employee. I’m also looking forward to networking with colleagues I met during my MBA program. I’ll be jet lagged but it’s going to be totally worth it. Chapel Hill is a lovely place.
Not Everyone Wants to be a Digital Nomad
Even though I can work from anywhere with wifi, I usually work inside my home. I like my home office. As someone said on Twitter the other day, when people say they want to travel and work, they usually mean a few trips a year. I am definitely in that category. The last time I had to travel for work was 2014. Flying out of country twice in the space of two weeks is a refreshing change of pace–but I’m glad it isn’t my lifestyle.
The Kids Don’t Like my Work Trips
My son informed me that I ‘have too many trips,’ and the comment made me feel both guilty and grateful. Guilty because I am really looking forward to mixing and mingling without having to worry about cooking dinner or getting people off to school. Grateful because my son has no idea how much more of me he sees because I work from home. I like that my children can take my presence for granted.
I also like that while I can work while traveling, I don’t have to. I could complete my analyst duties while waiting in the airport, or late at night after the UNC event, but I won’t. It’s unplug time. In between my talks and the seminars I’ll attend, I plan to catch up on my New York Times subscription, knit, and perhaps write the start of the next book that is churning in my back brain. All these things are possible because I work for a company with a great vacation policy.
Or maybe I won’t do any of that. Maybe I’ll be too busy connecting in person with the people and the place I haven’t seen since 2014. I’m going to keep the next few days wide open for serendipity. I’m sure there will be plenty to tell you when I get back.
Whether it’s you or your coworker leaving, it’s important to say goodbye. Here’s how to put the ‘good’ in goodbye.
A few weeks ago, a colleague left our company to start a new job. It was a bittersweet ending–I was both happy for her and sorry to lose a Slack chat buddy. As much as I’ll miss my colleague–we’ll call her ‘Andi’–I’m grateful for the care she took when she prepared to leave the company.
In an in-person office, there are often clues that someone is leaving their job. At the very least, someone may escort the employee to the door, box of personal items in hand. Under happier circumstances, you might attend a goodbye lunch, or sit in the person’s cubicle at the end of the day, reminiscing about old times.
In the remote space, there are no incidental visual cues. You may not notice that someone has left until you send an email or chat message and it bounces back.
This can be unsettling for both the people who leave and the people who stay. If you’re the one leaving and no one says anything, is it because everyone secretly hates you? As the colleague left behind, you may also have questions. Did your coworker get fired? Are you next? And who is your new point of contact?
Whether you’re the one leaving or the one sticking around, it’s important to build in a sense of closure.
When You’re the One Leaving
Andi did a great job of preparing her team for her departure. After telling her manager, she made several video calls to break the news to her closest coworkers. Other folks received an instant message or an email from her. And on her last day, she sent a general email wishing us all a fond farewell.
The approach you take will be dictated by the circumstances of your departure. It’s obviously easier to give closure to your colleagues if leaving is your idea. If your workplace and coworkers are hostile, you may decide that they don’t deserve a fond farewell.
Take a moment to think about the people you know in your company before writing them all off. The beauty of the remote workforce is that you can choose to email the one or two folks that might matter to you, and ignore the rest.
Your remote setting gives you total control over how much interaction you have with your soon-to-be former coworkers. If you want (or wouldn’t mind) answering questions about why you’re leaving or what you’re doing next, set up video calls. If you don’t want to get into ANY of the details, send an email that briefly informs people that you’re leaving, and then details who the new point person will be for your tasks.
Instant message is that half step between these two extremes. You can answer questions while filtering out some of the emotional intensity you or the other person might feel. Be aware that most company-owned instant messaging apps, channels, and software are not private. You might not care about burning bridges, but your coworker might not feel the same way.
Consider whether or not you want to keep in contact with your ex-colleagues. In the age of social media, leaving a job no longer means losing track of people you care about. Think about all of the social networks you are on, and weigh the level of professional vs personal information you share on those networks. Are you comfortable with your ex-colleagues seeing what you post? If so, you might want to include your social media handles in your targeted farewell emails.
When Your Colleague is Leaving
It can be all too easy to let your colleague leave without making a point of saying goodbye. You may be uncertain if someone chose to give notice, or if someone else made the decision for them. If your colleague is being laid off, you may think that it’s better to give the person some space.
Your coworker might not want to talk to you or anyone else. There is a difference, though, between making someone talk to you, and telling someone that you’ll miss them. Most of us would want to know that our coworkers would miss us if we left. This is especially true if we were laid off or fired. Sending an email that simply says ‘I heard you’re leaving and I’m sorry to see you go. I wish you nothing but the best,’ takes very little time to write, but might give someone a boost during a tough time.
If you don’t know the departing colleague well, that email will likely be all you do to say goodbye. If you’ve worked with this person on a regular basis, you might want to suggest that you’re willing to meet with the person over video. Adding ‘I’ll understand if you don’t have any time to talk, but my (video/IM) door is open at any time before you leave’ to your email is a tactful way to suggest a meeting without putting the person in an awkward position. As an aside, don’t add this to your email unless you’re actually willing to meet.
It can be tricky to figure out if you should offer to continue the relationship over social media. No one wants to make the first move, only to find out that the other party isn’t that interested in you. Remember, though, that the person is leaving the company. If you guess wrong (and they don’t want to stay in touch) it isn’t as if you’ll have to see them every day.
If the person is worth the possibility of a little momentary embarrassment, saying something like ‘I’m not sure if you’re on social media, but here is my social media handle in case you are’ puts the onus on them to follow up.
When to Consider Throwing a Goodbye Event
The person leaving is your direct report. Unless the person is leaving due to performance issues, holding some sort of goodbye event is a classy thing to do. Perhaps you’re upset with the person for leaving. Your reaction to your employee’s departure will send a message to the rest of the team. Do you want your team to think that you the sort of leader who will prevent people from growing in their career? Do you like getting more than two weeks’ notice? The rest of your team will note your reaction and plan accordingly.
Perhaps your company forced you to lay someone off. You may have agonized over deciding who had to leave. You may be dealing with feelings of guilt and remorse. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of doing the right thing for your team. They need your help navigating through this tough situation. This is especially true if you’ve done a good job fostering a sense of camaraderie. Help your people to say goodbye.
There are situations where it isn’t appropriate to hold a goodbye party. In such cases, it may be appropriate to acknowledge your direct report at the last team meeting. Take the employee’s state of mind into account. If the person is completely opposed to attending an event, or acting hostile, then skip it.
If your departing employee is willing to attend an event, there are ways to keep things from getting too awkward. Consider reaching out to the person ahead of time to see if they want to say anything to the team. They may not want to. Reach out to the rest of your direct reports and see if they want to say a few words.
If nothing else, you should prepare your own comments. Acknowledge the length of the person’s employment, mention anything you appreciate about the person’s work, and wish them well. If no one wishes to talk, then end the meeting early. In any case, end the meeting when the conversation begins to lag. Goodbyes can be tough, but keeping them brief can prevent them from becoming painful.
The person is leaving for a happy reason, and no one else is throwing a party. Some people are terrible at saying goodbye. I’ve worked at companies where people act as if giving your two weeks’ notice is admitting to an infidelity. Perhaps this attitude made more sense when people were given a job for life. It’s hypocritical if the company has ever laid someone off. Your job is not your spouse. It’s okay to leave if you find something better.
Before you set off to plan your rogue goodbye party, ask around to see if anyone else is already doing so. This is also a good time to find out if your colleague has friends in other departments who might want to come. Put a video meeting on the calendar, and tell people they can come and go at will. Try to find some outgoing person to help you keep the conversational ball rolling. It might make sense to ask a few people to come prepared to tell their favorite story about the person who’s leaving.
Whether you’re leaving your company or your coworker is leaving, it’s important to say goodbye. Doing so can help you and those around you to work through difficult feelings and find closure. It may feel awkward in the moment, but taking the time to say goodbye will help you honor your past and clean your slate for the next phase in your professional life.
Remote workers get to take charge of the rhythm of their days. It’s what keeps many of us working in our office of one.
Recently on Twitter, someone asked what would have to change if remote workers stopped working from home. For some reason the question really caught my attention. Here is my list of things I would have to give up if I went back to a traditional office.
#1: Singing While I Work
Nothing helps me power through a a tedious job quite like belting out some of my favorite tunes. I’m sure I had a different coping mechanism when I worked in cubical land, but I can’t remember what it was so (probably) it was less awesome. Sadly, it wouldn’t matter how much I enjoy Lady Marmalade. No one wants to hear that in an open office.
I’ve heard of offices where you can’t listen to music at all. A friend of mine works at an office where you aren’t even allowed to wear headphones. I wouldn’t last long in a place that uses that level of micro control over its employees.
#2: The Continuous (Audible) Commentary
I would either have to learn to be less judgmental or go back to filtering what I say. It isn’t that I talk to myself per se–I’m more like that person who watches a movie and says stuff like ‘Watch out!’ to the characters on the screen. Only, my commentary is more along the lines of ‘oh no you didn’t just try that,’ as I’m reading my email.
#3: Wearing What I Want
The dress code at Douglas HQ is whatever I say it is. I am not one of those folks who wears pajamas all day. I usually rock a button down top and jeans, paired with fabulous hand-knitted socks. There is the occasional ‘top hat Friday.’ The added fabulousness makes up for the workout clothes I wear while I cool down from my run.
I enjoy getting dressed for work. My clothes are as comfortable as they are appropriate for my role. I can take a surprise video call at any hour of my workday without feeling like 10 pounds crammed into a five pound sack.
#4: My Office, My Rules
I have a large medal and racing bib holder on the wall behind my office chair. My office is filled with plants, a rowdy Beta fish named Mac, and books on knitwear design, management, and running. I have a funky orange throw on my office chair. My office is full of color, pictures of my kids, and souvenirs from the places and people I have visited over the years.
My office pleases me. And I don’t have to explain to anyone why I have a pair of robots dressed like Wesley and Buttercup from the Princess Bride. I keep them out of camera range. I feel that if you have to ask, then you won’t understand the answer anyway.
#5: Enforceable Focus Time
My entire career has been spent in roles where I am the nexus between people and processes. To put it in less lofty terms, I’m a choke point for several different departments. Back in my old office days I would voluntarily get into work at 6am on Fridays just so I could work without getting my elbow jogged every 3 minutes. I would eat lunch out so people wouldn’t drop by my cube to ask work questions while I was eating.
Now, when I want focus time, I turn off all of my notifications. If I work while eating my lunch, it’s because I chose to go running on my lunch break. My time isn’t always my own, but generally I am the boss of the rhythm of my day. All jokes about singing and top hats aside (though that stuff is totally true) THIS is why I love my remote office.
At the end of the day, working remotely allows me to be myself at work. I can indulge in my love of wacky office decorations and pop music knowing that my choices don’t impinge on anyone else’s concentration. I love the freedom to concentrate or connect with others on my own terms. It’s a lifestyle I wouldn’t willingly give up.