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Why Remote Work Won't Last Post-Coronavirus

Let me start off by saying I’m a major advocate for remote work. I’ve been a remote worker for the last decade and it’s absolutely changed my life.

I’m 100% for companies giving remote work a try, especially if they don’t usually allow it, during the outbreak of the coronavirus. It will help people stay safer, and, at some level, keep the economy healthier than if companies simply closed down.

I just don’t expect many companies to stay majorly remote or there to be any major swing toward distributed work because of the current world situation.

But Justin, my company has all the tools we need to work remotely! We use Slack, email, store all our files in the cloud, and even have VPNs to use when we’re on the road. We’re set for remote work! This is the chance to see a major change!

That’s true, but successful remote work doesn’t rest on tooling; it results from culture.

Culture for organizations are the behaviors, attitudes, core values, expectations, and practices modeled and/or enforced by the organization’s leadership. Culture is in essence an atmosphere created by how people think and act.

Coronavirus is not going to change a company’s culture toward remote work. Sure, policy might change, but to have a truly effective remote work culture, lots more has to change than policy.

For example, how many times does a manager drop by your department or desk during a day to “see how things are going?”

Do you ever feel the need to hide the YouTube video you’re watching when someone walks by?

Do you get pulled into meetings by just being at your desk?

Have coworkers been passed up on promotions because they’re “not in the office enough?”

This is culture at work.

Bryan Miles discusses this at length in his book Virtual Culture. He equates cubicles in the office as “playpens for adults.” It’s a staunch opinion, but what he’s knocking on is the culture of fear and control often associated with working in an office at a “traditional” company.

He states,

Cubicles allow managers to keep a close eye on their employees because they keep employees rounded up in one central area that is easy to oversee. This feature is particularly important to some leaders who believe, “If I can’t see my employees, I can’t control them.” They fear this might lead to lower productivity if leaders were to give up centralized office space. (Page 82)

The root of the culture war in organizations that will make remote work successful or not is trust. Are you willing to trust your employees to be productive when you can’t see them?

Giving trust is difficult when you’re not used to it. Giving trust is difficult when you’ve been burned before. Giving trust is difficult when you’re used to being in control.

Enabling remote work in policy only will not change a company that’s not willing to trust employees to provide results without direct oversight.

The nightmare scenario for me is to see a number of companies move to remote work in policy only, try to apply the same culture of control to the workplace by surveillance technologies, and effectively create a controlling environment an order of magnitude worse than working in an office.

The most likely reality is companies will go back to normal operations after seeing remote work as a necessity to survive for a short period.

I hate to be so pessimistic, but organizational culture has to change alongside policy for remote work to truly be successful long-term.

What I do hope is organizations will start to consider what it means to be fully distributed – meaning not just having remote workers, but constructing policies, practices, process, and culture to empower employees to be effective, healthy, and productive while being trusted to work remotely.

Things I've Observed on Six Weeks of Paternity Leave

My employer graciously offers three months of paternity leave for new dads, which I’ve been so very grateful for. My family expanded from two to three kids in November, and the transition, while easier in some ways than with previous kids, is more difficult in others.

I wanted to take a few moments to share some things I’ve observed and learned taking six weeks off from work (with the remaining six taken off part time).

Information Feeds

I’ve taken long breaks from information feeds like Twitter, Facebook, and others before. But in this circumstance, dang, I didn’t realize just how much these feeds were stressing me out. And not even just social media, but my Discourse communities, email, and even the news.

It was really healthy for me to take a long break from these things and try to temper my consumption, but it was quite difficult. I’m sure the challenge was amplified by the lack of sleep an infant brings to the house, too!

Survival Mode

Speaking of sleep, I forgot just how much you go into survival mode when you’re exhausted. It’s all about feeding, eating, feeding, eating, feeding, eating, and sleeping as much as you can. Or something like that.

As a person who dreams a lot and can be ambitious at times, it’s difficult for me to temper my ambitions in seasons like this. But I also think that ambition is what keeps me from sinking into survival mode too deeply.

Overwhelm

I can get overwhelmed. I wouldn’t say easily, but more easily than others at times. While having two young children is enough to keep you on your toes, having a third was more than enough to overwhelm me, and regularly at that. Even without the extra burden of work on my shoulders and having my wife at home, everything usually happens at once and is plenty to put me into an overstressed state.

Books

Partially in response to kicking social media and other feeds to the curb, and partly because I enjoy learning, this time has been filled with reading (or as much as I can). It’s so much easier to pick up a book, or, rather, an eBook on my phone, holding a sleeping baby than it is to watch a television show or something of the sort. I’m coming to the close of my full time off, and I just completed my third book.

Pretty good considering the circumstances!

Stillness

Despite the busyness and stress of this season, the place I keep getting drawn to is one of stillness. The place to let my emotions go, to truly process my day, and to begin to live in a state of presence.

It’s also in this place where my mind begins to chew on new ideas, or old ones being reborn again, creating new possibilities.

Despite being on the edge of survival in the place of absolute overwhelm, there’s still a place of peace and calm I’m able to retreat to and live anew.


There’s a million things I’ve been processing on during my leave – there’s much philosophical musing when there’s an infant around – but, when it comes down to it, I’m simply grateful to have an employer so generous to give me three whole months off (and to use flexibly at that) to be with my family and new baby. I’ve taken a couple of weeks off for both of my prior kids, but having a long leave like this really changes the game. I hope is other employers will consider benefits like this, too.

On Distancing Myself from the Social Internet

Social media evokes a number of feelings for me. Yet lately, the biggest one has been anxiety.

In this season, to me anyway, social media has become like a person who is always negative, has something degrading to say at every moment, and constantly demands my attention to hear it. If there was a real person like this in my life, I would need to set limits on how I handle interactions with them for my own mental health.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Going forward, you’ll find me a few different places.

The internet has the capacity to be a lovely, beneficial place for people to learn, connect, and grow. Some places are not like that, though, so I fully intend to stay away for my own sanity.

I do plan to keep my accounts active, but I will not be reading them. If you need to get in contact with me, feel free to send an email to hello@effectiveremotework.com.

Maybe I’ll come back someday, maybe I won’t. What I do know is when I’ve taken breaks in the past, I’ve felt happier, more alive, and able to focus.

2020 is a year to stabilize my life, and this is one of many steps to do so. Onward!

Departures

I.

Meeting new friends is always an experience, especially on a road trip. It’s funny how the Internet has enabled people who would otherwise be perfect strangers to have a level of connection enough to ride in a car for 24 hours together. You get to know people that way, in the compressed timeframe of a road trip.

The trip was long, but highly anticipated. I was to meet some internet heroes of mine, as well as be in a crowd of people where I know no one but who I came with.

I was pretty intimidated, yet I figured out how to get over it with sleep, an array of great questions, and a choice not to listen to fear. Most people I had no more than a passing conversation with; however, a few folks stuck around a little longer, allowing me to forge ever so slightly deeper connections.

Needless to say, when the weekend was over and the 12 hour trip home completed, a paradox of feelings flooded in. Satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Connection and disconnection. Elation and exhaustion. My emotions were pulling me in polar opposite directions, leaving me to fight it or let it be.

It’s not that these polarities are hard, but they’re unexpected. They don’t fit in our black and white boxes we try to shove everything into. Life is supposed to be either happy or sad, not both at the same time, dang it! But that’s just the reality of life.

The paradox of emotions often comes at an inflection point, a departure of sorts, like when you leave friends to go home, and you’re sad to leave friends but happy to rest and have time with family. Often it’s the deep connections we form with others while being in their presence which makes it so tough to leave.

I’m grateful to have had the time with my friends on this trip, and while this year’s adventure is now over, I’ll likely be at the conference next year where we’ll do it all over again.

II.

Choices are an incredible thing. Just the mere fact that we have free will to choose to do x over y is incredible. We can choose bad, or we can choose good. Ethical, or corrupt. Good, or great.

At times, these choices aren’t clear; at others, they make obvious sense.

That’s how it’s been with my choice to leave my current “stable” job. Things just lined up for me and my family that the choice was a no-brainer.

I know many people leave jobs because they had a bad boss or heavy workload. I didn’t have either. In fact, my boss intentionally invested in me and my growth in the company. He called out my strengths and gave me assignments to help me grow in those. Indeed, it was a positively impactful relationship.

I’m grateful to this company for showing me that corporate culture can be a positive experience, as I know others haven’t had the same experience elsewhere. I’m not leaving my job because of anything negative; I’m leaving because the season is over, and a new season is arriving.

The arrival of a new season means transition, and transition isn’t always easy. You can see it in the transition from winter to spring and summer to fall.

I used to work at a local home improvement store. One day in early March, I was cleaning up carts in the parking lot. Within an hour, it was hot, cold, rainy, snowy, windy, and sunny. Nearly every form of weather showed itself in that short period of time during the transition from winter to spring.

It was a violent transition, almost as if the earth is grieved the loss of winter, or was simply trying to get itself out of the creaky, isolating cold of winter.

It’s true that not all transitions are that violent, but all transitions are violent in their own ways.

Moving on from my job is extremely bittersweet. I’ve never experienced such rushes of excitement and fear about the future as I have now with me going out on my own just days away. I’m confident I’m leaving my successor with an excellent team, but sad I won’t be there to reap the rewards of my investment directly.

If you’ve ever read the book of Hebrews in the Bible, specifically chapter 11, the focus is on faith. The chapter lists out a bunch of folks throughout Scripture who weren’t able to see the reward of things they were pursuing before they died. It was future generations who saw the fruit and tasted of its goodness. Stated otherwise, you won’t always see the full result of your investment, but someone will.

I recently had my last visit to the headquarters office about 3 hours away from my home, in part to help my replacement transition into the role and hand off further information. One of the team members put together a barbecue at his house, in part to celebrate the transition. I couldn’t help but feel grieved in leaving after having so much fun with this group for the last year and a half or so.

While I know I left a mark on some of them, I’m only starting to discover just how much of a mark they left on me.

III.

I stood to appreciate the silence before I left. 5am. A golden moon hung above the horizon. Even along a busy highway, not a single car could be heard.

Leaving family for yet another long trip on such short notice to drive 750 miles, 12 hours total time, for just a few minutes present, is tough.

My grandfather was a tough-as-nails kind of guy. He was in the military, served as a detective captain on the police force, trained security personnel, hunted, fished, and stuffed prize trophy animals. He didn’t have a problem saying one f-bomb or 1,700 in a conversation with you. Through his life, he’d seen a lot of sh*t. Even in a small town, it was hard to believe the kind of things he had experienced.

My grandpa played a large role in my life growing up. We lived close and were around a lot, so he became a strong second father figure to me. He taught me many lessons, like how to shoot a gun properly and safely, not sit still hunting, ride a tractor, play poker, and that cough drops put hair on your chest.

At the age of 81 after a long battle with cancer, my grandpa passed away. I am grateful to have seen him in June and video called him just a few hours before he passed.

My long trip was to get just a few minutes to grieve with family and see him one last time before he was cremated. It’s interesting how you don’t always realize the full extent a person has impacted your life until they aren’t there anymore. Maybe we go into heavy reflective mode, considering the entirety of life, including our own mortality, where we come to the conclusion that we are the sum of what others have taught us to believe ourselves to be.

I added another 750 miles to my odometer again just a few days later for his memorial service. It was a beautiful display of just how many lives he impacted, where there were easily 150-200 people there, all having known my grandpa from his law enforcement days, hunting, or being in the community. I was grateful to the opportunity to share a bit about my grandpa. While speaking, it was wonderful to see the reactions of people in the room who didn’t know him as “grandpa” relate to the aspects of his life which impacted me.

When a loved one departs, we’re left with a big hole in our lives. Grieving that hole sucks. At the same time, that hole is an impression on us, shaped and formed by that person. The mere fact that we grieve is a sign that we’ve been changed by them in some way. The reactions others gave to my stories showed me that my grandpa left not only a mark on me, but all these people as well.

In addition to many of the spoken, practical lessons my grandfather taught me, he taught me countless unspoken ones, too, like respecting other people, working hard, and, ultimately, carrying the heart of a father and showing that to everyone around me.

While he’s gone now, the very shadow of his life lives on in the impact he left on others, especially his family.

IV.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a famous passage:

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.” ‭‭- Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I’ve been experiencing a lot of departures in this season of my life. With each one, there’s a grieving process to go through — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. With it, departure always brings a sense of loss.

Amidst all the departures, there have been many arrivals, too. A new career. Returning home to see my family. Assuming new responsibilities. Realizing the legacy you carry as a result from someone else.

Every arrival results from a departure. Like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, though something is lost in the process, the end result is far more beautiful.

I’m learning slowly to embrace these seasons of transition instead of resist them. The process can be scary, hard, and painful, yet the new season is always better than the old. We never lose the old season; rather, it shapes, molds, and changes us into who we are now so that new seasons are even possible.

Often, the arrival of new seasons isn’t clear, but instead are the start of another uncertain journey in front of us where we get to step out of our comfort zone and be transformed yet again.

Uncertainty is where the adventure of life lives. If I have to live by my plans and create a level of manufactured certainty, I will never have adventure in the way I think I was meant. And that would be a drag. I lived life like that for too long, and it isn’t somewhere I’m interested in going back to. Yet that temptation of comfort, of familiar, tries to keep me safe in the port, away from the sea, only merely dreaming of the adventure on the other side of departure.

We often don’t have a choice to depart. It just happens, whether due to necessity, death, or even life. What we do get to choose is what we do on the next journey.

While many seasons have converged and ended all at once in this time of my life, a new season now begins. I fully intend to embrace it, and let it leave an impression on me until the cycle repeats itself to birth yet another adventure anew sometime ahead.

A Free Agent

I’ve had a dream on my heart for a number of years, and it’s finally coming true. I’m becoming a free agent.

Yes, indeed it’s true. August 3rd is my last day working for my current employer, and I’m off to make it being self-employed! It is a bit of a crazy story, but I’ll do my best to share it.

I’ve had a long-standing passion for the web and its many facets and uses, starting in middle school playing online games against friends, all the way into computers, networking, and development, which I got my Bachelors in.

Upon graduation from college, I moved to Bemidji, MN at the height of the Great Recession, so jobs were lacking. Additionally, the tech scene in Bemidji wasn’t all that hopping at the time. It’s a pretty small, rural town, so it’s a little behind the cutting edge. Thankfully, I eventually found a job in IT, which led me to where I am today.

My wife and I have two kids — a 2.5 year old and a 5 month old. It’s been a blessing to have my wife on maternity leave for a long period, but that must end 😢. She had some training to complete, so we had to send our 5mo old to daycare. As a result, we lost our spot in daycare altogether (long story), which threw us for a loop.

Meanwhile, I had been doing some side work as a developer for a friend of mine. We had been messaging back and forth, and turns out he could bring me on to do long term contract development work for exactly what I needed! 🙌

So thus began the long venture of asking, re-asking, and asking again the big question — can we really make this work?

I spent probably a week in a large mindmap trying to vet out all the possibilities and questions I’d need answers to. Lo and behold, the answer was yes.

It couldn’t have been more perfect — the right opportunity at the right time, a person to backfill my position easily at my current job, and a dream in my heart about to be fulfilled.

I’m currently at Macstock, excited to introduce myself for the first time to new people as an entrepreneur.

If you’re now a free agent, or are going on the journey yourself like I am, hit me up. I’d be glad to hear from you.

In the words of Leeroy Jenkins (I’m dating myself here) — let’s do this!

Small Wins > Big Wins

How has your first month of 2018 been so far? Is it going the direction you hope 2018 will go?

If not, don’t be discouraged.

I set out this year to start waking up early. I’m talking 5:30-6:00am early. I’ve succeeded a few days so far, but it’s not going as I hoped.

Building new habits is hard. What I’ve been finding helpful is starting small. Like lots of you, I’m sure, I’m trying to go to the gym more often this year.

I’ve set a very specific goal for myself: go to the gym 1 time per week.

ONE TIME? Yes. WHY ONLY ONE TIME?

It’s the power of incremental growth. I know I get overwhelmed with trying to take on more than I can at once. But let’s put it this way - going to the gym ONE time per week is better than going ZERO times. And once I get comfortable in the rhythm of going once, I can add a second day. Then a third. Or something else beneficial to my health.

I realize in my experience with the gym I was too ambitious to get up early EVERY day. Instead, I’m going to try getting up early ONE day a week. Then TWO. Then THREE. Because habits are built on small, repetitive actions.

If you’re struggling moving forward on your goals, take a step back and honestly ask yourself, “Am I trying to do too much at once?”

Small, sustainable progress is better than trying to do it all at once.

A Year in Review: 2017

If I could describe 2017 in one word, it would be “transition.”

I changed jobs, moved churches, and found out my wife and I are having a second child.

It’s interesting as my one word for the year was “surrender.” I’ve had to do a lot of surrendering this year — my own plans, ambitions, ideas of how things would go. Everything’s changed and I’m okay with that.

Accomplishments

  • Wrote, recorded, mixed, mastered, and released my first song - “Mirrors”
  • Improved my ability to confront people in healthier ways
  • Learned a lot about how to effectively manage people (thanks Manager Tools)
  • Iterated, iterated, and iterated again on my own ability to intentionally accomplish goals
  • Landed my first two side web development clients, and, subsequently, learned a lot about running a business

Things I Learned

I spent some time reviewing my journal this week. It’s not a practice I typically engage in, though I’ve heard it is helpful to do so. I noticed a few themes I learned over the year.

  1. Don’t engage the political battle in your workplace. Recognize it, but cut your own path by genuinely caring for people.
  2. Want to see change? Give and seek consistent, quality feedback with those around you.
  3. If you’re in a new position or environment, seek to understand it, then start building processes to improve and maintain your desired end result.
  4. Find out how you work best and do that, not just what other people say works for them.
  5. Investing in proper ergonomics is worth it, especially if you primarily work on a computer.
  6. Surround yourself with people “cut from the same cloth.” It’s essential to gaining forward momentum.
  7. Position your heart attitude for the day; it will determine the outcome of your day every time.
  8. Life is an iterative journey. Don’t think you have to have it all figured out on day one. Start and improve from there.
  9. As a parent and spouse, intentionality is critical. Intentional time, words, responses, often thought through ahead of time instead of just in the moment.