June 28, 2020
Working remotely during a global pandemic
A pandemic isn’t only about the virus
I have been working remotely for more than ten years, and this wasn’t it. For example, even though I have been thinking about writing for three months, I couldn’t write a single word until today. Because working from home during a global pandemic isn’t the same as working remotely.
Working from home during a global pandemic isn’t the same as working remotely
During the last few months I feel the world, at an accelerating and sometimes forced pace, busted the myth of ‘people who work remotely are less productive’. I’m glad to see working remotely is no longer an edge case because I’m sure regulations for better remote working conditions will follow.
We need to make clear one thing: This situation we have lived isn’t working remotely. People had been sent home to work during a pandemic, without time to prepare for it at an individual level nor a broader one, with every worry about health and unemployment of their relatives and peers, without a plan for translating their everyday job into a remote environment. And even with a situation that bad, people made it work.
A friend’s boss was totally against working from home because ‘We can’t technically do it, we would have to dedicate too many resources for that to happen’; he changed his slant into ‘We have prepared a VPN in an afternoon so you all can access our database and work as usual while being locked down at home’. Proving once again that lack of trust is what shapes a manager’s opinion against working remotely.
This is a rough list of things that are different when properly working remotely:
- Before going full remote, the company takes time to change some part of the processes and adapt them to a remote environment.
- You can prepare a place at home or elsewhere reserved just for work.
- You choose that place because it’s silent enough to concentrate.
- Your children are at school while you work.
- If you live with a remote worker, they also have their own space for it.
- You have a set of clothes comfortable enough to work from home that are not your pajamas.
- You have your own routine chosen through trial and error. Working remotely is usually attached to other flexibility treats, like choosing your own schedule.
- You have lunch at restaurants from time to time, instead of having to cook all your meals.
- On your free time, you can practice hobbies outside or sports that help clear your head from your job and other worries
- You can have lunch with friends in the middle of the week.
- You celebrate birthdays and other events in person, helping you feel the passage of time.
- You sleep the extra time you used to spend in your commute, because you aren’t worried about family and friends well being.
- You can ignore the news for a couple of weeks to clear your mind, instead of continually reading every update to get to know the new rules to go outside and interact with one another.
- You walk outside without fearing to bring back a virus with you.
- You don’t bleach your groceries when you come back home from the supermarket.
- You don’t care about touching your face while being outside.
- You aren’t worried about the pandemic affecting the vulnerable people around you.
- You can rest during weekends: singing at concerts, walking in the park, hugging your friends, making a picnic, ..
- You have the freedom to choose where to work or party.
- You can move to a new home.
- I would have hugged my mom tightly when my grandma passed away from covid, instead of grieving in isolation.
The pandemic has created new stressful situations that didn’t happen before. Apart from the most obvious–people with health issues that covid affect to–there were people with mental health issues shut at home, people living with their abusive partners, young queer people living with intolerant families, …
If working from home during a pandemic has kind of worked for you and your office, imagine how well will it work with freedom of movement and a well-rested headspace.
If working from home during a pandemic has kind of worked for you and your office, imagine how well will it work with freedom of movement and a well-rested headspace.
I’m aware I’m talking here about the lucky people who could work from home during the lockdown, but wanted to mention that the most vulnerable people didn’t have that chance. The possibility of finding a job for a few hours or days depends a lot on their mobility.
December 26, 2019
Tailoring our future
How did we get here and sustainable alternatives to fast fashion
Cinemagraph by kpoldnk
Disclaimer: The goal of this article is not another guilt trip about how you live your life, and how much water you need to drink. My intention is to create awareness about this situation in a society that normalises consumerism. I also offer alternatives on an individual level
If the price of two products is similar, aren’t you more prone to consume things that have a smaller carbon footprint, less wasteful production process, better worker conditions, or made of a durable material? Of course! No one wants to impact the world negatively because of a pair of trousers. The thing is: we don’t usually have that information on hand, but we can use the internet to look for it. Thanks to a better informed society, people’s sustainability expectations on products is growing by the day.
Some fashion industry giants have lately been so wasteful, polluting, and worsening their worker’s conditions, that they now have their own definition: Fast Fashion.
Brands like Zara or H&M are following an unsustainable operational model. The current speed of retailers to move their collections from runways to stores, and their accelerated manufacturing production process creating a collection every two weeks have lead to brands using fashion FOMO-Fear Of Missing Out-as a business model. Of course, in most cases without hiring more people or paying them any better. Fast fashion is contributing to the global climate crisis with its waste while profiting from vulnerable places.
This wasn’t the future capitalism had planned
Born in the UK in the XVIII century, capitalism was based on a super elitist idea of the world, were men (only men, and only white) basic desires were pushing the economy to a balanced status. According to consumerist John Maynard Keynes, one day we will all be rich, we won’t need to work so much, we will consume less; and all we’ll do is to watch our flowers grow. Keynes idea was that greed was good, and consumerism was the better rational and temporal option for achieving that human “limited” greed. Unfortunately, he didn’t take into consideration hundreds of years of accelerated consumerism couldn’t all end in one day–or one decade–. Plus the naïveté prospect of everyone –even taking his definition of everyone as white rich men–or anyone saying “Ok, I have enough, I’ll now watch my flowers grow”.
Right now, for instance, too many sectors would crush if we stop all the consumerism machinery at once.
How did we get here, then
In the XVIII century, women were expected to fit their garments as the yearly trend dictated. Wealthy women had their dresses created ad hoc for every trend. Less wealthy women adapted their clothes, shortening theirs skirts or adding a different neck to their old clothes.
The textile industry was leading the Industrial Revolution, which main changes were the use of machines as a manufacturing production process replacing manual labor, and dividing such work into little steps within assembly lines.
Average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. […]GDP per capita was broadly stable before […], and the Industrial Revolution began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies.
Lucas, Robert E., Jr. (2002). Lectures on Economic Growth.
With factory workers and military personnel as their main target, men clothes were the first to have homogenised sizes and tailoring cuts. During the next century, offering high-end garments made by a tailor was a differentiation value for wealthy people, and fashion houses were born.
The XX century started with well-off women dressed extravagantly corseted to display economic wealth. As their lifestyle became a bit more independent they started demanding more practical clothes, like garments that could be put on without a maid’s help. On the less-wealthy side, women had entered the factories workforce massively during wars, so they were not only starting to have some kind of economic independence, they also needed outfits with better mobility.
Fashion houses added a pret-a-porter line–literally ready-to-wear– to their half-year collections during the 50s. Pret-a-porter fashion was more affordable for the public, and more profitable for brands, and soon haute couture was replaced by it.
Fast forward a few years and we have globalised fashion producers and trendsetters thanks to magazines, movies, … And in the 70s Zara appeared on the scene. A tiny fashion store on the Northwest of Spain that copied and simplified those pret-a-porter pieces they saw on the runways and remade them with affordable garments.
Zara changed small stores fashion expectations and the way fashion was designed, manufactured and distributed. Its owner called it “instant fashion”. They could produce trendy clothes faster than ever before. Zara then went from being the tail of the lion, to be the head of the mouse, to create a completely new animal. They became so popular they started creating their own collections–mixed with the runway copies–. And soon enough they were the ones getting copied by new brands. Gossip apart, the fashion industry, sorry, the high fashion industry, wasn’t happy about being copied or losing customers because of this.
Zara just started the trend
Globalisation, lower shipping costs and quality, and internet stores have amplified and speeded up this copying cycle. Brands and fashion houses, trying to be unique, used this new more affordable way to exploit the whole supply chain. They wanted to ‘wow’ people more and more often, so they created middle-season collections, and then half-middle-season ones. And a set of sales right in between. So much so, there are stores right now with a section that’s always on sale.
The impact was similar to computerisation on the workplace. As Javi Loureiro once pointed out: when computers were able to calculate x2 faster, people expected to work half of the time; instead, companies asked to double the amount of work done.
Middle-season collections fall into this category. Almost no one on the chain was paid more, teams weren’t growing, they were asked to double their work. These triggered a discomfort and lack of value inside fashion brands. They, for example, started copying illustrations they found on the Internet, provoking a lot of public brand shaming and litigations.
Once upon a time, buying clothes was limited to a particular time of the year, like children’s clothes at the beginning of the school year. During the 90s, shopping was made popular as a form of entertainment. This was shown in a lot of movies and tv shows.
Fast fashion dark patterns
In 1993, Lefties was created, a store where Zara’s defective clothes were sold for very low prices. They used the mindset of cheaper products are held to lower standards and, soon, Lefties evolved into a full low-cost clothing store. The business model wasn’t about Zara’s residuary anymore, they were creating lower quality clothes at lower prices and standards. It was so profitable they extended this model onto the main brand.
In 2013 job conditions deteriorated even faster than before. The Subprime mortgage crisis rose unemployment rates, and companies were making mass early retirements and firing waves. Low-cost brands where growing and, in this scarcity of jobs, they hired people for lower salaries and more precarious conditions along the whole production chain.
At the same time, social media platforms exploited the exposure of people with good personal branding, called them influencers, and paid them to promote their products. Having followers brought status, status brought money from brands which lead to more followers. Influencers and their clothes were an aspirational persona, and we started talking about ‘personal branding’ even for regular people. We could all be influencers in our own circles, getting likes for social status. There was a social pressure to fit in, and to look as trendy as often as this or that influencer.
A lot of fast fashion brands monetise this in a well-thought evil way. Brands release collections every two weeks now (Dec-2019). They use specific patterns, colors, and shapes for every collection. I’ve lived in a very crowded place with a lot of fast fashion stores nearby and after a while, with my crazy-for-patterns brain, I could spot if someone was wearing a shirt from three or six weeks ago. Clothes get old fashioned pretty fast right now.
In every new collection, new items are created that match the colors of the last collection but with a twist. This twist is what makes it recognizable as a brand new item that week. But three collections from today, your garment won’t match the colors or style of the new one. So the consumer is pressured to throw away or hide their clothes from six weeks ago.
This consumerism epidemic led the fashion industry to become synonymous with disposable fashion and textile waste.
Due to poor quality and manufacturing, the benchmark for fast fashion companies is expected to last 10 washes until an item no longer holds its original quality and subsequently falls apart. Approximately 500 million pounds of textile waste exist in Canadian landfills.
The last straw
From the producers perspective, the story is much worse. I remember the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013. An eight-story commercial building with around 5,000 people working on foreign retail brands collapsed. The worst part is that workers, mostly women and some as young as twelve years old, had seen cracks growing on the walls but were threatened to be fired if they refused to enter the building.
It was a turning point on fast fashion acceptance because a lot of international brands were involved: Walmart, Primark, Carrefour, Benetton, Mango, Children’s Place, … The Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created after the tragedy to protect workers conditions with safety training, factory inspections, etc.
Please don’t let the next social and economic change wait until the collapse of a building with 5,000 people in it.
Alternatives to fast fashion
I’ve been thinking and writing notes for this article for a while now. And the main proposal I got is:
On top of consuming less items, let’s consume better ones–if you can, quality isn’t always affordable–; and be aware of and reject the feeling of needing to own everything you like.
💊 Capsule wardrobe, a design system for your wardrobe
This is my favourite one because it fits my minimalist mindset and because it’s flexible enough to be trendy if you care about fashion trends.
A capsule wardrobe is the conscious choice of owning 20-25 pieces for every season, excluding underwear. The idea is to have a minimum amount of clothes, all easily paired with each other. It’s like a design system inside your wardrobe. The choosing process include having all pieces fitting you perfectly, so you love every piece you own, making it more probable that you’ll be wearing them. It’s less about quantity and more about quality.
One thing that has helped me maintain the number of items I own is to go shopping only when I need a specific piece; and to take the old garment out of the wardrobe every time I add a new one.
I’ve kind of had a capsule wardrobe before I knew its name because I don’t like to spend time shopping. Whenever I’m about to buy an item I ask myself:
- does it fit my body the way I like?
- does it fit with my kind of life? (all night gowns are automatically eliminated, as much as I like to think I’d look sickening on a red carpet)
- do I really need it, or do I have a similar piece?
- do the colors or shapes combine with my current pieces? Or in order to wear it I have the obligation to buy another item?
- did I come to this store needing this?
- would I still love it in six months?
- do I really want it?
This final question reminds me of Marie Kondo’s: “Ask yourself if it sparks joy”.
I normally choose plain neutral colors: black, white and grey, for the pieces I wear more than once, like sweaters, jackets, shoes, trousers and skirts. It is easier to combine them with new pieces that way. I like to play with the texture, the shape, the overall style, and the structure of those neutral-colored clothes.
For example, I own a very basic black skirt that’s transparent to the eye, nothing super special. But if you look closer it has a Japanese martial arts vibe that makes it [chef kiss].
I choose more colorful or special pieces for things I change the most, like shirts and t-shirts.
If you want to be trendy with the least amount of garments, you can be extra with your shirts, or play with accessories. A simple black dress, for example, can be worn with white converse shoes and no accessories to have a coffee with friends. The same black dress, combined with elegant shoes, an updo, and long earrings and boom!, you are ready for an elegant night event.
I like how capsule wardrobe guidelines are flexible enough to fit most people, and you can still be trendy if you want.
🍍 Piñatex: a sustainable business model
Piñatex is a vegetable leather and its story is one of my favourites about thinking twice and acting once.
Dr Carmen Hijosa, Piñatex founder, was a leather exporting expert in a UK firm for a long time. She knew the industry well enough but wanted to improve the leather extraction process. She started by travelling to the countries of origin, following each and every step of the leather production chain to see if anything could be better and/or more profitable. She found out the deplorable worker conditions, like people being regularly surrounded by dead animal parts. She returned to the UK with a broken heart and a new goal.
To improve the process, it needed to change completely. She saw that if a plant-based fabric was made, with no animals involved in hot and humid areas, the starting point would hopefully have a less toxic environment.
She hired a team to research what kind of plant based fiber could be used to get a leather-like texture. Being an experienced leather trader, her standards were pretty high and specific: durability, flexibility, appealing, easiness to work with, …
After a while, they discovered a way to transform plant-based fibers into a leathery texture. It wasn’t entirely ready but it was good enough to start looking for the best fiber to use. They had multiple plants in mind that could work, but buying or even cultivating them was too expensive. One of the things she wanted was to pay workers better, so lowering costs needed to happen on the raw materials.
They started looking for a cheap vegetable fiber in the countries they had shipping connections with, and they discovered pineapples were the second most cultivated fruit in the world. No only that, they also found out pineapple leaves weren’t used at all and were thrown away! They sure found the cheapest most spreaded vegetable fiber.
Pineapple was it, then. They had this plant fiber leftovers to experiment with, and the rest is history. Dr Hijosa had enough knowledge about how and where to ship this pineapple based fabric. She also knew the market was starting to open to sustainable options, so the timing was also spot on. In my opinion, it was smart not to try and design clothes themselves, but to sell the material to others. I’ve seen too many startups collapse because of a blurry and boundless scope. They initially launched the fabric in three colors: white, black, and gold. Brands like Hugo Boss or Nae shoes trusted this new vegan leather called Piñatex.
One of the solutions to fast fashion is to make sustainability trendy. We, as individuals, don’t have enough power to change the entire system, but our purchases (dollar votes) and public concerns are now too loud to ignore.
♻️ What’s coming
Circular economy is now the main approach behind any sustainable product. Its goal is to waste less, or having no waste at all, in any manufacturing production process. You can know more about it from the leading organisation at the moment: Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Other models include recycling clothes, using fabric off-cuts for new pieces like this zero waste clothes by Kye Shimizu, or renting fancy garments for special occasions so we only have the essentials on our shelves.
The room for improvement in the ethics department of the fashion industry is still too big, and it’s not only about the manufacturing process. During the research part of writing this article, I found so many things that aren’t quite right. For example, brands showcase non-binary models while forcing their online users to filter between ‘women clothes’ and ‘men clothes’. I’ve also stumbled upon offensive terms like ‘age appropriate’ too many times. Clothes are a form of expression and you should have the freedom to choose your own adventure. You decide what sparks joy for you, what’s a good fit and what’s your style today.
Although it may look like buying clothes that aren’t part of the fast fashion industry is difficult and too expensive, remember slow fashion takes clothes durability into consideration. You’ll be needing less clothes, less frequently.
As Greta Thunberg said “as individuals, our most powerful tool is to inform ourselves, and use that to pressure our governments into making the necessary changes”.
August 1, 2019
The Peephole Distress Theory
Yet another research has shown the connection between time using mobile apps and depression. Our instinct saw it comming, as you can’t visit Instagram from your desk during the summer without assuming you are the only one not on the beach.
I see friends on holidays trying to do activities away from screens, or trying to fight the attention span issues that leave them unable to read anything longer than a headline.
Maybe because of my degree in Communication Science, maybe because I’ve helped build digital products for over a decade, I like to see myself as an observer of these kind of behaviors. This time, I want to share with you the observations I’ve made on myself and my surroundings.
The Peephole Distress Theory
When I use social media I get a mix of happiness for other people’s achievements, entertainment, food for thought and a pinch of imposter syndrome. I attribute the last part to what I’ve called the Peephole distress.
Imagine you live in a crowded building and you look through your apartment door peephole during the day. You’ll get to see a lot of your neighbours going in and out. Maybe some of them go in and out multiple times. If you think about it you know you are not seeing everyone that lives in the building, you are only seeing the ones outside their houses. But your brain gets a conglomerate of all of the people out there and produce a message like: “People are coming in and out all the time and I’m not”.
When reading tweets I regularly get peehole distress with people’s accomplishments. I know I’m only seeing a percentage of people telling about their successes. I consciously bring myself to think about this distorted reality feeling being not real, but there are times when my brain still produces a statement: “Everyone is achieving things while I don’t”.
My inner saboteur surely doesn’t help
It’s not exactly an imposter syndrome, it’s something else, and it’s amplified on social media.
For example, if I follow 100 people and each one of them publishes a highlight on a different day, at the end of 100 days I’d have seen 100 highlights. That highlight could be one work achievement, or a personal success story. My brain would translate that into “Everyone is achieving something everyday”, with the additional “you need to stop being so lazy” on bad days. Even though each one of them has had only one highlight during the last three months.
What about the silent ones
After considering the Peehole Distress Theory I couldn’t stop thinking about the silent ones. What if I could visualize all the people in the building, the ones that are going out, AND the ones that are staying at home like me? Wouldn’t I have a more realistic view of what people is actually doing? Wouldn’t I see a more realistic Twitter feed if I displayed the published and the unpublished tweets?
What if I could see how many people on my Twitter feed are silent? I’ve made the numbers.
I’ve looked for information about tweeting patterns of 100 people I follow. I’ve discarded bots, organizations, and looked for the number of tweets that aren’t retweets or replies, so I could get the real average number of tweets per day with original content. The formula is:
tTpd:Total number of Tweets per day
tTpd - (tTpd x (RT percentage / 100)) - (tTpd x (Replies percentage / 100)) = Real tweets per day
My numbers are these:
These are the aggregated numbers from the 100 people analyzed:
I’ve analyzed users I follow that were active during last year. 62.5% of them tweet less than once a day. This is the image of all the people talking (blue) and the ones that are silent (white) during one day:
Most users don’t participate. It’s the 90-9-1 rule, 90% users of a community are lurkers, 9% are intermittent contributors, and 1% of them are heavy contributors. Reddit CEO said recently in an interview that “A small percentage of our users are very loud”. That is true for almost all communities online.
We already knew it. Most people are silent and just a few make a lot of noise. But we still get the feeling that everybody is doing something all the time and the only silent ones are us.
In a way, it can feel like everyone has always wins to share and we are the only ones trying to hide our failures.
A little trick
If you work remotely, this effect affects regular communications too. When everything is alright you don’t get a long message full of explanations on why is it alright. When there’s a problem, you do. It’s part of life but we better be aware of it.
One of the things I do to counteract it is document those wins one after the other on a text file. So, when things aren’t going well or I doubt myself, I read my own wins, written by me, and the excitement is contagious. On the same note, I recently went to a friend’s talk that was reaaaaally good. She was nervous about it at first but she crushed it. I recorded her stress-free wide smile at the end and a bit of the loud applause she got, so she has it on hand any time she needs a reminder of how awesome she is.
June 5, 2019
Pajamas are for pros
Personal tips for remote workers
👉 You just got a new job — congrats!— and you can choose when and where to work at least two days a week.
👉 You are the new manager of a remote team. You had done this job before but only in person.
👉 You are freelancing, the next project is for a company in your city and they are open to have meetings using a video calls.
👉 You are now in a different time zone than your coworkers. You are used to talk with a lot of people daily.
There are a thousand configurations of remote jobs, mostly because we are creating them on the fly. Our needs are changing and Internet is helping us being creative with our schedules. How can you avoid becoming a serial procrastinator?
Routine is a remoter’s best friend
Think of yourself as Pavlov’s dog, and train your brain to follow some simple routines. Creating new habits or modifying old ones isn’t easy. Try to include new routines little by little to not overwhelm yourself. It takes time to readjust but it can be done.
Being a scientific-method-holic, I tried different routines to measure my productivity as a remote worker.
These are my routines, why I follow them, and how details have impacted my productivity and personal-professional balance.
Pajamas are for pros 👖
When you wake up, make sure you’ve really woken up.
I know working in your pajamas is tempting, but you risk accumulating a list of lazy new habits, which can be counterproductive for your daily work and your personal life. Find your own waking up routine. From my experience, a shower and a change of clothes set your brain in motion for the day.
It also comes in handy to be prepared for a video call.
If it’s your first time working from home, try following your commuter routine except for the commuting part. You’ll have the cozy feeling you don’t need to waste time on the road anymore.
Stopping to work is harder than getting started ⏰
This is a special call for those who live alone and don’t have a real world schedule reference, or those who had easily fallen in the when-did-it-get-so-dark-in-the-room wormhole.
When you work from home you can be working for hours. When your only distractions are your own, you get focused and you can forget everything else. Some of my friends get so focused they skip meals.
It’s OK to work overtime once in a while before a deadline. Add a little real life event here and there so you don’t forget about it. A good habit is setting a schedule — and an alarm, if you need it — and following it, which also helps your remote reliability.
Don’t forget to rest 💤
When you work from home you get tired differently than when you work in an office. You lose your energy slower and you can change your resting habits, even not getting enough holidays.
Your usual red alerts are different now. For example, if you see yourself being lazier than usual you can change your schedule to start an hour later and solve that for a while.
I’ve been in this situation and realized it when I was already burnt out. As a freelance if I say not now to a project I risk losing it. So at some point I chained project after project for two years and a half with no more than a couple of long weekends off.
Different locations for different activities 🍜
Establish a different location for work and for everything else. Physically separate your work space.
The ideal scenario is to have a room just for work, where you are only during work hours. But space constraints can make your home office a table and a chair, or just a chair.
No matter where I am, at home, a hotel, a friend’s house, an office, I never eat in the same space I work. Having lunch is my resting time, everyone needs a break, it’s better to make it a habit. Even changing the chair arrangement — literally having a new perspective— helps your brain rest for a while. Taking physical distance while having lunch helps you focus on your job after lunch. It’s a win-win situation.
Find personal music-mindset patterns 🎶
You can trigger a certain mindset with sound. Remember Pavlov’s dog and apply it to music. These are my focusing levels:
- Everyday tasks = Random music I listen to music while working. With everyday tasks I don’t need to listen to anything in particular. By trial and error, this is where I discover good focusing music for the other focusing levels.
- Kind of difficult task = One playlist I tend to listen to one album in loop. For six months it has been Solange’s, and now I’m in a Janelle Monáe phase. I discovered both while listening to random music, and they have helped me feel in a mental comfort zone to relax when solving difficult tasks. This is the equivalent of having a soup when you feel a little under the weather.
- Deadline is yesterday = One song or silence I have a playlist with a single song to play in loop. Yes, it’s crazy but it works for me. I’ve been listening to that song in loop to focus since I heard it in a Fringe episode. I also use silence as a concentration tool, but I need to be using my headphones to isolate myself.
The lamp trick 💡
A while ago I had a tiny apartment in the middle of a big city. It was less bright than I would have liked, but it was the first time I lived alone and I loved it. I worked at the tiniest table with a 50s lamp on it. The table was in the shadows and I used the lamp to see further than my screen reflection. Every time I seated to work I turned on the light. After a while, I had sleeping problems and turning on the light kept me focus during work hours. Unknowingly, I had conditioned myself to a new stimulus.
I rarely use this trick anymore because I live in a brighter house now. I still have the lamp though.
Meet with people 👯
If you think you need to meet people once a week, do it twice a week. I always add an extra social event to my weekly plans.
When you work in an office, you are surrounded by coworkers. You get to see people on your way there and your way back. That’s one of the reasons it is a good idea to work in a co-working space a couple of months a year, because we learn habits the same way we lose them.
We tend to think basic skills are there forever. Think about a language you learnt a while ago, or a middle school subject you were good at. If you don’t practice it your brain uses that space for something else. Don’t underestimate your ability to losing basic skills such as socializing.
Maybe you aren’t in your country or your friends are busy. Try a social hobby like practicing a sport or learning a new language. Events related to your discipline is also a good idea because you get to know your peers.
Look out of the window 🖼
When everything you watch, listen, read, write, and everyone you talk to are in one screen, this screen is your new comfort zone. You’ll have breakfast in front of it, and you’ll forget the outside world is comfortable too.
Breathe in and look out the window during breaks. You‘ll remain grounded.
👖 + ⏰ + 💤 + 🍜 + 🎶 + 💡 + 👯 + 🖼 = 💻 🔝
June 4, 2019
How remote communication works
If it isn’t documented it didn’t happen.
cc gallery flickr.com/photos/wocintechchat/
Remote reliability: Follow your own schedule
One of the perks of working remotely is creating your own schedule. This is no easy task because your work hours affect your communication with the rest of the team–or client.
Choose your favourite hours range and stick to it for a while. Tell your coworkers what’s going to be your availability beforehand, so everyone knows when they can count on you. Routine is a remote worker’s best friend.
Think about these two scenarios:
👉 Remoter A worked 10 hours on Monday, 2 hours on Tuesday, no hours on Wednesday and 12 hours on Thursday and Friday. Each day started at a different hour.
👉 Remoter B worked six and a half hours from Monday to Friday, from their local 1PM to 7:30PM.
You had hired both in the past. A and B are equally qualified for the craft. Who would you hire again? For starters, only one of them can be easily traceable. Is not that you can’t trust Remoter A, it is more about reliability: If I connect at 2PM I’m sure remote B will be there.
Manage your remote conversations and save everyone’s time
Remote communication is asynchronous. Working with people located in other time zones is part of the beauty.
Teach yourself new ways to interrupt others less.
If you have a question, try finding the answer on the Internet or company documentation. You’ll spend the same amount of time than waiting for an answer, but you won’t spend somebody else’s time. Of course, if you can’t find it, ask directly to the person in charge of that decision.
Try to imagine the entire conversation and display a closed list of options to your interlocutor.
Let’s say you need to schedule a meeting with Sarah. You both need to agree on a day, an hour, a channel. Sarah lives seven hours away and your schedules rarely overlap.
Scheduling a meeting
👎 Hello Sarah. I need to talk to you about the design system project. When will you be available?
👍 Hello, Sarah. We need to prioritize the next three months task list for the design system project. Could you talk about it on Monday or Tuesday, at my 5PM, your 10AM? I think it will take around 30 minutes.
The latter can be scheduled right away. If Sarah is equally efficient, she’d agree and add the meeting to the team calendar right away, as she already knows your availability.
Remote to-do lists: don’t stop your workflow because you don’t have an answer right away I usually write all the questions and comments I have during the day and send them all together in a single list. When your colleagues are in answering mode they can answer everything at once. Don’t interrupt anyone unless necessary. Being focused isn’t a constant.
When planning your day, have in mind you may encounter some questions. Have a Plan B to-do list and you won’t depend on someone else’s feedback to be productive. I usually have a list of big brainy things and a list of small tasks for this kind of situations. Add documenting to your list.
Documenting is key for remote teams
Write down, register and catalog whatever you are doing and reasoning. It takes a little time at first but saves you thinking about the same thing twice. Make the information retrievable for you and everyone on the team. Make sure everyone on the team share the same cataloging method.
Sometimes you know the context and premiss of your projects because you have been working on it for a while. Don’t assume everyone else have the same amount of information. That’s one of the good things of regularly document your work. You can get back to your own thoughts and reasoning in case you need them again.
Remote irony doesn’t work
Communication shapes your persona when working remotely: chosen words, tone, regularity, etc.
Avoid using irony or double meaning sentences. Written text doesn’t have intonation. I know you are thinking “d’oh!”. It is obvious but not everyone remembers it. Tweets are constantly misinterpreted. This study about irony in Twitter shows how you can only detect irony if the user has previously tweet the opposite opinion.
Remote irony only works if the other person knows you very well.
Emojis are your remote face
Gestures and micro expressions don’t exist for others unless you tell them they happened. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
How others perceive us is directly linked to what we share with them. There is no need of sharing everything you do, but don’t forget to be a person.
One of my mottos for remote communication is: Let others know how you reacted to non-work-related issues. In other words: every cat picture needs its heart-eye emoji.
Emojis or animated GIFs are perfect to acknowledge others’ interests and display your own. They help shape your character.
Summary: Six tips for remote communication
- Choose a schedule and stick to it. Be reliable. Even when freelancing, you are not alone in the world.
- Remote communication is asynchronous.
- Interrupt others the way you’d like to be interrupted.
- Document, document, document.
- Your remote persona is shaped by your communication. Avoid being misinterpreted.
- If you are happy and you know it 👏
June 3, 2019
Maintaining sanity and social skills when working remotely
The need of an artificial water cooler experience
Photo by Dan Gold
Working remotely is my default status, and even I forget sometimes to interact with humans in real life.
I once started a job where I was going almost everyday to a physical office after six years of working only remotely. First five days in, on Friday afternoon, my voice got hoarse. Five days of good mornings and a hundred questions had made my voice vanish for the weekend.
To be fair, I hadn’t enjoyed a lot of social life for almost a year for medical reasons. Nevertheless, I decided I would take more care of my social skills in the future.
This is my personal reminder to never stop training my social muscle.
The artificial water cooler experience
When you work in an office, you take for granted lots of everyday things. If you drive there or use public transportation, you’ll look at some other person’s eyes, navigate the space to avoid crushing, and eventually have to talk to somebody.
Discussing projects at meetings, going for a coffee with a coworker, standing by the water cooler or just getting to the office and say Good morning makes you interact with your peers and exercise your social skills.
Although speaking with others is the most visible way of social interaction, there are automatic actions that are also forgettable social skills: waking up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, not farting in public, covering your mouth when you sneeze, etc. is part of any functional social being.
It’s all part of those natural habits you think you won’t forget. But, as shown in this tweet by Tyler Feder, the freedom of working remotely in any clothes you want is also a chance to abandon yourself to the wearing-whatever-is-clean circle.
If you think you need to meet one person a week, make it two
Having freedom of schedule could mean you will meet with friends or family almost whenever you want, because it isn’t constraint by a strict work schedule anymore.
This is one of the tricky parts of working remotely. Almost everything needs to be decided by you and only you: location, schedule, meals, meeting friends, meeting family, physical activity, etc.
One of the things I mentioned in the post about my personal tips for remote workers is to meet with more people that you think you need.
We underestimate how much our social skills are constantly trained at a physical office. Some remoters like to work in co-working spaces because of this. Unlike commuters, remoters need to also decide this. What co-working space do I like?, do I like where it’s located?, can the activities —including noise — in this co-working office fit with the way I work?
Set up a schedule in sync with your peers
Creating a schedule similar to the city you live in makes it easier to meet with others or attend all kind of events.
I meet with friends for lunch two or three times a week. The rest of the week I eat at a similar hour so the day I meet with them I’m not that hungry I can’t listen to what they are saying.
Being aware of the importance of exercising your social muscle is the first step for a good social life.
After being given the freedom of choosing your working hours, it’s normal to experiment with a different schedule to the normative office one. I sometimes wake up super early because of insomnia. Those days I adapt my schedule to my needs and start and stop working at earlier hours. Being aware of the importance of exercising your social muscle is the first step for a good social life.
Once you have chosen fitting social routines for you, you can skip them whenever you need. Test your social needs for a month and iterate over the results.
Being productive welcoming silly puns
During my last job interview I described myself as a remote worker who manage my schedule and save other’s time. I’m used to effective asynchronous communication. The thing I disliked the most about open space offices is that you could be interrupted at any time and not everyone had an urgent matter to discuss. I think others’ time and lives are as important as mine and asynchronous communication works better when you communicate only really important things.
Even if we joked about things sometimes, I’m now working with people who think exactly that, which is great. Conversations are short and highly productive. It was great for a few months, but alas a new coworker came in and spread cat pictures all over Slack. 😻
That little gesture suddenly created more personal than job related conversations twice a week. After months of really productive conversations mixed rarely with silly puns I realized I missed relaxed talks with my interesting coworkers. Something I only experienced when we met each other in person.
Photo by Dario Valenzuela
Since then I’ve learnt of some remote friendly companies that have a Slack channel only dedicated to non job related conversations.
It was interesting how a couple of cat pictures a week enhanced the artificial water cooler experience. Conversations about small things randomly pop up more and more. Maybe I was the only one feeling that productivity was the only goal, maybe I was being too Leslie Knope. I’ve seen the importance of a silly pun and I now share more personal conversations privately and in public with the rest of the team.
Meeting whomever you want
Actively socializing when working remotely takes effort, isolating yourself doesn’t.
When your social interactions during the week are limited to one office bubble, you talk only with your coworkers. This is not a bad thing per se. I like chatting with my coworkers and do it happily every week. But I also like being in touch with people chosen by me.
Choosing who to meet, where to meet them, and what for — a coffee? lunch?— , takes time and effort at first. As with your schedule or your productivity, when working remotely you decide how many people you meet or who you meet. The freedom of choosing who to talk to is also the action of deciding not to isolate yourself.
Actively socializing when working remotely takes effort, isolating yourself doesn’t.
Not all social activities need to be done with people you know. Maybe you want to expand your circle, maybe you are in a new place. Here are ten social activities I like to do:
- 👭 Meeting with friends, family, or other peers to have lunch.
- 👩💻 Meeting with other remoters to work together.
- 📆 Attend events related to my job: good to meet new peers and get a hold of the pulse of your profession in your area.
- 🖌 Going to events unrelated to my job: good for changing your conversations once in a while.
- ☕️ Working from a café, or the office of a friend.
- 🍜 I sometimes share an hour with someone outside my bubble. I write an email to an interesting person who I’ve met, for example, at an event, to have lunch near their office.
- 🏃♀ Exercise classes: also good for your body.
- 🧘 Yoga class: perfect for introverts, as you don’t need to talk with anyone.
- 🍯 Have a social hobby: better without screens, like pottery or archery.
- 🚶♀The easiest and cheapest one: Going for a walk. Walking with no goal, losing yourself in your area is one of the key points to abandon the crazy multitasking life, as described in the book On Doing Nothing.
As with any other routine, it takes a bit of time and effort at first. Hopefully, after a couple of months, you’ll get used to getting together with who you really want to see.
( Happy socializing! )