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(Parent reading to young child) “Daddy has a work deadline, so tonight’s bedtime story is ‘Resolving Supply Chain Issues in Real Time: A Proposal to the Board’”

Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the Gantt chart bite

Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the Gantt chart bite published on

You may raise your eyebrows at the parenting in this cartoon, but think about the bedtime classics. What is Jack and the Beanstalk if not a parable about the challenges of scaling up? Rapunzel is about technological innovation to overcome barriers to entry. Goodnight, Moon teaches us the merits of conducting regular inventories.

Working from home in these pandemic days has meant a lot of tradeoffs as our work lives intrude on our personal lives, and vice versa. We’re taking crucial phone calls in closets (clothing, linen or, ahem, water) because they’re the only quiet place in the house; we’re fighting the temptation to bolt down dinner and get back to the laptop because of a looming deadline. Remote work has meant making often-hasty accommodations — not all of which stand up over time.

But with the prospect of remote work becoming a permanent part of the mix for a lot of people, maybe it’s time to take another look at those makeshift arrangements and build the kind of lives — personal and professional — that we really want. My wife Alexandra Samuel, co-author of Remote, Inc.: How To Thrive At Work… Wherever You Are, has offered a valuable perspective on how to keep remote work from overtaking our home lives. That includes both mental shifts in our thinking and concrete practices that take you beyond work-life balance to work-life integration.

And speaking of Remote, Inc.: For the past several weeks, I’ve had the delight of creating cartoons to celebrate and promote the book. Alex and co-author Robert C. Pozen have created the definitive roadmap to the new hybrid workplace, and I urge you to check it out. This is the final cartoon in the series, and it’s probably my favourite of the bunch.

(exhausted person on sofa) Remote work’s a failure. We didn’t get a thing done today, ever though we had eight hours of Zoom meetings.

Zoomed out

Zoomed out published on

Zoom fatigue is the real deal. So says the lived experience of countless folks thrown abruptly into working from home by the pandemic — and so say a number of studies.

One of those studies, from the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, looked at four factors that might be combining to leave you wiped out at the end of a long Skype, Zoom, Meet or whatever we call a Microsoft Teams video call:

1. So… much… eye contact. Remember in the movie Baby Mama when Steve Martin’s character (the CEO of a chain of Whole-Foods-ish grocery stores) rewards Tina Fey’s character with five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact? Remember how searingly uncomfortable that was? That’s how we live now.
Clip of Steve Martin telling Tina Fey “I want to reward you with five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact”

2. It turns out it’s exhausting to see yourself on-screen all the time. Our monitors act as mirrors — constantly on, constantly feeding any insecurities we might have about how others see us. (In related news, this was the year I discovered one of my eyelids is usually not quite as open as the other one.) Also, as it happens, I have the same kind of relationship with mirrors that caged budgies do: I find it impossible not to stare at the image. (The lab’s founding director represents turning your self-view off, by the way.)

3. Not moving is mentally tiring. Our webcams turn out to be mighty effective leashes; we’re inclined to want to stay within their field of view. (I actually talked a little about why speakers should make that leash longer — a lot longer — in one of my podcast episodes a few months ago. You… are subscribed to my podcast, aren’t you?) Zoom fatigue is partly immobility fatigue.

4. Your mind is working a lot harder in a video meeting. Because we aren’t accustomed (yet) to video conversations — unlike face-to-face encounters, which we’ve been practicing every day for decades — there’s a lot less we can leave up to our subconscious to convey to others and interpret from them. So our conscious minds have to ferry that extra cognitive freight. (In Hanna Thomas Uose‘s post The Trauma of Zoom, she argues our heavy reliance on video communications is actually “low-key traumatic,” with our fight-flight-or-freeze mechanism on constant standby.)

All of which is to say, at the end of a long day of video meetings, put your feet up and give yourself a decent break. Then start thinking about how to make those meetings shorter, more productive, fewer and farther between.

Which brings me (deft segue alert!) to Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive At Work… Wherever You Are, the new book from my wife Alexandra Samuel and Robert C. Pozen. It’s your guide to making the most of the new world of blended remote/office work: not just surviving, but thriving. That includes making video meetings work for you (you might actually look forward to your next one!) And this cartoon’s one of a series celebrating its launch.

A tarot reading, where the reader tells the client “The cards aren’t clear on what your purpose is. But it definitely involves wearing pajamas during the work day.”

Business extra-casual

Business extra-casual published on

This past year has made us experts at hunting for silver linings. One of them is we no longer have to worry about what the hell “business casual” means on an invitation. (This is a long-standing anxiety of mine.) Wear a reasonably office-y shirt, and you can dress it up or down in seconds.

Provided you don’t stand up at an inopportune moment, nobody needs to know you’re wearing Star Trek pyjama pants. (Unless that’s part of your office culture, in which case please let me know if you’re hiring.) And if you have a day with no video calls, then it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a tux or a bathrobe. So long as you’re doing your job well, you can dress to impress your nerve endings, not your boss.

Or your clients. And if you are one of my clients, please know that I’m never dressed in anything less formal than cotton slacks, a dress shirt and a sweater vest while working on your project. Often there’s a cummerbund.

* * *

They say you’re never fully dressed without a smile. And you’re never fully equipped for the new workplace without a copy of Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work… Wherever You Are.

New from Harper Business, it’s written by Alexandra Samuel and Bob Pozen, and it’s superb. It’s your guide to making the most of the new world of blended remote/office work: not just surviving, but thriving. And this cartoon’s one of a series celebrating its launch.

Am I biased because I’m married to one of the authors? Very. But I can tell you that getting to see the writing process up close as the book took shape was an education in itself. Remote work has been part of my life for years now, yet I still learned a ton from Alex and Bob. I strongly encourage you to check it out.

(worker at home in the midst of chaos) I’ve got a pretty good handle on working from home. Homing from home, that’s another story.

Home sweet office

Home sweet office published on

Today’s the day my wife Alexandra Samuel’s upcoming book becomes Alexandra Samuel’s newly-published book! Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work… Wherever You Are is now on sale at your favourite bookseller.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness the evolution of this book, which Alex cowrote with one of the world’s leading productivity experts, Robert C. Pozen. And over the last few weeks, it’s been a lot of fun drawing a few cartoons inspired by it.

Not to mention a remarkable fit thematically.

A lot of Noise to Signal’s humour draws on the ways technology and networked living sometimes-dovetails/sometimes-collides with the rest of our lives. And for the past year-plus, working from home — with its reliance on constant connectivity — has cranked up the intensity of that dovetail/collision 24/7. (I say 24 because I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had dreams about being on a Zoom call and suddenly realizing I was fully clothed from the waist down.)

All of which yields a rich vein of ore for a cartoonist to mine. But we could have a lot more dovetailing and a lot less colliding with a more thoughtful approach to the new workplace. That’s where Remote, Inc. comes in: It’s your guide to making that new workplace work for you, no matter what mix of remote and on-site work it entails for you.

It won’t make your pets less annoying, do your laundry for you or clean up your kitchen. But it will help you navigate the terrain of the fusion of working from home and heading into the office that emerges as the post-pandemic workplace. Learn more and get your copy here.

 

Couple in bed: one is delivering a remote presentation, while the one who’s trying to sleep says “Remind me in the morning — we need to talk about boundaries.”

Good fences make 1) good neighbours and 2) good remote work habits

Good fences make 1) good neighbours and 2) good remote work habits published on

Remote work has always been at least part of how I do things professionally. It’s a natural part of freelancing. But even when I’ve had a job-job, doing some work in the distraction-free environment of home was a recurring trochee in my professional rhythm.

That changed last April, when I had the very good fortune to land a 12-month term as the BC Federation of Labour’s director of communications. My last day was on Friday, capping off a year of guiding the messages and communication strategy for a terrific organization representing more than 500,000 union members throughout British Columbia.

And, like nearly all of my coworkers, I did it entirely virtually. There was no migration from the office for me; I never set foot there.

Yet despite years of working-from-home practice, it was a challenge to keep my BCFED work from encroaching on my personal life. (And vice versa, with unexpected puppy Zoom-bombing being one of the least intrusive incursions.)

That was partly because of the lack of physical separation — with remote work, there’s none of that psychological break that comes from walking out the office door.

But it was also the fact that I care a lot about the work I do. (Which is a tremendous privilege: A lot of people have jobs they find at best meh and at worst awful.)

And this job was no exception. The BCFED had to take on a remarkable challenge: advocating for working people, equity and justice in a pandemic that both raised the stakes dramatically, and transformed the way we do that work. It’s been a fascinating opportunity to find new ways to connect, collaborate, mobilize and effect change. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I’m delighted to return to my clients and freelance practice, but I’ll miss working with my friends at the Fed. My advice: When you have the chance to work with talented, dedicated people around values that matter to you, jump at it.

* * *

Of course, one thing that’s helped me navigate the challenges of my first-ever entirely remote full-time job is having a front seat as my wife Alexandra Samuel and her co-author Robert C. Pozen wrote Remote, Inc. the definitive guide to (as the subtitle puts it) thriving at work wherever you are.

It’s a practical, hands-on guide for employees and managers alike, and not just for COVID times: Remote, Inc. will help you navigate the fusion of remote and on-site work that’ll emerge as the new post-pandemic normal.

It launches on April 27, but you can pre-order right now.

(person on video call, holding puppy up to the camera) And now Miss Fuzzywiggles will take us through our third-quarter financial results.

Sit! Stay! Roll over! Zoom!

Sit! Stay! Roll over! Zoom! published on

Two historic trends converged during the Great Home-Office Migration of 2020:

  1. Zoom calls, and
  2. pandemic puppies.

The result is more fuel for the very happy phenomenon of pets making appearances — expected and otherwise — in work meetings. My calls with my BCFED colleagues over the past year have been punctuated with a cameo cat, drop-in dogs, a guest-star guinea pig and a central bearded lizard (who did not come with a handy alliteration).

For some of us, seeing each others’ pets is a welcome reprieve from the sometimes-grueling world of never-really-off-the-clock working from home… and a happy reminder that not every non-human we meet on-screen is a bot.

For others, though, the sight of Fluffy or Bailey is an irritant to be endured. For them, those four-legged intruders are at best a distraction.

But maybe there’s something more to that — something more behind the muttering over whether pets in meetings are professional. Or whether having kids walk in on you during your meeting is professional. Or whether any sign that you have a life beyond your job description and work product is unprofessional.

Maybe this blurring of the boundaries between our professional and personal selves hints at the possibility that the workplace of 2019 isn’t coming back — and neither is a world where we show up to work, whether it’s in the office or at home, as only part of who we are.

If that scares you, let me just say — don’t let it. There’s a lot to be gained by getting to know each other as our whole selves. The future is friendly… and fuzzy.

* * *

This is one of a series of cartoons celebrating Remote, Inc., the new book by my wife, Alexandra Samuel, and productivity expert Robert Pozen. The subtitle says it all: How to thrive at work wherever you are. It’s a practical, hands-on guide for employees and managers alike, and not just for COVID times: Remote, Inc. will help you navigate the fusion of remote and on-site work that’ll emerge as the new post-pandemic normal. It launches on April 27, but you can pre-order right now.

(woman in an empty boardroom and deserted workplace, to a large video screen of faces) It’s great to be back in the office so we can all meet face to face!

Better Homes & Offices

Better Homes & Offices published on

A little over a year ago, we made a massive, abrupt migration from offices to makeshift home workplaces. As weeks melted into months, fantasies of a quick return to our beloved cubicle farms gave way to the grim reality of remote work. Zero-minute commutes. Meetings conducted in dress shirts and PJ bottoms. A dreary procession of home-cooked meals punctuated by (shudder) more time with our loved ones.

I was one of the lucky ones. Not only was I already accustomed to working away from an office (thank you, freelance lifestyle!), but I was able to draw on the advice and insight of my wife, Alexandra Samuel. She’s been thinking and writing about work and technology for quite a while — and last summer, she began work on a book with co-author and productivity expert Robert Pozen.

Remote, Inc. hits virtual and physical bookshelves in just a few weeks. The subtitle says it all: How to thrive at work wherever you are. It’s a practical, hands-on guide for employees and managers alike, and not just for COVID times. Remote, Inc. will help you navigate the fusion of remote and on-site work that’ll emerge as the new post-pandemic normal.

I got to read drafts of the manuscript. That meant I also got to put many of the book’s strategies and tactics to work over the past year, as the interim director of communications with the BC Federation of Labour. It’s the first job I’ve ever worked entirely from home. And it’s been tremendously rewarding: partly because of those strategies, but also because they’re a terrific group of folks.

My time with the Fed comes to an end in just a few days as I return to my leadership communications practice. I’m looking forward to picking up my work with my clients again. And between now and April 27, when Remote, Inc. officially launches, I’ll be posting more cartoons inspired by Alex and Bob’s ideas about remote work and the hybrid workplace.

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