Skip to content
(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.

(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.

(one man to another worried man, in bed) Hey, it happens, and it's nothing to worry about. But I don't think you can blame it on Zoom fatigue.

Video killed the…

Video killed the… published on

For those of us for whom working from home was already our daily reality, there’s a certain “Welcome to the party, pal” quality to hearing complaints about Zoom fatigue. Not to be all hipster about it, but we were finding video meetings exhausting before it was popular.

Part of the problem may be that we nearly always only see each others’ heads and shoulders, and we’ve become used to communicating with each other using our whole bodies. The way we hold ourselves, the gestures we make, that shift of weight from one foot to another: These all communicate volumes, and we’ve shut ourselves off from that.

In a widely-read Medium piece, Hanna Thomas Uose argues that the effect is actually “low-key traumatic”. Without those body-based signals we’ve learned to unconsciously rely on when we talk with someone, we’re never quite at ease, and never really feel safe. The fight-or-flight mechanism is constantly on deck, squirt pistol of adrenaline in hand, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

I found out about her article when I was doing research for an episode of my own podcast about why and when it may make sense to back away a little from the camera, especially if you’re not just a meeting participant but a presenter. Creative use of that space could lend a lot of expressiveness to your delivery — although, as I warn, “The bad news? You’re gonna need to start wearing pants again.”

By the way, everyone talks about Zoom fatigue, but nobody talks about Slack or Microsoft Teams fatigue. Look, I love me a good threaded conversation, and I think Slack is absolutely brilliant in its improvement over email. But between the proliferation of threads, channels, chats and more, I sometimes feel like I’ve traded one inbox for a dozen or more.

(woman lying on sofa with laptop, talking on phone) Hey, dad... remember when I’d be playing video games, and you’d tell me that hanging out on the sofa all day staring at a screen is no preparation for the real world?

Preparing for this our whole lives

Preparing for this our whole lives published on

There’s a lot about working from home (for those of us who are doing it) that still isn’t working well: the Zoom fatigue, the tsunami of ergonomic injuries waiting to be diagnosed, the difficulty finding a quiet place to do focused work, the erasing of whatever tenuous work/home boundaries we’ve managed to draw, the potential for employer surveillance and abuse, and a lot more.

But let’s remember that a lot of offices and workplaces weren’t great to work in, either. Some people thrived on face-to-face meetings and collaboration, but a lot of others found that environment stressful and distracting. (“So why didn’t they raise that in our all-hands meetings?” I hear someone ask.)

We’re going to keep adapting. We’ll solve some working-from-home problems and discover new ones. We’ll resolve them with varying mixes of collaboration, negotiation, innovation and conflict. Work-from-home today probably looks a lot different from what work-from-home will mean next year.

I have no idea when I’ll next set foot in an office. I’m in no great hurry.

Coffee shops — that’s a different story. I’m champing at the bit to plunk down with my laptop somewhere, scan the baseboards for an outlet and ask a barista for a WiFi password.

How about you?

Merit badges: Learned Zoom, Showered Today, Fed Myself, Dressed by 3:00 PM, Spoke to Another Adult, Did Some Work Instead of Laundry, Over 250 Steps This Week More or Less

Working-from-home merit badges

Working-from-home merit badges published on

Working from home is the new reality for a lot of people.

They’re just now learning the bliss of remote work: The joys of sharing a sometimes-tight workspace with kids. The surprisingly appealing siren call of doing the dishes when you should be entering data. And how the deft skill of dressing from the waist up from your webcam can be undone instantly when you spill coffee in your lap and stand up suddenly.

But there are also people who can’t work from home. Some have the tough choice of either coming in to work and risking exposure, staying home without pay or losing their jobs completely. And some are doing essential work we all count on. I don’t have a merit badge for them — just respect and solidarity.

Primary Sidebar