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S02 E05 – Remote Work

Today we’re talking about remote versus in person working and the tools, practices and processes that have helped us become pros at not going to the office.

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Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I am Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:36] And I’m Doug Belshaw. This podcast season is currently unfunded, so you can support this podcast and other are open projects that we will no doubt talk about on this podcast as well as other products at So, Laura, what are we talking about today?

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:56] Well, do you remember a couple of weeks ago when you asked me for something and I was like, No, Doug, you’re messing with my militant planning. And you were like, is that the right use of the word militant? And then we were distracted for 15 minutes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:11] Yes.

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:11] Okay. So this is what office workers might call a water cooler conversation. And I was thinking maybe we should have a talk about what it’s like to work remotely, because both you and I have been working remotely for the majority of our careers.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:28] But doesn’t everyone know what it’s like to work remotely now because everyone’s had to work remotely during the pandemic?

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:34] Well, I think that everybody has some kind of experience of working remotely, but I wonder about the efficiency of that remote work, the efficacy of it, whether or not people are missing the office, if they feel empowered while they’re working remotely. And, you know, I just think that we’re I’m going.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:53] To I’m going to do a typology of different types of remote work here. We go off the top of my head and it’s going to be in threes. We’ve been doing a lot of threes recently in our work.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:02] Yes, it’s been very annoying.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:02] Number one, right? People like you and me who worked remotely before by choice, before the pandemic. Number two, people who worked remotely during the pandemic really liked it and want to work remotely after the pandemic, too. And then option three or type three people who worked remotely during the pandemic and didn’t like it and can’t wait to get back to the office. Oh, an option for people who want to do a bit of both.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:31] Okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:32] There we go. Which category do you fit into, dear listener?

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:38] I was waiting for.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:39] Wait for a response, Laura, because no one’s. We’ll be here all day anyway. Let’s let’s just keep that in mind. There’s going to be different people listening to this, etcetera.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:48] Yeah. So, Doug, tell me about the last time that you worked in an office or in a university or not remotely. How long ago was it and what was it like? What do you remember?

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:05] Oh, this is a really interesting question. So the last time I worked in an office was as a consultant with City and Guild. And so from when I left Mozilla in 2015 until 2016, pretty much every week, I went down to London for two days a week and I worked in an office, big open plan office in the centre of London next to the kind of financial district. Um, what was it like? I felt like people were always watching me work. And when you’re doing knowledge work, what does knowledge work even look like? Like sitting in front of a computer doing stuff. You could be playing a game. You could be doing a spreadsheet, you could be doing whatever. It all looks the same. It’s not like digging a hole. So I felt very, very like observed.

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:56] This is a really interesting point because Anna, our intern, I have a weekly check in with her to see how she’s doing. She’s on vacation at the moment. Hi, Anna. If you’re listening, she told me recently, so she works remotely with us, as we all do. And her office space is in her room in a shared flat with a bunch of roommates. And all day she’s got her headphones on and she’s, you know, doing stuff on the computer. And last week when we had our weekly check in, she said to me, How do you get people to stop thinking that you’re not doing anything and that you’re not engaged just because you’re home? And she was talking about the fact that when she’s you know, she’s in a room, she’s working on her computer, but her roommates are still interrupting her. They don’t understand that just because she’s home doesn’t mean that she’s available basically.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:47] I think that’s really interesting. So my wife, as you know, Laura, now works for the NHS digital team on the 101 service as a user researcher, and she started that in, what, July? And before that she was kind of she still is the administrator for our co-op, etcetera. Before that she was a primary school teacher. It took a long time and I’m talking years before she stopped just walking into my office and saying some stuff and interrupting me because. Like it’s obvious if you’re on a call like we’re talking now, someone can see through the window or he’s talking, but like disturbing someone when they’re mid-flow like you were this morning, for example, you were absolutely off on one. You should be able to choose kind of how much you want to be disturbed, I think. And remote work is great for getting in the zone. You can turn off slack, all that kind of stuff. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:42] And I definitely think that for me it has taken a lot of time for me to learn how to deal with the interruptions. So like the flip side of it, you know, you don’t want to be biting off somebody’s head just because they say something to you. But actually, I’ve trained myself at this point when I’m in mid flow, working remotely on my computer and somebody doesn’t understand where my brain space is and comes to interrupt me and says something, I have trained myself to be able to not react to that interruption, not break my flow and wait until my flow has like a natural end. And so, you know, like friends of mine who are very close to me or my partner, they know that when they come in and interrupt me and I don’t say anything, I’m not being rude. I’m waiting until that natural flow. Yeah, but it took training on both sides for sure.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:37] Yeah, because I think there’s there’s, you know, when we talk about not wanting to. Um, switch between different clients. We’ve got a different work we’ve got during a day. There’s that. But also I think there was some kind of research which showed that it can often take like 20 minutes to get fully back into the zone that you’re in if you have an interruption. And if you think about normal office work, if you’re trying to do some kind of deep work and you’ve got, I don’t know, meetings and then you’ve got an hour in between a meeting or whatever, and you get disrupted a couple of times, you’re not going to get any deep work done. It’s this is why I love working remotely. I love travelling and going to meeting people in person, in person and doing all that. But like my default working remotely is great. When was the last time you were in an office? Laura Because I think it might have been longer ago than me.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:25] Well, as you can see from my background, technically I’m in an office right now, but this is my this is true private remote work space, which is something else we can talk about working from home versus working remotely in a non home space. Um, but.

Doug Belshaw: [00:07:41] Yeah, so just just pause there then. So why, why do you choose on some days and how many days is it to go and work in your space that you pay for. It’s not like you’re being paid to be there. You’re paying for that space and you’re choosing to work there instead of in your home. So just talk about that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:08:01] Well, so it’s a little different now because of the pandemic. I used to come to the office every day. The paid my paid private office. I share with two other people who are remote workers. We don’t work together. We have nothing. You know, We just know each other. And it’s a nice office. So we share the space. But basically, if we say anything the entire week, it’s Do you want a coffee? And that’s about it. Every once in a while we say hello or goodbye, but we don’t interact beyond that. And and since the pandemic started, I’ve actually started sharing my office with my partner more. So sometimes I work from my home office. Sometimes I work from this office, sometimes we trade. And the reason that I have but I’ve had an external office for the last 15 years because I find that it is good for me psychologically to create some space between my home, personal life and my professional life and profile like I need. I need to walk away from the desk. I need to put client work aside. I need to understand that my identity on the Internet is not my full identity and that there’s a piece of me that is not actually public, that isn’t professional. So.

Doug Belshaw: [00:09:22] Oh, interesting. So for me, I’ve got I’ve got my house. There’s like a it’s a terraced house, so there’s like a shared back lane. And then my office, my home office is in a converted garage. So it’s about six steps from my back door to the door of my office. But and some some days that’s not enough space. But most of the time it’s quite nice because I only have certain things in my office. I don’t have them on my phone, for example, or same, you know, like work, email or whatever. So you’re going to your work email to physical kind of thing. Um, so that’s interesting. And I wonder how many people do that have been able to do that during the pandemic if they’re transitioning. Um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:09] Let me ask you the thing I.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:10] Wanted to mention about working in office.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:12] Oh, let me ask you about being so close, like six steps away. Oh, yeah. When you go in the house for lunch, do you feel the psychological switch? Do you like? Are you able.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:24] I’m actually no, I’m in and out of the house quite often, actually. So, for example, I’ll start off the day. I’ll go in and get a coffee. I’ll come back and I’ll maybe walk upstairs because my wife’s office is in now, in the in the attic next to our bedroom. And I’ll come back. I’ll be out for lunch and I’ll be in there. So I’m in and out of the house probably at least three, four times during the working day. Um, so yeah, there isn’t that psychological separation. It’s interesting. And some days, um, if I’m feeling like, you know, when you have a commute. So how long is your commute between your office and your home about.

Laura Hilliger: [00:11:01] It takes me six minutes with a bicycle.

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:04] Right? So, but that’s enough time to be able to kind of decompress a little bit, whatever I can remember. And I’m going to talk about this a little bit as well. Working at the university in Newcastle, it would be 20, 30 minutes in the car on the train. In that amount of time, you’ve got time to listen to a podcast, you’ve got time to do something else in between home and work, think different thoughts, you know, decompress, do all that kind of stuff. So there have been some times when I’ve worked where I’ve literally gone and grabbed my coat and done a commute in inverted commas when I didn’t need to. Like I’ve gone for a walk around my home town and then come back home. Just needed to decompress. But just going back to the university one one thing if you’ve got any kind of needs, psychological, physical or whatever, working from home is great because you can set up your office exactly how you want it. So some people know, I think, you know, Laura, that I’ve I’ve got extremely sensitive eyes, I’ve got very blue eyes, very thin corneas, and I’m affected by like different kinds of light. A good example of that would be fluorescent lights. I see the flickering. When I worked at the university, I was literally on the disabled register so that I could sit next to a window because I needed the natural light at home. I don’t need to be on a disabled register. I can just set up my office, I can change the lighting. No one else is in here. I can do whatever I want to be set up exactly for me. And that’s why remote working works extremely well for me.

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:37] Yeah, so I found an article on the Harvard Business Review. It was published in 2018. So pre pandemic and the Harvard Business Review found that 33% of knowledge workers were remote in 2018. And I thought that was a really interesting statistic because I feel like which is apparently not backed up in data, but I feel like, you know, you and I and a lot of people in our networks have been working remotely before. Remote was a thing at all, which is partially true. But then when I saw that it was already like 33% in 2018, I was actually I thought that that was rather high. And and I was kind of wondering. Whether or not you think that the pandemic means that all, like a lot of industries, are going to start embracing remote work, whether, you know, what do you think the trend is? Because it’s really easy to say, oh, yeah, you know, the pandemic made it so that everybody wants to be remote. But the reality is, is that remote work is a specific set of skills and competencies.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:51] Yeah, absolutely. And so there’s some things which get bandied around. I think some of them are kind of myths and I think some of them might have some truth in them. So let’s just go go through them. For example, number one, research shows that remote workers are more productive. Well, for me, I can absolutely believe that. How about you?

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:11] Yeah, but I think that there’s like a shadow side to that statistic, which is about if like I’ve read things where it said that remote workers are more productive because they don’t they’re not interrupted as much, but they also have a harder time turning off. So a lot of people who are working out of their homes and we’ve certainly seen this during the pandemic, like people have a hard time shutting down for the day. There’s just one more email to write. You know, they’re already cooking dinner and they have a thought about work that pops in and then they go and deal with it immediately and so that that remote workers are more productive. I think the shadow side is they’re so productive that they don’t create good boundaries and they end up burning out.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:54] Mm. Now, that’s a good point. The one of the reasons that people and right now is interesting, I was reading a thing by Anne Helen Petersen I think is her name culture study and she was talking about this is the time when people are thinking about getting people back to the office. Either they’re saying now immediately or in January or whatever. And it’s interesting seeing the rationale as to why you want people to go back to the office if you’re a manager and she was talking about kind of command and control. But the reason that they give and this is the reason that they talk about having open plan offices, they don’t talk about the cost savings. They say, well, it’s all about serendipity. It’s all about kind of chance interactions. But you can you can kind of create that serendipity remotely as well, can’t you? And the example I’d give would be I talked about my wife working for the NHS digital team on their slack. They have some kind of plug in or extension, which if you go on to that channel and you opt in, you can randomly get paired with someone to go and have a coffee with. It’s not like bumping into people physically in an office is the only way in which you can generate serendipity or chance interactions. So I have I have problems with that. I’d say what I do think that this article does have a good point about the author is Dan Schawbel, who is partner and research director at Future Workplace and the founder of both millennial branding and Workplace He is author of Back to Human How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. I do feel and I don’t think you can get away from isolation that you feel is a remote worker. How do you feel about that?

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:38] I completely disagree.

Doug Belshaw: [00:16:40] Really?

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:41] Yes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:16:42] Oh, interesting.

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:43] This is really interesting. No, I do not feel isolated as a remote worker. And I think it’s because there are things that are built into my working week that mean that I always have contact with people. So, for example, at the Co-op, we have a weekly meeting on Mondays where we talk about all the stuff there is to to do for the week. We align our schedules. In the last months we’ve had enough work on that. We know that multiple members have been involved in that. We’ve met up, talked. Um, I have people, you know, because I’m an expat and I live in Germany, although I’m an American, I have the, the vast majority of my interactions with other human beings is via technology. Yeah, I’ve got friends locally. I love them, I cherish them. I have real people in my life that show up in a place and a time, and that’s not supported by technology. However, for the last 15 years, the majority of my interactions are via text, email, online meetings. Et cetera. And so I. I don’t feel isolated in, you know, in work at all.

Doug Belshaw: [00:17:52] Maybe we use the word isolated in a different way. Maybe it’s just that I need more IRL friends. Maybe that’s what it is.

Laura Hilliger: [00:18:02] Do you not have any IRL friends?

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:04] Maybe all my friends are online. I don’t know. But maybe we’re using the word isolated in a different way. Yeah, I certainly feel very connected to you and other members of the Co-op and that kind of stuff. Um, I guess I feel when you’ve got, you know, when you go out for beers after work. I miss that. Maybe it’s not isolated. Maybe there’s certain things that I miss from working together, um, and being physically in the same place as people. I do miss that. I think that if I had the choice, I would probably do a day or two in an office in inverted commas and like 3 or 4 days at home.

Laura Hilliger: [00:18:43] Well, definitely. You know, I definitely notice since the pandemic, that part of my professional life has fallen to the wayside, is gone, and it’s a bit unsettling. So pre-pandemic I was doing so much travel to to various places. I did a lot of keynotes, I did a lot of workshops. I had team meetings and meetups. And so, you know, every every six weeks or so there was a in real life event of some sort that allowed me to bring my professional persona to to a group of people in real life. And it’s actually really interesting because right before the pandemic, I was travelling 2 or 3 times a month for like, you know, the year before the pandemic. There was just a lot going on. And I was getting really tired of all of the, you know, showing up to in real life events and doing keynotes and talking to people and constantly being professional. Laura On all the time. And right before the pandemic, like the beginning of 2020, I had made a promise to myself to start saying no to more in real life events. And I, I basically had two events in January of 2020 and then the pandemic hit. And like, I haven’t been anywhere since, no event since I haven’t had my first. Welcome back to the real world thing. And yeah, it’s interesting is isolating.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:14] Yeah, definitely. I Definitely. So maybe it is that maybe it’s the fact that you and I were travelling at least every month to some kind of event and meeting people and getting energy from that and being able to show expertise and learn new things and meet new people and all that kind of stuff. I definitely miss that. Um, yeah, maybe I’m confusing that or conflating that with the daily grind of going to the office. Um, but I’m going for the so my last event was March 2020. I went to open Belgium in Belgium and it was weird because on the way back I went my, my wife Hannah came with me and on the way back, it was the first time I was seeing anyone wear masks at the airport. Um, anyway, so since then I haven’t travelled professionally anywhere, and I’m going over to the Netherlands next month. And it’s very interesting because obviously for us in the UK, Brexit, the impact of Brexit has happened during the pandemic as well. So now we’re treated as almost we’re treating as foreigners on the continent. So the whole thing is like quite feels quite fraught and quite different than just hopping over to Amsterdam like before. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:24] That open Belgium. Was that the one that was in the abandoned prison?

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:28] That’s right. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:29] I really wanted to go to that and I said we were going to go together and I said no. For some reason I think I might. Maybe I don’t know why, but yeah, I’m still jealous of it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:39] That’s really interesting. So the main yeah, the, the cells had been repurposed for little workspaces and whatever. They’ve done it really nicely.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:48] Yeah. So where should we go from here? You asked me a few minutes ago what my last office, like the last time I was properly in an office. And I would like to answer that question because the only time that I really consider that I was like in an office was when I was like, I don’t know, 18, 19 years old. I worked for a company called Mastec, which essentially installed all of the tech for cable companies. So splitters, transformers, these kinds of things on city streets. And I had this awesome job when I was 18 and still in school where I basically had to take these big city maps and colour in little triangles and little circles with specific colours depending on was it a four way splitter, was it a two way splitter? Was was it an electric transmitter, whatever? And I had to do this by deciphering construction crew handwriting. So they would send they sent handwritten pieces of paper from all over the United States to the corporate office where I worked, and I had to decipher the handwriting and colour maps. I was basically a cable cop with a crayon. That was my job. And I.

Doug Belshaw: [00:23:05] Woke up with a crayon.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:06] And I had a it was a proper 9 to 5. And it was basically like, if you’ve ever seen the series The Office, it was very much like the Office. The Boss was like a total crazy pants who had a Ducati and all of the workers, you know, all of the cable cops with crayons. We were, you know, we were all between 18 and 22 and going out for beers at lunch and, you know, creating havoc in the parking lot and these kinds of things. And when I think back to that time, I hated that job. Like when I was in the moment, it was like, Ugh, this is so beneath me. 9 to 5, Oh, I’m wasting my potential kind of stuff. But I needed the money. And now looking back to it, I kind of wish that I could, like, recreate that experience because looking back, it was actually really fun. Low responsibility, low accountability. And the office banter was hilarious. Like, really good. Person to person, kind of.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:09] Yeah. You only you only appreciate things, these things in retrospect. And you’re probably forgetting all of the days where it was so boring and all that kind of stuff as well. But yeah, there is definitely something about, you know, human interaction and you’ve put a link actually in here about, well, it’s on the Buffer blog, and I’ve always been impressed with Buffer as an organisation in terms of having transparent pay. And I think they pay the same salary no matter where you are in the country or world or whatever. And they’ve got. And building deliberate praise into remote culture. Six Methods we use at Buffer. And this is pre-pandemic. This is five years ago in 2016. So be interesting to see what they did during the pandemic. But there’s one thing in here which basically takes Maslow’s hierarchy of of needs and they’ve turned it into Maslow’s hierarchy of leads. I don’t know if that’s just a mistranslation or something, but so they’ve got survival at the bottom of the pyramid food, water, sleep, safety, economic and physical security, then love and belonging, esteem and then self-actualisation at the top. So Self-actualisation, they say, is challenge, opportunity, learning and creativity. And what’s interesting is that they align this with kind of company strategy. So like safety is compensation and benefits, like getting paid for what you’re doing so you can live, but then love and belonging and esteem is under modern recognition and then self-actualisation, they’re calling career and development opportunities. And what I think is really interesting about this is that I think you’ve read this book as well by Dan Pink called Drive and how the reason that people show up and like unmotivated at work isn’t because they’re paid more for most people. And that’s like table stakes. It’s about recognition. And I guess this is six ways in which you can show recognition at a at a distance and bringing in praise.

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:11] I also think that in remote cultures or even actually even in-person organisations or in office or a mix of both, I think that positive reinforcement is something that generally falls to the wayside. Like people don’t think about it, You know, the the common way to interact with people is when and you see this in like user research and stuff, like people complain more than they offer a compliment, right? So like, for sure, yeah. You know, you’re more like if you have a survey on your website, you’re probably going to skew your results towards the negative, whatever, whatever you’re trying to figure out because people will generally fill out, you know, a review when they’re upset. Like this is just, you know, part part and partial to.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:01] It’s also human nature. If I’m going to for example, when you ask or I ask for kind of you to to look at a blog post I’ve written, but it’s on Google Docs, sometimes we forget to say, this is amazing and we just go straight into, you’ve got a typo there, you’ve done this and whatever. And even if you get loads of positive feedback, you’re always psychologically on the lookout for, you know, the negative comment. It’s funny, isn’t it?

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:26] Yeah. But I think, I mean, I think that like in reference to this buffer post here, like I really like the idea of being deliberate in the way that you praise. So we’ve had, I call it the the crap sandwich where you give a compliment and then say something like negative and then give another compliment. Like this is kind of a common way to Yeah, I didn’t want to say shit sandwich because yesterday when I used a curse word in the other podcast that we were on, everybody was like, Oh my God, I can’t believe you cursed.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:59] No, you gave us permission. And also this. This is not even pretending to be a family friendly podcast, so.

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:05] Oh, good. So well, yes, but I said crap sandwich. So I got us out of the.

Doug Belshaw: [00:28:10] Yeah, but the thing is in British English crap sandwich means like it’s a sandwich which isn’t very good. Whereas a shit sandwich. Well it’s also.

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:18] A sandwich that is.

Doug Belshaw: [00:28:19] Anyway no shit sandwich is like I would say if you said oh that’s a bit of a shit sandwich, you wouldn’t be saying I don’t like the lettuce in that sandwich. You’d be saying, Oh, someone just gave praise, you know, a kick up the ass and then praise again. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:33] Yeah. Well, anyways, my point was. My point was I think that we like, especially in a remote environment, we need to train ourselves to, to remember all of the things that are missing when we are giving feedback. So, you know, when you walk into a room to give somebody negative feedback, you might like your body language, your tone of voice. All of these things are going to reinforce that you like that person as a person. I mean, unless you’re just being a huge jerk. But you know, the way that you show up at work when you give feedback in a physical reality is is different than when you’re typing it, right? And so I think with remote work, one of the things that I’ve learned over the last 15 years is a, to be quite, you know, to review what I’ve written before sending, obviously because people take things the wrong way, but also to, you know, when I feel my emotions get hot because of something somebody else wrote to check myself and to like really think about that person and whether or not what they’re trying to do is to help me with my work or. To actually be constructive in their criticism or if they’re basically trying to throw one at me.

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:48] So this morning I’ll not go into details, but I was sharing with you how I was kind of all of all stirred up emotionally. And I didn’t feel like like I felt rationally that I should be able to deal with stuff. But I was so annoyed by this particular situation, like outside of work. Um, and what it reminded me was how difficult sometimes it is to convey positive emotion at a distance. It’s easy to convey negative emotion in any kind of situation or channel, but conveying positive emotion can be quite difficult without going over the top. And what we British people would say going all American.

Laura Hilliger: [00:30:25] Whoa. Okay, now hold on for a second. What is that mean? Is that like the plastic happy that Americans put on?

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:34] Like everything’s awesome? Yeah, like, yeah, there.

Laura Hilliger: [00:30:37] Is a reason I’m an expat and it has a lot to do with the way that servers are in the United States. Oh, my God. How are you? Welcome to Chilli’s. Anyway.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:49] Um, yeah, so what I find so I’ve told this story a bazillion times and probably several times on this podcast, but when I worked at the University for Jisc in Higher Education, I was working with people in the office physically face to face, none of whom had a problem with me, all rated me highly with anonymous feedback, whatever. Um, then there were people who were working at a distance with who I worked with all the time. And then there were people beyond that. Yeah, the people beyond that didn’t have a problem with me. The people in the office work with me face to face and have a problem with me. The people who I dealt with all the time remotely, who I didn’t meet, had a problem with me saying that I came across as aggressive. I literally started putting emojis into my email and everyone said how I’d changed it. So you’ll notice now I always put smileys and stuff into my emails because sometimes if it’s just text, you don’t know how that’s being communicated by the person who’s sending the message or the email. Whereas if you put a little smiley face and if you ever see me not put a smiley face in, I’m probably pissed off.

Laura Hilliger: [00:32:01] That is. You shouldn’t have told me that now every time, because you write me stuff all the time. There’s not always a smiley. And a lot of times I’m just different.

Doug Belshaw: [00:32:10] It’s different with you.

Laura Hilliger: [00:32:11] He doesn’t mean it’s different.

Doug Belshaw: [00:32:12] With you because I talk to you all the time on video and stuff, but you know what I mean. Like people who you’re just emailing now and again, but you’re on a reasonably regular basis.

Laura Hilliger: [00:32:21] Yeah, it is really hard.

Doug Belshaw: [00:32:23] Shall we go on with, sorry. Go on. Oh, I.

Laura Hilliger: [00:32:24] Was just going to say, it is really it’s hard in a remote environment to. I don’t know. I think that we as human beings are very complex and I think that it’s harder in a remote environment to understand that there is more complexity to a person than what you are reading out of their text, you know, or seeing. Because I have also people I’ve never met in real life. They think that I am also quite aggressive and I’m like, I am such a little mouse. I’m such a no, I’m not a mouse at all. I’m such a nice person, you know, like I really am a nice person. I try very hard not to piss people off, but I piss people off all the time. So and I think it has to do with remote work and you know how, like all the things people miss from my, you know, when I’m there in real life.

Doug Belshaw: [00:33:14] I taught my son the term resting bitch face a few months ago, and now he uses that against me all the time, huh? Um, for those listening who don’t know what resting bitch face is, or RBF if you want to be more politically correct, it’s like you can’t help, you know, when you’re not smiling or frowning. But it’s just the way your face is. My face apparently is quite aggressive and quite scowly Um, and that is resting bitch face like just your natural demeanour. So I think you have to kind of or I have to take that into into account. Yeah. Shall we go through these six things on the buffer blog for those who are kind of like, Yeah, that’s great Doug and Laura, but give us the, give us the action.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:56] Sure. Let’s do it. I lost a tab, but yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:00] So. Well, the first one is they use discourse. Buffer uses discourse which we’ve used before forum software. You can make it private public and they talk about big or smaller items to celebrate. And the example they use is hip, hip, hooray. Twitter response time has plummeted and it’s got loads of emojis in. And basically what’s happened is they’re responding to people more quickly on Twitter. Now this is fine, but going again about like cultural differences. If you put that on an American like an American company’s forum, that would probably have the effect that it’s it’s meant to have. If you put that on a British forum, people would be like, oh my goodness. Like it seems a bit over the top for like Twitter response time. Mm.

Laura Hilliger: [00:34:47] I guess it depends on what team you’re on, right? Because a social media team might actually be really excited about that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:54] That is true. Maybe. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Laura Hilliger: [00:34:56] Could be.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:57] Um, what? They don’t really number these six things, so let’s just try and find the next one. Um, kicking off all hands with celebrations. I guess this is all about praise. I guess the way that we do things is we check in and find out weird things about each other and about our.

Doug Belshaw: [00:35:21] Well, it’s clients, yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:35:23] It’s about, it’s about bringing the human into remote work. It’s very easy to schedule a Zoom meeting, show up and just start with the agenda, right? Like, but one of the things that we do that we, that we do with client meetings as well is we take a minute to check in. As humans, we always have a check in at the beginning of our meetings. We provide space for people to to say how, how are they really not just like, you know, hey, I’m here and I’m fine, but hey, this is the context that I’m coming into this meeting in. I haven’t had another cup of coffee today. I’m feeling really tired. I’m, you know, I’m here, but also I’m kind of like not fully on it, you know, and providing that space for people to like, actually bring their full selves to work is not only about praise, it’s it’s about space. Right? And so this, this post is all about what I find praise.

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:14] Yeah. And I find that really interesting because we have clients who are specific people in the organisations we work with who are reasonably uncomfortable with that. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:27] This has to do with that. Sorry, go ahead.

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:31] Some of them, and I think I’ve seen this recently with one of our clients. Some of them like open up and relax into it over time. And I can remember my reaction. So literally 2017, we got outlandish to do some, some work with Moodle, like a design sprint, and they did this Sociocratic design sprint. And one of the people at Outlandish said is that if we check in and they checked in saying that they’d had an argument with one of their parents and how they were feeling about that and I was just like, Oh, I feel super uncomfortable now. But after a while of doing that. Like everyone doing that and showing stuff that they actually felt like it completely changed the way that you interact because you’re actually interacting as human beings rather than as roles or as, Yeah, everything’s fine, let’s just get on with it. And I really appreciate that. And it’s only been, if you think about the last four years, but it’s felt a lot longer than that. It’s good.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:27] I think there’s something interesting here about power dynamics. So know because we’ve been, you know, trying to bring our whole selves to work for a really long time because we understand the nuances of working in a virtual environment and also because, like I personally have been doing creative work for a really long time and creative, creative work tends to put me in contact with people who are a little bit more right brained than left brained, I guess I would say they just, um, yeah, I don’t know how to describe it without.

Doug Belshaw: [00:38:02] Well, it’s less the left brain is more rational and scientific and like process, and right, brains more creative and chaotic and whatever.

Laura Hilliger: [00:38:12] Yeah and I think that maybe in my career I’ve just had more to do with the creative, chaotic folks. And so every once in a while, you know, I show up and do a check in with a client where most of the people in the room are a bit more buttoned up, a bit more rational and logical. And they also have that sort of a hard time to kind of like release themselves as, you know, into the moment.

Doug Belshaw: [00:38:38] It’s trust as well, though, isn’t it? Because if you don’t trust the person that you’re offloading to or explaining, people can use that against you. You know, because one thing that we haven’t talked about at all is office politics. And I would love to see a study. You know, one of the things I wanted to talk to wanted to mention as a result of that article was that it talks about opportunities for advancement, i.e., getting promoted is less likely. They say, um, if you work remotely. So if you’re already in a senior position, working remotely is fine. But if you’re more junior and you’re looking to get promoted, you need to be in the office impressing your boss. Yeah, play the game. I can see that. I can see that. Right. But I wonder in terms of office politics and backstabbing and all that kind of stuff and audit trails and emails and whatever, I wonder. And the gossiping and the and the backbiting. I wonder if that’s more or less or if it’s just the same remotely versus in office.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:42] I think. I think there are some people who don’t want to play that game. I think they’re becoming more and more and more. And I think that that the office politics, power dynamics got to climb the corporate ladder, blah, blah, blah is a really kind of old school, traditional way of looking at business. And there’s a lot of businesses that that do this. But like for me personally, I think that part of the reason that I’ve been successful in my career is because I never really cared so much about climbing a ladder or actually I did at one point and I totally fell off of it. And I like, you know, smashed my face up. But the places where I was successful in in my career had to do with that, bringing my authentic self to work and the work that I actually did not with how, you know, how I presented myself, not with what I wore. You know, it was it was about how I thought, that’s where I’ve had success. And, you know, for me, when I tried to play the game, like, yeah, I didn’t like it. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. We were talking yesterday, we were talking about Parasocial and I admitted to having a set of skills that allows me to walk into a room and kind of see how I might be a benefit to others, which could be negatively explained as how I can use people. Which is how you explained it yesterday.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:09] Well, I was being funny, but.

Laura Hilliger: [00:41:10] Yes. Yeah, but I. But I. I lost my train of thought. I don’t know where I really where I’m going. I just think, I think that office politics maybe hit their peak it probably in the 80s. And ever since then, you know people have been like I feel like when I meet people who are very clearly like politic driven, ego driven, pushing in that direction, I’m usually running the other way.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:36] Well, I’m not going to name the organisation, but I’ve already mentioned them on this podcast and they that was a very backstab y email audit trail kind of culture and I didn’t enjoy that very much at all. Um, one thing we haven’t mentioned so far is that at the start of the pandemic, we as people who have worked remotely for a long time, um, wanted to help the world, as it were. And so we’ve got part of our website, Learn with OpenCV Co-op. We’ve got a course of free email based course. I think 190 odd people have taken it so far. Um, it’s in your email inbox and it’s called The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Online Meetings. It’s got some things in there that you’d expect and some things that you might not. Um, so you might expect, for example, preparation and collaboration, but you might not expect, expect things to do with privacy or affirmations, for example. So have a look at that if you haven’t seen it. And it might be just teaching you things you already know, in which case you can feel, um, reinforced. But it might be stuff which is new to you, or it might be things that you want to passively aggressively send to someone else because they need to be better at it too.

Laura Hilliger: [00:42:53] Oh, I like the take our email courses so that you can forward them in passive aggressive emails to people that need a little help.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:01] That’s a that’s a lot of emails for the win. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:43:04] I think listeners should also check out the other email course that we that we worked on when a year ago or so when we were working with Greenpeace, they asked us to put together some information on what it means to work openly. I think for me, working openly goes hand in hand with working at all, but also working remotely specifically because there’s some specific behaviours and attitudes around working openly that work really well in a remote environment. And then the other thing about Learn with is there’s also under our library, there’s a bunch of tools that we use predominantly in remote workshops that really help kind of break the ice with people. So all that stuff is free. Check it out. We’re going to be doing a rather large update to learn with very soon, which I’m excited about, but it’s all available now.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:58] Hey, Laura. I’m looking at the time. I know. And I’m looking at like, well, interestingly, there’s all this stuff that we could talk about automation planning, um, you know, backlogs, different tools that we find useful, all that kind of stuff. I almost feel like that’s a separate episode. So shall we wrap things up here? And then maybe if we, if we feel the spirit move us, we can do a take two or a round two on on.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:24] Remote work for sure. I think it would be super fun to nerd out with you because I know you and I have very different processes and I think there’s an interesting conversation a about the processes themselves, but b, about conflicting processes and maybe we could actually get into it intellectual debate, which would be super fun.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:47] I am definitely up for that. So, well, let’s, let’s leave things on that. Cliff-hanger if you’ve got this far, congratulations. We’d love to hear your your kind of thoughts about anything that we’ve talked about so far. You can share your thoughts on social media. You can email us, you can send us postcards however you want to get in touch is cool with us. If you’re enjoying this podcast, feel free to support it and or share it. And thanks for now!

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:13] Thank you!