laptop set on a couch

On Remote Working

Work

With uncertainty around the coronavirus being what it is these days, many employers are starting to look at establishing remote-working opportunities for their staff. Having worked from home for many years now (both part time and full time), I thought I’d share some some tips and observations that I’ve found particularly useful.

To provide some context, I’m a learning designer and educational technologist and have worked in higher education (e.g. universities) for nearly 20 years. My primary “clients” (though I don’t call them this) are academic staff interested in developing their courses online.

Establish rituals and habits (and follow them)

Establishing habits and cues that only take place at the start or end of the day help can help emphasise the shift from being at home and “off the clock” to being in work mode. 

For example, I try to always dress for work in the same way regardless of whether I’m working remotely or on campus.  This helps mentally reinforce that I’m representing the University even at home.

At the end of the day it’s also important to have cues that help switch off our minds and return us to an at-home headspace.  Frequently I’ll go running as soon as I’ve mentally “clocked out.”  It gets me out of the house and focussing on a non-work activity, and when I return home, mentally fresh, I know that the evening has begun.  Walking the dog or going for a walk are other ideas.

Set Goals for the Day

Particularly when surrounded by the relaxing and familiar environment of home, it’s easy to get distracted.  By setting goals and tasks for the day first thing in the morning, I find I’m better able to stay on track and have a tool – e.g. ‘the list’ – to return to if my mind starts to wander.

Practice active communication

This is a big one.  When you’re not physically surrounded by colleagues it’s easy to start feeling isolated and out of the loop.  Taking the time to actively reach out, connect, give updates and ask for updates helps maintain a sense of camaraderie even when in disparate locations.

This is especially important when the bulk of your colleagues work together, and you are one of the few (or the only) people working remotely.  It’s easy for others to share information amongst the local team that never makes it to you because they’re in close proximity and you’re not.  So, it’s important to ask questions and actively seek out news that you might be missing by being in a remote office.

Create a dedicated workspace

On a similar theme to rituals and habits is where you work when at home.  When one space is used for multiple purposes (work and non-work) it’s easy to lose track of your reason for being there.  Again, setting goals can certainly help here, but equally if the only time you sit in a particular place is when you work, it can be yet another way of reinforcing the distinction between worktime and non-worktime.

Stand-up and take breaks periodically

Especially if you are alone when working from home, it is incredibly easy to forget to move, eat, stretch, or take a breather.  Breaks helps you relax both mentally and physically and can contribute to increased productivity when you set down a task for a moment and move a bit.

Sometimes I will start laundry or dishes running as a means of getting me to stand up.  When the buzzer goes off, it will remind me to pause, make a cuppa, put things away, and go outside for a few minutes before coming back to work again.

Understand whether flexible working conditions mean “location,” “working hours,” or both

Another big one.  Some businesses are happy for staff to work remotely but expect them to keep to a standard 8-4 or 9-5 working day.  Others are happy for remote staff to work any bizarre times of day or night they like so long as they get the work done and meet their professional obligations.  Particularly with employers who allow flexible work but are reluctant to do so, it’s important to establish trust.  Understanding their assumptions and expectations for when we work and how often we provide status reports can go a long way to demonstrating we’re professional and reliable even when remote and unseen.

Have tips of your own? Leave a comment and share some approaches that you find useful.

flaming hand fighting water hand

On Dialogue

General

One of the first blogs I ever ran was hyper political and extremely opinionated. It was the era of George W. Bush, who at the time was my least favourite American president ever, and I was only too happy to share exactly what I thought of his administration and its policies. I had a whole lot to say, and I didn’t mince words. This resulted in debates, angry words, and even a flame war or two along the way.

Eventually though, I arrived in a place mentally that I really, really didn’t like. I spent my days perpetually angry, looking for reasons to be outraged, and spoiling for debate on even the most trivial of topics. Not only was I unpleasant to be around, let alone live with, I felt positively horrible inside.

After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to retire that blog and completely change the way I approached controversial topics. I realised that, instead of making a difference in the world, my tirades were only serving to sew further discord, and foster even more tribalism. I had joined the echo chambers I was trying to break down, and in the end it seemed totally counterproductive.

The loudest, most outrageous people get the most attention, regardless of their location on the spectrum of opinion. However, this doesn’t mean people actually listen. It becomes more about spectacle and less about substance. If I wanted people to actually listen, I had to stop being divisive, and start being inclusive.

This didn’t mean abandoning my opinions, but it did absolutely mean cease viewing those with differing views as the enemy. My stance on Us vs Them had to go.

The most important epiphany I had was brought on by a growing interest in Buddhism, and the idea that everyone wants to be happy and avoid suffering. People have reasons for believing the things they do, and more than likely it isn’t because they’re trying to be cruel or difficult. People act with their own best interests in mind.

When we assume people act with good intentions, it utterly changes the way we see adversity and differences of opinion. Rather than an enemy to defeat, or a battle to win, they become just another human being we can try to understand. And when people feel that someone else is sincerely trying to understand them, they’re that much more likely to respond in kind.

When respect and understanding are present, even those with the most diametrically opposed viewpoints can engage in a healthy, productive dialogue. And that’s precisely where I choose to be these days.

Vintage Typewriter

On Writing

Writing

Without a doubt, the written word is my favourite medium. I prefer it over speech; I prefer it over video; and as an introvert, I definitely prefer it over face-to-face interaction. This has been the case for as long as I can remember.

In uni/college, long-form essays were always my preferred mode of assessment. Not only did in-class exams spike my anxiety, I found I had a natural aptitude for sequencing thoughts and arguments in writing to form a broad discussion on a concept. And not only that, I actually enjoyed the process.

I grew to explore poetry for a while, and when I began to play music and experiment with songwriting, this easily transitioned to lyrics. Professionally, my enthusiasm for print evolved into technical manuals, user documentation, online support materials, and eventually project documentation. Bizarrely enough, despite it being the bane of many of my colleagues, I grew to relish the opportunity to get stuck into the process, which is perhaps why I have done so much of it over the years.

But it wasn’t until very recently – perhaps 3 years ago – that I tried my hand at fictional prose. For some reason, I had come to see myself as inherently non-creative, despite the shorter-form creations I’d produced when I was younger. Now having made several attempts at novellas, I’ve grown enraptured by this particular form of writing, and yet sadly it’s the one genre in which I have the least confidence in myself, and am the most reluctant to share my work. It’s an edge of mine, there’s no doubt about it.

Yet in that discomfort, there is opportunity; in the uncertainty, there is potential growth. Every story I write, every attempt I make, helps me learn. It gives me a chance to try things differently, then review, observe, and try again. Truly, it’s one of the wonders of the creative process. Each creation becomes an artifact that documents the best effort I could make at that time. Yes, I may look back later and cringe at a given piece of work, but this simply reflects the fact that I have improved since then, and that’s a source of immense satisfaction for me.

One of the questions that I’m slowly beginning to explore is what to do with my creations once they feel complete. I’d love to say that the creative process is its own reward, but if I’m truly honest with myself I realise that I need to feel validated externally. It’s as if I cannot call myself a writer until someone else has labelled me one voluntarily. I need to hear what other people think of my stories. Praise is wonderful of course, but in and of itself that doesn’t help me grow. External perspectives feel crucial to me at this point, I’m just not sure I’m brave enough to ask yet.

If you have experience in this area, I’d welcome any insight in the comments!

man secret face

On Anonymity

Site Guidelines

You’ll notice I don’t include my surname anywhere in this site. There are a few important reasons for this, all of which relate to freedom of expression.

In setting out to establish a blog where I am able to discuss any topic I like, I want to be sure that my opinions don’t reflect negatively upon anyone else – be it family, friends, employers, or organisations with which I am affiliated. Most institutions these days have social media policies, set out to minimise (or hopefully avoid) negative repercussions arising from their employees or members making statements online. I want to honour these strategies, and hold myself accountable in the process.

My intention is to take full responsibility for anything that I post here, and to always be respectful to others. I plan to put a lot of thought into the content that goes up here, but in the event I inadvertently cause offense, I want to limit the fallout to myself alone. In doing that, I free myself up to discuss matters related to a diverse range of topics, be this the industry/sector I work in, current events, popular culture, travel, sobriety, or mental health.

Where appropriate I will make declarations and disclosures about personal or professional relationships that might impact upon my objectivity, but I will also strive to do so without naming anyone else specifically. If there is every any doubt, I’m happy to be called out in the comments, though I encourage people to keep their discussion civil, as I will certainly be doing the same.

Finally, I’d like to make a request for anyone visiting this site. In this day and age it’s virtually impossible to keep your identity fully anonymous online. This is particularly true when you work in industries that have a web presence of some kind, which I do. The fact is it’s not hard to identify someone’s place of work if you want to. My only request is, if you do look me up, please don’t reveal the details. My stance on anonymity is to protect others rather than to hide behind a cloak of secrecy.

Art faces masks

Lenses

General

This is not a sobriety blog. There are many people in that category on the internet today, with a lot of fantastic things to say about recovery, the sober-curious movement, 12-step programs and the like, and I am truly glad they are here, tirelessly helping others and sharing their experience, strength and hope. It’s a really important role. I may write posts on sobriety every once in a while, but that is not the broad intent behind this site.

The way I see it, I am more than my sobriety. This is not to say that my sobriety isn’t important to me, because it definitely is. It’s given me so much joy, opportunity and freedom over the last 20 years, but it is just one aspect of my identity. And I find when I try to compartmentalise my life into neat, self-contained categories, it feels limiting.

I had a sobriety blog for a while. I started it with the best of intentions, but slowly began to feel boxed in. Perhaps inevitably, I ran out of things to say and the site began to lay fallow. Eventually, my web host account was hacked, a bunch of nasty malware was installed, and I had to pull everything down – and I mean everything.

In an instant, my sobriety blog and several of my other sites, amounting to a decade and a half of web content, vanished from existence. Further still, I systematically deleted all instances of the username I’d used for years in order to mitigate the fallout that had occurred. In the end, for the first time in nearly two decades, I had no personal web presence whatsoever.

In the beginning it actually felt relieving to have a blank slate, but slowly the urge to express myself online began to rise to the surface again. “I blog, therefore I am” was a mantra of mine for many years, and I’ve grown to realise the statement “once a blogger, always a blogger” holds very true for me.

So rather than re-establish a number of different sites, each covering a different topic, or series of topics, I’m going to back to basics, as I did with my first personal blog on Blogspot many years ago, and have one site that discusses whatever I’m thinking at the time. This will give me the flexibility to express myself – my whole self – in one place for anyone who cares to read it.

In the end though, I write to think. The act of articulating my thoughts in print forces me to structure and sequence ideas into meaningful language, and in doing so helps me come to conclusions I had not previously recognised. Even if this site never receives a single visitor, the act of writing is its own reward and I will continue to engage in the practice regardless.