Review: It’s not just where we’ll work. It’s also how & how much (review of Out of Office)

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

That’s great advice to give if you’re a divorce lawyer or cardiologist looking for future clients and patients.

But it’s lousy advice for the rest of us, according to the authors of Out of Office.

“A lot of us find something that we’re good at and like and then try to make a career out of it in some way,” say journalists Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen. “Those who’ve followed this pernicious advice to ‘do what you love’ know this endgame: it’s a burnout trap, and a fantastic way to evacuate all pleasure and passion from an activity. Do what you love and you’ll work every day for the rest of your life.”

Here’s an alternative. Take what you love and make it your hobby.

“The restoration we find in hobbies can make us better partners, better friends, better listeners and collaborators, just overall better people to be around,” says Warzel and Petersen. “Hobbies help us cultivate essential parts of us that have been suffocated by productivity obsessions and proliferating obligations. The hobby in itself ultimately matters far less than what its existence provides: a means of tilting your identity away from a person who is good at doing a lot of work.”

Warzel and Petersen have a few hobby ground rules.

No turning your hobby into a money-making side hustle. Your hobby is not a productivity hack or a professional development opportunity. Don’t perform your hobby on social media in a bid to win likes and shares. And if you’re a mom or dad, don’t make your hobby a family affair.

“Sublimating your desire for activities that don’t involve your children does not make you a more impressive parent; it just makes you a more exhausted and resentful one.”

Not sure what to do for a hobby that isn’t tied to making money, advancing your career or building your personal brand?  “Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay,” say Warzel and Petersen “Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever way, yours. What did you actually like to do?”

Petersen and Warzel prescribe hobbies as one way to course correct after a pandemic that’s thrown work-life balance out of whack for many of us.

While we’ve spent a lot of time mulling over where we’ll work post-pandemic, how we’ll work is the bigger question.

Warzel and Petersen say we need to “think through how we can liberate ourselves from the most toxic, alienating, and frustrating aspects of office work. Not just by shifting the location where the work is completed, but also by rethinking the work we do and the time we allot to it.

“Reconceptualization means having honest conversations about how much people are working and how they think they could work better. Not longer. It means acknowledging that better work is, in fact, oftentimes, less work over fewer hours which makes people happier, more creative, more invested in the work they do and the people they do it for.”

Petersen and Warzel admit there’s no easy endgame. You won’t find checklists or six easy steps in their book.

“The process is difficult and, if we’re being honest, never ending. But we are at a societal inflection point. Parts of our lives that were one quietly annoying have become intolerable; social institutions that have long felt broken are now actively breaking us. So many things we’ve accepted as norms have the potential to change.”

So as we figure out where we’ll work when the pandemic ends, it’s also worth having a hard and overdue conversation about how we’ll work and how we can free up more time family, friends, community and our hobbies.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Master the mute button and other survival strategies for meeting virtually & working remotely (review)

scrabble-4958237_1920It took nearly 30 years but I finally got to work remotely from an island.

It wasn’t quite how I imagined it.

The island wasn’t Aruba or in the heart of cottage country.

Our kitchen island became my makeshift office when the pandemic hit and we were all sent home to work.

The novelty of making breakfast and lunch while watching dad zoom through meetings quickly wore thin with our kids.

So I ditched the island life after a few weeks for a slightly longer commute to the spare bedroom in our basement.

nonobvious guideHaving a dedicated workspace that you can close the door on at the end of the day is one of the survival strategies in Rohit Bhargava’s The Non-Obvious Guide to Virtual Meetings & Remote Work.

Bhargava says working remotely comes with a host of challenges, including constant distractions and temptations like the fridge, Netflix bingeing, bored and restless kids, family pets and Amazon deliveries. Remote work can also leave us feeling isolated and lonely, struggling with blurred work-life boundaries, dealing with technology breakdowns and wrestling with the fear of being out of sight and out of mind with the people who cut our paycheques “When you aren’t there in person, you’ll need to work doubly hard to make sure you aren’t neglected, dismissed or forgotten.”

If your days are spent zooming in and out of meetings, Bhargava recommends being on time, learning how to master the mute button and keeping windows and lights behind your camera rather than behind your back. Dressing appropriately is also a winning idea. “Working remotely is no excuse to look like you just rolled out of bed.”

If you’re making a virtual presentation, keep it short. No one has the attention span for a 45-minute PowerPoint. Share and repeat only your most powerful points.  Look into the camera rather than at the Brady Brunch squares of people on your screen. And double your energy. “When you feel like you’re overdoing it with your energy level, you probably have it just right.”

Know that no one likes a colleague who takes pride in staying technologically illiterate months into the pandemic. “If the rest of us can figure it out, you can too. Or at least you can try harder and stress about it like a normal human.”

Also drop the lame excuses for why you were running late or missed a meeting altogether. Life happens and we’re all muddling our way through the new normal. “Just be honest,” says Bhargava. “It humanizes you and may end up making you more likeable as a result.”

There’s added pressure on leaders to keep their remote teams engaged and productive.

It’s easier to build and sustain workplace culture when everyone’s under the same roof for eight or more hours a day.  Yet leaders can still build culture and foster trust with a team that’s working from home.

Start with empathy, says Bhargava. If a colleague’s running late, underperforming and blowing deadlines, ask if they’re okay. Know that employees with young kids at home and elderly at-risk parents have a lot on their plates. “Focus on people first.”

Stand up for each other.  “It’s too easy to assign blame or speak negatively about someone when you don’t have to do it face to face.”

And make time in your meetings for small talk, non-work conversations and celebrations. “Show interest in people first and then get down to business. Virtual meetings may be the only opportunities for engagement a remote team member has with colleagues.”

Bhargava’s free e-book is a field guide for working remotely in our disrupted world.  “The rapid changes in the world are dictating that we each become more adaptable and willing to reinvent how we work. It’s not an easy challenge to face.

“You can manage this disruption,” says Bhargava. “We all can. As long as we continue to be generous with each other.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.