"In My Organization, the Workers Work . . ."

I am quickly starting to hate and despise the words “virtual” and “remote.” That’s a shame, because they are perfectly decent words than can be very useful in the right place at the right time.

What I hate and despise is when those words are used to describe work and the people who do it. For example:

“We sold our office building and now we have a virtual office.”

“We allow some of our staff to work remotely when that’s appropriate.”

“I just hired two new people. One works in the office and the other is remote.”

“We are improving our infrastructure so we can work virtually.”

Go to your bookshelf. Blow the dust of your college-years copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and open it up. (OK, I know you didn’t do that, so just open a Google search window if you want to play along.)

Look up the words “virtual” and “remote.” Here is what you will find.

Synonyms for virtual:  indirect, unacknowledged, tacit, potential, implied, basic

Synonyms for remote: far-off, faraway, inaccessible, isolated, lonely, unknown, alien 

Antonyms for virtual: actual, authentic, real

Antonyms for remote: close, known, near, open, sociable, loved

Now think about what you are really saying when you describe your work environment and your coworkers or staff as “virtual” and “remote.” You are saying, “My inaccessible, lonely and unknown coworkers work in a way that is unacknowledged, implied, and indirect.”

When you use these words to describe what you do, when you do it, and how you do it, you are sending implicit and unconscious messages to those “remote” workers in your “virtual” office, and to your members, your customers, your clients, and yourself.

What if you just called the workplace, “work” and the staff, “workers?” Then, “In my organization, the remote staff work in a virtual office,” becomes “In my organization, the workers work.” And it hardly seems worth stating something that obvious.

“In my organization, workers work.” No judgment, no anxieties, just an accurate statement of what is so.

Try it for a week or two or three. Eliminate the words “virtual” and “remote” from conversations about how work gets done. Better yet, whenever you hear yourself using time and place as a measure of work getting done, stop yourself. Stop admiring Joe for always getting to the office early and leaving late. Stop making snarky remarks when Sally leaves at 3 pm to go to her daughter’s dance recital or soccer game. Let go of the outdated belief that work can only be done in a particular place at a particular time.

Change your word choices and your messages and, ultimately, your beliefs about work, and notice how much easier it is to focus on what is real, actual, and authentic. Reframe expectations so that desired results (including benchmarks and deadlines) are clear and explicitly agreed to by those responsible for creating them. Hold everyone accountable for producing those results, without exception. Focus on the ultimate outcomes, the advances and accomplishments that truly tell us that work has been done.

Then ask yourself, “Does it really matter when and where work gets done, as long as the results are what we wanted?”

That’s not virtual, and it isn’t remote. It is actual, and it is as close at hand as you decide to make it.




Discrimination That Is Less Than Obvious (Except to the Targets)

Those of us who care about diversity and full inclusion in the workplace talk a lot about unconscious bias and the forms it takes. We call it things like microaggression, microinequity, microadvantage, microaffirmation. When we get cranky enough, we talk about people being “clueless” or “tone-deaf” (and occasionally use some stronger language). We talk about privilege and how it shows up at work.

We want to believe that everyone we talk to knows and believes that blatant discrimination and obvious bias - for example, Sir Tim Hunt's recent comments on women in science - is not to be tolerated. That kind of behavior, we think, is quickly and easily recognized and dealt with.

But what about things that are not so micro- and yet don’t quite rise to the level of blatant discrimination? Small actions that are not deliberate attempts to exclude or discourage particular groups of people are still noticed, and provoke a reaction. Often, that reaction is suppressed out of fear of being labeled “overly sensitive” or worse.

Two things have triggered this question for me.

The first is the rise in popularity of “fitness competitions” at meetings, conferences, and in other professional settings. These usually involved the use of pedometers and other worn devices that track an individual’s movement, with prizes awarded on an individual or team basis. This seems like a great idea at first glance: get everyone up and out of their seats and moving, fight obesity, improve health, and so on. Lots of fun, unless you’re the person who can’t get up and out of your seat. To me, that looks a lot like blatant discrimination against people with impaired mobility, who are once again forced into the position of outsider. Apparently, we haven’t moved all that far from a time when wheelchair users were excluded from participation by a lack of ramps and elevators, and no one else seemed to notice.

The second is this piece from “the experts” at Fast Company: “Is it Hurting My Career to Skip Happy Hour With My Co-Workers?"  The responding expert, Art Markman, advises that yes, it might be, if those happy hours are giving those co-workers a chance to bond and build relationships, complete with in-jokes and shared memories, and you’re not there. The suggested solution? Spend your time and energy creating other office social events that fit your schedule better. (The query came from a person with young children who wanted to spend evenings at home.) So here is a situation that, to me, is an example of blatant discrimination against parents, not to mention recovering alcoholics (for whom being in a bar may be a strong trigger), people who are hard-of-hearing (ambient noise in bars is difficult even for those with perfect hearing), and the claustrophobic (ok, that’s me – I get panicky in noisy, crowded places and happy hour bars are my idea of an inner circle of hell).

Both of these take me back to a time when playing golf was crucial to advancement in professional and executive careers. The bonding, wheeling, and dealing that took place during rounds of golf and at the “19th hole” in the clubhouse bar were key to moving up. No matter that many (at one time, most) of the clubs where this went on did not admit women, Jews, or people of color, not to mention the barrier to those who were physically unable to swing a club or walk the course. There was even legal recognition of the discrimination that resulted. The importance of golf games to success in business was one of the primary arguments that forced the admittance of Jews, women, and people of color into exclusive country clubs.

How can you and your business or organization avoid this kind of not-so-subtle, and certainly not micro-, exclusion in the workplace and other professional settings?

For a start, when planning events and activities, ask yourself, “Is this something that everyone can fully participate in? What barriers to participation might arise, and how can we address those fairly?

As a leader or manager, pay attention to how, and where, your teams interact socially. If their default is a happy hour meet-up, don’t assume everyone is all that happy about it and that those who are missing out on the meet-ups aren’t interested in being social with their co-workers. Take the responsibility for creating alternatives that take place during regular working hours. Keep in mind that a large part of the appeal of happy hour is the absence of “the boss(es),” and plan other social activities accordingly.

What has been your experience with this kind of exclusion? What suggestions do you have for addressing or avoiding it? 

Harassment at Meetings: Spot It, Stop It, and Prevent It


A note on terminology:

I use the term “meetings” to cover any gathering of members that is organized or produced by or for a professional membership society, trade association, advocacy group, or other organization (the "meeting producer"), including but not limited to conferences, conventions, trade shows, training sessions, and committee or governing body meetings. 

I use the phrase “meeting participants” to include everyone at the meeting: paying attendees, exhibitors, staff of the producing organization, venue staff, contractors, temps – essentially, anyone with a name tag or employed by the venue or producer.

Meetings are not optional, and should be safe and welcoming to all.

In most professions, attendance and presentation at meetings and conferences is key to career advancement. This is particularly true for people in science and academia, where giving presentations and networking with other researchers at scholarly society meetings are crucial for finding jobs, getting tenure, finding collaborators, and getting funding for research.

Most reasonable people would agree that in every professional setting, including meetings, all participants have the right to be free from unwelcome or unwanted attention and behavior. This includes behavior that makes the target uncomfortable or that implies or indicates that they do not belong where they are, based on any personal characteristic: gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. This includes any unwanted attention, any unwanted sexual advances, comments about appearance, verbal or visual insults, harassment, bullying, and assault.

Consider these comments, which I’ve heard from women I’ve talked to about their experiences with harassment at professional society meetings:

“I no longer go to any of the social events at the meeting. I’m probably missing out on a chance to make contacts, but I just can’t stand the dirty jokes, the comments about women’s appearance, the blatant passes and even groping that some of the men dish out.”

“I hate presenting posters, especially at crowded poster sessions. Being stuck at my poster makes me an easy target. I’ve been groped, I’ve been hit on, I’ve had men tell me obscene jokes. It’s so nerve-wracking.”

“I tried telling a security guard what happened, and he just laughed at me and told me to just take it as a compliment and get over it.”

“There are some meetings that I will never go to again. The anti-woman hostility I’ve experienced is overwhelming.”

One woman described to me several incidents that occurred at research meetings that traditionally include a dance. “Why do they have dances and booze at these meetings? These are supposed to be professional conferences,” she said. “It’s like the organizers are giving all the creeps permission and the perfect place to be creepy.” She described an incident in which her harasser refused to leave her alone, and insisted he would “escort” her to her room. She eventually tracked down someone from her lab and asked him to walk her to her room.

Obviously, some participants believe that at meetings the usual rules governing workplace conduct can be safely ignored. This attitude is reinforced when presenters use of sexist or offensive images or language in their presentations, and when exhibitors make use of sexualized images, double entendre slogans, or scantily clad booth attendants to draw attention to their wares. The meeting location sends a signal – many of the women I’ve spoken with simply will not go to meetings held in Las Vegas, for example. Even the way a meeting site is marketed has an impact: images that look like “fun” to some people looks a lot like “treating women as objects” to the rest of us.

Harassment is more likely to occur at social events such as receptions or dances; at off-site or ancillary events; at any event where alcohol is served; and when socializing away from the meeting (e.g. at “on your own” dinners). Events that are noisy and over-crowded, including poster sessions, are ideal places for predatory harassment such as groping, rubbing, and making suggestive remarks. 

Most meeting producers are generally unaware of how often harassment occurs at their meetings. Women are reluctant to complain about harassing behavior out of fear of retaliation, fear of damage to their careers, or simply not wanting being labeled as a troublemaker by colleagues.

Ignoring the problem of sexual and gender-based harassment at meetings means that meeting producers are emphatically not serving the interest of a large segment, possibly a majority, of their participants. At best, it jeopardizes the success of future meetings due to decreased attendance and revenue-generation. At worst, it may put meeting producers at risk of legal liability. 

Fortunately, there are things that all of us can do to spot, stop, and prevent harassment at meetings. Click here for more information. 


When Was the Last Time You Just Played?

I recently rediscovered the joys of coloring books! And color pencils! And color pens! All the coloring things! Coloring has become my new favorite way to get my brain to relax and focus at the same time. It’s how I play, throughout the day.

Do you remember what it was like when you played as a child? Children at play, more often than not are in the much-touted “zone,” where time disappears, attention is relaxed and focused, and nothing else matters except the matter at hand. Even as an adult, you can use play to reach that state on a regular basis. Practice it enough, and you’ll find it easier to reach when you are not playing – when you are “working,” for example.

Here’s what makes for optimum workday playtime:

  • Do something that requires the use of your body – hands, feet, arms, legs, torso. Note: using your fingers on a keyboard, phone, or video game controller does not count.
  • Do something that requires paying attention to music, rhythm, images, pictures, or symbols. For most of us, activities that involve words or numbers lead to way too much of the kind of thinking that you are trying to escape for a short time
  • Do something that you can pick up and put down easily after 10 or 15 minutes. 

Coloring works for me because I’m not so great at drawing, but I love to play with color. Other ways I play are: practicing my drumming, dancing around my office to an inspiring bit of music, working on a big jigsaw puzzle, and taking a walk in the park without plugging into my iPod, so that I can listen for birdsong and other nature sounds.

When I take a play break, I come back to my work refreshed, often with more energy and new ideas. Yep, it is better than coffee!

Imagine how much more we could accomplish if every workplace had a playroom, full of art supplies and coloring books and building blocks and jigsaw puzzles and puppet theaters and sand boxes. (OK, that last one might be a bit messy, but it sure would be fun!)

How do you play? What do you want in your workplace playroom?

It's That Time of Year


A couple of months ago, a successful business owner told me that Autumn is a time when she starts to question herself about why she is in business, and why she is doing the things she is doing. She said, “I have a hard time thinking strategically” in this season of the year.

There are lots of seemingly obvious reasons why we might feel this way in Autumn – everything from feeling overwhelmed by holiday planning to something as serious as the onset seasonal affective disorder. Although you can find plenty of advice on how to cope with the stress of the holidays, and you can buy light boxes to fool your brain into thinking it is still midsummer, I want to suggest an alternative, one that moves past Surface Mind solutions and addresses the needs of your Deeper Mind.*

When you live in a temperate climate, Deeper Mind responds to seasonal changes in ways that are easy for Surface Mind to ignore or override, even when doing so leaves with a feeling of being out of step and out of sorts. Deeper Mind speaks in images, in symbols and signs, in dreams and in synchronistic “coincidences.” Tune in to that language and you will learn how to work with the seasons, all year round.

We respond to the change of seasons in ways that are rooted in our evolutionary past, when everyone (except babes in arms) contributed to meeting the needs for food, shelter, clothing, water, sleep, and play. Our ancestors’ brains evolved, and were trained as they grew from child to adult, to respond without conscious effort to seasonal changes. That included changes in the level of activity needed to find, grow, preserve, and store food; the need for more or less shelter and warmth; the need to make or mend clothing and footwear.

It also included meeting the need for play of all kinds – music, singing, dancing, games, and the intimate play of sex. To work well, our brains need the relaxation and regeneration that play provides.

Here are some ways that Deeper Mind responds to the seasons:

The warm and sunny Summer months of the year – generally from June through mid-September in the Northern Hemisphere – are the time for peak activity. Deeper Mind longs to be outside, to be moving and sweating and productive. This time of year is best for working hard and being busy, doing the things that will pay off in future. Think of what it took to grow and gather food in the time before fertilizers, weed killers, and large-scale irrigation. The long hours of daylight also allow plenty of time for play. Summer is the perfect time for backyard gatherings; for outdoor fun; and for enjoying the evenings' cool breezes while gazing at the night sky.

Autumn - from mid-September until early November – is the time for harvesting and storing food. We begin to wind down, to slow down, to spend more time indoors. This is a great time to celebrate all of our harvests - our achievements and successes. Look back, assess, organize files and information, and do “maintenance” activities that you’ve put off all summer. Playtime might include bonfire gatherings and harvest festivals.

In Winter, the time of darkness and cold, our Deeper Mind craves rest. We both want and need longer periods of sleep, quiet conversations, more time to ponder and process and plan and, yes, play. Winter is the best time to be at home; to do the thoughtful, inner work related to deep or large change. (The custom of "New Year's Resolutions" is a distorted remnant of this.) If you want to develop a new line of business, start a new career, or find a new job, Winter is the optimal time for laying the groundwork of research and planning.

As the days begin to get noticeably longer in Spring – generally beginning around mid-February in the Northern Hemisphere – Deeper Mind stirs, gently and slowly, with a longing for sunshine and the out of doors. This is the time for moving from planning to planting, to take the first small steps to making what you dreamed of in Winter a reality. Spring emerges in buds and flowers, in newborn animals, in the nests of birds. "Spring cleaning" our living and working spaces mirrors the activity of the natural world. Playtime includes a desire for novelty and exploration - we seek out what's new, what's fresh, what refreshes. Go fly a kite!

Ah yes, in an ideal world we’d all work this way. Sadly, our culture, at times, gets it entirely backward. We take vacations from work and “take it easy” in the summer, and in Winter we travel, string up lights to banish the darkness, and throw parties. In between, in Autumn and Spring, we cram in as much “work” as we possibly can, because everyone knows nothing gets done in the Summer, and the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is a waste as well.

This puts us at odds with what Deeper Mind desires, and that conflict is a source of unease and disease – stress and its attendant ills. Of course, you can’t change the culture in which you live and work overnight. What you can do is pay attention to the signals from your Deeper Mind, and find ways to acknowledge and respond to those signals. Here are some ideas:

When you notice your mood and your thoughts shifting with the seasons, shift with it rather than fighting it. This is a bit easier in Autumn, Spring, and Summer when our cultural celebrations are better attuned to the energies of the season. You'll likely find that simply paying attention to how  the time of year is reflected in your desires and your choices is enough to feel yourself in clearer harmony with the seasons. 

Winter is more of a challenge. Give yourself permission to turn down party invitations in favor of staying home in December, or take a stay-cation in January and spend the time focusing on what you will plant for yourself come Spring. Be conscious of how fulfilling work or family obligations might contribute to your feeling less than optimal. You don’t need to renege on all of your obligations, just build in some alone time, some play, or some other way to bring yourself back into balance.

Right now, take a look at your personal and business calendar and (if you keep them) to-do lists from the previous 12 months.

·       When were you most active? Least active?

·       What changes could you make to bring your calendar more in line with the seasons? What tasks or activities could you have successfully moved from Winter or Fall to Summer or Spring?

Here are some ideas for bringing your life into greater harmony with the seasons:

·       Set aside a period in the Winter for doing nothing but planning. If you can, do this for at least a week.

·       Set aside a few days in August to look at what you have accomplished, and what remains to be done before the end of the year. August and September are a great time to delete or archive old emails and computer files, clean out paper files, and generally make room for this year’s “harvest.”

·       Set aside a few days in late November to clean out what you don’t need, and “store up” what you need for the Winter. Are there people you want to reach out to, financial arrangements to make?

Change your surroundings to reflect the season.

·       Start by checking in with your Deeper Mind by “listening” to the sensations in your body, and paying attention to images and objects that catch your attention or that appear in your dreams.

·       Using your Deeper Mind connections, develop and surround yourself with your own set of images, symbols, colors, sounds, and smells for each season. Don’t rely on Pottery Barn or Bed, Bath, and Beyond to tell you how to decorate – find your own symbolic language for the seasons. No one but you gets to decide whether Spring is pastels and painted eggs, or a dozen shades of green and a basket of pea pods, or whatever else strikes your fancy. (For me, the time around the Winter Solstice is not red-and-green, it is deep midnight blue, white, and silver and it smells like juniper and wood smoke.)

Hold all of these suggestions lightly, use what appeals to you and leave the rest, and no matter what, remember to play!

*Your Deeper Mind is variously called the unconscious, the subconscious, the intuitive brain, and the primitive brain. Deeper Mind takes care of things like breathing, digestion, body temperature, and other body functions. Deeper Mind generates your experience of the world by processing and filtering the information coming in through your senses. Deeper Mind responds to changes in your environment in ways that Surface Mind pays little attention to. The feelings you experience – the sensations in your body and the emotions that arise as you interpret those sensations – are a product of Deeper Mind. They are also messages from Deeper Mind that, as you attend and respond to them, can bring you into greater harmony and ease in your life.