How to Telework Without Going Crazy

working on the roof

With the threat of the COVID-19 virus, thousands of federal workers in Washington face the prospect of mandated telework.

I’ve been teleworking for a large government agency for more than a year as a communicator. I write. Words for screens, primarily.

While it sounds like a dream, making the transition from cubicle life to telework was surprisingly difficult. The office provides more than just a paycheck. Going to work gives meaning and structure to the day, as well as an instant social life.

Without an office to report to, I felt cut off, alone with my laptop, the little green status light in Google Chat my only reminder that I was part of something.

It made me a little crazy. How did I learn to telework without losing my mind?

Make a Routine

Putting on pants, sitting in a cubicle, following orders – those are habits that you learned. Probably very painfully in the first few months out of college. You learned how to office.

Now it’s time to make a new routine. The work is still there but the performative aspects of the office are no longer required. No need to wear a tie if you’re at home on the couch.

I keep the same schedule I did when I went to an office but instead I report to my neighborhood coffee shop. I wake up at the same time, get dressed, and leave the house with my laptop. But instead of commuting to work, I get coffee.

(Note: this is also how I wrote my first book! Every morning, I’d get myself to a coffee shop and write.) 

Habits are important. I don’t need to think about my day. Instead, I know that when the alarm goes off, it’s time to report to work – at the coffee shop.

Enforce Work/Life Separation

Leaving my house to work is also a way to signal work/life separation. When I sit down at Peet’s, I know the workday has begun and personal time is over.

However, I can’t spend eight hours drinking coffee, as amazing as that sounds. After a couple hours, I return home.

With a laptop with you at all times, you will be tempted to read and answer emails at all hours of the day and night.


During office hours, do your work. When the day is over, put the laptop away. Remove it from your sight.

At the end of the workday, I unplug my Dell and return it to its bag. I even take the cord out and put it away so that I can’t see it.

I then go for a walk, even if it’s just around the block, to enforce the idea of work/life separation.

Be Available

Say you’re looking for a coworker. You go by their cube and they’re not around. No big deal. Probably in a meeting.

Paradoxically, when you telework, you’re expected to me more available than if you were in the office. You’re just sitting around at home – why don’t you answer my text?

No long lunch breaks when you telework. Be available. I make sure that my laptop is within earshot to hear the tell-tale bing of an email or message.

Cope with Missing Social Cues

The hardest part of adapting to telework is the absence of social cues.

Without a human across the table from you. It’s easy to misinterpret a text, chat or email message

Words on a screen are just pixels. I perceive your message based upon my previous experiences. A friendly reminder may not seem so friendly when it’s stark text popping up in a chat box.

Everyone communicates differently. We’ve all received emails that require collaboration from coworkers to decipher. We lean over the cubicle walls and ask, “What’s this all about?”

When in doubt, communicate more, not less. Fill in the gaps so that teleworkers can understand.

Working from home is a dream, if you do it right. Follow a daily routine. Create a work/life separation ritual. Make sure that the boss can see you (online) and ask for clarification if you don’t understand a message.

Thousands of federal workers in Washington are about to discover that it’s possible to be productive and sane while working from home.

How to Find Work That Matters in 2018

Crowd at Finding Work That Matters

Find work that matters by identifying what matters most to you.

According to a recent survey, nearly 10% of respondents made finding a new job their New Year’s resolution – that’s double from last year. 2018 is the year that America moves on to something better, at least when it comes to work.

The passion for a change was evident at How to Find Work That Matters, a free class at General Assembly in Washington, DC.

Led by career coach Joy Haugen, a packed house of participants took part in exercises designed to identify their dream jobs – and how to get them.

Current/Future State

After a brief introduction, Joy put us to work. The first activity was to write down what your life was like right now – your career, finances, personal life, everything.

Next was to picture your life five years in the future. What does it look like? Where are you living? What are you doing?

Joy then made everyone in the room stand, spin three times, and share your dream with someone else. Three other people, to be exact, as the room burst into noisy conversation.

While Joy encouraged people to think big, most people’s dreams (including mine) were more prosaic: a good job doing interesting work with nice people. That is the American Dream, 2018 edition.

The purpose of this activity was to identify what really mattered to you. Is it being able to walk to work? Make lots of money? Travel? Time off? In order to find work that matters, you must know what matters to you.

Throughout the exercises, Joy’s point was to switch the job-searching paradigm around. You are not a powerless candidate trying to fit into a prescribed box of qualifications. Instead, you are talent, bringing your unique strengths (your superpower, in her words) to an employer lucky to have you.


What is your superpower? What makes you unique? What do you love more than anything else? The next step was to tell the person next to you what that was. (The evening is an introvert’s nightmare). Mine was writing. “Finding an apartment,” spoke the young woman next to me, a true super power in DC.

Your resume should be all about your superpower. What’s the point of listing a bunch of stuff you don’t want to do? My resume is about writing, specifically writing for web sites and social media.

Even if you think your superpower (like finding an apartment), isn’t relevant it probably can be related to real-world skills. The super girl of apartment searching needed to be organized, quick and decisive to find a home in a city with few rentals.

Tip: Add a section called “Skills” at the top of your resume. Hiring managers spend six seconds on a resume. Make it easy for them by listing what you do best. 


Next, Joy made us create two lists:

  1. What I’ve enjoyed at work.
  2. What I’ve not enjoyed.

After we scribbled down our lists, she asked us to look for patterns. My likes were writing, web sites, social media, creative people, collegial environment, happy hour. My dislikes were bureaucracies, bad bosses and no benefits.

Looking at the lists, what stands out? What are your values? Is it important to work in an innovative company? Work independently? Be part of a team?

My values: Creativity, Learning, Nice.

Applying for jobs is a full-time job. Only pursue opportunities that meet your values.


What I liked about Joy was that she was not overly prescriptive.  There are many different ways of doing a resume but the format she recommended was:

  • Name
  • Contact Info (just email/phone – no address needed)
  • Skills
  • Objective/Brand Statement (what you want to do/who you are)
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Other (your side hustle, millennials)

One page for every ten years is her rule. Lots of bullets to make the resume easy to scan. And data. Numbers. If you increased sales by 20%, include that.

Cover Letter

Joy is also an advocate of the cover letter. It should contain five paragraphs:

  1. What you’re applying for.
  2. Why you’re great.
  3. Why they’re great.
  4. What great things we can do together.
  5. Call to action – call me!

The purpose of the resume and cover letter is to get you past the screener. A typical HR staffer may be recruiting for twenty jobs. For each job, they get 100+ resumes. Make it easy for the screener to match you with the job by clearly spelling out your skills and interests.


Of course, the dream is to skip past the screener. You do that through networking. Go to events in your field. Stalk people on LinkedIn. And, when you meet people, stand out by not asking that most DC of questions, “What do you do?” Instead, ask people what they like about their jobs or what they do outside of work or, frankly, anything. The purpose is just to have a human conversation so that they’ll remember you in the future.

Tip: For an easy networking opportunity, go to General Assembly’s First Friday Happy Hour.

Let’s Make a Plan

Most people who resolve to find a new job in January give up by February. Job searching is hard. It’s easy to stay in a sucky job than find work that matters.

Joy advocates blocking out time on your calendar to work on applications. And celebrate your wins, even if it’s just updating your resume or going to a networking event.

Washington is awash in jobs. But it’s also awash in candidates.

The temptation is to apply to everything and anything. After all, you can do so with the click of a button.

What I took from Finding Work That Matters was the importance of determining your values and not compromising on them. You can always learn knew skills, if you’re in a supportive environment that you enjoy. Find work that matters in 2018 by respecting your unique needs.

There is Money in Coworking

WeWork Creators Awards

There is money in coworking…

That was my thought upon entering the vast Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. Located within view of the Washington Monument, this building with its Doric columns is such a classic of the DC genre that it has filled in as the Capitol in TV shows such as Veep and The West Wing.

Inside, you walk though a 20-foot tall arch and onto the marble floor of the lobby, where I was immediately served a drink, a delicious concoction of grapefruit juice and tequila. Black-clad waiters approached with bite-sized empanadas and spring rolls.

I was at the WeWork Creator Awards. The coworking company has committed over $20 million to empower creators around the world. Applicants pitch their ideas for grants to incubate, launch and scale their businesses. I went because techies always have the best parties.

Inside the auditorium, with its marble columns stretching upwards and a DJ playing, attendees got what was described as the full WeWork experience: educational workshops, job fairs, pop-up markets, live entertainment, and plenty of inspiration.

And plenty of drinks, as this crowd of PR people, entrepreneurs, WeWork members and creative types (like me), mingled and purchased items from local vendors. Entering the hall, I was handed a $50 chit to buy stuff which I used on a couple of t-shirts from No Kings Collective.

Half-drunk on tequila, with a bag full of free swag, it hit me: there is money in coworking. We’re talking 1999 dotcom money or SXSW excess, both of which I witnessed as a web person working on the content side. The WeWork party, with its open bar and air of excitement, reminded me of SXSW parties in Austin, circa 2008, when social media was on the rise. This time, the new new thing is coworking, which are shared workplaces where you can rent a desk or an office on a monthly plan.

I talked to a young woman from another coworking company who said WeWork was a billion-dollar company, which stunned me. How could renting office space be so profitable?

But her figure was wrong. WeWork is actually a $16 billion dollar company! Investors are betting big that coworking is the future.

Having spent far too much time in the beige cubicles of government offices, I see the attraction of coworking. A few weeks earlier, I visited WeWork White House, which looks like a Hollywood set designer’s idea of a workplace rather than the Office Space environments that are norm in America. It’s a big, beautiful, bright space, set across two floors, including a coffee bar and a roofdeck with a view of monumental DC. A dream office, in other words.

WeWork White House - Lobby

I thought coworking was just for freelancers. It’s also for small nonprofits and companies wishing to provide flexibility to their employees. At the WeWork White House, I met a woman working for an international organization with headquarters overseas, as well as a small business offering babysitting services. They had an office set up to do headshots for babysitters.

It was a happy place. And no wonder. With more control over their environment and a sense of community from working in a hive of creative folks, coworkers derive a stronger sense of meaning than cubicle-dwellers.

But what’s the attraction for business? Setting up an office is hard. A friend of mine looked for more than a year to find space for his young company. And once finding the space, had to retrofit it to make it ADA-compliant and fight with the local telecom for months just to get online.

In contrast, a coworking space offers you the ability to just move in and get to work. The WeWork White House is ideal for companies that want a Washington presence without the hassle of renting real estate in DC.

It’s big business. More than a million people will cowork this year, according to a survey by Deskman. By the end of the year, around 14,000 coworking spaces will be in operation worldwide.

Coworking is more than just shared office space. It’s a worldwide movement away from boring cubicles and into more flexible and fun space led by companies seeking to save money and freelancers searching for a sense of community.

There is money in coworking, as WeWork demonstrates. It’s the future – hopefully – for all of us who seek creative space and support to do our best work.

OUTBOX: The Future of Work?

Think outside the office. Opening day for OUTBOX, a pop-up outside office in Silver Spring. #dtss #md #merrland

I’ve got one word for you: BOXES. Whether it’s a tiny house or a new transit van, the future is modular. It’s four walls and temporary, brought to you when and where you need it.

That’s the thought behind OUTBOX, temporary outdoor office space constructed in downtown Silver Spring. Created by students at Montgomery College, they describe it as:

OUTBOX is an innovative workspace offering on-the-go professionals a perfect spot to escape the office this season. Work, ideate and create in the fresh air.

student designers at OUTBOX

Beats the hell out of my windowless, gubment-issued cubicle so I was dying to check it out. OUTBOX is as described, an open-air, covered space with chairs, tables and wifi.

Cool, but probably not necessary in downtown Silver Spring, where there must a dozen places you can work in, from coffee shops to the public library. I’d rather go to Peet’s.

Where this would be ideal, however, are places far from city centers where wifi is ubiquitous. When I was traveling out west last year, I would’ve loved OUTBOX. It would be perfect for a Utah rest stop in the middle of nowhere, allowing travelers a chance to check their email, look up hotels and reconnect to the world.

Meeting in a box. Office workers enjoy a sojourn outside the office in OUTBOX, a Silver Spring pop-up #dtss #merrland #md #igdc

OUTBOX would also be great at places where you need temporary workspace, like a convention or a concert. It would make a great press room for reporters, social media mavens and photographers covering such events.

Cheap, flexible workspaces are the future. Investing in massive buildings filled with white-collar workers is a waste of money. Why pay for half-empty desks? Here’s to a better alternative, one that employees might enjoy more: the box! It might not be OUTBOX but we’re all going to be working and living in such places pretty soon.


Lessons from a Webby-Winning Web Site

I was excited to learn that The Nature Conservancy won a Webby for their web site, They beat out the competition (which included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!) in the category of Charitable Organizations Nonprofit.

I worked on from 2003-2005 as a Web Producer. I think it’s a great site though, of course, I’m hopelessly biased 😉 was recently redesigned but it follows a core set of design principles that I think helped it win the Webby. If you look at past screenshots of the site, these principles have been pretty consistent over the years. They include:

  • Excellent use of white space. Text on the home page is given room to breathe, making it easier for people to scan down the page and absorb what’s on it.
  • Strong photography. What sells nature? Great photos of nature. The photos selected for the site are more than just pretty pictures, they tell a story.
  • A consistent color palette. Using the same set of well-matched colors across the site provides a consistent experience, one that underscores that this is a professional, well-designed site.
  • Third-party validation. The home page features endorsements from the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.
  • Concise copywriting. Many nonprofit web site are either hopelessly wordy or incredibly vague. In a limited amount of space, manages to communicate what the organization is about and how you can get involved.

Note how simple this is. Readers aren’t overwhelmed by flash animations or crowded blocks of content. This simplicity is a design choice that has paid dividends for The Nature Conservancy.

Why Doesn't Government Use the Web to Organize Its Work?

I’ve been reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. It’s a brilliant book on the information revolution that we’re going through. He believes that this revolution is as momentous as the development of the printing press, which triggered the Reformation and religious wars. The rise of amateurs and the expansion of consumer choice has meant the end of seemingly unassailable institutions like newspapers.

Seeing how the world is rushing to adapt to the web, I had a practical question. Why doesn’t the government use the web to more efficiently accomplish its work? For example: Continue reading “Why Doesn't Government Use the Web to Organize Its Work?”

10 Tips for Managing a Creative Environment

Here are some more notes from SXSW Interactive.

I attended a session called, “10 Tips for Managing a Creative Environment.”  Bryan Mason and Sarah Nelson of Adaptive Path interviewed stage managers and conductors on how you keep a group creative and productive.  I think both roles are very similar to what web producers and site managers do.  We often have to work with prickly creative types, with specialized skills, who we need to be inspired and working in the same direction.  Web sites, like orchestras or stage plays, are, by their very nature, collaborative environments.

Several web people I know actually work in the theater or film (like me) or music, as if they’re drawn to creative group activities even when they’re outside of the office.  There’s a psychological lesson in there somewhere…

At the SXSW Interactive session, Bryan and Sarah (a former musician) introduced us to ten techniques used by creative management professionals to get great work from a wide range of employees.

1. Cross-train entire team – teaches empathy, possibility.  In the avante-garde theater they studied, everyone got to write and act.
2. Rotate creative leadership – provides ownership.
3. Actively turn the corner – there will come a time when you must put the bad ideas away and start on production.  The theater did this by taking a smoke break between the brainstormin session and the actual planning of the play.
4. Know your roles – stay in your lane.
5. Practice as a group.  This is why it’s vital that orchestras practice together.
6. Make your mission explicit to the whole team.
7. Kill your darlings (the ideas that are good but don’t fit).  Avenue Q, the Broadway musical, had lots of songs that didn’t serve the story.  They were ditched.
8. Leadership is service.
9. Do projects around group’s ideas.
10. Remember your audience.  Avenue Q was written in coffee shops, around the type of people who would be the audience for the musical.

Bonus Tip 11. Celebrate failure… with an afterparty!

The Artisan Economy

A new study by Intuit predicts that the past will become the future. We’re heading into the Age of the Artisan. The press release has a great lede:

Artisans, historically defined as skilled craftsmen who fashioned goods by hand, will re-emerge as an influential force in the coming decade.

Now, we’re not talking about people making crafts by hand in some log cabin. The New Artisan is likely to be a web developer, writer, photographer, designer, marketing consultant or other independent professional. Powered by social networking tools and an always-on net, they’ll be able to work anywhere, for anyone.

The tools are getting easier and easier for new artisans, lowering the barriers to their work and eliminating many of the gatekeepers that once kept them from the market. In addition to the machine of democratization that is the internet, today’s artisan has a wealth of tools available to them:

  • Writers can easily self-publish their books on Lulu and sell them worldwide.
  • Photographers can use Flickr to market themselves and sell the stock photography through istock.
  • Designers can market their creations on CafePress, without having to keep any merchandise on hand.
  • Marketing professionals can find clients on LinkedIn
  • And teams of people can collaborate using Backpack and Google Docs.

While there’s a certain amount of hyperbole in this study, particularly in its prediction of the end of the Industrial Revolution, this is an idea that largely rings true. There’s no reason for large groups of people to travel by carbon-spewing vehicles to sprawling office parks where they’ll occupy beige cubes for giant corporations as they put in eight hours a day.

That’s the Cubicle Economy, where you’re judged not necessarily by the quality of your work but, often, by less concrete measures, like whether you’re a “team player” or your facility at office politics. Or, sometimes, by a very concrete measure – the “face time” you put in the office.

I’ve worked for large organizations most of my career. In all cases, creative people (like myself) have challenges in adapting to to the Cubicle Economy. If you’re creative, you want to create, whether it’s a brochure, a web site or a party. You want a tangible product. Yet, so much effort in the Cubicle Economy is spent around process – meetings, timesheets, required briefings, politics, showing up on time. Is it any wonder that creative people have problems in the Cubicle Economy?

At the beginning of my career, as I transitioned from school to the Cubicle Economy, I felt hopelessly restless and bored. Was the problem with me? Maybe I had ADD.

Working on web sites saved me from being driven crazy by the Cubicle Economy. Having a concrete thing to work on, to update, a creation that was constantly changing but was reaching real people – that was something I could point at, a creation that made the rigors of the Cubicle Economy worthwhile.

The Artisan Economy would not only be a more efficient way to run a business, it would be friendlier to human needs and more conducive to creative work. I, and millions of other members of the Cubicle Economy, would welcome it.