Remote Work Done Right with Marissa Goldberg | Crooked Media
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April 26, 2023
Work Appropriate
Remote Work Done Right with Marissa Goldberg

In This Episode

Learning how to work or manage or collaborate remotely is a very real skill– but for many workers and organizations, it had to happen overnight, with no training or preparation. Three years after the start of the pandemic, companies want to go back to “normal,” and workers aren’t so into the idea. Marissa Goldberg, founder of Remote Work Prep, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about why hybrid meetings are so awful, how to manage a remote team who seems to be slacking, and how to find a mentor when you’ve never met your colleagues in person.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about remote and flexible work. I co-wrote a book on it with my partner Charlie Warzel, which meant hours and hours and hours [laughs] talking with people who’d been working remotely long before the start of the pandemic. Also, because I am who I am, I spent weeks deep in books about the history of offices and management and how work got to be arranged the way that it was. Most workplaces were convinced that they could never, ever, ever let people work from home. But then the pandemic forced them to consider that maybe, actually, they could. That book came out in December of 2021, which feels like a million years ago in pandemic time. Leading up to the release we were so nervous that everyone would like, quickly go back into the office and the book itself would become totally irrelevant. Now, the virus had other plans, but so too did our own work habits. Turns out that when you let someone have more control over the shape of their day for over two years, it’s really, really hard to convince them to let go of that control. The story of remote work right now in this moment is a story of so many organizations still trying to go back to the way it was. Maybe with a few concessions and millions of workers saying, hmm, I don’t think so. Now, does that mean that work somehow gets better when you work remotely, that there aren’t giant pitfalls to being able to work anywhere at any time? Of course not. Learning how to work or manage or collaborate remotely is a very real skill, and most of us are still pretty bad at it, in part because we didn’t ever conceive of it as a skill unto itself to learn and refine and practice. So as co-host today, I wanted someone who has a ton of experience working with all sorts of teams as they’ve confronted these problems. [music plays]

 

Marissa Goldberg: I am Marissa Goldberg. I am the founder of Remote Work Prep and the writer behind the Remotely Interesting Newsletter. My background is in software engineering and product management, and I started working remotely full time in 2015. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So how did consulting on remote work become your niche? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: It was all accidental, actually. So when I first started working remotely, I went in as an entry level software engineer and I worked my way up very fast into becoming director of product and operations. And when I first started, there weren’t a lot of resources out there on how to work remotely. It was 2015. It was still early days. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And there just wasn’t a lot out there. So I started to experiment because I quickly realized that the meeting overload, the burnout that comes with all of that, was just not working for my team. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And I wanted to figure out what else, what were the other possibilities. Like, we’re doing work in a different way, so why not adapt our approach? And so I started experimenting and soon my team was the most efficient in the company. They were doing the most for all the clients. Team morale was through the roof. Our meetings were less than 5% of their workweek, and other managers started coming to me and being like, how? How are you doing this? Like, what is going on? So I started consulting just as a side project was supposed to just be, oh, hey, I love this topic. I’ve been experimenting with it for a few years now. I might as well just start consulting on the side. So in 2018, I started Remote Work Prep just for fun, really, because people asked me to, and then my company exploded overnight in 2020. So [laughter] yeah, it’s been my full time thing for a while for a couple of years now. Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I feel like our routes are kind of similar because I got interested in remote work as well. Totally by accident by doing it right. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like I was first. I was a professor, which isn’t like our traditional understanding of remote work, but it is flex work, right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And then before the pandemic, my partner and I you know moved to Montana while still having our offices in San Francisco and New York, and spent the first couple of years trying to figure out what that would look like, being a remote employee, and then also learning a lot of the things that didn’t work. You just have to be willing to think a lot about it and have experienced it too. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And just experiment. So. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: The first things I tried didn’t work. You know, like everything that I eventually—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —found to work, it was like a slow learning process where I tried to do something a little different. And then, okay, I learned that you do this. I learned that you don’t do this. And then you slowly iterate and iterate. Because we forget that we’ve been doing one way of work in school for a very long time. So we have these deeply ingrained habits built into us. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And it takes time to unlearn those things. So you’re not going to go from like, oh, I’m in this deeply in grade mode to I’m in full, you know, remote work, super experience. I do everything right mode overnight. It just takes time. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, we’re far enough along in this post beginning of the pandemic journey that you can kind of look at these eras of what companies were really struggling with or looking for solutions for. So what did you see pre-pandemic? How did that change in maybe the first year? And then what do you see now as companies are trying to arrive at like, okay, what’s our future going to look like? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Are we going to be permanently flex like, what is the new status quo that we’re going to have? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So pre-pandemic there was an entirely different vibe because there weren’t a lot of people working remotely. And if you were to find a remote job, you almost had this feeling of luck. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So you’re just like lucky to be there. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I will say that one part of it is that people still have that feeling of luck during the pandemic because, you know, for obvious reasons, they could keep their job. And then even after the pandemic, now it’s like, oh, I can keep this flexibility. And what comes with that feeling of luck is that people tend to overwork themselves in order to maintain that luck— [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —be able to stay in that position. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So that’s something that’s remained consistent across all of them. During the pandemic, there was this belief that people who went remote during that time, they thought this is remote work and for those who are remote pre-pandemic, they know this is not remote work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: This is the worst thing ever. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Yeah. We always said, like you are working from home during a pandemic. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Pandemic, It’s not remote. And I still get people are like, what’s the difference? What’s the difference? And there’s so many things. First of all, like the idea of remote work is giving agency to the individual about where, when and how they work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: You eliminate where like automatically because—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Totally. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —you have to work from home because you’re quarantining. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Yes. Yes. This is the thing people are like, oh, working from home is so lonely. I’m like that’s because there’s a virus. [laughs] It’s like it doesn’t have to be this way. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Normally you would be like out before work or after work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Or even during work where—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —I have to convince people now, like, hey, take a midday afternoon and go do some, go see a movie, go, go grab groceries. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Where there’s no light, like go try to get out there. And there’s like, what? I can do that because they’re still so stuck in that pandemic remote rule. So.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Or co-working spaces or the library. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: There’s so many options. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Or your friend’s house like there’s just so many options. But I think you’re right that we had a really limited understanding of what remote or flexible work could look like. Also the huge one. Limited or no child care. [laughter] 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yes. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like. Totally different scenario than what remote work actually is. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And just the mental pressure and the fatigue that comes from being in the middle of a pandemic and being like, oh, I have to focus on work now. How am I going to do that when there’s this whole crazy thing—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —going on outside. It’s it’s very different. And we’re still I feel like we haven’t gotten over that. So people are still stuck in. I’ve been working remotely for a couple of years. I know all about it now. When they were really working remotely during a pandemic like we talked about. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And they haven’t unlearned that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I also see right now the questions are more zeroing [laughs] in on, okay, so we have this flex arrangement, but we still haven’t quite figured out when or how we’re going to get people to still show up in the office and how many days those will be. And are we going to actually trust people to work from home on Fridays? And also, the overwhelming one is still like meetings that are hybrid are awkward. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: They’re awful. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I know we’re going to talk about that today. [laughter] But what do what besides that, do you see any questions that come to you? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I see a lot of people trying to adapt to new ways of work that there aren’t full definitions for. So we talk about hybrid work and what companies are talking about when they talk about hybrid work is very different from what individuals are talking about when they say hybrid work. So what companies are talking about is forced hybrid, which is you come in on the set days of the week and you’re going into the office. What individuals are asking for is just more flexibility where they can go into the office when they want to collaborate and they can stay home when they want to get deep work done or they want to see their kids play and they don’t want to deal with the commute like there’s flexibility there. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: But with forced hybrid, it takes away agency. Like I talked about before, remote work is not just work from home, it’s giving agency to the individual over where, when and how they work all automatically. When you switch to hybrid work, you’re getting rid of the where because you have to live within the vicinity of the office. Along with that, you probably won’t have a larger place that you may have like multiple areas for work because you have to live so close to usually a big city in order to be close to the office. So people are talking about hybrid work and they’re talking about two separate things. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So when you hear people say like, hey, there’s these studies showing that people want to work hybrid, I’m like, what kind of hybrid? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Are they really asking to be in the office three days per week? I don’t think so. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: There’s so many different menu options. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: There are people who still want to go into the office. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Twice a week. They do like they like that connection, that in-person connection with their teammates. Their work style may be more collaborative and that sort of thing. And then there are people who are really flipping the script and saying, we’re going to go remote first. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And we’re going to concentrate on actually refining what that’s going to look like, and we’re truly going to let people live wherever they want. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And we’re going to handle all of the messy tax designation stuff like we’re going to figure that out. But I also then see a lot of companies that are like, uh, we don’t want to make any decisions. And then just kind of letting like an inertia just take them in weird directions and people just no one really like knows what’s going on. So— 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And that festers. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Right. So all these people—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: 100%. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Who are thinking like, will I have to move again? Will I have to be back in the office? Like that’s affecting their productivity just because those companies won’t make a decision? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. And I think that the companies [laughter] are like, well, what if we just kick this ball down the court but it’s actual people’s lives, right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So let’s dive into our questions. The first one is from Heidi, and our producer Melody is going to read it. 

 

Heidi: Now that we’ve gotten used to remote meetings, I find it horrible to sit in a real live meeting with half of the attendees remote and present from a screen. Who do you make eye contact with? How much attention do you give the remote people? Does this feel universally horrible? I’ve even made a point a few times to be remote when I have to present to avoid this awkwardness. Do you think this will become easier with time? How have other people made this feel normal?

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right, so like I said before, this is like the number one question that I get. I think because it’s pretty straightforward. I would just like to point out before I ask for your very sage advice that like there is nothing natural about the way that we did meetings before. Just because we thought it was normal for people to like, sit at a conference table in a room and like listen to people the way that we did while also taking notes or while like everyone else, typed away at their computers and pretended like they were listening. Like none of that is natural either. Doesn’t have to be that way so we can come up with a new normal. Of what a hybrid meeting looks like. So what’s your take here? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So my take starts with I would like to thank Heidi for even recognizing it’s an issue. [laughter] So what happens a lot of times is that the in person people are just totally unaware. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: About, you know, this meeting, just like it’s a normal meeting. Normal like it used to be. And not recognizing that they’re treating the remote workers like second class citizens. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So first, just thank you, Heidi. Next. Yes, I absolutely agree. It is universally horrible. The tech has not caught up to our way of work right now. And I do believe that an in-office meeting and a remote meeting can be done just fine. But when you combine the two and you’re in two different modes, it’s it’s awkward. So my rule typically is if one person is remote, everybody is remote. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And this helps with a ton of different problems from sound quality issues to people being worried that they can’t speak up because there is this delay. So in-person, you’re more quick and you’re going back and forth, back and forth, and then remotely someone can’t jump in because they’re hitting with a slight delay there. So I believe that everybody should be remote if it’s going to be [laughs] with remote workers. The other thing is, if you do have to have this meeting where some people are in person and some people are remote, you should absolutely have asynchronous best practices defined and set up beforehand so that the actual meeting is just a small portion of what’s actually happening. And what I mean by that is that pre, prior to the meeting you were sending out, you know, the meeting agenda, you were collecting people’s feedback on the topics that you’re going to be going through. You’re you’re getting this all upfront so that when you’re on the call, I can then say I’m in person and your remote and I’m saying, hey Anne, like you brought this up in the document, can you go ahead and deep dive into this? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And then also post meeting you want to have a recap and a reference because there are going to be portions of that call where the sound quality isn’t great, where people are talking over each other and the remote people need a reference to see what they missed. And the only other thing I would mention is like practice things like doing a round meeting style, a round robin meeting style where you call on people specifically instead of just saying, do you have any questions, you say Anne do you have any questions? It just helps people speak up more. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That is so real because it’s so awkward to butt in [laughs] as the remote person in a hybrid meeting. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And especially if, you know, like, this was the case before the pandemic. Like, I would be Zooming into this little conference room at BuzzFeed, and, like, I just would know, here’s my giant face in the corner [laughter] you know. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yep. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like you’re trying to listen in on, like, the jokes that they’re telling or whatever. It’s just it was so awkward and so, like, asking specifically, like, okay, what’s your feedback on this? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: This also gives us, I think, a really great opportunity to talk about one of the plagues of post-pandemic meeting culture is that like sometimes we think, okay, well we want to get feedback from all of these people. Let’s have a meeting. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Or people think, well, we have some people in the office, let’s have a meeting about this. Oh, those two people aren’t in the office today. Let’s still have a meeting about this. [laughter] And like, there’s a fine line here right, because I think sometimes you can be like, well, let’s just have us four meet and then, like, we’ll fill those other people in later, which reinforces that hierarchy of people who are in person, get more opportunities, have more say, and you know, you have equity issues that result from that because the people who are more likely to want to stay remote are oftentimes women or moms or caregivers, etc., etc.. Lots going on there. But that would be a great scenario where you could ask before, does this need to be a meeting even? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: If you want to have that collaborative time with like where you’re generating ideas or even like spend time just in proximity to other people, there’s so many other things that could serve that purpose other than the meeting or like be fine with slotting that meeting, the time when it feels okay to have it be all remote. Because sometimes I think the reticence here is ugh, I have Zoom fatigue. I just want to be an actual conference room with people. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But that’s a different problem than the meeting itself is awkward. Does that make sense? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah, absolutely. When people come to me, they ask me, like, when do I know if I should have a meeting or whether it should be done async. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I’m like, first this is a great question because you’re actually thinking about it. People tend to just—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —default to meeting, so you’ve taken the first step, wooh. [laughs] Next step. How do you define that? And the way I define it is we look at what is a meeting best for? A meeting is best for relationship building and speed. Speed because we’re instantly talking like we’re right here. We can get all of our questions answered. Relationship building because we’re humans and we’d like to see our faces and, you know, that kind of thing. If it’s not relationship building or speed, it should probably be done remote or at least mostly done asynchronously. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, and I think it’s sometimes it takes. Some convincing. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: For people like because they just are used to having certain types of tasks be performed synchronously in meetings. And I would also invite listeners to revisit one of our previous episodes. It’s about meeting culture to talk about some of those specific issues, but I think that’s great advice to to, to layer on to that. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So our next question is about this same sort of awkwardness, but this time it’s about building relationships when everyone is remote. This comes from Quinn and our executive producer Kendra is going to be that. 

 

Quinn: I was an entry level higher end in peak COVID of 2020 and started remote. I’m an engineer in a niche field and I feel like I’ve missed out on years of what would have been in-person mentoring. With everyone online and working from home it’s so awkward to reach out with questions or wanting explanations that I desperately need to do my work well and to grow as an engineer. But it feels really difficult. What does actual mentorship look like and how do I ask for it now? Especially as I approach a timeline where I quote “should” unquote be working more independently and achieving professional licensure? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Oh, so I’ll say in the beginning that mentorship just generally is really hard to come by. And this is something that, you know, I hear from a lot of listeners, even outside of remote work. So I can see how this particular remote setup would make it feel even harder. So let’s break this question into two parts. The first one is how can Quinn get the day to day help she needs with her work? What do you think, Marissa? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. You could absolutely go get an in-person job. Like, I don’t want to I don’t want to be pushing people to be like, oh, remote work is the best. Like, if you think you can get this mentorship in-person, then I would recommend you go get an in-person job. The only thing I’ll note is that I think you might be disappointed because remote work doesn’t tend to create entirely new issues. It tends to magnify existing issues. And so when we’re looking at things like mentorship. It was probably already an issue before that company went remote. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And I do feel like I’m I am uniquely qualified to answer this question because I did start as an engineer. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: As an entry level engineer. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s perfect for you. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: When I was [?] and now I can look back eight years later and be like, this is what I did right. This is what I did wrong. You know? [laughs] And when I look at it, I do think remote work provides a unique opportunity for entry level employees. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And what I mean by that is that in person, your work is judged based off external measures. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So this is like how you dress, how you act, whether you went to the bar with your bosses after work, whether you’re buddy buddy with someone you know, with remote work, that all is kind of taken away. And what’s left is your quality of work. Are you completing what you promised? That ends up being more important than anything else, and this ends up creating an awesome opportunity for those who are traditionally discriminated against, especially like what we’re talking about when it comes to age. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So in person you tend to be held back. I know I was I spent two years in person before I went remote and in-person it was just like, how many years were you at the company before you could even touch, you know, certain issues? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Versus remote. You can kind of dive right in. And that allowed me to go from an entry level engineer to becoming director of product and operations and working directly under the CEO within a span of under four years. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So there is this opportunity there. If you have like ambition and you like the remote work experience and you like autonomy, now how do you get there? So autonomy is kind of beaten out of us when we take the traditional schooling and then work approach. So when we go into a new job, we expect like permission to be granted to us. And I just want to say to Quinn, don’t wait for permission like just stop that, because that’s going to help a lot with getting ahead. So that was the number one mistake I made in my first remote job is I tried to wait for permission and was sitting around like, oh, okay, when is someone going to tell me what is going to someone’s going to mentor me? Or handle me? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: No [laughs] no one’s going to show up and mentor and handle you. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So stop waiting for permission and start diving in. So dive into a problem. Take ownership. What I suggest to new workers is to notice problems in onboarding. So call out things that were maybe like hard to understand, or you felt like were missing in onboarding. And typically those are things that no one had time to add to onboarding and haven’t really understood that they’re missing. So if you take ownership and say, hey, this is a problem and let me find that solution, let me build that into onboarding. You are getting practice and experience that’s going to help you down the road. Also help your boss in areas that they hate. So just ask them like what areas of your job don’t you like? [laughter] And then if those are areas that they don’t care if you touch [laughs] that’s the biggest thing is like you want to find areas that you’ll be able to have an influence on and those are some great areas. One of the things I did when I joined a new remote company is I offered to do an employee experience survey. So I joined as a product manager and in order to get to know everybody and to find who to ask questions for because their onboarding process honestly sucked. [laughs] So I needed to figure out my own ways to get in. And what I did was I met with every single person in the company and asked what’s great about your job? What sucks about your job? And what are the requests that you have? And that’s data that like the leadership wants to have and they don’t want to sit through all those meetings or have all those conversations. So I gathered all that data, I created reports about it, and then I went to leadership being like, hey, here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not, here’s what’s decreasing morale. Here’s what I would suggest. And I’d love to take ownership of this project and start working on it. So then you have things to work on. You have people to talk to you because now you know everybody in the company and what they actually do. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. That was a huge thing that really helped me in my career at the very start. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So that seems actually like a way, you know, not to necessarily reproduce that specific project, but I’m wondering if you could use some of that outreach method to actually find a good mentor in terms of like just reaching out to someone who’s like who you maybe you’ve only met once or maybe you’ve only seen their work, right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: You can say in that outreach, like, I really want to understand what your role is. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yep. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: In the company. Yeah. I just. I want to know what people do, right? Because sometimes I feel siloed or whatever language you want to use. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And then that sort of conversation could lead to something that looks like mentorship. I think we are often limited in our understanding of what mentorship looks like. We’re like, oh, we need to like, propose. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like, will you be my mentor? You know what I mean? Like that it has to, like, come that way when really it could start with a conversation like that, that then you have another follow up conversation or you, they refer to another one of like a coworker who’s been at the company just as long. Like, there’s just so many different ways that that could spread. But it takes that initial outreach. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Which is it just as awkward as trying to make friends in your thirties and forties. [laughter] But I think just as useful. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s awkward. You’re going to be putting yourself out there, but it does require you to, like, step up, communicate a lot, get to know people. The other thing is don’t just rely on your job for mentorship. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Like join local groups. Go to conferences like keep learning. Like I still I’m eight years in. I’m still taking courses on the side to just continue to network with people in my industry and to get to know people and learn stuff. So don’t just rely on your work because they honestly, your manager and the people you’re talking to might have a lot on their plate and it might just be too much for them too. Now, if you are a manager listening to this, I would really love for you to create synchronous hours. These are hours where you are live on Slack and you’ll respond instantly to any questions you receive as well as have weekly office hours where anyone can check in who you’re leading and get their questions answered. I’d also recommend that you set up an onboarding buddy process where the onboarding buddy is someone who is not the manager. It’s usually more of like a lateral position so that these new team members can make friends with people on the same level and they feel more comfortable usually asking questions to other people on the same level. And then also doing things like learning lunches or lightning talks can also provide opportunity for everyone in your company to continue learning, not just the new members. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The thing that I usually add when talking about giving someone kind of a buddy when they’re onboarded and we talked about this a little bit a while back in the episode on onboarding with Adrian Hon is make sure that the person who is that buddy is interested in doing this job right. [laughter] Like there is someone who that is like their that is their work gift is like, I am the welcome wagon. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I love being the welcome wagon. It like lights me up—

 

Marissa Goldberg: It’s the extroverted person usually, on the team. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But also takes some stuff off of their plate. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So that they’re not like doing all of that on top of everything else. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Oh yeah. That’s part of their job. So. [laughs] Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Because I just, I heard some horror stories. This is like during the depths of the pandemic of people being paired with like online onboarding buddies and like, their buddy was so swamped, of course they didn’t have any time to meet with them and like, familiarize them with the culture of the organizations. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Next up is a question that does some myth busting about the so-called flexibility [laugh] of remote work. This is from Megan. 

 

Megan: I accepted a remote job at a nonprofit after my friend, who also works there, encouraged me to apply and said the company was super flexible when it came to taking time off. After a couple of months of working there. I asked my supervisor, the same supervisor my friend had if I’d be able to use flex time for an appointment. She said no and that I’d have to use PTO. I thought maybe since I was new they just didn’t want me taking advantage of their flexibility without first getting to know my work ethic. I’ve been here a year now and recently asked if I could take a long lunch for an appointment. My supervisor said if it went more than 15 minutes over my usual lunch hour that I should use PTO. Meanwhile, my coworkers are consistently announcing on our companywide Slack channel that they’ll be leaving early or popping out for an appointment. These messages have even been greeted by management with praise about keeping a healthy work life balance. There’s no way our measly PTO is covering all these absences, and I know my friend isn’t made to use PTO for things like this. When I ask him about it, he says he doesn’t ask for permission to leave. He’s gotten multiple promotions, so this behavior hasn’t negatively affected him. I have anxiety and the thought of leaving work without permission doesn’t sit well with me. But I’m tired of feeling like I’m not given the same flexibility that everyone else has. Is there a way I can bring this up and advocate for more flexibility to be thrown my way? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Ugh. There’s a lot going on here. I feel like this person’s manager is being weird, super weird, but also I think that it’s ingrained some preexisting habits in the question asker that, like, you should always ask for permission to take some flexibility. What do you see here? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I struggle with this question because I don’t want to put any burden on her. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: It’s not on her it’s— 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I know. I know.

 

Marissa Goldberg: I don’t even know if there’s anything she can personally do. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: It’s a management issue. It’s a company issue. So on the management side, they’re not recognizing that remote work isn’t just working from home. It’s about giving agency to the individual like we talked about. And anything that depletes from that takes away from the remote work experience. So that’s what she’s experiencing here. And then on the company side, do they not have a clear defined like written policy on this? [laughter] Like there should be something that Megan, I think her name was should be able to point to and be like, yes, I can go take this right now. No, I shouldn’t have to use my PTO in order to stay 15 more minutes or whatever it was. So this is a failure on the company and the management part. And I don’t want to put any like burden on her like she could— 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s a trust issue, right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Her manager doesn’t trust her, thinks that like somehow she’s trying to take advantage. Because here’s the thing. Like, if her appointment goes over 15 minutes, she’ll just do that 15 minutes of work in a different way time doesn’t matter— 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I hate using time. I hate using time too because like, one hour where you’re at like a high energy state, you’re getting way more done then one hour at like a low energy where you’re worried about being late for an appointment. Like, it’s just very different. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Well, and it’s one thing if you are, your presence is demanded at a certain time, right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: If you are working retail, if you are—

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —working as a receptionist, we know from the beginning that this person is in a remote job so her work can be portable and that means portable, physically and portable throughout the day. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So 15 minutes at lunch time to do an appointment. Are you freaking kidding me? Like, this is ridiculous. And like, I want to say that very clearly. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: To to our question asker that it’s ridiculous. And I think part of her anxiety stems from the fact that already the manager has said no. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So to her, if she, like, kind of pushes at this and works towards some of the freedom that her other coworkers are taking, it will feel like she is breaking the rules.

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: In a way that it shouldn’t. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Absolutely. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But okay, what can she do about it? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Ideally, switch teams or companies [laughter] if possible. I would just leave that out there. That was probably the best case scenario. Try to get the company to define a policy. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Because then at least she has something to point to. Ask her friend how he approached that cause she said the specific boss, like the friend, had the specific boss too. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And didn’t have to go through this. So ask the friend how he approached the specific boss. Start with questions. So I know when we approach these kind of things, it can be difficult to not let our strong feelings in and her feelings are very valid. This sucks, but when you’re trying to create change, you want to come from a place of calm and questioning nature rather than. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: You know, finger pointing. So start with what is the actual policy around this? I would love to be able to work later if I need to, in order to make up these hours, but I don’t want to have to use my PTO like just start from a question area rather than a statement area. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: She doesn’t say how big the company is. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: In the question. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Just says non profit. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But yeah, and I wonder how big it is because you could ask H.R. about the policy, right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm, yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That would be a way to kind of get some of that clarity without having to do something like go over your boss. Right. Because I think that would also probably be not great like this. Boss would feel blindsided. Maybe. I mean, I just like that is just shitty management right there. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Agreed. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And like, even if that is the company policy, that’s bad company policy. You are remote company like. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: You are probably not paying your employees very well. So one way you can pay them is in trust that they will get their work done. Right? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. Absolutely. Under work is very rarely a problem in remote work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Very rare. Very rare. [laughter] 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Very rare. But overwork always tends to be a problem. And what happens is companies create policies that target under work and then they fuel the overwork, and then their entire team ends up burnt out and they’re like, what’s going on here—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: —what’s the problems? [laughter] You’re targeting the wrong problem. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That is the truth. That is the gospel [laughter] that they protect against under work and end up incentivizing overwork or like demanding—

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —overwork. And so like this person, like they probably, let’s say that they did take the 15 minutes and that they took their PTO, they probably would still feel bad. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And so they work past the certain hour, like we don’t ask supervisors permission to like, oh, can I like spend 15 more minutes checking my email? Like, she would probably the supervisor would be like, yeah, that’s good work or whatever, right? Instead of like, oh, add 15 minutes to your PTO for that work that you did after hours. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Gosh. I am just frustrated with this, but I hope that the question asker feels validated in our response. All right. I’m getting a frantic DM from our producer who asks about the nightmare scenario in which our question asker asked about this, you know, H.R. more publicly. And then what happens is that the policy is that you have to take PTO and then everyone else is affected by this policy. And basically, like our question asker ruined it for everyone else. Right. [laughter] So what do we do? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I like, first I want to say she didn’t ruin it for everyone else. This is the company’s problem.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: No yeah this is the company’s problem. [laughter]

 

Marissa Goldberg: Not your problem. But yeah, so I want to believe that’s not true. Just because she says, like it’s validated in Slack that, you know, when people take this time, off they go [?] and you know, this part of our company, it’s just when she asks her specific manager. But if that is the case, this is a bad company to work for and I just want her to get out safely. [laughter] Like that’s it.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. And I think this goes back to something that you said at the very beginning of our conversation, which is that sometimes people think if I find a remote job in my field. It’s the jackpot. And I should never leave. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And I should be grateful. But no, no. And you know, this might mean that you have to stick it out a little while longer while you job search. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The great thing about remote jobs is that, like, you know, you can find other ones and not have to move. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. You don’t have to usurp your entire living situation in order to find another one. So. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I would say you and I are both in agreement that this is a red flag. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Huge. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: About the company in general and about the manager specifically. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And just keep that in mind as you move forward. [laughs] Our last question is from the management side of things. This is from Abby and our colleague Charlotte is going to read it. 

 

Abby: I’ve recently become a manager of a small all remote team, and I’m trying very hard to be both an effective manager, model and encourage boundaries. And keep in mind that work is not and should not be anyone’s life. At the same time, I’ve quickly realized people are not working as much as they should. Not because we have set hours, but because projects that should be done in a certain amount of time aren’t getting done. My boss has noticed this as well, and her solution is more closely monitor work plans. But I’m hoping there’s a different, less overbearing approach. How do I address worker output without seeming like a micromanager? And who still wants her team to have a life and be happy? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: This question is super interesting because it seems to address under work, which we were just talking about, is usually super rare. But also because this scenario could happen in a traditional office setting, but because it’s remote. There is this added, I think, paranoia that like, oh, there are members of my team who are just fucking around or that like they’re exercising like how much exercise can you do that would really make you that bad at your job. [laughter] So what do you think? Just because these people are flexible doesn’t mean that like they’re necessarily doing less work. It’s not that the flex maybe is the problem here. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah, this goes back to what we talked about. Like under work is very rarely the real issue. And I read an article. Did you read the article in The Cut I think it was a couple of weeks ago about helicopter parenting being lazy. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Kathryn Jezer-Morton. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: One of my heroes. Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So I read that and deeply resonated with it as someone who had helicopter parents [laughter] but also on the level of a person who has been micromanaged before. I think micromanagement is lazy because you’re not trusting your team. You’re taking short term ease for long term harm. You’re not trusting your team. You’re not like the other question was about mentoring your team members to actually be able to do the work. There’s like so many issues and you’re creating like feelings of unhappiness that people are not able to have the flexibility they want. So I think there’s so many issues with micromanagement when it comes to under work. It is either a communication problem or a hiring problem. That is it. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So if I were to ask each member of this team individually, what are you expected to get done this week? And then I were to ask the managers, what is X person supposed to get done this week? And I compare those two answers, they are more than likely not going to match. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: In this scenario. Specifically the time she said projects that should be done in a certain amount of time aren’t getting done. My first thought isn’t, hey, these people are under working. My first thoughts are are the expectations reasonable or are they communicated clearly? Are there processes in place to efficiently unblock people? Like there’s just so much more to it than just me immediately jumping to, oh, this team isn’t working. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Now, when it comes to the hiring side, you want to make sure you’re hiring for quality of work rather than external factors. So if you had hiring for this role and you just did a traditional interview process that was just judging based off, can people answer questions on the spot and do they look presentable and can they speak to me on Zoom? And the role is something entirely different, like, hey, they have to code things. Then you didn’t hire based off the role you hired based off external factors like you did in an in-person job. But the judgment is entirely different from remote work role, so you need to change your hiring practices there. And I will say I worked with dozens of companies. Like I said, I’ve been remote for eight years now and my company is about to hit five years old. In that time, only one time was it an under work problem because someone was like specifically under working and it ended up being due to the hiring practice. It wasn’t due to anything else like that was the real issue there. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So it really goes back to communication and it goes back to hiring. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Well and it seems like this manager is willing to do hard work. Right. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm, yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And you know, the thesis of that that article that you were mentioning before about how helicopter parenting is lazy. She’s basically arguing that it takes a whole lot of work to teach your child to actually be independent. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So I think that this manager is a willing to put in the time to try to cultivate that independence and try to cultivate better communication and even to see where the disconnect is happening between expectations and worker expectations. Right. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like all those disconnects that you mentioned before. So I think that would be our advice to her is like seems like you’re you’re on board to do what is necessary. You don’t want a quick fix. You’re not trying to just like flip a switch and have your team change. And you also it seems like she is not that interested in micromanaging. Like—

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. That’s great. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: She wants to reject that. So she’s already on board there. It’s kind of a fun invitation to be like, okay, you get to innovatively figure out what are the blocks here? Like, what’s stopping your team? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: I will give her a very specific, like, actionable thing she can start with. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: What I recommend is starting with My Week channel. So in Slack or whatever tool they end up using, it doesn’t matter. Tools don’t matter. [laughter] But. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Create a channel called My Week. And then every week you have two parts. You have this is what I did last week and this is what I do this week. But the difference here is you’re going to copy and paste. So last week I said, this week I’m going to do X, Y, Z. Now it’s a week later, I’m going to copy that text and I’m going to add a checkmark or an X. If I add an X, I’m going to put in parentheses. I could not complete this because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Whatever blocker happened. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: And what will end up happening is one this puts in the face like, what were you promising versus what did you actually do. Two it provides managers with specific reasons why things were not done. So it’s specific things they can target on how to make it easier for this person to be unblocked and actually complete this item next week. And three, it gets everyone on the same page about what expectations there are for the week. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And also that transparency. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Mm hmm. Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s the thing that I hear again and again from people who are trying to cultivate a healthy, remote or hybrid work culture and practices. Say it out loud. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. Just say it. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Put it in writing. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: You know what I mean? Like, you got to make it explicit because all of these things that we have made implicit in actual offices for so long, those were that wasn’t great either. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: It wasn’t. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. So how can we try to make things better? Let’s be explicit about our expectations, about the way that we treat each other, about all of this stuff. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Agreed. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So as kind of our wrap up question, I want to go back to a stat that you mentioned at the beginning of the episode that absolutely blew my mind, which is that you were only spending 5% of your week in meetings. So can you talk through a little bit what worked really well, maybe in surprising ways, too? Or it could also be in like totally obvious ways. You’re like, oh yeah, we weren’t doing that, but we did that and that worked. So yeah, just share, share a little bit of that with us. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: There’s so many things I feel like I could talk all day about this topic. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Awesome. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: So. That My Week channel was a big help that helped us get rid of things like daily stand ups because we took away the information sharing part of it. And so instead of having to have daily stand ups, we had this expectation set and then we could follow through on all those expectations as well because they were written out. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: That cut down on daily meetings. One of the things that had a really big impact was changing my approach to management. So I used to be in the approach of like thinking about this like 40 hour work week. Everybody should work at least 40 hours in order to get everything out. And I quickly realized that that does not matter when it comes to the knowledge work that I was working with. So a developer like I was talking about before who’s developing for one hour at high energy is very different than a developer who’s developing at one hour at very low energy or distracted. And so my target was to make sure that that person could just get what was expected done and it be in less time. So I use time as a limiter rather than a time frame. And so what we do is upfront with the people that I manage, I say I think that this week we should set the expectation that you do X, Y, Z. And I say, is this reasonable? Is this reasonable in under 40 hours or whatever? If they’re part time, under 20 hours and they say, oh, yes, that’s reasonable or no, I think, you know, that might be a bit too much for me and then we’ll alter it. And then that’s set like at the beginning of week that’s set. And then I leave them alone. I define the what and why, and then they define the how. I don’t care what hours they’re working. I don’t care whether it gets done in 10 hours and they spend the rest of the week off. That doesn’t matter to me at all. I think it’s actually lazy management when you just rely on time because that’s not actually output. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: That was a huge change for my team. Another huge change was setting synchronous hours, so I had team members all over the world. I’m not going to expect everybody to work the same hours or even to have overlapping hours if they don’t need to. So our team would typically have like only one or two two meetings a week, and they were typically close together and they had the rest of the week off because I think people forget that even when you have a like one meeting in a day. There’s that pre thoughts that go into it, like you’re kind of focused like, oh, I have to be on time for this meeting. You have to, like, catch yourself. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: You can’t go into deep work mode or else you’ll lose yourself and be late to this meeting. And then even afterwards, if you’re an introvert like me, I’m exhausted after meetings. Like I cannot just jump back into work and feel like, yes, I’m filled with energy. I can get this done. I like after this call today, I’m going to go take a walk with my puppy. Like that’s that’s what’s going to happen in order to refresh and come back to work. So, yeah, I think it’s just rethinking how you do things. And to start small, I don’t think that every manager can jump in and just be like, like what I just said where you set the expectations and then they can go do whatever they want, maybe start at small where in the morning times maybe they have set synchronous hours and then later times it’s just work whatever hours you want, you know, like small baby steps and work your way up to everything else. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I love that. Marissa, this has been fantastic. We will certainly have you on the show again. So if people have other questions about remote or hybrid or flexible work, please send them in. Where can people find you on the Internet? If they want to? 

 

Marissa Goldberg: You can find everything about me at MarissaGoldberg.com and you’ll see all my socials and you can subscribe to my newsletter there where we revolutionize how you live by changing how you work. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Thank you so much. 

 

Marissa Goldberg: Thank you. [music plays]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you need help figuring out. Get in touch. Some ideas we’re thinking about include neurodivergents at work, breakdowns in communication and preparing for layoffs. You can find submission guidelines at WorkAppropriate.com or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. You can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study AnneHelen.substack.com. And if you like the show, leave us a little performance review on your podcast app of choice. It really helps. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. Next week we’re talking managing up, a.k.a. awkward conversations you need to have with your boss. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it.