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How Do You Remote? (Katina Shields)

In this episode, we visit with Katina Shields. She has worn so many hats in the field of online learning including learning architect, writer, producer, project managers and more. Katina is what some would call a Remote Dancing Fool – we’ll let her tell us more about that in our lively discussion. In this episode, we will explore the importance of understanding and celebrating the individual differences and personalities of remote workers, setting boundaries, and strategies for working through the creative process, and cultivating relationships within your team. (Traci): Hello, and welcome to today’s episode in our How do you remote?” series. Where we discuss all things related to remote work from guests representing a variety of fields. Joining me today is Katina Shields, who has worn so many hats including instructional designer, writer, producer, project manager, needs analyst, developer, and much more! She has been in the field of developing online learning since before the internet – many of us can remember that. She is currently working as a consultant and has extensive experience working in a remote environment before remote even became a concept. Katina is what some would call a Remote Dancing Fool. Welcome to the show Katina!

Katina Shields: Thank you. I’m sure there’s going to be lots of questions in people’s minds, “What does Dancing Fool have to do with anything? It’s just my passion. So somebody once asked me years ago, “If you were to go online dating, and if you were to write an ad what would it say?” And you know, it was one of those things where I had nothing I could come up with, nothing initially. I chewed on it, and chewed on it, and it must have been months later I went, “Oh, you know the light bulb went off, and I said ‘Dancing Fool Seeks Partner’.” I at one point wanted to call my company Dancing Full Productions but I was talked out of it, “ No, this doesn’t sound serious.”  I no longer have to be serious.

When I think about working remotely, there has been a lot said over the pandemic when people are trying to get used to it, and figure out the tips and tricks, what are the tools that I can use, etc. The thing that keeps coming back to me is individual personality. Let me tell you what I mean. For example, I know there’s a particular instructional designer/ trainer who is really good. I asked, “How do you deal with you know working from home? How do you manage it” She said, “Well, every morning I get up, I take a shower, I put on my work clothes, I go down the hall to my office…” She sets her boundaries.

I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I’ve never been able to do that. I think it’s a personality thing. I get up in the morning, sometimes I think, “Do I have time to brush my hair?” No, I need to get this thing started.” So I’ll go in and I’ll start working. Yes, I’m in my pajamas and the afternoon can come and I may still be in my pajamas. I’m not recommending that, but what I am saying is that I think it is a matter of personality, or you know type A. And I think that it’s not a bad idea to set some boundaries sometimes. It takes enlisting a friend or a loved one to say, “I’m calling you at noon and I’m not gonna let you alone until you promise me that you’ve walked out the door and walked around the block.” (Traci): So have you ever had problems skipping lunch? Is that a norm for you?

Katina Shields:  Yeah, sort of like, “hm, have I eaten today syndrome?” It’s like, “What do you mean you’re gonna stop and take lunch?”  It’s just always felt like it wasn’t productive. So you know on a more sobering note, I belong to a book club and one of the things that we were reading recently was by a woman who pointed out that we as a society often tend to judge people based on their productivity.

I mean literally, are they somebody who’s aggressive and ambitious? Are they are they making money? Are they making changes in the world? And do we value them more than we value people who are comfortable not making a lot of money, or staying home and raising children, or living very frugally and not working?

I think that goes back to individual personality and really looking and asking ourselves the question and I’m sorry this is getting a little deep, but I mean the ultimate question is: Do we respect everyone?

Do you respect yourself enough to say, “I’m going to set boundaries for myself.” “I’m going to take lunch.” Because the science will tell you that unless you stop and recreate which means re-create if you don’t give yourself time to replenish and refresh how darn good are you gonna be anyway? How productive are you going to be?  I didn’t mean to go off… (Traci): I think that’s brilliant! When we all started going remote, let’s say that when most of the country went remote from after the pandemic many of them, and even those of us who’ve worked before that remotely, when we first started we felt like we had to be busy all day long. We felt like we couldn’t take a break and it was like if we had to you take a bio break or go get something to drink we had to hurry back because we believe we had to always be available, but we didn’t operate that way in the office. We would get up, we would move around, we would go see someone, we would take a quick break, but we didn’t feel like that. So I think you’re touching on something that’s very important.

Katina Shields:  Another colleague of mine comes to mind. When I first met him I was his project manager, and I met with him and said, “Okay, I need to put a schedule together. How long is this going to take for the writing that you’re going to do?” And I must have been kind of pushy, which imagine that, because he turned to me and he said, “It will take as long as it’s going to take.” And this gentleman has become a friend, and I’ve always been impressed by the fact that he sets his boundaries. This is a good one, he works for 90 minutes, he says, “That’s a good length of time where you can get engaged in what you’re doing, where you can think deeply about it , work uninterrupted, and then about that time it’s time to take a break.”  So again, another model that I would recommend, that I don’t necessarily follow, and as I said..  “Do as I say, not as I do?” Yeah, so 90 minutes, take a break, how long would you take a break for?

Katina Shields: Good question. Okay, just when he’s refreshed. I know some people have said they can go 50 minutes before a break, so him going 90 minutes that’s good. It’s very individual. Now something you touched on…you mentioned the creative role in remote work where you’re a writer. I know you told me a good story, it’s really good, let’s touch on that. I’ll let you just tell it in all it’s glory, because when you told it to me I was like, “This is brilliant! This is such a great example.”

Katina Shields: That story actually touches on time management. So, I was working for a company that hired someone who was going to oversee the production team. We were producing e-learning modules. This fella, who had just come in and had an engineering background, so what he wanted to do to really try and make us a more efficient team was to analyze how long we did the various tasks that we all did.  Example: How long does it take to develop graphics for any learning module? How long does it take to program? He sent out some sort of form, and said, “Okay, I want to list the tasks that you do and identify how long each one takes. Well, as a writer, as an instructional designer, and developer part of what you do is figure out, “Okay, I’ve got this content – it’s boring as it can be – what can we possibly do

with it to engage the learner? How can I create scenarios or you know engaged interactions? What can we do with this to make it all come together? Additionally, there’s the time that you spend just trying to get your mind around all of the content that has come at you from the subject matter experts, “Here, read these 10 documents and turn it into something useful in terms of learning.” And so what you’re doing is you’re digesting it and trying to figure out what’s the best way ,how can I chunk it, and how can I give it back in a way that makes it easy to learn and to retain. Well there’s part of that process that is not s very productive part of that process is roaming around the house, picking up the stuff that shouldn’t be on the floor, and making yourself a snack, doing a task,  calling to make a doctor’s appointment, then there’s just time that your flummoxed and you have things haven’t coalesced so you’re not moving forward, and I didn’t know how to answer this guy. So, I got silly with it and I responded to his email copy all and said, “Well, so here’s an example: stare at computer screen 10 minutes, walk around the house 10 minutes, stand in front of the refrigerator five minutes, come back and stare at screen, read through notes, get up and get a glass of water, the creative process is messy.  I think a guy finally just threw his hands up and said, “This is not going to work with this group.” I don’t think he lasted very long there either. Interesting, that’s a good lesson learned for understanding the type of work that your team does. So time management and knowing what type of work your workers do whether it’s a helpdesk where they can just answer the question, it’s more technical versus a creative type of knowledge worker that’s digesting material, and the creative process takes a lot of that time but it’s hard to map out and really say, “This is exactly the time devoted to each task.”  Tell me about, as a project manager the hat you wore with that, how did you work with people to measure productivity? Because I know that’s a question a lot of people have, not just productivity, but how to get their team to maintain focus or measure productivity?

Katina Shields:  Deadlines the seem to concentrate the mind. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. As a project manager I would always have two sets of deadlines: the deadlines I gave the client and then the deadlines I gave the team. Often I used that as a way of managing folks. I need it by X, and then it gave me some wiggle room. I’m not sure that’s any different with remote or not, but thinking back to the previous story and about doing things creatively, I think the theme that it’s very much personality driven. I hope there are some people who don’t beat themselves up because they’re not being productive as part of that creative process and then there are those of us who feel like, “Oh my, I’m a failure. I’m spending all this time walking around the house picking up the laundry, getting a glass of water, and not recognizing that that is part of the creative process.

I think where that does touch into being remote is if you are isolated, and you don’t have the kind of interaction with team members. If you’re working as a consultant, you may be it – you and the client and you’ve got to keep a good face for the client. If you don’t have that kind of support that says, “He, don’t worry this is part of the process.” Or have somebody that you can brainstorm with or get support from then I think that a pretty important thing to figure out how to get a neighbor that you can walk around the block with at noon and tell your troubles too, and very often that just expressing yourself to the neighbor or the whoever it is that you’ve enlisted is a good way of just processing stuff and getting through those times where you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Sometimes just talking those things out brings an insight or a different way of seeing something, and that can be really important for folks who are working remotely, especially consultants. The ideation, to be able to just brainstorm. What role do you think that plays in collaborating and being remote? I know working in groups is one thing that people don’t like to do in online learning, it’s really hard, but how important is it with remote work? How important is it? I know you said to talk to a neighbor, friend ,or someone. How important is it, if you have a remote team, to be able to open that space to say, “Let’s just brainstorm, let’s just have no wrong answers.” What would that look like? What have you seen in your experiences? Has anything unexpected come from those times? What would we call that maybe unscripted brainstorming or something? What would what would that look?

Katina Shields:  Sometimes it just looks like a conversation. When I’m working independently, I really miss the opportunity to have somebody at the desk next to me and say, “Hey, can you read this and give me your feedback? Does it make sense?” There was a fella that I worked closely with. We developed a relationship where we would go back and forth and say, “Hey, I’m about to send this memo, can you read it and give me your feedback?” Just having that kind of thing, at even a small level of a memo, but certainly as an instructional designer, when you’re trying to work out a learning strategy, it is enormously helpful to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. I mean better if it’s somebody who’s in the same field and has struggled with the same sorts of challenges, but maybe this is me. 

Maybe there are other people that don’t need this, but I personally find it extremely helpful to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. I recently developed a webinar series for UCR, and it was just me at home alone. But, I enlisted a friend of mine who was also an instructional designer, and I would set deadlines, and say, “Hey, I’m going to develop this piece of it and at noon on Thursday we’re going to do a Zoom session, and I’m going to do that portion of the webinar.”  Deadlines concentrate the mind, so it was very helpful. From that standpoint it was helpful in that it forced me to do the presentation, and then I could see where I still needed work, and I could also get her feedback. So eliciting collaborators, I think, is huge. You talked about several things: being personality driven, isolation, and going through that creative process is messy.  Maybe some are thinking, “I’m not cut out to be remote. I’m frustrated.” Have you ever been frustrated? Does that does mean that they’re not cut out remote?

Katina Shields: Every time I dive into a vat of new content, it is frustrating. I doubt myself. I’m just convinced that I’m just not smart enough. That this is the one they’re going to figure out I’m a fraud, even though I’ve done this successfully for 30 years, this is the one.

Katina Shields:  Exactly! Precisely! Until I can swim to the top of it, and get my arms around, it’s mental chaos, it’s frustrating, it’s depressing, it’s all of those things. For some reason, every time I start a new project I forget that it’s part of the process for me. But it is, for me.  And you don’t hear about that a lot. When you’re a knowledge worker, you’re creating, and if you’re in an office, or you’re with a lot of people, you have that synergy. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re alone, but when you are remote, and that isolation is there, and the self-doubts surface like you said. I think that’s a really important point to talk about it, to really reveal is we all go through that, that’s a normal thing, it’s okay, it’s part of it, you’ll get through it, you’ll show your brilliance, and then you’ll take on the next project. so that’s funny someone so seasoned, a veteran, and you’re a master of this stuff, even revealing there’s times when you have self-doubts – that’s really eye-opening and revealing to those of us who experience the same thing. It’s like we have those shared times of wrestling, where you don’t see that in remote but being able to express that and say, “Hey, I’m struggling with this. I’m in that struggle phase and I’ll get through it.” Being able to encourage one another and recognize it.

Katina Shields: The inner critic, oh, sits in the dark and just feeds on all of your insecurities.  I can relate to that so well. What advice would you give those who are leaders that have remote teams. Maybe they’re been promoted recently, and they haven’t managed remote teams before, or that maybe they have someone on-site and a few people remote. What kind of advice would you give to bring that team together?

Katina Shields: You know one thing, and this was something I learned during the pandemic, and you’ve probably experienced this, and I’m sure many of other people have, and that is to bring folks together.

It’s hard to develop relationships when the only contact you have is through through Zoom session, through phone call, through emails, it’s all focused on the work.  Well, what about the personalities? What about getting to know one another? What about getting comfortable enough with one another to support one another to feel comfortable enough to brainstorm with somebody? Do you feel comfortable enough to say, “Hey, can I send this to you and can you give me some feedback on it?”

I’m thinking back to sessions that we had early in the pandemic where the team would get together, “Hey, let’s have a Friday night four o’clock cocktails or something, so everybody just bring your glass of wine or whatever and let’s just chat.”

One time, in a group that I was in, we discovered that one of the women was a trained Sommelier and she said, “I will do a wine tasting for you.” So then she said, “Okay, go purchase this kind of wine, and this kind.” So we did, and we came and she said, “Okay, now we’re going to start with this one.” And she gave us a little history, she told us what to taste for, what to smell for, what to look for. So, it was both educational as well as it was social, and those sorts of things helped us to bond in a way that we might not even have done –  we might not have taken the time to go out get together on a Friday night when we were on-site because everybody’s busy and everybody takes off in a different direction, but as a team leader there are ways that you can cultivate relationships in your team that will help strengthen the team’s sense of identity, resilience, creativity, etc.  Yeah, that’s really important. I think you touched on something there to not forget that human element, that we’re inviting each other into each other’s homes. I know when we first started the podcast, before we started recording, I got to meet your cat, and I’m about to show you one of my bunnies – just having something to relate to. Have you ever been in a team that didn’t do that? Can you compare the two?

Katina Shields: You know, I think it’s not the norm, at least in my experience. You know maybe frankly with a younger generation it is more the norm, but it hasn’t been in my life. Although early on I do remember working for a company, the woman who was leading it was extremely creative, she and her partner were very creative and they made a point to once a month or every other week on Fridays, they would order lunch and we’d all come together and we’d have a feast of Thai food or whatnot, and we’d sit around and we’d just chat and socialize. There was an annual ski trip that we all went on, there was a pumpkin contest at Halloween, or there were various things that they did to support us as creative beings.

One of the things that they that they did, that I loved, was when it came time to figure out a learning strategy for a new client they would pull everybody together. Initially I thought, “Okay, why is the guy who’s answering the phones in the meeting?” Turned out this guy was a stand-up comedian ,he had great ideas to offer. So,  you know another point is don’t underestimate people. I mean get to know who folks are, get to know the kinds of things that they can bring who they are, what they’ve got to offer, don’t just typecast them based on what role they’re currently doing. Those brainstorm sessions were really rich and they were fun. They’d bring things for us to play with using our hands and we had a wall that was a white board and just throw in ideas around. So you’re saying, “Work can be fun!?” Imagine that. I knew you would have some really good stories! What else can you think of that that comes to mind, that you would share. It could be offering advice to someone who’s new to remote maybe, maybe they’re just graduating from college, or what do you wish you knew, or it could be anything else that could be a good takeaway for somebody. You have so many words of wisdom, you’re rich with it!

Katina Shields: Take notes, take notes, take notes! I found that when I was managing projects I lived and died on the notes that I took. If I could go back and say, “You know, on this date we had this conversation and this is this is what we covered.” Then it helped me, not just in terms of my memory, it also helped me in terms of the client, in terms of the confidence that I instilled in them, and one of the things that I would do at the end of each meeting, before we got off the phone, was I would go back through those notes and I say, “Okay, here’s what we agreed to, here’s what I’m responsible for, here’s what you’re responsible for.” Take notes, take notes, take notes!  That’s really brilliant ,because it’s something that’s taken for granted –  the art of note-taking which is lost on many.

Katina Shields: And it’s great client management, at least in instructional design and development, you know stopping at each stage and saying this, “This what we agreed to. This is what we’ve got. Let’s agree that this is what we’re doing, because we’re going to build on it. If you want to go back and change it, we’re going to have to rip it up and that’s going to cost time and treasure, right?”  That’s really good advice.  Let me ask you, kind of a creative question to end on, what is the most interesting way you’ve gotten to know people? What would be a strategy that someone could use to bond with their team?

 Katina Shields: So, this is going to sound very odd but I’m going to talk about reading tea leaves. I had an experience, back in college, it was a seminar and one of our faculty brought in a woman who read our tea leaves. Okay, go with me here. What I discovered…  From what I know from you it’s going to be good…

Katina Shields:  Yeah, I’m right there, we drink the tea, you get down to the tea leaves, and she would come around to each person and stare. She’d sit right in front of you, I mean right in front of you. Each of us was staring, not in the other’s eyes, which would have been way too close and uncomfortable, we were each staring into the cup with the tea leaves. And who knows where her tea leaf reading came from or where the ideas came from. My point is when you have something else, other than one another to focus on it allows you, it’s like playing cards – whatever that Medium is that you’re focused on it which is the catalyst for your personalities to come out and for you to interact, but it’s not threatening or too intimate because you’re focused on the card deck, the tea leaves, the puzzle, the whatever thing you’re trying to solve. So, one strategy for bringing people together could be to -whether it’s playing a game online or trying to solve a puzzle or a problem – it allows you to put your focus on the thing and let your personalities come out and engage with one another in a non-work way that really brings the personalities and gives you a vehicle for bonding.  I think we struck gold.  Some people that work remote, and I know I’ve worked with some and I’ve even been the person that does this, it’s like, “I don’t want to do a team building exercise. Let me just work. I don’t want to participate, let me just get my work done.” I think you’ve touched on why it’s so important, maybe it’s not seen right then, why it’s important to participate and share of yourself in that moment, but the benefits would be reaped further on down the line with that trust building, with that knowing one another, with the bonding…

Katina Shields:  And also with accessing more dimensions of the individuals you know rather than just, “I am the accountant and this is what I do. Yeah, but I also sing opera, you know and I have a very creative mind, and I do standup or whatever.” You know, once you have that confidence and comfort then those other things can come to bear and you can start looking at solving things in very different ways than you would normally if you’re just staying within the confines of your role.  Wow, that’s it! We’ve unlocked that, so the layers of the personality – keep peeling them back – finding new things and being willing to share of yourself, and show others those different dimensions of yourself.  That’s a book right there – that’s a million dollars right there! That’s what we came up,  so Katina Shields that is your ebook, that’s what you’re going to put out there! That’s awesome!

Katina Shields:  Let’s do it! let’s do it together!  We can do it together, exactly. And you heard it right here on’s podcast – how to engage with others. It’s the dimensions and layers of that personality, that’s really good. Well I really hope that we can talk with you again. You can come back and share some more insights, because we could talk all day. I know we have a time frame here, so that’s a really good place we can pause. Thank you again, Katina for joining us today, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in to’s podcast where our goal is to help you to continue to go remote and work on!