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How Do You Remote? (La Dawna Minnis)

In this episode, we are thrilled to introduce La Dawna Minnis, a seasoned remote employee. She works as an instructional designer at a leading global tech company and is the founder of Playful Learning Design, a unique company offering instructional design services and consulting.

La Dawna touches on important topics designed to reshape how we think about and engage with remote work environments – from building relationships to the strategic use of tools that keep us connected. She covers methods for creating a vibrant remote work culture, and advocates for a Remote First design philosophy, emphasizing that systems should be optimized for remote employees first, when creating team experiences, driving innovation to make remote workers feel connected, and challenging traditional norms by questioning the necessity of working from a specific location. Join us as we explore these topics and much more!

Podcast: How do you remote? La Dawna Minnis (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 presenting a variety of fields. Joining me today is La Dawna Minnis. She is an instructional designer for a global tech company and she is the founder of Playful Learning Design which provides instructional design services and consulting. She has her master’s degree from the University of Colorado Denver in Information and Learning Technologies, and a Bachelor of Art in Education. She is working a hundred percent remote and she is what some would call a seasoned remote employee. Welcome to the show, La Dawna!

La Dawna: Thank you, Traci. I’m so glad to be here today. 

Traci: So, let’s dive right into our discussion and to start things off, just tell us a little bit about your remote journey.

La Dawna: Definitely. So I think this goes back to when I actually chose the field or industry of instructional design. When I was considering graduate programs, I really kind of wanted to stay in the realm of education, but I really wanted to explore opportunities that were great for freeelance and contracting projects, but also that could be done remotely.

I kind of had that goal in mind. And what I had some of my initial roles, those were fully in person. And over time, I think that one full time role kind of moved to a hybrid situation where I was partially in office, partially working remotely, and then the pandemic and we all went completely remote.

So I was kind of like fast forwarded into that outcome. And since then I’ve now changed roles and working for another company, but it’s a fully remote position there as well. So I’ve kind of worked fully remotely for two different bigger organizations, one in higher ed and then one in corporate tech.

Traci: Looking back, what do you enjoy most? Hybrid or fully remote?

La Dawna: There’s some great things about hybrid, I think having some face to face time and kind of a actually in higher education a beautiful campus to walk around on and kind of visit and a reason to be there. I really like that culture in that climate of college campuses are just so enjoyable. So I think in that particular situation, did like having some in office days where we kind of get together.

Now I think in a different situation where there is a local office, but because my team is so geographically distributed, it’s not the same experience of kind of having a day in the office to go in and collaborate with your team. So the office is there if I should need it, but I think, you know, I kind of liked that, but it may have been circumstantial to the situation. So I think that can vary a lot.

Traci: Plus on your campus job weren’t the buildings named after Lord of the Rings locations? I mean, how can you beat that. In your experience now, and you brought up a really good point, about the face-to-face differences in remote versus the hybrid, where you can actually have that human interaction. What have you found to be challenges of collaborating and connecting with people being a hundred percent remote.

La Dawna: Best practice is to just be more intentional about connecting with your colleagues. Not even just your team, but beyond your team. It’s much easier to pass them in in the hallway and just say, oh, you know, “Hey, Kevin” or whoever from another department, you kind of build those ancillary relationships.

It’s more difficult I think in a for fully like online environment because you’re not having those hallway moments. So finding ways to participate if your organization has, you know, like a gardening channel and Slack or, you know, other kind of like interest based groups and things like that to try and can be more intentional about connecting with people. I think that’s really important.

Traci: What does that help achieve, do you think, in the remote environment?

La Dawna: I think just kind of connection and rapport because if you know something later on you need to collaborate with this other team you already have a little bit of a relationship established. But also you kind of connect with people about different topics and you know maybe make a friend or something that you normally wouldn’t have. I don’t know, as an adult. I feel like it’s hard to make friends. So like work is one of the places that we meet a lot of people and maybe you meet someone awesome that’s not on your team, but you still connect with about animals or hiking or whatever. But you still connect with about animals or hiking or whatever interests it is that you have.

Traci: You brought up a really good point. Connecting with people and building those relationships. Have you noticed our experience the difference in working and collaborating with the people either on your team or within the organization that you don’t have that rapport, you don’t know anything about them, they’re pretty much one dimensional, you’ve seen their name and email versus those that you may be on a video conference and you see their dog walk by or see their cat under can you see something they’re like oh yeah what’s the difference there in and being able to get to those goals of whatever the project is. Or have you noticed any?

La Dawna: I will just say like, you know, like the style of communication, I think maybe is more restrained or professional if you don’t have any rapport built up with someone versus you can be a little bit more casual and that kind of thing with people that you have a relationship built up with.

I feel like I’m a fairly direct person, so I like getting to the point where I can have pretty direct conversations, but if someone has if someone doesn’t know me yet and they don’t know that about me, it might be kind of intimidating or off putting.

Traci: Yeah, that’s that’s a really good point and I love how you said hallway moments. Those are definitely taken for granted interactions and the need to build those relationships with other people. What do you use in your organization that helps you stay connected? What types of tools do you think are most useful?

La Dawna: Yes, I think synchronous chat tools I think are really critical to being able to connect with people, obviously like video chatting is has been transformative for so many organizations. And I think that there’s really minimal. There’s not really anything that we were doing face to face that we can’t do over Zoom at this point.

We’re also practice and comfortable with it. Also like a Google Drive really and being able to edit in documents and have asynchronous collaboration that allows us to still collaborate and work in one space and not have distributed comments and things like that. I think that that’s also really critical to being able to be collaborative if you’re not just working in a siloed way.

Traci: Doing the collaborations, having the rapport, all of that kind of brings into our next point, which I want to talk about the culture of the organization. Now, I know you in your previous careers, you’ve worked in organizations where maybe you were on site and you worked with remote individuals or they were hybrid and now everyone’s remote.

How is culture communicated or ate there blocks to that to communicate that culture and have them live that cultural experience of that company or that organization if they’re a hybrid or if they’re remote?

La Dawna: Yeah. What comes to mind is you’ve heard of mobile first design, right? When you’re designing a website. When you’re designing an experience for a team for team building or collaboration or whatever it might be, making it remote first is kind of my philosophy on that. So it should first work for remote employees and then the face to face teams can kind of, you know, modify like how they’re engaging in order to make that work or Yeah, I mean, they could work from home that day.

Whatever it might be I think having it be a remote first philosophy when kind of building team experiences is important.

Traci: I think it was you, cause I know we both worked at the same organization for a time and I was 100% remote across the country and you were on site and we were very new to this. This is way before the pandemic. And we were just figuring it out. And I was one of the first remote employees there.

And I remember that you as one of the leaders Made sure that I participated in cultural activities. There were different talks. Sometimes there were celebrations and I remember one time you brought me into the Huge conference room with everyone there and you had me on a laptop and I just sat there and you put me in a chair. I think it was in the front and I could watch everything and people would come by and wave. And that was way before we had all these different tools you put me on a laptop.

I thought that was the most innovative thing I had ever experienced. Because I’d worked for other remote organizations and they had already evolved past like they were like, yeah, we know how to do that. But this was new for this organization. So, tell me about some of those experiences you remember that or you just like taking it day at a time.

La Dawna: I think definitely taking it data time challenge by challenge. Figuring it out. We were all kind of, you know, reeling at that time, I think. Trying to solve for unexpected things. But even, kind of before my career in higher education, I worked in nonprofit industry and our executive director, I think, I remember the very first time I had like a live video hangout with her and just blew her mind she was like, “Well this is crazy, I can’t believe people do this.”

I feel like I’ve kind of gravitated toward pushing those boundaries and making sure that we, you know, are inclusive and the way that we do things, but also that we think differently about this idea that you have to be in some specific location in order to contribute or purchase paid. So I feel like it’s always been kind of my inkling to like push those boundaries and look for ways to kind of adapt situations and it’s, you know, kind of fun, I think. 

We wanted to see you too, so glad you enjoyed it.

Traci: It was it was awesome. I tell that story many times when people are like, well, we can’t have remote.It’s like, if you have a laptop, you can have remote. It’s like, if you have a laptop, you can have remote employees as long as you’re trying. So you talked about pushing boundaries. I love that. So just, looking forward, what do you think remote work will look like in the future?

La Dawna: I think that it probably has to do with privacy because I think that I’m seeing a lot of larger organizations, you know, taking on. Software and other practices and things that some employees might find invasive or, you know, not necessary and might not be welcomed. So I feel like that is kind of something that’s on the horizon for remote employees. Unfortunately, a lot of like traditional organizations have this mindset of they need to like be looking over your shoulder and if you are not in the room for them to look over your shoulder, they’re going to find other ways to do that through technology.

Traci: I’m glad you brought that up because that’s a topic that the organization of workforce remote, we are against the invasiveness. We don’t push that. That should be an outlier that should not be the norm because I think the heart of remote work is about trust. I think that’s counterproductive to motivation, to the autonomy which you mentioned when we first started, that those are those are the key elements of a happy and sustainable remote work force to be able to do that. 

I think shedding light on that before it becomes like, “Oh, we have to lock down their browsers. We have to use their cameras to make sure they’re doing things.” Tell me about the the role that you think trust and your in your experience. Do you think it would demotivate you or the people you’ve worked with? And what type of work do you do? Is it is it? Project-based is it dynamic? Like you have to respond? Like, are there other ways to measure productivity than those types of tools?

La Dawna: Absolutely, I think let’s say you’re an individual contributor and your role as a designer is to create, right? Anyone who has been in a creative role knows that there are times when you are able to get into that creative flow state and produce.

And there are times maybe you try and it doesn’t work so well and you got to take a walk and there sometimes you just like I’m not even gonna try because this is not the right time and that doesn’t fall in the normal like 9 to 5 schedule. So I think it depends on, you know, if your organization is looking at using whatever data they’re collecting or basing it on like, well, you didn’t have this many mouse clicks within the, whatever. I don’t even know how they measure that, and not looking at the quality of the work that you’re doing and if you are meeting the goals that have been established by the organization then that can become problematic.

Trust is really essential in that and trusting that people know what they can work best and to manage themselves. I think is integral to kind of have like, good culture on a team and in the organization.

Traci: That’s a really important point. That could be part of the culture. Part of the expectations that, yes, there are times when you work best using your strengths and maybe the training moves towards how to get remote workers to work in their strength areas and strength times of day where they’re more focused, they can be more creative and they can have a better output.

When you’re talking about working, like you have the freedom and flexibility to be like, I’m not gonna work on that now. I’ll work on that later because I know a lot of times creatives will either be high-powered in the morning or afternoon. Like for me at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, no, I’ll do some data entry or I’m done. But in the morning, wow, I’m on it, but people have different times. So in your capacity, do you have that flux ability to work when you want And how have you used that?

La Dawna: Absolutely, I would say with some of our team members being across the globe in the UK, for example, we have limited overlap in our work days. So those kind of couple hours, you know, we try and have those team meetings and the things that we all need to be present for in those hours and outside of those kind of anchors for those meetings, then I’m able to kind of move my work around based on like, okay, this is kind of like really low cognitive load.

This will probably be good for the end of the day. I’m really similar to you Tracy where I like can write and you know edit and design and do a lot of things in the morning and the afternoon and my Britons like I need a mindless to ask to work on. So I think if you can find a way to have that flexibility in your schedule there there’s a lot of value for me personally.

Traci: I’m glad you mentioned the different time zones and the overlap, which is important to have the availability. I will be available during these times. So that we can collaborate synchronously.

A lot of people have this idea of remote. And I want to get what you think works best right now in your current position or even in the past, was there an expectation that when you work remote, that means you’re at home in a segregated office space, that’s very similar to work, that there’s no distractions, does that mean you get to work at a coffee shop? You can work from anywhere. What did that look like?

La Dawna: So I think in previous roles there were a little more particular about the location and what you work but in my current role I have a lot of flexibility and even within my house I mean I like to move around.

Sometimes I wanna sand at my desk, sometimes I wanna sit on the floor or on the patio or wherever it might be. But yeah, I could potentially work from a coffee shop or a co-working space or something like that as long as the work is getting done.

Traci:  I like that, the spaces of inspiration. So in your perfect world. What does remote work that inspires you look like?

La Dawna: I think definitely. For me personally, like I said, I like to move around. So having like those kind of favorite places within my normal, you know, kind of home workplace to around kind of keeps me, inspired and, and moving enough so I’m not too sedentary, but I don’t know. I think about like inspiration and for me it’s almost lost about where I’m doing the work and it’s about what I’m being trusted to do.

Whether I’m remote or in person, I think have been like autonomy to kind of follow like, you know what, there’s something like important here. I need to investigate this or  I need to look at that. And being trusted to make those decisions I think is a bigger factor in like being inspired and motivated versus remote or in person.

Traci: You touch on a really important subject right there where it’s trusting you to spend time on what you need to spend time on. We talked about what remote would look like in the future. I think you just touched on an area that is going to be key beyond just I’m gonna trust them to be remote to get what’s done what they need to and you brought up a point about giving me the autonomy to choose what I work on and trusting me, how can that be conceptualized to others that don’t they have no experience in the workforce and they’re coming into it. What would that look like?

La Dawna: For me, I think it comes down to like taking initiative to look at things critically and noticing. So noticing when something’s not working as well as it could be or noticing that a different resource could be helpful at a particular time and then elevating those ideas to your supervisor and say, “hey, I have this idea. I think this could be really valuable, or this could help us be more efficient in this process” or whatever it might be and then kind of shaping your ability to work on those things with their approval. So just kind of taking that initiative, looking at things critically and speaking up when you have like ideas about how things can be better.

Traci: That’s inspiring. Alright, so let’s talk a little bit about Burn Out. Because I can tell from your work style you’re less what’s the clock say in in your work style. I know, because I’m very familiar with it, because I’ve done the same things. You can probably work on the weekends or you’re like, hey, I’m thinking about this.

I’m gonna go work on it. How do you balance that so that you don’t get burnt out, that you take that time for work life balance. Or have you found it?

La Dawna: I think you know that’s definitely a challenge with work being at home it’s so easy to pick it up again, right? You know, that’s definitely a challenge with work being at home. It’s so easy to pick it up again, right? And I think over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten a little bit better about those boundaries. But then also, like I said, kind of paying attention to when my flow states are easiest to achieve and kind of making sure I prioritize.

Those things when I can so that when the burnout does creep in, you know, maybe like you said, it’s a little like data entry or like something like not as, you know, kind of cognitively heavy that needs to get the shop or something like that.

Traci: It’s interesting you didn’t say stop working.

La Dawna: I may do something easier, but I’m getting better at taking breaks. For sure.

Traci: Why was taking breaks hard to begin with?

La Dawna: Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me being like self conscious of everyone around me being like, what she’s never working. She’s always up walking around doing stuff. But sometimes I need to think and walking helps that thinking. So this idea that we have to be like chained to our laptop in order to be productive or to have good ideas. It’s silly.

 That’s one of those things that I want to push back on and I want to challenge and I want to push forward is. No, we can actually have better ideas if we take the break away from the screen to think about things. And sometimes the ideas come, you know, middle of the night, you’re like wake up and suddenly have a solution for something that you’ve been ruminating over for weeks.

Traci: The time to ruminate. Yes, that’s it. That’s really that’s where those ideas, the game changers come from. It’s like. Got it. But it can’t happen during a 9 to 5 or whatever. I think that’s gonna be the gateway to. Change the way we think of work. And what it means to have that output.

That to me is the goal, is to reimagine what work is. Not, okay, it’s 9 to 5 or, you know, how do you measure productivity. Right there, what you’re talking about, how do you measure that? I think those things are key. That’s what moves us forward because there’s better ways of doing things, new ways to imagine things.

So I like that. It’s like, yeah, you have you have to teach yourself to step away. So we’re not talking about we gotta make sure they’re working. It’s like we gotta make sure they’re not burning out because that’s a whole section of the remote population is we just want to work all the time.

La Dawna: Absolutely, and if your team members are not having the best ideas that’s winning because they are so burnt out that they can’t contribute them or the burnt out and they don’t want to even share it because if they’re like, “I’m gonna bring this up and then I’m gonna have to do this extra work. I’m already overworked. I’m not gonna bring it up.” It can really stifle an organization or businesses ability to evolve if your people are overworked and burned out.

Traci: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I know there’s been times where it’s like, instead of taking a lunch, I’ll like, let me go do some yard work or let me go do, you know, plant some, some flowers, just something completely different that it’s not a screen and it’s not in the house. So it’s something completely and during that time the best ideas will come because I’m still processing even though I’m doing something different. Yeah, that’s when the best ideas come.

What else is on your mind or your heart about remote work that you think is important to bring delight?

La Dawna: I think, you know, I’ve actually been able to develop better like eating habits, which is, you know, kind of crazy sounding, but it’s really, it’s really simple. Being able to have breakfast without having to rush out the door and commute somewhere. Being better about kind of drinking water even.

So I think that I’ve done really well and of course it’s a double-edged sword because if you’re fully remote then you’re also eating like 3 meals at home every single day and talk about burnout. You’re like I do not ever wanna cook another meal again.

Traci: It’s almost like we get to that point where we’re shutting in and in this cave it can be burned out from that…

La Dawna: Just the overall definitely a benefit because I’ve been able to better like, you know, manage kind of my diet and eating habits. You know, there’s financial benefits to that too, not having to either do all the labor, the meal prep for yourself or spend, you know, money on an expensive lunch because you didn’t have time to or whatever it might be.

Traci: Yeah, that’s a really good benefit. Yeah. And you mentioned the commute. So yeah, there’s a lot of self care practices.

La Dawna: Yes.

Traci: Let me ask you this as we kind of start wrapping up. We could take each one of the topics you covered and go in greater detail and have a whole podcast on, but stepping away and looking back either at the once we’ve talked about or something new.

If you had some advice to give to from your lessons learned in remote. What is the advice you would want to give somebody?

La Dawna: I think my top 3 kind of like words of advice or recommendations are:

  1. Design remote first, design activities remote first and then make accommodations for in-person teams rather than vice versa.
  2. Be intentional about connection and taking breaks.
  3. Consider having multiple spaces in your home work environment that you can move around. If you’re like me and you need a little bit of change of scenery, something like You don’t necessarily have to go to all the way to a coffee shop. Try working from your patio. Try working from your couch if you’ve got a comfy couch.

Whatever it is that helps you get into your flow state and switch into that mode or mindset, create those spaces for yourself.

Traci: That’s 3 takeaways that we can apply and get some really good benefit from. La Dawna, I want to thank you for joining us today. Thanks to our listeners for tuning in to the workforce podcast. Where our goal is to help you to continue to go remote and work on.