In this episode, we visit with Lizzy King, Program Manager at The Centre for Organization Effectiveness. Lizzy is what some would call a Remote Learning Alchemist. She simplifies the complex formula for organizations who are trying to figure out what their remote employees want…just ask them!
In today’s discussion, Lizzy will delve into various aspects of remote working – from personal preferences in work modalities to overcoming challenges unique to remote settings. She’ll share her thoughts on remote work etiquette, the future of the workforce, and how remote opportunities can revolutionize the job market.
Join us as we explore remote work solutions from the perspective of a young professional representing the next generation that is shaping the future of remote work.
WorkForceRemote.org (Traci Frees): Hello, and welcome to today’s episode in our How Do You Remote? Series where we will discuss all things related to remote work from guests representing a variety of fields. Joining me today is Lizzie King, Program Manager for the Center for Organization Effectiveness. Lizzie has experience working remote, on-site, and hybrid. She has been working remote for over a year. She is what some would call a remote learning alchemist. Welcome to the show, Lizzy!
Lizzy King: Thank you, Traci. Thank you so much for having me.
Traci Frees: To start things off, you represent that millennial perspective. You don’t remember life before the internet. And some of us very well remember what that was like. So, tell me a little bit about that, What shaped your ideas of what work life should be.
Lizzy: Well, my dad worked on-site. He had a long commute so he was definitely more traditional work but my mom was a freelance graphic designer, so we had a home office when I was growing up with multiple computers. She had interns sometimes come in and work from her home office actually she would go on projects and be on deadline and be working just whatever hours were flexible to her life as a mom. So that was really a really positive benefit, I guess, of having this, remote work experience.
I grew up kind of, I think having that as a It was a possibility, not only a possibility, but something to strive for. I saw her. Have to overcome some of those challenges with working from home and, you know, with getting distracted or, procrastination, some of those types of challenges that we face maybe more readily from home. I watched her have to deal with those as well.
Traci: So, learning what others have experienced, especially in the up and coming generations, what is it you look for? Do you look for a company that has that remote option? Do you look for something that has a hybrid or does it even matter to you?
Lizzy: I think the world is moving toward an openness to remote or hybrid work, even for those positions that might have traditionally been on site. I worked in a position that might have traditionally been on site. I worked in a position where most of my work could have been done remotely. I wasn’t, I was in a university, but I wasn’t student-facing and I did a lot of independent work. However, for the first year I worked there, I had to be on site 8 to 5 every day.
Part of the frustration that I felt was knowing, especially coming, this was post-COVID, so I know that we had the history and the infrastructure to support remote work but there was some organizational barriers to having that be a possibility. So, that was a frustration to me because my coworkers even would say, “why aren’t you remote or why aren’t you at least hybrid? You don’t need to be here. You don’t face, you’re not student facing.” Most of my meetings were virtual from my office, which was kind of funny and yet some of my co-workers were virtual from my office, which was kind of funny. And, yet, some of my co-workers who were student facing, it was very important for them to be on-site and being able to be available for walk-ins and that kind of thing.
Traci: Did you want more flexibility in that? Position where you could be remote when we were like, you could, you don’t even have to be here. Did you want to be on site? What was your personal preference?
Lizzy: My personal preference probably would have been hybrid with a majority remote but still coming in one to 2 days a week. I love the social aspect of office environment. It’s definitely motivating and kind of gets you out of the house. It prevents going stir crazy, and it helps like with little check-ins and stuff like that. Like if my boss was in the office, I could just walk by her office and say, hey, I have a quick question for you. And with remote work, you don’t get that as much or you have to be really intentional about setting up the systems to make that a possibility. So I think a hybrid environment is ideal for me, but I think that’s the most difficult modality to manage.
Traci: A lot of people have had this idea that, oh, remote is easy. But when it’s sustained remote, it can be very frustrating, like you said, that intentional communication is so key to connecting, because you lose some of that onsite office pop-ins. I mean, you have the instant message (IM), but even the reinforcement that, “am I doing a good job?” It’s not cut and dry. There’s some gray areas of decision making that you have to make and those are always hard in every field.
They have those. Those are tough to navigate if you don’t know how others are doing it or even with that immediate feedback is. That could be a challenge.
Traci: What is your pet peeve when it comes to remote work etiquette? Is there anything that you were like, “I wish that whoever you were with didn’t do this in meetings or whatever.” Because I’ve heard pet peeves from people who have our seasoned leaders, they’ve been in their field for 20-25 years and a lot of their pet peeves have been, “turn your camera on if I’m in if I’m in a meeting, I want to see everybody,” because they’re so used to that face-to-face component. I’m really interested to hear from your viewpoint. And your experience, what are some pet peeves that you’ve seen with remote?
Lizzy: That’s a really fun question. I think actually maybe one of my pet peeves is that not everything has to be a video call. Okay, I think that before maybe before Covid, regular phone calls or conference calls without video were a lot more common. And then when a lot of teams went fully remote and Zoom (video conferencing tools) kind of became popular, the norm became video calls and Sometimes video calls are more draining and more distracting to me.
Traci: And that can be a bit of shutting my video off right now. I
Lizzy: I know, right? I know and I have to like, I like for this call ,for example, I turn myself view off because if I’m too aware of the way that I’m looking, I will get distracted and lose my train of thought and it’s something that when you’re having a regular conversation with someone, you’re not looking into a mirror. So, it’s actually a lot more natural on video to turn yourself view off. So that’s something that I do to kind of reduce the fatigue if I feel safe enough with the person to say, “if I look stupid I’m sorry.” You know, but anyway yeah not everything has to be a video call.
I have two pet peeves. I should say. The other one is just the default block of time to schedule a meeting is an hour, and most meetings is just the default block of time to schedule a meeting as an hour and most meetings if you run them efficiently, can be done in 15 minutes, that’s not necessarily specific to remote work, that’s just I think a complaint that people have across the board in their jobs.
…You’re muted, Traci
Traci: …Which is a pet peeve of, video calls (being muted and talking). It’s like, “come on!”
My pet peeve, gosh, I think it’s this is one that I’ve really thought about. When you have an on-site and video conference organization-wide meeting, and you are treated as though you’re not part of the organization because you have a different experience if you’re remote, than people who are in the room in the meeting because they have different opportunities such as they get to ask questions. And then, those questions are asked to the leader of the meeting, but if you’re on Zoom, you get to ask in chat, but it’s not relayed to the leader. So sometimes you feel as though you are not part of the organization fully.
Lizzy: That’s such a good one.
Traci: Be intentional about everyone belonging and make that experience the same for on-site and remote.
Lizzy: It speaks to inclusivity and accessibility and the difficulty of that hybrid or having a team or an organization where some people are fully on site, some people are fully remote, and some people are somewhere in between. How do you make sure that as much as possible that that experience employee experience is consistent.
Traci: Exactly. And I’ve seen a lot of universities do that too. And different consulting situations where they would have like a big meeting for the department or the university-wide, but then questions are asked face-to-face but then those in chat the moderator just asked it’s never communicated as though it’s not important it’s like, “wow s!” So it’s almost like designing your meetings design in your workplace to be responsive to every modality whether you’re on site. Just like a website would be responsive to your cell phone or tablet or whatever device you’re accessing it with to design that experience. In a way that it appeals to all of those different modalities, on-site, remote, or hybrid. What do you think the future of the workforce is going to look like? I’ve asked this to people who have been seasoned in their workplace, again, 20-25 years experience, and they have a different perspective. So I’m so excited to find out what your thoughts are of what either the ideal workplace would look like or what the work place on the future could evolve into.
Lizzy: The first thing that comes to my mind is with more remote opportunities, comes a decentralization of the labor force. There’s very skilled people all across the world and the country. We can talk about the US specifically living in remote areas who will now have access to these more competitive positions that would traditionally have only been offered in big cities or wherever that industry is. So, I think that’s a really interesting idea. And I think we saw this with Covid. People were like, well, ‘I don’t have to live in the city and pay the extra money for rent and if I don’t have to you know commute on the train and all this stuff if I can live somewhere more remote and still have the same benefits of this job. I’m going to do that.” I have so many friends that have moved out of California because of that.
Lizzy: Yeah, I do. So I. I expect there to be some polarity and existing inequity that just is shown in new ways I should say. I really don’t see a world that is going increase the level of on-site work. I have a hard time imagining that that the new wave of work isn’t going to continue toward a hybrid or there’s actually a new term – I think the new term is flexible, a flexible schedule.
I see work continuing toward remote. Another interesting factor is commercial real estate and the office buildings. And I see opportunities. I’ve heard of cities starting to do this already. Where these empty commercial real estate buildings are being converted into housing because there’s housing shortages all across the country and I think that’s a really interesting domino effect of that.
Traci: I have not heard that.
Lizzy: Yeah, my company, the Center for Organization Effectiveness, we refer to ourselves as The Center for organization effectiveness, so, I can say that from now on. Before our team was not remote and there was a larger office space that they rented and then during Covid they started a new lease. With the smaller office space that has a printer and has a conference table and we use it for our in-person monthly meetings, but it’s not necessary to have all the space for people to do daily work there.
I think that, I personally really like the model that I have. In this company which is we work remotely on a day-to-day but we do meet. About once a month in person because we all live in Southern California so we all commute to the San Diego where the office is and have our in-person gatherings. So, we have the opportunity to have fun on my first my first team meeting. We had a chili cook off. You can’t do a chili cook off on Zoom, because you can’t taste each other’s chilly on Zoom. So. Yeah, that’s fun. That’s a fun format, I guess.
Traci: That’s a really interesting difference in things you lose from remote. You’re going to lose that on site gathering, but that’s a really interesting difference in things you lose from remote.
What do you think is important in a workplace culture that has remote employees involved? With your experience now, what do you think is that important? Ask but is it that connectivity with others where you meet or is, is there something else that’s intangible?
Lizzy: The first thing that really comes to my mind is buy in and pulling your weight. As an individual contributor and something that, I really love about our team, which is small. We have 9 full time and one part time, 9 and a half. Everybody is really communicative and everyone really pulls their weight and it’s and everyone believes in the mission of our organization. And there’s a culture of learning, there’s a culture of, “Hey, are you overwhelmed? What can I do to support you?” We do get, I think an interesting kind of practical element of that is we get a cell phone stipend. So, we can call each other and it’s like we get paid to be able to use our phones and call each other and so even if I don’t have official meetings scheduled with somebody, I’ll get, I feel like I have the freedom to call or they call me and I have a quick question. So you get that pop-in benefit. If you have that set in place, whereas before I didn’t even have the cell phone numbers, most of the people I worked with. It was usually done during with more formality with meetings and emails. So I think that’s a, that’s a nice change for me and this team.
Traci: I love that you said that. That’s absolutely brilliant because I’ve experienced that when I had someone’s cell phone, I could just quickly text them and it was considered just like you said that pop in and me being you know on the other side of the country was so important because in a meeting they could just quickly take it or you could just call him and just have that. Interaction where it’s not the formal video or the formal Zoom call or whatever you’re using to for video conference. So yes, I love that. So you have to start it and it makes you want to connect with your team more.
Lizzy: Yeah, exactly. And it’s not just like, hey, you’re calling me, but you don’t pay for my phone. I feel like there’s the fact that they give a stipend is shows that it’s important. I feel like there’s the fact that they give a stipend is shows that it’s important to them to make sure that it’s equitable. There’s that feeling of support there from the leadership. Which is, which is helpful.
But yeah, isn’t that a funny, simple thing? I think sometimes the solutions are a lot more simple.
We over complicate. Things and it’s like if you show up you do your work and you communicate with each other a lot of things are going to be okay.
Traci: This is so good because I’ve had so many hours of conversation where people like, “How do we find out what it is?” And my response was, “Just do a an anonymous survey. Find out what you get from them.” No one’s thought of that, and so that’s what I’m doing with you. I’m like, “Let’s just talk about workplace culture. So instead of what’s important to the company, we ask, ‘what does it mean to you? ‘” And you just brought this brilliant, but simple way to connect people because and I would even call this what we’re doing here: demystifying what millennials want in the workplace. Like that would be a really great title because they (leaders/decision makers) don’t know. And they’re like, “we gotta do all this stuff.” And you’re like, “just give me a cell phone stipend and make sure everyone contributes. “ We got it. There you go.
Lizzy: That’s it. Yeah. So true and clear expectations and that’s something that’s easier said than done. Because, in order to give someone clear expectations, there has to be a level of thought and self-awareness, that is like necessary in order to say, “Hey, this is what I’m expecting of you.” Or, “This is what you can expect from me.” An example I can give is, the other night, one of our, we have consultants that we contract to various projects for training and development and our we have different types of academies that we’ll do for cities and governments all over the state of California, so that’s the brief background. One of our consultants, who I will be working a lot with, said, “Hey, can you talk at 5 30 today?” Which is technically out of hours. I’m like, “Well, I asked my coworkers, what should I do?”
They said, “You don’t have to, but if you are available and you want to, you can.” So I said, “Sure, sure.” He calls me, and it’s a 45 min conversation and all it is him talking about, “This is what you can expect from me. This is my communication style. This is the type of emails if it is,” he said, “if it’s late at night and it’s a little rambly, it might be because I’m, you know, have a glass of bourbon and that’s when I’m doing my emails. Don’t feel like you need to respond at 11 PM. If I send you an email at 11 PM,” He said, “if my emails are short and terse it might be because I’m in the middle of a training and I just needed to get something off of my mind really quick so that I could move on.” I said, “That’s super helpful.” And he asked me similar questions like, “What is your preferred style of communication?” We talked about the Myers Briggs. We talked about other things. Of course, I work at an organization that specializes in organizational health, so I guess if our team isn’t doing it, then that’s a problem.
Traci: That’s a really good concrete example of how to clarify expectations with a phone call. Like, “This is how to interpret my email tone.” Because we’ll spend hours and then it’ll in and it’s so exhausting it’s like why were all day we’ll have that cognitive distance. Why would they upset with me and then we replay the conversation? What should I have said? Should I have used an emoji? No, I was just in a meeting. It’s okay. I love that!
Lizzy: How many hours have we spent over, “Should I use an emoji or should I not use an emoji?” Thinking about all the, “Well how will they perceive it ?” “Is this professional?” “It this…” oh my gosh, it is exhausting.
Traci: It went from trying to dissect and everything relationships and now we’re doing the same thing with our with our business relationships, because we’re not there in person. That’s very good. I love the culture insight that you provided. So, buy in, pulling your weight as an individual contributor, and then , pulling your weight as an individual contributor, and then just knowing expectations and some type of perk ,and that was going to be my next question that you provided. Is there another perk that you think would be useful in the remote environment as a professional?
Lizzy: I think there’s a lot of perks for people who might also be neurodivergent or socially anxious or I have some chronic health conditions that really are more conducive for remote work because there are some days where my body hurts. If I need to lay in bed and do work from bed I can. That is an interesting kind of layer to this. If you look up the statistics on disability and on, different types of conditions that people have. It’s pretty alarming that the majority of people have something under the surface that you don’t know about. And, I think, remote work and the flexibility around it helps create environment for people with that suffer from those kinds of conditions.
To be able to contribute in the way that they can contribute without having to go through all the other hoops. Oh, I have to wake up earlier to commute and get dress and all those things add up and drain your energy away from being able to be productive. And I can’t tell you how much more productive I am working from home because I don’t have to do all that extra stuff.
Traci: You have that ability to have that flexible environment that you’re setting up for your own comfort that makes you more productive.
Lizzy: A desk setup is a nerdy thing that I could talk for a long time about, but I’m curious to hear what is your what’s your setup at home.
Traci: Mine is really, what’s worked for me, is to have the right lighting have to position my desk so that I’m not backlit that I have windows in front. That’s a big thing because I’m on the camera a lot, but I do a lot of interaction with clients. And so I have 2 screens and I have my desktop but I don’t use a laptop. I stay away from that. I use the actual keyboard that I like the way it feels and I make less errors. Some people would be like, that looks like an old-fashioned typewriter keyboard. It’s not. It’s this gaming really cool light up keyboard with my light up mouse. Just to have some colors, I have the 2 screens and then, and then I have of course I have a footstool. That works for me. Like I have less physical fatigue with that and it keeps me focused.
Lizzy: Is your desk a stand-up desk?
Traci: It is, yes. Unfortunately, I never use it because I could, and I started to use it as a stand up desk, like the first month. I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna stand up.” And then after about 3 min of standing, I’m like, “ This, I cannot do this, this is ridiculous.” I’ve even tried the medicine balls. I did that for a while. But it was just like, I want to focus and I can’t focus and get enough done when I’m standing, so I’ll just work really hard sitting and then I’ll get and walk around. So that’s work for me, but some people do like to stand.
Lizzy: I’ve heard some people like to stand when they’re in meetings because it helps them be more alert and attentive yeah on those meetings when they’re not having to focus and do work it’s more about personal interaction, which makes sense.
Traci: What about you?
Lizzy: So, I’m similar to you that I really like having a mouse and a keyboard. So I have the Logitech MX Master 3 S. Super awesome mouse that is a hundred dollars. Yeah, it’s the best $100 I’ve ever spent in my life. I’ve ever spent in my life. I’ve probably sold 10 of these mouses to people that are in my life because it has programmable. To people that are in my life because it has programmable functionality like there’s like 5 different buttons and there’s 2 different Now when I try to just do work for my laptop,
Both: It’s so slow!
Traci: It’s like, “oh no, I cannot use that little pad to navigate. Give me a mouse.”
Lizzy: But yes, and I have an external monitor which was provided to me by my employer. I have an external monitor which was provided to me by my by my employer. It’s a nice really nice high resolution monitor. I have a little light actually, didn’t turn it on, but I have a light that I can turn on to make my face not look dark and like Vladimir or whatever – like a like a vampire in a dark corner.
And perhaps the most important element of my work setup is my keyboard pull out tray. So that my arms are in the right position, but also because my cat likes to lay across my desk. So, if I have my keyboard on the top of my desk, he’ll just lay on the keyboard and that’s where he wants to be. So if I have under my desk, he can be on my desk with me, and all as well.
Traci: That is so important! Because you don’t realize how much stress that takes off just having a pet there, and for them too, they’re like, “I want to be where I want to be.” That is so funny. I actually have bunnies. So I’ll put a little dog bed – like a little small one, because there are no bunny beds. There is a space that’s, probably like 18 inches, between my keyboard and monitors, and I’ll put that bed there and let them lay right there and nap throughout the day.
There’s been meetings you’ve been in that you didn’t know, but I had bunnies right there in front of me,and I would just sit there and pet them. While I’m in other meetings, and I could just remain calm and they would just sit and calm me. Oh, I didn’t think to even shared that with you, but yeah, I’m glad you mentioned the cat pets and remote work. It’s a huge, huge thing.
Lizzy: Yeah, there’s another benefit. You get to be with your little buddies all day all day long. He’s outside right now, which is probably for the best because he would be trying to get all up in our business.
Traci: Right. Exactly. No, it if it’s a big important meeting, you gotta control for that definitely. So just two more questions. All right, what is your funniest Work From Home Fail Story? Either that you observed or that you have experienced yourself, you’re like, I can’t leave all that happen.
Lizzy: I won’t turn into Zoom seminars in the car anymore because there was one time where my camera was on, and I didn’t realize it because the webinar. I’ve only ever been in webinars where You couldn’t see participants. And so I was driving and I just had the phone in my lap and I have no idea what the angle was, but apparently my camera was on. Traci, you are in this meeting and I was so embarrassed.
Traci: I don’t remember that!
Lizzy: Yeah, it was one of the university wide webinars for AI so there was quite a lot of participants.
Traci: Oh, okay. I was in that one, but I didn’t see you, because there was so many people there. I didn’t see your camera. Oh no.
Lizzy: Oh, thank God. I was in the car and it was probably a very unflattering angle and they set it up in a weird way where apparently when I signed on, my face took over the presenter screen for a split second, which is on the recording that they sent out to everybody.
Traci: They didn’t edit that?!
Lizzy: So that’s why I had to leave the university actually. Because of that, that was it. Oh, I was gonna say while I was driving on that meeting, I’m just glad I didn’t have any kind of road rage or I wasn’t singing loudly to a song. I mean, it could have been a lot worse. I was very quiet, uncharacteristically in that 5 min drive.
Traci: So yeah, that’s not bad. I didn’t notice and I was in the meeting, that’s good.
What advice would you give to any leader that is leading a remote team? Maybe they’re trying to build culture with their teams. They’re trying really hard and it’s not working. What advice would you give to them? To be a better leader and to better support that remote workforce?
Lizzy: Oh, that’s such a good question. Curiosity is a really a really, underrated skill or maybe it’s more of a mindset but simply asking your employees about what motivates them, what do they need to feel supported. Spending some real energy and kind of asking. It’s like I feel like, sometimes leadership will get in a tizzy, like trying to solve a problem, but they don’t actually go to the user group, and actually just ask them, “What do you want? What do you need?” And sometimes the answer is more simple and you think like could be like, “I need to be able to pick up my kids from school.” “I need to be able to work an extra hour in the evenings.” Or, I don’t know who it could be so many things, it could be a cell phone stipend, etc. Not being afraid to ask those questions would be one of my biggest piece of advice.
I’ve had really, really good bosses in my professional career. I’m really lucky that I’ve had such good bosses, that one of the common denominators of all of them is also an element of coaching that they bring into their style of being inquisitive and asking those questions and then being able to convert that into productive action, or help you convert it into productive action.
Finally, playing on the strength of your team. Don’t force someone to do something that’s not in their wheelhouse, find someone else that’s it’s in their wheelhouse and use the strengths based approach to things. Do what you want to do that you’re good at, that you feel motivated to do and do more of that. I don’t know if that’s very well articulated?
Traci: That’s perfectly articulated. Yes, yes, yes, all of those things. Yes, yes, all of those things.
Lizzy: Yes, that is more than one piece of advice, but it all goes together though.
Traci: I think you’re right. I asked the question the other day, some instructional designers and I were getting all detailed about, “the course should have this and this and this” and went into all this detail and it was getting very complex and I finally said, “Has anyone asked the students what they want?”
The response was, “Nope, we don’t have access to that data.” I said, ”Let’s get a focus group, and let’s ask them, ‘what are they wanting on online course? What’s important to them?’” Because we’re arguing about navigation and they may be like, “I don’t even use that.” Yes, exactly. Ask the user group. What did they need? That target.
Lizzy: Yes. Exactly.
Traci: So, last question and this will wrap us up. If you could work anywhere in the world for a week remote, where would it be and why?
Lizzy: Anywhere but here, no, I’m just kidding. The first place that came to my mind is Japan. I just feel like it would be really cool to be in Japan. I don’t know why I think I just want to go to Japan, and so if I could go and work there it would be fun. I feel like there’s a lot of good cafes there to work from that might have cats, so….
Traci: That’s awesome. You know they have a place over there that’s rabbit island, so I would be there working and you can have a cat acre. Yeah, We can we’ll go work from anywhere from Japan.
Well Lizzy, I really appreciate you sharing your insights from that young millennial viewpoint. It just simplified so many things, so we really did mine some gold today. I really appreciate you being here and thank you to our listeners for tuning into WorkForceRemote.org’s podcast, where our goal is to help you continue to go remote and work on……Yeah, we’re done!
Lizzy: Woo hoo!