The missing ingredient in remote work

Work desk

The debate on the future of work rages on (you can read about my vision for it here). This fall, many companies announced they would start bringing people back in the office. With a fourth wave of the pandemic underway, many of those same companies have deferred their plans indefinitely, making remote work here to stay.

For those of us toiling away in our bedrooms and basements, we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what’s missing in remote work.

The prevailing wisdom is what’s missing from remote work is the four C’s: collIaboration, connection, communication and culture. While all of these things have suffered a decline to varying degress, they are not missing from remote work. We’ve still managed to collaborate, communicate and stay connected with work colleagues.

No, the key ingredient missing in remote work is energy.

There is an undeniable energy in being around and working with people. When you meet or bump into people at the office or work together in person, you feel the energy level in the room rise. Ideas are born, connections are made. Energy fuels creativity, learning, innovation and propels action. We are driven to take action and succeed, which drives a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

It has been said for introverts, this pandemic has been a blessing. It has allowed them to work quietly on their own, focus on their passions and be happy. But for extroverts who rely on the energy of others to give them strength, and help them be the best version of themselves, the pandemic has been crippling.

The problem is introverts and extroverts alike need to be re-energized from time to time, and most remote workers are running on dangerously low batteries.

This week’s #HappyAct is to assess your energy level and needs. How are you doing? Share an idea on how to fill the void so we can all recharge.

Cabin life

Author outside her friend's log cabin

I’ve always had an affinity for log cabins. They make me feel at home. Sadly, they are a dying breed. While custom log home builders are still building majestic post and beam and timber frame homes, you have to comb the backwoods and back lakes of our region to find an original hand-hewn log cabin.

We were having this conversation last weekend at my best friend’s family cottage north of Minden. Her Dad built the main cabin almost sixty years ago and over time, her brother Steve built two more log cabins on the property. Steve said to me at one point, “Nobody builds cottages any more, they’re all homes.”

Log sleeping cabin

Their cottage hasn’t changed much in 40 years. Waterskis and lifejackets hang from the wooden rafters in the ceiling. Next to the old icebox in the kitchen filled with baking supplies is an antique Kellogg Wood Wall phone, the kind where you had to hold a receiver to your ear to hear the person talking.

The walls of the cabin are filled with bric-a-brac, antique cookie tins, pieces of driftwood and kids’ artwork from years gone by. The only thing that has changed is the fireplace. About eight years ago, Steve refaced the fireplace, using weathered river stone. The last few years, he’s been working on restoring another old log cabin on the property. It is a very special place.

Main family cottage
Stone fireplace
Log cabin
The newest log cabin on the property

My favourite vacation rental of all time was a 100-year old log cabin set in a meadow on a hillside on 25 acres just outside of Woodstock, Vermont. We spent a week there when the kids were little, and it too, was special.

The kitchen had an old porcelain style sink with a picture above it of the original homesteaders on the property, sitting in overalls with corn straw hats. The interior of the house had an old wood stove, a long wood dining room table adorned with wildflowers in a vase, and a big wooden staircase that went up to a loft that had two bedrooms, connected by a long walkway.

100-year old cabin
100-year old cabin in Woodstock, Vermont

The best part of the house was its wraparound porch. It was massive, and we practically lived outside for the entire week, eating meals and playing games on the small table with four chairs and sitting in the rocking chairs. On our last day, as Dave and I rocked on the porch enjoying our morning coffee, a deer made his way up the hill towards the cabin, grazing on the dewey grass until he was just a few feet from us.

Yes, if I were going to move, it would be to a log cabin on a lake. For now, I’m grateful for friends who have so generously allowed me to share in the memories of these special places. It has meant the world to me.  

Front porch of log cabin

My top ten favourite patios in Eastern Ontario

Family and friends at the Amadeus patio in Kingston
With our friends Gary and Jill on the Amadeus patio

Throughout COVID, outdoor dining has been a lifesaver, both for small restaurateurs trying to keep afloat, but also for those of us desperate for a meal out.

There’s nothing like sitting outside on a warm summer’s eve, enjoying a drink or delicious food with friends or family on a patio. One of the many charms of Kingston is its plethora of patios, including its quaint interior courtyard patios, hidden away from the bustling crowds and its streetside tables where you can watch all the action.

Here’s my list of top ten Kingston patios to visit before summer’s out:

  1. Chez Piggy: still the quintessential indoor courtyard patio in Kingston, you feel like you are in a bistro in France while enjoying the very best in fine dining
  2. The Toucan: great food and bench style seating makes it easy to strike up a conversation with people nearby
  3. Woodenheads: still a favourite of mine for their delicious wood-fired pizza and Pollo Stagione salad, plus their interior courtyard is a cool oasis on a hot day
  4. Lone Star’s Margaritaville: come for the salsa, Corona, tunes and good times vibe
  5. The Battery Bistro at Fort Henry: perched high on Fort Henry hill, with spectacular views of the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and downtown Kingston, one of my favourite places to have a cocktail
  6. The Wharf and Feather Waterfront Patio Bar: recently rebranded, the waterfront patio at the downtown Holiday Inn offers great views of the ferries and tour boats in the inner harbor and gastro pub fare
  7. Kingston Brew Pub: sit on the covered verandah out front or venture into the inside courtyard to enjoy home brew at Kingston’s first brew pub—this place will always have a special place in my heart as a fun gathering spot
  8. Amadeus: we met our good friends Jill and Gary here at the end of July. With hanging vines and greenery and multi-levels, you can get your oom-pah-pah on and fill of German fare
  9. Jack Astors: normally, I try to avoid chains, but you really can’t beat Jack Astor’s spectacular rooftop patio overlooking market square and Lake Ontario
  10. Not in Kingston, but definitely worth the trip is The Cove in Westport. Owner Seamus Cowan recently expanded the patio behind his popular inn and spot for live music. You can see waterviews from both sides and you’ll dig the cool stage Seamus built out of cedar rails to showcase the local talent.

This week’s #HappyAct is to dine al fresco at one of the many beautiful outdoor patios in your region.

Bonus patio: Did you know you can dine on the patio at Casa Loma in Toronto? It’s called The Gardens at Casa Loma, but hurry, it closes in early September. You can make a reservation on line on OpenTable.

Chez Piggy patio
Chez Piggy patio
Patio at Casa Loma

Take the “life in one picture” challenge

Author on island with a canoe

I recently saw a photo on LinkedIn. It was of four generations of couples kissing and it was captioned “life in one picture”. It was so simple, yet beautiful.

This week’s #HappyAct, is a challenge. If you had to capture your life in one photo right now, what would it be? Share your pic. Here’s mine.

My happy place has always been near the water. This picture of me was taken this week on our staycation—Dave and I spent the day paddling on Desert Lake. We stopped at this beautiful little island for a swim and lunch, and to watch a mother loon in the bay swim with a baby on her back. This is my life, in one picture, and I’m ever so grateful.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

My house

There’s a new trend sweeping the nation, something we’re all secretly indulging in and speculating about: what our houses are worth.

According to a Statistics Canada report released last month, the net worth of Canadians rose by $770 billion in the first three months of 2021 with the net worth of households with a major income earner aged 55 or older being over $1.1 million dollars.

The vast majority of this is from house values. At the end of March 2021, the average price of a Canadian home was over $700,000, and that was before the housing market started going crazy.

You don’t have to look further than the crop of SOLD signs on lawns and online to see the frenzy.

We’ve had two friends who have sold their houses in the past few months. Each had more than 50 showings in a week, received more than a dozen offers and had people write letters why they should get the house. In both cases, their houses sold for 20% over the asking price. It’s downright crazy.

For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s singing along to The Barenaked Ladies, “If I had a million dollars”, it’s a bit surreal. In 1992, when the song was released, the average house price was $149,864. Since 1985, prices have risen by 5.65% annualized over the past 30 years.

If you look at our parents’ generation it must be unfathomable. My parents bought their tiny two-bedroom, one bathroom bungalow in Port Credit, a now bustling suburb of Toronto for $11,000 in 1954. They couldn’t afford the much bigger and nicer three bedroom house up the street for the extra $2,000. It’s still there today, nestled between the mansions that line the street now.

Yes, things have definitely changed since the Ladies sang, “If I had a million dollars…I’d be rich.” A million dollars probably wouldn’t get you a shack in downtown Toronto or Vancouver.

But it is fun dreaming of what we could sell our houses for until you realize you need to buy somewhere else.

Happy speculating.

Ed. Note: If you are thinking of selling and getting out of dodge, check out this Moneysense magazine article featuring the top ten best places to buy in Canada where you’ll get good value for your money. Spoiler alert: beautiful Bancroft, Ontario is #1. Here’s a picture of our house–while it may not be worth a million dollars yet, we’re happy with our million dollar view.

Forgive me/she/her

Pride month poster

June is Pride month. A few weeks ago, I finally changed my autosignature to include my pronouns she/her at the end. I’ve been meaning to change it for almost a year now, but finally got a round tuit at the hardware store when I was on vacation last week.

I’ve always considered myself an ally of the LGBTQ community and am looking forward to seeing a rainbow-filled feed on my social media channels on Tuesday.

But I confess I sometimes do find it hard to navigate this world of diversity and inclusion. It will be only a matter of time before I make a mistake and will have to ask for forgiveness.

For instance, I was writing an email to my team last week. I have a small team and we all know each other pretty well, so our work emails are pretty informal.

I started out writing my normal, “Hey guys, I’ll need to move our regular team meeting…” But then I remembered reading an article that said “guys” is inappropriate since it implies men and excludes others. I say this to my family all the time so hopefully I’m not insulting Grace and Clare the next time I say, “Hey guys, what do you want for dinner tonight?”

I thought about “Hey gang” but was afraid it might be discriminatory against people in actual gangs or imply they were a bunch of miscreants or hooligans.

I tried “Hey folks”, but then wondered if that had southern connotations, even though we don’t live in the United States, or a rural connotation that might be offensive.

I’ve sometimes used “Hey peeps” which seems pretty harmless, but could be racist towards chickens.

In the end, I just went with “Hey team”. Whew, problem solved.

You see my dilemma.

I know I’m being cheeky and there is a good chance someone who is reading this has already taking offence to me making light of an important subject.

I believe people have a right to be called whatever they want, whether it’s he, she, per, ze/ziethey, or they. Addressing people the way they prefer to be called is simply a matter of respect and is no different than when women started challenging the use of Miss and Mrs. as part of the feminist movement.

Personally, I don’t care what I’m called as long as you don’t call me late for dinner.

I know I have a lot to learn. I will make mistakes. I just hope you forgive me/she/her when I make them.

And to all my LGBTQ friends, I love you just as you are. You are authentic, funny and strong, and I am proud to celebrate by your side, a true ally, this month. Happy pride month, everyone!

Ed. Note: The dilemma of how to address people was encapsulated perfectly in the Saturday Night Live skit, “It’s Pat” in the early 90’s. Here’s an episode where the friends of androgynous Pat throw a birthday party for them. SNL was always on the cutting edge of societal issues. While the character of Pat was a caricature, the humour was in seeing how people with good intentions tried to unearth clues as to how to address Pat.

Five easy peasey no pot meals

Pork tenderloin on the BBQ

I’m almost afraid to say it in case we jinx it, but summer may finally be here.

When the skies turn robin egg blue and the days become wonderfully warm, the last thing you want to be doing is spending your time cooking and cleaning up indoors.

It’s this time of the year, I turn to my easy peasey no pot meals. Here are my top five favourites. Most of these are quick and easy on the BBQ.

  1. Naan pizza: a great go-to for get togethers, especially with kids. Let your guests build their own pizza using Naan bread and their own base and toppings. My favourite base is my famous garlic scape pesto
  2. Pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables, potatoes and naan bread
  3. Grilled chicken fajitas on the BBQ with onions and peppers, lettuce, salsa and cheese
  4. BBQ hamburgers, sausages and corn with garlic butter and a fresh green salad
  5. Leftover Mexican bowls: have leftover rice in the fridge? Layer it with fried onions and peppers, black beans and frozen corn, salsa and a chipotle sauce made of mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, garlic and Mexican spices

This week’s #HappyAct is to make a simple summertime dish. What’s your favourite breezy summertime meal? Leave a comment.

The future of work

future of work sign

There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.

As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.

Here is my vision for the future of work.

First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.

Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.

We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. 

There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.

Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.

We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.

Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.

We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.

The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.

Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.

The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.   

Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.

Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.

Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.

Who would you rather work for?

Stop being your own worst enemy

skeleton looking at a computer

There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.

Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?

I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.

Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.

The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.

We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.

As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.

Next week: part two on the Future of Work

Coming to grips with the five most terrifying words you will ever ask yourself

Author with her daughters on the beach

One of the best Quora posts I ever read was someone who posed the question, “Is this all there is?” The author bared his soul, sharing his story about how he struggled with this question and how the implications of his answer compelled him to make monumental changes in his life.

For many of us, our lives are never ending hamster wheels. Get up. Work. Make dinner. Squeeze in an hour of exercise. Watch TV for an hour. Do it all over again. At some point, we will inevitably ask ourselves, is this all there is?

I know my answer.  While there are days when life’s routine wears me down, I have lived a good life.

I have watched the migration of the wildebeast and zebras in the setting sun of the Serengeti.

I have strolled along the banks of the Seine, the Thames and the Hudson.

I have explored the stopes of a gold mine thousands of feet underground, and hiked to the peaks of majestic mountains.

I have swam with dolphins, raced through forests on dog sleds, and snorkeled with schools of exotic fish in clear sparkling waters.

I have hiked glaciers on mountainsides and ziplined through the canopy of the rainforest.

I have known the love and respect of a wonderful man who has been my soul mate and partner for more than 30 years.

I have experienced the joy of watching my children grow, from taking their first uncertain steps, to watching their chubby little legs race down our hill to the lake on a warm summer’s day, to blossoming into the beautiful, strong, independent young women they’ve become today.

I have cherished friends who know me better than I know myself.

And I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility of living for almost two decades on my beautiful spring-fed lake and all the joys it brings each season.

I hope life brings more adventures, but if this is all there is, I’m OK with that. I choose to find joy each day in my small, simple life, and be grateful for the life I have lived.

This week’s #HappyAct is dedicated to the memory of my sister-in-law, Karen Gillies who passed away this week and who was taken from us far too young. An amazing wife, mother and friend, she embodied kindness and grace. Karen told us that she had come to accept her fate. I derive some comfort in knowing that Karen would have answered the question, is this all there is, the same way.

 Author at the top of Whistler mountain