A few of you have seen Doug’s Rules of Work before.
The idea for this has been germinating for several years, but it was while reviewing an early draft of the Employee Code of Conduct, that this got some legs. Sitting at a table with Patsy MacDonald didn’t hurt.
It’s been in this top-ten format for about a year and a half. You can download the PDF and tape it to a wall somewhere if ya like.
And now, here we are working from home (or at least trying).
Do my high-falutin rules still apply? Let’s see…
1. Be a grown-up. Do your job. Keep your word.
It’s important to remember that you are indeed at work and are trading time for money. Tax-payer money at that. All kinds of challenges. I don’t need to enumerate them. The best thing you can do is to make sure you have a designated spot for doing work and only do work in this location.
Get dressed for work. It’s your uniform, a mask that will help you focus.
When you’re in this spot, you’re working. Period.
When you’re done, you’re done. Leave.
Be ruthless about this.
2. Be nice. Don’t be a jerk. People matter.
Keep in mind that there are real humans at the other end of your technology. This is always true, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when there’s a whole bunch of wires and distance.
I always try to shorten this distance to increase social connection. Chat instead of email. Video instead of chat.
People are upset. Everyone has their own story. Everyone still has their own special brand of crazy BS going on in their lives. And it didn’t magically go away because of the Apocalypse. Keep that in mind and lean into compassion.
3. Know your audience. Read this twice.
This should be obvious, but per above, it’s even more important to be cognizant of tone, privilege, and context. Technology puts up barriers when we can’t always read tone correct with missing body language cues.
Humor is particularly challenging to get right over technology. I know the tendency is to employ levity when times are difficult. And I agree that we should laugh as often as we can.
The simple reality: folks are living in a distracted environment of worry and fear.
Not all jokes are funny. Especially gallows-humor. Resist the urge.
4. Know the rules and why. Don’t follow them blindly.
There’s a difference between dogmatic adherence to the rules and understanding why the rules exist. We must be flexible because we’re all learning how to make this new machinery work.
That said, there are some clear First Principles of the job that must be followed. Codes of conduct, data stewardship, etc.
Which leads into the next rule…
5. Use your brain. Trust your instincts.
It’s still planet Earth. Gravity still works today like it did last week. You can go pee when you feel the need without asking permission. It isn’t magic; it’s just technology. Your ability to learn new things is founded on your lived experience of all the things you learned already. Your gut knows what to do.
Lots of things have changed. Lots more things have not.
Seriously. You got this.
6. If you have questions, you have answers.
I could write a whole post unpacking this one, but it goes like this:
There are really two types of questions:
Those that can be answered objectively- fully or partially. There is no disputing the actual bona fide facts. One may dislike these provided truths, but they are truths nonetheless.
Those that can be answered subjectively and are based on opinion. They may be dressed up as objective truthy questions and sometimes the answers are given with more authority than they warrant.
It’s that second class of questions that drive this rule. Most people who ask a subjective question already have a preferred answer in mind. Whether it’s the bias of their lived experience or simply one that paints them in the best light…. doesn’t matter.
And there’s nothing you can do about it. Just be aware of what folks’ goals are in in asking a subjective question. If you sense your answer won’t be well received, then maybe you need to think about which hill you’d like to die upon.
A subjective question is consistently motivated around seeking the validation of an existing opinion.
What you can do, however, is to evaluate your own questions before you pose them. What are your goals?
Do I look fat in these pants?
If you’re asking the question, then you already have an idea. Get it?
Here’s the rub. Right now, we’re all seeking validation in some way. These are uncertain times. If there’s a way to feel okay, this is most people’s go-to.
Just remember this, m’kay?
7. If it interests your boss, it should fascinate you.
There are two layers to this rule. The surface layer is about keeping on the right side of your manager. It’s easy to dismiss this as the ‘brown-noser rule’.
But hold on a minute. That’s not why it’s here.
What this is about is alignment. Is what you’re doing aligned with the organizational strategic and business goals?
If not, you should evaluate if that thing is important or not.
The Eisenhauer Matrix (or Covey Quadrants) talk about prioritizing the Urgent and the Important. How do you determine the Important?
That’s right. Alignment.
When we’re working remotely, we become easily disconnected from the purpose of our work. Checking in on the ‘why’ of what you do will help you rise above the whack-a-mole busy-work of only working on urgent things, whether they are important or not.
8. There is no room for heroes. Heroes die.
The role of ego for an IT professional is an interesting point of discussion. Our customers come to us from a point of weakness that puts us in a position of power.
Not in a twirly-moustache sort of way, but we possess skills and knowledge that our customers don’t. Otherwise, why would we exist?
We must be aware and empathetic to folks looking to us for help. That’s the point of the interview question around customer service. Can we relate to people on their terms so we can solve technical problems together.
Because of this service relationship, there is a drive to ALWAYS BE SOLVING. There’s a big dopamine reward for fixing things and being appreciated.
That’s a drug tho, right?
We’re all part of a team and working from home makes it easy to drift into lone-wolf hero thinking. Lean on each other and ask for help when it’s needed.
No one person is an expert on every fool thing. To think otherwise is hubris.
9. Speak up. People don’t know what they don’t know.
Perspective is everything. And we each have our own. No two people have the exact same life experience and knowledge-set.
It’s folly to make assumptions about what other people know or don’t know.
What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to others. Especially when it comes to problem-solving.
And because people tend to internalize a knowledge gap as perceived weakness, it’s important to be attentive to non-verbal queues. Something that’s increasingly hard to do in a remote work situation. But worth the effort.
Pay attention. Be helpful. And don’t be a know-it-all.
10. Create your reality. You control actions, not outcomes.
This is also about perspective, but very much about your own perspective on how you approach work and life.
Think about victimhood and control. Blame versus shame.
While we all have agency to make decisions, it’s important to keep in mind where you can influence things, because control is an illusion.
And that’s where action comes in. What you do and how you react is in your locus of control.
The results? Not so much.
The world has gone to blazes and there’s nothing you can do about it.
So, give yourself permission to shake and slough that guilt crap off.
And keep on working forward on stuff that matters.