Remote work, burnout, or something else

Normally I would put both of these in my links category, but I had more I wanted to say about Mandy’s latest newsletters, so here we are in notes. Mandy’s been taking what’s being talked about in the media and turning it on its head a bit, putting words to the feelings I’ve been having about a lot of the things I’ve been reading about.

A few weeks ago in her newsletter she talked about remote working and what’s happening now as we slowly look to the future after everyone has been working from home for so long.

I am not actually a fan of the “remote” terminology: I prefer to talk of teams as being either co-located or distributed, as those terms describe the team not the individual. After all, no one is remote all by themselves. But if we’re going to be stuck with that term, and it seems like we are, then we have to ask—remote to who? Perhaps you are remote to your colleagues, but you can be deeply embedded in your local community at the same time. Whereas in a co-located environment, you are embedded in your workplace and remote to your neighbors.

I love that last thought, that you’re remote from your community when you are in the office. And as we’ve seen in the last year, many folks have realized that where they live isn’t necessarily where they want to live and folks who are working in distributed teams are able to work as they live in the cities and areas they want to live in. I’ve worked with folks who are in rural areas, large cities, and everything in between but it doesn’t matter at all, we’ve all been where we want to be and are able to be productive members of the team.

As she says:

Because if remote work gives us anything at all, it gives us the chance to root ourselves in a place that isn’t the workplace. It gives us the chance to really live in whatever place we have chosen to live—to live as neighbors and caretakers and organizers, to stop hoarding all of our creative and intellectual capacity for our employers and instead turn some of it towards building real political power in our communities.

That’s the real rub, isn’t it? We can live where we want, make our lives what we want them to be, have work be one aspect that isn’t necessarily the largest, therefore we aren’t as attached to our jobs, are we? And that just may be what so many folks are afraid of that are in positions of power in these companies. When the rest of your life gets better, starts to matter more, you are less willing to put up with a job that isn’t fulfilling and interesting; at least that’s been my experience.

But then Mandy sent out another newsletter this morning and she did it again! This time on the subject of burnout:

I keep looking at the word “burnout” and feeling like something about it is off. It’s an image of being out of fuel, a tank run dry, a fire with a few rapidly cooling embers and no kindling in sight. But that may not be sufficient for what this past year feels like. Maybe we’re not burned out but burned up. The former assumes we’re empty vessels simply in need of refueling while the latter asks what might rise from this heap of ash at our feet. However we come out of this year, it’s not going to look like what came before.

Many folks are quitting jobs, making changes, and some are taking extended breaks if they can afford it and it isn’t necessarily because we’re burned out, it may also be because we’re disillusioned and tired and want to figure out how to do something that is useful instead of just meeting the demands of a roadmap or the OKRs. And framing all of this as a whim or burnout after a year where so many have had their lives changed forever feels shallow and wrong.