conflicting priorities

Dividing the Housework without Dividing the Household

Teleworking and Relationships

I sit on the couch reading an article about men doing more housework than ever before while my boyfriend handwashes dishes in our tiny NYC apartment. He has just served us an elaborate breakfast of omelettes and French pressed coffee, which we ate in silence as I checked email and created my daily to-do list. Part of me –the feminist, liberal-arts-degree part—feels deserving and almost expectant of this behavior. However, another part of me—the Texan, raised-to-be-a-southern-housewife part—feels unsettled by this strange turn of events.

To clarify the situation: I work from home. I am a remote intern for a consulting firm, which means that I sit on the couch in my pajamas translating research into more meaningful terms for my bosses, who then translate it into more meaningful terms to their clients. My partner has been off work for a month, awaiting the start of his new job this coming week. During his time off, we have exhausted our free time (and ourselves) by exploring our new home: the touristy sites, the dive bars, and the overwhelmingly diverse population of NYC.

In order for us to have the time to do these things, though, there has been a severely uneven distribution of labor. He cooks, he cleans, and he runs our errands. All the while, I type away at my laptop, lost in the world of data analysis and theoretical modeling. It’s the most efficient way to do things: we both work, we both play. We both have it all.

The problem I see approaching us, however, is the beginning of his job this week. He will be working long hours with a grueling commute, whereas I will be working long hours primarily from home and the café across the street. I want to reiterate: We will both be working. So my question is, will we both make breakfast? Will we both wash the dishes?

This is where telework is potentially dangerous for relationships. Historically, the distribution of labor in the household has been much clearer: there is housework to do, and bacon to bring home. Each partner chooses a task and both are accomplished. However, as more and more couples are choosing to have a dual-income household, the boundaries between tasks become fuzzier. Add in the complicated phenomenon of being a “telecommuter”, and you have yourself a pretty confusing situation.

As a telecommuter, your home is your office. As a 1950s-style housewife, your office is your home. Do you see how this could lead to confusion surrounding whose job it is to do the housework around here? Typically the housework is done by the partner who spends more time in the house, thus is more available to do these tasks. However, this rule can’t apply for telecommuters—the time we spend in the house is already spoken for.

I’m not sure I have a resolute answer for how work should be divided in a dual-income partnership, especially with the added complication of telecommuting. But I do know that gender roles are changing, and that these issues will come to the forefront as women slowly earn more than 77 cents to the male dollar, and telecommuting becomes more popular for both men and women alike.

In the meantime? My BA in Psychology (as well as a certain amount of trial-and-error experience) qualifies me to advise the following:

  • Discuss your expectations. Splitting things down the middle is probably impractical, but an open conversation should allow you to come to a more equal arrangement. Your partner might not realize how much weight you have been carrying while he/she is at work; simply listing all the chores that need to be done in a given week might give them insight into how they can contribute.

  • State the obvious. Although it seems obvious to you and me, your partner might not understand the terms of your work-from-home situation. Try to patiently spell it out by comparing it to their work experience: although working from home does free you from a long commute, being “on the clock” means the same as what it would in a traditional office. Just like he/she wouldn’t interrupt their busy workday to go grocery shopping, you can’t be expected to drop your work to fold a load of laundry.

  • Be patient. Any change in a relationship dynamic takes time. Although you might not be completely satisfied in the beginning, know that any progress is still progress. As you and your partner transition to a more equal distribution of work, be sure to tell him/her how much you appreciate their efforts.

Questions for readers: How do you divide the housework in your family? How does telecommuting affect the way you accomplish household tasks?

Is Perfection more Important than Authenticity?

Beyonce’s riveting performance of the nation’s anthem at President Obama’s second inauguration was, perhaps, too good to be true.

What we heard yesterday was a pre-recorded track that Beyonce made on Sunday at a Marine Corps studio in Washington, a spokesperson for the Marine Band said.  This is, apparently, standard operating procedure, for inaugural ceremonies where extreme weather can make it impossible to keep instruments in tune (for example, 4 years ago, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two others used backing tracks because of the bitter cold).

But was it bitterly cold yesterday?  Temperatures hovered in the mid 40’s for most of the afternoon.  Hardly bitter.

Throughout the ceremony, for nearly 2 1/2 hours prior to the national anthem, the United States Marine Band played beautifully.  James Taylor performed with his acoustic guitar and touchingly sang “America the Beautiful”.  Kelly Clarkson concluded the event by belting out “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, accompanied by the United States Marine Band.

So why did Beyonce lip-sync?  So far, her publicist hasn’t said.

When you have a big opportunity, a one-shot deal at something, would you rather be out there, risking making a mistake, risking looking a little foolish, perhaps, but keeping it real, or would you rather be “perfect” and fake it?

What does your choice say about you?

Does more email mean you are MORE important?

“Were you copied on Steve’s email?”

“Did you see what she wrote?”

“I have over 100 emails just from this morning!”

These are the informal conversations that take place in the central locations — the true power hubs of any organization — where the corporate culture is defined and reinforced.

We’ve worked with many companies for the specific purpose of reducing email volume only to discover that their corporate culture, subliminally, uses email as an indicator of a person’s value.  The more email you have and generate, the more valuable you are viewed within the organization.

We worked with one leader and her team to reduce the overall email volume between her, her team, and external team contacts.  As her team learned exactly what her expectations were regarding email, she was copied on fewer messages.  Without so much email to wade through, she got more work done and responded quicker to her team’s needs.  She contacted her boss and other external contacts to establish similar expectations.  Most people responded positively, and thanked her for her consideration.

Come performance review time, her boss criticized her for not communicating enough with her team and with external contacts, despite the fact that she and her team reached, and often, exceeded, goals.  Somehow, the conversation regarding email expectations had been forgotten and she received a poor performance review.

Ultimately, her review was redone after she shared the positive feedback from her team and from external contacts regarding her communication process.

It takes one team at a time to change a corporate culture.  Given the tools and opportunity, people will choose to create an environment they can thrive in by giving one another permission to change their email habits.

As you go through your work week, consider how you view email.  Is a lot of email a badge of honor, of importance?  Do you view others as more or less important, based partially, on how many times their name pops up in your inbox?  What conversations about email “load” do you hear around the proverbial water cooler and what do these conversations mean to your corporate culture?  Do you really want less email?

Bridging the Political Divide in Your Workplace

There’s a lot of buzz these days about how politically polarized we are in the United States.  What does that mean, exactly?  Author Bob Korn explains:

“Polarization is an effect that drives people so far apart on an issue it is as if they are at opposite poles. The people become emotionally attached to one side of an issue and become almost incapable of seeing any virtues in the opposing position or any faults in their own. It makes responsible thinking about the issue difficult or impossible. It may lead to personal animosity towards people who take the opposing viewpoint. Most of us have issues about which we are at least partially polarized.”

It’s a time-worn adage that there are two things you don’t discuss in polite (American) culture — politics and religion.  Why is that?  Are we all so polarized that we cannot exchange our views in a civilized, respectful manner?  This would appear – by and large – to be true, especially in the workplace.

Political disagreements easily turn into heated arguments, resulting in bruised feelings.  Hard feelings between co-workers is the foundation for awkward, uncomfortable, or even hostile work environments.

Now that the dust from the recent election is settling, look around your workplace and gauge the atmosphere.  Ask yourself:

  • Has the recent election cycle impacted my working relationships?
  • Am I more aware of teammates’ political affiliations and, more importantly, how does that change my perception of them?
  • Finally, and here’s the big one:  how can I move past these prejudices to create a positive working relationship and a positive work environment?

One perspective comes from Republican Mary Matalin, married to Democrat James Carville:

“It has to do with the tone of the conversation and knowing why you’re having it,” she said. “It’s not about what the differences are. It’s how you choose to bridge them that will create a problem or make things work smoothly, knowing how to have a dialogue and which boundaries not to push or cross.”

“Instead of seeing it as conflicting you view it from the mental framework of acceptance, accepting that we have a difference in opinions,” she continues. “In a healthy relationship, a difference in opinion does not define the relationship or erode it. It’s another puzzle piece to fit into the relationship as a whole.”

Creating a positive workplace in which respectful conversation can flourish takes patience and time.  If things are somewhat strained from an overload of political banter within your workplace, take extra care to foster an attitude of acceptance towards co-workers with opinions that differ from your own.  Understand that stronger relationships are the result of working through differences, and through practicing civility and respect.

What do you see as the upside and downside of talking politics at work?  Please share your experiences with us.

Book Your Email Vacation Now!

Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration

UCI findings could boost on-the-job productivity

— Irvine, Calif., May 03, 2012 —

Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark. She co-authored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello. The UCI team will present the work Monday, May 7, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

The study was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.  Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men. The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

The Army is examining use of smartphones and such applications as email for soldiers on battlefields, said David Accetta, spokesman for the Natick facility’s research and development section. “This data may very well prove helpful,” he said.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news, visitwww.today.uci.edu.

Email Overload

What’s going on here?

Our research, completed in 2010, revealed that the average person spends 30 minutes PER DAY deleting, or thinking about deleting, email!!

When did email become our work product and why do we have so much?!  It’s getting out of hand.

No one expects you to be a drone and tap away at your computer endlessly, tied to your machine for every minute of every day, but 3o minutes deleting email?  Over the course of a standard work-week, that’s 2 1/2 hours.  In a month, 10 hours; in a year 120 (15 eight-hour workdays).  That’s a lot of time you’ll never get back.  And that’s just you.  Multiply that over your project team, department, or company, and you just might feel a little ill.

Why?  Why do we get so much email that we don’t read?  I’m not talking about email lists that you sign up for giving you the latest sales from your favorite store.  Those aren’t counted in this research.  This research focused specifically on work-related email messages that were sent by real people to real people.

Does this mean that, even after all this time, many people still don’t understand how to use email effectively?  Yes, indeed it does.

What can you do?  They answers are not as simple as they appear on the surface (as is true for our most persistent problems).  For the sake of this article, we’re going to take a look at how a simple shift in your attitude toward email can help reduce the number of unwanted messages that you send and receive.

First, understand the purpose of the “TO” and “CC” fields. “TO” requires action.  “CC” requires none, it is a “for your information only” indicator.

Second, use “CC” sparingly.  Sending your manager or team leader multiple messages every week in which no action is required from them is just an annoying way to say, “look, Boss, I’m doing my job!”; “look at me!  look at me!”; “still here, working away!”  like some yappy little dog.  If you don’t feel trusted to get your work done, then that’s a different conversation you need to have face to face with your team lead.

Finally, resist the temptation to “CC” your team lead / manager whenever you feel a dispute is in the works and you want an “official” record of your position. This culture of “CYA” – “cover your … ahem, derriere” leads to unnecessary email messages and wasted time.  Take your dispute off-line and work it out in person.  It will be infintely better, trust me.

We get too much email.  We send too much email.  We delete too much email.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Start taking control through the judicious use of the “CC” field.

This article is the first in a series designed to help reduce your email overload.  Please share with us any comments / stories you have about your own email situation.

Review: The Power of Reputation

The Power of Reputation by Chris Komisarjevksy, Amazon, 224 pages, $16.50

Here is a book review by Brianna Snyder of Women@Work.

Reputation Matters

How to manage your most important brand – you!

By Brianna Snyder/Women@Work

We’ve all been in the business of reputation management since middle and high school. Back when we were concerned with popularity and how we were received at the dance, at gym, at the cafeteria, we were all — some more clumsily than others — learning how to navigate the choppy and awkward waters of social interaction and public persona. We know now how crucial those lessons were to how we became grownups.

What Chris Komisarjevsky explores in his book The Power of Reputation is the importance of reputation to your business and your career. Reputation, he says, is trickily personal andprofessional — “One thing is for sure: there really isn’t any distinction between our personal and our professional reputations,” he says — which brings the challenge of figuring out what’s sharable in the workplace and what’s best kept at home.

The key, says Komisarjevsky, is to be genuine. In other words, be your engaged, interested, competent and sincere self. The writer shares anecdotes throughout the book (both personal and from colleagues and friends) to reinforce the idea that a reputation is the soul of a career. The writer breaks down what a reputation is and means, how it’s built on caring and respect, values and good communication. He incorporates the still-new challenges of social media and managing your online reputation and emphasizes the need to be mindful of the consequences of Facebook and blogs. He calls this “the double-edged sword of the digital world” — you can use these digital places to enhance an already-good reputation or watch in disbelief as these same places dismantle it.

We all know what makes our mechanic the best mechanic, our dentist or lawyer the best dentists and lawyers — these are the people we trust not just to be honest with us (though that’s infinitely valuable) but to do a good job. We trust that they know how to do their work, that they’re well-practiced and careful, and that they care about their jobs and us, whether they’re mending a tooth or a flat tire. They value our time and they do their jobs well. That alone is enough of a foundation for a great reputation.

Notable Quote:

“We are in an era in which the demand for candor, understanding and clarity of purpose is greater than ever before. Transparency creates confidence and underscores authenticity.”

Instant Recall:

  • Research what you’re selling — whether it’s you or your product — “to the point at which you believe there is nothing better out there.”
  • Talk to people. Let them know you care about them and their needs. Listen to them.
  • Respect your clients and your colleagues. The more you give, the more you get.
  • Be personal and personable at work; share your interests, passions and ideas.

Read this book if…

You’re just starting a new job or business, or even if you’re beginning to think about who you are in your career, what your personal “brand” might be.

En Garde! Dueling Loyalties

By nature, a matrix is flexible and allows people to come together when their experience, expertise, or knowledge is best suited for the project at hand.  It allows project leaders access to resources they wouldn’t have if they were limited to those people reporting directly to them in a traditional supervisor / employee structure.

The very flexibility that makes this a viable structure, also leads to the following challenges:

  • The lack of clarity makes people unsure, they don’t know how to proceed, and minor issues quickly escalate.
  • The lack of structure makes people feel unconnected and lost as they are squeezed between competing and conflicting goals.
  • Too many meetings, too much email, and too much personality drama.

In a perfect work environment, you would work half of each day for each team, assuming you are only part of two teams.  But our workplaces aren’t perfect and you constantly need to juggle these expectations.

What can you do to increase your effectiveness within this structure?

Have a presence with people — Respond to their requests, add value to others and they will be more likely to do the same for you.

Be clear about decisions – Is someone asking you for input, an opinion, a vote, or an actual decision?

Be proactive with conflict — Deal with tensions and misunderstandings quickly and explicitly. Often, simply acknowledging disagreements aids in a speedy resolution.

Clarify expectations — don’t assume!  As with any team, priorities shift.  When you are on multiple teams, it is incredibly easy for them to shift unbeknownst to you.  A quick email to confirm action items, goals, objectives, perhaps even which processes to use, can save you a lot of frustration.

Thank you for reading.

Have a comment?  Why not get the conversation started? ( :

Making the Matrix Work for You!

People skills, huh?  Developing trust?  Sounds like another topic designed to waste your precious time instead of giving you something you can actually use.  I get it.  I really, really do.

But here’s the thing — when you have resources delegated to you without traditional authority over them, how are you supposed to ensure that they are doing their part?!

Do you rant and rave?  Cross your fingers and hope?  What?!

I can tell you that the people who find the matrix to be a comfortable and effective work environment are the people who have spent the time and effort to develop their people skills.  Specifically, the skills that will create trust between you and your team members, regardless of who is their direct supervisor.

The core of success within the matrix is in understanding that things only get done through networks and through patterns of relationships.  And relationships built on trust are the only relationships that work.  Ever.

That’s all well and good, and easy to understand, but how do you do it? How do you develop these skills, especially in the virtual world?

Over the years, Bridging Distance has been coaching, consulting and training people in matrix management.  We’ve helped companies and organizations — large and small — succeed within the matrix by placing the focus on the “softer” set of people skills.

Allow me to introduce Carlos.  Carlos was the lead on a food product team chartered to bring a food product in-line with upcoming government nutritional standards.  His team’s objective was to modify the existing product and get it to market ahead of regulations and competitors.

His timeframe was extremely short – 4 months – and the marketing department was depending on him to deliver so they could claim that they were the “first to get healthy” and demonstrate that the company cared more about the health of its customers than the competition.

The challenge:  nutrition experts in one city working with chefs in various cities to create one single recipe which would be used by the manufacturing facility in another part of the world.  Few of these people reported directly to Carlos.

The process:  Carlos, a corporate manager in the food industry, began his career as a trained chef and, over the years, he kept in touch with his former colleagues, asking opinions and sharing information.  Additionally, he reached out to understand the everyday ups and downs of people in the Nutrition, Procurement, and Regulatory spaces of his product.  Further, he took the time to learn about the culture of the manufacturing plant, as well as the culture of the country in which it was located.

The end of the story:  Success!  Carlos had the contacts, the credibility, and the relationships to draw upon for this tight time-frame.  He was able to tap into his network to inquire about critical information — things to consider and pitfalls to avoid.  His connections responded in droves, wanting to be a part of the success in his new endeavor.

Question:  How much time did establishing these relationships take?  Not that much — Carlos took a few minutes here and there to capitalize on opportunities and ask questions, learn more, and share information.

Through our workshops, training, and coaching services, we help people like Carlos implement a skill set that has proven time and time again to help individuals, teams, and corporations succeed in today’s virtual work environment.