Building a Diverse and Safe Remote Work Environment, with Sheree Atcheson

Sheree Atcheson is a global executive in equity and inclusion and was formally at Peakon and Monzo to advocate for diversity in tech. She is a board member at Women Who Code. Sheree is also a speaker at many global conferences and leadership sessions and is regularly profiled for her work. She has been featured in or written for publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Guardian, the Sunday Telegraph, the Evening Standard, HuffPost, Marie Claire, Stylist, and Wired.

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Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about leading and building awesome remote teams. I am your host, Luis, in this podcast. My guest today is Sheree Atcheson. Sheree is a global executive in equity and inclusion, and was formally at Peakon and Monzo as an advocate for diversity in tech. She is a board member at Women Who Code. Speaks at many global conferences and leadership sessions, and is regularly profiled for her work. She has been featured in or written for publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Guardian, the Sunday Telegraph, the Evening Standard, HuffPost, Marie Claire, Stylist, and Wired.

And the reason she’s with us today is because of her book, Demanding More: Why Diversity and Inclusion Don’t Happen and What You Can Do About It. Specifically I have her here to talk about what we can do about it in a remote setting. Sheree, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s a pleasure having you.

Sheree Atcheson:

Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to get stuck in.

Luis:

Well, good. That’s good to know. First, I want to make a couple of notes about the book. First, I’m very, very, very appreciative that you went to the trouble of sending me a paper book. It actually really makes a difference because I have a light attention deficit disorder, so it’s very hard for me to read books in digital mediums, in iPads or Kindle, it tends to distract me because there’s a ton of things there. It’s just so pleasant to be able to read a paper book.

I want to pre-phase the conversation with the thing that I say whenever I have a guest who has written a book, that this is not the podcast about getting the major takeaways from the book and then not having to buy it. I know a lot of people do that. I highly discourage this. This will be a conversation with the author, with Sheree, and we’re going to dive into her philosophy, especially through a remote lens. We’re going to touch upon the contents of the book when it is adequate to do so. But I want to start out by saying that there’s always something that you can improve in this topic. So I highly encourage you to go and buy the book. Listening to this conversation is by no means a substitute for doing so.

I’ve said my piece. It’s amazing that I have to do this, but I found out that sadly, a lot of people think that podcasts interviews with the author are replacements substitutes for reading books, and I want to discourage that trend. That said, Sheree, tell me a bit about, now that we live in a remote world and you were writing this book amid a huge exodus to remote. How did that exodus to remote influence your writing of the book, if in any way?

Sheree Atcheson:

Yeah. I unexpectedly signed the book deal sort of March time last year, really before everybody knew what was happening with the global pandemic. COVID was something we were starting to hear about, but actually we didn’t know anything. And then when I started to write the book, from my perspective, it was unexpected I was going to write my first book in the middle of the first global pandemic that I’ve lived through as well, which was an experience. And I guess it influenced a book in two ways, firstly, from how I’ve written it personally. And then secondly, to the content as well.

So for me, personally, did I expect to write a book on my dining room table when I lived in a two bed flat in London with my husband? I mean, no I didn’t. And it meant for a very difficult actually process of writing a book whilst also having a full-time job that I pivoted into working fully remote. And it’s a different balance. You try to get a work-life balance, if at all possible, if you have to privileged to get that, when everything happened last year. And so it was, I think a more difficult process, but we made it through there and we got there.

And then from actually the content perspective, what I think was really important to me was actually making sure that people remember that diversity and inclusion work doesn’t go away just because we are not together in an office. Just because we are all at home. Because actually the same issues are still existing, whether that’s around unfair treatment, whether that’s around inequitable promotion processes and hiring processes, those things still exist. They’re just existing now in a different way with another set of problems.

And so actually what’s really key when we think about demanding more of diversity and inclusion in a remote setting is that we don’t rest on our laurels and think that everything’s okay because we’re all in our own spaces at home. Because, one, having that space in itself is a privilege. Two, the microaggressions and the unfair treatment is still happening. If anything, it’s harder to catch now, because people are not face-to-face, and so it’s not easy to see.

And three, you have to be aware that we have to have avenues for people to share and report and deal with these issues that we maybe didn’t need to prioritize as much before because we had in-office and in-person and communication. It’s a very different world. It has its pros and its cons for sure, but it’s definitely been a pivot, I think for, certainly for me, but definitely for everybody else too.

Luis:

Yeah. Interesting that you talked about the privilege of you having the conditions to work remotely right after you said that it wasn’t necessarily the best way to write your book. That’s something that really interested me in the book. There’s a considerable chunk of a chapter that’s dedicated to a big exercise. You estimate it takes about 45 minutes, where you score your privilege. I start to doing it thinking, I’m going to ace this thing. I’m going to ace this. I’m going to be the most privileged person ever. And when I was finished, I was much, much lower on the privilege scale than I expected, but I still beat you.

Sheree Atcheson:

Congratulations.

Luis:

So, yeah. So, yeah. It really gave me the sense that … It’s not that I was unaware that there’s a lot of difficulties that people can face, it’s just that it’s hard to have them constantly present all the time. So it was really interesting and insightful to do that exercise. There’s one characteristic that I don’t think was in the exercise, maybe it is and I’m misremembering, but I felt that of all the characteristics that privileged me, no characteristic was as powerful as the ability to work remotely.

Because I can see just the ability that I have to work in my country, a relatively decent country in terms of quality of living, Portugal, but the ability to work in … Living in my country, but work with a company from the U.S. or a company from Canada or something like that, to have my job opportunities be expand to the whole world. I felt that was a massive, massive, massive privilege. I’d say that you’re completely right, remote work does create another class of privilege.

Sheree Atcheson:

I absolutely agree with that. And I think it’s the privilege of having a job that you can remotely work. It’s a privilege of then even having the space to do it and the internet connection or the setup and so on. I know most people don’t have a number of those privileges. And actually some of us have been able to weather the storm more than others. Even for me and my partner who were in a two bedroom flat, it was just the two of us, and we’re married. So we’re fine. We had plenty of space. Albeit it was smaller than what we would have liked, but we then went and bought our first house at the start of this year. So now I have my own entire office-

Luis:

Congratulations.

Sheree Atcheson:

Thank you. Thank you. But that in itself is a huge amount of privilege because I’ve been able to do something that, one, quite a lot of people can’t do anyway, but also being able to use that as an opportunity to work in a way that actually suits me better. And I think there’s an awareness that I would like people to have, I guess, is around the access to remote working, the access to, let’s say, even remote interviewing and so on.

And I talk about this in the book as well, because right now, all of us, regardless really of what industry you’re in, for the most part, we are doing remote interviews. We’re doing video interviews. And what that actually means is you have to think about the barrier to entry for that. Who has a space that they can do a video interview in? Who has wifi or data connection? Who has a device that has a camera on it? Who has a safe, quiet space and so on?

And then when you think of that, remember the intersection of class background on that, because there’s a huge impact on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds right now, and that’s widening and widening. And again, obviously from the privilege of remote working that we’re talking about now, the majority of people that are in the lower pad and the lower class ranking people in jobs and societies, they don’t have that privilege of remote working, which means they’re more exposed to COVID, which means the death rates of those groups of people are higher and so on. Everything has a knock on effect. I think COVID has definitely taught us that what we do singularly affects everybody. And I think remote work is no different. Being able to do this is a huge privilege.

Luis:

It is. Funny enough, I used to work as a dental surgeon. That’s a completely different career, but I moved to this space specifically because just due to personal circumstances, I wasn’t an environment where I was helping several people that had mobility disabilities. I noticed that they just weren’t given the time of day when it came to career opportunities. As awful as that sounds, supposedly on Europe, we have legislation to prevent that, but it’s easy to find excuses not to promote people or not to hire people. That have nothing to do with their disabilities. Sadly when there are workarounds, people find workaround.

And I started learning more about this thing of remote work, and I wanted to get involved. That led to eventually me joining a recruitment company, DistantJob, to evangelize remote work, because I saw that it was a tool to help that community that I was involved with, upgrade their career. That’s one way where I know that, again, despite remote work being a privilege, it can also raise people up. Raise people up.

Over that, I want to ask you this, because your book is full of data. It’s one of the most data-driven books that I have read in the past couple of years. Although the way you present it is very conversational. It’s not just full off tables, you do a very good job presenting that data, talking about the data. The thing that I felt subjectively, and some people tell me about it empirically, but I haven’t seen any raw data about it, is that people tend to feel less discriminated against when they’re doing remote work.

Things like when there are several people in the room, people that ordinarily would have a bit more trouble speaking up, they have a bit less, et cetera, et cetera. Not saying that it fixes it completely, but I hear antidotes in that sense. Do you know anything about this? Have you come across any data that supports this or not?

Sheree Atcheson:

I think there’s absolutely merit in both views, that it can make environments better for folks, and it can make it worse. One of the things that I think is really interesting, and I used to work at Peakon, which is an employee engagement platform. And they did a survey or a heartbeat report last year on the findings that they had in their millions and millions of data points from all of the services they have from the thousands of companies that use them.

And they found in that report actually, that the people being more interested, for example, in diversity and inclusion, talking about harassment and so on, had actually increased as well. Because, again, you’re using an anonymous tool. And yes, the only avenue to share because you’re not face-to-face. So I think that there’s really interesting points around actually, when people aren’t in a face-to-face environment, as long as there’s something to share into, you can share it easily.

The key thing is just to make sure that actually those voices are not forgotten if they don’t share. To make sure that even though there are quiet voices or almost silent voices, that as a leader, your job is to reach out and to proactively seek those opinions and those perspectives, and provide those safe avenues for people. There has been another research that has shown, for example, when black folks have been surveyed, that they are less likely to want to go back into the office because they’re not having to deal with racism and casual microaggressions and so on, as much anymore, because they’re at home, and they’re in a space where that’s not happening.

There’s the balance here that actually we have to have a conversation around the fact that those things are happening and what we change about those. And then also how we provide people, like you mentioned, yourself, the ways of working that embraces both wanting to be at home and working in the way that suits you around your life and enabling collaboration at the same time too. It’s a fine line for sure.

Luis:

Yeah. I mean, we can go off on a big tangent about the collaboration and everything. I mean, to me, maybe this is the practical. I’m a very practical person. And I’m like, when you tell me, black folks feel better working remotely, because they feel that they are less targeted by microaggressions. My response to that, it was, great, let’s have them work remotely all the time. There’s a solution. At the same time, it kind of feels like it’s a bit of a band-aid. It’s like, okay, so what happens if some black folks would like to work at the office? We should still work on that obviously.

Sheree Atcheson:

Exactly. Exactly. And I think that’s the whole point, there’s no like one size fits all answer here. The answer is that people have the choice. And the choice can be, I want to be at home. The choice can be, I want to be in the office. The choice could be something in the middle. And when companies try to enforce one or the other, that’s the problem here is that companies need to now learn, realistically, if you want to get the best talent, you have to pivot. You have to change your policies, et cetera, and your ways of working to really enable all of those types of people. That’s really three groups, the ones that do, don’t and sometimes want to be in the office, to make sure that actually the way that you work can sustain that, because otherwise people will leave and find somewhere that is enabling what they want. And that’s as simple as that.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Working with the team, that’s very diverse in a cultural sense. Working with people from Asia to India, to South America, everyone in the same team. One thing that I found out, I don’t know if you can explain the why behind this, is that it’s very easy to be misunderstood, literally misunderstood when typing, when doing written communication, which is the bulk of the communication in remote work. Right now we’re on a call, this is an audio podcast, but we’re actually in a video call, which is a bit more time consuming than just chatting. I could have interviewed you back and forth with email, but it wouldn’t be the same thing.

Now, culturally, we’re pretty close to each other. I think that’s fair to say. So there probably wouldn’t be big misunderstandings with a back and forth text interview, but the same, it doesn’t feel to me to be true for a very multicultural team. So getting the face time, the voice time, seems to be more and more crucial. Why do you think that is? And how can you explain that in a way that makes sense, considering your work?

Sheree Atcheson:

I absolutely agree that different cultural influences, regional influences, define how we communicate through text, how we communicate to different leaders, how we communicate in video and in phone calls as well. And the only way to really have, I guess, a common understanding is for people to openly share what that means for them.

One of the things that I do when I joined any new company, for example is I create a how to work with me document. Now what that document is, it’s realistically, it’s just a one pager where I share a wee bit about myself, but what’s important to me. I share about how I communicate. So I’m actually a very direct communicator. When I do personality tests, I come out very red and very direct, but I’m also very empathetic at the same time.

So for me, what that means, as a leader, my communication style is firm but empathetic. I will be very open with what I expect and what I need from you, but I’m also very open to being wrong at the same time. But I also make it clear that actually if you want me to communicate with you in a slightly different way or on a completely different way, I am happy to do that. I’m here to work with you in the way that makes sense for you. And I also actually share openly about any disabilities I have. So I actually have some hand disabilities. That means I can’t take notes in a meeting, for example, because it causes me too much pain.

So as people actually know upfront, this is what the story is with Sheree, because like you mentioned, and like what we’re talking about remote work, I’m not meeting people face-to-face. All of the people actually that I work with almost daily or weekly, none of them are based in the area that I’m based, apart from one person, all of the rest would be all over the world. So meeting them regularly isn’t something that I’m going to do. So how do I then bridge that gap of the social, I guess, pickups that you would get from meeting someone? The only way to do that is to tell them.

And I also think the key thing is that when leaders joined together or create multicultural teams, like you’ve mentioned from APAC, EMEA, Latin America, North America, and so on, is that they actually sit down at the start and spend time discussing, what does this mean for the team? This is what different things mean in different regions. And this is how we can work together as a team. Really making sure that actually there’s a level of awareness before you just throw everyone into the deep end and hope that they all know how to communicate in the best way, because communication is very different when you go to, for example, India versus New York, very, very different communication styles. And you have to have an open conversation about that, so everyone can move forward on the best part.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I want to underscore for the listeners, this is something that we’ve talked in a couple of episodes, but never enough. It’s quite good, the initiative that you have of creating the one page, let’s say. Let’s call it a Sheree Atcheson user guide. I once worked on one of those, a Luis user guide, but I’m ashamed to report that I must be much more of an egocentric, egomaniac, than you are because mine just become almost a book, like document. That I’m like, okay, not reasonable for me to reflect this on anyone.

So then I gave up and instead I created a team manual of how the team would work together. But definitely if you can do that one pager, I’m going to have a second go at it now that you’ve shown me that it’s possible, that’s definitely a great way to do. Give people all the information they need to know how it’s best to work with you. If you leave them to guess, they’re going to guess wrong and it’s no fault of their own. We’re not mind readers.

Sheree Atcheson:

Mind readers. Yeah. I think that’s a perfect line, Luis, is that guessing is never going to be correct. Guessing is based on assumptions and some assumptions are just riddled with bias. So the only way to avoid that is by being transparent and open. And then as leaders, creating an environment where other people can be transparent and open because we are doing it first.

Luis:

Yeah. Absolutely. So there’s an interview you do in your book. I don’t remember his name, but it’s with a gentleman that basically has created a framework to let more black and other minority founders raise capital for the foundation. That was a really interesting interview. I loved reading that section, by the way. I was reading that and I was thinking, this is really in alignment with my mission, in a different sense. The idea there is that such a low percentage of founders are of diverse groups.

Right now, in Ireland, let’s say, even before the coronavirus, there was a big push to remote work. Ireland was adapting remote work at a fantastic rate. I used to believe it was the best rate in Europe. Since then I’ve been corrected. It looks like Sweden is on top of there. But in any case, it’s very good. And now, this is really good for the Irish, obviously, because if they want to have better opportunities, that’s great. I actually want to go a bit further than that. I want to reduce the gap between the people looking for a job in Mumbai, and the people looking for job in Ireland.

I see no reason why … Well, very few reasons that that job market, since now it’s remote, since what you need to do since the office is now Slack, is now Zoom, is now in a computer, I want to give people in underprivileged communities, because they are in underprivileged countries, the ability to have, let’s say, Western paying job. I do think that ultimately this will also help entire communities and maybe even countries develop, once we truly globalize the job marketplace. Do you think this could be a path to improving the state of affairs?

Sheree Atcheson:

Absolutely. When we look at global companies that have the ability to have payroll, et cetera, in all of the different regions that they’re in, therefore they can hire people in the different regions and be tax compliant, et cetera, that’s the fun stuff out of the way. There is very little reason as to why we can’t have that mobility of people being hired in other regions, moving across, jumping across into roles that are based in the UK, but serviced out of anywhere else in the world or so on.

And I think what that allows people to do is to reach into, like you mentioned, that untapped talent, the talent that is being forgotten about, but also the ability to change the trajectory of career growth in different countries by supplying those different jobs, those different tech jobs, for example, and so on.

And I also think, you mentioned India specifically, there’s a phenomenal amount of tech talent in India. The level is incredibly high. People are very much missing out on phenomenal people, simply because either, one, the barriers to entry are too high, and are discounting people purely based on their location. Or, two, because of inherent racism.

And you have to remember that there’s a lot of reasons as to why people are viewing, let’s say, developers from those different countries as lesser. When you dig down and down and down, the real reason is racism. And that’s what’s the key to remember here is that to have the conversation around reaching global talent, we have to address the global issue of racism, for example, and sexism and evilism and the different things that are segregating and excluding people.

That was one of the things in Demanding More, that was really important to me, around the data points, for example, where in that privilege section where we go through the privilege walk together, that every single question shared back to you, the actual data points of the effect that whether you’ve walked forward or back on that question, if you’ve said, for example, you don’t face any issues with people saying your name wrong, what that actually means whenever you think of the impact on, for example, CVs and hiring, when that comes to people actually being hired and so on.

And that’s what’s really key here is that when we start to talk about reaching all of those different talents on global mobility, we must make sure that when we do reach those people and we bring them in, that actually we’ve really challenged and create an environment where they can thrive and where they’re not seen as second class citizens, just because they’re not based in, for example, the UK.

Luis:

You have the data, so please do correct me and point out if I’m completely off here, but I do tend to subscribe to the, it’s not Occam’s razor, it’s another kind of … Essentially, don’t ascribe to malice, or in this case, racism, what can be ascribed to ignorance, or in this case, laziness.

I mean, it’s true that working with people from other countries, other internationalities, other cultures, does come with an overhead. I do understand when people come to me and say, Luis, if I hire someone in India, I will have to adjust my communication style. I’ll have a time zone issue to deal with. I can just flat out ascribe that to racism, maybe it is racism, but maybe a part of it is just, I’m going to call it laziness. Do you think that’s fair?

Sheree Atcheson:

I think there’s a balance here, because I think actually when we allow laziness to continue, let’s say it’s laziness, to continue in the way that it has been, then we continue to exclude groups of people that just happened to be Indian people, in this instance. And actually that’s racism.

The intention and impact is very different here. Is the intention overt racism? Is the intention to exclude those groups of people because they are Indian, for example? No, but the impact is that group of people is excluded. So regardless of whether the intention was not bad, or bad, or good, the impact is still the same. And for me, that’s a really key point is that we have to really focus less on the intention and more on the impact, because otherwise what we end up doing is we almost allow ourselves to make excuses for the problems that we have.

So what I think is important in that scenario is to really actually drill down into, okay, so yes, there will be cultural differences. There will be time zone differences. Is that a bigger con or a negative than the benefit of having these skilled developers or whatever it is that we know that are there, that we can widen the diversity of the team. That we can get different perspectives. And the answer may be actually, yes, right now for us it’s not the right thing to do. Or the answer is that, well, actually yes, it is the right thing for us to do.

But what’s the key thing is then as leaders is to make sure that you have that conversation. That the answer isn’t immediately just no, because the person needs a different communication style or they’re on a different time zone, because then we just segregate ourselves off and cut ourselves off from potential. And the key here is to allow us to at least discuss the potential on fair rating and a fair grounding. And if timezone, for example, is one of those things that’s a really non-negotiable, then fine, but you have to weigh it amongst all of the other things too.

Luis:

From the perspective that I come from, that’s a perspective of working fully remotely across many, many, many timezones, this is something that I’ve accepted into my life. It’s no big deal.It’s no big deal to me. Sometimes if I have to do an interview, I mean, yeah, that’s actually a fair point. I’m just thinking about it now. I am discriminating against Australian guests, because sometimes it’s a pain to interview someone in Australia. That’s a good point. Maybe this show would be better, more interesting if I had more Australian guests on. I guess that’s something that I have to balance. But it’s a really good point, between, you might not have racist intentions, but the impact of your very good intentions could still end in creating a racist situation. So that’s a good point.

Sheree Atcheson:

Exactly. Yeah.

Luis:

Yeah. All right. You were talking about how you’ve been working remotely and how right now you almost don’t need face-to-face with any of your collaborators. Why don’t we shift into something a bit more personal. And how have you in your day-to-day work, how have you done this remote working thing? How have you transitioned to remote work? What’s your typical day, typical week look like? How do you choose, because obviously you wrote the book, that doesn’t mean that you’re perfect about it. We’re only human after all. How has the things that you learned by writing the book influence the way you deal with people remotely?

Sheree Atcheson:

So the first question there was, when will I do more personal, I guess, communication with people? And actually for me, when I go on video, and I’m on video on every single meeting that I have, because as someone who’s comfortable doing that and has a privilege to do so, I do that because I think if people want to see me, they can.

Actually, I’m allowing people into my house every time I turn my video on. They can see my office. They can see sometimes when my dogs come into the room. They can hear my partner sometimes walking past. And actually this is much more personal than if I’m in an office face-to-face where I’m, for example, in my work clothes and I have my hair and my makeup done and everything else, but actually I have calls with people all the time where I’m just at home and I’m working. That’s much more personal actually. It feels more personal to me, just for myself.

I will start, I think, probably maybe near of the end of the year and maybe start of next year, start to travel more, because actually the teams that I work with quite a lot are based in Denmark and in parts of North America, Latin America, and other parts of Europe as well. I will start to travel again, I think near the end of January, maybe next year, but it will be very irregular travel. Like maybe once a month, I’ll go to somewhere different, just to catch up and just meet people, connect, do some team building face-to-face.

But do I feel like that’s even a necessity? Not really, because actually I’ve joined the company I’m in now, a few months ago in the pandemic. The company I was at before that I joined in the middle of the pandemic as well. And I’ve been able to do this really well. And I guess you’ve asked, what does my day look like? What does my week look like? My day is much more relaxed for me personally than it was whenever I was in the office. So I used to have to get up at around six o’clock in the morning. And which I know is probably not early for some people who have to get up much earlier, but got up at 6:00, had to rush to get the dog out to the toilet, get him back in, get him fed.

Me and my partner would rush to the train, stand on a busy train for 30, 40 minutes, walk quickly to the tube, get on a stinky tube for 10 minutes to get to my office to sit at my desk. And finally then I would get to have breakfast. Whereas now, I get up an hour and a half later. I now have another dog. So we have two dogs now. I’m able to take the dogs out in the morning for a proper walk around where we live. I’m able to go downstairs, get breakfast at the table with my partner, if we want to. And actually just have a few minutes to just sit and talk in the morning.

I’m able to then just come upstairs. So I have no commute at all in my staircase, which is quite nice. I don’t have to wear clothes that are uncomfortable. I don’t have to stand on a tube with people breathing on me all of the time and feel almost dirty and that I need another shower once I get into the office. And then I start my day at 8:30, quarter to 9:00. I finish every day at five o’clock. If I have to work later, you know what? It actually isn’t a big deal because I’m not rushing in to get a different train.

I’m not also having to leave the office, for example, if it’s dark at night and I don’t feel safe, because my house is my office and I don’t have to worry about that. And it gives me the flexibility as well to actually, I mentioned I have like hand disability, so I actually have quite a lot of doctor’s appointments and physio appointments. Before when I was in the office, that usually meant that I would have to go into the office, go to the other side of London for an appointment, get back to the office and then get home. Whereas now I just take some time out of my day, go to my appointment, come back home and then fix my hours around the rest of the week.

Now I know that’s a big privilege to be in a senior role to do that. But when it comes to actually my health, I’ve been able to prioritize looking after myself, both from a mental health perspective and the physical health perspective. I guess for me, it’s really given me a lot of time back that was just wasted rushing and chasing trains and rushing to get home to get to the dinner time or go to the gym or whatever it is. And I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have children, for example, because I know it’s not been easy. And certainly not been easy looking after kids whilst working at home. But for me personally, it’s just given me a freedom and I guess a comfort in really being able to focus in on my work without having to deprioritize everything else at the same time.

Luis:

Yeah. Like I said earlier in our conversation, it does feel like that’s the … When I was checking all my privileges, also some places where I’m not as privileged as I thought, none of this privilege that I was born with or that I was raised with, actually hold a candle to the privilege of working from home. When someone on my team complains, and legitimate complain, oh, we’re having too many meetings, something like that, too many Zoom calls. I need some more time to focus on my work, et cetera, Zoom calls has tired me. There’s Zoom fatigue.

I tell them, you know what you should do? Because I do this regularly, go to the supermarket, stand in line for some groceries. Grab your grocery, and look at that person, the cashier, it’s a person like you and me, and this is their job. They have to sit there every day, just handling customers like you, and then they have to get up and they have to go home and still do all the things that you now, because you work remotely, manage to fit somewhere in your workday.

It never fails to be a humbling experience when I go to the supermarket and I consider how … I mean, I feel like I’m like a noble from the 14th century, with an amount of privilege over the common working folk. And it really is my, again, that’s why I have this business, my instinct to try to get this to many people as possible, because it really is a game changer. It looks like you feel the same.

Sheree Atcheson:

Yeah. Perspective is a really big thing. I do agree also that Zoom fatigue and exhaustion being at your desk and always on video is a very real thing too. And it can cause mental exhaustion as well. For me, perspective is really important. Like I said, I get up. I do what I want in the morning. I come to work in my own office. That’s my own space that I’ve decorated and made it look nice how I want it and everything else.

My brother, for example, back in Ireland, works at a factory. He works from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM at night. He can’t work from home because he is a supervisor in a factory. He has to be in there. Certainly last year he was put on furlough. So where he took time off work and then the government pays 80% of his salary. And then I was able to top up the last 20% to make sure he wasn’t out of any money because his factory needed to basically put people on furlough to make sure it didn’t go under or anything else.

There’s a perspective there that when you think about, even in my own family, I’m able to provide that financial help because I’m in this privileged position of being an executive. My brother doesn’t have that. My brother’s safety net really is me and my husband. There’s a perspective of like, even whenever I feel like sometimes I’m exhausted. It’s been a really hard day.

Well, actually, I’m not an NHS worker. I’m not having to work at train stations where people are abusing me, because I’m having to ask them to put on masks. I’m not in those environments where actually every day you go into the office or every day you have to go in, is a risk of you getting COVID and maybe you don’t pass away from, but maybe you pass to somebody else that does.

I really genuinely think all of us, especially people like us in privileged positions really need to take stock sometimes of there are problems and then there are first world problems. COVID has shown that to us, for sure. Like I said, if my biggest problem last year was that I had to work from home in a crammed apartment with my husband. I’m doing pretty well, granted I had quite a lot of other bad things happen last year. From the grand scheme of things, there are people that had it much, much worse than I did.

Luis:

Yeah. I mean, the thing that I find about privilege is that it’s really easy for you to take it for granted. To forget that you have it. I mean, sometimes I find myself out in the street, wanting to look something up on Google and the 4G is … It’s not that I can’t look it up, it’s just that the 4G is slow.

On those times, nine times out of 10, I fail to remember, but one time out of 10, I remember that there was one day where I was in my home and an MP3 that I had been downloading for four hours stopped, and I had to restart because my mother wanted to use the phone. You remember it now because I-

Sheree Atcheson:

Yeah, I know too.

Luis:

How often do you remember it when you are raging at your 4G connection not being fast enough? That’s one of the most poisonous things about privilege. It’s not that you can’t be aware of it, is that your awareness of it leaves your mind very quickly.

Sheree Atcheson:

That’s exactly it. So my family is all back in Ireland, as is my husband’s family. We’re both Irish. The last time I saw my dad was on Christmas on 2019. And so during COVID, we couldn’t see each other because he was very high risk. He lived with my brother. He ended up in the hospital and actually passed away unexpectedly in November last year. So I hadn’t seen him for a full year.

But as horrible as that is, and it is horrible and it’s not a good thing to happen, whenever my brother rang me with the phone call on the Tuesday morning that it happened, my first ability was, okay, I need to message work I’m not going to be in. I need to book a ferry and I need to get home with myself and the dog and the husband and everything else. That costs a lot of money.

But here’s the thing, I had the money to be able to do that. There were so many people that were not able to get back for family members who had passed away, who weren’t able to afford, for example, funerals and so on, because of the strain that COVID had put on everything for them. I talk about this a lot because I think for me, that was a really … I think I’m fairly aware of my privilege, because I think about it a lot, but at that moment I was like, there are people that I know that you hear on TV and you see on the news and so on that have had to watch funerals on livestream.

I was able to get back because I was able to get that ferry. I was able to rush back and everything else to be there for the things that I didn’t want to miss. Again, there’s that perspective piece. That’s when I say that even though I had a really rubbish year, there are people who have absolutely had it worser or more worse, whatever the right grammar is for that, because of my privilege. It’s important to keep that perspective.

Like you said, it’s so easy to just forget that it’s there, but actually what we should be doing is considering it regularly instead of just when something big happens. Like the murder of George Floyd last year, everybody started to think about this a lot, but what are you doing now? You still thinking about it or are you forgetting about it, because you shouldn’t be.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s talk a bit, because I want to be respectful of your time. I want to start winding down a bit. So I want to ask you a bit about your setup. You work from home now. If you were to give something, and you need to give the same thing to everyone. You can’t cheat by giving money or a gift card. If you were to give something to everyone that you need to work with, that works with you, what would you give them? Could be a tool, an experience, an app. It can be anything, but everyone needs to get the same thing.

Sheree Atcheson:

Is this to help them work from home better?

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Everyone you work with, you could identify something else that they need more than something to help them work better. That’s up to you.

Sheree Atcheson:

That’s a big question. I think for me, one of the things that people, and I did it as well at the start of the pandemic, is underestimate how important it is, what you sit on for 8 hours a day. So actually at the start of the pandemic, I was just sitting on my dining room chair. I actually really-

Luis:

Sorry for laughing, but that was the same for me.

Sheree Atcheson:

I think a lot of us made that mistake. And I actually have a bad back anyway, but I made my back much. much worse. And actually, if you are going to be at home a lot and you are even going to work from home even a few days a week, because even before then, I worked from home two days a week, but I sat at my dining table. I would give everybody a really good chair. Because actually when it comes to prioritizing, because it helps with your eyesight, because of your eyeline. It helps with your back posture, with your neck, and with actually how you sit at a keyboard with your arms. Stops you getting like RSI and stuff like that. That’s a really like boring answer, but I think it’s actually a really important thing.

Luis:

No, it’s great. Again, there’s another thing that a lot of people tell me these days, just get a treadmill desk or a standing desk or something like that. I find it impressive that people can do that. To me, walking and working at the keyboard at the same time, it’s like, no, I can’t do that.

Sheree Atcheson:

I would absolutely be fierce planting on a Zoom call if I was walking at the same time on a treadmill.

Luis:

Exactly. I can’t do that. That doesn’t work for me. All right. I want to talk a bit about books. Now, again, in your book, you have an incredible amount of references. Every chapter comes with a fairly big bibliography of references. I don’t really want to talk too much about the books that inspired you, because we need another show for that, literally. But I want to ask, aside from your own book, is there any book that you regularly give to people? What is your most gifted book?

Sheree Atcheson:

Yeah. Absolutely. And actually, fun fact about the references, I had the book completely finished. My editor was doing the final check over and then messaged me and was like, “Your references have all been done wrong. You need to redo them again.” And I was like, “Oh my God, are you joking?” And she was like, “No, no, no, you have to do them after every chapter. You’ll need to do them again.” So I had to go through the entire book at the very end process to redo all those references. So I’m so glad people keep saying it’s a good thing, because it’s made it worthwhile those extra six hours to get them done in the last week.

Luis:

I’m surprised it only took you six hours because I think-

Sheree Atcheson:

I mean, it was a long six hours. It felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head. The book that I always recommend and the book that I will always give people is Karen Catlin, Better Allies. The reason why I suggest Karen’s book is that actually it’s a really good introduction to what allyship is and a really good introduction to creating sustainable allyship in your workplace, in your teams and in your business.

Her work has spanned about the same time as mine. She’s made a really big impact and she’s also got a book on hiring, but her actual first book called Better Allies is really impressive. And also she does, if you are on Twitter, for example, they are @betterallies, but on their website, you can also sign up for their weekly newsletter. And it shares five ally actions every week. Just right into your mailbox. It shares what it means, what you can do and so on.

And I think for people that maybe worry about stagnating, let’s say you read my book, you start to do those things and you feel like you’re going to stagnate, or you’re not sure what to do next, I think like that little nudge every week from that newsletter that Karen sends can be really impactful. So I always suggest her stuff.

Luis:

Nice. Nice. Thank you for the suggestion. Sounds like a good one. The fact that you get a prompt, a lot of times those kinds of non-spamming newsletters are interesting, because getting a prompt sometimes even if … Okay, so maybe one week you’ll say, ah, I don’t have the time for this. But eventually it will get to your mailbox and you look at it and you’ll say, “Hmm, I could do one out of five.” Right?

Sheree Atcheson:

Exactly. Exactly.

Luis:

So that’s powerful. Thank you so much for it. As it’s especially appropriate, I’ve been doing this for 148 podcasts now. It feels that it’s especially appropriate on this one to end with a little bit of cultural appropriation for the last question, so let me try it out. Let’s say that it’s okay to all dine together again. In an age without COVID, you are organizing a dinner where there’s going to be a round table about remote work and the future of work. And in attendance are the decision makers, the leaders from top tech companies from all around the globe. The twist is that this happens at the Chinese restaurant, and you as the host, get to pick the message that comes inside the fortune cookies. So what is your fortune cookie message?

Sheree Atcheson:

Oh, wow! That’s a big one. I think my fortune cookie message is remember that intention and impact are not the same.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a good problem.

Sheree Atcheson:

I would love for all of the tech companies CEOs and the people deciding what our future of work look like, that actually, even if your intentions are good, if the impact is bad, then we should do something about it.

Luis:

Yeah. I like it. You have a modern take. You have a very modern take of the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In your case-

Sheree Atcheson:

Exactly. That’s it. Exactly that.

Luis:

Your take is more modern. I do like it. It’s a good one. Thank you for that. Thank you for that lovely fortune cookie message. I’m sure it’ll be useful to someone listening. Speaking of that, if people listening want to learn more about what you do, about your book, obviously about what you’re up to, and want to continue the conversation with you, where should they go to learn more about you, your work and your book?

Sheree Atcheson:

You can get all of the information on me, all of my socials, et cetera, on my website, which is shereeatcheson.com.

Luis:

Okay. Well, I’ll have that and more in the show notes for people to freely, for use. Sheree, it was an absolute pleasure having you. Thank you so much for this conversation. It’s a privilege to have you here.

Sheree Atcheson:

Thank you so much. It’s been great to be a part of it.

Luis:

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, this was Sheree Atcheson, the author of Demanding More: Why Diversity and Inclusion Don’t Happen and What You Can Do About It. And this was the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations. That are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you listen to as well.

You can also help a lot, leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up, and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration, and not just look to hire locally. Not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate. 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Racism, discrimination, microaggressions, etc., are all problems that still occur in the workplace. And while remote work defends allowing organizations to create diverse teams, in some cases, it also makes it difficult for companies to know for sure how all employees are feeling.

During this podcast episode, Sheree Atcheson shares how diversity and inclusion in the workplace don’t disappear just because teams are no longer in the same workplace. Companies should always look for the best strategies to ensure employees feel comfortable and safe in their teams.

Highlights:

  • Tips for recognizing microaggressions or inequality in a remote workplace
  • Why is working remotely a privilege
  • Strategies to successfully work with a multicultural remote team
  • How to encourage employees to speak up regarding problems in the workplace
  • The challenges of culturally diverse teams
  • How to deal with misunderstandings in remote teams

 

Book Recommendations:

 

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