An interview with Logan Lynn about .gay

dot gay

On September 16th of this very strange year, something actually good is happening (for once!), and we’re thrilled to be here for it. Top Level Design—the registry behind .design and .wiki—are giving LGBTQ individuals, communities, businesses, and allies the opportunity to register .gay domain names.

We at iwantmyname are keen to support the LGBTQ community and the inclusive vision of .gay, so we caught up with Logan Lynn, the Public Relations Director of .gay who wears many hats. He’s an LGBTQ and mental health activist, a storyteller, and a musician with 8 studio albums, 27 music videos, and countless collaborations, most recently touring with rock act Portugal. The Man.

iwantmyname: What have you been up to and how has this year been for you?

Logan Lynn: This year has been a rollercoaster for me, like it has been for so many people given the pandemic and global social uprising happening all around us. I have been really intentional about thinking about the situation we are all in right now as a portal we are moving through together — and I believe it’s up to us to create the world that awaits us on the other side of this. I’ve been leaning into this time to create, make things better where I can, help out — but also go easy on myself around the edges. 2020 is intense, friends! Self-care is having a big moment in my house.

iwantmyname: How has the conversation about LGBTQ culture evolved over the last few years?

LL: Well, just thinking about my own experience as an out, gay person in the world… I came out when I was 14. I’m 40 now… and A LOT has changed in that time. We have more ways of finding each other and connecting now as LGBTQ people. I’m so proud of how far we have come since I was a baby gay marching in my first Pride parade. As more and more LGBTQ people have stood up in their own truth and said “This is me. I’m a human being who matters,” I think we have seen major shifts in everything from policy to the pulpit. The fight is certainly not over by any means — a person only has to take a quick glance at their social media timelines to know that — but we have momentum now as a people that will never be stopped.

iwantmyname: How did you come across .gay and what motivated you to join the team?

LL: I first got involved with .gay back in 2013 when I was working with LGBTQ Centers in the Pacific Northwest and was a big supporter back when it was just a concept. As a public gay person in the entertainment industry for over 2 decades now, I have no shortage of experiences with online harassment and trolling. I’ve fought tech companies for years to change their policies around anti-LGBTQ hate speech and abuse. With .gay, I think we all saw an opportunity for me to bring that lived experience to the table to help fight for a safer, more supportive internet for people like me. I reject this idea of accepting that the internet is a dumpster fire of bigotry and humiliation and that, depending on what your personal or professional identity is, you just have no recourse for justice. With .gay, we’re operationalizing that sentiment. We know we can do better, so we’re going to.

iwantmyname: What has the early response to .gay been?

LL: It’s been really fun to partner with LGBTQ community leaders, beloved nonprofit organizations, pride festivals, gaylebrities and influencers, as well as the original gay icons who helped pave the way for .gay to be possible through years of struggle and bravery. We raised a lot of money for .gay’s beneficiaries GLAAD and CenterLink during our initial Sunrise phase and will be making another donation after we launch, with 20% of new registration going to those organizations moving forward. So beyond .gay being amazing for visibility, connection, and safety online, it also benefits LGBTQ people in the real world through vital community programs and services. The response has been inspiring, and every time a new .gay Early Adopter site comes online, I smile because the internet just got that much gayer, that much safer, that much more fabulous.

iwantmyname: What are the concerns the LGBTQ community shares about using the internet comfortably today?

LL: Everything LGBTQ people face out in the real world exists online. Bigotry, hate, social violence, actual violence, and abuse are things that we navigate in our lives across the world, no matter where we live, as gay and trans folks. This active struggle of ideals surrounding your identity online, the coordinated attacks on people’s lives, loves, and businesses, and tech companies just allowing it to manifest and grow creates a real feeling of danger. It’s traumatizing, and even if there is perhaps no immediate physical danger, that emotional danger takes its toll. At .gay, we want LGBTQ people to feel happy, healthy, loved, and celebrated and will accept nothing less.

iwantmyname: How do you expect .gay will be used by the LGBTQ community? Does it address the concerns mentioned above?

LL: The .gay Rights Protections anti-abuse policies in place are robust and will be enforced to the full extent possible. In a practical way, we address those concerns on .gay sites by taking a zero tolerance stance on anti-LGBTQ behavior on the platform.

As for how we expect LGBTQ people to use .gay, we are seeing that come to life through our .gay Early Adopters. We know that will continue to grow over time as more people adopt .gay sites as brand or personal assets. Currently we’re seeing LGBTQ community centers, nonprofit organizations like PFLAG and CenterLink, all bringing their .gay names to life, as well as out celebrities like George Takei and Billie Jean King, and LGBTQ owned and operated businesses and brands. Additionally, major brands like Atari are adopting .gay as a very clear signal that they care and stand with LGBTQ people as a company. We’re also seeing companies and organizations use .gay as a way of organizing their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

iwantmyname: Are you planning on building your own .gay website? What will you use it for?

LL: Yes! LoganLynn.gay is currently live and I’m working on launching a .gay site for my documentary on Revry TV, “Lead With Love”, which will be up and in the world here very soon.

iwantmyname: What motivated the team to donate 20% of all new .gay revenue towards LGBTQ non-profits?

LL: Our whole team and everyone involved wants to show up for LGBTQ people wherever we can in meaningful ways. We want to invest in these communities and everyone at .gay sees the brand as a catalyst for authentic connection and support. Visibility matters, as does providing financial support for the organizations and communities we serve/depend on to thrive. We’re here to help with both.

iwantmyname: How can .gay further awareness and inclusion? Where do you see .gay headed in the near future?

LL: Our whole creative campaign is about celebrating the depth and breadth of our LGBTQ communities. We partnered with Two Penguins Productions and out luminaries to create a web series called “The Library”, premiering on 9/16 — the day .gay launches to the world! Our goal is to create a space where anyone who comes across our show, website, or social media, is left with this feeling of knowing and loving LGBTQ people. If that’s the big takeaway from everything .gay does, we’ll all feel like we did what we set out to do.

iwantmyname: What do you think can make societies, and by extension, the internet more inclusive?

LL: At the center of inclusion is understanding. If you don’t know something or someone it’s easy to assign some caricature to their identity, but that separates people from their humanity. If you take the time to get to know who someone really is, and meet them where they are at, it’s impossible to see them as anything other than a human who deserves to be in the world. The more diversity we have, the stronger we are as a society, and the more we can learn from each other. With .gay, we can bring the beauty of LGBTQ people to the forefront in new, exciting ways. I’m excited to be part of it, and can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve been up to!

.gay is open for pre-orders at iwantmyname and is available to all on the September 16

On the generic smiley face emoji

When you’re having an important conversation in a remote setting, never ever ever use a generic smiley face emoji (??). Ever.

Why? The line between honest emotion and passive aggressiveness is extremely narrow. In real life, nonverbal cues make this more clear, but over text, it’s completely in the eye of the beholder.

Here’s an example. When my wife gives me a short, one-word answer and a generic (usually closed mouth) smile, it’s because she’s annoyed and thinks it should be obvious why. And it usually is. This is the definition of passive aggressiveness.

Aggressive aggressive would be if she shouted, “Chris, stop playing Animal Crossing and pay attention to the kids!” That kind of communication is certainly direct, and some would even say preferable, but I much prefer a world where the conflict is dialed down a bit. When the passive aggression is painfully obvious and in a loving environment, it’s kind of funny. But when it’s masked in text and clouded by cultural differences, there’s no way to tell what the true intent of a message is.

So when someone in a non-English-speaking country gives me a one word answer with a smile emoji, my immediate emotion is “What the hell did I do? I haven’t played Animal Crossing all day!” But in reality, the one word response was probably just the easiest, most direct way to respond, and the smile was probably an acknowledgement that while the message was abrupt, everything is good.

What everyone needs to realize is that over text, your default face is a blank one. When you drop in a laughing crying face, it means you went from neutral to laughing so hard you’re crying. That’s a normal human reaction, if a bit exaggerated. But if you non-passive-aggressively respond to someone in real life with a single word, then cracked a closed-mouth smile, you’d look like a crazy person. The Grinch, when he devised his devious plan to steal everyone’s presents, went from a blank face to a closed-mouth smile. It’s clearly the behavior of people with ill intent.

So instead of terse responses paired with emojis, use a few more words. Say a complete thought, even if it’s in a different language (Google Translate works pretty well these days). Perhaps try a gif with a more complex emotion. Anything that lets me know that you’re not actually mad at me, because I promise I’m not playing Animal Crossing right now.

Ok, I’m not promising that. Bells don’t just grow on trees, y’know.

P.S. Also, don’t use the winky face (??). Winking works if you’re quietly letting someone know they’re in on the joke, but if there’s no joke, it comes across as a weird flex. Winking is so weird.

COVID-19 Spotlight: World Tea House

Hello again, I guess self-isolation and social distancing has made this dev unusually chatty (*shrug emoji) .

To get me through a lot of this, and to keep the naps from taking over the majority of the day, caffeine has become an important part of my diet. To avoid becoming like Dave Grohl from this cautionary documentary, I like to drink tea particularly after the sun starts to set. But teatime has been a little lonely lately—and my cat isn’t the strongest conversationalist—so I thought, why not have a cup of tea with Phil Holmans of World Tea House.

*

’Ley: Hi Phil, how are you holding up?

Phil: I’m hanging in there.

’Ley: Tell me a bit about what World Tea House

Phil: Well I guess you could call me the anti-fad tea house. I don’t really care for all the culture coming out of Dr. Oz and his ilk surrounding the idea that tea is only a delivery method for some chemical du jour. I prefer to focus on taste, tradition, and innovation, with a splash of adventure.

’Ley: Could you expand on that?

Phil: When I sit down to a cuppa[sic] tea, what I don’t think about is my health (tea itself is healthy in general minus the things you put in it). I focus on taste, and connections to experiences and cultures. Some tea estates have been in the family for decades, and the traditions around them can go back centuries. I feel like when I take part in that, I am part of a long historical tradition.

’Ley: We’ve talked a lot in the past about organic and fair trade teas, and I know you have some issues with the labelling. Tell me a little about that.

Phil: Some of my tea is not officially labelled those things for particular reasons. One easy example is that tea from Japan is not certified fair trade because they have strict labour laws—all of it is fair trade by that definition. Another example is that some farms are quite small and it is a hardship for them to pay every year for organic certification, despite the fact that they follow organic practices. I think it’s a little foolish to not purchase a quality tea that is both ethical and clean just because it wasn’t deemed so by an international agency. Some of these estates should absolutely be certified.

’Ley: How do you verify this?

Phil: I talk to them, and I’ve been to a few of them. Not all, admittedly, but I hope to make it to all of them one day.

’Ley: You also said innovation earlier. How can a tea be innovative?

Phil: Oh, I’m very interested in where the tea industry is going. We’re seeing an entirely new wave of teas grown in N. America, and they’re really pushing the industry in sustainability and labor practices. I was just in Mississippi on a new tea estate and even got to plant some. I have high hopes for N. American tea.

’Ley: How recently were you in Mississippi?’

Phil: A little less than a month ago. I came home just before travel got shut down for COVID, and was quarantined for 14 days.

’Ley: Where you sick?

Phil: No no, but the recommendation was that anyone returning from a lengthy flight should quarantine for 14 days. You don’t want infect your community and 2 weeks is not that long … I say that now of course.

’Ley: How was being quarantined?

Phil: Awful honestly. This was the time when everything started to shut down. When I got home to Nova Scotia there were very few cases at that point, but there were various incidents at the shop that I needed to deal with but couldn’t. I ended up closing the shop completely for a week or so and had to send a lot of apology emails to online customers about shipping delays. The only good thing during that time was that I got to catch up on some X-Box.

’Ley: I take it shipping has resumed.

Phil: Yep, I’m holding the fort now.

’Ley: That sounds nightmarish, but I’m glad the webshop is back to normal,

Phil: Not even close. Everything is screwed up now. Many small tea shops share warehouse space to save on costs and stay competitive with larger retailers, but two of the ones I share are in New York and California. For the obvious reasons, shipping times have been greatly delayed, which a few customers have found unacceptable.

To be clear though, although it hurts small businesses deep when orders are cancelled, I do not want anyone to risk their health in those warehouses. If anyone from those warehouses are reading this, thank you for working at all during this crisis, but please keep yourself safe. It’s more important to me that everyone stay healthy and safe as possible.

’Ley: A nice sentiment, particularly in New York’s case right now. So aside from a bit of a slow down and some short term delays, you should back to normal, at least as …

Phil: Also the first flush is nearly completely missing.

’Ley: The first what now?

Phil: Depending on where you are, tea has multiple harvests. The earliest harvest is called the first flush, and that is right about now. China obviously lost a lot of it because of their lockdown, but they are starting to open up now. There have not been a lot of COIVD cases in the hinterlands of Japan, but the cities are vaguely locked down, creating choke points to supply lines. And India went into their lockdown about 25% into the harvest, which is huge loss.

The economics of this is devastating because a lot of smaller estates use the profits from the first flush (which is usually sold at a premium) to fund the other harvests. I am presently talking to some estates in India to figure out what is a fair price for both them and my customers. It’s nerve racking.

’Ley: I’m stressed just thinking about this. What do you do to relax?

Phil: Part of the reason I opened a shop with table service is because I like talking to people about their tea or even their day, so I’ve been hosting tea time.

’Ley: I live out in BC, but isn’t that illegal on your coast?

Phil: It’s a virtual tea time through Zoom at the moment. You can get there via teatime.worldteahouse.ca.

I actually use the iwantmyname web forwarding feature to change the link because I tried another service and then didn’t like it, and the Zoom url changed a couple of times. Your support team helped with that.

’Ley: Oh?

Phil: Yeah, I emailed them about my A records for Zoom and they walked me through why that wasn’t entirely a thing. What I needed was web forwarding into a subdomain. I had no idea you could just make subdomains for free.

’Ley: All part of the service. In fact, it may surprise you to know that www is actually just a ubiquitous subdomain. Trade secrets.

crickets

Phil: So anyway, that’s a very useful feature because it lets me figure out different services without needing to worry about someone not being able to find me through a three-day-old Facebook post.

’Ley: So what’s this teatime like? Is it just to ask questions?

Phil: I try to make it like my shop. Some people have questions about their tea or about tea they are thinking about getting. Others just need a social outlet. I hope it brings some people who are stuck at home something to make them feel normal. I had a lot of time to think about that in quarantine.

’Ley: That’s really nice. Does one just need to click on the link?

Phil: I did put a password on it, but the password is on my homepage.

’Ley: Since the tea I ordered should be here soon, I should pop in one of these days… assuming I can get up that early. It might even give me a reason to comb my hair.

Phil: I run it till about noon your time (PST), so no need to wake up early.

’Ley: I am a very sleepy man.

*

For those reading this, in this long dark teatime of the soul I hope to see you at the virtual World Tea House soon. I am the one doing the Jason Mantzoukas impression—I swear I am just Greek.

See you all soon, stay safe, and be kind to one another.

The remote tools we’re using

When I first started remote working, I ran an entire website through Wordpress drafts, AIM, email, and a shared spreadsheet. I was 23 years old, managing a handful of freelance writers, and life was awesome. (Whether I was doing a good job or not is debatable… I was 23.)

The available tools are much more advanced now, but I’m here to report that things are only marginally better. Too often people think tools are a cure-all for poor communication and collaboration, and that a fancier series of kanban boards will create that aspirational “culture of shipping.”

So please, don’t use this post at a template to get your remote team to the next step. The tools are just the tip of the iceberg—longterm success comes when you hire right, train right, clearly define duties and projects, and fail so many times that you, by process of elimination, learn how to succeed.

With further ado, here are the tools we’re using. (I’ll add to the list over time, there are some more granular tools we use that a developer will have to explain once things calm down a bit.)

Basecamp for team management

There are a million team and project management tools on the market, and they all do things differently. My advice is to find the one you find easiest; not the one with the most features.

For my money, Basecamp is the best of the bunch. To-do lists are easy to enter and easy to assign, the message boards work as they should, the calendar is nice and clear, you can toss documentation into any room you create, and the search function is incredible. Best of all, it doesn’t feel flimsy. I know that’s subjective, but I rarely find myself wondering what’s going to happen if I push a random button in Basecamp. The options are simple, properly labeled, and just work.

It’s certainly not flawless though. The WYSIWYG is severely underpowered (instead of H1, H2, H3, etc., you just get a single “Heading” button), there aren’t any fancy kanban tools, and exporting files is a real headache.

Still, it’s the best we’ve come across, and we’ve gone through so many platforms.

A note about project management

A good project management system will do two things clearly:

  • Quickly show people what they need to do
  • Quickly show people how their part fits into the broader strategy

No matter which platform you use, if the overall project is opaque, you’re either limiting the creativity of your team to fill in the inevitable blanks, or you’re going to find yourself dealing with a lot of duplicated work. It’s nearly impossible to plan every detail of a project before it’s started, so the better you frame the scope of each task, the more concise the improvisation will be (having multiple people trying to solve the same unforeseen problem is a huge waste of time).

The moral of the story is that if you’re managing a remote project, you should write everything down for everyone to see. When you do things that don’t make sense—even if they don’t make sense for a very valid reason—productivity and belief in your leadership abilities will suffer.

Zoom, FaceTime, and Slack for video chats

The best video chat tool is the one that works. We used Google Chat for a long time, but the connection tended to get less and less stable every time we added someone else to the team. So we moved to Zoom a few years back, and it’s been wonderful, aside for the occasional audio glitch.

We typically create Zoom rooms in Slack using a bot we created, but due to it being 2020, the 5 seconds it takes often seems too long for 1-on-1 meetings. Instead, we usually use the built-in Slack video chat or FaceTime, depending on the situation. I typically prefer FaceTime, but, for example, there’s always an echo when I’m calling Kevin at home. But Slack works fine. Whatever.

Again, use the one that works.

A note about Zoom security

Zoom has been in the news a bunch lately for its questionable security practices, and that’s a real concern. Fortunately, we use Zoom only for broad discussions and social chatting—specific problems are generally solved over text so there’s a clear paper trail, and because we’re an asynchronous-embracing remote team.

Based on how we use Zoom, finding a new solution has been a fairly low priority, but once things cool down a bit, we might reassess.

Slack for text chats

When I first started at iwantmyname, we used HipChat for everything. And it was… fine. It didn’t feel modern, it wasn’t sexy, but it generally did the job. In 2017, Hipchat moved to a platform called Stride, but a few of us had been pushing for Slack for years, so we went in that direction.

Admittedly, there was a bit of an internal fight over going with a big Silicon Valley company over a smaller company (or a big Australian one) that might share a bit more of our ethos, but we never found an alternative solution that fit better better. Slack is just so easy—everything works, and there are a million ways to extend it to do just about anything you could want.

Also, because we use chat so much and for so many things, we felt like we needed a platform that would stand the test of time, and be geared towards our specific use case. Stride was a brand new (unproven) thing, Google’s Gchat/Hangouts feel like they’re just waiting to be canned (Google seems to can everything eventually), Microsoft Teams is wound up in an ecosystem we don’t use, Discord doesn’t really have business tools, and RocketChat just doesn’t have the polish yet. I’m sure there’s more out there, but Slack seems like the brand that’s pushing the space forward, and it admittedly feels nice to use a best-of-class product when it makes sense.

I don’t want to make it seem like this is a universally loved app though, even in our small iwantmynam universe. Dave, just this weekend, wrote this in response to a query about why he hates Slack so much:

because you have no way to filter out the garbage from the useful. you need to read all posts to determine if it’s important. you cant do custom filtering, mark stuff as read or ignore, tag for later, save a copy for notes. above all its a walled garden where slack is the one true messaging tool. i manage with irc and email to follow several hundred useful opensource projects with less than 10m a day of pruning. slack consumes maybe an hour if you give a shit about making sure you didnt miss anything

and threads are weird af in their desktop app. hiding on the side not easy to expand to read nor sure where they live if you need to search for them. Maybe im just our resident UNIX graybeard now shouting at these skateboarding pot-smoking whipper-snappers to get off my lawn…

1Password for password management

We started with LastPass, but moved to 1Password a few years back because it was just a bit more seamless.

I’m sure all the password lockers have all the same features by now, but the way 1password handles 2FA feels really nice. Instead of having to use Authy or Authenticator, 2FA is just handled through 1Password as part of the process.

I know it’s just one additional step, but if you looked at how people interact with technology, that one step will take a huge population from dismissal to adoption. Kudos to any brand that takes the time to remove steps from any process—in a world of brands barfing out features right and left, it’s refreshing to see one that’s actually trying to make life simpler.

Dropbox, Google Drive, GitHub and Basecamp for file/document management

So this is admittedly a cluster, and is a problem I see in many companies (and on individual’s computers).

The problem we have is that organization can be a very personal thing. I was reading an obituary a few days back for Anick Jesdanun, an AP tech writer who died of COVID-19 complications (he’s kind of a hero in the tech world), and this struck me:

By example, conversation and hands-on editing, Jesdanun, working from a desk renowned for its messiness, taught a generation of AP journalists how to cover technology in ways that were understandable and accessible but unparalleled in their depth.

That little touch of humanity—that his desk was renowned for its messiness—was a great piece of writing. It stung, not just because the situation is unbelievably sad, but because it highlighted one of those universal truths. Everyone has their own way, and the way that works is generally the best one.

The problem we have is that a lot of people have had their hands on deciding the best way. iwantmyname started as a very flat company where everyone had an ownership stake, so everything was visible. As people were hired, the file structure largely got split between operations and the product. Then it got merged in an effort to re-flatten things. Then we moved some stuff to Basecamp because the Dropbox folder was so unruly. Then we started using Google Drive for some reason I don’t remember. And there’s also quite a bit of technical documentation on GitHub.

Our situation now feels a lot like Anick Jesdanun’s desk. Messy but usable. Very human. Perhaps it’ll be cleaned up one day, but it’s not really a top priority.

As far as product endorsements go, I prefer Dropbox over Google Drive because it looks nicer in finder, but it’s just a cosmetic difference. (I also really like Dropbox Paper, but haven’t been able to get others to adopt it, so the Dropbox ecosystem has been largely unproven on our end.) Also, Google creeps me out… I’ll just come out and say it. If I had my way, we wouldn’t use Google for anything, ever.

GitHub is a mess to me and seemingly every non-dev on the planet, but it seems to be essential, so shrug emoji. And Basecamp, oh Basecamp. I really want Basecamp to be the hub for everything we do, but its WYSIWYG is so underpowered that it makes real documentation tricky. And it’s really bad at retaining styles when you import and export files. It’s just kind of a mess.

But… it’s so convenient. And the Basecamp search function is a treat. I’m honestly on the fence with using Basecamp for documentation and file storage. I’m sure it can be a fine solution for the right team, but it’s hard for me to be all-in. Maybe someday.

MailChimp for non-automated newsletters

We send newsletters for a few things: newsletters (that we’ve failed to send for a long bit), price updates, major site updates, etc. We tried a few different platforms (years ago), but landed on MailChimp because… because…

Ok, the reason I landed on MailChimp really has nothing to do with the usefulness of the platform itself. There are probably a handful of services that do the same thing, and perhaps better. Unlike their competitors, MailChimp A. is delightful to use, and B. supports the podcasts I spend so much time listening to.

Honestly, if anyone out there doesn’t think targeted advertising is effective—and not indiscriminate targeting using something soulless like AdWorks, but actually building relationships with the brands and shows and platforms people care about—you should probably reassess your opinion. Advertising was the engine that made podcasting happen, and I’ll always have a soft spot for the brands that got in early (~2000-2015). The MailChimps and Squarespaces and Casper mattresses of the world weren’t just advertising, in my opinion. They took a risk on a thing that most marketing managers and company owners still don’t understand, and really made something of it. (You have no idea how many conversations I’ve had with people who’ve said, “But how can I ever track the ROI on a podcast ad spend? How do I know if it’s working?”)

The only real downside to MailChimp is that it can get pretty expensive if you don’t manage your lists well. For a time, we were using it for major system emails, meaning we kept a list that included every customer email address we had. The problem is that MailChimp charges by the amount of contacts you have, not how many emails you actually send out. You end up starting with a list that maybe has a few thousand contacts, and it costs $X/mo. It’s not cheap, but it’s not breaking the bank. When you get a list to over 100,000 contacts, you’re looking at a big ol’ bill. If you’re a Fortune 500 company, no big deal. But when you’re a small domain registrar in New Zealand, your head starts to spin.

COVID-19 Spotlight - Poco Soap Co

poco soap

Hi everybody. I’m not a doctor, nor am I named Nik—although we do have one of those floating about. Where was I… right… so as you may have read in on our blog, life is not normal right now, even for remote teams. But that’s not what I want to focus on today. Today I want to start focusing on our customers and how they are getting along in their work. And maybe, with this platform, help amp up your side gig or find ways to keep your brick and mortar store as part of the community you’re in.

For the first of these I thought, why not start with a soap company, given how much I’m washing my hands these days. So without further ado, let’s chat with Shea Hogan of Pocosoap.co

*

Ley: Hi Shea, how are you?

Shea: All things considered, I’m doing okay right now.

Ley: Tell me a bit about what you do?

Shea: A few years ago I noticed that finding soap with high-quality ingredients and minimal, ecologically friendly labelling was hard to come by. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and like making things, so I thought that my bartending background—creating cocktails and such—would lend itself well to becoming a soaper.

Ley: And how’s it going?

Shea: I started with farmer’s markets in and around Vancouver, and now have some stores around town stocking my soaps. Luckily (finally), about a year before this all happened I opened up my Shopify store, and that’s been a lifesaver.

Ley: I’m guessing COVID-19 really changed up your work day.

Shea: I do work alone, so making the soap hasn’t changed that much. But yes, all the farmer’s markets are closed, as are many of the stores that carried my soap. Aside from offering free, contactless delivery around the metro Vancouver area on small orders, most of my business is online now. The post office definitely has a gotcha though.

Ley: Which is?

Shea: My labelling is compostable by design. The problem is that after you begin to use it, the copy on the label starts to rub off, and the label’s where I put my website. For established brands, Google is usually good enough to find anything, but because my online shop is a little new, I don’t always float to the top of generic search result. And Facebook is even worse.

Ley: Is this what brought you to iwantmyname?

Shea: About, let’s say about half a year ago, a customer at a market said that my website was down. I quickly checked my phone and it definitely was up, but it turns out they were trying pocosoap.com, which I didn’t own at the time. So I looked around online and saw that you offered quite a few different types of domains [TLDs], and you have pretty good guides on how to both hook them up to Shopify or do web forwarding directly on your site.

Ley: For vanity reasons, how do you like iwantmyname?

Shea: I like it quite a bit. Support gets back to things fairly quickly and actually responds comprehensibly; better than my [redacted ISP]. And the thing I like is that I don’t really have to think about it that much unless I decide to move my shop which I haven’t yet. No muss, no fuss.

Ley: With my own vanity out of the way, do you have any advice for those in quarantine or self isolation?

Shea: Start a new routine and try to stick to it. I’m social distancing right now, so every morning I walk to my shop, which is closed to the public, to make soap instead of taking mass transit. And I also make sure to schedule in some fun time—even it’s just video games or movies. I know it’s a little weird to schedule a break, but I found that I was just working all the time to avoid what was going on outside, and… well… we all saw how The Shining worked out.

Ley: Yeah, I have to do that as well honestly. Bonus question: which is your favourite soap.

Shea: I don’t have a favourite per se, but I do like both Serenity Now and Man Hands (I’m a bit of Seinfeld fan). Serenity Now has a nice calming smell, which we all could use a bit of now, and Man Hands is really good for scrubbing off stuff. It’s conceptually based on this mechanics soap I used to use, but is far healthier for your skin.

Ley: Neat. Thanks for taking the time.

Shea: That’s one thing I have a lot of right now!

*

Well that’s all she wrote, folks. I hope some of this was interesting, and for those out there working on the confusing world of the internet, know that you’re not alone and we are all in this together.

Also, wash your hands.

Please don’t think this is what remote work is like

chris at home

I’m in my 7th year here at iwantmyname and 9th year doing full-time remote work, and I have a PSA for people testing the remote waters for the first time… this isn’t what it’s like.

If this is your first foray into working from home, you’re probably wondering how anyone gets anything done. Even with all the time saved from not having a commute and not having to get yourself dressed in the morning, everything feels like a slog. All your meetings that usually take 30 minutes end up taking an hour. Instead of just asking your cube-mate questions on demand, you have to ask questions on Slack, or in a Zoom meeting. The loneliness probably feels oppressive.

If this is the future, you’re asking, you’d probably just rather opt out. The truth is that this mandated isolation is hell. Even remote veterans think it’s hell, because the reason we found ourselves remote jobs was so we could be free. Not free of wearing pants—free to get lunch wherever we want, whenever we want, with other human beings. Free to meet for coffee without asking a supervisor. Free to work around other friends who are also doing remote work.

For a remote worker, not being able to leave the house is so much harder than for a desk worker. None of this is a novelty. It’s amplifying the worst parts of remote work and canceling out all the good.

My fear here—aside from catching the plague—is that this experience will dissuade people around the world from diving into remote work down the line. So I want to set things straight. To explain, as clearly as I can, how nice remote work can be, what it’s is all about, and how to make it work for your company.

Thing 1: You can wear whatever you damn well please

Long ago, right after the dot com bubble popped, my dad quit his Big Corp investment job to go his own way (y’know, as a subsidiary of a slightly smaller Big Corp), eventually moving from a rented office space to his spare bedroom. He started out in formal clothes, presumably to feel more business time. Then he moved to polos, because polos are the casual Friday uniform—still business appropriate, but not really. Now he just wears his tennis clothes so he can go from work to life with maximum efficiency. That’s what remote work is all about. You’re not saving all those commuting hours to be able to put more work hours in; you’re saving them to get your life back. So stop dressing for the job you want. Dress for the life you want.

My uniform? Gym shorts and a hoodie. If it’s cold, I wear a robe.

Thing 2: You can work wherever you feel most comfortable

It’s different for everyone, but I short circuit a little when I see people spending thousands and thousands of dollars on home office setups when they first go remote. You don’t need it.

I’ve worked for seven years floating between a bar stool, my breakfast table, and a patio table outside. None of my chairs are ergonomic. Heck, none of them even have padding. But there’s a ton of natural light, my speaker system always has good tunes, and I do most of my thinking on a skateboard in my hallway.

Not everyone would be comfortable with my setup, but that’s kind of the point. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right or wrong way to set up a workplace. If you feel like you need a work throne with multiple monitors and a perfectly organized desk to get things done, then go for it. If you don’t, you don’t.

(Also, don’t force yourself to fit into a coworking space. They work really well for some people, but I just don’t work well in big office settings. I’m the guy who would book meeting rooms for my small team to get out of the open-concept bullpen, and would do just about anything to sneak out and work from a quiet coffee shop. Some people really like the frantic energy of an office; I tend to like calm spaces.)

Thing 3: You get to plan your entire day

Sitting in an office all day can feel oppressive. Schedules are made for you, you’re supposed to be consistently available, and there always seems to be someone looking over your shoulder (I previously worked in an open concept, so maybe cube farms are a little different).

As a remote worker, your schedule is yours, and you can do with it as you please. It’s incredibly freeing—but if we’re being completely honest, it can also be a little toxic. When you’re sitting by yourself at home, you’ll find a million things you need to do that aren’t related to work. You’ll find yourself doing laundry, cleaning the house, excessively walking the dog, cooking elaborate meals, running errands that don’t need to be run. It’s a thing that’ll happen… I promise.

The way to beat it is to embrace inefficiency. If you get down on yourself every time you feel like you’re being inefficient, you’ll spiral out of control. Instead, try to plan out blocks of focused work, then let the rest happen as it may. Use your focus time to turn off comms, tune out the world, and do the actual work that needs to be done.

I try to separate my day into three blocks:

  1. The first two hours I do comms and simple tasks. I drink my coffee. I plan my day. Sometimes I head off to places to work.
  2. Then I take on a four-hour block (cut by lunch) where I try to get real work done with no distractions.
  3. In my last two hours I try to fit everything I’m doing into the broader picture. I upload files, talk to people, finish tasks, plan the next day, etc.

Inefficiency will happen, and every day will be different than the one before. That’s life. Sometimes you’ll feel like you need to work out, and sometimes reading a book can get your mind straight.

Thing 4: You don’t have to work a complete 8-hour day

The majority of an office workday is spent on nonsense. Nonsense meetings. Nonsense checkins at your desk. Nonsense team building efforts. Nonsense reporting. People treat work hours like they’re a checkbox that needs to be checked, but in reality, work is about scope. My role has X scope, and I really only need to work until the work gets done. A good manager knows this, and doesn’t care if you work 5 hours or 12. The results are the key—burning the candle at both ends should only happen if someone’s:

  • a slacker who tends to do things last minute
  • scared they’re going to get fired
  • so energized by their work that they’d rather be working than sleeping

If you’re managing a team, the difference should be obvious. And if you have people joyously working long hours, congrats—you’ve successfully ignited a spark. Now tell them to log off and live a little.

Thing 5: Be sure to set work/life boundaries

One of the harder things you’ll encounter is explaining to your significant other that just because you’re home, you’re not handling home responsibilities. It’s challenging. Yes, you can technically do a grocery run, or take the dog to the vet, or vacuum the house, or do the laundry, but it can’t be the expectation. When you’re at the office, you spend your downtime socializing, getting coffee, or blankly staring into space. Treat your home exactly the same. You’re fine to take on domestic tasks if that’s what helps you clear your head, but if you don’t make work your priority, it… won’t be your priority.

Thing 6: Everyone will quickly realize that meetings are an inefficiency

There are three and only three reasons you should ever have a scheduled meeting:

  1. To start a project
  2. To talk through a major obstacle
  3. To infrequently appear somewhere so you remember what your coworkers look like

To be clear, I spend a decent amount of time each week on Zoom chats, but they’re usually reserved for talking about movies, philosophy, and how dumb things sometimes are (everyone needs to vent). They’re chats. I mentally try to keep them to a minimum, but if you have a good conversation going, you can always chalk it up as team building.

Meetings, on the other hand, are almost always a waste of time, and everyone knows it. Aside from infrequent checking to clear hurdles, most meetings are designed for managers to feel like they have a grasp on what’s going on. But it’s a trap. I’ve been a manager—if your team isn’t getting anything done, it’s almost always because the project is significantly flawed, or the work you’re asking for is dreadful. As one of our devs likes to say, “yes, I’ll shovel shit… but it’s not going to be pretty.”

So if you’re just getting into remote work, stop scheduling daily meetings. Just stop it. Send an email. Learn to express your thoughts and communicate effectively over text. Scope projects to where everything is visible, all the moving parts are accounted for, and no one is tasked with doing “the awful thing” alone (there’s always an awful thing that needs to be done… never assign the whole pile to one person).

Thing 7: Asynchronous communication is freeing

When you’re in an office, you can just ask someone a question and get an immediate answer. I imagine the lack of instant communication is killing people newly working from home right now.

A good remote workplace takes this need away. You’ll quickly learn that if you scope projects correctly, document your thoughts effectively, and put trust in your team to make the right decisions, your need for immediate responses fades away. Not completely—there will still be a need for a quick Slack every once in a while—but it’s minimal.

The key to making this work is to find the right tools. If you want to reduce friction, every project should be mapped out on a platform designed by people who care about UX, built for people who aren’t necessarily devs… or managers. You don’t want to build out a project for a copywriter on GitHub Issues. GitHub is not a delight to use, and will absolutely drive a non-dev to madness. Find a platform that’s a joy to use, and set loose expectations on how to operate it.

This, again, is where written communication is critical. If you want to rely less on face-to-face communication, you have to get good at writing your thoughts and properly explaining situations. It’ll feel weird at first, but over time you’ll see that asynchronous written conversations can be much more thoughtful and reasoned than quick chats could ever be.

Thing 8: Just be sure to minimize the tools

Back in the old days of iwantmyname, we ran through countless platforms to find the right balance. At one point we were using different platforms for every tool, at another we were trying to force everything into platforms that didn’t quite fit. We did project management through GitHub, email, Trello, Monday, until finally landing on Basecamp, with GitHub on the side for devs. We’ve used productivity trackers, countless text, audio, and video chat tools, every file storage system imaginable. On and on.

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution for a remote team. Even our situation—it feels pretty functional now, but it’s impossible to know how it’d scale. The key from top down is to be empathetic, be consistent, and to realize that the more complexity you introduce, the harder it will be to get everyday tasks accomplished.