There is a lot of really great, hard-won advice about remote work from Justin Searls in his latest blog post, "Remote, but not alone." He breaks it up into three sections: advice for remote-working humans in general, advice for remote employees, and finally advice for remote managers/employers. There is one part that really struck a chord for me.
"If someone is stuck on a problem in isolation, the more time passes, the more shame they’ll feel about asking for help."
There are two sides to this problem of avoiding asking for help, at least from my experience, so I'll speak to that.
First, as I work on something that I don't understand, I sometimes convince myself that I need to have put in some base level of time and effort. Until I've reached that arbitrary and imagined threshold, I avoid asking for help. What is under the surface there is that I haven't earned asking for help yet. I've deeply internalized that nothing is unearned in this world and that tends to extend to something as small as asking for help.
This time that I spend trying to figure it out on my own may eventually collide with the other side of avoid helping. After a while, I start to feel like I should have already figured out a solution and so I'm ashamed to ask for help. This problem tends to spiral because the more shame I feel, the harder it is to find a solution. And it keeps spiraling as I feel more and more like I missed a reasonable opportunity to ask for help.
"I could have ask for help at the beginning of the day, but now I've been stuck on this same thing for 4 hours. I can't ask now, they'll know [insert terrible thing I believe about myself here]."
Of course none of this is true. There is no threshold of time and effort that you need to reach to ask for help. Having missed a reasonable time window to have asked for help, that's not a thing either. I know this and yet I still struggle with it.
I think that is where the next bit of Justin's advice comes in to play.
"On a remote team, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ask for the help they need and routinely offer what help they can give one another."
These feelings of isolation and shame lead us to avoid asking for help and hold us back from learning, growing, and doing our best work. We can combat this with community, with a culture of collaboration that normalizes asking for help and offering help. And though this post is about remote teams, it absolutely applies to all teams.
Give it a try. The next time you feel a hint of getting stuck, don't wait, reach out for help immediately. Each time we do this, we lay part of the foundation of a culture of collaboration.
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