Category: Telecommuting

What to do when people don’t take your remote job seriously

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Chelsea Handler, one of the best comics and women in the game, and all around person I want to hang out with, dished out some advice on Fast Company to a women who works from home. Keisha, a freelance graphic designer who works remotely told Chelsea about some of the struggles she experiences with her lifestyle. Her main one? That her husband doesn’t support her and value her work.

This one is hard but Chelsea pretty much nails it in her own humorous way. There are a lot of nuggets in this under 2:00 minute video (which you should totally watch because, Chelsea Handler) from spatial boundaries, cleanliness, and overall value and self-worth. But there’s one that I find most important, and unfortunately a little disturbing; it also seems unavoidable to those of us who work from home: What to do when others don’t take your work from home job seriously.

Keisha struggles with her work setup because her husband doesn’t take her work seriously because she works from home. She mentions that they make nearly equal salaries but shares that he doesn’t respect her dedicated WFH space and her work.

Chelsea gives some very valid wisdom of, “You can’t look for your appreciation to come from other people.” Which is true. Your appreciation and self-worth need to come from within, but I will say that I struggle with this want for validation (and lack of it) at times.

How many of us teleworkers tell family, friends, or new acquaintances that we work remotely and receive a borderline sarcastic, “Oh that must be nice” accompanied with a smirk or even an eye roll. What is it about working from home that makes everyone who doesn’t do it all the time assume that we’re doing nothing all day? And, since Chelsea is right– self-worth comes from within, why does this bother us (or just me)??

I’ve thought a bit about where this comes from. Along with telecommuting being relatively new and people not always being able to imagine something different from their own experience, I believe it also derives from the fact that for those who work from home intermittently it can be (not always!) a bit of a relaxed day. Again, this isn’t true for everyone but at least early on in my career when employees worked from home it was often code for running errands or doing projects around the house while checking their email and if nothing came up they wouldn’t be expelling all that much energy into their workday.

But when you work from home full-time or even a sizable chunk of your work-life, this doesn’t fly. If you slack off while working from home one day you don’t have a day in the office to make up for it; all your days are at home so you have to be working.

Those of us who work remotely a lot understand that we’re working to our full capacity (oftentimes more effectively and sometimes keeping longer hours than when in an office) but it still can be frustrating to meet someone new and have them assume you sit around watching reruns of Downton Abbey all day, or like Keisha have your spouse not value you and your work.

So how do you get past this?

If you’re a remote worker you have to keep in mind that at the end of the day Chelsea’s right; if someone else doesn’t think you’re actually working, who cares? So long as you, your manager, and your direct sphere of colleagues know that’s what matters. Keep getting it done–at home!–and let people think what they want!

That said, not having spousal support (or support of close friends and family) can be challenging. If you struggle like Keisha what I’ve found to be helpful is to explain a bit about how I structure my day and my time for these people. By sharing that I tend to spend hours a day on calls–just like them–I try t carve out time during the afternoon if possible to write strategy and plans–just like them–and have regular check-ins with my manager and team–just like them–it helps a bit.

If you’re a significant other, friend, or family member of someone who works remotely take them seriously. End of story. This is their job, their livelihood, where and how they spend a significant portion of their life. They don’t think twice (hopefully) about how you manage your work day so don’t think twice about theirs. Oh, and don’t touch the desk.

Have you experienced family and friends not valuing your work because it’s done from home? How have you coped? Share in the comments below!

Why you must get up early even as a WFH employee

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The other week I was answering some very fair questions from my parents about how my work from home job actually works (“But Janie what do you do all day?”) Since it’s often helpful for people to understand another person’s experience by considering their own reality, at one point my mom began to talk me through her own daily routine. She started and really focused on her morning. She gets up pretty early, pours a cup of coffee (side note: she and my dad have this adorable/practical rule that whoever gets up first makes the first pot of coffee and whoever gets up second makes the bed), walks outside to get the paper then spends 10 minutes reading The Star Ledger (#jersey) at the kitchen table. She noted that she always does a biiiiiig stretch on the patio outside (which I can actually visualize her doing), which may seem like a trivial part of her morning but is actually really important to her. It’s part of how she greets and begins her day: regardless of whether it’s 80 degrees or 20 degrees she does this and it has become part of her ritual.

I’ve always believed that mornings set the tone for the day. And rituals set the tone of our mornings. I studied Anthropology in college and rituals are proven to be vital parts of our lives and cultures. They create comfort and routine and contribute to us feeling like ourselves. A morning ritual can be just as important as a family ritual like hanging Christmas stockings together during the holidays in that if you don’t do it you can feel off.

When you are a remote employee and don’t have children or pets to care for, or a partner getting up early to begin his or her day, it can be incredibly difficult to get up early. If I don’t have a meeting until 9:30 that I don’t have to actively participate in it can be appealing to lay half asleep in bed until 7:30, 8, or even 8:30. But what that does that get me? A little more non-restful sleep. And more importantly it takes time away from my own time.

I don’t have complex AM routines. Sometimes I workout but more times than not I let myself wake up leisurely: I make coffee, open the front door to see what the weather is like, sometimes I make a big breakfast but a lot of times I sit down and turn on the news or draft a blog post while having my morning coffee. Since I am so acutely aware of ensuring my 9-5 work-time is dedicated to work this is some of the only time really set aside for me when I’m motivated and ready to take on the day. I really like to enjoy it because it’s allllll mine. Only after easing myself into my day with my rituals do I feel ready to tackle what’s ahead.

When you head into an office you might have anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours of time to yourself as you get ready and commute. Yes many people have to get kids ready and drop them off; but hopefully they carve out a a small moment to themselves, even if it’s a slow deep breath before leaving their car or getting off the train. As a remote employee it’s critical to give yourself even this time for a deep breath before you start your day.

What’s your morning ritual? Do you need to get your gym-time in? Read or watch the news? Share below!

The Skinny on Not Over Eating While Working Remotely

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Believe it or not this is one of the number one things people ask me about when they learn I work from home full-time. And it’s fair, in my experience working remotely can very easily lead to overeating: you’re near your kitchen and often alone, two things that with limited impulse control can lead to eating, well, a lot.

So is this hard?

In a word: yes. I have definitely observed fluctuations in my weight based on where work.

So how to deal?

I have personally found 5 things that really help:

1. Planning: Meal planning has always been a tactic for staying trim, and I think it is key for working remotely. No, you don’t need to plot out your whole week on Sunday (you can! I just don’t…) but I find it’s helpful to have and idea of what you’ll eat and when. I like to have an idea of what my breakfast, lunch, and 1-2 snacks will be all week and when I think I might want to eat each. To help with this I usually do one big shopping trip on Sunday. Generally speaking it’s not too different from meal planning when you go into a company: since I cook just for one (me!) I often prepare a larger meal I often make that at night and have leftovers for lunch. The main difference and why planning is so key is since it helps avoid making impulsive food decisions. If I find myself getting hungry at 11 am I can decide to maybe have an early lunch, wait until lunch, or opt to have one of my snacks.

2. Small meals: Another strategy of healthy eating in general: smaller, more frequent meals. But to be honest, my driving force isn’t to constantly keep my metabolism running (though yes, that’s a perk), it’s because when I work from home I find myself grazing. Rather than working against this tendency I’ve begun to work with it and make it work for me. I  try to eat smaller breakfasts and lunches, say, maybe 1 egg versus 2, which means I can have that second egg as an afternoon snack.

3. Breaks: I like to take an afternoon tea break (or 2 if it’s a long day, or generally any Monday). Maybe it’s my English background but a cup of breakfast tea with a little bit of almond milk and sugar goes a long way for me. I try to have a cup in the afternoon when I first start to sense myself getting hungry after lunch. Then if I am still wanting (spoiler: I almost always am) I have a snack.

4. Leave your space. I know it’s not possible all the time but when it is the benefits of leaving your house and going on a short walk are huge. The change of scenery helps mentally, offers a break, vitamin D, but also I find that if I’m in the mood for mindless eating by the time I am back I no longer am searching my kitchen for a snack.

5. Get creative! Okay that exclamation point was a little obnoxious. Anyway, I’ve never been the greatest cook. But it’s fun to look for and try new, easy recipes. It’s been especial enjoyable to try new recipes that are tasty, healthy, and easy to make while I’m working from the house. Below are a few pictures of what I’ve been cooking up!

These are taco seasoned lentils over a baked sweet potato with cheese, topped with a fried egg. Per my Snapchat note, I prefer black beans to lentils with a sweet potato but this was still a really tasty dish!

Working from home can seriously pack on the lbs if you’re not careful. What do you do? Any favorite recipes to make during the day?

Why do I feel guilty taking breaks?

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If you read this blog (*insert upside-down smiley emoji*) you know that I’ve been working remotely full-time for the past few months. Prior to this I’ve been lucky enough to always enjoy flexibility as part of my full-time jobs and have always had the opportunity to work from my home to varying degrees. As I reflect on my journey to teleworking full-time I think a lot about the similarities and differences between this and going into an office daily, a lot of which I strive to capture in this blog. One has kept creeping up in my thoughts lately: taking breaks.

We all need breaks to function. Studies show taking regular breaks in between bursts of work then, well, working again, improves creativity and productivity whereas not taking breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

But I’ve noticed that when I take breaks while working remotely I feel significantly more guilt about doing so then when I would take a break in an office. Which is odd because even with the same amount of time spend “breaking,” I am still being far more productive and spending more time on work than when I was going into an office.

Consider: a 30-60 minute workout during lunch actually takes me less time while working remotely since I don’t have to make myself look presentable (i.e., re-do my hair and makeup) after the workout; I can opt to stay in my gym clothes for the of the day or rinse off then put sweats right back on. I estimate I save a total of 30 – 45 minutes when I work out during lunch while working remotely but I continue to feel more guilty about it. The same goes for running an errand. When I was in an office I would have to navigate my way through a maze of elevators, then out of a 10-story parking deck before even starting the errand. Starting and returning to my house saves me about 15 minutes, but again, I feel more guilt leaving my home office for just 30 minutes. The examples go on and on but the story stays the same: breaks seem more guilt-invoking when remote.

And it’s not just me. I had lunch with a peer a few weeks back (in the office) who mentioned that since she’s been working remotely a lot she couldn’t remember the last time she stopped to eat. I had to gently remind her that short breaks–especially to refuel–are essential.

I often try to understand why I feel a certain way before, or in conjunction with, remedying it. I imagine my feelings are partially a function of the fact that I know working remotely is a luxury; it represents a company showing faith and trust in you to be responsible and productive and get your work done. I don’t want to let my manager or team down or appear not to be pulling my weight or more generally, doing my job. But, I also want and need breaks.

So how to get past this mental block? For me it’s a constant, gentle reminder to myself that while my company is affording me the luxury of working remotely, they still want my best work. And since we are not part-robots (yet) I am still a working human and require breaks.

I have begun to use a personal litmus test of asking myself, “Would I do this in an office?” and if the answer is yes I do it and if the answer is no, I don’t. So going on a short walk around the park in my neighborhood during lunch or watching a 30 minute news program while I eat mid-day: fair game. Depleting my DVR or taking a nap: keep reserved for outside the 9-5.

How do you who work remotely manage your breaks– both the actual breaks you take and telling yourself it’s okay to do so? What strategies have my fellow teleworkers–and office dwellers alike– found to be helpful?

Make Monday Your Most Productive Day

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Mondays are hard. Whether you go into an office every day or work remotely there’s something inherently difficult about ending the 2 days that we each have to spend with our families, friends, and ourselves and handing our lives back over to our commitments. Okay that’s dramatic (and weekends can be full of commitments too!) but if you’re like the majority of people the reality is you have to work and Mondays are a part of it. If you’re like me and a full-time remote employee, or even have worked remotely on a Monday you know that Monday’s are their own interesting brand of hard while telecommuting.

Now I am not suggesting that it isn’t hard to get out of bed, get the coffee going, and get into an office on a Monday morning. That’s hard too. But working remotely these past few weeks full-time I’ve noticed that my Mondays in particular are, well, different.

There’s been something about kick-starting my week from my home after spending so much time in that same place over the weekend not working. Of course this could perhaps be a broader question about work/life balance and separation while working remotely but there have been a few strategies I’ve been employing on Mondays in particular which have helped me not just “get through” a Monday but rock it.

  1. Start your Monday on your own terms. What I mean by this is do whatever you need to do in order to start your day, and week, off right. For me that means getting up a little earlier to let myself have the lazy morning that I want. I make coffee, sometimes walk outside a little, I’ve been known to clean in the morning or throw in laundry that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish over the weekend. I once put together a 140 pound desk (if you follow me on Snapchat you were likely right there with me 🙂 ) The point is whatever you like to do in the morning to get ready give yourself enough time (maybe more than normal!) on a Monday.
  2. Sweat. If you’re able to get a workout in, in the morning or mid-day, do it! A lunchtime workout on a Monday is one of my favorite things to do. My mind literally feels noticeably clearer after doing this. Yes, this can be done in the early morning hours but I’ve learned that, that’s just not how I like to spend my first morning of the week.
  3. Go easy on yourself. You’re easing back into the work-week, let yourself truly ease in. Of course sometimes Mondays are hectic and deliverables don’t seemed to know days of the week, but if and when you can, cut yourself some slack. This doesn’t mean to not work by any means but if you need to grab a second (or third! Only me…?) coffee or tea then do it. Or if you don’t have a hard deadline to get something out maybe re-read it in the afternoon (maybe after that mid-day workout!) once you’ve had some time to warm up to the day.
  4. Have a solid Sunday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a well-spent Sunday is key to a strong week. Yes, sometimes Sundays are meant for boozey brunches, I won’t deny this, but for me most Sundays are for relaxing, being productive, a bit of fun (always!), and gearing up for the week.
  5. Mondays are Mondays where ever you work. If you work remotely every day like me it’s easy to tell yourself than something (everything!) is challenging because you are remote. Remind yourself that Mondays are Mondays regardless of if you’re at your desk at home, desk in an office, or anywhere else.

Mondays can suck, yes, but you can definitely do some things to make yours better. Find your routine, allow yourself the extra coffee, and make it work for you!

How to Have an Effective Check-In With Your Boss From Home

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Image result for call from home office + free image

For many working professionals who work remotely, much of your productivity and success are reliant on your interactions with and relationship with your manager. It goes without saying that then having a good relationship with your boss is critical. One component of this is maintaining regular check-ins and ensuring that they are productive.

Maybe you’re a full-time remote employee, maybe you work remotely once in a while so don’t always have your meetings in person, maybe you work from an office but for whatever reason– you’re sick, your manager is sick, it’s the holidays, she’s in another location, whatever!– you’re having your check-in over the phone. Simple, right? Ehhh… Not always. Read these tips before you connect and you’ll showcase your ability to effectively communicate over the phone.

  1. Come prepared. To have a successful check-in with your manager over the phone solid preparation is key so that you can use your face-time–sans face–best. Preparation can be as simple as a list of topics or questions. For every check-in spend some time on your own reflecting on what you want to cover since your last check-in; this can include reviewing your current workload, development, areas (and/or people) in which you’re hitting roadblocks, upcoming vacations– anything. List it all off for yourself. If you have an agreed upon way to structure the conversation follow that but taking “inventory” of all the topics you would like to cover is important.
  2.  Organize your thoughts. After I lay out what I want to cover, I like to email something to my manager. This is usually not the exact same list I captured during my prep, often what I send my manager is shorter and a bit more high level. Try to keep it a manageable list for the length of time you have. Again, follow your manager’s and company’s preferences but I find this especially helpful during a phone check-in since your manager is likely in front of her computer so has the opportunity to multi-task. Whatever it is, having something down on paper (err– on a screen) helps minimize the chance that your manager is doing other things and helps her focus on you.
  3. Control the conversation and set expectations upfront. So now that you know what you want to cover and have communicated the topics in some form to your boss, ensuring you clearly express yourself to get what you need to get out of the conversation is key. Even if you have your manager’s undivided attention it’s easy to get off track and for whatever reason this seems to happen more over the phone. Combat it by ensuring you stay on relevant topics that you want to discuss. If something warrants a longer conversation but you still do really need to get to a few other “agenda items” it’s completely fair to recommend you have a separate, dedicated conversation about a specific item at a later point in time.
  4. Gut-check you’re spending your time the right way. My favorite thing to do during check-ins with my manager is to share what I call my “time allocation.” I literally share the main projects I am working on (bucketing similar, smaller ones together so to not get off topic) as well as what percent of my time I have been spending on each. I then ask my manager to confirm that he agrees I am using my time correctly. It’s essential for all professionals to ensure they are on the same page with their boss regarding priorities and how their time should be spent, but for telecommuters who don’t physically see their managers daily it can be even more important. Early in my career, while working from an office location, I would often connect with my managers on priorities two or three times a week, if not daily. But in recent years while working remotely I’ve noticed this just doesn’t happen as much so I’ve taken matters into my own hands.
  5. Brag. This is another one that’s important (though also hard!) for everyone but perhaps even more so for fellow remote workers: you must toot your own horn. Because you don’t see your manager as frequently as you would in the office it’s even more important to share your successes so he knows about them. Remember no one is as invested in your career as you are. Even the very best managers are not. Nor are the very best manager’s aware of what *exactly* you’re doing day-to-day. You must tell them.

Truth be told you should be doing all of these things during your check-ins whether you’re remote or not but it’s extra important to be upfront and communicative about your work and what you need from your manager. Your check-in should be your time, use it wisely!

What I’ve learned working remotely for 1 full week

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Tomorrow will mark the end of my first *full* week working remotely. I’ve been in my new role for over a month now but I’ve been working on-site at the HQ for at least a portion of each week, until this one. And while working from home is nothing new for me, doing so for a whole week + knowing this is what my new normal is, is a marked change.

So what’s it been like and why is this full week down such a big occasion?

  1. I don’t walk anywhere near as much. Duh right? But fitness trackers make it clear just how big of a drop it’s been. Consider: in my last role I would walk 3 miles each day just getting to/from the office on the train. Sure it took some time but it was an easy walk and added in a good number of steps. Now if I don’t go to the gym or do anything my steps add up to less than 1/2 mile daily. This is easily changeable but it requires actively thinking, about, well, being active. Luckily I work out a lot and am able to walk to grocery stores and the like, but this would definitely add up to packing on the pounds if I wasn’t mindful of it.
  2. I eat the same things day in day out. I’ve always been a bit of a creature of habit. Even at an office I’ve been known to eat basically the same thing for weeks on end (and by weeks I actually mean months). Working remotely I do this too but I’m noticing that I’ve been eating the foods I often have for dinner on repeat now too since I have access to the stove and oven. I don’t mind it… yet, but will surely have to add to my rotation of healthy, at home meals. If I find particular ones I like or think fit best into a busy remote day I’ll be sure to share them here.
  3. I have to be aware of actively involving myself in meetings. If you read my post earlier this week about my first 3 hour working session you know that I’ve been spending a good chunk of time on the telephone and which has inherent challenges. That was a big accomplishment for me and something that if I am being completely honest I wasn’t quite sure how I would fair in. But like many other things in life it’s largely about your attitude. Sometimes while working from home I need to consciously tell myself to “pay attention,” a simple trick that really works for me. Interestingly enough sometimes I can truly focus more on these calls because I can get up and walk around, something that I’m sure I could do while in person (how many times do you see meeting participants simply strolling around a conference room to keep their blood moving?) though maybe I am learning ways to maintain my active engagement in, in person meetings too!
  4. I’m realizing my current desk space is inadequate. I’ve been planning on getting a new desk but finally pulled the trigger because it was becoming a problem. I need space to sprawl out and my Ikea mini desk which has served me very well for 2.5+ years was no longer doing the job.
  5. I don’t know how I survived college with just a laptop. I desperately need a monitor. Luckily I have one on its way from my company but it can’t get here soon enough. I also have no idea how I survived just working off a laptop screen in college. Probably because I was 10+ years junior and because I wasn’t in excel so much.
  6. The importance of a good chair. My back is starting to hurt and I think it’s a combination of a few of the above things, namely not walking as much (even just to the bathroom, to my car or to transit, etc.), sitting at a small desk, not having a monitor, probably getting older as well, and also not having the best chair. I am now on the hunt for a new chair but in the meantime will use pillows and continue to move myself around a bit each hour.

While this may seem simply like a list of gripes (oops) but really I am enjoying this work arrangement so much and am so grateful I am getting this opportunity. It’s not without its challenges but what is? And not having to wash my hair daily (who I am kidding, I didn’t do that when I did go into an office daily) or deal with a commute or relocate for a company is such a huge upside that I welcome these various side effects of this telecommute job with open arms!

Do you work remotely? What have you learned about your work-style while doing so? Share your thoughts below.

Acing the LONG conference call from home

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I’ve done it! Last Thursday to be specific I faced, tackled, and rocked my first working session while being a remote employee.

Now before you start raising your eyebrows and think, “Congratulations, you took a phone call.” Yes, I took a phone call. And right, we all do this. But more specifically I’m not talking about a 30, 60, or even 90 minute one. I am talking about a nearly 3 hour working session during which I had to remain engaged, proactively share my thoughts and opinions, oh and did I say remain engaged for nearly 3 hours?

Now I’m lucky in that not *everyone* on the call was in the same location. There were attendees from different offices and others working remotely. This is important since those who were in the office were attune to the needs and hurdles remote employees, like me, were facing. But still it was close to 180 minutes on the phone, talking about the same thing, thirty feet from my television and a room away from my bed.

I won’t lie, it was difficult; I had to actively work to keep myself engaged. But it was something I knew would happen sooner or later and something that I knew would greatly predict my ability to do well in this new role. I’ve been sort of waiting for this to happen to use it as a gauge of how easy or difficult this whole, working remotely full-time would be.

So the verdict was that it went well, but what does that really mean and how did I do this? Glad you asked…

  1. I walked around. Here’s where one big advantage of WFH comes in– I can move around often without anyone knowing. I’m not saying I went on a full-blown stroll around the neighborhood, though that does sound nice and I know people who swear by that for status calls. But I moved around. Blood flow helps brain flow, or something like that, but really it is science.
  2. When I zoned out I caught myself. Let’s be honest, this happens in person too. But when you’re at home you have to be accountable to yourself since there’s no one who will give you a hairy eyeball for having a glazed over look on your face or scrolling through Facebook.
  3. To that end, I stayed off social media. It always shocks me how many people can be found scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or worse (read: dating apps) quietly under a table on a meeting or presentation. DO NOT DO THIS. Just don’t. Even if your manager or the presenter doesn’t see you someone else (like me during that team meeting in the office two weeks ago…) may and it doesn’t make you show up well. Anyway, while working from home this is an easy trap to fall into since no one can you see right? Maybe. But maybe you’re friends with them on Facebook and they see that you’re online (okay, I get that this would mean that they too were online, still, just don’t do it).
  4. I was aware. I firmly believe that being self-aware or simply aware contributes to 90% of showing up well to everything; okay, I actually have no idea how to quantify that in terms of a percentage, but for me I think the state of simply being aware is huge. And it applies here. I was aware of the fact that this was an important meeting and that this was a situation that might be challenging. Because of those things I was able to keep myself in check by the other above tactics.

What about you? Have you taken a long conference call from home or had to participate in a “working session” from afar? How did it go? What did you do to remain engaged and focused? Share in the comments below.

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