Home for the Holidays

Trying to juggle unexpected childcare can be stressful. Here are some tips to ease the stress.

What to Do When Your Childcare Falls Through

The holidays are nearly upon us, and all across the land, children will soon begin winter break. This presents particular problems for remote working parents whose home office is suddenly overrun by small people.

In our book ‘Secrets of the Remote Workforce,’ my coauthors and I discuss ways to minimize child intrusions and manage work expectations. That discussion assumes you have some form of childcare. But what do you do if your childcare falls through during the holidays? Here are some tips for when you can’t just take a vacation day.

Have a preemptive conversation with your boss. It’s easier to get the flexibility you need if you’ve prepared your manager for the possibility. I usually say something like ‘As a reminder, my children will be home during the day for winter break. I have childcare, but if those plans fall through I’ll need to talk to you about my backup plan to get my work done on time.’

Bank time. Unlike sickness, you know when winter break starts and stops. If you can, preemptively work a little later the week before so you can have an hour or so available to focus on the children.

Work early or late. Or both. Most remote jobs have some flexibility build in to them. Some work tasks can be done at any time of the day or night, while others can be done during someone else’s time zone. Most of my coworkers are on East Coast Time, so I’ll drag my myself out of bed early and work for a few hours before my children wake up. This gives me some flex time during the day when I may need it. And if I don’t need it, I now have an excuse for a long lunchtime run. Woo hoo!

Invite more children over. This may seem counter intuitive, but inviting your child’s friend over for a visit can keep both children occupied and out of your hair. Your house may be trashed afterwards but at least you can work in (relative) peace. Obviously this only works if the children are old enough not to put weird things in their mouth.   

Trying to juggle unexpected childcare can be both tricky and stressful. This is doubly true during the holidays, when backup childcare options are limited. Building in flex hours ahead of time is one way to get ahead of the stress. Do you have other tips that work for you? Let me know in the comments.

How to Host a Remote Work Party People Will Want to Attend

Working from home doesn’t have to mean partying alone. With a few tips you can party like it’s 1999.

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Working from home doesn’t have to mean partying alone. Thanks to video conferencing magic, you can host a great virtual party from the comfort of your laptop. My colleagues and I have been holding virtual parties since 2010. If you keep these tips in mind, you too can celebrate with your coworkers like it’s 1999.

Gift Exchange

Get the facts. Running a virtual gift exchange is as easy as pairing people up and sending shipping information. Make sure that people are comfortable giving out this information. If not, consider a gift card only gift exchange. Pro Tip: You will score major points if you buy those gift cards from a country specific chain. While your Canadian colleague will use a Starbucks card, sending her a gift card to David’s Tea or Tim Horton’s says ‘I cared enough to do a little research.’

Build in shipping time. This is particularly important if some colleagues live across country lines. You may also want to do an internet search for ‘postal strike’ before deciding how to ship to a colleague in a different country.

Buy (country) local. Did you know Amazon has 12 country-specific online stores? If you buy a gift for your Indian colleague in the Amazon India store, you will save time and money.

Happy Hours

Respect the time zone. London is five hours ahead of New York. Hawaii is three hours behind California. Your colleague in India may really like you, but he’s probably going to skip a 6am beer fest. Consider holding more than one party if time zones are too far apart. Your colleagues in other time zones will notice and appreciate your effort include them in the festivities.

Signal if alcohol is okay. This is especially true if you are the highest ranking person at the party. This can be as simple as saying ‘Bring your beverage of choice. I’ll be sipping my favourite chocolate porter.’

Bring talking points. Video happy hours can be fun, but you can’t have several conversations going on at the same time. You’ll overwhelm the audio. This can lead to awkward stretches of silence if you aren’t careful. Reach out ahead of time and ask one or two colleagues to help you keep the conversational ball rolling. You can also play ice breaker games if your team thinks that’s fun.

Working from Home Doesn’t Have to Mean Working Alone

Don’t let your status as a remote worker stop you from celebrating with your colleagues. Virtual parties can be a chance to network, an opportunity to build friendships, and a pleasant way to break up the work day. Do you have a great tip for hosting a fun virtual work party? Let me know in the comments.

Can’t Focus When You Work from Home? Try This

If you can’t focus, it isn’t because you’re weak. You need a new habit.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Before you started your remote job, home was a place of rest. Coming home signalled the end of the work day and the start of down time. This presents problems when your place of rest becomes your workplace, too. Are you having trouble focusing now that you work from home? You aren’t alone. Before we talk about what to do to fix the situation let’s clear up one thing.

You Aren’t Distracted Because You’re Weak

Your lack of focus stems, at bottom, from the associations you have about home time. Your brain knows that home is where you relax. If you live with family or roommates, they are used to talking to you whenever. Trying to work in these conditions can seem like an uphill battle. Fortunately there is a powerful technique that will help you focus more easily.

Build New Habits—Visual Cues

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The best way to fight the ‘home is where I chill’ association is to build a new ‘I’m at work’ habit. This looks different for different people. Think of the routine you had when you worked out of an office. Did your commute involve a run to Starbucks? Did you have a set of work clothes? Harness some of those cues.

The second time I went remote, I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles with a husband, a toddler, two cats, and a second child on the way. Getting dressed in my suit jacket and slacks put me in work mode. As I became accustomed to working from home I was soon able to ditch the full suit. Now I work in jeans and a button down shirt.

Build New Habits—Spatial Cues

Try working in the same part of your home every day. I enjoy working from Starbucks, but that gets expensive pretty quickly, so I mostly work at my desk. The ideal desk location will be away from the hustle and bustle in your home, and have some way to lock out family. You may need to get creative.

My desk is in a small alcove in my bedroom, and my bedroom door doesn’t have a lock. Instead I wedge a crutch underneath the doorknob. It’s both funny and infuriating when one of my kids tries to get in by body-slamming the door. Usually they are saying something like “Mom? Mom are you there? I can’t get in.” That is, of course, the point.

If You Build Habits, The Focus Will Come

Above all, don’t give up. Just because it’s hard to focus now doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for remote work. Try a few things, and give your habits time to develop. Soon you will be focusing on your work like the ninja you are.

Do you have a go to work routine that works for you? Share it in the comments.

How to Set Up Your Remote Office on the Cheap

Besides a computer, the list of must-have office equipment for the new remote worker is smaller than you think.

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Your first remote job is an adventure—complete with the need to gather the right supplies if you don’t want to crash and burn. Admittedly, this is a balancing act. On the one hand you don’t want to over invest until you know that the remote work style works for you. On the other, there are a few key things you absolutely can’t live without. The list is smaller than you think.

Invest in a Great Internet Connection

Wired internet is the gold standard. Many apps take a lot of bandwidth, and you will save yourself some stress if you can plug into a router. That said, if you can’t get a wired connection, get the strongest wifi you can afford. Understand that you may need to find work arounds. Check out the rates for coworking spaces in your area. Some libraries also have wired internet, and private spaces you can reserve.

Buy a Comfortable Chair

This is the one tangible item you should buy as soon as possible. The first time I went remote I worked from my kitchen table. I was a freelance writer in New York City and I was determined to set up my office with money I earned freelancing. I was a hard nosed business woman and that was my hard nosed plan.

Unfortunately my kitchen chair was also hard. A month into my new career I needed a chiropractor. Fixing my bout of sciatica took many chiropractor visits and several hundred dollars, and then I had to invest in a nice chair anyway. My attempt to work on the cheap ended up costing far more than making a simple investment up front.

Clear a Wall

There will be video calls you have to attend. Make sure one wall in your home is work appropriate. A blank wall is perfectly acceptable. You can always add more personality once you understand the work vibe.

And that’s it. There are other things you will add to your remote office eventually, but let yourself settle in first. Some people don’t like working from a desk. Others need their things in a dedicated space. You may not know which category you fit into until you develop your new routine. Give yourself time to figure out what works for you, and you’ll be cruising along on the remote highway in no time.

For those of you who have been working remotely for a while, what things do you absolutely need to be happy and productive? Let me know in the comments.

What People Think You Mean When You Say ‘I Work from Home’

Remote employees have a real job with a real paycheck. Here are three assumptions you need to check at the door.

You are Unemployed

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Okay. We get it. People who get laid off or fired usually have the smarts to grab a few gigs as they look for their next stable job. In these cases, remote work is something to do for now. However, according to GlobalWorkspaceAnalytics.com in this study, the remote working population has grown by 140% since 2005. This number specifically excludes the self-employed. At least 4.3 million US employees work from home at least half the time. Translation: your friend who works from home is part of an army of unseen employees doing real work for a real paycheck.

You are “Working”

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The reasoning goes something like this: your boss can’t look over your shoulder and make sure you’re working, therefore, you are binge watching Netflix. Let’s break this one down a bit. How many employers do you know that will give someone money for nothing? We’ve all seen that guy at the office who surfs his social media all day long, leeches off of other people’s projects, and sucks up to the boss so he can keep him job. This is harder to do remotely. In the online environment, you are the sum of your online actions. People who don’t respond to instant messages or hit their deadlines very quickly become ghosts. No amount of sitting in your chair and “looking” busy will save you.

Remote employees work more. With fewer in-person distractions, it is very easy to get into the zone and work until the wee hours of the evening. Most remote workers have to put processes in place to force them to stop working.

You are the Master of Your Own Time

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Remote employees are not self employed. Our bosses schedule meetings we must attend. Deadlines get moved up. Projects change and we need to throw our schedule out the window and start over from scratch.

We don’t have time to take you to the airport, or pick up your laundry, or host a three hour lunch at the last minute. We could do these things. One of the joys of remote work is having the ability to go on a child’s field trip, or get a haircut in the middle of the day. This flexibility isn’t free. We start work at 5am, or log back into work at 9pm after the kids go to bed to make up the time. Sometimes we do both. If you want a remote worker to do something with your or for you during business hours, it has to be worth the sacrifice. And give us some notice.

Help Us Help You

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 20–25% of the US workforce works from home with some degree of frequency. If you keep in mind what your friend really means when she says ‘I work from home,’ you will refrain from annoying her, and raise your chances of getting that free ride to the airport.

 

Have a Plan

How do you work when your internet goes down? Planning, that’s how.

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I read in bed for 30 minutes every morning before I get up. I didn’t notice the problem at first because my phone had cached my usual websites a few minutes before I started reading. I’m not sure if this was coincidence or not. Should I be creeped out? Hmm.

In any event, by the time I rolled* into work at 8am I knew my internet was down. No internet = no work. Fortunately I have a plan for this. I sent a text to my boss and packed my mobile office**. There is a coffee shop a mile and a half from where I live that isn’t on the same grid as my house. Packing to leave only takes a few minutes, and I finished just as the internet came back online.

I didn’t end up using my Plan B this morning, but having one saves me time. I know which coffee shop(s) have reliable wifi, and when they will have a place for me to sit, because I scouted them out ahead of time.

Developing your own fallback plan is as easy as googling coffee shops and taking the weekend to make a few visits. Research may require you to sample the coffee or baked goods but I know you’re up to the challenge. Do it for science.

Do you have a favourite coffee shop to work in? Why do you like it?

*If by ‘rolled’ you know I mean ‘walked a few feet.’ Rolled makes me feel like I’m James Bond coming at you in a tux and expensive sports car. Possibly I should get out more.

**It’s a small black backpack with a spare set of cheap headphones, pens and post-it notes.

Remote Work Gave Me Running

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Photo by Nathalie Désirée Mottet on Unsplash

I run to burn the crazy. I run to quiet my spinning brain so I can recharge in the silence. Running helps me beat the seasonal sads. Somehow, running in the forest in the pouring rain makes the rain less depressing. I have no idea why this is, but it works for me.  If I didn’t work remotely, I would never have figured this out.

I run during my lunch break. I hear about people who can exercise at lunch and then jump back into their cubicle. How does that work in real life? I sweat like a crazy person when I’m working out. I sweat so hard that salt crystallizes on my face and I have to be careful about how energetically I wipe the sweat off my brow for fear of scratching myself. And let’s not even talk about the smell. I don’t understand how you can exercise, shower, and get back into your work clothes all in the space of 30-60 minutes. Either these folks don’t sweat, don’t work out very hard, don’t work out very long, or they are magic. If any of you are magic, please tell me how to gain this superpower.

I used to be an indoor exerciser. I was that high school kid who woke up at 5am to workout before school, and that morphed into a gym habit in my 20’s. The gym stopped working for me when I went remote. If I’m not careful, I can spend all day indoors and then I feel trapped. And let’s not mention the existential angst of running on a treadmill and not getting anywhere.

That trapped feeling first drove me to biking outdoors. Biking is fun but ultimately limiting when you don’t like riding a bike in the street. Running though…I wanted to at least have the ability to run. When I first started a couch to 5k plan I told myself that I only had to do it for a week. If I still hated it at the end of the week, I could stop.

Running outside was intimidating for reasons I can’t articulate even now. But running inside wasn’t an option because I needed to be outside for my mental health. And it turns out that when the scenery changes, I love running. It’s hard in all of the best ways. I’ve logged anger miles, sorrowful miles, and miles filled with gratitude. At the end of all of them I feel like my insides have been washed clean. I’m ready to handle whatever comes next.

It makes me wonder what remote work will give me next. Do you work remotely? What does it give you?