Join the Remote Work Conversation

You don’t have to go it alone


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In November of 2010, there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance for people who wanted to ditch the traditional office in favor of a home office. I looked. My company had given me the option of going remote or finding a new job, and I desperately needed tools that could help me navigate this new world.

Most of what I found fell into one of two categories. First, there was the ‘scam group.’ The less said about these folks, the better. The second group I’ll call the ‘C-Suite Club.’ These people targeted their advice at the senior decision makers in a company.

I was a mid level manager, not a senior decision maker, and my concerns were more personal. How did I keep my work and home lives separate if they now happened in the same building? How could I keep my family from interrupting me during the day? No one seemed to be answering my questions in any venue I could reach. I stopped looking. Several of us figured out our own answers to these questions, and eventually some of us wrote a book about it. It’s called Secrets of the Remote Workforce.

This summer, as I began blogging, I found that there are many conversations going on about remote work. I wasn’t the only one who thought we needed to be talking about how to navigate the remote space. Here are some of the things I’m currently reading/listening to. This isn’t an exhaustive list of what’s out there–just what I’ve enjoyed.

Trello has a simple (but effective!) guide on How to Embrace Remote Work that is visually lovely. It’s easy to read, and a good document to send to your in-office coworkers or managers if you want to give them a gentle hint about how to work better with their remote coworkers. After all, YOU aren’t the one telling them that they need to stop crowding around a single computer to talk to you, it’s TRELLO doing it.

21st Century Work Life is a podcast about the different ways people work. Many of the episodes focus on remote work issues. I am not a podcast person, mainly because I can only listen while I knit or run. If I try to listen while working, I either stop working or I stop listening. This podcast is my exception, because there is a treasure trove of information in each episode. Pilar Orti is the host, and she also blogs at Virtual, Not Distant.

I found out about Lisette Sutherland through the 21st Century podcast. She has her own podcast called Collaboration Superpowers, and she just came out with a book called Work Together, Anywhere. The podcast is a great way to hear about what other remote people are doing, and how they get their work done. I just started the book and so far I’m enjoying the personal stories.

I am also a part of a couple of remote focused Facebook groups. The Remote Workers group is a good mix of job postings, commiseration, and links to articles about remote life. It’s a moderated group, and that seems to keep everything positive. Grow Remote is trying to build out remote opportunities in rural Ireland. I don’t live in Ireland, remote or otherwise, but it’s interesting watching them implement their dream of growing the local economy with remote jobs.

The deeper I dig, the more conversations I find about remote work. Do you have any books or podcasts about remote work that you enjoy? I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments so I can check it out.

When You Have to Call Tech Support

Down the Rabbit Hole


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I spent the better part of two days not getting access to a work system. Of all the things I didn’t think of when I went remote, tech issues are probably in the top ten. When your computer crashes at a typical office, you can move to a different computer. If the internet drops or the power fails, everyone is at least in the same boat.

The closest thing remote workers have to a company-wide power outage is if a shared system stops working. Otherwise, tech issues are localized. This means that a company can continue operations even during a natural disaster–employees in unaffected parts of the world can take over for those that may need to evacuate.

The down side is that when you have a tech issue, you are more or less on your own. I can’t take my computer to the tech team and stand there until they fix it. It’s a lot easier to put off my particular issue, or ignore me to answer a phone call. Or, as happened at the end of my workday, stop texting with me when my problem isn’t easy to solve. Side note: Ghosting in the middle of a work conversation is still rude even if the conversation is in instant messenger.

To be successful in this environment, you need to become your own tech support. Or at least become tech support adjacent. Some companies (like mine) will lock you out of certain computer functions in the name of security. If this is your situation, there are still things you can do to help the tech team find what’s broken.

Try to figure out what the problem is NOT. Restart your computer. Restart your modem. Consider resetting your password. The faster you can move away from tech asking you ‘did you turn it on?’ the faster you will arrive at a solution.

Some apps have code embedded in their error reports. I found out last year that sometimes, this code is invisible unless you select everything on your screen. Copying the error code(s) and including that in the email or support ticket can save time.

Document EXACTLY where things went pear shaped. I save myself a lot of aggravation if I write down my problem in a separate doc so that I can cut and paste it when I’m asked repeatedly to describe my problem.

Tech issues seem to drag out longer than when you can’t visit tech support in person. Don’t make the mistake of suffering in silence. Your colleague may know how to fix your problem, or have a work around. If nothing else she may have a moment to let you vent. This may not resolve the issue, but the shared experience may lead to a work friendship. And that’s something.

Morning Cuddle

Yesterday I had to tell the kids that today’s morning cuddle needed to happen an hour earlier than usual. I had a meeting with someone who works on Eastern time, and that meant an early start for my Pacific time zone self.

I promised my son that I would wake him up in time to cuddle. If I didn’t, the boy would be up at 1am, checking to see if it was time yet, and nobody wanted that.

I woke my son and daughter at the appointed time, and they followed me back to bed, still half asleep. My son was quite annoyed at the way work encroached on our family time. He’s never quite given up hoping that his father will take over my job so I can take care of him full time. He figures that if I just stopped taking video calls, no one would ever know the difference.

I transitioned to remote work while 7 months pregnant with my second child. I’ve had to take the occasional business trip, but for most of his life I’ve worked in the next room. I am at home when the kids leave for school. I am home when they come back again. During school vacations I am still there, doggedly trying to work as the kids stampede through the house and argue about who’s turn it is to play Minecraft.

My work/life situation is neither idyllic or horrific. I get to see my kids more than I would if I worked in a traditional office. I am happy for the opportunity, and aggravated at how often random people assume that working from home means they can give me things to do.

Of all the opportunities remote work bestows upon me, the morning cuddle is by far the most luxurious. It’s a little (okay a lot) squishy. The bed hasn’t grown the way our children have, so somebody is always balanced on the edge. My husband gets kneed in the back more often than anyone should have to deal with.

And yet I remember dropping off my infant daughter at daycare in the early morning dark, and picking her up again in the evening twilight, already nodding off to sleep. I hold a child in each arm, and I am grateful. Grateful that I replaced a morning commute with fighting over blankets and talking about weird dreams. Grateful that we can spend most mornings cuddled up together for a few minutes before we scatter to our various responsibilities. I hope my kids remember these times fondly.

I already do.

Loneliness and the Remote Worker


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In Buffer’s 2018 survey, 22% of surveyed remote workers said that loneliness was a top struggle, tying for first place alongside communication and collaboration issues. This is worrying on a couple of levels.

In an age where we are less likely to know our neighbors, workplace friendships have an increasingly important place in our social lives. The coworker you chat with today can become your movie buddy tomorrow. According to the folks at Gallup, having a best friend at work can also lead to better business performance, both in terms of profit and fewer safety incidents. Lonely workers, therefore, can miss out on a chance to feel fully engaged and to work at their full potential.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Working remotely doesn’t have to lead to loneliness. There are many remote workers who make work friends, and enjoy a sense of camaraderie with people whom they never meet in person. They may occasionally feel isolated, but they have a set of steps they follow to bring more human connection into their lives. Those steps vary, depending on work configuration and personality. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If we share what works for us, then that may help someone else to think of a strategy that will work for them. Anything that can help someone to feel less isolated in their office of one is a good thing.

How You Can Help

And this is where you come in. I am conducting research on how remote workers make work friends. Can you spare five minutes to fill out this survey? Once I’ve compiled the data I will write up an article with a toolkit of resources for making friends at work, and share it. Together we can help remote workers feel less isolated.

Should You Leave Your Remote Job?

Take some time to understand the problem before giving up on remote work.


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Remote employment won’t work for everyone. Before you decide to give it up in favor of a more traditional office, take some time to clarify what isn’t working for you. You can start by asking yourself the following questions.

Is this Really a Work Culture Problem?

Do you dislike working from home, or is your employer making you miserable? This can be surprisingly hard to differentiate. Do you have a flexible work schedule, or does your boss require you to rigidly adhere to a specific set of hours? Are you expected to complete reports whose sole purpose is to “prove” you’re working? Does your company use tracking software to keep tabs on you?


Photo by Rohan G on Unsplash

None of these things, by themselves, necessarily point to a culture problem. Call centers record calls in order to train their agents. All employers require that you show up to work on a consistent basis.

The question is if you feel trusted to do your job. Can you leave your desk to make a cup of tea without the world falling apart? Does your work treat you like a slacker looking for an opportunity to loaf? If so, you may have a work culture problem.

Alternatively, you may have problematic boss. If the problem is your boss, you might consider transferring to a different department or role in the same company. If there is very little trust anywhere in your company, it may be time to move on. In both of these scenarios the problem lies with the people running the show, not with your home office.

Has Your Mental Health Taken a Hit?

Some people need to work in an office because it acts as an early warning system for their depression or other mental health issue. No one will notice if you don’t bother to shower when you work from home. This can be a godsend for those of us who run on our lunch breaks–I am often glad that no one, including my Betta fish, can smell me after I run–but this freedom can be disastrous for others. If you discover that you need to be surrounded by coworkers to keep your mental health in check, you are not alone. Many high-performing people do their best work in an office.


Photo by whereslugo on Unsplash

Other people find that remote work actually enhances their mental health. Before you ditch the home office, add mental health breaks to your day. Go for a run. Take a few minutes to work on a craft. Read a book. Lately I’ve been listening to audio books while running, and I come back to work refreshed. When you work in an office of one, you don’t have to explain why you decided to carve stamps on your coffee break. You get to do you.

Remote work may not be for everyone, but don’t be too quick to assume that it doesn’t work for you. Take some time to zero in on the specific cause of your unhappiness. It might be remote work. However, you might find that with a few tweaks, remote work allows you to live your best life.

Is Remote Work Right for You?

Four questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge

Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

Choosing to work remotely could be the best career decision you make this year. Alternatively, you might make the move to remote work, only to wonder why you thought it was a good idea. The difference between these two paths has less to do with the type of work that you do, and more to do with the type of person that you are. Here are somethings to think about to help you decide if remote work makes sense for you.

Do You Have a Compelling ‘Why’?

There are a great many professional and personal reasons to love remote work. Many successful remote workers enjoy flexible schedules, increased work autonomy, and the opportunity to pursue outside interests. Like any job, however, this set up comes with it’s own stresses. For some, remote work is incredibly isolating. Others fight an ongoing battle to keep friends and family members from interrupting their work day.

In those difficult moments it helps to remind yourself of what you get out of remote work. Does your virtual job allow you to live in a less expensive part of the world? Can you continue to work while caring for a young or ailing family member? Perhaps you are a military spouse who moves every two years. Working remotely may allow you to stay with the same company no matter where you go.

Keeping your ‘why’ in mind will help you in at least three ways. First, it can help you endure whatever is irritating you. Your spouse might have a poor sense of what ‘do not disturb’ means, for example, but at least you get to spend more time with your kids. Your coworkers may forget that you work in a different time zone and try to message you at 6 am, but at least you can train for half marathons. Take a moment to make sure you’re clear about the benefits that remote work brings to your life.

Understanding your ‘why’ also helps you to know when it’s time to cut your losses. Your circumstances may change, and your ‘why’ may no longer apply. If you took a remote job so you could homestead in rural Canada, and discover that you hate homesteading, there may be no overriding reason to stick with remote work.

The quality or urgency of your ‘why’ will also determine how much effort you ought to expend to become an excellent, contented remote worker. The person who has to choose between working remotely or not working at all will be more motivated to excel in this environment than the person who can get a traditional office job at any time. Know where you fall on this spectrum. 

This leads to another question that you should ask yourself.

Are You Willing to Adapt?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Think back to your first “real job.” For most of us, that job took place in some sort of in-person setting. Even if you didn’t particularly like that job, or the ones that followed, you learned how to navigate your environment. You learned how to look busy and productive, how to make work friends, and how to navigate office politics. You probably learned how to turn work off (even if you still have trouble actually doing so).

Switching to remote work means learning new approaches to these activities. Your boss can’t see you industriously typing away at your computer. It takes effort to figure out that your colleague loves the same movies you do. You CAN make work friends, grow in your career, and learn to turn off your remote job — but you have to be willing to learn. Are you willing to learn? Do you have the bandwidth to try new things, fail, and try again?

It’s important to be honest about your willingness to adapt. Some people really want to work in a traditional office. They may take a remote job for a short time in order to pay the bills, but would not consider such a job a long-term commitment. If this describes your situation, understand that you will still need to learn some remote skills if you wish to keep your remote job until the next in-person job comes along.

Are You Willing to Act?

All of us have a list of things we “should” be doing. I, for example, should have cleaned out and organized my kitchen pantry weeks ago. Fortunately this doesn’t affect anyone but me (and occasionally my spouse when the dried fruit packets avalanche on him, but I digress).

Are you the sort of person who gets your important things done? Your commitment to delivering quality work on time has to be stronger than your commitment to Netflix. No one is watching you. Remote work offers the unparalleled opportunity to dive deep into your task list if you are the sort of person who knows how to focus. If you can’t focus without the threat of a boss walking by or the social pressure of in-person colleagues, this may not be the right work setting for you. If you can self-regulate, then you may never willingly set foot in a traditional office again.

Incidentally, your future remote boss will also want to know the answer to this question. If you haven’t worked remotely before, think about other times when you had a commitment to fulfill with very little oversight. If you are a recent college grad, how disciplined were you in following a study schedule? If you’ve ever stared a side business, or tried to learn a new language or musical instrument, how hard was it to do the things you knew you had to do to succeed? Your answers to these questions can help you figure out how self-directed you are. 

Are You Willing to Play?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Most people understand that they need to learn to focus on their work during work hours. What comes as a surprise to many remote workers is the need to focus on doing fun things after work. We all need a certain amount of human contact. A successful remote worker not only knows how much contact she needs, she takes steps to hit her weekly quota. That may mean enrolling in dance classes, going to church, or joining your local knitting group. Be the sort of person who can pick something and then actually do it.

Success as a remote worker won’t come from using the latest team building software, or learning a new skill — though both of those things can enhance your career. To really make it as a remote worker, you need a clear sense of why this lifestyle works for you, a willingness to learn new things, and the ability to have some fun along the way. Armed with these qualities, you can roll with whatever your remote work/life throws at you.

Celebrations, Not Resolutions

Let’s get off the punishment train


Photo by Nattu Adnan on Unsplash

Someone once said that ‘exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. This is good advice–and it applies to more than exercise. For one thing, you’re more likely to make room for a party than for a punishment session. For another, adding in consistent (healthy) celebrations can give you the mental fortitude to make positive changes.

I’ve found this to be the case in my life. I like running. I don’t like strength training. Since I wish to get faster at running, I strength train a few times a week. I enjoy getting stronger–but I still wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love running.

This is why I don’t really ‘do’ traditional New Year’s resolutions unless I can game the system. As an example, in 2015 I resolved to run a race, and I signed up for a 5k that took place on January 1. It was called, appropriately enough, the Resolution Run. Resolution: completed.

Instead, each year I commit to something positive and hedonistic. Last year I committed to eating better cookies. I also decided to do this 2 week daily making jump start. Both of these were super fun. I can now whip up killer peanut butter cookies in less than 15 minutes. This is a life skill as far as I’m concerned.

The daily making challenge rebooted my appreciation of my own creativity. (I get no compensation for plugging either of these, by the way. I just really enjoyed them.) This was the year I published my book, started this blog, and began posting articles on Medium. Am I giving all the credit for these accomplishments to cookies, running, and a daily making practice? No. But my new go-to activities made me happy, and that helped me power through the tough bits.

Maybe a positive, hedonistic goal will help you, too. I encourage you to add a little intentional joy to your life. You may be amazed at what happens when you do.