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?

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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.

How They Do It: Interview with Molly Hutt


Molly Hutt is part Maker, part historian, part entrepreneur, part environmentalist thrifter, and all nerd. She lives in Philadelphia with her pets: an infinite number of Tribbles

The term “remote worker” encompasses a lot of people doing many different things. We’re employees, freelancers, entrepreneurs, or a combination of all three. In today’s post, we’re going behind the scenes with Molly Hutt, owner of Molly Bee Studio and the Tribble Orphanarium to see remote work in action.

Molly, you’re a serial entrepreneur. Can you tell us about the different businesses you’ve run, both now and in the past?

It all started when I was a kid. I was pumping out craft items faster than my parents could find places to display them, so I started selling hand-stamped stationery door to door in my neighborhood. I was also a very serious purveyor of fine lemonade (none of that powdered nonsense).

I started my first real business in high school, dyeing yarn and selling it on Etsy. My shop was, embarrassingly, called Nerdclub2000, after the name of my Mathletes team. You can still see all my sales here—but be warned, it’s as dorky as it sounds. Things really blew up when I was mentioned on a knitting podcast with 60,000 listeners, but then I went off to college and discovered socializing, so that ended.

Currently I’m running an Etsy business called Adopt A Tribble (a.k.a. Terra Prime Tribble Orphanarium), where I make Star Trek fan stuff. This mostly consists of Tribbles from Star Trek the Original Series in the form of throw pillows and Christmas ornaments, but I’m also working on Tribble keychains and “Proudly Go” stickers. I’ve also been messing around with greeting cards and have some really goofy Valentine’s Day cards in the works. Every now and then I do a custom cosplay outfit for a fan.

Since I lost my day job, I’ve been preparing to launch a second brand, Molly Bee Studio, for my art and design work. I’m still figuring out exactly what the brand will look like, but for the moment I’m making hand-painted mugs and etched glassware from upcycled thrift store finds. I’ll probably add some stationery and printables, but the whole thing is still in its beginning stages.

What does your day to do look like? When do you work, and when do you turn off work?

I’m really bad at work/life balance. While I was working full-time at a non-profit, I’d often put in 35-hour weeks at the office and then another 20-40 hours at home making Tribbles. It was all production and advertising without any time to be creative. I’m probably working about as much now, but I hardly notice it because the creative parts don’t feel like work (and because I get to watch the Great British Bake Off while I’m filling orders).

My daily schedule varies, but I’m a major night owl, so I typically start work around 10 or 11am and spend a few hours filling orders, taking care of customer service, working on social media stuff, etc. I stop sometime between 4 and 6pm for dinner, social plans, etc., and then I pick up again around 9 or 10pm, which is when creative time starts. Lately I’ve been spending most of that time painting, learning Illustrator, and brainstorming potential new products.

How did you come up with the idea of making Tribbles?

My partner, Brent, is a musical theatre writer and a major Trekkie. We actually met because he was writing a Star Trek musical, so for his birthday/housewarming in April, I decided I wanted to make some Trekkie throw pillows for his couch. I figured that Tribbles are basically tiny pillows already, so I just ran with it.

At his housewarming/birthday party, a bunch of his friends noticed the Tribbles and, after giving them a thorough squish and cuddle, suggested that I make and sell them.

When it comes to crafts, Molly is a poly math

How do you keep your costs down?

Whenever possible, I use upcycled materials. Some of the stuffing in the Tribbles is made of fabric scraps from my studio and raw cotton insulation that I get from a neighbor. I get most of my mugs and glassware from Philly AIDS Thrift and all kinds of awesome supplies from Resource Exchange. Both are non-profits supporting great causes and keeping usable material out of landfills. The cost savings is just a perk!

Whenever possible, I buy my faux fur from local shops. I live right next to Philly’s Fabric Row (which is exactly what it sounds like), so I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with the staff and owners. It’s always a pleasure to buy from people who have become my friends.

How do you primarily reach your audience?

I mainly reach my audience through Instagram. I’m on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, too, but those haven’t blown up in quite the same way. Instagram really lends itself to handmade businesses, since they’re often really visual. I’m also starting to look into craft fairs (for Molly Bee) and nerd conventions (for Adopt a Tribble) because I’d love to meet more of my customers face-to-face. This is partially because I’d like to get to know them and partially because people have a very hard time resisting Tribbles when they have a chance to give them a squish 😉

If you could give a new entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?

Excellent customer service is free. When you’re selling online, it’s easy to think of your customers as disembodied dollar signs, but it’s rewarding both personally and professionally to remember that they’re real live people.

I wasn’t expecting to build an entire social network around my Tribbles, but I get so much more from my followers than just sales; they were there to support me when I lost my job and when I was slowed down by migraines. They’re always excited to share in my personal and professional victories. Go the extra mile! Your customers will be thrilled, and you might even make some new friends in the process.

A big thank you to Molly for taking the time to chat with us. You can follow Molly here: Twitter and Instagram:@adoptatribble and @mollybeestudio
Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/mollybeestudioshop Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TribbleOrphanarium/ and https://www.facebook.com/mollybeestudio/

How to Keep Focused During the Dark Days of Winter

How to Deal When the Lack of Light Makes You Tired

Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

As the winter solstice approaches, those of us in the Northern hemisphere grapple with the lack of light. This can pose a big problem for remote workers who are dealing with both the lack of light and winter isolation. If the short days are making it hard to focus, try the tips below.

Buy a Wakeup Light

I don’t use one of these, but I have friends that swear by them. Basically you pick your wake up time, and the clock fakes a sunrise in your room. I want one of these, but I have yet to figure out how to keep the sunrise from waking my night owl spouse. Until then, I’ll stick with my work around below.

Use the Blue Screen to Your Advantage

This tip has no science to back it up—it’s just what I do. We’ve all heard that the blue light from our devices can mess with our circadian rhythms and keep us up at night. Well, I decided that maybe I could use this to disrupt my morning sleep instead. I start each day reading books on my iPhone to help me wake up in the morning. Does the blue light helps me wake up, or is it just the reading that does it? Who knows? At least I get some reading in before the day starts.

Consider Full Spectrum Lightbulbs

You may be noticing a pattern here. There are many ways to combat the sluggishness that comes from short daylight hours, and many of them involve adding more light into your life. Do your research, as not all lights are created equal. According to Dr Marlyn Wei, you want a light box that has an output of 10,000lux, which is more than you can get from adding a full spectrum lightbulb to your regular lamp. The weaker the light the longer you have to use it to see any improvements.

Play Energetic Music

Sometimes you can combat sluggishness by getting your blood pumping. Turn on some fast tunes and don’t be afraid to sing along. Working remotely means never having to apologize for singing out of tune. Air guitars are optional but highly encouraged.

Remember that the Light Comes Back

The good news is that we’re almost at the shortest day of the year. After next week the light will begin to return. Hopefully one of these tips can help you until it does.

How to Build Breaks into Your Remote Work Day

All work and no rest makes Remote Ronnie cranky and inefficient

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

As veteran remote workers can attest, it’s all too easy to let your work take over every waking hour. While some employers worry that their remote employees are slacking, most remote employees struggle with taking proper breaks from work. Breaks are important for a variety of reasons. This article will discuss ways to make sure you actually take them.

Schedule Your Breaks

It can be hard to justify a break, if your work is demanding, or if you procrastinate and feel bad about stepping away from the job. It sounds counter-intuitive but scheduling breaks can help with both of these scenarios. Short breaks help you recharge so you can continue to handle a fast-moving task list. If your problem is procrastination, understand that work will fill up all available space. Scheduling hard start and stop times creates the deadline-driven environment that some people need to focus. For others, procrastination stems from fatigue. If you give your brain downtime, it won’t need to force downtime via procrastination.

Treat your breaks as important appointments. If your work has to spill into a break, reschedule it. Use your calendar’s alert function to notify you of an upcoming break. And then take your break.

Back Away from Your Desk

Photo by Mohammed Awami on Unsplash

Checking your social media sounds like a nice break from work, but it isn’t as effective as actually getting away from your desk. Some people routinely ignore scheduled break time. Sometimes this is because work reels you back in, in the form of text messages and urgent emails. Even if you temporarily turn off all notifications and close your work tabs, it can be hard to fully unplug and relax in the space you associate with working. In the remote workforce, you still need to have some version of a break room.

Plan Your Break Activity in Advance

You are more likely to take a break if you know what you’re doing. These small pauses in the workday can also serve the dual function of recharging your brain and moving you forward on personal goals. That can make a break from work more palatable if you are ambitious or goal-driven. Do you want to work more reading into your life? Set out your book or cue it up on your device so it’s waiting for you. Are you trying to build exercise into your day? Plan your route outside, or choose a workout app and have it loaded on your phone. Apps like ‘Movr’ have exercise routines that you can complete in five minutes.

Remote work gives you an unparalleled opportunity to fit more “life” into your life. Take advantage of this. While traditional office workers are obliged to sit in an office, YOU have the opportunity to work from anywhere (and possibly at any time)that you have an internet connection. Schedule your breaks, actually take them, and soon you will find that you have more energy for both your professional and personal goals.

When the Remote Job Gets too Lonely, Do This

When you feel cut off from the rest of the world, here’s what you can do.


Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

You may love working remotely, but occasionally feel a little short on basic human contact. Fortunately you can do something to feel better. Try these three things.

Get Outside

Science tells us that walking outside can make you feel better. This is true whether you see people outside or not. I’ve been surprised at the number of people outside in the middle of the day, even when the weather is stupid. Making eye contact and nodding at the passers by may not cure loneliness, but it’s human contact. Walking through a neighborhood is also a great way to find public spaces like libraries and coffee shops.

Work in Public

Think about libraries, coffee shops, bars, and parks. Get a little creative. I’ve lived in cities with malls that have had some great common spaces. My general rule is that it must take no more than 20 minutes get there, and cost about $5 to be there. I can usually make this work at a coffee shop if I drink tea. Also consider coworking spaces. Some of them have drop-in rates and social events to help you get in the mix.

Join a Slack Group

Sometimes you need someone to commiserate with while you work. Fortunately no matter what you do, someone has created a channel on Slack for it. A quick search for ‘Remote Slack group’ yielded THIS set of results. Be aware that some groups charge a fee. On the other hand, if a Slack group keeps you out of therapy, it’s money well spent.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Remember that occasional feelings of loneliness or isolation are natural. It doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out to be a remote worker. If you develop a set of tools to use when loneliness hits, you will ride the wave and feel more connected in no time.

How to End the Year When You’re Broke, Busy, or Burned out

Let’s focus on closing the year on a positive (and realistic) note.


Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

If you believe the memes on social media, this is the time of year when we’re supposed to: 1) take control of our finances, 2) get rid of the negative people in our lives, and 3) let go of the excuses for why we haven’t done 1 or 2. Last call for completing those 2018 resolutions!

People of the internets, we have 25 days left in December. Even if you’re a remote worker with lots of flexibility, you can’t fix a year’s worth of problems in 25 days. Happily, there is a sane way to tie up the old year even if you’re broke or short on time.

What Went Right?

Most of us have a mental mix tape of all the things that went wrong in 2018. Take a moment to write down the things that went right. You can do this all in one session or during small gaps in your day. Some of those positives might be big-a new job, a new relationship—but don’t overlook the small stuff. Did you start a hobby? Try a sport? You may need to focus on very small things, at first, before you can remember some of the medium-sized positives.

Who Cares?

There are good reasons why you need this list. Many people go through an existential crisis at this time of year. They think of all of the things they didn’t do. They think of all the things that went wrong. Don’t let the negative mix tape erase the positives. If you want to make changes to your life in 2019, you need a balanced assessment of where you are. You may not have lost 40 pounds this year, but maybe you kept a roof over your kid’s head. Go you!

Now What?

Once you know where you are, you can start thinking of where you want to be. Putting your list together in December lets you test drive a few new habits before the resolutions craze in January. This knowledge will keep you from getting sucked into activities that don’t mean much to you. Even more importantly, this is a crazy time of year. If you can size your goal so that it fits into your routine now, then it will probably fit into your life when things calm down next month. Plus, you’ll have a jump on the new year. It’s a win-win.

Do the Kids Even Know that I Work?

If you work from home, do your kids register you as a working parent? And other concerns.

How do I model my professional status when I work from a home office?

Mother-daughter selfie

Sometimes I wonder what my kids think of their remote-working mother. They must know I work—I feel like I spend 90% of their summer vacation ordering them out of my home office—and yet they will bypass their dad to interrupt me because he’s “busy.” Is this because of deep-seated gendered biases that they have absorbed from our culture? Is it because they think I’m a softer mark? It’s hard to tell.

Remote work has given me more freedom to choose the type of mother I want to be. Before my daughter was born I decided I would be the mother who cooks. I am also the mother who works full time, but that was a given. I prefer to keep my family in rent and groceries. Ergo, I work full time. Cooking from scratch is my choice. I grew up in a family that showed love through good food. As an adult I equate simple ingredients with health. And so I make time before work, on my lunch breaks, and after work, to do things like make bread or simmer chili. Instead of commuting to work I make waffles.

I love that I can be the mother I want to be. I also worry that my kids think I’m doing it all. Or that they discount the outside work I do because I perform it inside the home. My daughter in particular is trying to show maturity by taking on the domestic tasks that I normally perform. She spent this weekend making salsa and baking bread. She also tries to soothe her little brother when he gets hurt and help him with his homework. I am both flattered that she wants to emulate me and worried that she assumes this is what women do.

I want both of my children to learn to cook good food. I consider it a life skill. But I also want them to know that they can choose what they’re known for. Cooking does not define me, but it is part of the complicated definition of me. I cook because I want to, because I enjoy it, and because I think it’s important, not because it’s expected of me. And so I talk about why I cook, and I also talk about the things I do for work.

The nine-year-old’s first independent cupcake attempt. She says the frosting looks like poo.

I think some of the meta message must be getting through. Grandma recently sent both kids a sum of money. My daughter approached me this weekend with a plan to use that money to start a baking business. Did she approach me because I’m the softer mark? Or did she correctly identify the parent with the business background? It’s hard to tell. All I know is that it’s her choice, and I’ll be supporting her startup any way I can.

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.