5 Things I would Have to Give Up if I Stopped Working from Home

Remote workers get to take charge of the rhythm of their days. It’s what keeps many of us working in our office of one.


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Recently on Twitter, someone asked what would have to change if remote workers stopped working from home. For some reason the question really caught my attention. Here is my list of things I would have to give up if I went back to a traditional office.

#1: Singing While I Work


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Nothing helps me power through a a tedious job quite like belting out some of my favorite tunes. I’m sure I had a different coping mechanism when I worked in cubical land, but I can’t remember what it was so (probably) it was less awesome. Sadly, it wouldn’t matter how much I enjoy Lady Marmalade. No one wants to hear that in an open office.

I’ve heard of offices where you can’t listen to music at all. A friend of mine works at an office where you aren’t even allowed to wear headphones. I wouldn’t last long in a place that uses that level of micro control over its employees.

#2: The Continuous (Audible) Commentary


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I would either have to learn to be less judgmental or go back to filtering what I say. It isn’t that I talk to myself per se–I’m more like that person who watches a movie and says stuff like ‘Watch out!’ to the characters on the screen. Only, my commentary is more along the lines of ‘oh no you didn’t just try that,’ as I’m reading my email.

#3: Wearing What I Want

Sometimes, you need a top hat. Photo by the author.

The dress code at Douglas HQ is whatever I say it is. I am not one of those folks who wears pajamas all day. I usually rock a button down top and jeans, paired with fabulous hand-knitted socks. There is the occasional ‘top hat Friday.’ The added fabulousness makes up for the workout clothes I wear while I cool down from my run.

I enjoy getting dressed for work. My clothes are as comfortable as they are appropriate for my role. I can take a surprise video call at any hour of my workday without feeling like 10 pounds crammed into a five pound sack.

#4: My Office, My Rules


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I have a large medal and racing bib holder on the wall behind my office chair. My office is filled with plants, a rowdy Beta fish named Mac, and books on knitwear design, management, and running. I have a funky orange throw on my office chair. My office is full of color, pictures of my kids, and souvenirs from the places and people I have visited over the years.

My office pleases me. And I don’t have to explain to anyone why I have a pair of robots dressed like Wesley and Buttercup from the Princess Bride. I keep them out of camera range. I feel that if you have to ask, then you won’t understand the answer anyway.

#5: Enforceable Focus Time


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My entire career has been spent in roles where I am the nexus between people and processes. To put it in less lofty terms, I’m a choke point for several different departments. Back in my old office days I would voluntarily get into work at 6am on Fridays just so I could work without getting my elbow jogged every 3 minutes. I would eat lunch out so people wouldn’t drop by my cube to ask work questions while I was eating.

Now, when I want focus time, I turn off all of my notifications. If I work while eating my lunch, it’s because I chose to go running on my lunch break. My time isn’t always my own, but generally I am the boss of the rhythm of my day. All jokes about singing and top hats aside (though that stuff is totally true) THIS is why I love my remote office.

At the end of the day, working remotely allows me to be myself at work. I can indulge in my love of wacky office decorations and pop music knowing that my choices don’t impinge on anyone else’s concentration. I love the freedom to concentrate or connect with others on my own terms. It’s a lifestyle I wouldn’t willingly give up.

Not All Remote Employees Have Trouble With Work/Life Balance

Remote employees are more successful balancing work and life if their managers do the same.

Sometimes the Company is the Problem


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Before my husband started working at his present place of employment, the interviewer highlighted the firm’s pro work/life balance stance. Unlike the majority of architecture firms, this one did not require long hours at the office. This sounded good, but we took it with a grain of salt.

Wanting to appear keen, my husband showed up early on his first day of work. Hardly anyone was there. Still wanting to appear keen, he attempted to stay late to work on his first project. The work day ends at 5:30, and at 5:45 someone came around to tell him that he might want to wrap it up because all of the lights in the building turn off at 6pm.

Everyone in that office knows how to operate a light switch. In theory, then, an employee could turn the lights back on and keep working. However, the senior partners were sending a clear message. You don’t have to go home, but we don’t want you to stay here. And people don’t.

When Is It Safe to Log Off for the Day?

I’ve worked remotely for eight years, and I’ll admit that I fight a tendency to work long hours. There have been some years when I’ve consistently worked past the time when I should have logged off for the day. Generally, this isn’t because I lacked the discipline to overcome this tendency. I also fight the tendency to buy too much yarn or eat cupcakes for dinner. I have plenty of experience overcoming these urges. Just as I can skip the cupcakes in favor of a vegetable curry, I have the ability to log off from my remote job and spend time with my family. The question that any worker–remote or not–has to answer is, when does it feel safe to log off of work?

For employees, work is a power arrangement. Our ability to pay rent, feed our kids, and buy necessities depends on a regular paycheck. Most of us are exquisitely sensitive to whether we are working “enough” to keep our jobs.

My husband’s company has an unambiguous way to demonstrate when its employees cross the ‘you’ve worked enough’ threshold. Managers in distributed teams have to find other ways to demonstrate when it’s safe to log off. Let’s consider a few possibilities.

How Leadership Can Communicate When It’s Safe to Log Off


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Celebrate different schedules. One of the joys of a remote office is its flexibility. Alternative schedules shouldn’t be reserved solely for working mothers or part-time caregivers. Senior leaders could make a point of working an alternate schedule a few times a month, and share what they do during their flex time. Something as simple as sharing pictures from your walk on the company Slack channel demonstrates that employees can use flex time to enjoy life.

Turn the metaphorical lights off. In the remote workforce, no one can see you leave. If you are a people manager, consider making it a practice to tell your team when you leave for the day. Something as simple as ‘I’ve put in my eight hours, I’ll see you all tomorrow,’ communicates your definition of a work day.

Use your vacation days. Nothing says ‘it’s okay to stop working’ quite like demonstrating that you expect people to use–really use–their vacation days. How do you demonstrate this? My director makes a point of taking occasional half days, in addition to full weeks of vacation. He tells his team that we can call him on his personal cell if there’s an emergency, but otherwise he will be away from his computer. How often do you unplug from your job? Your team knows the answer to this question.

Craft a coverage plan for your team. My boss reminds us when we’re getting close to major holidays or the summer months, and asks us to get our vacation requests in so he can coordinate coverage. Our team coverage plans assume that we won’t contact the person on vacation. Consider how you can do the same on your team. If a member of your team were suddenly hospitalized, you would find a way to cover for him or her. Do the same for someone on vacation.

No company can solve all of its employees’ work/life balance problems. However, leadership CAN model a healthy flexibility, and clearly demonstrate that it’s safe to log off for the day. That way, employees can focus on building the cues they need to end work on time without worrying that doing so will jeopardize their jobs. This leads to better outcomes for both the company and the employee.

Can you think of other ways distributed companies can demonstrate livable hours? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

How to Talk Smack about Your Co-Worker’s Superbowl Team

Without Losing the Relationship

I love to talk about the Seattle Seahawks with one of my coworkers. The Seahawks are her home team, and I hate them on principal. I’m not a big football fan–I’m in it for the Superbowl half time show–but the Seahawks got on my bad side after one particularly painful game against the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago, and now I root for whoever plays against them.

Talking smack about someone else’s sports team is a time honored way of building a human connection. And if you are a remote worker, it’s easier to build a connection with colleagues if you have something to talk about. But you have to be careful. Here are some things to keep in mind before you try to make friends with your remote colleague by talking smack about her sports team.

How Well Do You Know Your Co- Worker?

Does your coworker already joke with others about her team? Are you sure she’s joking? Some people have no sense of humor when it comes to sports. It’s also very hard to read tone in a text exchange. You may see the talk in the team Slack channel as playful and engaging. Your coworker may see it as harassment. Take the time to figure out if everyone is enjoying the banter before you target any particular person. And if you could rate smack talk on a scale of 1-10 in intensity, start off at level one and check to see how people react. Go slowly.

Start the Smack Talk Over Video

Video meetings are the best place to gauge your smack talk opportunities. Most remote meetings should begin with a few minutes of off-topic chit chat, and an upcoming game can be a good excuse to bond with your coworkers. Pay attention to visual cues and change your approach if necessary. Your coworker may enjoy an impassioned debate, but the rest of the attendees may find it distressing. If that’s the case, enjoy your smack talk one on one.

In one video meeting, I figured out that the head of my department enjoys bantering about the Dodgers. In a different meeting, I found out that a colleague hates LeBron James with the fiery heat of a thousand suns, and enjoys having a chance to explain why. I feel totally confident that if I try to talk smack about the Dodgers or LeBron James, a good time will be had by all. It’s nice to have colleagues to chat with during the day, especially as I work in an office of one. There may be no one else in my office space, but thanks to these incidental conversations, I don’t feel alone.

Talking smack about someone’s sports team is a time honored way of forging a human connection through friendly rivalry. If you keep your remote context in mind, then you and your remote coworkers can trade quips without ruining the relationship.

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.

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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.