Category Archives: Remote Work

3 Ways to Build Community in a Distributed Company

3 Ways to Build Community in a Distributed Company

A lot of people spend more time at work than with their family and friends. That’s why community in the workplace is so key to employee happiness.

Yet “out of sight, out of mind” is often how remote employees feel. A lack of physical presence often translates to poor communication and a lack of team building opportunities.

Fortunately, companies can foster meaningful culture for employees that can’t gather around the watercooler. Here’s how.

Use technology to bond

Companies can lean on communication technology to build team culture. Don’t set rigid rules for internal communication on these channels. Encourage jokes, random discussions, and other things that would normally happen in an office.

Creating office traditions like virtual coffee breaks that match up random employees on Skype or Wednesday morning lightning talks on Google Hangouts or a designated channel for sharing music on Slack can help employees meet and engage with people from every corner of the organization.

Making these connections isn’t just good for employee happiness; it also builds networks beyond designated teams. Over time, this will encourage fresh perspectives and make it easier for people to request and receive help from colleagues whenever they need it.

You’re already using technology to communicate, why not use it to foster culture as well?

Assembling is important

No amount of messages, funny gifs, and video chats will replace face-to-face interactions. That’s why remote companies often organize company-wide meetups that range from meeting for company-sponsored events to attending conferences together to renting a house in a new city.

For most of these companies, the money saved from not having to lease expensive office space offsets the expense of bringing teams together. The cost is well spent toward creating amazing memories and building strong, long-lasting team camaraderie.

Remote companies like Automattic bring employees together with annual retreats in exotic locales, sometimes even including significant others. Teams are encouraged to plan their own outings (with a budget) and organize happy hours.

Not only are these sessions important for building working relationships, you’ll be amazed at how much the team can accomplish with time set aside for focused strategy and engagement.

Co-working spaces provide a network

If focusing on the company’s culture seems out of bounds, management can help employees beat remote isolation by encouraging use of coworking spaces.

These offices are filled with people who share similar workstyles and industries, giving lots of opportunity for networking and casual chit-chat. Many host events that encourage idea sharing and relationship building—two opportunities sorely missed for many remote workers.

Of course, it’s important to let your employees make the decision for themselves. You can incentivize this sort of culture-building by providing monthly allowances for coworking spaces, but understand that some employees prefer working from home.

Remember to focus on community

Establishing a sense of community is challenging with remote teams and traditional ones. The key is purposely creating opportunities to reduce isolation in the organization, whether that means taking advantage of technology, organizing retreats, or collaborating in co-working spaces.

Letting employees know that they are valued and their happiness is prioritized will go a lot further in establishing a positive culture than simply working in an office under the same roof.


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Prioritizing Health and Happiness as a Remote Worker

Prioritizing Health and Happiness as a Remote Worker

A few years ago I worked for a company that took the health and well-being of its employees very seriously.

They provided a company cafeteria that cooked fresh food. In the mid-afternoon there would be lines of people holding apples and bananas, many of them coming from the company gym or miles of bike trails surrounding the main building. The health insurance offered a number of direct discounts to encourage healthy habits. Because this was such an ingrained part of the culture, it felt odd not to exercise or eat healthily.

But I couldn’t enjoy any of those perks because I worked from home. My daily situation was different—my pantry was stocked with pop tarts, Oreos, and Cheetos and my onsite gym consisted of stairs that I used to walk downstairs to my office.

Healthy employees are good for companies and workers

It’s in companies’ best interests to have healthy workers that are full of energy. The standard formula for employers is to provide incentives and in-person options to encourage proper nutrition and physical activity.

But the massive growth of remote work is disrupting this dynamic. It doesn’t help that the remote worker is usually painted as unhealthy, lazy, and unhygienic. Working from home can make it tempting to wake up late, forget to shower, and not leave the house for several days.

Companies and remote workers can still prioritize physical and mental health away from the office, but it will require a rethink of the typical incentive structure.

How to stay physically healthy when you work remote

Remote work gives employees new opportunities for physical activity because they have fewer restrictions in terms of physical presence or appearance.

To stay active, remote workers could consider going for a walk or run at lunchtime or pacing around the house while on the phone. Not only does this get the blood flowing, but it gives your brain a good break from thinking about work and lets you come back with more focus.

On the nutritional side, remote workers can leverage the fact that they have a kitchen throughout the day. Throw lunch or dinner in the crockpot or start a marinade in the morning for dinner, and make sure you have healthy, quick lunch options in your fridge. Because you aren’t limited to food that needs to be transportable, you can more easily plan what you eat and add more variety.

It’s more difficult for companies to incentivize healthy eating and activity, but remote teams can push for creative perks like Basecamp’s fitness and community supported agriculture allowances. Providing a Results Only Work Environment (R.O.W.E) can also add the needed flexibility for workers to take a two-hour lunch to cook, exercise, or meditate before returning from work.

Also, as discussed in Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team, opting for written communication can help your remote team stay productive while also allowing your employees the freedom they need to stay healthy.

Simply put, employees are more in control of physical health when they work from home. But this freedom comes with the responsibility of planning and willpower. No one but you knows if you’re exercising and eating salad or playing video games and eating cookies.

Don’t forget about mental health

A lot of fun has been poked at how unhinged an at-home worker can get after staying inside for too long. It’s true that remote workers have to work towards social interactions that come naturally to someone in an office environment. Coworker relationships, serendipitous relationships, and new friendships require maintenance that isn’t automatic when you eat lunch or work in the same space as others.

Isolation is a problem for remote workers, and it’s a frequent reason why people quit working from home. Employers might not be able to detect social isolation or mild depression, but they can encourage their employees to build rapport with their team members by using video chat tools for a closer connection. Simple techniques like the Question of the Day (QOTD) can also help build the sort of connections that naturally happen in an office.

The other side of mental health for remote workers is that they have the chance for much greater freedom and autonomy in their daily work lives. They don’t have to wear certain clothes, get to work at an exact time in an exact location, or be stuck at a desk away from sunlight.

These might seem like small things, but they can lead to powerful changes in the mentality of those who enjoy these benefits. Working in a cubicle with bad lighting an hour from your home can make you feel helpless, but getting to dance to music at your standing desk, wearing your favorite shorts during meetings, and getting outside for a walk offers the ultimate version of health: being in charge of your life.

Staying Healthy Long Term

Companies want their workers to be healthy, and workers want to be healthy. Remote work offers flexibility for this to happen as long as employees take responsibility for their personal time and prioritize healthy habits. Employers can help out by offering location and schedule flexibility to distributed team members.

Remote work lets people design their lives around priorities, and physical and mental health should always be at the top of the list.


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5 Strategies for Separating Work and Home

5 Strategies for Separating Work and Home

Finding balance as a remote worker is hard. Distractions abound. They come in swarms of push notifications, the allure of hobbies from home, and the infinite rabbit hole known as the internet. Despite our best efforts, these magnets often compete with the reality of deadlines, team communication, and self-care.

Fortunately there are ways for remote workers to stack the deck in their favour, but it requires purposeful separation of work and life. Below are five tips to create boundaries when you work remotely.

Managing Schedules

Routine is what makes the world go round. It’s important to be consistent regardless of whether you’re rising before dawn or Skyping into a group video call at 9:00 AM. Regularity primes you for work in the same way that stretching warms your muscles before exercising.

Actions as simple as making your bed immediately after getting up, and doing the dishes before going to sleep can do wonders for the mental health of remote workers. Marking the end of a work day and the beginning of a new one with decisive actions allows for better definition between home life and work life.

It also helps to start each day with the same ritual, whether it’s making a cup of coffee or working out. In a world of shifting deadlines and project goals a little bit of self-enforced stability really helps.

Recharging Batteries

Everyone experiences fatigue. The challenge for remote work is learning how to pacing yourself without the ebb and flow of the traditional office environment.

Remote workers should try dedicating a few minutes of every hour to a non-work activity that they enjoy.

This window breaks up the day into manageable chunks and lets your brain take a break from work. Leave your computer behind, hop onto another device to check the tour dates for a band you like, go for a walk to some green space and back, or make a cup of tea and stand by the window.

Taking breaks doubles up to counter the health problems which come from working at a desk for eight or nine hours a day. Repetitive strain injuries and problems with posture are just two common maladies from working at a desk. Bones need time to stretch and our wrists need time to relax.

Moving about, even if it’s just to the couch or the front door, is an important way to break up the day, pace yourself, and stay healthy.

Designating Devices

People are great at building associations between activities and objects.  Modern remote workers use their phones, tablets, and laptops to connect with employers, clients, and friends every day.

What we use a device for tends to influence how we use it next. If you use your work computer to watch Netflix after a hard day you will be more likely to think about watching Netflix the next morning when you boot it up.

Designating one device for relaxation allows for your work computer to serve its purpose without acting as more of a distraction. Leaving your phone by your bedside table and setting its ringtone to call only is just one simple way to boost working efficiency.

Changing Clutter

It’s been proven that maintaining a clean working environment does wonders for the brain. Who hasn’t experienced that nagging voice reminding them about the dishes, kitchen counters, and dusty corners behind the front door?

It turns out that people perform better when there are fewer unresolved tasks on the mind. Finishing simple tasks, the kind of household stuff which inevitably gets put off, actually improves our ability to focus on difficult, work-related issues.

Silencing this internal peanut gallery can lead to an overall improvement in work flow productivity.

Take Your Time

At home, even minor distractions are amplified by space and freedom.

The real problem comes when these nagging feeling and thoughts compound into an increased sense of isolation. Remote workers meet plenty of people online but almost never see these new connections in person.

This can make it hard to get out on the weekend, or on our days off to do the things which we enjoy.

Remedying this feeling comes from managing the space in which we work as distinct from the space in which we rest. This extends to how we use our devices and talk to friends. Getting out on the weekends, going to local coffee shops and talking with people, despite the difficulty, is tremendously important.

Remote workers that take the time to enforce boundaries will be happier in the long run, which makes for a better personal and work life.


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Acing Salary Negotiations as a Remote Worker

Acing Salary Negotiations as a Remote Worker

You’ve made it this far. You’ve gotten through the HR screening, the interviews, and the reference checks. The offer is on the table (or coming shortly), and you know this could be a mutually beneficial relationship if you move forward.

Before making any decisions, make sure you’re prepared for proper negotiations with these simple steps.

Know the market rate by location

Conduct your own research to have a strong understanding of the market rate in both your city and your employer’s city. This is important to do so you can come into negotiations balancing your skillsets and the current market rate. If you’re working with a company outside of your country, stick to local currencies and consider how the cost of living differs.

Knowing the market rate in your city gives you an idea of what you would make if you accepted a full-time position locally, while looking into the employer’s city provides the rate they would be paying non-remote workers in the same role.

There are a lot of online resources that allow you to search specific job titles, years of experience, company size, and set regions. Check out Indeed Salary Search, Glassdoor, and Salary.com to get started. For an employer’s perspective, read Buffer’s Medium post on how it calculates remote worker salaries.

If you have time to prepare, it’s beneficial to explore other location rates before going into negotiations. As a remote worker, prospective offers could come from anywhere. Your employer needs to understand a better offer could come around next month if they’re not meeting a global standard—and maybe you would rather hold out for that offer and the higher compensation

Restate your value from a new perspective

At this point, the company has read through your resume and spoken to your references. Ultimately, the recruiter is sold, but the negotiation process is an opportunity to “re-sell” yourself from a new perspective.

Now is a good time to remind both yourself and your potential employer of the value you offer.

Don’t focus on what you’ve achieved in the past because that’s what brought you to the table. Focus on your unique value and how you see yourself impacting the company’s long-term growth. Be confident you can make a difference and show enthusiasm about the opportunity to join the team. Remind them of the guaranteed return on investment of your employment, and your negotiations will start off with a respectful offer.

Provide a strategic range

Do you hit them with a cold, hard number or propose an open range? It’s the ultimate salary negotiation question.
Some candidates prefer a range with their desired salary in the middle, hoping for the offer to “meet them halfway”. Some employment specialists lean towards providing a single number, because potential employers take advantage of the lower end of the range you offer.

But why not let them?

The trick here is how you set your salary range.

When hoping for a $75,000 salary, it’s natural to spit out a range of $70,000 to $80,000. Instead, try setting the bottom of your range to what you actually want. In this example, we would offer a range of $75,000-95,000. By doing this, your employer feels like they’re getting a deal at $75,000, and you walk away with what you wanted. If they meet you halfway, you score some extra cash on top or alternatively, they may offer additional benefits to balance your request.

As long as you keep the “low” number reasonable based off your research and the value you provide, employers rarely come back with a refusal to meet you somewhere within your provided range.

Look at the whole package

Once you’ve conducted research and put your numbers on the table, it’s easy to forget about perks that aren’t reflected in the salary. Keep these in mind throughout your negotiations.

Some questions you can ask yourself include:

  • Is there an opportunity to travel like you’ve always wanted to?
  • Does the company offer flexible hours that fit into your early riser schedule?
  • Does it allow you to manage an incredible team of skilled individuals?
  • Can you work on your own projects on the side, if desired?
  • How will this position help you progress in your career, learn new skills, or gain important experience?

While negotiations focus on financial compromise, keep these other components in mind. When evaluating two options, Company A may provide 20% more compensation but Company B might be the best choice because it fits your lifestyle and makes you excited to work.

Making your decision solely based off the numbers could mean finding yourself searching for something new in no time.

Be willing to walk away

There’s nothing more valuable than knowing your worth.

Negotiations are an opportunity for give and take, but ask yourself whether you’re giving too much, what value exists beyond salary, and if the job is the right step in your career.

These questions are what’s going to help you decide if a company’s final offer is the right decision for you. Sometimes you may just land your dream job, but other times you may be clouded with compliments before realizing someone is taking advantage of you.

See how their offer compares to what you feel you’re worth. If it’s not adding up, speak up, but accept that you may have to walk away.


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6 Must-Haves For The Perfect Remote Job Posting

6 Must-Haves For The Perfect Remote Job Posting

Hiring might be hard, but hiring for remote work is even harder. Recruiters need someone who is skilled in their area of expertise and able to work remotely—a duo that isn’t always easy to find.

For candidates, job postings are the only way to communicate a job description, your company’s culture, and team dynamics. Writing a great job posting for remote workers takes additional information that you might not think about for traditional office positions.

Accurately Describe Your Remote Situation

Few companies are actually open to remote work, even though many advertise otherwise. Various terms used to describe remote work further confuse people, so it’s important to choose the right one for your team’s situation. Below are three common terms and the differences between them.

Remote First
A remote first company means everyone works from where they wish, usually because the founders worked this way early on and kept it up. These companies typically have strong internal enthusiasm for remote work and a culture that supports distributed teams.

Remote-first essentially means “remote-only”. There might not be any office space and people might have to get on planes to visit a coworker.

Remote Friendly
Being a remote friendly company carries inconsistent meaning and ranges from “you can work from home on Fridays” to “we have entire teams that are remote-first”.

Experienced remote workers are usually wary about this term, especially if other parts of the job description don’t clarify exactly what it means. Some remote friendly companies require everyone to be in the same city or expect people to be in an office several times per week.

Distributed
A distributed company quickly describes a team with remote and/or onsite workers. As the name suggests, people might be all over the place. Sometimes this applies on a per-team basis, so the job description should clarify if just the team or entire company works remotely.

Communicate Logistical Requirements

Once the job description uses the correct term to describe remote work expectations, it’s best to focus on the logistics of distributed work.

Remote workers value the ability to control their own schedules. Many tailor their work to accommodate family needs or personal hobbies. Save time by being clear with exact requirements regarding geography or online presence. Some examples:

  • We get together once a year in person at our headquarters for a yearly meeting.
  • We expect you to be at your desk and online using instant messaging software during traditional EST business hours, 8 – 5.
  • We only check-in with each other once a day at stand up, and you are free to do a solid day’s work at any other time.

Experienced remote workers are sensitive to these requirements, and being upfront in the job posting can save you time and future disappointment.

Explain Why A Company is Remote

Managing remote workers is in itself a manager skillset and an organizational competency.

Tell this story in the job description by explaining what made the company remote and how long it has worked that way. Were the founders of the company on two different sides of the country? Are you on your second year of this team being remote, but the rest of the company is not remote-friendly at all?

If this is too much, a simple explanation of why a company is remote can speak volumes. For example: “We value results over physical presence” or “We feel that remote workers can concentrate on hard problems, and we solve hard problems.”

Mention Your Communication and Collaboration Process

A common challenge for remote teams is staying in sync without relying on constant physical check-ins and ad-hoc discussions. Experienced remote workers know this, and adapt by writing stuff down and working asynchronously.

Candidates can get a clearer picture of a job if the posting explains what systems the company uses and how it handles coordination. There’s no need to reveal logistical secrets here, but a simple explanation can clarify communication expectations and weed out unqualified candidates.

Company Health

Remote workers want stable jobs with future opportunity. These candidates tend to stay at jobs for longer simply because they have arranged their lives around a remote job and finding another one is harder.

For this reason, they are sensitive to company health. Remote workers can’t take a chance on a company that might not be around next year.

If possible, indicate in the job posting whether you have a high-functioning team and company. Experienced workers know their team matters more than the overall company—but only as long as the company stays in business.

Red Flags

The biggest red flag for experienced remote workers is being told that they will be in the minority of the company. Remote work is a cultural, procedural, and personal change for a company and a worker. Remote companies communicate and work differently than in-office ones.

If only some teams work distributed, be honest about this. If only this team member will not be in the office, explain that but beware that this is a huge red flag. Talk about why you might be testing this arrangement and how the company will work to avoid the “two-team” effect.

Also, don’t overemphasize how great your physical office is. Remote workers don’t care as they won’t get to enjoy it, and it might turn them off as they might fear you will ask them to move there two years from now.

Creating the perfect job posting for remote workers

Job postings for remote workers need to be updated to include additional information and answers that candidates expect upfront. Ensure that your job description properly describes the company’s work style, explains logistics of remote work, and provides a glimpse into the future of the company.

Making these changes to job postings will save you time and set expectations for the role from the start—helping you find the perfect candidate even faster.


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6 Challenges and Opportunities of Long-Term Remote Work

6 Challenges and Opportunities of Long-Term Remote Work

Some nice unexpected effects of my 9+ years of working from home.

Most articles about remote work focus on finding a remote job or making the transition to distributed work.

These are great topics, but the thinking is short-term. It’s like those initial quality tests car-makers trumpet: how well does the car run in the first year?

Making big decisions requires longer-term planning. Car buyers should consider how well the car will run a decade from purchase, just like how workers should think about what distributed work provides and prevents over the longer term.

Loss of Networking

Let’s start with the negatives, all of which involve other people.

The typical remote worker meets less people over their years of working from home than they would in an office. If you work from home for ten years, you might be working with the same literal number of people but won’t meet as many in person and therefore might not consider them part of your professional network.

This is compounded by the tendency for remote workers to “cave” and stay at home in situations in which they used to go out frequently. Once you get used to not driving every day, a party that’s 40 minutes away suddenly feels like a waterless hike through Death Valley.

Both of these issues can be remedied by putting in the effort to network outside of work. Your coworkers might not become friends, but you can certainly attend user groups, go to more parties, and introduce yourself to everyone at the coffee shop.

Slower Rapport with Teammates

Related to the previous point, remote workers tend to have very different relationships with coworkers than those in a traditional office environment. Casual small-talk, exchanged smiles, high-fives, or other typical social graces simply don’t apply to coworkers that you only talk to over Internet chat or perhaps video.

In a typical in-person job you might feel as if coworkers are something above a loose acquaintance, but in a remote job they’re just helpers or obstacles. Unless you take the time to establish rapport, there isn’t anything to see.

But this isn’t to say that you can’t build relationships with your coworkers—you just have to do it differently. There’s no law saying that you can’t send an instant message to one of your coworkers on Monday asking them how their weekend went, or if they saw the game on Sunday, or any of the other safe small-talk mechanisms you would use in person.

Loss of Promotion Opportunities

One of the primary fears of someone starting a remote job is turning off the Interstate onto a nice quiet road, full of a few miles of pleasant views that eventually become dead-ends. Fear of missing out on a promotion because you’re “out of sight, out of mind” is a legitimate long-term concern. Much of the risk here has to do with local vs. global currency.

Local currency is how valuable you are to your current company, and global currency is how valuable you are in the market. Seeking promotions at a large company where most workers are in-person and you’re remote puts a focus on local currency, or how much value and visibility you have at one company.

If you’re early in your career and expect to shift jobs a few times, loss of promotion isn’t as much of a concern. It probably won’t bother you that remote-friendly companies have lots of competition for the same promotions.

In both cases, there are ways to over-communicate or let your work speak for itself. As with in-person work, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your reputation reflects your work. Remote work does not mean that you can’t establish the sort of close relationship with those above you in the management food chain, it simply means that you might have to work at it differently.

Take the extra hours remote work provides to build local and global currency. You used to spend almost an entire other weekday (30 minutes x 2 times a day x 5 days a week) in your car, so spend some of this time getting ahead or reflecting on what you can do better.

Perhaps this could be spent building more local value by preparing extra reports for your boss, or by providing visible global value by attending or presenting at a local technical conference.

Part of Your Community

Remote work isn’t all sunny skies, but it’s also an incredible opportunity. Having more time to spend in your community provides many benefits for your personal and professional lives.

Before I began my ten-year remote work career, I had a traditional office job in a suburb of Atlanta 45 minutes from my house. I spent about 10 hours a day in this other suburb between commuting, eating lunch, and staying late at work.

Over five years of working there, I gained a lot of knowledge into the best restaurants, the ideal spots to ride my bike, and who worked in my office building.

Despite my familiarity with the suburb I worked in, I didn’t know much about the one I lived in as I only spent Saturday and parts of Sunday exploring it. My evenings there were spent indoors recovering from a long commute.

But once I shifted to working from home I became part of the community in which I lived. The people who I met at coffee shops, the post office, bank, and car wash were my neighbors. People I ran into during the day were either retired, worked close by, or worked from home. I met more people and established relationships over time.

I didn’t know anyone at the local coffee shop when I started working from home, but now I can’t walk in without saying hello to a few people. I even find myself reading my local paper and caring more about local activities such as a new library, a new amphitheater, or a local brewery.

None of this would have been possible if I worked elsewhere for 10 hours a day.

Express Your Priorities Over Time

My priorities have shifted to caring for my local area, but they have shifted even more dramatically in my family life.

Being at home during the day means my kids see me more, a powerful benefit to remote work. Extra time to eat lunch with them and take them to school has brought us closer together. I know their schoolmates and can even call out neighborhood kids by name when they aren’t behaving.

It’s also meant me being more present in their school lives—I know their librarian, P.E. coach, and principal. I’m not sure if they know me as the father of the two sweetest girls in school or simply as the man who wears shorts every day. But in either case, I’m there.

Invest Your Extra Time

If you transition to working from home from a typical commute, you can gain almost an entire additional workday of free time. My 45-minute one-way commute added up to a lot more time and less need to visit dry cleaners or gas stations.

An entire additional day is an amazing thing — no modern diet, get rich quick, or productivity hack gives you more time like remote work can. This can be a massive gift if you choose to be productive with it.

I’ve used the extra time for obvious things like precious sleep, working more, keeping up to date with my industry, and enjoying downtime. But it’s also contributed to more subtle, powerful changes including:

More proactive forward-thinking work.
Starting a side career as a writer.
Learning about some things I’ve always wanted to try: drawing, making music, meditation, hiking.
Riding my bike, a form of exercise I never used to have time to do.
Spending more time with my wife and kids.

These regained hours can add up to something truly great and would never be possible with a traditional office job.

Remote Work Is a Give and Take

Remote work over the long term comes with opportunities and obstacles. Compared to in-person roles, remote workers must grapple with a loss of networking opportunities, slower building of relationships with teammates, and different positioning for promotions.

But in exchange, they’ll be able to become part of their home community, put certain priorities first, and get back hours in the day to recharge and improve.

As with anything in life, it’s up to you to determine if the perks outweigh the challenges for your goals.


If you’re ready for a new challenge, find your next job on AuthenticJobs.com!

Working Remotely with your Partner: How to Not Breakup (Or Get Fired)

Working Remotely with your Partner: How to Not Breakup (Or Get Fired)

Filed under “Things I Do Not Recommend,” my partner, Patrick, and I changed jobs on the same day. We accepted remote job offers within hours of each other, ending one of the most stress-filled weeks of our 8-year marriage.

But every time we shared the news, we were met with “I could never work with my partner.” or “Good luck with that.” While I’m somewhat offended by those comments, let’s consider the subtext. Can you work at home, with your partner, and still want to remain a couple? And how can you still be an effective member of your team?

Your Mileage May Vary

First, a disclaimer. I work on a website. I’m not a marriage counselor or a couples therapist. Real professionals exist to help you with the relationship side of things. If you need them, use them! They’re super smart and pretty helpful.

When you start this adventure, your first order of business should be having a candid conversation about each other’s needs for personal space, and focus. You’ll also need to discuss your employer’s expectations for the work day, your availability after hours, and your office environment (i.e., are you expected to have a quiet place to take client calls). Speak as frankly as you can, because this is the time to set out your ideal work day.

What works for us

We transitioned from jobs that were very regimented- commute, clock in at 9, lunch at noon, wrap up around 5, commute. When we began working from home, the thought of ditching the schedule was tantalizing.

My team is fully distributed, Pat has slightly less flexibility. His team is based in Dayton, Ohio, so he’s got to synch up with the office.
So to respect his co-workers, and to structure the day, we act like we’re still in an office. We go to our workspaces around 9 AM, resurface at noon for lunch and to walk the dog, then go back to work until 5-ish. We’ve found that the afternoon dog walk has been invaluable. The dog forces us to get away from our desks and gives us a chance to bounce ideas off of each other.

The most critical part of this is what happens after 5 PM. At 5, barring anything being actively on fire, we both leave our work laptops plugged in on our desks, and walk away. Establishing a barrier between work and life is crucial when you work from home because failing to do so will lead you quickly to burnout, frustration, and exhaustion, which are bad enough as an individual, but partners both burning out at the same time will greatly diminish your ability to help each other cope.

I need some space

Physical space is critical to being an effective work from home duo. I advocate each person having a workspace in a different location whenever practical. Pat and I are fortunate that our home enables us to work in different parts of the house. We can listen to our music at an obnoxious volume. Team calls can remain private. I can dance at my standing desk in my running tights and fluffy slippers (Remote work has its upsides, eh?). My messy organizational system remains my problem.

This separation also makes it possible for us to feel “at work.” We joke about “congestion on the morning commute” (meaning the dog is sleeping on the stairs), but even that small physical act of going to a space devoted to work helps to cue the brain for work. Conversely, leaving at the end of the day marks a transition to home life.

Work Style

That said, it doesn’t mean we can’t enter/visit each other’s spaces during the day. As the extrovert in our relationship, I need to talk to a human being during the day. Pat is also a social human but requires more time to focus and find a groove in his work. To respect his work style, I had to learn some of his signals.

If the door is closed, he’s on an important call, likely with clients. That’s a clear do not disturb sign, unless the house is literally on fire.

If the door is open and he’s wearing his big black headphones, that means he’s just listening to music and can be briefly interrupted.

If the door is open and he’s wearing white iPhone headphones, that means he’s on a call, but it’s a standup or company call. Still not to be disturbed, but if I cross the hallway, I can wave to his coworkers.

No headphones? Fair game.

Having a discussion about what type of things help you focus, and what the signals will be when focus time is needed, and when you can and can’t be disturbed is valuable. Most of the time, it’s headphones, but you can also revert to the good old dry-erase board on the door, or maybe a “Do not disturb” tag borrowed from a hotel?

Office Slack

Related to discussing Do Not Disturb signals, might I suggest having an office Slack? Yes, I send Slack messages to the person who works two floors up. Yes, we are the only two people on the team.

Why should you Slack with your significant other? Well, for both of us, Slack is already a tool we use for our work lives. It’s ingrained in our minds as “place where information lives” and is relatively unobtrusive. If something comes up and I need to run out while he’s on a call, I just send a Slack message, knowing he has his notifications set as he wishes.

It also is a way to have searchable documentation of your conversations. “Wait, did they say they had a call today at 1? Let me search our Slack channel.”

Get out

While spending a lot of together time with your partner and your dog is undeniably excellent, spending 80+ hours a week with anyone is a lot. While Pat and I share many interests, a key to our 16 years of bliss has been having our hobbies and respecting the time needed to enjoy them.

I recently bought a classic car, and the restoration process is a dirty, loud, infuriating labor of love that only I enjoy. My spouse has the distinction of being a former Nintendo Master, and recently resurrected his classic SNES system. Spending significant chunks of time doing these separate activities, and time alone doing things like reading, shopping, or going for coffee outside of the house, is good for the soul.

And the mind.

And your relationship.

Divide the labor

There’s no getting around it. Working from home drastically increases the amount of mess in your home. Dishes, paper, chargers, cords, mail, etc. I cannot stress this enough: have a grown up discussion about chores. When you work and live together, you have less space to go and be angry, and a disagreement over chores can be distracting and disruptive to your workflow. If it’s necessary, make a chore chart, or have an agreed upon level of disorder. Do whatever you need to do to find a balanced, equal, shared agreement around cleaning and cleanliness. Might I suggest Slack’s /remind command for this? Or a shared Google calendar?

When it’s not working out

You may decide this arrangement is hell, personally or professionally. But to avoid getting to that point, set up check-ins to see how it’s going for each of you. Think of it as your standup meeting. It’s a time to pipe up about what you need to work more effectively, and harmoniously with your significant other.

If you share an apartment or your home lacks sufficient soundproofing for you to ignore your partner’s glorious rendition of “The Rhythm of the Night,” it’s time to consider a membership in a coworking space.
Others have adopted work sheds – fully wired, sometimes very upscale, prefabricated sheds plopped down in their back gardens – as a way of putting a barrier, albeit small, between home and work. While this is resource intensive, it might be worth it if you desire solitude while still being able to be close to home, and may up your property value.

Can it be done?

Well, eight months into this arrangement and we’re still married, and, at last check, still employed. So our answer is yes, but with the recognition that it can’t happen without work, compromise, and communication. Being open about your needs for space, quiet, and focus will set you up for an efficient workplace and a harmonious home.


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Continuing Education for Remote Workers

Continuing Education for Remote Workers

A pro stays on top of the game through continued education. Modern trends and tools allow you to retain a competitive advantage, and the best way to stay current is through continuing education. For home workers who run the whole show – from production to marketing and HR – this is crucial. Whether you’re a writer or a designer, a coder or a wedding photographer, you must stay current to stay competitive.

Telecommuters face a similar challenge. Those working within a reasonable distance from the home office may spend the day at the building for an in-service, workshop etc. Workers who are truly remote – in a different city or state – face a greater challenge. In that case, getting to the office is more difficult. Throughout this article, I’ll highlight options for both the freelancer/small business owner and the telecommuter.

However, getting that education isn’t easy.

Many industries have employee betterment built in. For example, my wife is a public school teacher who’s required to attend a certain number of classes and workshops, all tailored to address the latest regulations and teaching techniques. When an appropriate workshop or conference is identified, the school arranges enrollment and foots the bill, and the school day proceeds as normal when she’s away.

As a telecommuter, you’ll probably get paid during an in-service day, which is an advantage over your freelancing brothers and sisters. What’s critical for you is to clearly communicate where you’ll be for the day. Remember, you coworkers are used to not seeing you. For them, it’s just another day. Be sure that all collaborators know you’re unavailable for the day, and when they can expect you back.

If you’re a freelancer or a one-person shop, the story is different. In addition to taking the time to find a good event, you’ve got to register, possibly travel and definitely pay out of your own pocket. Additionally, time spent at a conference or workshop isn’t billable, so no money is earned on that day(s).

In this article, I’ll list several ways you can stay on top of what you do, without sacrificing a huge amount of money or precious billable hours. There are many great resources available if you know where to find them, and many are inexpensive or free. But first, a look at determining the true cost of attending an event.

Bang for your buck

The cost of attending say, a workshop goes beyond the price of admission and maybe a sandwich for lunch. There are a finite number of billable hours in a day (unfortunately we have to sleep sometime). For me, cost = money spent (tickets, food, travel) + time spent, where the latter refers to time that cannot be devoted to billable work. True, the education acquired will hopefully enhance billable work and maybe even your rate, but you’re starting out “in the hole” if you will. If I’m taking a sixty-minute workshop with an entrance fee of $1200 and my rate is $100 per hour, I’m out $1300 for that day.

To offset this, I put a few dollars away each month specifically for continuing education. It’s not a lot but is there when I want to sign up for a webinar, workshop or conference. With some money set aside, it’s time to find an event worth attending, starting with a freebie.

To the library!

Despite predictions to the contrary, the internet did not kill your local library. Those run by forward-thinking staff see them has hubs of information for their communities, not merely housing for paper books. A part of this revival is workshops and talks, often given by community leaders across disciplines. These are typically totally free and offer one-on-one time with a person who really knows their stuff.

If books are your thing, interlibrary loan can let you find exactly the title you need. Again, library cards are free and the time commitment here is very low.

Here’s a quick tip for books you own. When I’m reading a business book that I’ll refer to later, I take notes on an index card as I go. For example, when I come across a great little nugget of information, I’ll make a quick note on the index card with the page number. Then, when I’m through reading, I’ll tape the card to the inside cover, giving me an analog, custom, book-specific wiki. No more flipping to remember, “Now where was that part again?”

Local Schools

Is there a college in your area? She what they’re offering for adult education. There’s a community college in my neighborhood that offers adult classes in the evenings, conveniently accommodating a working person’s schedule.

You can also find business classes, like guidance on writing a loan proposal, working with taxes for the self-employed and more. When I started writing on my own, I took a class like this and discovered that I had to register myself as a business with my town office. I wouldn’t have know that otherwise.

Entrepreneurial Resources

No college in the area? Look into small business support organizations. These groups are set up to help small business owners get off the ground. You’ll learn regulations that I described earlier and have some time for networking, too.

Web Based Training

There are so many great resources online for the self-motivated (that’s you, home worker). DeVry, Lynda and more are ready to go and are free of travel expenses (note that Lynda access is also sometimes offered free through libraries). If you’re a coder, check out Udacity, Treehouse, CodeSchool and others.

Conferences and workshops

Finally, the biggies: conferences and workshops. Definitely the most costly but often the most beneficial. Why not the family along and make a little vacation out of it? Also, look for a smaller, less expensive (both tickets and travel) local events if you can’t get to the biggie.

It’s important to stay good at what you do, and that means staying current. With a little work, you can find the venue that’s perfect for you. Now get to it.


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Managing Working from Home During School Vacations

Managing Working from Home During School Vacations

The good news is that summer is almost here. The bad news is the same.

For the home worker who’s also a parent, summer break means the pitter-patter of little feet is about to invade your office. The noise is the least of your concern, as feelings of guilt could permeate your work hours. “It’s summer, I should be spending time with the kids!”

Here are our tips on dealing with all of that, plus dealing with clients around vacation time and why you do, in fact, deserve time off.

First, the kids.

Set expectations

The most important thing is the set expectations, both for yourself and for the kids. Be honest about the fact that you won’t be able to work for seven uninterrupted hours anymore. Additionally, explain to the kids (depending on their ages) that you need some time away to work. I recommend working in “kid breaks” to spend time with them, as well as adjusting your work day into smaller chunks of time. I like to get out of bed an hour or two before they do to work on my most important tasks for the day.

If you really need extended quiet time for work, consider a co-working space. Desks Near Me and Share Desk can help you find a clean, professional co-working space close by. There’s often a fee associated with these, but it’s much lower than the cost of renting an office and, for many, worth the investment in quiet productivity.

Vacation Levels

Something else to consider is the family vacation. For as long as I’ve worked from home, I’ve experienced what I call the three levels of vacation. Each has you traveling while adjusting how and when you work.

A Level One vacation is really just a change of scenery. Perhaps you’re in a novel city, state, or country, but your work schedule remains intact. You’ll rise from bed when you typically do, put in a full work day and stop at quitting time. When the day is done, you’re free to explore your new environment. Some would call this a “working vacation” but that term is entirely too depressing to me. Stick with Level One. Which brings us to the next step up.

Level Two features an abridged work day in a new setting. Perhaps you’ll put in four hours instead of a full eight, and use the extra free time for leisurely pursuits.

Finally, a Level Three vacation features no work at all. You’re offline, off the grid and enjoying time away from the grind. It’s a rare, coveted arrangement that many home workers, especially freelancers, can’t pull off without proper planning. It’s difficult but not impossible.

Addressing client needs

First, let clients know you’ll be taking time off. It’s easier said than done. It’s natural to want to be seen as that person they can always rely on or reach out to. The problem with setting that precedent is they might take you up on it. Once that happens, it becomes very difficult to get time away as that client expects your accessibility to remain consistent. Set expectations well ahead of time.

Depending on the client, note that you’ll be traveling and have limited (or no) availability between certain dates. Start this conversation weeks ahead of time. That way, when you get that “urgent” email about the update that must be in place within the next 24 hours or the world will cease to exist, you can remind that person that you won’t be around, as described earlier. Also, you should have a Plan B person waiting in the wings.

Years ago, I was doing copy editing on the side and had collected several clients. I also knew a few other copy editors with whom I’d swap war stories over a beer, including a guy we’ll call Chris. Chris was talented and efficient, and he became my go-to guy when I was unavailable. If that civilization-threatening emergency did come up, I could let Chris know, confident that he’d handle it, and receive a little pay from me in the meantime.

When choosing a Plan B person, consider that their work will reflect on you. Identify someone who’s trustworthy and good at what they do. You don’t want to return from a week of fun in the sun to discover that you’ve got to undo some damage. Additionally, be willing to reciprocate when your Plan B person wants some time off.

Next, create a budget and stick to it. One downside of being a freelancer is the lack of paid vacation time. When you aren’t working, you probably aren’t earning. Crunch the numbers and determine exactly how much you’ll lose and save accordingly. This planning also informs how much you can safely spend while you’re away.

Should you take time off?

Now let’s consider: when you work from home, do you really need a vacation? Don’t be fooled by the fact that you work from the comfort of your own home. You’re still working after all, and your batteries (for lack of a better term) drain just as quickly as the cubicle-bound. In short, you need and deserve time off.

Here’s a bit of fun for the person who can’t bring themselves to abandon email entirely: create a secret vacation-only email address. Give it to that small handful of mission-critical contacts. You’ll feel like you’re getting away with something will remaining in contact with important folks ALL while avoiding the vast majority of messages you typically receive.

Yes, summer is coming and that’s a good thing. Take some time to manage your expectations and those of the kids. Take frequent kid breaks to recharge your batteries and to let them know they’re on your mind. If you do take a vacation, clearly define how and if you’ll work while away and finally, find a co-working space if quiet productivity is of the utmost importance. Have a great summer.


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Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat, Part 2

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat, Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed the objections to using your video camera in a remote job, and how, for some, video chat can feel like too much of a burden, come across as unprofessional, or simply offer less than its promised communication value. Let’s turn our attention to the upsides of video chat for a remote team – why should we push through these challenges and make use of this tool?

Upsides of Video

Video conferencing allows a personal feel and increases accountability. Establishing trusting relationships with your coworkers – inside jokes, empathy, understanding of who they are as people – is easier when they are more than a voice and an email address. You can’t tell if anyone has grinned at your corny joke or gotten excited about your project pitch with just audio, but video communicates these other dimensions almost as well as being in person.

Accountability

Showing your face also improves your honor at keeping your word. Telling your manager that “it will be done by Tuesday” over email is different than saying it to them while looking them in the eye. The subtle body language observed over video calls is irreplaceable as well. “Sure, he says it will be done by Tuesday, but he looks unsure, perhaps I should ask another question?”

Improved Meeting Mechanics

At this point, everyone knows that in-person meetings can be an effective way to not get anything done. The natural human tendencies are:

– When in doubt about something, “get everyone in the room” instead of figuring it out yourself.
– Use the entire period allotted for the meeting, filling up any dead space with small talk or repetition.
– Let extroverts dominate the meetings, talking over meeker employees.

Video meetings are different that in-person meetings because they reduce small talk and tendency to avoid being rude. It is very hard to have 5 minutes of small talk in a video meeting with ten other people staring at you, and on the other end of the meeting, there are many ways to warn the moderator that the time is wrapping up, or that you have to leave. In effect, a video meeting is a more barebones form of meeting in which you don’t have to jump through social hoops to start or stop.

Video meetings are also a compromise between in-person meetings – in which it is rude to multi-task – and audio-only conference calls in which nobody can tell if you put your phone on mute and just work away on other things. You might check your email, play Crossy Road, or simply keep working during a phone conference call but you won’t do any of those things if everyone can see your face. Meetings are expensive operations, so they should feel expensive to discourage people from creating them without a true need, but video meeting offers a nice social mechanism if a meeting is not a good use of your time: you post a message to the chat saying so and leave, or subtly multi-task.

Dealing with Personalities

The previous point is a small piece of a larger issue: personality is normalized somewhat over a video chat. We have all seen meetings in which the loudest and most talkative person dominates the discussion over the more shy attendees. In some cases, this dynamic can simply transfer to video chat, but in many cases, this dynamic goes down over time. Everyone is sitting in their own comfortable environment for a video chat, and their confidence is up. Some that are shy in a large conference room do not feel this sitting at home and simply seeing larger personalities as little boxes on screen. Video chat can equalize, allowing you to hear all voices on the team.

Moving Forward

Video conferencing is powerful, but experienced remote workers might object to the daily use of video because they want to be in control of their schedule and appearance. Other workers might not like replacing existing meetings with video meeting because they feel that video conferencing is casual or makes them appear unprofessional. The solution to overcoming these challenges is direct and relies on personal empathy and effort: ask people why they don’t want to turn on their camera and explain the benefits of remote video. The overall benefits of working from home greatly outweigh any downsides of the use of video.