distance worker

Day in the Life: Working Remotely in the Big Apple

Times Square on a rainy night in New York City

8:15 am

I wake up to my third alarm. Per my request, my iPhone screen encourages me, “WAKE UP. YOU HAVE A LONG SHIFT TODAY”. It’s amazing how much more difficult it is to pull yourself out of bed when you know that there isn’t a whole office full of your superiors awaiting your arrival. I’ve found that if I don’t hold myself accountable, no one else will. Hence, multiple alarms with multiple threatening messages.

8:50 am

En route to my favorite coffee shop, I pass my favorite bakery. It is slightly dangerous that both of these locales are within two blocks of my apartment. I convince myself to continue past the bakery, promising myself that if I work out after my shifts today and tomorrow, I can stop for a pistachio baklava on Wednesday.

9:00 am

I sit on a café barstool facing the window with an iced coffee, orienting myself for the day. I check my email, create a list of priorities, and begin my first task. I can already tell that I’m on a roll today, which is good. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you work alone, so a little caffeine and enthusiasm go a long way.

11:00 am

The task I’m working on is tedious and after about two hours I start to lose focus. My eyes are tired from looking at the computer screen, so I let my gaze wander to the city streets on the other side of the glass. I laugh with a café employee as his moped gets tangled in an extension cord outside. In the absence of my real coworkers, it’s nice to have these honorary coworkers. I watch the rain as it falls in sheets, encouraging a wide array of personalities and demographics to duck into the café for reprieve. As disheveled as they look, they are as happy as I am that this weather is dramatically (albeit briefly) lowering the heat index.

11:15 am

Back to work drafting questions for a survey project. I can tell I’m fading, but I want to squeeze 30 more minutes in before I take my lunch break.

11:45 am

The rain is starting to let up, and I don’t know how much time I have before it starts to pour again. I pack up my laptop, bid my café “coworkers” adieu, and walk home for lunch.

12:00 pm

I eat my handcrafted sandwich while talking to my mother on the phone. I hate eating meals alone, so I’ve gotten in the habit of calling a friend or family member on my lunch breaks if I’m unable to meet up with anyone. I recount the weekend’s adventures in Midtown and Williamsburg, with a complete analysis of the people I met and an elaborate description of our experience at Sing Sing Karaoke. After a prolonged goodbye (as is always the case with the two of us—longwindedness runs in our maternal line), I grab my backpack and head south a few blocks to the nearest Queens public library.

12:45 pm

I’m back “on the clock”, but it takes a few minutes to refocus on my work in the new location. I like this library a lot—free wi-fi with a library card, and there are a lot of different types of people coming in and out. The energy of the interactions sparks my creativity, so I decide to shift gears to something a little more fun. After 30 minutes of researching, I construct a blog about the benefits of telework and why organizations should adopt telework programs. This is, after all, a big chunk of my specialization within this position, so I figured putting it in a blog format would be a great way to simplify and consolidate some of my research. I have a little fun searching for a Dilbert cartoon to include, and then submit the blog to my supervisor.

2:30 pm

Now what? I’ve made a pretty big dent in my main project, and I’ve even finished a blog. I start to worry that I won’t be able to find anything else to do until 5:00 pm, so I start to look at my long-term priority list. I’m feeling eloquent, so I opt to write a second blog for the day.

3:15 pm

I catch my mind wandering as I’m writing this blog, and I glance up to see a man with kind eyes teach his daughter about libraries. For as many jerks as there are in NYC, it is so refreshing to see this interaction. The dad encourages her to interact with the librarian independently, and the librarian treats the five-year-old girl as if her request is the absolute most important intellectual question he’s encountered on the job. This is not at all pertinent to my work, but there’s something about witnessing this positive exchange that breathes life into me and reminds me of how much I enjoy “working from home” when I force myself out of the house for a few hours.

3:40 pm

I am wrapping up my blog, so I rack my brain for what to do with my last hour “at work”. I decide to return to my original task to bring it to a more final product. I set a goal to send the draft to my team members by the end of the day so that they can give me feedback by the end of the week.

4:40 pm

I’ve achieved my goal and sent out the draft. I spend my last twenty minutes polishing the blog and checking email. I plan to stop at the grocery store on the way home, and then work out before dinner. That pistachio baklava is calling my name.

IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.iwallscreen.com/stock/new-york-city-times-square.jpg

Note: This blog was written in the summer of 2013 by our amazing remote intern, Sarah Chatfield.

Dividing the Housework without Dividing the Household

Teleworking and Relationships

I sit on the couch reading an article about men doing more housework than ever before while my boyfriend handwashes dishes in our tiny NYC apartment. He has just served us an elaborate breakfast of omelettes and French pressed coffee, which we ate in silence as I checked email and created my daily to-do list. Part of me –the feminist, liberal-arts-degree part—feels deserving and almost expectant of this behavior. However, another part of me—the Texan, raised-to-be-a-southern-housewife part—feels unsettled by this strange turn of events.

To clarify the situation: I work from home. I am a remote intern for a consulting firm, which means that I sit on the couch in my pajamas translating research into more meaningful terms for my bosses, who then translate it into more meaningful terms to their clients. My partner has been off work for a month, awaiting the start of his new job this coming week. During his time off, we have exhausted our free time (and ourselves) by exploring our new home: the touristy sites, the dive bars, and the overwhelmingly diverse population of NYC.

In order for us to have the time to do these things, though, there has been a severely uneven distribution of labor. He cooks, he cleans, and he runs our errands. All the while, I type away at my laptop, lost in the world of data analysis and theoretical modeling. It’s the most efficient way to do things: we both work, we both play. We both have it all.

The problem I see approaching us, however, is the beginning of his job this week. He will be working long hours with a grueling commute, whereas I will be working long hours primarily from home and the café across the street. I want to reiterate: We will both be working. So my question is, will we both make breakfast? Will we both wash the dishes?

This is where telework is potentially dangerous for relationships. Historically, the distribution of labor in the household has been much clearer: there is housework to do, and bacon to bring home. Each partner chooses a task and both are accomplished. However, as more and more couples are choosing to have a dual-income household, the boundaries between tasks become fuzzier. Add in the complicated phenomenon of being a “telecommuter”, and you have yourself a pretty confusing situation.

As a telecommuter, your home is your office. As a 1950s-style housewife, your office is your home. Do you see how this could lead to confusion surrounding whose job it is to do the housework around here? Typically the housework is done by the partner who spends more time in the house, thus is more available to do these tasks. However, this rule can’t apply for telecommuters—the time we spend in the house is already spoken for.

I’m not sure I have a resolute answer for how work should be divided in a dual-income partnership, especially with the added complication of telecommuting. But I do know that gender roles are changing, and that these issues will come to the forefront as women slowly earn more than 77 cents to the male dollar, and telecommuting becomes more popular for both men and women alike.

In the meantime? My BA in Psychology (as well as a certain amount of trial-and-error experience) qualifies me to advise the following:

  • Discuss your expectations. Splitting things down the middle is probably impractical, but an open conversation should allow you to come to a more equal arrangement. Your partner might not realize how much weight you have been carrying while he/she is at work; simply listing all the chores that need to be done in a given week might give them insight into how they can contribute.

  • State the obvious. Although it seems obvious to you and me, your partner might not understand the terms of your work-from-home situation. Try to patiently spell it out by comparing it to their work experience: although working from home does free you from a long commute, being “on the clock” means the same as what it would in a traditional office. Just like he/she wouldn’t interrupt their busy workday to go grocery shopping, you can’t be expected to drop your work to fold a load of laundry.

  • Be patient. Any change in a relationship dynamic takes time. Although you might not be completely satisfied in the beginning, know that any progress is still progress. As you and your partner transition to a more equal distribution of work, be sure to tell him/her how much you appreciate their efforts.

Questions for readers: How do you divide the housework in your family? How does telecommuting affect the way you accomplish household tasks?

Telecommuting: How Much is Too Much?

As telecommuting experts, we know that telecommuting is both flexible and productive. However, as telecommuters, we know that it can also be a bit isolating.

For many telecommuters, the first half of the work week goes swimmingly. You feel focused, determined, and ready to work. But as the week progresses, you start to miss water-cooler gossip and office lunches. Sure, the lack of commute is nice, but the cat is only so much company after a certain point.

If you’re not careful, the “deluxe work-from-home set-up” that you brag about to friends and family can become a burden that makes you feel disconnected from your organization and dissatisfied with your work.

So what is the optimal amount of telework?

Is there some magical ratio of office-to-home work?

Fortunately, recent research by Virick and colleagues (2010) suggests that there seems to be a “happy medium” for teleworkers. Specifically, employees who spend 45-60% of their work week telecommuting report higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment than do employees who telecommute more or less often. These employees in the mid-range are also less likely to turnover than are other employees.

For those who are more statistically inclined (or just like to see pretty-yet-informative graphs), consider the upside-down “U” curve below:

As the graph shows, increasing the amount of time you work from home is only beneficial to a certain point. Initially, the flexibility and productivity you experience makes you happy with your job and your company. But once you start using your home as your primary office, you start to miss out on some of the important social benefits of the traditional office space. When you lose the social connection with your colleagues, you’re more likely to become dissatisfied with your job and less committed to your company.

Are you dissatisfied with where you fall on this “U” curve? Talk to your manager about changing your schedule so that you can come into the office once or twice a week. If that isn’t an option, consider meeting with co-workers at a coffee shop or restaurant to discuss your current project.

Questions for readers: Where do you fall on the curve? What is YOUR optimal amount of telecommuting?





Source:Virick, M., DaSilva, N., & Arrington, K. (2010). Moderators of the curvilinear relation between extent of telecommuting and job and life satisfaction: The role of performance outcome orientation and worker type. Human Relations, 63(1), 137-154. doi:10.1177/0018726709349198

Telecommuting? It's all about Control.

Whether you’re bookmarking an article to make an after-school snack, interrupting a teleconference to soothe a crying baby, or simply reiterating to your partner that you are on the clock and thus unavailable, working at home introduces distractions that aren’t found in a traditional office space.

So how can you balance work with family, and still maintain some semblance of sanity?

Recent research on telecommuting (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2009) has pointed to two important factors to consider when creating a positive telecommuting experience.

  1. You must perceive control over how, when, and where you work
  2. You should set clear boundaries between work and home roles


As an employee, do what you can to establish your own control over your work. If you find yourself constantly changing your schedule to align with a co-worker’s, try to be more assertive in setting meeting times. Talk to your manager about having more autonomy in your job. This could mean setting your own deadlines or creating your own list of weekly goals. The more control you feel, the better you’ll perform—both at work and at home.

As a manager of a telecommuting workforce, it is important to grant your employees individual autonomy in deciding how they do their work. If they have certain hours that they prefer, or they want the option of working in multiple locations, it is important that you support their decisions. The more control employees feel over the way that they work, the less work-family conflict they will experience. Thus, they will be less likely to turnover or move on to a new career.

However, there is a delicate balance between allowing employees autonomy and ensuring a predictable flow of communication. For instance, it is difficult to coordinate “catch-ups” with employees who have highly irregular schedules. Thus, depending on how often you feel that you need to meet with your employee, try setting a regular (e.g., weekly, monthly) meeting that is inflexible. This will ensure that contact is still readily available, even if your employee is working at times or locations that don’t align with your own.

Setting Boundaries

It is also important to be deliberate in separating your work and family responsibilities. Individuals who integrate their work and family roles (e.g., using one “catch-all” email account for work and home) are more likely to experience work-family conflict. In contrast, individuals who make clear boundaries between their work and family roles experience a greater sense of well-being and balance.

Having trouble separating your responsibilities? Try creating a space in your home that is “off-limits” to family members while you are working. This could mean closing the door to your workspace, or posting a sign that says “Dad is not available until 4pm”.

Just as you communicate to your family when you’re working, you should also communicate to your co-workers when you are enjoying family time. Grant your co-workers access to your weekly schedule so that they know when you are available to answer phone calls and emails. Set a precedent of not answering communications when you are “off-duty” unless it is time-sensitive or a high priority. Setting these clear boundaries ensures that others respect how you manage your responsibilities, which will decrease your work-family conflict and increase your well-being.

Source:  Kossek, E. E., Lautsch, B. A., & Eaton, S. C. (2009). “Good teleworking”: Under what conditions does teleworking enhance employees’ well-being?. Technology and Psychological Well–Being. Cambridge, MA Cambridge University Press.

Your Global Team

Your globally distributed team is simultaneously exciting and challenging.  Obvious challenges include working across time zones and languages, but other, more subtle differences, have a tremendous impact.

Understanding the differing cultures of the members of your global team is vital to your success as a team.  Around the world, different cultures operate with different work ethics, practices, habits, and expectations.  The larger, and more globally-distributed your team is, the greater these distances are.

When you stop to learn and consider each culture’s driving impetus to success, you are better equipped to minimize the cultural differences.  For example, in countries like Korea and India, individual contributors will rarely, if ever, directly oppose the manager’s opinion. By taking this into consideration, honest feedback can be solicited peer to peer, instead of from top down.  Without taking this into consideration, and trying to impose your model of work on others, your team is likely to waste precious time and resources just figuring out how to work together.

This is just one small piece of the challenges of working internationally.

Over the years, our top consultants have shared (now) funny stories about the confusion and unintended consequences generated by the different cultural meanings of the word “yes”.

To the Western world, “yes”, means “I agree”, “I’ll do that”; but in other cultures, it means something quite different.  For example, in risk averse countries like India, “yes” generally indicates that the person will confer with the his or her supervisor and get back to you later.  In Japan, “yes” means “I heard you”; in countries like Venezuela where meetings are not for agreement, but to exchange ideas, a “yes” often means “someday”.

What are your global distance challenges?  have an interesting / illuminating story to share?

Are You Addicted to Email?

According to Radicati, “The average corporate worker spends a quarter of his/her work day on various email-related tasks. In comparison, the time spent in personal meetings accounts for about 14% of the typical day at the office, and phone conversations occupy only 9% of the typical workday.

In addition to this whopping 25% of your daily work effort, is the time it takes to shift gears in and out of your work flow to accommodate the incessant interruptions.

Recent research shows that having your smartphone at hand dramatically increases the interruptions as “checking habits” become, well, habitual and obsessive.

Email is a critical component in professional communications, yet it is a significant detractor to productivity.

That 25% of each day rapidly builds up into over 1 full work day each week.  What would YOU do with one extra day each week?  What about an extra day from each person on your team or throughout your organization?

Think about it.

Each week.

Each employee.

More than one full day on email.

They don’t like it any more than you do.

We all recognize the problem, but how, exactly, to address it?  Here’s one way:

Try setting aside “email free” time periods.  Everyone says things like this, it’s like the age-old joke of new mother’s napping when their babies sleep.  Just doesn’t happen.

But give it a try.  You will be amazed at how much more you get done.  No one is recommending that you turn off email for  day or anything drastic like that.  Just 90 minutes.

Take your first 90 minutes of the day and close your email, tuck away your smartphone and work.  If you’re in an office, put out a “do not disturb” notice or whatever you need to do to block off that time, and time yourself.  At the end of 90 minutes, take a break.  Get a healthy snack, go for a short walk.

Ideally, create a second 90-minute interruption-free block of time each day.  But I know you’re busy and the world will come to a crashing halt if you don’t check your email more often, so start with just one.

How often do you check your email?  Do you think the interruptions are significant?

Telecommuters — Get Connected!

It’s not enough to get the job done.  When your workspace is not physically connected to your team, you must make the effort to connect in other ways.

You are already trusted to work on your own, at home, unsupervised.  You must’ve already done something right.

Now that you are working outside of the office, you need to continue to “do things right” in order to be viewed as a valued and trusted member of your team.

But here’s where most companies fail with regards to people working from home — they seldom provide explicit guidelines or expectations.  And then they run on feelings and random observations to form their opinion of your abilities.

This is dangerous to your career as your ability to communicate and to meet unspoken expectations becomes the basis for evaluation.  Read that carefully — this is not an evaluation of your actual abilities.

You can rock your skill set, yet become stagnant in your career if you aren’t great at “being part of the team” that you are physically separated from.

What can you do?  Specifically:

  • Keep a consistent work schedule and communicate that schedule to both the people on your team who need to reach you; and the people most likely to interrupt you while at home (your family, friends, etc.).

– Your team will develop the mindset that you are working, available, and                                 “there” for them.

– Your family and friends will be less likely to make demands on you during                             this time (dog will not likely understand, however, and still drop balls at                               your feet and scratch at the door).

  • When you know of an upcoming interruption to this schedule, let your team know. Working from home implies that your discretion is to be trusted, so if you need to work differently on any given day, a quick heads-up to your team will go a long way to head off any frustration at not being able to reach you.
  • Communicate frequently with your teammates.  Stay Connected.  There are so many ways to talk to each other, there is no excuse to be out of touch.  Participate in phone conferences, video-meetins, company newsgroups, etc..  If these aren’t created yet — Create them!

How do you create mindshare when separated from your team?

Do What You Say. Say What You Mean.

When you work with others primarily through email (or text or IM), instead of eye to eye, saying ‘no’ becomes easier.  Saying ‘yes’ becomes easier, too.  Tapping out excuses on your keyboard is exponentially easier than making the same excuse in person (right?!)

Most people aren’t even aware of the promises they are making and breaking countless times each day.

So, Stop!

Right now.

Make the decision to be more thoughtful in your electronic communications.

Pause before saying no.

Pause before saying yes — don’t commit to something unless you are certain you can follow through.

Do what you say you’re going to do.  Every single time.

Let others know as quickly as you can to renegotiate deadlines when you can’t.

Whether you notice how easily you make and break promises or not, it is guaranteed that others do.  Your reputation is being shaped and refined each time, and reputation is everything to continued success when working from home.

Keep your promises (even the ones you make to yourself).

Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. — Abraham Lincoln

Those in Favor of Working from Home…

As the information from Best Buy and Yahoo! lingers, more people and organizations speak up in support of employees working from home.  Case in point — David Heinemeirer Hansson, a partner a the web-based software development company, 37signals.

Here is his recent interview with Forbes’ contributor, Dan Schawbel.

David Heinemeier Hansson: Every Employee Should Work From Home

To understand the importance and widespread “work at home” epidemic, I spoke to David Heinemeier Hansson, who is a partner at the web-based software development firm37signals. Hansson co-wrote Agile Web Development with Rails with Dave Thomas in 2005 as part of The Facets of Ruby Series. He also co-wrote Getting Real and Reworkwith Jason Fried. His latest book called Remote: Office Not Required, is now available for pre-order and will be published in October. You can follow him on Twitter @dhh and read his insights on the 37signals blog.

In this interview, David talks about why Yahoo! and Best Buy were wrong in forcing employees to work at the office, the benefits to working from home, the best tools for remote workers and more.

Why do you think both Yahoo! and Best Buy are forcing employees to work from an office? Do you think this will help or hurt them in the coming years?

Desperate times lead companies to desperate measures. It’s much easier to find a scapegoat, like “those slackers working from home!”, than dealing with years of mismanagement. This works twice as well when you can cause infighting between employees, so they don’t turn united at the real enemy: inept leadership. Yahoo and Best Buy’s problems are not caused by underperforming remote workers, they’re caused by a changing competitive landscape that they did not keep up with. You think banning remote work at Blockbuster would have made any difference? Needless to say, trying to turn back the clock on the progress of remote work is not going to be a winning strategy for either of these companies.

Some companies like Aetna allow all of their employees to work from home. What are the benefits and challenges to doing this?

Working from home affords many an extraordinary boost in quality of life: No soul-crushing commute, the freedom to live anywhere (small town, non-hub city), the flexibility to follow a spouse to another city away from the company HQ, and more time for family, friends, and hobbies.

Employers get access to the best talent anywhere (rather than picking over the same small pond in the 30mi radius of their HQ), they save money on expensive office space, and they get more productive workers who are less interrupted by meetings and office noise.

Of course, it’s not all without drawbacks either. You need a strong culture of managing work, not chairs to make it work. Some people might get cabin fever (though there are solutions for that). Finally, some prestige businesses need a busy looking office to dazzle clients.

What are your favorite tools for remote workers and how can they best use them to get the job done?

Email gets a lot of hate these days, but it truly is the king of communication. Yes, we all get a lot, but consider the alternative: Every email that would otherwise had been a meeting or a phone call. On top of that, we use Basecampto gather all our project information (who needs to do what, when is it due, etc) and Campfire to have social cohesion around a virtual water cooler. Both products we developed as software-as-a-service for 37signals because we needed them to manage our own company. On top of that, WebEx for sharing the same screen during virtual meetings, iChat for instant messenger. That’s pretty much all you need right there.

Managers, especially older ones, believe that face-time is essential if you want to rise in an organization. Do you think face-time is required? Can technology ever replace face-time?

Face time is incredibly important. That’s why we at 37signals gather the whole company three times a year to see everyone and have a good time. Because that’s what it’s important for: Having a good time. It’s far less important as a tool of getting things done. Managers vastly overestimate it’s efficiency because it’s their job to interrupt people. But everyone else knows that being pulled into endless meetings is toxic and makes progress harder.

So technology has already replaced 95% of the need for face-to-face in terms of the efficiency of running a company. It’s primary role these days is to occasionally make humans feel good about who they work with remotely on a daily basis.

Do you think millennials will force companies to allow employees to work from home? Will all companies have flexible workplaces in order to compete in the future? Will it be expected?

I don’t even have to imagine, we can just look at the numbers. Remote work is growing at an impressive clip. From 2005 to 2011, the number of remote workers grew 73% according to the Telework Research Network. It’s a viral thing too. Once someone has experienced the lifestyle benefits of working remotely, they’re highly unlikely to pick another cubicle job.

Second, as you say, young people do not have the same reservations about using electronic communication to get stuff done. They grew up with that being the norm. So some of this generational gap can be summed up with a quote by the 71 year-old Michael Bloomberg, “telecommuting is one of the dumber ideas I’ve ever heard”. As the kids would say, “sure grandpa”.

Dan Schawbel is the author of the upcoming book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press, Sept 3rd). Listen to his Promote Yourself Podcast on iTunes for more interviews and career advice.

Hey! Where's my "Snow Day"?

Last week, as we hunkered down to weather the storm — Blizzard Nemo — I was both thankful and a little disappointed that I worked from home.

Thankful because I wouldn’t have to be on the road commuting to work in what was forecasted to be the worst storm since 1978; disappointed because the storm wouldn’t give me a “snow day” unless I lost power.  Which I didn’t, and I should also be thankful for that, but part of me had been hoping for that gift of a random day off, with nothing but boardgames and hot cocoa.

Which had me questioning — do I work from home or live in my office?

I enjoy being home to let repair people in, to let assorted pets in and out of the house on demand, to be here at the end of the school day for my sons.  These, along with the bunny slippers, are the perks of working from home.

However, I find I am a more stringent taskmaster than any employer I have ever had (with the possible exception of my father).

My computer, laptop, and iPhone each beckon to me with their siren calls of “just one more quick thing” long past the hours of normal business and effort.

Is this normal?  The lines between work and not-work are often blurry.  When my sons tend to their homework after school, I will take the opportunity to review copy or research; as they putter around the house in the morning, I’ll be scanning my work email before my “workday” begins.

Some days, every waking hour becomes part of my work day.

Here are 6 tips that can help us all to stay in balance:

1.  Establish consistent work hours each day. Having a daily routine will make it easier to both get into your work and to walk away from it at day’s end.

2.  Set up a separate computer “desktop” for work. This provides a completely different screen “environment” for work vs home.  At the end of your work day, switch to your home desktop and leave work behind.  Better yet, have a separate computer or laptop for work, if possible, and leave put it away after hours.

3.  Train your immediate family. If you have kids at home and you allow them to interrupt you whenever they want, they will.  Around here, the rule is, if I’m working there better be profuse bleeding involved before they interrupt me.  Not kidding.  Email and texting is a great, non-intrusive way for them to ask a question and then wait patiently for a response.

4.  Let friends and extended family know when your “work hours” are. This is simple, powerful, and effective.  If people know you are typically working between the hours of 8:00 am and 3:00 pm, they won’t call.  If they do call, they will leave a voice mail that you can answer when you’re having lunch and/or are done for the day.  They’ll understand and respect your workday.

5.  Work hard. Work diligently.  Stop working.  Enjoy your family.  Walk away when your workday is over.  There is always more to do than there are hours in the day.

6.  Learn to identify when that extra effort is truly needed from you and when you just “want” to do more. Some days you will work harder and longer than others, and that’s okay.  Allow yourself to ebb and flow as work and family demands.  But if you find yourself always “on”, take steps to figure out why.

Balancing work and home can be tricky.  Do you have any tips you can share?