telecommuting

Tax Time for Telecommuters

snoopy-irs-cartoon

A few last-minute things to keep in mind

Though perhaps you are reading this in lieu of actually DOING your taxes, if you are a telecommuter these tips just might help. With the tax deadline looming, here are a few things to keep in mind and some deductions you may not know about:

1.  Home Office Deduction

2e0b5dd04e985fb995cce05092e64df2The IRS allows you to take deductions for your home office — whether you are a freelancer OR an employee.

You don’t necessarily need a dedicated room as long as you have a consistent, delineated area that is the SOLE place you do your work; it must not be used for any other purpose.

If your work requires you to go out and meet with clients, for example, and you spend much of your time out of the office, you can still claim a home office deduction as long as you perform administrative tasks there regularly.

In recent years, the IRS has allowed for a simplified home office deduction: $5 per square foot up to 300 square feet or $1,500. Otherwise, you must calculate what percentage of your home’s overall space is taken up by your office to determine your deduction. Office related expenses can also be deducted: office supplies, the relevant percentage of utilities such as phone, internet, and heating.

2.  Travel Expenses

Auto and public transportation expenses can both be deducted but only when traveling between one workplace and another–this does not include your typical commuting costs from home to work. It is important to keep meticulous records. However, if you haven’t been keeping track faithfully you can also take a percent deduction based on how much of your travel expenses are business related.

toon-1808

 

 

3.  The 2% Floor

Home office and other business expenses are only deductible if they are above 2% of your adjusted gross income. If your total business expenses add up to less than that you are ineligible for deductions. The IRS defines allowable deductions as things “ordinary and necessary,” such as dues to a professional organization  or relevant magazine subscriptions.

 

 

4. State-to-state Taxes

A telecommuter who is able to work from anywhere in today’s mobile workforce may be located in a different state from that in which the employer is based. This can make things unexpectedly tricky. A few states, among them New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska, all have laws that tax earnings of nonresidents, and many other states seem to be leaning in that direction as well. So be aware that extra taxes may be required of you. While there are many boons to telecommuting, avoiding state taxes isn’t one of them!

While this may seem like an oxymoron–Happy Tax day! Or make it a happy tax week if you’d like to file for an extension. Either way, hope you don’t find it too taxing.

Please share your tax tips!

 

 

When Only a Few are Virtual

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Meeting When Not All are Present

You’re at a meeting–well, virtually. You’ve dialed in to a meeting with 6 or so members of your team who work physically together. They are sitting around the conference table with the squawk box (Polycom may be the technical term for it) in the center. The meeting starts out orderly but as the meeting progresses it devolves into clamour as spirited members attempt to speak over one another. Though it may be a productive discussion for those physically present, for you as a virtual participant it’s too hard to follow who’s talking, let alone jump in, so you retreat to finishing work tasks, checking email, scanning Facebook, or playing Tetris on your phone.

This scene may seem all too familiar.

The internet is replete with tips for running in-person meetings and for running virtual meetings. So what do you do when only some of your participants are virtual — when you have both in-person and remote attendees? All too often, what happens in such a “blended meeting” is that the virtual participants struggle to keep up with those who are physically present. Once you have even one person dialing in, in order for that member to be able to participate fully, and for your meeting to successfully accomplish its goals, you must understand that your meeting needs to be approached differently. A blended meeting is neither a virtual meeting, nor an in-person meeting. These “somewhere in the middle” meetings require their own framework; otherwise, your meeting will turn into an in-person meeting with a few lost souls trapped hopelessly in the ether!

There are different schools of thought on how best to approach a blended meeting. One school dictates that colocated team members should stay at their desks and dial in, even though it may seem easier to gather together around one speaker in a conference room. This levels the playing field for all participants. However, another school of thought is that forcing in-office team members to attend virtually would ruin the “synergy” or “juju” (they’re synonyms, trust me) of the meeting; and therefore the onus is on the virtual attendees to do their best to stay engaged with the rest of the group.

Promoting a meeting environment hospitable to virtual participants requires a concerted effort from all members. The most important thing a team can do is agree together on rules of engagement AND commit to follow them. Begin with a brainstorm of what rules ought to be followed for your particular team. Below are some best practices to get you started.

 1. Alternate the meeting format

The best solution is for the blended meeting to alternate between being conducted entirely virtually and conducted with both colocated and virtual attendees. Alternate between conducting your meetings with everyone dialing in, and conducting them with only the remote people dialing in. This will help everyone to understand the difficulties of being virtual, and this understanding will improve all meetings.

2. Eliminate side conversations.

When people at a meeting indulge in a conversation of their own, one that is unrelated to the matter at hand, one that the virtual attendees cannot see, it leads to feelings of exclusion. If virtual attendees don’t understand the context of comments, there are more opportunities for misinterpretation, especially if there is not a sufficient amount of trust amongst team members or they do not yet know each other well. Furthermore, side conversations are simply distracting!

3. Say your name before saying your piece — Every time.

While it may seem tedious, especially if the team has been working together a long time and know each other well, saying your name before you speak will immensely help virtual participants keep track of the unfolding conversation. It requires a fair bit of mindfulness because, as meetings progress, participants are inclined to dispense with the formality to the detriment of those who cannot identify the speaker.

4. Work — actively — to include those not in the room.

Mindfulness is key. Be aware when virtual attendees have been silent too long and elicit their feedback. Actively call on them by name. Engage them. Leave silence and space for them to talk. Articulate what’s happening in the room for them: who’s leaving, who’s arriving. Consider sending them a picture of what is happening. 

5. Provide name tags.

Place name tents or some other sort of name tag of the virtual attendees on the conference table (with photos is ideal). This helps to remind those who are in the room that the virtual participants are there, too.

6. Revisit your rules of engagement.

Pull out those agreements every 4 to 6 weeks and see if you are really following them and if not, why not? Change them if you need to — the key is to keep the conversation going.  Working together to establish your own rules of engagement is a good thing. Consider bringing in someone from the outside to help evaluate how you are doing.

If everyone actively works to include virtual participants and elicit their thoughts, they’ll have no more excuses to shut their eyes, mute their speakers, and power nap during the meetings.

P.S.  And just don’t rustle papers in front of the microphone!

 

Question for readers:  What suggestions do you have for running good blended meetings?

 

Do You Have 8 Minutes?

Do you want a chance to win money?

If you work remotely — away from your main office — at least two days a week, then you are eligible to take our survey and enter to win!

Win_instant_cash_sweepstakes

Here’s the Deal:

We’ve been developing an online assessment to help telecommuters know what their strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to their telecommuting work habits.  But, we need a LOT of real-world people to take the survey so we can “test” the survey itself.  We’re calling it the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA).

The more the merrier! our Industrial Organization experts tell us that the more people we can get to take the survey, the better the survey will be.  So, if you know of any telecommuters, feel free to forward this email along.

Thank you for your consideration.  We appreciate your time.

Your completed survey is your entry to win the $100 cash prize.

Please note, sometimes the Survey Monkey link works best when cut and pasted directly into a browser.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TFAblog

Thank you so much.  

The TFA development team

Bridging Distance

The fine print:

NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE THE CHANCES OF WINNING.
1. Eligibility: Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”) is open only to those who complete the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) and who are 18 as of the date of entry. The sweepstakes is only open to legal residents of  the United States and is void where prohibited by law. Employees of Bridging Distance (the “Sponsor”) their respective affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, suppliers and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of each are not eligible to participate in the Sweepstakes. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited.
2. Agreement to Rules: By participating, you agree to be fully unconditionally bound by these Rules, and you represent and warrant that you meet the eligibility requirements set forth herein. In addition, you agree to accept the decisions of Bridging Distance, as final and binding as it relates to the content. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.
 
3. Sweepstakes Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on or about October 15, 2014 and ending Nov. 14, 2014. All online entries must be received by Nov. 14, 2014 11:59PM EST.
4. How to Enter: The Sweepstakes must be entered by submitting an completed TFA survey entry using the online form provided on this Sweepstakes email. The entry must fulfill all sweepstakes requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. Entries that are not complete or do not adhere to the rules or specifications may be disqualified at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance. You may enter only once and you must fill in the information requested. You may not enter more times than indicated by using multiple email addresses, identities or devices in an attempt to circumvent the rules. If you use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance.
 
5. Prizes: Winner will receive $100. Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. The specifics of the prize shall be solely determined by the Sponsor. No other prize substitution permitted except at Sponsor’s discretion. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes shall be the sole responsibility of the winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by winners is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Bridging Distance to use winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
6. Odds: The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
 
7. Winner selection and notification: Winners of the Sweepstakes will be selected in a random drawing under the supervision of the Sponsor. Winners will be notified via email to the email address they entered the Sweepstakes with within five (5) days following the winner selection. Bridging Distance shall have no liability for a winner’s failure to receive notices due to winners’ spam, junk e-mail or other security settings or for winners’ provision of incorrect or otherwise non-functioning contact information. If the selected winner cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim the prize within 15 days from the time award notification was sent, or fails to timely return a completed and executed declaration and releases as required, prize may be forfeited and an alternate winner selected.
 
The receipt by winner of the prize offered in this Sweepstakes is conditioned upon compliance with any and all federal and state laws and regulations. ANY VIOLATION OF THESE OFFICIAL RULES BY ANY WINNER (AT SPONSOR’S SOLE DISCRETION) WILL RESULT IN SUCH WINNER’S DISQUALIFICATION AS WINNER OF THE SWEEPSTAKES AND ALL PRIVILEGES AS WINNER WILL BE IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED.
 
8. Rights Granted by you: By entering this content you understand that Bridging Distance, anyone acting on behalf of Bridging Distance, or its respective licensees, successors and assigns will have the right, where permitted by law, without any further notice, review or consent to print, publish, broadcast, distribute, and use, worldwide in any media now known or hereafter in perpetuity and throughout the World, your entry, including, without limitation, the entry and winner’s name, portrait, picture, voice, likeness, image or statements about the Sweepstakes, and biographical information as news, publicity or information and for trade, advertising, public relations and promotional purposes without any further compensation.
9. Terms:Bridging Distance reserves the right, in its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Sweepstakes should (in its sole discretion) a virus, bugs, non-authorized human intervention, fraud or other causes beyond its control corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In such case, Bridging Distance may select the recipients from all eligible entries received prior to and/or after (if appropriate) the action taken by Bridging Distance. Bridging Distance reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Sweepstakes or website or violates these Terms & Conditions.
Bridging Distance has the right, in its sole discretion, to maintain the integrity of the Sweepstakes, to void votes for any reason, including, but not limited to; multiple entries from the same user from different IP addresses; multiple entries from the same computer in excess of that allowed by sweepstakes rules; or the use of bots, macros or scripts or other technical means for entering.
Any attempt by an entrant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the sweepstakes may be a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made, Bridging Distance reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.By entering the Sweepstakes you agree to receive email newsletters periodically from Bridging Distance. You can opt-out of receiving this communication at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the newsletter.
10. Limitation of Liability: By entering you agree to release and hold harmless Bridging Distance and its subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies, partners, representatives, agents, successors, assigns, employees, officers and directors from any liability, illness, injury, death, loss, litigation, claim or damage that may occur, directly or indirectly, whether caused by negligence or not, from (i) such entrant’s participation in the sweepstakes and/or his/her acceptance, possession, use, or misuse of any prize or any portion thereof, (ii) technical failures of any kind, including but not limited to the malfunctioning of any computer, cable, network, hardware or software; (iii) the unavailability or inaccessibility of any transmissions or telephone or Internet service; (iv) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Promotion; (v) electronic or human error which may occur in the administration of the Promotion or the processing of entries.
11. Disputes:THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF United States AND Massachusetts, WITHOUT RESPECT TO CONFLICT OF LAW DOCTRINES. As a condition of participating in this Sweepstakes, participant agrees that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Sweepstakes, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in Massachusetts having jurisdiction. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances will participant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental, or consequential damages, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, other than participant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. costs associated with entering this Sweepstakes), and participant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased.
12. Privacy Policy:  Information submitted with an entry is subject to the Privacy Policy stated on the Bridging Distance Web Site.
13. Winners List: To obtain a copy of the winner’s name or a copy of these Official Rules, mail your request along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA.Requests must be received no later than Nov. 20, 2014.
14. Sponsor:  The Sponsor of the Sweepstakes is Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA .

An Exciting Time

survey

Final Validation of our upcoming Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA)

 

Do you work remotely — away from your main office — at least two days a week?

If so, and you have 10 – 15 minutes, we’d politely ask that you help us out.  We get that your time is valuable, so we are offering a cash prize for one lucky person who does help us out (also our Industrial Psychology experts tell us that a prize will motivate you!)

As experts in the field of virtual work, we recognize the increased importance of telecommuting in today’s organizations.

For the past two years, we’ve been developing an online assessment tool that evaluates telecommuting work habits.  This tool — the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) uncovers weaknesses and strengths to help you become better at working remotely.

Here’s where you come in (and how you can win a cash prize):

As we near completion of our final validation cycle, we are in need of real-world data from real-world telecommuters such as yourself.

We would greatly appreciate it if you would take the next 10 – 15 minutes to complete the TFA and helps us gather that real-world data.

Your completed survey is your entry to win the $100 cash prize.

Please note, sometimes the Survey Monkey link works best when cut and pasted directly into a browser.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TFAblog

 

Thank you so much.  

The TFA development team

Bridging Distance

The fine print:

NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE THE CHANCES OF WINNING.
1. Eligibility: Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”) is open only to those who complete the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) and who are 18 as of the date of entry. The sweepstakes is only open to legal residents of  the United States and is void where prohibited by law. Employees of Bridging Distance (the “Sponsor”) their respective affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, suppliers and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of each are not eligible to participate in the Sweepstakes. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited.
2. Agreement to Rules: By participating, you agree to be fully unconditionally bound by these Rules, and you represent and warrant that you meet the eligibility requirements set forth herein. In addition, you agree to accept the decisions of Bridging Distance, as final and binding as it relates to the content. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.
 
3. Sweepstakes Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on or about October 15, 2014 and ending Nov. 14, 2014. All online entries must be received by Nov. 14, 2014 11:59PM EST.
4. How to Enter: The Sweepstakes must be entered by submitting an completed TFA survey entry using the online form provided on this Sweepstakes email. The entry must fulfill all sweepstakes requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. Entries that are not complete or do not adhere to the rules or specifications may be disqualified at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance. You may enter only once and you must fill in the information requested. You may not enter more times than indicated by using multiple email addresses, identities or devices in an attempt to circumvent the rules. If you use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance.
 
5. Prizes: Winner will receive $100. Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. The specifics of the prize shall be solely determined by the Sponsor. No other prize substitution permitted except at Sponsor’s discretion. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes shall be the sole responsibility of the winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by winners is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Bridging Distance to use winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
6. Odds: The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
 
7. Winner selection and notification: Winners of the Sweepstakes will be selected in a random drawing under the supervision of the Sponsor. Winners will be notified via email to the email address they entered the Sweepstakes with within five (5) days following the winner selection. Bridging Distance shall have no liability for a winner’s failure to receive notices due to winners’ spam, junk e-mail or other security settings or for winners’ provision of incorrect or otherwise non-functioning contact information. If the selected winner cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim the prize within 15 days from the time award notification was sent, or fails to timely return a completed and executed declaration and releases as required, prize may be forfeited and an alternate winner selected.
 
The receipt by winner of the prize offered in this Sweepstakes is conditioned upon compliance with any and all federal and state laws and regulations. ANY VIOLATION OF THESE OFFICIAL RULES BY ANY WINNER (AT SPONSOR’S SOLE DISCRETION) WILL RESULT IN SUCH WINNER’S DISQUALIFICATION AS WINNER OF THE SWEEPSTAKES AND ALL PRIVILEGES AS WINNER WILL BE IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED.
 
8. Rights Granted by you: By entering this content you understand that Bridging Distance, anyone acting on behalf of Bridging Distance, or its respective licensees, successors and assigns will have the right, where permitted by law, without any further notice, review or consent to print, publish, broadcast, distribute, and use, worldwide in any media now known or hereafter in perpetuity and throughout the World, your entry, including, without limitation, the entry and winner’s name, portrait, picture, voice, likeness, image or statements about the Sweepstakes, and biographical information as news, publicity or information and for trade, advertising, public relations and promotional purposes without any further compensation.
9. Terms:Bridging Distance reserves the right, in its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Sweepstakes should (in its sole discretion) a virus, bugs, non-authorized human intervention, fraud or other causes beyond its control corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In such case, Bridging Distance may select the recipients from all eligible entries received prior to and/or after (if appropriate) the action taken by Bridging Distance. Bridging Distance reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Sweepstakes or website or violates these Terms & Conditions.
Bridging Distance has the right, in its sole discretion, to maintain the integrity of the Sweepstakes, to void votes for any reason, including, but not limited to; multiple entries from the same user from different IP addresses; multiple entries from the same computer in excess of that allowed by sweepstakes rules; or the use of bots, macros or scripts or other technical means for entering.
Any attempt by an entrant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the sweepstakes may be a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made, Bridging Distance reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.By entering the Sweepstakes you agree to receive email newsletters periodically from Bridging Distance. You can opt-out of receiving this communication at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the newsletter.
10. Limitation of Liability: By entering you agree to release and hold harmless Bridging Distance and its subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies, partners, representatives, agents, successors, assigns, employees, officers and directors from any liability, illness, injury, death, loss, litigation, claim or damage that may occur, directly or indirectly, whether caused by negligence or not, from (i) such entrant’s participation in the sweepstakes and/or his/her acceptance, possession, use, or misuse of any prize or any portion thereof, (ii) technical failures of any kind, including but not limited to the malfunctioning of any computer, cable, network, hardware or software; (iii) the unavailability or inaccessibility of any transmissions or telephone or Internet service; (iv) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Promotion; (v) electronic or human error which may occur in the administration of the Promotion or the processing of entries.
11. Disputes:THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF United States AND Massachusetts, WITHOUT RESPECT TO CONFLICT OF LAW DOCTRINES. As a condition of participating in this Sweepstakes, participant agrees that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Sweepstakes, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in Massachusetts having jurisdiction. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances will participant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental, or consequential damages, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, other than participant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. costs associated with entering this Sweepstakes), and participant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased.
12. Privacy Policy:  Information submitted with an entry is subject to the Privacy Policy stated on the Bridging Distance Web Site.
13. Winners List: To obtain a copy of the winner’s name or a copy of these Official Rules, mail your request along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA.Requests must be received no later than Nov. 20, 2014.
14. Sponsor:  The Sponsor of the Sweepstakes is Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA .

 

Know Thyself: An Extravert’s Guide to Working from Home

Extravert Working from Home

Extravert Working from Home

 

An Extravert’s Guide to Working from Home

Extraverts are, by definition, very social. They like to be the center of attention, they hate to miss out on parties, and they usually pride themselves in their social skills. This is why, like most good psychologists, Nancy Da Silva and her colleagues (2010) guessed that employees who were very extraverted would probably seek jobs that involved a lot of interpersonal face time. Extraverts as telecommuters, they hypothesized, would likely be a rare combination. However, what they found was surprising:

Telecommuters were MORE extraverted on average than were non-telecommuters

 

So why does this matter?

Well, extraverts have the reputation for being a little…how should I put it? Needy. And I say this in the nicest of ways, because I am about as extraverted as they come.  But here’s what I mean:

Extraverts are often said to have strong affiliation skills. Basically, this means that we value close interpersonal bonds, and we tend to be warm and welcoming. However, it also means that we have a high need for affiliation. Whereas introverts often need alone time to “recharge” after a long day, extraverts often need more social time to give them energy and fulfillment. In fact, we often feel drained of our energy if we go too long without interacting with friends, family, or even strangers.

As a telecommuter, there are definite limitations to the amount of social interaction you have in a given workday. If you’re an extravert with a high need for affiliation, this could be problematic.

So how can you fulfill your needs as an extravert while still enjoying your flexible work-from-home set-up?

 

As a fellow extraverted teleworker, I offer the following 3 tips:

  • Get out of the house. If you’re extraverted, even just seeing other people will give you more energy. So if you start to get stumped on a project or you feel a little lonely, try going to your local library or café to work. I usually sit facing the door so that I can see everyone who walks in; it energizes me to see so many different types of people throughout the day, even if I don’t actually interact with them. A future blog will explore this in more detail, but what you’re experiencing is social facilitation, the phenomenon of an “audience” making you better at what you do.

 

  • Don’t eat alone. My dad used to have a business self-help book that used 300+ pages to relay this advice: never eat alone. The advice was also the title of the book, so I’m not really sure what the other 299+ pages consisted of. From what I could tell, the author’s reasoning was that approaching higher-ups during your lunch hour is a strategic way to climb the “corporate ladder”, etcetera and so forth. But I like the advice for another reason: Your lunch hour is a great time to escape the monotony of your work and “recharge”. Introverts will be satisfied with alone time (e.g., going on a walk, enjoying a cup of tea). But if you’re an extravert, the fastest way to recharge is to interact with others. So if you need an invigorating hour to prepare you for the second half of your day, sprinkle in some socialization.

 

  • Use the buddy system. My first year in grad school, I spent about 9 hours a week with my colleagues in a class setting. During the other 40+ hours I would write papers, read articles, and analyze data all by my lonesome. Very quickly, I found myself in an endless cycle of knowing that I needed to spend time with others to get more energy, but not having enough energy at the end of the day to initiate social hangouts. My solution? I started working alongside the people I cared about. Even though our work was for completely unrelated degrees (i.e., MS, MBA, MD, RN), we found that we all worked a little harder when we were holding each other accountable. Having that social support while I did such intellectually challenging tasks helped me to overcome the very serious ailment that we Millenials refer to as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

 

In sum, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being an introvert versus an extravert. Successful employees (and successful teleworkers) come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of your personality type, it is important to know yourself well enough to create a work environment that caters to your needs.

 

Question for Readers: How do you cater your work-from-home experience to your own unique personality?

 

P.S. Not sure where you fall on the introvert/ extravert continuum? This might help:

Extravert

I am the life of the party. | I feel comfortable around people. | I start conversations. | I talk to a lot of different people at parties. | I don’t mind being the center of attention. | I make friends easily. |I take charge. | I know how to captivate people. | I feel at ease with people.

Introvert

I don’t talk a lot. | I keep in the background. | I have little to say. | I don’t like to draw attention to myself. | I am quiet around strangers. |  I find it difficult to approach others. | I often feel uncomfortable around others. | I bottle up my feelings. | I am a very private person. | I wait for others to lead the way.

 
Source:  Da Silva, N., & Virick, M. (2010). Facilitating telecommuting: exploring the role of telecommuting intensity and differences between telecommuters and non-telecommuters. Retrieved from http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=1151123.
 Image Source:  http://alexreichert.com/play/self-improvement/know-thyself/

Summer Love for Telecommuters

summer-love

 

If you are one of over 3.3 million telecommuters in the United States, you have been anticipating summertime with a mixture of excitement and dread (okay, this is true of all parents, but people who work from home tend have particular concerns).

It’s a huge relief to get a break from the morning routine of rousing sleepy kids and tossing them out the door.  But now they are home all day, making demands on you, because — after all — you’re right there (and what could you possibly be doing that is more important than looking for holes in the slip n’ slide?)

 

So how do you do it?  How do you meet the demands of work and the demands of your kids, not to mention your own summertime interests?

 

Unapologeticallytake advantage of your flexibility to Schedule Some Fun!  You work hard.  Telecommuters are more productive than their office peers.  You know this.  Hopefully, your supervisor knows this, too. So take a break.  Don’t wait for your work to be done (it will never be done), schedule time for yourself and for your kids.

 

Involve your kids in the solution. Find out what would make their summer awesome and make it happen (you only get so many summers with kids in comparison to the amount of work you get).  We’ve had great summers using a summer bucket list.

 

Manage Expectations.  Explain that they can only get what they want when your space is respected and you can get your work done first.  If this means that every day until 2:00 you cannot be interrupted for anything less than profuse bleeding, then make that clear to them.  Of course, understanding what expectations are reasonable for your children’s ages is key to success with this one.

 

Set them up for Success. If you expect them to prepare and clean up their own snacks, drinks, and lunches, then be sure that they know where everything is and that they can reach it all with ease.  This might mean setting out a box of goldfish crackers with a scoop so they know how much to take; or putting drinks into easy-to-handle pitchers for younger children.

 

Tell them How to Contact You. My kids text me when I’m working.  Yes, we are in the same, relatively small house, but it is a non-intrusive way for them to get my attention without breaking my concentration.  Maybe you prefer that they knock on your office door and wait for you to respond.  Maybe you want them to silently watch you work until you feel their beady eyes on you.  Whatever works best for you — explain it to them and only respond when they meet your expectations.

 

Know their Natural Schedules. If you, like me, have teens and pre-teens, they like to sleep in.  This is a blessing to my work, as I can get a full day in before they crack an eyelid.  If your children are young enough to have a nap / quiet time, this might be a great opportunity for you to schedule a call.

 

Keep Your Word. Lead by example and develop a trusting relationship with your kids.  If you said you were only working until 2:00, then step away from your computer at the appointed time. When you are with your children, turn off your smartphone, stop checking email, be present — fully present — for them.

 

Merging summertime fun into your telecommuting schedule can be challenging.  It is worth the effort.  When the sun hits the beach and you’re there to enjoy it, you know you will never go back to commuting and rigid schedules again.

 

Don’t forget the ice-cream.

What’s your favorite summertime telecommuting experience?

 

Whistle While You Work: Music Provides Better Telework Environment

 

Happy Teleworker

 

Being a Psychologist has its ups and downs. For instance, you have to endure every person at every party making the “Oh my God, are you psychoanalyzing me right now?!” joke. You’ll hear your field referred to as a “soft science” filled with “lying statisticians”. And you’ll quickly realize that the weekly phone calls from your sorority sister with the boy troubles are a direct result of changes in her insurance plan’s therapy coverage.

But you know what makes it all worth it?

My endless supply of life hacks”.

For instance, I know that no matter what decision you make when presented with two options, you will always eventually believe it “worked out for the best”. I also know that if you raise your love interest’s heart rate (e.g., through exercise or pure fear), they will misattribute their arousal and convince themselves that they are physically attracted to you. Or if you subtly mimic the gestures of someone who you want to impress, they will consider you to be more “like” themselves, and thus more likable.

The coolest thing to me about research like this is that it is so applicable to everyday life. Which brings me to a life hack that I think telecommuters will appreciate: music enhances mood.

Amid a lengthy list of telework benefits (e.g. job satisfaction, flexibility, work-life balance, and more), one challenge remains for telecommuters. Isolation can dampen the telework experience by making telecommuters lonely and detached while working. As this research suggests, music is a great way to combat loneliness for telecommuters.

How, you ask?

Listening to music increases dopamine, which is a powerful, natural neurotransmitter released as part of our “reward response”. It reinforces behavior and makes us want more and more of it.

In large doses, dopamine can be dangerous. For instance, it is released in large quantities when illegal drugs are consumed, resulting in euphoria and excitement that can cause addictions. However, in small doses (e.g., a “runner’s high”, crossing off the last item on a to-do list, etc.), dopamine can make us feel content, happy, and motivated.

Thus, any time we can release dopamine in a safe (i.e., non-addictive) way, we want to take advantage!

For those of you who don’t usually listen to music while you work, try to ease into it with instrumental bands. For instance, one of my favorites is “Explosions in the Sky, an Austin-based instrumental band that has been featured in the TV show Friday Night Lights, as well as a few independent films here and there.

If you’d rather have a mix of music and you don’t feel like constructing your own playlist, take a moment to explore these internet radio stations. My personal favorite is Spotify, where you can look up other people’s playlists and add them to your own (feel free to search for mine, “whistle while you work”). Another popular site is Pandora, which is great if you’re willing to leave playlist decisions up to the musical algorithm gods.

Next time you start to feel a little lonely in your mobile office, put on some headphones. You’d be surprised just how quickly you’ll notice an improvement in both your mood and your motivation!

Questions for readers: What do you do to improve your mood when you work from home? What songs are on your work playlist?

 

Telecommuting, Outsourced, & Distributed Virtual Teams

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Telecommuting, Outsourced, & Distributed Virtual Teams

What’s the Difference for Leaders?

We work in a rapidly evolving environment.  Gone are the days in which everyone worked within the same building; gathered around the same whiteboard; and decided important things around the water cooler.

Today, nearly all knowledge-based workforces span the globe.  Smart leaders understand the subtle adaptations required in both leading and in assessing the performance of their unique team structure.  The seemingly endless variety of arrangements can be sorted into three categories:

  • Telecommuting
  • Outsourced teams
  • Distributed, virtual teams

Telecommuting, telework, flexible working, mobile work are interchangeable terms that describe a work situation in which a person works apart from their centrally located coworkers for some portion of their work week.  All imply that there exists a core of people who are centrally located, even though there may be a rotating schedule of who is in the office on any particular day, and who is working from home (telecommuting).  This type of team structure is increasingly popular among organizations that want to offer flexibility to employees while reducing overhead expenses.  The temptation of reduced expenses, along with increasing employee demands for flexibility, often result in a haphazard structure.   Traditional leadership methods that rely heavily on in-person, informal, and observational information leaves both supervisors and telecommuters frustrated and uncertain.

An outsourced team generally applies to a co-located team of people who work together in a different geographic location from the main project managers.  An organization may have teams of people in multiple geographic locations. Each team is responsible for specific pieces of a larger project. Rarely are outsourced teams cross-functional, each operates as an independent unit, and the pieces come together through the main project managers as the project nears completion.  This category of team structure requires specific leadership techniques to keep each unit aligned with organizational and project goals.

Distributed virtual teams, global teams, and remote teams are terms that imply a dispersed workforce in which everyone functions as one cross-functional team.  This structure allows for individuals to apply their talents to multiple parts of a project, wherever they are needed.  Team members are interdependent — they require information and work from each other in order to complete their own tasks.  The globally-distributed, virtual team is the team structure most common in today’s 24/7 world.

The challenge for leadership is to resist the old, yet comfortable and familiar ways of leading and assessing performance of these global team structures.  It is a tragic misstep to believe that simply replacing traditional in-person communications with equally synchronous virtual communications will yield the same results.  Similarly, assessing the effectiveness and performance of a virtual team cannot be accurately achieved through traditional methods that rely heavily upon subjective, anecdotal, and observational means.

 

What are your experiences in leading traditional and virtual teams?

 

Level the Playing Field for Global Teams

Level_bubble

Level the Playing Field for Global Teams

Our recent case study with a US-led global medical research team revealed just how easily distance turns relatively small misunderstandings into significant misalignment for globally distributed teams.

As we continued to analyze the results from our assessment, we learned that the quality of the communications between the US-based leadership and the non-US team members was causing a significant rift within the team.  This was uncovered when we compared specific data sets gathered from each of the non-US teams with the US-based team.

Leadership was surprised:

“But we have weekly status meetings!” “We send emails all the time!”

However, it became clear that the non-US based team members were disconnected from the daily communication of the larger team. The fact that the US team met face-to-face while the non-US teams utilized video updates gave an impression of inequality relating to the roles and importance of individual team members.  Among the global teams, there was an overwhelming perception of favoritism by leadership toward the US-based research team members.  This perception of favoritism tainted leadership’s ability to effectively communicate with the global teams.

Together with organizational leadership, we created an action plan to reduce the perception of favoritism and foster the desired sense of equality among all research teams, regardless of location.

Team Leadership began conducting all team meetings through video conferencing, even when members shared an office location.  Treating all members the same levelled the playing field of communications and sent a subtle, but powerful, message that leadership held all research groups in equal standing.

Additionally, the Team Leader made it a point to visit every global team that quarter to solidify the importance of everyone’s contribution to their team effort.  After this initial visit, a schedule of regular in-person meetings was developed to maintain the feelings of equality.

Six months later, the team had measurably improved its productivity and was on-track with its research goals.  Each team re-took our assessment and this subsequent analysis confirmed a vastly improved global team.

 

Telecommuting More & Feeling Less Loyal?

DaydreamingwithLaptop

You are not alone.

Perhaps you started out, like many of us do, working just one or two days a week from home.  You loved it.  You worked harder, you got more done in a day, you felt great.  You felt trusted by your employer, you felt that they understood you and your desire for work-life balance.

You felt inspired to put your best effort forward because you cared.  You were loyal, happy, and committed.

The flow didn’t stop there.  Family conflicts were down.  You were able to freely enjoy the perks of being in control of your own day (for me, that often meant running errands when stores and malls weren’t busy and working later when they were).

Life was good.

Gradually, you increased your time working from home to 3 or more days each week; and things started to change.  Conflicts within the family increased, the option of napping at lunch turned into forgetting to eat at all and working straight through (or grabbing a yogurt and returning to your laptop).  You started to feel disconnected from your work group. You started to care a little less about your organization as a whole.  You may not have even noticed.

According to Dr. Martha J. Fay and Dr. Susan L. Kline, prominent researchers in communications and remote working, most people who telecommute up to 2 ½ days per week feel more organizational identity and commitment than their non-telecommuting peers; but when increased to 3 or more days per week, organizational identity and commitment dropped to levels below their non-telecommuting peers.

Is the answer to only telecommute up to 2 ½ days per week?  Maybe. But for those of us who will continue to telecommute more, or who don’t have an option, there is something you can do.

The same researchers discovered that the largest factor in counteracting declining commitment is the quality of the relationship between you (the telecommuter) and the coworker you interact the most with.

Having even one “trusted coworker”, who you can bounce ideas off of and who can provide you with a “reality check” as you interpret messages from the organization at large, may make all the difference in your feelings of loyalty, commitment, and belonging.

Take some time each day to maintain and further your relationships with a couple of your coworkers.  It doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary.  A couple of friendly lines in an email, a few minutes of conversation before or after a phone or video conference, a text chat.  Choose your friends carefully, though, research also indicates you will feel even less committed if your close relationships are with someone who engages in a lot of “complaining talk”.

Finally, for some telecommuters, it can be a little uncomfortable or awkward to take this time for casual conversation.  As someone who works from home, you actively cultivate the image of a conscientious worker.  If it is awkward, start small, begin with work-related conversations — seek out advice or “second opinions” on general work topics, pick up the phone to ask someone a question.  These small interactions have the potential to make a big difference in your success as a telecommuter.

Works cited:
Fay, M. J., & Kline, S. L. (2011). Coworker relationships and informal communication in high-intensity telecommuting. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 39(2), 144-163. doi:10.1080/00909882.2011.556136
Fay, M. J., & Kline, S. L. (2012). The influence of informal communication on organizational identification and commitment in the context of high-intensity telecommuting.Southern Communication Journal, 77(1), 61-76. doi:10.1080/1041794x.2011.582921