Six Signs You’re Ready to Work From Home

The internet has changed how we work, taking us out of the cubical culture and making it possible to work from our homes. Whether you have the work-from-home option at your job or are interested in making a move to an at-home job, these signs will help you assess if you are ready to take that step.

  1. Your current situation is noisy, crowded and has constant interruptions, making it difficult to concentrate. You end up taking work home at night. Work productivity can increase when you work from home because there is less noise, less traffic around you and fewer interruptions. You can also set up your home office to maximize your work space.
  2. You can organize, multitask and prioritize like a boss. You will still have to do all three from home, and it can be a challenge when the laundry, cable TV and kids are calling you away from your computer/desk. Making a list first of what needs to get done by the end of the day can keep you on-track.
  3. You have mad technical skills. Even a minor computer glitch can bring a small business or home worker’s day to a screeching halt. As someone who is working from home, you’re not likely to be high priority on your company’s tech team list or with your IT help desk contractor. Your productivity at home stays on-track when you can fix the glitches yourself. Also, having an alternate place from which to work or a spare computer/tablet can keep you working even when the DSL goes down or your computer crashes.
  4. No means no. Are you good at saying no? You need to be when your office is at home. Word gets out quickly in the family, amongst your friends and out there in the neighborhood that you are working from home. Working from home becomes code speak for “flexible schedule and available for emergencies.” You need to decide in advance what constitutes an emergency and who you’ll be able to help. Manage your family/friend/neighbor expectations at the beginning to prevent yourself from having to say no too often.
  5. You use email, text and voicemail to prioritize your work. You know that not every phone call is top priority, and answering every call can throw your day off.  Plan time in your day to return phone calls either via phone, email or text, and keep an eye out for priority calls as they come in.
  6. You find it difficult to work in exercise on a daily basis. Even short walks around the neighborhood are preferable to sitting 8 or more hours a day at your desk. Many work sites do not have environments suitable for exercise, especially in the winter. It is much easier to fit in stair exercise or short neighborhood walks when you work from home.

These are just some of the factors to consider before deciding to move to a home office. Everyone’s situation is a bit unique. It can be a challenge to work from home, so make a list of everything you need to consider before making that move.

Trolls in the Workplace

The best lines, hands down, that Professor Quirinus Quirrell ever had in Harry Potter were: Troll! There’s a troll in the dungeon. Thought you ought to know.” Shame he then fainted. Yes, there’s a troll in the dungeon, there are trolls online and there are trolls in the workplace. While trolls online can be very vicious, spouting horrible comments on blogs, articles, etc., they can also be vicious and hard to tolerate at work. They are the co-workers and bosses who damn you with faint praise, who back-stab you, who are the naysayers. They undermine your work, or claim it as their own. They cast doubt on your abilities to do your work just to see your confidence falter. These work trolls constantly find fault with your work even when there is none. Why do they do this? To take the scrutiny off themselves and their own poor work.

A recent famous example of trolls at work took place during a Cecilia Bartoli concert at La Scala last December. La Scala audiences have a longstanding tradition of  being the harshest critics of their beloved opera singers. However, just because it is tradition does not make it right. There is a group of opera “buffs” (I’d like to say buffoons) calling themselves “Grisi” after a famous opera singer. They organize and take it upon themselves to catcall and boo opera singers off the La Scala stage. However, when they booed La Ceci, she returned to the stage for an encore that bowled them over. Read more about it here. (Thanks, Gramilano!)

How did La Ceci triumph over these trolls? She has worked hard during her long career to “brand” herself as a talented coloratura mezzo-soprano. She is professional and prepared to perform onstage. She is known as a hard worker with a sunny personality. Cecilia has patiently developed a rapport with audiences through her sense of humor and facial expressions, by engaging them, pulling them into the performance and then not letting go. This is what carried her through a less than optimal experience at La Scala and left her career unscathed. This is what keeps audiences demanding encore after encore from the great La Ceci.

You can deal with the trolls at your workplace by defining your “brand,” who your work persona is. Who are you going to be? Are you that guy who ALWAYS comes in early, develops engaging presentations which are ready days beforehand, who knows the birthdays of every co-worker in the place? If that is going to be you, then you have to deliver. Every time. Be consistent. Be a true, professional diva, rather than a fainting Quirrell. That is the way to get those trolls to shut up and go away.

Being a Helper…Again

My cousin and his young son are headed back home after running in the Boston Marathon. It is less than one day later after the Boston Marathon bombings, and there is still so much to do. Find the murderers, comfort the injured and traumatized, and once again, help this country heal. There is a Mr. Rogers meme circulating on Facebook right now. It goes like this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” — Fred Rogers

Once again, our job is to be the helpers, to show that there are many more good people in this world, to offset the evil ones. I am encouraging you to once again embrace Anne Curry’s #26Acts2. No act of kindness is too small or insignificant. We cannot bring back the people who died in the Boston Marathon attack, but we can show these evildoers that the kindness of the American spirit will not be quenched by their horrible acts.

Dealing With the Liars

A friend used to tell me, “Everybody lies some of the time.” That may be true, but it certainly does not make it right, and it definitely can get you into trouble at work. It is also difficult enough to get your job done without having to screen interactions for lying and figuring out what is going on. Here are some examples of how lying can play out at work:

Co-workers who obfuscate the truth:

You may be working with someone on a project, and the deadline is coming up. What your co-worker is telling you somehow does not ring true. Why is he lying to you?  He may have procrastinated, not have known how to do some aspect of the project or may even be stalling to make you look bad. Angry confrontation is not going to help the situation. However, a direct reminder of the looming deadline and a frank, non-blaming discussion of the problem may help. For example: “The project deadline is next week, and the data analysis is not yet complete. Which part of the analysis is a problem and how can we help?” may actually make your co-worker less stressed and more inclined to work together with you to complete the project.

When bosses lie:

This can be a particularly tricky situation, as a direct confrontation can get you fired. There are many reasons why bosses might lie: to control or bully you as an employee, lack of trust, fear of losing face or tight control by upper management. Power freaks or bullies are the hardest to deal with. Get everything in writing or email and keep your cool until you can find another job. The boss who tells you he does not want you to lie and then proceeds to lie constantly to you is another problem. You can only keep your side of the interaction honest, and try to figure out why the boss is not being honest. It could be that his hands have been tied by upper management and he has been told to only share information on a need-to-know basis. The boss that says to you, “I will tell you what I can” is another version of this type of boss. They try to save face and keep on friendly terms with you while satisfying their own bosses’ need for control. Again, stay honest and document everything. You never know when you will need documentation to back up your side of the story.

When telling the truth can get you into trouble:

I am a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person.  I do not like to play office politics. So when bosses tells me they do not want their employees to lie to them, I do tell the truth. However, this strategy can backfire if you are not careful. We all would like to think our interactions at work are professional and that honesty should be the best policy. But office interactions are often also loaded with personal preferences, anxieties and prejudices. So if your answer to a boss’ question is negative, rethink it before you say it, especially if you are frustrated or angry. Example: “Do you like this job?” should elicit an answer that examines the positive and negative aspects of the position. If your boss values you as an employee, hopefully, the discussion should bring about ways to eliminate the negative aspects without eliminating you as an employee.

So You’re NOT Going to Train Me?

One of the toughest trends to get used to in this economy is that companies are no longer spending a great deal of time and money on training new employees. You are more likely to land a new job if you can hit the ground running. But what do you do when you run into proprietary software, or software written specifically for your company, that no one is willing to train you on? Unfortunately, this is a problem that can affect your productivity, and these types of programs are often not very intuitive, making it difficult to teach yourself.

Before you have to pester co-workers with a ton of questions, try these things first:

*Look for a Help menu. You may find the answers to your basic questions here.

*Call up a record or transaction similar to the one you need to complete. Notice how each separate field is filled in and which ones are left blank.

*Search your computer’s desktop for a Help or Tips file for the program. While computers are often wiped clean after employees leave, sometimes these files are kept as an aid for new employees.

*Scan your own Help file that you may have created for a similar program in the past. Proprietary software often follows certain programming protocols and templates that are common across programs.

*Get to know the people on your IT Help Desk. Familiarize yourself with the program as much as possible first. Then have a conversation with these people, showing you know something about how to use the program BEFORE you ask them for an unofficial tutorial or their “insider tip sheet” on how to use the program.

*Share your knowledge. You are probably not the only employee struggling with this type of program. Once you get more comfortable with proprietary software, help out other workers when you can. They may return the favor and give you tips that you did not know beforehand.

When Performing Hurts

Pretty much any job comes with the risk of getting injured while working. However, performers, whether they be dancers or musicians, run the risk of debilitating injuries from repetitive movements or continuous use of body parts. What makes these types of injury particularly pernicious is that regular practice and performance is vital to honing skills, and constant use of a performer’s body does not permit much downtime. This lack of rest can eventually result in cumulative career-ending injuries.

Typical performance injuries can include carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve impingement syndrome, vocal nodes, torn tendons and ligaments and severely strained muscles. Treatment plans may include forced periods of rest, physical therapy and even surgery. However, there is good news in that Feldenkrais and Alexander Techniques may prevent repeated injuries.

Both techniques teach participants how to use their bodies in the most efficacious way to reduce pain, remove limitations on movement and to prevent injuries. I found Feldenkrais clasees to be a bit too strenuous when dealing with a nerve impingement syndrome. The Alexander technique classes were more simple, less painful and consisted of re-learning basic movements such as piano keyboard skills, typing, reaching for a phone, standing up, sitting down and walking. The objective is to learn better use of your body to eliminate pain. Both techniques and physical therapy may eliminate the need for surgery.

However, if you do need to see a doctor for a performance-related injury, the Performing Arts Medical Association, has a referral service online. While this service is not exhaustive, it can get you started with finding help and also provides counseling referrals that can help you deal with the stress of injury.

There is also the journal, Medical Problems of Performing Artists which includes scholarly studies and information on performance injuries in both music and dance.

Recovery from a performance injury is not easy. However, you will be more likely to heal quickly if you recognize that a combination of medical help, allied therapies and rest are critical to regaining optimum performance health.

Telecommuting — Making the Case

Several companies such as Yahoo! and Best Buy have pulled their telecommuters back in-house in the last few weeks, causing a stir on the Web. While you may think now is not a good time to approach your supervisor about working from home, there are a few things to consider that can strengthen your case.

*Examine your job. Not just your job description, but what you actually do. List everything that you can do from home: phone calls, generating reports, database searches, etc. List the tasks that require face-to-face contact and how you plan to meet those needs. Make sure you understand the technology that allows you to do this.

*How will telecommuting benefit your company? Does it free up an office and computer for someone else? Are you willing to work at home outside normal (8-5) hours?

*Show your boss how your work can be monitored. This can include posting a report in process on a shared network, teleconference or Skype calling or, if you are willing, traveling to the office or to a cafe for meetings.

*Plan for emergencies. What will you do if your Internet goes down or the company network crashes? Have a contingency plan of tasks that you can still work on.

*Take a test run. Try taking a personal day and telecommuting from home before you approach your supervisor with your request. Work out the kinks in your telecommuting plan in advance.

*If your plan meets with resistance, suggest working from home one day or two per week at first. If this works out, you may be able to increase the number of days working from home.

*Keep track of your time. It is easy to take more time out of the day to run errands. After all, there are fewer people to contend with because most people are at work. However, you still need to put the time in to complete your work and meet your deadlines.