Category Archives: Work

How to Work from Home Successfully

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Well, it’s been a week, huh? I live in NY and while my particular community has yet to be hit by the Coronovirus, our government has issued guidelines and rules for handling (and hopefully slowing) the spread of the virus. As of about an hour ago, my kids schools are closed through mid-April, as are our local colleges and universities. The impact this is having on our economy both locally, nationally and internationally is staggering.

If your job allows, there is a good chance you’ve been asked to work from home if not out right ordered to do so. I’ve been working from home for almost 18 years now, basically for all but 2 of my professional years. Working from home can be a dream come true – but it can also be a nightmare. You have to set yourself up for success and that means discipline, utilizing the tools and resources you have and communicating with your employer, coworkers and family about your needs.

Here are a few things I’ve learned to be successful over the years:

1) Set a schedule. Get up at the same time every day- whether it’s 5:30 am or 8 am, pick a wake up time and stick with it. Once you’re up, set your new routine. When life is normal, I feed the kids and make lunches while Scorch is in the shower, then I shower and we’re all out the door within an hour. I drop the kids off and have roughly an hour until I have to go to work. I either hit up the gym or I run errands, but once 8:30 comes around, my day starts. Now, I’m guessing I’ll be up by 6:30, exercise, shower and get dressed before the kids roll out of bed at 8. Then I’ll help them with breakfast and try to start my normal day at 8:30 am.

2) Get dressed. When I started working from home, the Hubs made me promise to get dressed every day. I thought he was silly – but he was spot on. Even pre-kids when I didn’t have to actually leave the house every morning, I would still get up, eat, shower and get dressed. I don’t put on dress clothes, but I damn well get out of my PJs and put on clothes I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in on a video call. Jeans or legging, bra, decent shirt. I do my hair and throw on a bit of makeup in the winter. I’m on 1-4 hours of video calls a day, sometimes with a minutes notice, so looking like a professional keeps me in that mindset.

Chris Farley meme - Chris is wearing a suit and tie with his hair all messed up.

3) Have an office.  Or something akin to it. I don’t have an office- I haven’t had a separate space just for me since the Bean was born. But I do have my corner of the couch and the kitchen table. During the day, that’s my domain. God willing, when our addition is done, I’ll have my own space but until then, my mind knows when I sit down at either of those designated spaces, it’s time to work. When I work with my headphones on in the common areas, my kids know they can get my attention and chat with me. When I move into my bedroom and close they door, they know I’m in a meeting / working on something important and it’s time to leave me alone. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we’ve got for now.

4) Be transparent. If you’re going to step away from your desk longer than it takes to make lunch, run to the bathroom or change out the laundry, put a notice up and/or tell your boss. I have a weekly chiropractor appointment- that’s on my calendar for all to see. If I need to run to the store or take a kid to a last minute appointment, I ping my boss. Last Thursday, the Bean got sick and I had to take her to the doctor’s at 9 am, then I had to pick Scorch up at school at 11:30 because he had a half day. All those things happened before my coworkers, most of whom are on the west coast, started their day so chances are, they’d never know. But I know working from home is, most of the time, a privilege and I’m not going to abuse that.

5) Be in contact. Use allllllll the tools at your fingertips, especially if you’re used to being in an office. Slack, Zoom, Hangouts, Jabber – there are a ton of tools that allow you to stay in contact through chats and video meetings. If you’re used to seeing your coworker for a 5 minute debrief every morning over coffee, schedule that meeting to catch up! Set up a Slack channel to share what you’ve been working on so your team knows what you’re doing- then set up a channel to share funny memes to help keep you sane.

 

6) Cut out the distractions. As awesome as all those chat tools can be and as awesome as the freedom of working from home brings – sometimes it’s too much and it cuts into your productivity. You’ll find you can most likely get more work done at home once you’re in the groove- but you have to find that groove first. For me, that means making sure my living / work area is neat, and any chores (like putting food in the crock pot, starting laundry) are done. It’s putting up a 2 hour block per day (if I can) to just work- which means silencing my notifications and, in some cases, turning off the wifi.

 

7) Set limits. Just because you can work at all hours of the day, doesn’t mean you should. Your work hours may have to change (more on that next), but that doesn’t mean that you should regularly be putting in 12+ hour days if you normally don’t. If your usual hours were 8 – 5:30 in the office, that’s still your work day. Unless your job requires it, there is no need to be answering emails at 1 am or responding to chats. Set limits so you can still have a work day and a personal life – when the two bleed too closely together, your house can feel suffocating.
Maurey Povich meme that states: You said that working at home will give you lots of free time. The face that I haven't got up from this chair in 7 hours determined that it was a lie.
 

8) Ask for flexibility. So all these tips and tricks are AWESOME – but there is a big wrinkle if you’re a parent. Honestly y’all, I don’t know what in the world to tell you if your kids are little. I know we’re practicing social distancing, but for the sake of your employment you may need to reach out to another family and see about trading childcare. I’m not talking about a gaggle of kids and families- I’m talking 2 – 3 families max when everyone is healthy and precautions are taken. My kids are older, so they don’t need someone to watch them, but they still need meals made, time outdoors and some nudging to do their school work. I’ll be working with my boss (who is home with her kids in CO) and her boss (also home with her kids in CA) to figure this out. My work day may go an hour longer so I can take small breaks during the day to check in on the kids. Or on days Spring is really shining here, I may knock off early and then work in the evening to take advantage of the sunshine.  We’re all in this together, so ask your employer, see what you can work out and be frank about your needs.

9) Talk to your family. A lot of the time, when you’re home, your kids think it’s free time. It’s not. This is still your work day and you are expected to get your job done. Have age-appropriate talks with your kids about what you expect from them and how you’re all going to have to pitch in to make this work.  Set up a sign, have a signal- something that tells your kids when it’s time for them to leave you alone and when you’re open to breaks. I try to talk to my kids every morning to give them an idea of what my day looks like – for example, if there is time for outdoor play, it’s got to happen before 11 am or that I’m in meetings from 1-3, so if they need help cooking, it has to be before or after that time.

That’s what I have so far. Working from home can be more than doable- but make sure you put the parameters in place to help you be successful. Be flexible, be kind to yourself and your family and settle in- we’ll get through this.

Please reach out if you have any other great tips – I’m happy to add them to this list!

Thankful Heart: Days 4 & 5

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You guys, this week has been amazing. 70 degrees and sunny almost everyday. That is crazy weather for up here this time of year. Snow is much more likely than this Indian Summer weather, so I’m ridiculously thankful for this heatwave. But I’m also thankful for other things..

Day 4: Work Life

It’s been a little over 2 years now since I was laid off from my job of 13 years. That was one of the most tenuous, scariest times time as we tried to figure out how we were going to live without my salary. But we did it. I was blessed with a few great part time gigs (which I still miss!) to tide me over until I found this job at the University. About half my coworkers at the University work remotely, but this week my whole team was in the office and it was wonderful. It’s a special kind of joy to work with people you like and respect; people you would have picked to be friends with even outside of the office.  This week was full of lots of meetings and more work to add to the to-do pile, but it was also full of lunches outside in this gorgeous weather and lots of laughs.

I really wouldn’t recommend getting laid off to anyone, but losing my job has instilled in me the confidence that somehow things will work out. Maybe not on your timeline and maybe not in the way you think it will, but it’ll happen. Trust me.

PinkSkiesDay 5: Deodorant

Scorch is 9. Bless his sweet heart, he’s not anywhere near starting puberty. But some of his friends are, which means some of them are wearing deodorant.  This is the year that the kids in Scorch’s school start changing for PE, so he’s seen just how many boys are putting it on and he wants to be one of those kids so badly. So, so badly. To him deodorant means growing up and getting closer to becoming a teenager and that is what he wants. Never mind that my sweet boy still sleeps with the same lovies that he has since he was 1 or that his bed is littered with stuffed animals. Never mind that he’ll still hold my hand in public and doesn’t like going to bed without being tucked in. Never mind that at heart, he’s still a little boy – there is still a part of him that is starting to pull away from his childhood. And it’s kind of breaking my heart.

This morning, unbeknownst to us, he stole the Hubs deodorant and put some on while I was making lunches. He slid up to me in the kitchen, eyes aglow, with a huge grin cracking open his face, vibrating with excitement and glee.

Mom, I put on deodorant. Can you tell? Can you smell it? Smell me, Mom- smell me.

Today I’m thankful that I get to witness these very small milestones- the stuff they don’t tell you about in the baby books- that bring my kids so much freaking joy that they can’t stand still. I’m in no hurry for my kids to grow up, but it’s hard not to laugh right along side them when they do.

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There’s No Place Like Home

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Last weekend  I flew to San Francisco for 5 days to attend a conference. The day before I left, we were at a party with quite a few friends and the running joke was whether or not the house would be still be standing when I got home. The Hubs had never spent this much time parenting solo before. Ever.

Because of the flexible work-at-home nature of my job and the inflexible nature of his, a lot of the domestic stuff like shuttling kids back and forth, making dinner, grocery shopping and doing laundry falls to me. I’m the homework task master, the CEO of permission slips and lunch making and the czar of family logistics. It’s a system that works for us and keeps everyone happy. That’s not the say the Hubs doesn’t help out because he does quite a lot, but this is the first time he’d have to wear both hats at the same time for so long.

On our way home from that party, the Hubs remarked that those jokes weren’t funny, they were going to do just fine without me.  So with that ringing in my ears, I hopped on a plane and flew across the country to have a fabulous week in one of my favorite cities.

Sausalito

I learned a lot, saw some amazing speakers, got to hear Bruno Mars live and ate so much good food that it makes me sick to think about it.

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And when I got home, the house was still standing, the kids and all the pets were still alive and the Hubs had it all under control. I missed them all like mad, but good lord it was so much easier going away now that the kids are older! Taking care of them isn’t a guessing game, we can catch up on the phone every night without someone crying and they can tell us exactly what they are thinking.

Coming home was awesome- and crazy- as we left the next day for a weekend away to see Disney on Ice Present Frozen (more on that later)! Scorch and the Hubs were thrilled to have me back, as was the Bean, although she’s made me pay for leaving at least once a day since I got back. At least my little spitfire is predictable in her unpredictableness.

 

A Year Later

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The kids and I listen to audiobooks in the car now because it’s the only way I can get them to stop squabbling. We recently started the Ramona series and began Ramona and Her Father today on the way home from school. Within a few minutes of the start of the book, Ramona’s father loses his job. The kids are worried, the mom is a stressed out mess and the dad? Well, he just doesn’t know what to do with himself.

It’s been almost a year to the day since I lost my job. I never saw it coming and it hit me like a blow to the gut. My VP IM’d me, asking me if I could talk and I happily agreed, thinking he wanted to discuss a project we were working on. Nope- he didn’t ease into it at all, the minute I said hello and asked how he was, he told me that there were layoffs happening around the company that day and unfortunately half my team, including myself, were being let go.  We’d be on the books for another month to wrap things up, there would be a severance package coming, goodbye and good luck.

And, that was that.

I remember calling the Hubs and sobbing and apologizing and wanting to throw up. I called my old boss, who went through something similar, and did more sobbing. Between the both of them they convinced me that everything would be OK. And while I knew that I would eventually land on my feet, the guilt was overwhelming. As I was listening to Ramona and Beezus, her sister, on the audiobook today brainstorm ways to make money for their parents I thanked my lucky stars that my kids were too young last year to get it. The cut backs we did were behind the scene and most didn’t touch them in any way they knew about.

It was hard and stressful and so damn scary trying to think about how we were going to make that severance package stretch as long as possible because we had no idea how long I’d be unemployed for. Date nights morphed into sitting at Tim Horton’s with a spreadsheet, pouring over bills and bank accounts, trying to figure what could be slashed. The Hubs got used to leftovers and the kids discovered that extras were no more.

But, a year later, we’re still standing. As crazy as it was, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have a current job that I enjoy the hell out of with some coworkers I adore. I’ve discovered the joys of working in an office again and found a job that allows me to balance that need to be in the office with the needs of my family. We’re much more budget conscience and shop more frugally and with greater intent. But the greatest blessing has been the people I’ve met this year. People who gave me a chance and valued the talent and skills I brought to the table at a time when I didn’t have much confidence in myself. People who encouraged me and believed in me and who pushed me to a new path I never saw coming. Would I want to go through all that again? Nope. Am I glad I did? Absolutely.

To all those people, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Making It Work

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Tonight ended in tears.

Scorch was crying because he couldn’t sit where he wanted to when we played Uno and the Bean was crying because the Hubs and I scrapped the idea of playing Uno all together because everyone is exhausted. Today was Day 2 of our new schedule that includes me going into the office 45 minutes away on a daily basis* and the kids going to after-school.  To top it off, we’ve have something going on every night this week. All of this is manageable- barely- but tonight the order in which we were sitting playing Uno was the last straw for poor Scorch.

The very excellent news is I love my new gig. I’m still absorbing an insane amount of information, but the people have been fantastic and I’m really excited to dive into the job itself! Right now it just feels like the right fit and I’m so, so very glad this opportunity presented itself!

As for our new schedule- we’ll make it work, of that I have no doubt. It’s just new and new things are always a struggle at the onset. It’s making lunches at night and packing lunches for 4 people instead of 2 or 3. It’s figuring out office-appropriate outfits 5 days a week (something I haven’t done since 2002!). It’s taking our finely tuned morning schedule and making it even tighter and praying for no traffic on the way to work. It’s texting during the day with the Hubs to figure out who can get the kids and who will handle homework and what we’re having for dinner.  It’s being a passionate team member who has to leave earlier then most to get my kids (something my manager, bless him, is totally fine with).  It’s trying not to drop too many balls and ignoring the 4 foot mound of laundry in the corner because the pipes are frozen again and I don’t have 2 hours to spend at the laundromat this week.

So basically it’s all the stuff everyone else who works out of the home deals with on a daily basis and, just like everyone else, we’ll find that balance sooner or later. There may be a few bumps in the road, but this life is more than worth it!

 

To New Routines

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Well, it looks like the folks I interviewed with who saw my blog didn’t think talking to a psychic was too odd because they offered me the job and I accepted! Starting the first week in March I’ll be back to working full time for 1 employer and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Things fell very quickly into place with this job and it just feels right- let’s hope my gut is leading me on the right path.

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The kids went back to school yesterday after a week long February break. Why do we have a February break when we also have a week long April break, you ask? To make parents crazy. That is the only answer I could come up with that made any sense.  While honestly we had a great break, the stress of trying to work, juggle playdates and keep my household somewhat functioning almost broke me.  I was beyond thankful for 1) our babysitter that give me 9 hours out of the house, 2) friends who graciously took my kids for playdates and let me take their kids in return to occupy my kids and 3) kids that get along very, very well 90% of the time.

The other 10% of the time gave the Bean a really good excuse to try to spell out a new sign for her bedroom door:

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Translation: Scorch is not allowed in my bedroom

I give her mad props for the freaky smiley face, but the fact that she thought “Barm” = bedroom makes me wonder why we’re spending money on a private school education.

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Next week starts a new normal as I’m back in an office full time. After a few weeks, I’ll be spending the majority of my time working from home, but these next 3 weeks will be the first time ever that both the Hubs and I will be working outside the house 40 hours a week. I foresee lots of scrambling, breakfasts for dinner and a messy house. But I also see two kids thrilled they can go to after school again (after school = play time), a wife (me!) feeling like she’s pulling her weight again and a job I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

So here’s to new routines, new normals and a fresh start!

Great First Impressions

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So you know what’s fun? When you go to a job interview for a position that you’re very, very interested in and you talk at length at how much you love to write and how you wrote a professional blog for the Big Company and how you have your own personal blog as well.  And then the people interviewing you ask to see your blogs. So you say sure because, after all, both blogs are public and you haven’t written anything that you’re embarrassed about on either one. Except for that on your personal blog, the last entry is about how you saw a psychic and tried to communicate with your dead childhood friend. While you’re not really embarrassed about this, it’s still just a little odd to reveal that at your interview with the company you’re hoping to work for, no?

And that’s my life.

*Hoping to have 2 full-time job offers this week. Say a little prayer for me, will you?

I Shall Call Him Toothless

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After an agonizing 3 days, Scorch finally lost his top tooth. This sucker has been hanging on by a thread for days & was disgusting. Now he has a lisp and can’t eat an apple to save his life. It’s oddly adorable.

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And that, my friends, is the most exciting thing going on in our lives right now. And it’s wonderful.  After the craziness that was 2013, it’s so very nice to have nothing exciting happening. Life is just humming along. The kids got amazingly wonderful report cards on Friday, I’m juggling 4 part time jobs that I enjoy and the Hubs is keeping the streets safe.

I did have a job interview last week that went really well. It’s a challenging position for a national company doing something that I love. But it’s also an hour away. So I went into the interview enthusiastically and I spent an amazing 2.5 hours talking to like-minded people about a topic I feel passionately about- I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. And when all was said and done, I met with the HR rep I was working with and explained to him the flexible work arrangement I’d need in order to take the job, knowing full well that what I was asking for may cost me the job. And that was totally OK.

If this job had fallen in my lap right after I lost my old job, I would have taken it and been absolutely thrilled to have it regardless of the commute and the impact on my family’s life. Back in Sept / Oct, I was in such a panic about cutting my family’s income in half that I couldn’t see past the dollar signs.  Yet, here we are 3 months later and you know what? We’re fine. The corners we had to cut back in the fall were really, really painful then and, sometimes, they still are. But they are also part of life now. I’m cooking a lot more- sometimes that’s good and sometimes (like tonight) not so good. We play a lot of Uno (a lot of Uno) and watch movies on Netflix- going out now is a huge event that takes on an all new meaning. I work when I work and all my employers know that if I promise them a set number of hours or deliverables a week, they will get them but my hours may be a tad unorthodox as I now have the luxury to truly work around the kid’s schedules.

I’d love a full time job, but it’s amazingly liberating to know that I can wait until I find the right one.

Over & Done With

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Today was the day- my 13 year career at the Big Company has come to an end.

And you know what? Today I feel relieved.

For the past month, this is all I could think and talk about. At work, at home, with friends and with family- it was The Topic of Conversation. And I was dreading today. I was dreading handing over a project I care very much about to people I didn’t know. I was dreading saying goodbye to coworkers who’ve become friends. I was (and still am, to be honest) dreading life without my reliable paycheck.  I was dreading a huge stretch of down time, wondering what I was going to do with myself. But by today, I was just ready to end this chapter and move on.

My manager drove 7 hours up from VA to take me to lunch today- which is about as classy as you can get and I’m touched by her kindness. I was worried it was going to be awkward, but it wasn’t. We had a good meal, some good laughs and a few tears.  I don’t hold her responsible for this- I know how things work as I’ve had to be that manager in the past.  When our meal was over, I handed her my computer and my ID and that was that.  Done. Finished. Over.

To mark the occasion, I took the kids out to a fundraiser at a local Frozen Yogurt place, grabbed a pizza and watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabain with my family.  I got an email this afternoon offering me a part time job doing something I think I’m going to enjoy very, very much.  Between that and a few freelance gigs I’m hoping to get, I’m going to be just fine.  I’m starting to see this as the kick out of my comfort zone that I may have needed for a long time.

So here’s to the adventure in store, the financial uncertainty that will keep me up at night and the endless applications that’ll cause me to pull my hair out- all of which, I’m sure, will take me exactly where I’m supposed to be.

This, That & Seamus

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So hi. Been what- 6 days now? Amazing how fast time goes by, isn’t it? Wishing I had something super exciting to share, but I don’t, really. So…here are some snippets of what’s shaking.

The interviews last week went well. The first one lasted all of 3 minutes when the recruiter informed me that they were looking for someone who lived in Boston. That’s clearly not me. The second interview was with the HR recruiter for a job I very much want and that went amazing! We clicked, the mutual interest was there and I was on Cloud Nine when she immediately scheduled a follow up for me for the next day with the hiring manager. That interview was much harder to read although I was very pleased with how I did.  So I’m waiting to hear if I’m still in the running there.  The third interview was for a local job that went so well that I left there very disappointed that it was only part time and not terribly high paying. I’m really hoping I get that job- if nothing else, I’ll love it and it’ll get me out of the house once I roll off my job at the end of the week!

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Yup, I roll off my job this week. Still trying to figure out how I feel about that besides panicked for the poor guys taking over for me. Which I know is crazy to feel given the circumstances, but I do.

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Meet Seamus!

Seamus

Scorch decided a while back he wanted his very own pet – because evidently the 2 cats and the dog weren’t enough for him. First he wanted a snake. That got a big Hell No from us. Then he wanted a lizard- also a no go.  Hamster? Also not happening thanks to a 4th grade birthday party that scared me for life. Then he suggested a gold fish. Hmmm…maybe. But with the short life span and the cleaning of the bowl, that sounded like a giant PITA too. So the Hubs suggested a hermit crab- with the stipulation Scorch had to pay for it himself.  Since we don’t give him an allowance and it was months from any holiday or his birthday, we figured we were safe.

Yeah- that little kid had $26 in change saved up in under 2 months from scrounging around everywhere. I kid you not when I tell you Scorch walked around any time we were in public with his eyes glued to the ground hoping to find lost change.  And he did it- he kept at it and saved enough.  So two weeks ago, we went to the pet shop and Scorch bought his very own pet with his very own money!  While a hermit crab isn’t my first (or even 10th) choice of a pet, Seamus is quiet, clean and low maintenance. I guess we could have done worse!

And, sadly, that’s the most exciting news I’ve had to share all week!