Working From Home Has All Sorts of Annoyances
Here’s how I solved them.
Here’s how I solved them.
In the war between office and home office, I’ve picked a camp: I’m Team WFH, all the way. But that doesn’t mean I’m impervious to its many annoyances.
My secret is that after more than 20 years of remote work, and even longer as a die-hard tech geek, I’ve built up a repertoire of gadgets and tricks that take the edge off some of the little aggravations that can ruin the joys of remote work.
I don’t pretend that most—or any—of these problems fall under the category of Big Issues. But it’s the small, quality-of-life frustrations that can do the most daily damage. So with that in mind, here are my favourite fixes for the things that most bug me.
There is no substitute for the day-to-day mind meld that can happen when you work side-by-side with trusted colleagues. When you’re working remotely, it’s harder to communicate project updates, requests for feedback, or guidance when assigning a task.
A giant screen can help—and I’m not talking about a 28-inch-monitor. Our living room now features a projector and a 100-inch movie screen, and it makes an enormous difference. When I can fit all 30 columns of a spreadsheet on a screen, and walk a junior colleague through the steps I need her to take on, it makes it much easier to provide clear guidance. And when I can project my work in progress on the big screen, I can get quick feedback from my husband when we run into each other during a midmorning coffee break.
One of the few things I miss about office life is the sense of variety: between meetings, hallway chitchats, professional-development events and collegial lunches, I could count on a change of pace (and scenery) throughout the workday. Working at home, I get tired of staring at the two feet of wall surrounding my desk and monitor.
The key: make it easy to relocate. The solution? A laptop docking station and hub that connect my monitor, mouse, webcam, backup drive and power supply. Now that leaving or returning to my desk no longer requires a festival of plugging and unplugging, it’s easy for me to take my laptop out to our deck or into the living room if I need a break from my home office. Changing my work locations throughout the day has made my days a lot less tedious.
If you share your home office (or even your home) with other people, there’s no telling where someone might put that client file, your spare USB cable or your favourite pen. That’s why you need to label everything—so everyone knows to put it in the same place.
The right label maker makes it easy: Mine connects to my phone or laptop, so I can dictate or type up my labels instead of pecking them out on miniature keys. Yes, I could just label things by hand, but I’ve noticed that my family members take my organizing systems a lot more seriously when they’re backed by an official printed label.
Nothing is more exasperating than intermittent Wi-Fi if you are depending on it to stay connected to your office, colleagues or clients. If your home network slows down when more than one person is working from home, a few simple investments can make a big difference.
First, get a good-quality router, and plan on replacing it every few years. (Routers have a limited lifespan.) In addition, we have Wi-Fi extenders on our upper and lower floors: If I’m working from the offices on our ground floor or in our loft, I connect to the Wi-Fi extender on that floor, for a more reliable connection.
Finally, to ensure my kids’ Netflix watching and online gaming doesn’t disrupt my work or presentations, I use my router’s Quality of Service (QoS) feature to give priority to the Wi-Fi connections on my computer and my husband’s, and to send our Roku and our PlayStation to the back of the line.
Even those of us who post our innermost thoughts to Facebook may wish to preserve some secrets from our colleagues—which can be a real challenge when you’re dialing into video calls from your bedroom or living room. I lean on a few physical tools to protect my family’s privacy.
I put slide-open camera covers on my laptop’s webcam and my external webcam, so I absolutely know my devices aren’t spying on me by accident. I have a couple of pop-up green screens that I can use to hide the chaos in my workspace. I installed a few picture ledges in my son’s bedroom (which I sometimes use to deliver presentations) so that I can quickly take down his favourite décor and replace it with my own work-related books. And when all else fails, there’s always the “background blur” option built into meeting software.
One of the difficulties of remote work is that when you have a really productive day, nobody notices. And even more dangerous, nobody notices when you have a day where nothing much gets done.
Since I’m more productive when I have some sense of accountability for what I get done in a day, I’ve used different online tools to create that accountability for me. For a long time I had a “Lone Wolves” group on Slack, where I would share my top three daily priorities with a circle of fellow freelancers, and then we’d all check in at the end of the day to report on what we’d accomplished. If I have a day where I get a really remarkable amount of stuff done, I list it all in a “yay, me!” post on Facebook (though I don’t do that more than once every month or two, because it’s a bit obnoxious). And a few friends swear by Focusmate for the same benefit: It lets you make virtual co-working dates so that you feel accountable for how you’ve spent your time.
One joy of remote work is that it’s easy to fit personal tasks into your day, like planning dinner or shopping for a gift. By the same token, however, it’s easy to lose track of the time and nuke your productivity with personal distractions.
To keep an eye on where the day (or week, or month or year) goes, I keep a time tracker running in the background on my phone and computer. The tracker lets me set up simple rules to categorize different keywords or categories as personal or professional, and colour-code them so that I can see at a glance whether I’ve had a work-first or personal-first kind of day. And when I worry that I’ve let my work hours get out of control, I can use the timer to see whether I’m really spending more time at the keyboard.
I have a few co-working buddies who keep remote work from feeling solitary, but I still miss the opportunity to meet new humans and tap into ideas from outside my usual orbit. While I look forward to the day when in-person networking events feel viable again, I have found some online options to fill the breach.
For a good stretch of the pandemic, I hung out on Clubhouse, an audio social network where I formed connections with new colleagues and got to hear from other people in my field. One of the people I met on Clubhouse let me know about Lunch Club, which is kind of like networking roulette: The service sets you up on virtual networking dates with other people you might find interesting to meet.
The same technology that makes it feasible to work outside the office also makes it next to impossible to turn work off. It’s easy to feel like you have to be accessible by email 24/7, which makes it hard to do focused work and contributes to burnout. But turning off (or ignoring) email isn’t feasible if you have a demanding boss or client who acts like you’ve abandoned them to the wolves when you go 20 minutes without answering their missive.
The solution? Text-to-email notifications that alert you when you get an email from that can’t-miss manager or client. Just set up a mail rule in your email client that forwards your boss or client’s emails to the email address associated with your mobile phone number. Once you know that you won’t miss a crucial message if you unplug, it’s a lot easier to keep email from taking over your whole life.
If waistlines expanded during the Covid era, it’s not only because health concerns kept some folks away from the gym. When you’re working from home, a snack is never more than a few steps away. To ensure I only dig into my chocolate supply when I actually intend to have a treat, I keep my favourite chocolate bars locked in a passcode-protected safe. Yes, I know the passcode, but it’s harder to get to the chocolate without thinking first.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: November 26, 2021.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch
Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.
When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.
“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.
With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.
Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lots, dealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.
“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”
Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.
Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.
“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.
A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.
A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”
At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.
Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.
“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.
While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.
The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.
“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.
There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.
Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.
Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.
Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.
Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”
Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.
“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”
Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.
“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.
Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.
Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.
While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.
“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.
It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.
“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’