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.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.
When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.
“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”
Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.
In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.
“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”
Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”
A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.
The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.
“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer. “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”
The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.
Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.
But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.
It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.
“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”
On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”
Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.
Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.
There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.
When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”
Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.
The family moved in a few months later.