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.
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Vacationers scratching their travel itch this season are sending prices through the roof. Here’s how some are making trade-offs.
Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.
The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.
Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.
“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.
With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.
Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.
Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)
The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.
“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”
For some, that means a cheaper hotel. Hotels.com says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.
For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.
Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.
Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.
The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.
“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.
Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.
For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.
For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.
Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.
Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.
McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.
“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”
Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.
Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.
He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.
He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.
“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.
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