Work Well When Working Remotely

 

Over the past few years, working remotely (also referred to as telecommuting and working from home) have become more and more commonplace.  There are websites like Flexjobs.com devoted to finding flexible work-from-home positions and many employers offer the ability to work from home as a company perk. The majority of Gen Z and Millennial workers say they work from home at least one day per week.

Not everybody likes to work from home for a number of reasons. Maybe you miss having a big desk set up just how you like it. Or you miss the social aspect of working around a number of people. This is partly why co-working companies like WeWork exist and why you see people camped out with their laptops in coffee shops all day.

But in the past couple of weeks, as the novel coronavirus Covid-19 makes its way around the world, remote working has taken on greater significance as more than a perk letting you cut down on a long commute or throw in a load of laundry before dialing into a conference call.  It’s being used as a possible avenue to reduce the spread of the virus itself.  As far as researchers know to date, this strain of coronavirus spreads like other respiratory viruses: from person-to-person and from objects.

While the US hasn’t ordered the kind of large-scale quarantines we have seen in China and Italy, major employers with offices in areas where Covid-19 is making its presence known, like Amazon in Seattle, have taken the step of asking employees to work remotely. Schools are also employing online learning to reduce person-to-person contact of their students and staff (also known as social distancing).

While the full extent of the spread of coronavirus in the US remains to be seen, if you find yourself working from home, whether as a company perk or a necessity, there are a few things you can do to make sure you stay productive, keep some separation of work and life, and get your social fix.

  • Set Up a Designated Office Space
    • If you only occasionally work from home, you might be tempted to just plop down on the sofa with your laptop, remote in hand. While that may work out well for a couple of days, it’s not necessarily a strategy for long-term success.
    • Instead, space permitting in your home, find a spot where you can set up a home office of sorts. Even if that spot is your couch, use the same spot each time.
    • The idea is to push your brain into “work mode” instead of “home mode.”
    • If your work setup is fairly complex – for example, if you use two monitors at work and are planning to work from home remotely regularly – it may be worth buying monitors and a docking station so you can create the same setup.
      • Bonus Tip: Before spending your own cash on this, check to see if your employer has a technology allowance or budget to purchase monitors or docking stations for remote employees.
  • Stick to a Morning Routine
    • While the occasional work-from-home day in your pajamas is certainly a nice treat, resist the urge to make it a habit, especially if you work from home a lot.
    • Instead, get up at your regular time and stick to your usual routine by getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.
    • Don’t get us wrong, unless you conduct a lot of video conferences, there’s likely no reason to wear business clothes (and even then, you really only need a business-appropriate top!), so go ahead and embrace the sweats or leggings…just wear different ones during the day than you wore to bed.
  • Take Breaks
    • If you normally grab coffee with a coworker at 11am each day, take a quick walk around your block at that time, or pop in a load of laundry. Your mental breaks might look a little different working from home, but you should still take them.
  • Stop Work at Your Usual Stopping Time
    • When working from home, it’s very easy to blur the line between work life and home life. That is one reason why setting up a dedicated office space is helpful – spending all day laying on the couch doing work and all evening laying on the couch watching TV is not a recipe for a good work-life balance.
    • So if your normal stopping time is 5:30pm, then at that time, shut down your computer and put it away. Do your usual dinner and evening routine. If you need to log back in to do work later or just want to in order to get a jump on the next day, of course go ahead, but make sure you take a break to mentally reset away from work and back to home.
  • Make Sure Your Roommates and/or Family Are on Board
    • If you live with others, especially others who may be home during the day, make sure you communicate to them your work schedule to avoid disruptions during the day.
    • Similarly, don’t hang out with them (or invite friends over to hang out) unless you’re off the clock. Would you invite non-work friends to hang out in your cubicle? If not, follow the same practice at home.
  • Pick up the Phone
    • Working from home can be very isolating, especially if you are working from home due to social distancing rather than preference.
    • Nowadays, much of our work is done over email. You may hate talking on the phone or have no need to do so when you’re in the office – you can just pop in on your boss or coworker for some face time.
    • But when you work from home on the regular, the phone takes on greater importance. If you usually check in with your boss a couple of times a week for an in-person meeting, schedule a call to do that. Do you usually spend some time chatting with a coworker about office news?  Take a virtual coffee break from your home offices over the phone or video chat. You might feel silly at first, especially if you normally steer clear of phone calls, but human connection is important and when you cannot do it face to face, the phone is a great substitute.

Photo by A R C H I G E R O S A on Unsplash

Dragging at Work? How to Stay Motivated

It’s mid-February.  The excitement of the holidays has waned, New Year resolutions are a guilt-inducing memory, and the weather outside is gray and cold.  It’s no shock that people consistently identify February as one of their least favorite months of the year.

The winter doldrums often extend to the workplace: sometimes, you just don’t feel like doing anything.  I find myself lagging when I have work to do but no pressing deadlines. It’s hard to get motivated to get stuff done without a sense of urgency, but it’s also not that fun having projects hanging over my head.

My solution is twofold:

  1. I block out time in my calendar for each task I need to get done.
  2. I make up smaller, internal deadlines.

Let’s say I have to research and draft a section of a report to a client.

First, I take a look at my calendar for the day and block out the time I think I need to research and write it. For this project, I will assign myself 4 hours in total.

Second, I break out the project into smaller steps. I give myself 2 hours to research, 30 minutes to outline my points, 1.25 hours to write it, and 15 minutes to proof it.

https://i1.wp.com/thislawyerlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Schedule-example.png?zoom=1.5&resize=276%2C282&ssl=1

As the afternoon ticks by, my calendar notifications remind me where I should be in the process. As I complete each step, I also like to cross that item off my to do list, giving me an additional (if minor) sense of accomplishment which in turn motivates me to continue.

What do you do if following these steps isn’t enough – if you’re still struggling to get anything done?

As a last ditch effort, I set a timer on my phone for fifteen minutes and just start writing the report. No research, no plan, just pure stream of consciousness. At the end of the fifteen minutes, what I’ve written is probably not great, in fact, it’s often pretty bad! But at least I’ve gotten something on the page, and after fifteen minutes of constant work, I usually find that I can drum up enough motivation to keep at it for a while longer.

Photo: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Bottom Photo: TheCareerFiles

Reminder: You are Responsible for Your Own Career

During the first few years of your career, a lot of your time is going to be focused on figuring out how to make it through the day. You’ll be in the weeds, so to speak. And it will probably take a couple of years for you to feel like you have a clue about what you’re doing in your chosen profession and several months to settle into a new job.  Putting your head down and focusing on the day-to-day job is necessary, but make sure you act strategically when you can so that when you do pop up for air, you like where your career is headed.

It is so normal to feel aimless at the start of your career!  For the first time in your life, you might not have a concrete goal.  You had been on a clear trajectory: graduate high school…get a degree or other qualification…get a job…and then…what?

You might not be able to answer that question, and that’s okay.  But don’t let the total newness of life upon entry to the full-time working world stop you from taking control where you can.  Because nobody cares about your career as much as you do. And it’s up to you to take it where you want to go.

So, even when you have little to no autonomy in your daily work life, here are a few things to try:

  • Take on new work strategically
    • Obviously, you need to do the work assigned to you. But keep an eye and ear out for opportunities beyond your current daily grind. Get to know colleagues on your team and speak with your formal and informal mentors and supervisor about what they’re doing and where your department is headed.
    • Want to work with a particular person? If you see a gap in your schedule coming up, reach out to them and ask if they have any opportunities.
    • Interested in a particular area project? Figure out who in your office works on it and ask to get involved.
    • Just remember to get your supervisor’s OK before taking on new work that’s outside of your normal duties.
  • Get involved outside of your job.
    • Join a networking group for young professionals or an organization dedicated to your career.  These can provide leadership opportunities for you before you get those chances at work, and they help you make connections for the future.
  • Attend office events.
    • Join your colleagues at the weekly happy hour. Attend the lunchtime lecture series. Sign up to attend the fundraiser where your company bought a table. You don’t need to go to everything, but you should go to some things in order to stay engaged in your company, make connections, hear about new and interesting matters, or at the least, just enjoy some free food and drink!

Photo from Unplash.

Three Things You Must Do Before Your Summer Internship Ends

The new job jitters have subsided, you’ve completed a few projects, and the summer is well underway. Before you know it, it will be time to wrap up your summer internship and head back to school.

Before the summer ends, here are three key things you should do to finish your internship on a high note:

1. ASK FOR FEEDBACK

Have you been emailing assignments into a black hole all summer? Now’s the time to seek out feedback. An internship is an opportunity for you to learn, but it’s also a chance to get a stellar reference for your future job hunts. Getting and applying feedback is necessary to doing that.

So, if you turn in an assignment and hear nothing back, check in with your supervisor after a few days and ask if they have any questions or follow up from the assignment.

If you turn in a draft of a document and have an opportunity to see the final version, edited by a senior member of the team, run a comparison to see the edits and take note for the future – this can be so helpful to improving your writing. If you have questions about some of the edits, ask for a meeting to discuss them.

If you do a few assignments for one person and the feedback you receive never goes beyond a vague “Good job, thanks,” ask to set up a brief meeting or grab coffee to talk about how you’re doing. Come prepared with specific questions in case you receive another vague comment like, “You’re doing fine.”

2. CHECK IN WITH YOUR MENTOR AND/OR PERSONAL GOALS

Were you assigned a mentor at your office? About halfway through the summer, check in with them generally. Are there any big picture issues they can help with? For example, do you really want to try a particular kind of assignment but have been stuck doing something else? Your mentor might be able to help.

If you don’t have a formal mentorship program, take a few minutes to think about what you wanted to get out of the internship and how to make that happen. Ask (nicely!) for the opportunities you would like to get and the work you would like to do.

3. WRAP UP ALL MAJOR PROJECTS A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE YOU LEAVE

This gives your supervisor time to review your work product and follow up with questions and gives you a chance to enjoy your last couple of days and ensure there are no loose ends. Do NOT be the summer intern forced to skip the last day lunch or happy hour in order to frantically finish a project or even worse, the one who leaves work undone, meaning your supervisor has to finish it in your absence.

Pic by Pixabay

Day in the Life: Electrical Engineer

 

Job Title: Electrical Engineer / Project Engineer

Industry: Engineering Consulting

Location: Brighton, MI

Age: 29

Gender: Male

Salary/Benefits: $72k plus overtime

Employer Type: Private company

Employer Size: 80 employees

How Long in Current Position: 3 years

Highest Level of Education: B.S. Electrical Engineering (Certificate in Power Engineering)

Path to This Job: I’ve always been interested in the construction industry. I was working for an electrical contractor during college while I was pursuing my engineering degree. After college, I had moved to Wisconsin to work for a different electrical contractor for several years. I decided to move back to my home area in Metro-Detroit, MI. I started working for another electrical contractor and was offered a position at a consulting firm in which the company designs manufacturing plants.

A typical day at work:

4:00am: Alarm goes off, I get up and get ready for the day.

5:00am: Start my commute to work (sometimes I work at the office, other times I work remotely at the job site, depends on the job).

6:00am – 11:00am: Arrive at work. Startup my computer, check emails I may have gotten throughout the night as I have a few projects that are being worked on during 3rd shift. I work throughout the morning performing my tasks as required for the project I’m working on. This includes writing scope of works, design specifications, CAD work. It varies.

Due to my background being electrical infrastructure, most of my design work is electrical (power distribution centers, end use distribution layout, etc.). Due to the size of my company though, often times I wear many hats. I’ve worked on designing mechanical systems and HVAC solutions. I will design a solution to one of those problems and then review with a senior engineer whose specialty is mechanical. This is done as those individuals may have a significant work load and may not have the time to sit down and fully design a system. I will discuss with them the solution I implemented and discuss any assumptions I made for the project with the pros/cons of the solution to determine if there’s another approach I should take.

Scattered into these times, I will have meetings with either customers (project status meetings, engineering meetings, construction meetings, etc.) or internal meetings with team members on other projects that need input on electrical systems.

If my day takes me to the field as a project engineer, I will oversee construction focusing on the electrical side as we will have mechanical engineers to oversee the mechanical side of things. These projects are often in the scale of several hundred million dollars, so we will have a staff of engineers to oversee the construction to ensure that what is being built in the field is what was designed/spec’d and more importantly, to modify the design if required because the solution we may have come up with in the office may not be able to be implemented in the field for various reasons.

11:00am: Break for lunch if time allows. If I’m in the office, I eat at my desk, so I continue working as described above.

11:00am – ???: After lunch I continue working as described above. If I’m working 8 hour days, I will head home around 2:30 PM, but often times my days carry me till 6 or 7 at night. It all depends on the project.

READERS, SUBMIT YOUR DAY: The Career Files Submission Form

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Site Update

Dear Readers:

As you may have noticed, TheCareerFiles.com has been quiet over the past several months. That’s about to change – beginning in January, we will continue posting a “day in the life” at work submissions two times a week. Check in every Monday and Wednesday for a new post. Or subscribe to our weekly digest by completing the fields at the right to receive both posts in one email every Thursday.

In addition, we will be posting bonus content, including resources and tips to help you build your career.

We would love to hear from you!

Submit your Day in the Life at Work using our Google Form: The Career Files Submission Form

Email us about any topics you’d like to see covered on the blog at thecareerfiles@gmail.com.

A Day in the Life: Fundraiser at a Nonprofit

Job Title: Fundraising Associate

Industry: Nonprofit

Location: Indiana

Age: 26

Gender: Female

Salary/Benefits: $45,000/year. Health and dental insurance covered. 3% 401k matching.

Employer Type: Non-profit organization

Employer Size: less than 100 employees

Time in Current Position: 2 years

Highest Level of Education: Bachelors

Path to This Job: I spent more than a year after college temping and got placed at a nonprofit organization. I hit it off with their head of fundraising, who hired me for a fulltime position when she joined another organization. I’ve been in my job for about 2 years now and love it.

A typical day at work:

6:00: Wake up to dog breath and take my pup out for a walk before getting myself ready for work and making some scrambled eggs for breakfast. I like to spend a little quiet time reading a book before I head to work. This week I’m reading In the Woods by Tana French. So far, it’s really good.

 7:45: Give the pup one last hug before I head out the door to work. My roommate is in grad school and has a pretty flexible schedule, so she’ll walk the dog during the day while I’m at work.

 8:00: So glad I have a super short commute. Settled in at my desk. I have a bunch of calls to make this morning to ask for donations to a silent auction we’re hosting in a couple months. I leave a lot of voicemails.

 10:00: Time for my weekly one-on-one with my boss. We chat about our big fundraiser gala coming up in a couple of months.

 10:30:  Meet with our marketing director to talk about our next direct mail campaign. We still send out snail mail requests for donations even though a lot of people donate online these days.

11:30: Spend some time on paperwork updating our records on fundraising outreach.

12:30: Lunchtime!  I pack salads on Sunday night and bring one each day during the week. This week I’ve got spinach, radishes, carrots, sunflower seeds, and hard boiled eggs with a honey mustard dressing. Yum! I hang out in the break room and chat with some coworkers while eating.

1:30: Spend some time working on posts for our website and updates for our quarterly donor newsletter.

3:30: Check our department email account and respond to a few questions, mostly from people who want to volunteer with our organization. I share responsibilities for managing our volunteers with a coworker so I copy her on my emails responding to the prospective volunteers.

4:00: Make a few more calls for the gala. I don’t love talking on the phone, so I try to break up the phone calls in bits and pieces throughout the day.

5:00:  Wrap up my last call and pack up my stuff.

5:20: Arrive at home and let the dog out. We go on a nice long walk, which will count as my exercise for the day because I have plans tonight. Give the dog her dinner and fix a snack for myself before heading out to pick up a couple of friends on the way to pub trivia. I’m DD tonight so I stick to diet coke and apps while we play. We do pretty well – third out of ten teams!

9:00: Home. Let the dog out one last time and hang out with my roommate for a while for heading to bed around 11:00.

READERS, SUBMIT YOUR DAY: The Career Files Submission Form

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash