All posts by John

I am a Product Manager who works from home full time. I also am very active in leadership and volunteerism with my local Episcopal Church. My blog focuses on the benefits and challenges faced by the remote worker or telecommuter. It can be found at http://14stepcommute.net.

My Office for the Day

Office on the Deck

This was my office for the day today.  One of the benefits of working from home when the weather is nice!

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A Simple Fix to the Do Not Disturb Problem

I work from home full time.  I have an office with a door that is located right off the main living area of the house.  While this is terribly convenient to the core of the house, it can mean that there is often a lot going on around me.  There are 3 other humans, and 3 dogs living in this house with me.  In the summer, they are all here most of the time.  As I’m sure you can imagine, my door has to be closed a lot.

Whether the door is closed or open, my family struggles with knowing whether or not I’m in the middle of something or on the phone.  I use SKYPE primarily, and often on speaker, so there are no tell-tale signals.  Because it is a home office setup, I don’t have a slick red light that lights up every time I am on the phone either.

I’ve always been very flexible with my family about interruptions during the workday.  I’m not one these people who close the door and tell the family to ignore me all day, or pretend I’m not here.  That policy can negate one of the biggest advantages of working at home:  you’re there when all of the important things happen.

I needed a way to signal to them what’s going on behind these doors, and how they should or should not interact with me at this time.  I searched all over the internet to find something.  I looked for a traffic light that I could change between red, yellow, and green.  (I didn’t find one, but admittedly I wasn’t looking real hard because I’m sure my wife doesn’t want one in the family room).

I even tried to make my own signs.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  Finally, after a lot of searching and much frustration,  I found a really simple solution and it was very cost effective too:  less than $5. You can buy it here on Amazon:   https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00USOBIQI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I bought this 2-pack of door knob hang tags (like you see at hotels) that are printed with various messages:

Come In (Green), Busy (Blue), Do Not Disturb (Red/Orange), Gone for the Day (Orange), Away (Yellow).  They are printed on both sides, so you can just flip them over to change the message.

Screenshot 2015-08-20 10.54.35

I use the Come In, I’m Busy, and Do Not Disturb the most.  Here is how I use them:

Come In:  I’m working, but not on the phone or really tied up.  It’s OK to pop in to chat or ask a question, etc.

I’m Busy:  I’m on a call or working on something pretty important.  Please knock before entering, don’t just come in and start talking.

Do Not Disturb:  I’m leading a call or really, really, really head’s down on something important or requiring my full, uninterrupted concentration.  Unless someone is hurt or the house is burning down, DO NOT DISTURB!

I’ve also begun to use the Gone for the Day to indicate that I’m done with work!  This process works on an open door as well as a closed door.

I simply explained this to everyone, and it has worked out great.  Their only request was that I make sure to swap them out as needed during the day.  So far, I’ve done a good job keeping the system updated.

What ideas have you found successful?

The Messy Home Office

I’m kind of a slob, it’s true.  But I do wonder if my office space is messier because I work at home?

messdesk1

For the short 3 years I worked in an office, I’m sure that my desk(s) were not cluttered with this much stuff.  Why?  Well, I had to meet with people there!

messdesk2

Here in the home office, its just me and the family.  And let’s face it, they know I am a piler of paper, so why pretend!

I guess it’s time to clean it up.

Do you have any tips for taming the piles?

The 3 C’s of Successful Remote Work

I recently read an insightful blog post by Sean Graber on HBR.org about why remote work is successful at some companies and not others.  He lists three C’s for success:  Communication, Collaboration, and Culture.  Check it out here:

http://hbr.org/2015/03/why-remote-work-thrives-in-some-companies-and-fails-in-others

The main take-away for me was that technology was not enough to ensure success.  You need process too.  Many companies spend lots of budget on technology and tools, but if the workers don’t embrace them and utilize them, it’s just money down the drain.

My team has experienced this with a few file sharing / collaboration tools, which I won’t name.  After all, the main reason for failure was not the tools themselves, but our lack of a strong culture to collaborate.    Getting them to share documents is like pulling teeth.

The same could be said for video chat.  We use the phone call and IM features all day long, but rarely does anyone turn on the video.

Bottom line:  technology won’t make remote work successful by itself.

Music in the Home Office: Why I prefer Sonos

Note:  this is not a paid or sponsored post.  The content here is my own

.sonos2

One of the advantages to working from home is that you don’t have to listen to music on headphones.  Sure, there are times when that is necessary, but mostly I can play the tunes on my Sonos speakers.  When it comes to music in the home office, there are many options out there.  I’ve tried many of them, and I can say without a doubt I much prefer Sonos.

First, let’s look at some of the options available:

  • PC Speakers: This is certainly the easiest and most cost effective option for many.  Of course, today, many of us have our music libraries on phones and tablets, so you’d have to put the music on the computer to use the speakers.  Plus, the sound quality generally isn’t great without making an investment.  If you’re going to make that kind of investment, seems like you’d just go for something that would utilize your phone/tablet music library.
  • Bluetooth Speaker:  These are enormously popular today, and quite convenient.  Most will have batteries so they are a completely wireless solution.  This is a great option if you’re moving about from room to room, or working from the patio. Prices can vary widely with sound quality and size, and if you’re willing to spend a hundred or more, the sound can be very good.  One drawback that I have found is that you have to have the device that has the music library pretty close (Bluetooth range) to the speaker.  And, most devices will only support a single Bluetooth connection at any time.  So, if you’re like me with your cell phone functioning as your office phone and your music library, this presents challenges. You will have to choose between the headset for calls and the speaker.  If you have a tablet with your music, this issue can be eliminated.

As the title of the post indicates, I prefer Sonos.  Sonos is a sound system that runs through your WiFi.  The speakers are available in 3 packages:  Play1, Play3, and Play5.  The higher the number, the more speakers and better sound packaged in the speaker box.  I have both a Play1 and a Play3.  I started with a Play3 for myself in the home office.  I bought my wife a Play1 for Christmas this year for the Kitchen.  We both love it!  Here is why Sonos is the better option:

  • WiFi connection frees up my Bluetooth connection for my headset.  This is required for me because I am on the phone a lot.
  • WiFi connection provides superior range.  As long as my device is on the same WiFi network as the speaker, it can be anywhere.   So as I wonder about the house with the phone in my pocket, the music keeps playing.
  • You can group the speakers together for a multi-room sound experience.  I do this more often than I thought.  I group both speakers together and the music plays in the office and the kitchen simultaneously.  My wife and I host a marriage seminar in our home that requires background music in multiple locations.  The grouping works really well for this too.
  • The Sonos Controller app is a single source for controlling what plays on the speaker.  It includes Pandora and TuneIn radio services in addition to playing the music in your library.  No more switching between iTunes, Pandora and others.  It also does a better job of random play too.
  • The sound quality is fantastic.  The Play3 can be played very loud with no discernible loss of fidelity.  I was actually very impressed with the sound quality of the Play1 as well.

So, is Sonos perfect?  Of course not.  Each speaker has to be plugged in.  Older models required a bridge device to be connected with your WiFi.  (Newer models do not).  If you’re looking for sounds outside the range of WiFi and without power, Sonos is not your solution.   If you’re moving them around a lot, they are heavier than many Bluetooth speakers.  It is not as portable as many Bluetooth speakers, although I do take them to other rooms in the house and out on the deck.

My family likes the Sonos system so much that my teenagers want Play1’s for their rooms now.  And I thought I wasn’t cool anymore!

What do you use for music in your home office?

Setting up the remote office after a move

Well, it’s been a while since I posted because it’s been a busy summer.  We moved across town to a bigger place with a bigger yard.  It also has a dedicated office!  While our old house was very nice, we used the 4th bedroom as an office, so this is a huge plus.

 

Moving is enough work in itself, but when you’re moving your home and office, it provides no escape.  So, while I wanted to be working on unpacking clothes and setting up bedrooms, I was focused on setting up the office.  I was only able to take 2 vacation days for the move, so I was under the gun to get things together so I could get back to work.

 

The new office
The new office

Here are 5 tips for setting up a New Remote Office:

 

  1. Pack as much of your office as you can personally.  This allows you to personally approve everything that is or is not going to be a part of the new office.  Now is the time to get rid of unused items, file or pitch all the paperwork, and generally “thin the herd.”
  2. Consider getting new furniture.  This can be brand new, or new to you. My plan was to re-use most of what I was using in my new office.  However, my new office already had shelves and a desk, so I had to re-think the rest of my furniture choices.  Would you re-use everything from your old office in a new one that was a blank slate?  I suppose so, but unless you’re really attached and happy with what you have, this is a good opportunity to improve and make a fresh start.
  3. Plan for delays when dealing with technology vendors.  I had the cable company lined up to install everything on the afternoon of closing so I could be back to work quickly.  Of course, some kind of snafu caused the appointment to be cancelled without my knowledge.  Have a backup plan for how you’re going to work in case the technology isn’t in place when you need it.  I was able to self-install my internet and TV, so as it turns out, I was good to go mostly on the day I needed it.
  4. Establish your boundaries early.  You have to work and earn a living in this space.  Set your boundaries early with yourself and the rest of the household.  The office is not a store room for yet-to-be unpacked items, or a grave-yard for everything that shouldn’t have made the move.    Only items that belong permanently in the office should go here.  This includes other humans too.  When you’re back to work, close the door, keep it closed, and draw the line in the sand clearly upfront.  Everyone will be glad you did in the long run.  This really wasn’t a problem for me as I’ve been doing this so long, my family understands.  But, in the new house, the office is right off of the family room, so it might be a little challenging keeping the line drawn when I’m right in the middle of action.  Time will tell.
  5. Change is good, so use this opportunity to your advantage.  This is a great opportunity to reset your productivity.  Get things organized quickly and use this event to push the reset button on your attitude and your environment.  Are you distracted by the goings on around you?  Maybe the new place won’t be so disturbing.  Turn over a new leaf and get to work!

How to Avoid Procrastinating When Working Remotely

Here is a good post by Sarah Gabot on the Squiggle Blog about procrastination when working from home.  If you haven’t read the Squiggle Blog, you should check it out here.

How to Avoid Procrastinating When Working Remotely.

The Unexpected Nomad

bag
The bag is packed

We have decided to sell our house and move to a bigger house on more land.  It’s a good move for us, and I’ll be gaining a really nice office on the main level (with its own private deck!).  But like many of you, we can’t own two houses, so we have to sell our existing home.

This means vacating at a moments notice.  For the full-time remote worker, this is more disruptive than an office worker.  Yesterday, we had a showing at the same time as a conference call that I was leading.  Of course…

So, I packed up my laptop and found a quiet place with wi-fi (at my church, of all places) and was a nomad for the afternoon.  What will today bring?  Who knows, but I am ready to do it again today, and tomorrow, and….well let’s just hope this is short-lived because I prefer to work in the same place all day, every day.

My own take on lighting

Having the right tools for the job is always a key to productivity. Working remotely is no different.  If you have the right tools, it’s much easier to get the job done quick.

Proper lighting is important.  Task lighting for your desk is critical, but the rest of the office / area needs to be well-lit as well.  In my case, I am interested in some style in my lighting (no boring fluorescent overheads for me) and I like to make my own when I can.

overhead

For my desk task lighting, I have a hanging light made from recycled wrappers (think litter).  We bought a few of these at our local Fair Trade Store (Latitudes).  I have one hanging directly over the desk.  I especially like it because it is a plug-in, so it can be controlled by the light switch.

stagelight

General room lighting is handled by two DIY stage lights I made from decorative accent pieces found at Homegoods.   These initially were mirrored with no wiring or bulb sockets.  I added the light sockets, wiring and switches, removed the mirroring, and added a wavy coating finish to the glass.  Finally, I am using Daylight CFL’s for a brighter experience.  What I like the most about these as a lighting source is that I have them pointed up  to “bounce” the light off the ceiling.

giants light

Finally, for fun, I added a NY Giants bar light my Dad sent me a few years ago.  All work and no play makes for a dull office!