When Jason and I started announcing the news to everyone that we would be moving to the Raleigh area for his job, I think one of the questions that most frequently ensued was, “What’s Joey going to do?” And by “most frequently ensued,” I mean it was pretty solidly the first question everyone spouted. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that reaction and I was thankful that I had an answer for them other than just, “I’m not sure, we’ll see” (which, the psychology of that is a whole other can of worms for another post at another time, I think).
One large factor that we considered when first deciding on Raleigh was would we be able to make it down there on one income? Yes, it is cheaper to live in North Carolina, but would it be cheap enough that we’d be stable even if I didn’t have a job for a while? We thought about this for some time and ultimately decided it was feasible, but even with it being feasible, we were going to look into some avenues where I could still bring home a paycheck. The obvious first option was to see if my current job would let me continue to work for them remotely in North Carolina.
I sat down with the managing partner about a month before what would be my last day to let him know about the move and I had a whole pitch in my head to sell him on my working remotely. Before I could even get going on my pitch, though, he brought up the possibility himself and the rest is history.
I would say I have never really worked from home. I mean, yes, I can remember one snow day, one day where I had a networking event smack dab in the middle of the day and it didn’t make sense to go into the office, and there were some weekends where I emailed myself things and worked on them on my laptop at home. But I have never been a telecommuter or someone whose official work home base is, well, their home.
Now, I have officially been working from home for one month and I thought it was time for a post about how it’s been going.
1. Even with as far as our society has come in the realm of technology, working remotely is still not seamless.
I truly am in awe of our technology today. I remember when I was a kid watching an episode of The Simpsons that was set in the future and grown-up Lisa had a video chat with Marge. I thought it was cool, but it didn’t cross my mind that 20 years later, I would be having weekly video chats with my own parents. Same goes for Star Trek. I was a biiiig Star Trek watcher and I marveled at things on the show like those mobile, flat-surface computers they always had where they read books and reports. Never thought the iPad would exist, though.
With things like video chat, cell phones, laptops, iPads, and VPNs all being standard these days, as well as the fact that I have put countless “Telecommuting” policies in handbooks for clients, I figured that working remotely would literally be like working in my office from my living room table.
Getting set up for working remotely before I came down to North Carolina was a nightmare because there were a few things that we couldn’t get to work at all. Many hours later after some long calls and multiple emails with tech support, we finally got things operational.
Next, I use a VPN that lets me connect remotely to my computer back in the office in New York, and there is some serious lag. I’m talking type-out-a-sentence-and-have-to-wait-for-it-to-show-up-on-the-screen lag. Also, I’m 100% sure why, but everything on the screen is SUPER tiny and I haven’t figured out how to fix/adjust that yet. I see more long calls with tech support in my future.
Finally, the firm set me up with an app for my phone that would let me use my cell just like I would use my regular office phone. This included buzzing coworkers by their extension number rather than having to call the office and go through the receptionist to reach them, and when I would call clients, the firm’s number would show up on their caller ID rather than my cell phone number. Using this app, though, my boss told me I sounded like I was under water, my paralegal told me I sounded like a character from Alvin and the Chipmunks, and both told me that they had trouble hearing me and the line cut out repeatedly. So yeah, good thing I talked to them before I spoke with any clients, haha.
At the end of the day, it still is possible to work remotely – I can do work outside the VPN, I use my cell phone to call clients and coworkers, I have invested in a magnifying glass to read my email. (Just kidding on that last one, haha.) I know this sounds like a lot of kvetching, but I am very thankful for this opportunity, even with the bumps in the road. I would still be very thankful and keep working/find a way to make things work even if the situation was worse. I think I was just shocked when I started the work that it was not as seamless as I expected it would be. I feel like when we have more computing power on our iPhones than the first space shuttles had, working remotely isn’t a big ask and should be a little less complicated.
2. Food is available all the time. But I should not be eating all the time. Stage set for epic self-control battle.
When you go to work, you either bring your lunch with you or order in, and then eat it at the appropriate time. If you have vending machines or if someone brought in treats, you might have an afternoon snack. Sometimes there is other snacking, but I feel like this is generally it. There is a cut off. There is some point where you either have no more quarters for the vending machine or you have no more food and that’s that.
In contrast, from where I sit when I do my work at home, I am literally staring at the fridge and snack closet, which, of course, are generally full of food. While I haven’t found this to be particularly challenging yet, I see how it could be. There are times when I eat and and then find myself hungry only a short time later. It can be tempting to just go find something to snack on even though I probably don’t need food, my stomach is just bored. This has happened a few times while working from home and I’ve tried to be cognizant of it and not embark on an all-day nosh-athon.
3. I appreciate being able to step away and do something else for 15-20 minutes to refresh my brain.
During 1L in law school, my contracts teacher gave the class some advice for productive studying as we were leading up to our first final exams – take breaks, but be regimented about it. Your mind is a muscle like any other and it needs time away from its exercise (in this instance, studying) to recuperate. The schedule he advocated for was this: study 50 minutes, 10 minute break, study 50 minutes, 10 minute break, study 60 minutes, take a real break of at least 30 minutes doing something completely unrelated to studying. Go work out. Watch an episode of a show you like. Cook dinner. He noted that the “real” break was the most crucial due to the aforementioned need for recuperation. Obviously different strokes for different folks, but I found this advice coincided with how my brain worked and it was helpful for me.
I still use Professor Simon’s advice today, but as I’m sure you can guess, working in an office is not conducive to taking that “real” break because you’re expected to be productive, not taking breaks. Even if taking such a break makes you more productive in the long run, the optics are not great.
Partner: Why are you stuffing your face and laughing and watching an episode of Arrested Development during the work day???
Me: (cookie in mouth) Uhhhhh.
(Not a scenario I want to find myself in.)
The nice thing about working from home is there are no “optics.” If I’m getting the work done when it needs to get done, it’s all good. This allows me to step away and have a break if I need it, recharge, and then resume productive work. (For the record, I still usually keep my email open, though, and check it a few times, just in case there is an emergency.)
4. Seat technology is important. Dear God, it is important.
As you can tell by the title of this article, my hand-me-down dining room chair has not been cutting it as an office chair. Sure, it’s fine and dandy for an hour’s worth of time for dinner, but I am getting the impression it was not made for multi-hour marathons of sitting. Because of this, I currently rotate to a few different seating locales throughout the day. I no longer laugh at the word “ergonomic.” Definitely looking into purchasing a full-time office chair.
5. I miss people, but not that much.
Both my husband and I are only children, and I think, generally, a certain independence comes along with that. When you were a kid and biked down the street, but your friend couldn’t come out to play, you had to figure something out on your own.
Fast forward to me as an adult, I think learning that independence shaped me to be a person who likes people, enjoys being around them, but also is perfectly fine without having that constant contact with the outside world. I still do have moments where I miss being around people, seeing my co-workers every day, etc., they’re just not all that frequent. I did have one this week, though. A new attorney started at my firm and a firm-wide email was sent out saying, “Hey, let’s all have lunch in the conference room today. Lunch is on the firm, so let us know what you want by 11 so we can order it.” (I thought about writing back, “That deli ships to North Carolina, right?” but I refrained.) I think getting that email was more of a shot to the heart than I expected it would be, but if I’m really feeling the pull to be around people only once a month, I think I can survive that.
6. I enjoy getting to see my cat more.
This combined with #5 probably makes me a crazy cat lady, right?
But in all seriousness, work can be stressful. Sometimes the little guy wants to snuggle in the afternoon and taking a 15-minute break to relax, put things in perspective, and sit with a furry, purring cat isn’t so bad.
Overall, it has been interesting reflecting on this first month of being a telecommuter. I’m looking forward to seeing how things change, evolve, or maybe stay the same in the coming months. Anyone else out there on the Interwebs work from home? Feel free to share any of your work-from-home experiences, tips, or tricks in the comments!