Working From Home: An Insider’s Guide

About a month ago, I took a new job that allows me to work remotely. My location no longer matters. As long as I have a good Internet connection, I can do my job. I’ve had a lot of people ask what it’s like, or do I like working from home? The answer. Yes, it’s awesome.

Summer in Tennessee
My view most days

I know many authors, illustrators, artists, etc. work from home, but this is the first job I’ve had where I’m able to. As this concept becomes more popular in the workplace, I wanted to share my thoughts on working from home:

Wear whatever you want. I love this for two reasons. 1) My thermostat is set to a warmer temperature than an office, so I can wear shorts and skirts and not freeze. 2) There’s no dress code. If I want to wear a T-shirt, I can. If I want to dye my hair bright pink, I can. I have not worked in my pajamas one time. I still like to get up and get dressed; although I may work in lounge clothes while I have coffee.

Set your own schedule. I’ve had some people tell me I’d sleep in. Or I’d work at night. Nope. I’m up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., and online within 10 minutes. However, I can sleep in if I want to. I can work whatever hours I want. I can work weekends if I need a day off through the week. Not having to work a set schedule has actually made me more productive, and I work about 45-50 hours a week, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Watch what you want. I cannot tell you how many Supernatural episodes I’ve watched – or listened to – the last month. Or how many movies. I also turn off the TV and listen to music some days. Every day is different, and I can work to whatever I’m in the mood for.

No more sick days. Last week, I had a virus for three days. Fever, no energy, the whole thing. And I still worked a full week. I worked when I could, took things slow, rested, and recovered quickly. There was no getting behind. I answered emails from my couch, and took naps when I needed. And I still got the work done.

It saves your car. It’s no secret I love my car. My little Z is getting older though. Not commuting so much has resulted in less wear and tear, less gas, very little traffic, and no road rage. A quarter of a tank lasts me two to three weeks. I still leave the house several times a week, but it’s only if I want or need to. If I don’t feel like it, I stay home.

You eat healthier and exercise more. I get up from the desk more. I exercise more and eat healthier. I take my dog for walks, and/or play with him. I swim. I drink way less caffeine. And my house stays clean. There’s no more laundry once a week, or I don’t have time to vacuum. A clean house keeps me at peace, so I use chores as little mini breaks. This keeps me active and happy!

There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • To avoid cabin fever, get out regularly. Grocery store, park, coffee shop, wherever. Also, take the time to meet new people. It helps break up the day.
  • You can feel a little cut off. To help, I schedule phone calls or lunch with friends, or I email and text. It keeps me up to date and gives me some human interaction throughout the day.
  • Stay disciplined. I actually cannot sleep in due to grown-up responsibilities, so I have to get up early. If I didn’t, I may sleep in, but setting a semi-routine helps keep you on the same schedule, and you’re not working around the clock.
  • Have a designated space. I seldom work away from my space. I want to relax on my couch, not work. Set up an office space of some sort, so your entire home is not a workplace.If you work from home, we’d love to hear your tips and experiences. Feel free to share them below!

A Tribute to Good Coworkers

Inspiration comes in many forms, and this week it came to me in the shape of the men and women I work with. About midweek, I was chatting with a coworker about a personal concern, and she offered to help. I accepted and thought how awesome she was for caring and offering help.

This made me think about my current and past coworkers. I have been lucky to have worked and still work with some of the best people I know. I’ve had two main jobs, totaling 18 years of work experience, and still stay in touch with people I worked with 15 years ago. In my current job, I have a dozen or so I would want to stay in touch with if any of us changed jobs or moved.

But what makes memorable and good coworkers? Aside from who they are and how our differences and similarities bond us, here’s a list of things to do to make the workplace better and build good coworking relationships:

Listen. People love to talk about themselves. We do it all the time at RevPub! Therefore, you should listen to them. Most times, if people think you actually care about what they’re saying, they’ll open up. Now, if you don’t want them to, that’s okay too. In that case, don’t expect them to want to know you if you don’t want the same. No one gets along with everyone.

A cupcake a coworker made for my birthday. She knows I love frogs!
A cupcake a coworker made for my birthday. She knows I love frogs!

Work hard. Thankfully, I can say everyone I work with works hard – all the time. That has not always been the case. At the store, if a cashier or stocker was lazy, they didn’t last long. Either they quit because they had to work harder or they got fired because everyone had to pull their weight. Other people resented them, morale dropped, and it caused problems for management.

Laugh. I love when my coworkers laugh, especially if it has been a long day. It makes me smile even if I don’t know what they’re laughing about. Sometimes they share, sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t matter because laughter breaks up the monotony of the day. Laughter helps reduce stress, and if you laugh hard enough, can be a great ab workout.

This was for a mustache collage for someone. It turned out well!
This was for a mustache collage for someone. It turned out well!

Share. I recently received a fun email about cold offices and what cold-natured people go through in order to work in them. It was SO true, so I sent it to my fellow freezers. Sure, there’s Facebook and Twitter, but most of us don’t have time to stay on those sites. Therefore, when there’s a funny article or awesome success story, we share it. Many times this causes No. 3, and we get through the day better off than we were before.

Try not to gossip. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but keep it to a minimum. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, it probably doesn’t need to be said. Also, if a coworker confides in you, keep it to yourself unless given permission to share. And always ask for permission. I am very thankful I have always had coworkers I could confide in, and they have helped me through some tough times, such as family and pet passings and school stress.

I know many of my coworkers will read this because they are big supporters of the site. I want them to know how much I appreciate their support and hard work. And to all those people who try to be coworkers, thank you for making all workplaces better places. If you have some great coworker stories, feel free to share in the comments below!

The Best Revenge is Living Well: Changing your Course

“The best revenge is living well”

I never understood that phrase until very recently. I always thought I did but in the spirit of my “let it go” 2015 mentality I thought I’d share how I came to realize what this really means.  I apologize for the length of this post but most of us can relate and this is the last, final release of this whole thing!

In November 2012 I left a job with government I had been in for 9 years. It was my first full-time position and though the pay was low I often convinced myself it was worth it due to the laid back atmosphere and a lot of the personalities there. I met some of the most interesting people working there. When I first started right out of college it seemed like a great place. Chances for growth, good benefits, and caring leadership. Over the years there was a subtle, then a not-so-subtle shift. The pay stayed low and with the increase in benefits prices (benefits that started to get worse) I actually netted less in 2012 than I did in 2011. But from when I started in 2003-about 2010 it felt mostly ok. We liked to complain about processes and personalities, and we could goof off a bit (paperwad wars that lasted a few weeks) but overall it was just work that could be done then left at the office.

Sometime in 2009-2010 things really started to change. The leadership had a shakeup and new people came in. One of my friends actually became a second-in-charge, and there was talk that even I’d get to move up. I’d already gone from entry level, to mid-level, to project management and committee chair so it felt like things were proceeding ok.

My last year there all my illusions were suddenly and violently ripped apart and reality became clear. I was named “co-head” of a new department. I was kept at my previous salary despite essentially managing other employees and still chairing and budgeting for my committee. I considered it ok, it was still a move up and into better things. Then came the yearly evaluations. The other co-head and I were asked to provide these for our direct reports. I wrote honest but well-tempered evaluations, pointing out where things could be improved but always measured this by how what could be considered “defects” were often bonuses. Yes some of us took extra time to perform a task others might do in a fraction of the time, but the end result of that individual’s work was often subtly far superior due to her training, experience, and natural eye. Yes some of us might take some time to have non-sequiturs and discuss movies, video games, or kung fu for a few minutes but that kind of atmosphere is the reason we were considered to be the “best” department to be around by visitors. We were all friendly and morale was high, even when hitting roadblock after roadblock in our work.

During my evaluation (I was one of the first to be evaluated in my group) I was told I received one of the very few (I’d heard less than 5 out of 100 but that could’ve been untrue) perfect scores and was told by the big boss “we can’t do what we do here without you.” When I inquired whether I would qualify for any kind of extra compensation based on my performance I was told “you aren’t qualified.” This despite money spent in this organization on PC replacements every two years, iPads for directors, and catered food for some ivory tower departments.

When the rest of the team was evaluated I discovered that many of my comments were edited and only the negative focused on. It turned out, according to the bosses, people were wasting time (and cruelly told they wouldn’t be replaced when they left) or talking too much. Parts of what was intended was taken out of context and used against them.

I felt awful that something I said could have been used this way. That I should’ve been more careful. And that I’d been used as an unwitting spy against my colleagues. I fired off an email the following day to the staff involved and the leadership saying as much. I received a minimal response, but at least one employee did get his evaluation amended.

This is what I felt like they made me do…

It was at this point that I went from being so valuable “they couldn’t do what they do without me” to being a pariah. Simply by speaking out against what I saw was an injustice I wasn’t included in meetings. Duties shifted to the other co-head (who was far more “compliant”) and any talk of my performance (which was universally regarded as exemplary) resulting in further advancement silenced.

More importantly the management had proven themselves to be willing to do anything, sell anyone out, and use anyone in order to get the side of the story they wanted. There were people they didn’t like and they used others to hurt them.

Given that environment I started looking for a new job.   A friend of a friend turned me on to a startup department in a private company. It wasn’t in my field but given the chance to move up and out I interviewed. I liked what the manager had to say about being involved from the ground up and teamwork and when I got the call I was being offered the position I took it. This surprised essentially everyone I knew as we all assumed we’d be in our familiar “ruts” forever.

I turned in my two weeks’ notice and not one person in management seemed to care. They seemed only to care if I agreed to stay in my current job at my current salary (doing supervisor work for 26k pretax yes 26k after NINE years of perfect evals and TWO promotions…). So I turned in my two weeks and got ready to leave.

Even in my last two weeks I spent full days finishing an exhibit I was working on to make sure it was done in time for a media event planned for the political boss of my organization (which entirely by consequence was held on my last day). I finished it just in time and one of my best friends managed to get food and the press there for the guests (it was for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.) I was even to say a few words to the crowd about the importance of this display.

Before I got up to talk my organization boss stood up and made some comments. One of which announced it was my last day and added, “well money talks.” After everything that had happened that comment was shocking to me. Everything I’d done, almost anonymously there, all the extra time I put in, all the hard work I’d done right up until the end was put into the light that I’d left them because I was unappreciative of them. Given the audience I ignored his jibe and stuck to my comments about how important the exhibit was (one of the veterans highlighted called it “the best day of his life”). And with that I left that place.

This is tempting…but rarely fulfilling.

 

The new job was strange. My new manager made it clear we all are needed to follow the same procedures and made us feel appreciated for doing good work. In my off time I built a database for fun. Word about it apparently got out and other department managers came by to see it saying “I’ve heard you did something cool.” In less than two years I was given the opportunity to move into supervisory and leadership roles twice. I wasn’t the only one. Other great performers were also given their due. And every step of the way our sacrifices and good work weren’t just appreciated but often we were given kudos publicly so others could see what the team could do and their morale increased as well. I’d never been in a place like this. It’s not perfect but a good manager goes a long way. Someone who is there to teach you, assist you, and defend you rather than steal your ideas and throw you under a fleet of buses.

So back to “the best revenge is living well.” I’ve heard that phrase my entire life but always misunderstood it. To me it meant that you can get revenge on those who have wronged you by living well and doing so to show them how well you’ve done; to really rub it in that you’ve succeeded and you no longer need their approval or assistance. How wrong-headed that kind of thinking is…by being spiteful you are validating that they still have sway over you.  The best revenge is living well because once you get to the “living well” part you no longer care about the wrongs done to you. They don’t have any meaning. I have no desire to go back to my old job and rub my success in their faces (clearly as I haven’t named anyone in this narrative) it’s enough just to be satisfied.

Recently another friend left and she confirmed that all the anger and sadness she felt working there essentially evaporated upon leaving.

I’ve said it before but we all can find ourselves in poisonous and negative relationships. They might be coworkers, friends, or relationships but by getting out of them and finding your own way you can take your revenge better than any desk-flipping, profanity-laced tell-off might. Anger takes effort and energy. By moving on and living well you do them the worst damage: you forget about them. And with this post, and my realization of what “the best revenge is living well” I’m forgetting that place forever. It’s just a thing that happened now to get me here.

So here’s to living well in the new year!

Had to use this one!  There’s a little of the Unforgiven in all of us…it’s just best not to unleash the Interrogator Chaplains every time.

Take Action or Stop Complaining

RavenRant

Satisfaction. Fulfillment. Happiness. All things we strive for every day. But what makes able to achieve those things?

I proofread an article this week about how we as humans are never satisfied with what we have. We’re too hot, too cold, too fat, too skinny, and the list goes on. We take simple things for granted. We never stop to think things could always be worse. However, there is a flip-side to this: we can do things to make ourselves more satisfied and happier.

People complain about many things, but I have noticed most complain about their weight and job – two things most of us have total control over. If you’re unhappy with your weight, then eat healthy and exercise. If you’re unhappy at work, then it’s time to look for something else. Simple, right?

I’m not saying it’s easy to lose weight or get another job, but it is easy to take the steps to get there. For example, you can’t write a book without writing the first chapter. You can’t get your driver’s license without learning to drive. Same concept – you have to start somewhere.

Listening to people complain wears on others around them and affects others’ moods. I’m not the happy police, but I will say when I have been unhappy at work, I found another job or applied for one. If I felt out of shape and my clothes were too tight, I cut back sugar and started exercising. If I find myself complaining too much, I stop. I don’t want to hear myself drone on about something, so I know no one else does either. At the end of the day, I know I did my best to resolve the issue instead of complaining about it.

I don’t rant often, but recently change has been all around me. I told a good friend 2014 so far has been the year of change and new beginnings, and we have all been just fine. For the most part, we’ve all been happier, too.

So, why don’t more people take action? Because it’s easier to whine and complain. Change takes balls, and it’s often inconvenient and scary. But it’s often worth it as well.

What actions have you taken to make your life better?

 

Off the Top of My Head: On Self-Improvement

Off The Top of My Head

There’s a lot of talk this time of year about “resolutions” and self-improvement.  I took a moment to look back at things over the last year to review a big change I made and see if it can help others in a similar situation.

I spent nine years, 2003-2012, giving everything I could to an organization.  Though it was a government organization and not known for productivity, I did pride myself on doing everything I could to be the exception to the stereotype of “lazy government workers.”  I wasn’t alone; there were a lot of us there actually who worked very hard to ensure our overall mission was accomplished.  I always felt doing the job well was more important than minor rewards, and it wasn’t until I began speaking with people who didn’t work where I did that I realized how bad things actually were.  I had been there nearly a decade, was essentially a group leader, volunteered to be a committee chair, accepted lots of extra work and challenges, and had received praise for work I’d done in all aspects of my job…and still made about 25K a year.

My last year there I felt things became clearer.  Maybe I was naïve for a long time, or maybe the environment changed.  I was told a lot of conflicting things about why I could be moved into a semi-supervisory position but not paid for it.  I found out how much money was wasted around the place on silly things like mobile electronic devices, new staff, and PC replacements.  All while people were doing hard work for little money and others did very little work for quite a bit.  I became pretty angry, disillusioned, and disgusted with the place.  I was told, point blank, “We can’t do what we do here without you” only to be immediately told, “You aren’t qualified for any more money,” but I WAS qualified to do the work…just not get paid for it.

I soon realized that maybe I shouldn’t be angry at the place I worked.  Yes, they were taking advantage of hard workers by paying them peanuts, piling them up with work, and telling them they wish they could provide raises…but never doing it.  That all seems like grounds to be angry…but really I was angry with myself.  I complained a LOT about the situation…but never did anything to change it.  So when I had the chance, provided by the all-too-important contact who knows something, to break free and start, day one, making more than 10k a year more than I was at the previous place, I surprised everyone, including myself by taking the chance.  I was nervous. I don’t deal well with change. I didn’t know much about the job, but I was still confident.  I was still me.  I’d still give my all to learn it and do it as well as I could.  And within my first few weeks at the new place, a supervisor from another department came to see a database I built in my spare time that my supervisor mentioned to him.  He came over saying “I was told you made something for us I just had to see…”  No one claimed credit or tried to take possession, they just came by to see how it could be used.  My first evaluation at the new job I was told how much I was appreciated and even rewarded for the work I do.  It CAN happen.

So what was the point of this semi-rant?  I know a LOT of people are where I was in 2012.  They’re stuck in a situation they don’t like but put up with it because it’s what’s “familiar” or easy.  And it is easy. It’s MUCH easier to talk about how you need to change and what you wish was better.  It’s harder to do something about it.  But you CAN do it, and if it’s affecting you to an extent that it intrudes on your life outside of the situation no one can change it but you.  No one owed me anything at my old job.  I allowed it to be what it was.  No one owes me anything at my new job or anywhere else.  Changes occur for those who seek them and stop talking about how they need a change and actually change.

I’ve found it works in all aspects of life.  So the next time you start to think “I hate my job/situation/whatever” stop thinking and start doing something about it.  If someone as riddled with crippling OCDs and neuroses as me can do it, anyone can!

So happy New Year, RevPub readers.  Here’s to a fresh start for those who want it!

Should We Listen to Music at Work?

I was desperate. All week I racked my brain trying to come up with a topic that inspired me. I’m the type of writer who must feel everything I creatively write about. Friday evening as I talked with my lovely co-worker, Emily, the light bulb came on. Music.

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony.

(Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.63-66)

I once spoke about the importance of music at work in college. In 2004, when I gave that speech, most arguments supported music in the workplace. As I cruised through Google this weekend, I noticed that opinions are now split 50/50. WebMD says music is distracting. The NY Times says music increases productivity. So, what should we do?

Do whatever works for you.

I grew up with music playing all around me. I had a favorite song at 2 or 3 years old, and at 9, I fell in love with U2. Music is important to my soul, and I usually have something playing while I’m doing anything. When writing, I pop in classical, jazz, or metal instrumental. In fact, as I write this I am enjoying a Soul Radics playlist. If I am cleaning up photos, going through data, or working on something mindless, I find something fast and peppy such as Godsmack, Greenday, or Pendulum.

At the store I worked in, there was always music. It made sense because we were usually involved in physical labor and needed the boost. We’d sing, sometimes dance, and worked faster than without music. Our longest nights were when storms knocked out the satellite.

There are a few times when music is distracting. If I’m proofreading, I don’t have music playing because I am internally listening to myself read. I can hear my own voice, and I have a tendency to sing, so it’s not a good mix. Also, if my office is chatty – we’re all guilty of causing that – I’ll take my earbud out because it’s too much noise.

So, be smart about it.

Music almost always evokes an emotion or a memory, so you should also consider how the song or playlist will affect your mood. For example, I can’t listen to techno while proofreading because it makes me fidget. I don’t listen to sad love songs because they depress me. The point of music at work is to keep you energized while you perform workload tasks.

If you listen to music at work, what are your favorite bands or genres? Do you think it increases your productivity or makes work more tolerable?