Home office heroes – Part II

One of the perks of working as a writer is the ability to research new subjects for a living. I have a set order of actions: first I turn to Google for the main websites on the subject. Then I open a new Favorites folder, adding to it the most interesting, updated and in depth websites on the subject. Then I allocate a certain amount of time each day to research the subject, scanning both the sites I’ve saved and the ones they refer to. And since I’ve started to think about the subject of working from home, I find more and more relevant stuff to read. Here are some of the more interesting links I’ve found on the subject.

Sometimes, it’s just time to move on from your job

Business Insider has posted an interesting piece on that crucial moment most of have experienced at one point or another – the moment when you just feel you’ve had it, and realize you need to quit your job. Nine people expand on the various reasons that led them to the realization, starting from “I got bored to “I wasn’t going to learn anything further”, which is actually pretty inspiring. It’s worth a read!

You don’t have to wait for vacation time

I know one couple that decided to pack their things and tour Europe  – we all know such a couple, actually – only they decided to do it for a couple of years rather than a couple of weeks. They both work from home, and since then, they spend a few months in a different city. It’s a refreshing, adventurous concept that won’t work for everybody, but as far as I’m concerned, it sounds like a dream come true. Faith Stewart has written some good tips for “Taking Your Telecommute Job on the Road”.

The Obvious Value of Communication is Perhaps Not So Obvious

Cal Newport is a computer science professor who writes about how to perform productive, valuable, and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age (his last book, Deep Work, was published on 2016). Cal wrote a very interesting piece about a counter-intuitive notion: the less we communicate, the better our communication becomes. Think of the hundreds of emails required to make a single decision in a corporate environment.

 

4 Jobs You Probably Didn’t Know You Could Do from Home

There are plenty of reasons why people leave the office to start practicing their profession from home instead. Sometimes, they feel they could earn more by becoming independent contractors. Sometimes, their office job simply doesn’t pay enough to sustain a certain lifestyle. At other times, they move to a new city or decide to expand the family, and the old office hours, as well as the commute, cease to be convenient. Many people think that working from home fits mainly for artists or writers, but the truth is that there are some jobs you can do from home just as well – if not better – than at the office.

Here are some ideas for jobs that can earn you some serious money, and contribute to your personal or professional growth in the process. Before you begin, try to answer one very important question: do you like working with people, or do you prefer doing most of your work by yourself? People who prefer to think and create solo will not usually excel in a job that requires constant contact with others, while people who need others to make their ideas grow, and need communication to succeed, will not usually be better off working by themselves for most of the day. So find what which type you are before you proceed.

2 jobs for people who like working with others

Real Estate Agents
According to the National Association of Realtors in the US, 85% of realtors are independent contractors. They learn the lay of the land: they know the relevant neighborhoods, know people in them, track houses for sale, and understand each home’s unique value proposition. They are assisted by the real estate agencies they work for, which provide their good name and sometimes even PR and marketing services. It may seem like an easy job, but you need to build relationships based on trust with both buyers and sellers to close the deal, and it may take a while to do that.

Who’s it right for? Patient people who can identify good property six months before the neighbors do.

Day care providers
The truth must be said: This is a job that typically fits women better than men. I’m not saying men couldn’t do it, but evidence shows that it is mainly women who are strong enough to withstand a 36-hour week with kids not older than 5, endless running noses and children’s songs on repeat. So if you like kids, and kids like you, it could be a great way to take a breather from the serious world of adults.

Who’s it right for? People who love kids, don’t mind stepping on toys all day long, and miss the fun of the playground.

day care provider

2 jobs for people who like working with computers

Virtual assistant
Virtual assistants run the office just as smoothly as “on-site” assistants – but he/she does it for multiple companies and from home, instead of handling just one company. He/she schedules meetings, organizes international conference calls, keeps records and researches whatever needs researching for a specific client. In short, they are the people you go to whenever something needs to be done and there’s no one else to do it.

Who’s it right for? Very organized people who like to get a short-term list of tasks each morning, complete them, and forget about them as soon as they’re done.

Day traders
This is not a job for the faint of heart or for people whose specialty is words. Day traders buy and sell stock within the same day, making “profits by leveraging large amounts of capital to take advantage of small price movements in highly liquid stocks or indexes”, according to this guide for beginners.

Who’s it right for? People who’d like a high-stake job, and have a highly developed attention to detail.

One Tool a Month – Filtr

This is the time for my monthly review of a tool or a service that came through for me, and that I can recommend without scruples. Today, I want to talk to you a little about Filtr, an email agent which makes my life a lot easier.
The issue is this: we all get a ton of emails every day. If you’re anything like me, you check them immediately, an action which naturally distracts from your real work. One minute you’re knee-deep in an urgent report, and the next you’re dreaming about your friends’ dreamy vacation proposal in Greece. One minute you’re writing a 600-word article due this afternoon, and the next you’re tempted to buy those ASOS shoes for 30% off.
The folks at Filtr know this, and they help you solve it: you decide which emails you wish to get immediately, and which you’d like to postpone for the end of the workday, the weekend, or never. Filtr is a user-friendly app which lets you filter your emails according to the sender’s address. In this way, you can get work emails during work, shopping emails at the end of the day, and “vacations” emails at the weekend. Since I’ve started using the service, it saved me hours of valuable time. I asked Enael Garrido from Filtr to answer a few questions

How did you get your idea or concept for the app?
We all know e-mail is a broken ecosystem, constantly pulling for attention and getting in the way of productivity. Everyone on the team realized that there was an opportunity to flip the model on its head, by choosing priorities for the different types of e-mails we get throughout the day. However, there is not one right solution, since people use e-mail for many different purposes and thus the “ideal” solution might look different from one user to the other. Our current solution, which we decided to call Filtr, allows users to choose -with one tap- when they want to receive e-mails from different senders. For instance, you might want an e-mail from your boss to be received “immediately”, while another from your brother might be less urgent and thus you can tell Filtr to send it by “end of day”.

What was your mission at the outset?
The mission has stayed the same: to fix how e-mail works by helping users decide when they get the messages from their different contacts. This is important because we want people to be able to concentrate on getting things done, things that are important to them.

What services do you offer?
We are working on an ecosystem of solutions related to e-mail specifically and in general to improve productivity, for both smartphone and computer users. Currently we only have the Filtr app which is not a full-fledge e-mail client but rather a smart engine that helps users sort their contacts they get e-mail from into different categories. Once categories have been assigned, Filtr triages e-mails and allows users to concentrate on their most important tasks.

What is unique about your services?
We haven’t seen any other service that triages e-mails per se, there are some partial solutions out there that help you create rules to send certain e-mails to folders, but that’s it. Also, we are working on an algorithm so the app learns from your habits and recommends rules for both new and existing contacts.

What are your plans for future development of the service?
As mentioned previously, we understand Filtr is only one piece of the puzzle, a very important one, but there are further services that could leverage the filtering engine and the rules created by our users. At the moment we are working on other solutions, which will be available to iOS users very soon, so we will keep you guys posted!

Who is your ideal customer?
Someone who uses e-mail heavily as a communication tool, but also appreciates productivity. As e-mail becomes part of their everyday life, we understand that we need to draw back those lines into the sand that are now blurred between personal and professional boundaries, hyper-connectivity has become a double-edged sword.

What are the feedbacks you get from customers?
We love feedback from them because they are very passionate about the subject. We get a wide range of topics: from User Experience and User Interface, to different functionalities that would enable them to be more productive. The insight we have derived so far is that there is definitely opportunity in the way e-mail is being managed and that it will be difficult to provide a “cookie cutter” solution to everyone. In the end, we will need to balance between a robust solution that tackles the biggest issues our users encounter, and a service that can be customized to meet specific needs.

Home Office Heroes’ Journal – Entry I

One of my favorite authors in the whole wide world is Stephen King. I love him because he manages to write the most beautiful, scary and convincing stories, and he always knows how to “make” his protagonists say the right thing at the right moment. King actually wrote the right thing for me without even knowing me:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that”.

I wouldn’t want to defy one of my favorite writers in the world, so this week I embarked on an online search for other people who write about their experience of working from home. I found some thought-provoking people, and even one who made me run to the store and buy an actual notebook to write in.

1. The productivity app which isn’t an app

In the last few months, every business journal in the world has written enthusiastically on a productivity system called bullet journaling. I glanced over some of the pieces, but like every other productivity system I ever read about, I was quick to reject it. When I finally sat down to really delve into it, it actually sounded very logical. Bullet journaling was invented by Ryder Carroll, a digital product manager from New York City. Carroll claims that there are two problems with our traditional system of to-do lists: First, they don’t allow us to see the big picture – the reason we do all this – and therefore decrease our efficiency. Second, they don’t allow for long-term follow-ups, so tasks and goals get lost amidst dozens of daily interruptions. His system, designed to solve all that, sounds convincing, and even drove me to the nearest store to purchase a nice notebook. Here’s a short video explaining the system, and you can also read about it on his website.

2. No more guilt! No more guilt!

Len Markidan wrote a nice post about a subject that’s been bugging me for a while. This is the thing: We’re all accustomed to be told what to do. That’s the way things were done in school, college, university, and of course – in every place we’ve ever worked. But when you work from home, and especially when you’re a freelancer or a business owner, nobody ever tells you what to do. In my case, no one ever tells me when to stop doing what I’m doing, either. My head is always brimming with ideas on how to expand my business, more people I should schedule an online meeting with, where should I advertise myself – and how am I supposed to get all this done, in addition to the work I actually have to do? The simple answer is that I can’t. And then comes the guilt. Always, the guilt… and to this, Markidan says: You’re more productive than you think. Only he says it better.

3. I’m a woman, I admit it

You don’t have to be a hard-core feminist to realize that men and women are not educated equally. Men are encouraged to showcase their abilities, to strive to be the first in everything, and to set aside their weaknesses. Women, however… well, women are not supposed to do all that. But when you’re your own boss, you certainly have to show off that “masculine” side of you, especially when you’re negotiating a new contract. Robin Madell wrote a smart post about some salient points in the process.

Leave the Office without Leaving the House

Not so long ago, working from home was the privilege of a few. Only people from the artistic and creative occupations got to stay at home, instead of spending their day working in the office. But recent numbers show that more people than ever are now making good use of tech advancements and their employers’ increasing open-mindedness to work from home. According to Global Work Place Analytics, 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the US workforce) now work from home at least half the time.

That’s a whole lot of people, and most of them struggle with one very important question: How do you stop working? When working away from home, the answer is simple: once you leave the office, at least some of the work comes to a halt. Then, the only thing you need to remember is muting your phone, not checking your emails, and never answer texts – and you’ll be fine. But when you’re working from home, your office, and all those uncompleted tasks, are very hard to resist. And as everybody knows, all work and no play makes Daniel a dull girl.

So here are a few things that help me keep a reasonable work-life balance:

Make the transition

Most people have to commute to work in roads are full of edgy drivers, most of who are also on their way to the office. Not an ideal situation, but it does enable them to switch to “work mode”. All you need to do, then, is to “fake a commute” and create small habits that symbolize the start of your work day – make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, read the emails that accumulated overnight, and plan your schedule for the day.

And more importantly, remember the commute home… don’t think of congested traffic, of course, but of a glass of good wine at the right moment, closing your laptop with a bang; a piece of cake while you’re sitting in the balcony. In other words, things that symbolize pleasure for you.

Set artificial constraints

The beginning may seem artificial and strained, but you have got to learn how to separate your work from your personal life. When you’re at work, you don’t do the laundry, you don’t shop online – you’re working! But there are two things you wait for, like every other office worker in the world: lunch hour, which you won’t be eating by your computer; and your standard checkout time. When these come, my system is simple: I stop working and I get out of my little home office.

The next thing to remember is making sure your office doesn’t take over your home. Don’t use other rooms for work on a regular basis. If you have a favorite chair where you sit and read or watch television, don’t use it for working. Because, believe me, after a while, you won’t feel that chair is a relaxing spot at all.

Make your schedule your boss

When I tell people I work from home, the first thing they usually say is: you probably take an afternoon nap. Well, sometimes I do, but only after I’ve completed all my tasks for that day. Because working from home doesn’t mean time off, and I can’t open my day with a margarita – as much as I sometimes want to. Working from home means you’re your own boss, and knowing what exactly you need to do. Most times, by the way, that to-do list is longer than the allotted time I set myself for work.

So I start my working week writing down the bigger tasks I have to complete that week. I then break them down to smaller tasks and divide them logically throughout the week, while remembering that not all days are created equal. We all have our stronger days, when you push forward with zeal, and our weaker days, when everything moves at a snail’s pace. So customize your to-do list to your internal rhythm.

Give yourself a day off

Full-time employees have days off, and you’re not exempt from them either. We all have to schedule some days off to recharge. I give myself one day off each month, and the only rule I have is this: Get out of the house! I can read a book in a coffee shop, go to an exhibit I’ve wanted to check out, go to the market or a matinee, meeting friends. In short, I can do anything I want – except turning on that laptop.

One Tool a Month: Online Meetings

One of the advantages of working from home is that you’re your own boss. You can regulate the amount of work you take on, and compliment yourself or chide yourself just as much as you deserve – no more, no less. One of the disadvantages of working from home is that you’re your own boss: you’re not just your harshest critic, but you’re also responsible for everything – cleaning up, IT and regulating your work.
There are plenty of service providers out there catering for people working from home. There are, in fact, so many of them, that it’s hard to know who’s the best fit for the particular service you’re looking for. A service provider who isn’t available when you need it urgently or a cumbersome service that drains your time and energy can wreck your workday, or even scare off a client.
Therefore, I’ve decided to launch a monthly review of a tool or a service that came through for me, and that I can recommend without scruples. Today, I want to talk to you a little about Qconf, a company that offers audio conferencing.
Before I signed up to Qconf, I used different free audio conferencing tools for my daily needs (such as Skype, WhatsApp, Google Chat) and the first problem I encountered was spending ten minutes of every meeting making sure it’s actually happening. Can you hear me? Hold on, I’ll switch to Skype. What’s your user name? There are ten of you… Let’s switch to Facebook? Maybe WhatsApp will work better? In other words, it was never simple. With Qconf, I just schedule the meeting, and Qconf dials the participants before it starts and connects them. No access codes needed or anything like that.
The second problem I had with these free service providers was the quality of the call. It would start okay and then suddenly disconnect, or I’d hear myself twice. Worse than anything, the call would “freeze” in a critical moment and I’d just hear myself talk. Using Qconf, I never encounter any of these technical difficulties and the audio quality remains high throughout the entire call.

qconf-ms
I contacted Yaron Sela (by audio conference, naturally), Marketing Manager at Qconf, to ask him a few questions about the service.

How was the idea for Qconf born?
I used to run a wedding production company, and we quickly discovered the need for creating an efficient system for auto-dialing RSVPs. That way, instead of calling 400 people and checking with them, we could do it with an auto dialer.
We told some friends about the system, and they loved it. We spent a year developing it, but when we offered a couple of friends who were getting married to use it, they claimed they wanted to call their friends and family by themselves.
One day, a user signed up to the system, paid, and began to repeatedly call a number in a foreign country. Soon enough, the user approached us, and it turned out that it was an intelligence agency, and that it had started to use the system for various security needs. That was a breakthrough for us.
So we sat around the office and thought about where we wanted to take it. We came to the conclusion that a solution for conference call could be awesome – and Qconf was born.

What services do you offer?
Qconf enables users to make international conference calls with 70 countries. We have stable infrastructure in many countries and regions, which allow us to provide our users with high-quality audio no matter how many users are on the conference call or where they’re located.
Since we work with security bodies, security and privacy are of paramount importance to us.

What’s unique about your services?
First of all, we provide the highest audio conferencing quality available. Second, we have a unique and cheap business model. We charge users for their conference calls, and they can record them, share screens, invite people in, create group chats, etc. The price is fixed, and doesn’t change according to length of the call or the number of participants. In that way, users know exactly how much they pay in advance.

What are your plans for future development?
Recently, we’ve developed a feature that sends SMS reminders to the participants a few minutes before the call with a direct link to the conference. It’s the most private, secure and easy way to connect to conference calls.
In the future, we want to create additional easy ways to connect to conference calls, and we have some more innovative features we’ll introduce.

Who is your ideal customer?
I like people who are interested in tech and try to maximize it. I’ll give you an example: our system enables you to say the code out loud instead of typing it. It’s really simple. We’ve written about it in several places, but people still prefer to type in the code, because that’s the way they’ve always done it. I like people who are open to change, who like innovations and embrace them.

The Ideal Home Office – My Perspective

When I started working from home, my work environment was the last thing on my mind. At first, I was so concerned with finding enough clients to earn a living and making sure they pay on time, that I often found myself working on the kitchen table, sitting on an uncomfortable chair, a noisy washing machine churning in the background.
When we moved to Nice and I knew I’d be working exclusively from home, I decided to re-think my work environment. My goal was simple enough: creating a pleasant space where I can get work done for long periods of time. I knew that I couldn’t afford to spend much money on office furniture and that I don’t have a spare room to turn into a home office. I do have a pretty large nook in the living room, so I tried to answer the following questions before planning my home office:
How many people? I’m currently working alone, but I also tried to think of different scenarios: Where will my clients sit if they come to meet me at home? Will other people I occasionally come into contact with – colleagues, suppliers – come to work with me every once in a while? I decided that, since none of these things will happen too often, there’s no need to spend money on extra seating arrangements or more desks. I also decided that my current needs don’t call for a waiting room.
How much equipment? Fortunately, the nature of my work does not demand much equipment. I don’t need to store old catalogs, I don’t need any printed marketing material sitting prettily on shelves around me, and I don’t often consult specialized literature. Therefore, I decided to forego any shelves, a library and storing cabinets. A large desk with the right equipment was enough for me.

flower_pots

What did I decide to invest in?

Integration: My work environment is part of my living room, so each room has to integrate well with the other – whether I’m working in my nook or hanging out in the living room.
Desk: There are plenty of large, cheap desks you can purchase, but they all remind me of depressing office cubicles. I prefer a desk with some character. Mine is made from a light brown wood with nice finishes.
Wallpaper: It sometimes happens that we lift our heads up from our laptops. Whenever that happens, it’s best to have a window we can stare through. In my case, there’s no window, and I didn’t want to re-paint my whole living room. So I found a picture I liked online, which I then sent to be printed on wallpaper. I applied the wallpaper easily on the opposite wall and since then, I sometimes go on a jeep tour through the desert… and since it’s all happening in my head, I make sure to throw a nice coffee shop in there too.
Plants: I know it’s a cliché, but not all clichés lack logic. I like to have as many plants as possible around me; it makes the living room feel warm and alive. So I bought some shelves and put flower pots on them. Some shelves are in the office nook area and some in the living room, which is also a good way to create continuity.
Technology: Nothing can make a home printer and scanner pretty, but you can make sure they’re in good working order, that you have enough electrical outlets (so you don’t have to take the printer our every time you want to plug in your laptop), and that all the cables and cords remain unseen, hidden behind your desk.
I also know I have plenty of conference calls during the week, and I therefore made sure that my work environment answers the following requirements:

  • Reverberation and echo can distort audio signals. This is the main reason professional recording studios are designed with sound absorbing materials. So I brought a large rug for the living room, and a matching rug to put under my desk. I also bought some heavy drapes that can turn the room dark in an instant and are good sound absorbers.
  • Microphones specifically designed for audio conferencing are highly sensitive. As long as the conference room microphones are centrally located, most microphones will capture sound within eight feet of the device. So I bought a good mic, which means I can sit on my living room sofa and still conduct my online meetings with ease and comfort.