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Remote Control: The Taxman Cometh

Remote Control: The Taxman Cometh

Beyond • February 12, 2014

I recently had a phone meeting with my accountant to discuss the inevitable - TAXES. I’ve always found filing taxes to be incredibly confusing and the whole ordeal has only gotten more puzzling since switching from being a W-2 employee to an independent contractor. While I am by no means a tax expert, I do have a few tips for my fellow independent contractors to help get through the season. Divide and conquer. Keep separate business checking and savings accounts and a separate business credit card. You may even want to create a dedicated savings account solely for your tax payments. Having all business transactions separate from your personal transactions makes it easier for you to track and calculate your expenses over time. If you’re saving for a big purchase, business or personal, you don’t want to get your finances mixed up and you especially don’t want to accidentally spend money set aside for tax payments. Save yourself the headache and divi up those accounts! Take notes and keep organized. Saving receipts in a shoebox all year or simply relying on your online banking system is not enough. Receipts and transactions listed in your account can be obscure making them rather useless should you ever be audited (knock on wood!). I’d highly recommend keeping a spreadsheet or using accounting software to track your finances and add detailed notes about your expenses. These tools will also help you better organize your finances, enabling you to more easily categorize your expenses. The more meticulous you are about the financial records you keep, the less frustrated you’ll be when filing taxes. Be prepared. It’s often advised for the self employed to put aside 30% of their earnings for taxes just to be on the safe side. While this percentage may make you cringe, it’s far easier to stomach than a tax bill you don’t have the funds for. Having to play catch up on taxes is stressful and costly. The best thing you can do to avoid such a mess is save, save and save some more. If you’re as confused as I am by the ever-growing complexity of federal, state and local tax laws and regulations, you might want to consider hiring an accountant. There were big changes made in 2013 - some of which directly effect those who work from home. To avoid mistakes or possibly overlooking valuable tax breaks, consult a pro.


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Remote Control: Boldly Go

Remote Control: Boldly Go

Beyond • January 22, 2014

I’m thinking about leaving the Los Angeles area. It’s not the first time I’ve flirted with the idea of moving away, however it is the first time I’ve considered locations outside of the standard major metropolitan areas. Don’t get me wrong. I love my little, overpriced apartment, as well as the neighbors packed in around me. However, I find it completely foolish not to take full advantage of working remotely and finally shed the shackles of city living. I have touched upon the freedom to travel being a great perk of remote work. You may wonder, isn’t visiting other places enough to satisfy? Why move away from the city completely? Well, allow me to break down some of the reasons for taking remote work to more remote areas. I didn’t hear anything We live on top of each other in a city. With such a high population density, quiet is often confused with the ability to tune out the sounds of neighbors, the constant road and pedestrian traffic, planes and helicopters and emergency sirens. Nearly 30 years of city living has left me longing for some peace and quiet. Genuine silence - yum. More bang for your buck Of the many wonderful things Southern California has to offer, spacious living at an affordable price is not one of them. It’s a common case you’ll find in major cities around the world, which is why small towns and country living has captured my attention. The notion of having legitimate office space (currently, my ‘office’ is an oversized closet that still maintains it’s primary purpose of storing coats and whatnot), a large yard for my dogs and plentiful parking all for less than what I’m currently paying for my apartment is mind blowing. Plus - brace yourself - with the cut in cost of living, I’d actually be able to make significant contributions to retirement savings, all while continuing with lofty travel plans. The technology, stupid Once upon a time, moving away from the city meant you were moving away from community, culture and entertainment. Now, the advances in technology have completely changed the game. Anyone with a computer or mobile device has easy access to every movie ever made, every book ever written, every album ever recorded, in addition to live streaming of numerous events from all over. With unlimited access to community, culture and entertainment from any location, there really isn’t any reason to remain bound to a major metropolitan area. In a nutshell, any tradeoffs made in moving to a more remote area are far less stark than they used to be. There is still much research to be done to find the best fitting location to move to, but I am definitely on the lookout.


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Remote Control: Procrastination

Remote Control: Procrastination

Beyond • January 9, 2014

procrastination |prəˌkrastəˈnāSHən, prō-| noun the action of delaying or postponing something It’s true - I am a procrastinator. I remember when the word procrastination was introduced to my vocabulary, teachers warned against its evils. For a while, I took all warnings seriously and fought tooth and nail to overcome procrastination - stressing to save myself the stress. Since I’ve joined the remote workforce, procrastination has become less of a beast and more of a necessity in juggling the never ending to-do list that interweaves work and home life. It’s not as bad as you may think. While many are trying to figure out ways to quit procrastinating this new year, I say embrace it. For far too long, we’ve equated procrastination with being lazy or wasting time but in most cases, this simply isn’t true. Typically, when one task is being postponed, we are engaging in other productive tasks. It doesn’t matter whether you’re taking on more important or less important tasks when procrastinating as long as you’re being productive and are (mostly) on time. For me, procrastination is more like all of my tedious tasks in life duking it out, the goal being to get as much done as possible before the end of the day, week, month or however long before my general deadline. Taking a break is ok too. Life is a bit relentless in that there is always something left on your to-do list. So please, if you hit the point where you really need to just do nothing, by all means, go ahead. Sometimes we need to take a break and it’s perfectly alright to do so, even if it means postponing an important task. Just don’t miss your deadline. Ya win some, ya lose some. I’ve found that some tasks that are put off til the last minute sometimes disappear altogether, like that expensive book listed on your class syllabus that you’re never actually assigned to read - so relieved you waited to buy it, right? This isn’t always the case though. Procrastinating can be a gamble that leaves you scrambling to get stuff done - adequately at best and, hopefully, on time. With this in mind, I advise you not to push your deadlines too hard. Do house chores to avoid work. Work to avoid house chores. Take breaks. Don’t fight procrastination, fine tune it.


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Remote Control is Thankful for…

Remote Control is Thankful for…

Beyond • November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving is almost here and the fat kid in me rejoices! Unfortunately, this also marks the kick-off of the most intense shopping season of the year. Masses take to the streets to hunt for the best deals and it is a brutal scene. I’m proud to say that I have never ventured out shopping on the god forsaken day after Thanksgiving, a.k.a Black Friday - bringing to light a few things I am and have consistently been thankful for over the past few years. Thank You, Cyber Monday For many years, Black Friday was your only option to score the best deals during the holiday shopping season. Cyber Monday is merely several years old and, from my perspective, has only recently upped it’s game with the sales offered in the past few years. Prior to the competitive deals offered on the Monday after Thanksgiving, I simply came to accept having to overpay for all my holiday gifts and get my shopping done before all the madness hit the shopping centers. At last I get a hearty piece of the holiday sale pie! So, for Cyber Monday, I (and my bank account) give much thanks. Thank You, Pinterest I don’t usually struggle with gift ideas, but I have on occasion drawn blanks for some people. Pinterest has become a great new ally in fishing for gift ideas. Whether I’m trying to figure out overall general interest or a specific item they’re currently geeking out over, the answer is usually on Pinterest. The ability to easily find gifts ideas for people that they’ll surely love? Thanks, Pinterest! Thank You, Remote Work Let’s be honest, the holiday insanity extends well beyond Black Friday and working remotely keeps me out of harms way for the most part. During the holidays, people tend to be distracted and stressed, making the roads that much more fun and safe to be on. Working remotely lets me opt out of driving in this mess as much as possible and for this, I am extremely thankful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! What are you thankful for?


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Remote Control: The Antisocial Excuse

Remote Control: The Antisocial Excuse

Beyond • November 6, 2013

I live on a very quiet street in a fourplex just a few blocks from the beach. It’s an extremely walkable area, with restaurants, bars, coffee shops and grocery stores all at my fingertips. Just about every week there is some community event within a couple miles of my home. The only thing I love more than my bustling neighborhood is getting to disappear into my sanctuary apartment. Yes, it’s true - I’m a bit of a recluse. Not 100% of the time, but with the holidays quickly approaching, I feel another bout coming on. Especially since this year’s holiday season is dedicated to time with the in-laws. I’ve just about perfected using working remotely as a shield against social activities I’d rather not partake in. With no set work hours, it’s all too easy to gracefully bow out with a simple, “Sorry, I have to work.” Having to work is just about the best excuse there is. It’s one of those obligations that leaves little room for rebuttal. Been wondering how to better leverage that remote gig as a social buffer? Here are some tips to keep in mind: Keep Your Work Computer Handy Whether your trying to keep your ‘you time’ yours while at your local coffee shop or need a reason to slip away from relatives during an extended visit for some much needed solitude, there’s no point in throwing the work excuse on the table if you don’t actually have your computer present to hide your nose behind. To help solidify the buffer, you might want to pack some headphones as well. Use Multiple Virtual Desktops If you find yourself in company of people who like to look over your shoulder, the ability to setup multiple virtual desktops is a wonderful thing. Typically, I use this feature to help keep my work sorted when I’m multitasking, but I’ve found it also makes a great coverup for when I only need it to seem like I’m working to the looky loos around me. One quick swipe and my movie is gone and a desktop full of open work applications is all that’s displayed. Actually Get some Work Done Stepping away to get some work done shouldn’t always be a fib. Don’t get so caught up in acting the part that you forget to actually do your work. Remember, you’re just trying to take a little space, not blow off your responsibilities. Hopefully you’ve found some good pointers here to help you indulge your reclusive side. Keep in mind though, you’re going to have to come out of hibernation at some point - especially if you’re not looking to write off all your relationships in life. So after you finish up that tv show binge or are all caught up on your favorite blogs consider dusting off those rusty old social skills and getting back out there.


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Remote Control: Vacation?!

Remote Control: Vacation?!

Beyond • October 9, 2013

Vacation ... does anyone really know what that word means? I’ve got the travel part down, but this whole notion of “extended period of recreation” is unheard of. Until this week, it had been years since I had a real vacation. As you’re reading this blog, you might be like, “WTF?!? You obviously took time to work on this post. Somebody still doesn’t know the meaning of vacation.” And you’re right. Sort of. Maybe, in a way. But first, allow me to talk about how the definition of vacation changes when you work remotely - especially if you’re a 1099 employee (independent contractor) like myself. Working full time while traveling is not a vacation. Got it? Great. Glad we’re clear on that because I work on the go A LOT. Like I’ve pointed out before, being able to work on the go is one of the major perks of working remotely, but this doesn’t mean my life is one great vacation after another. A few weeks ago I started to feel burnt out, so I quickly started making arrangements for taking some time to myself. In a perfect world, everything work related would come to a halt when we’re off on vacation. Alas, this world is very far from perfect. Being a 1099 employee, there is no paid time off nor is there overtime for getting ahead and/or playing catch-up. So what are my options in prepping my workload for taking a legitimate break? Well, interrupting my finances by skipping out on a week or so of income isn’t really an option for me. I simply had to come to terms with vacation being redefined as a period of reduced work hours where work takes a backseat to rest and relaxation, but isn’t completely out of the picture. I streamlined my projects so that the hardest, most time consuming aspects were taken care of, leaving me with a less intensive workload. My meetings have been postponed, daily alarms that outline my workday are turned off, and lines of communication on which I can be reached are limited. I’m only a couple of days into my vacation, but I must say it’s going very well, even with all it’s compromises. I’d love to embellish more, but then we’d be cutting into my ‘me’ time.


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Remote Control: Working From Home Growing Pains

Remote Control: Working From Home Growing Pains

Beyond • September 11, 2013

Let’s dig in to one of my first, most significant growing pains after I started working from home. As I’ve mentioned before, switching from working in a corporate office environment to working remotely was a huge relief. While this change was certainly a crucial step towards a healthier, more balanced lifestyle, an equilibrium of all things personal and all things work related wasn’t instantly created. It would be fair to say that when I started working from home, I was a bit too focused on work. Home quickly became my prison and my computer the ball and chain. How did I end up in such a situation? Well, I fell into this trap because I didn’t have all the right tools lined up at the start. More importantly, I failed to actually take some time to outline my own schedule. I know it sounds extremely ridiculous. Who fights for the freedom of telecommuting only to forfeit the vast majority of potential perks by staying home 24/7 glued to their computer working? Me. I did that. So, for the bigger question - how did I get out of this humdrum existence? I began by improving my communication with those I work with. I posted general hours of availability and made sure to let my team know of any day-to-day changes in my schedule. I also got into the habit of setting alarms for myself, which helped me to keep track of my hours and know when to call it a day. Next came retail therapy. As soon as my budget allowed for it, I went out and purchased a new computer. A small, lightweight, efficient, travel-friendly laptop to be used solely for work. With this, my office expanded to anywhere a WiFi connection was available. However, as work became more demanding, it was clear that my new computer wasn’t enough. To stay connected and keep moving forward in developing a flexible schedule, I decided to upgrade my smartphone and add a mobile hotspot and high quality earphones to my toolbox. Suddenly, my office had no boundaries. I participated in team meetings while walking my dogs, put final touches on assignments at rest stops while road tripping around the country, and conducted research and ran reports while hanging out at a local park. Working from my mother-in-law\'s home office in Utah … not plotting to take over the world (as all great super villains seem to have a cat). In looking back at what I’ve just written, I realize that maybe I still haven’t found perfect balance, but I’ve definitely made progress. I’m more conscious of the time I put in for work, am more communicative in regards to my schedule and I have the basic tools needed to take my work anywhere. So, cheers to busting out of prison.


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Remote Control: For Your Soul

Remote Control: For Your Soul

Beyond • August 14, 2013

I’ve been a part of the Benchmark team for just over three years now, working remotely for about two. If memory serves me correctly, anxiety was actually getting the best of me when I decided to make the switch. I really have no clear cut recollection of my first time working from home. What I do remember is the tremendous amount of relief I felt in being given the opportunity to transition from the standard 9 to 5 office environment to working remotely. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been struggling with anxiety since I was a teenager, but for the first time ever in my life it started to interfere with my day job. I was constantly getting sick and the only way I was able to keep up with my workload was to buckle down and pick up the slack at home. With compounding stressors in my life affecting my ability to get work done in the office during regular business hours, it was more than evident that change was needed. Since I had already been working from home off and on to keep up with my workload, when I officially switched from working in the corporate office to working remotely, I didn’t miss a beat. If anything, I became even more productive with my flexible schedule. The comfort of being at home, coupled with the ability to take extended breaks midday if I needed to decompress, made all the difference. The ability to form a routine of my own gave me balance in my life that had been lacking for so long. I went from struggling with work to immediately being on the up and up.   Don’t get me wrong though - while working remotely proved to be a great step towards a healthier lifestyle and made it possible for me to strike a balance between work and my personal life, it hasn’t been a cakewalk the entire time. Like my teammate Jen, I will be sharing my own experiences, discussing the perks, problems and growing pains of working remotely. I may even give a go at video blogging for the Remote Control blog series (bear with me as it would be my first time EVER). Additionally, I welcome other remote workers to join the conversation, sharing your success stories, common problems you’ve had and best solutions you’ve found in dealing with said problems. Or, ya know, you can simply comment on any post you like. Anyhow, keep an eye out every Wednesday for our blog series!  


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Social Media Reviews: Twitter Respects Do Not Track

Beyond • August 8, 2012

Legions of people love to browse the virtually unlimited depths of the web, but not all feel comfortable about the tracks they leave behind. This is the very reason movements such as Do Not Track were created. Speaking of which, internet users who love to express themselves online yet do not wish to have their every movement logged may be relieved to know that Twitter – a favorite destination of many, appears to have their best interests at heart. Twitter’s privacy policy illustrates its commitment to the Do Not Track initiative, a policy that many of the internet’s most influential brands have been explicitly asked to support. Backed by the U.S. government, Mozilla and various privacy advocates, Do Not Track calls for popular web application operators such as Apple, Google and Microsoft to implement a simple browser feature that when enabled allows users to inform the websites they visit that they do not want to be tracked. By embracing Do Not Track, Twitter is giving users greater power to protect themselves, and this is something most will surely appreciate. But as usual, there is a catch. Twitter Covers Its Tracks It should be noted that Twitter’s approach to Do Not Track differs from that of social networks, search engines and other web applications. In fact, it is actually counter to something it already does, which is track the user. That’s right. Twitter currently suggests accounts for users to follow based on their activity on sites that have buttons embedded from the popular microblogging site. Here’s an example to give you a better idea of how it works: Let’s say you visit a blog that keeps a Twitter button near each post to encourage readers to retweet their content. Well thanks to a special browser cookie, Twitter can collect certain information so that when you come back there, it is able to make following suggestions based on that visit. So for instance, visit Twitter after a trip to WebProNews.com and you might be suggested to follow Chris Crum, who is a regular contributor there. Twitter’s implementation of Do Not Track-friendly controls can be seen as a way to offset the firestorm that could arise from users knowing that they are being tracked. Nevertheless, it is complying and putting the power in their hands. Under the new policy, the company is allowing users to disable the suggestions feature by unchecking a box that not only stops them from showing up, but actually removes the cookie that tracks their activity and enables it to make those personalized recommendations. While some may be alarmed to know that Twitter is tracking their movements in the first place, it tries to calm those concerns with assurance that it has embraced Do Not Track. The company said that it does not use tracking data for any other purpose than to make following recommendations. It also revealed that it only makes those suggestions based on activity within the last 10 days. After 10 days, any data it has collected is discarded. Mozilla and other strong supporters of Do Not Track have publicly praised Twitter for its decision to get onboard. This could be an attempt to get competitors like Facebook and Google to step up to the plate. Operating two of the largest online destinations in the world, these particular companies have been heavily scrutinized for their failure to play nice and provide the recommended features to their users.


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Upgrading with the Times, Disney Uses iPads to Improve FastPass

Beyond • May 22, 2012

New technology comes in many variations these days. But for a company operating in the digital age, the influx of new smartphones, tablets and apps makes staying on top of these innovations a rather daunting task. Challenges aside, we are constantly presented with examples to remind us why adopting new technology is a powerful way to grow and improve business performance. Enhancing Magical Experiences in the Theme Park Inside the Magic, an unofficial blog that covers all things Disney, recently published an article describing how the celebrated entertainment company is currently using new technology to enhance one of its older services. According to the post, Disney World is using a combination of iPads and radio-frequency identification technology to quickly and accurately identify FastPass members. For those who are not aware, FastPass is the program Disney offers to patrons who want to pay to move ahead of the often long lines for the rides and attractions in the theme park. Under the new system, the customer would be required to book their spot in advance, and wear an RFID-enabled band, which is scanned at a designated area in the park. From there, their information is sent to an employee, who has the iPad that contains the reservation data needed to prove the patron’s identity and get them to the front of the line. Disney aims to meet two important objectives with the new system. The first goal is replacing its existing system, which despite already using RFID technology, has been described as “clunky,” essentially another line for patrons to stand in to receive their FastPass tickets. With the new system, Disney is switching over to a digital-based format that is both faster and more reliable. The second objective involves getting its “Nex Gen” initiative off the ground. Announced last year, Next Gen aims to deliver a better experience by allowing patrons to make their reservations from outside the theme parks. Disney is currently testing its new iPad-based FastPass system on The Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom, which offers what is typically a shorter waiting time than other rides in the park. If all patrons have a predetermined time for when they are scheduled to board a particular ride, the system could very well eliminate lines altogether. People would just sign up and enjoy other attractions in the park until it is their time to hop aboard the ride they want to experience. For now, there is no signup process, as the test has been limited to a small group of guests. Embracing Technology Is a Must Being the powerhouse of an entertainment company that it is, Disney’s theme parks would likely remain just as popular and profitable as they are already by leaving the existing FastPass system in place. But understanding the importance of evolving and adapting with the changing times, it is making the commitment to adopt the new technologies that will improve the user experience, which is ultimately what all businesses should strive for regardless of their industry, size or budget. When incorporated with a sound strategy in mind, technology can be the answer to reinvigorating the entire business. Workers have something new to learn, which could add an element of excitement to their bland daily routines. Leaders have new goals to strive for, and the company as a whole has an edge that makes it a force to be reckoned with on the competition front. Is your company embracing new technology? If so, what technologies have you embraced? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.


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