So, you’ve been working from home for days on end and it seems like all you’ve been looking at is a computer, a desk and maybe the green grass (or asphalt) outside your window. Call it cabin fever, homeworker-itis, or whatever clever name you come up with, when you feel antsy, it’s time to go out and work somewhere else. Unless your beach or pool has Wi-Fi___33, you’re going to have to go for something more…conventional. Coffee houses, libraries or even restaurants are good bets, and here’s how to successfully churn out the work in these oft-crowded places: 1. Case the joint Before you set up your tech in another place, spend at least a few hours gauging the remote worker culture. Who do you see? People in business suits or college students? What’s the Wi-Fi like? Fast enough or almost unbearably slow? What’s the climate like? Freezing cold or too warm for your liking? If you can find a Goldilocks place where most of your needs are met, test out this new place the next time you work. 2. Organize tasks based on the environment If you work remotely, you probably have to a) answer emails, b) make Skype or phone calls, c) read, or d) watch videos (instructional, of course). In a loud place like Starbucks, or even the quiet space of a library, watching videos and voice calls will probably be out of the question. Instead, do your phone calls from home, and save the other stuff for your local haunt. Make sure to invest in quality earbuds or a noise-cancelling headset as well. 3. Bring money At most coffee shops and eateries, you’re not going to see a sign stating that buying drinks or food buys you time. Instead, if you park it without paying for something every few hours, you’re going to get dirty looks, passive aggressive hints, and other clues that the staff wants you out. Don’t go broke, but make sure you bring money to buy something every so often. Also, it never hurts to nicely ask an employee what they expect from you if you’re going to work for hours on end. If the price is too high, you’re just going to have to leave. 4. Find an outlet It’s a fact: eventually your laptop, tablet or phone is going to die without external power. So when you first walk in the door to your potential work-from-home alternative, make a beeline for the nearest outlet. In an ideal situation, you can find an open outlet next to a table, chair or even couch. However, if the only open outlet would force you to sit on a dirty floor, or all the outlets are covered, you’ll have to find another place to go. In my experience, putting all your eggs in one basket by having only one place you can work outside the house always ends up badly. Instead, have two or three places you can go, and if your first choice fails, you can still have a massively productive day away from your usual domain.
Without question, working from home is an incredible experience. You can craft amazing ideas on a flexible schedule, and deliver truly groundbreaking work from the comfort of your couch, whether you’re answering customer service emails or intensely writing code. Like handwriting skills or phone number memorization, working from home can kill something you really need: Social skills. If you’re going into an office once a week, once a month or even once every quarter, here’s how to make your visits fun, productive and social. 1. Have some barn time With a sister who is an avid equestrian, I’ve learned that before and after each riding lesson, horse owners love to socialize. The casual name for this is “barn time”, and horse enthusiasts spend this period waxing poetic about their latest trail ride or discussing Rustin Cohle’s philosophy-talk on True Detective. At work, set aside barn time to talk to your co-workers. Take a break, talk comics and laugh over a funny video. This will not only recharge your social batteries, but improve your work relationships. 2. Bring your ideas One thing I truly miss about working from home is collaboration. You can spend all the Skype time in the world planning out a project, but there’s something invigorating about sitting across from someone as you strategize as a team. Before you come into the office, bring a list of suggestions and ideas for whatever you’re working on and set a time to discuss your plans. Make the list collaboration-friendly, meet with your counterparts, and plan out how you can collectively make things better. 3. Meet someone for lunch Whenever I work at the office, I’m tempted to power through lunch while sitting at my desk. Is this more productive? Yes. Is it helpful? No. Skip the Top Ramen and can of Diet Coke and go out to eat with your co-workers. You don’t have to take a two-hour mega-lunch complete with appetizers, entrée and dessert, but spend enough time to have a good, inexpensive, light-hearted meal with the people on the other side of your emails. I freely admit that when I’m in the office, I sometimes get far less work done than when I’m working from home. However, enjoying the company of co-workers not only keeps me happy and grounded, it improves how well I work with my team down the line.
Picture this: I had just spent 10 hours staring at a computer screen. It was time to wind down, so I left my home office, I picked up my Xbox controller and started a game of Halo multiplayer. My eyes were trashed and enemies zipped across the screen like fuzzy, colored blobs, but I was confident I could divide friend from foe. So when I saw an enemy vehicle race toward me, I did what I always do: Obnoxiously launch rockets, put down my controller, and lean back, smugly, listening to the sweet, sweet sound of crunching metal and the BOOM of massive, fire-y explosions. Instead of kudos from teammates for wiping out several members of the opposing team, a pre-teen’s voice invaded my mic. At the approximate volume of a 747 taking off, my young teammate unloaded a massive string of foul curse words and personal threats against me, my family AND my dog. My aim was true, but my eyes had fooled me. There weren’t any enemies in the vehicle - there was only him, and boy was he was mad. Although that scenario is nothing like, say, actually using a rocket launcher on a real-life vehicle, or thinking that raccoon in your kitchen is your pet, staring at a computer screen day after day can do terrible things to your eyes. Here are some tips on protecting and preserving your eyesight in the digital age: Invest in computer or gaming glasses Why do our eyes hurt after staring at a computer all day? Two things: blue light and focusing on a fixed distance. If you have the cash, several companies offer prescription and non-prescription glasses with amber-hued lenses that cut back on glare and blue light, reducing eye-strain. As someone who uses Gunnar-brand glasses whenever I remember to do so, I can assure you they are a worthwhile investment. Use an app to adjust your screen’s brightness Is it natural to be bathed in blue, flickering light when it’s still dark outside? Absolutely not. F.lux, one of my favorite apps, adjusts the light (and color) on your screen based on the time of day. For instance, in the morning, F.lux makes the light from your screen look like sunlight. When the sun sets, F.lux changes the color and brightness to look like indoor light. While F.lux isn’t the answer to all your problems, it delivers a proper, natural adjustment to your environment – especially when you’re burning the midnight oil. Exercise your eyes every 20 minutes Whenever I hear the words “eye exercises” I think of cheesy 1950s calisthenics. But after doing eye exercises for months and seeing serious results, I’m finally comfortable ditching that association. Start by palming your eyes. Warm up your hands, close your eyes, and cover them lightly with your hands. Do this for a few minutes, take a break, and do it again. Another tip? Look at items in the distance. If you can’t get outside or near a window, look at the objects furthest from you. Spend several minutes focusing on distant spots, and your eyes will feel rested again. Place your monitor at least an arm’s length away One of the biggest mistakes telecommuters (or office workers) make is working too close to a computer screen. Mobile phone users do equally bad things, straining their eyes to watch movies, send text messages, or just read posts in their Facebook stream. So, what is the optimal distance for a computer screen? An arm’s length or more. If this is a problem, bump up the font on your docs and web pages. The same goes for mobile phones. If you can, hold your phone at least 12 inches away from your face, and even further if possible. Recent studies show an alarming increase in Computer Vision Syndrome, the official name for problems caused by screen-watching overload. If you spend way too much time looking at screens all day – whether you toil away at home or under the fluorescent lights of an office – use these tips to keep your eyes fresh throughout the day and into the night.