Tags: remote

5 Video Tips for Work-From-Home Skype Interviews

5 Video Tips for Work-From-Home Skype Interviews

Beyond • April 30, 2014

Your workspace is 10 feet away, but your employer is 100 miles away. Your uniform is a T-shirt, jeans, or whatever you feel like wearing at the moment. Your preferred method of contact is chat with a little bit of email mixed in. And now your employer or client wants you to step outside your comfort zone and do something terrifying: Have a video meeting. While working out on the fringes, it’s easy to forget that at some point you exist beyond your latest email missive or chat volley. Here are five ways to optimize your Skype calls and make your video meetings both painless and professional: Light it up Whether your Skype call is ultra-short or really, really long, you will be judged based on the brightness of your workspace. Go for natural light or multiple lamps to lighten up your room, but make sure you’re not so backlit that you look like a silhouette. Mind your six Before you start your call, check for anything that looks weird in the background. Books stacked haphazardly on a shelf, spots on walls, or even piles of clean laundry in the background will give you an air of unprofessionalism. Think office, not bedroom. Clear up bandwidth When your digital clock, tablet and cell phone all share your wireless connection, the quality of your Skype calls are destined to suffer. Do more than close unnecessary programs on your laptop or desktop, look around for outside devices that can erode the quality of your video meeting. Wear nice pants I know it’s tempting to put on a nice shirt and throw on sweatpants. Don’t. Will you have to stand up during your Skype call? Probably not, but if something unexpected happens – earthquake, doorbell, urgent bathroom break – you’ll curse yourself if you’re wearing raggy pants. Sit up straight Let’s face it: body language matters, even during Skype calls. You’ll want to project confidence, but if your camera sits at the perfect height and you’re channeling Oscar the Slouch, you’re simply going to look bad. Sit up straight at all times and whoever you’re speaking with will notice how professional you look. There are just as many tips to make great Skype calls as there are ways to make your conference calls fall flat. These five are just the basics, but they should definitely improve the quality and professionalism of your face-to-face meeting.


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5 Annoying Distractions That Can Kill Your Output

5 Annoying Distractions That Can Kill Your Output

Beyond • April 16, 2014

Like just about anything, working from home is about the little things. You can craft copy, code or customer service tickets from your sofa or the table at Starbucks, but the tiniest, most distracting things will make or break your output. If you do hours upon hours of work and you’re coming up with a less-than-stellar haul, there could be any number of basic things that are slowing you down. Here’s a list of five different annoyances that can stop you from being a work from home superstar. Dirty monitor Doing research on the Mona Lisa only to find she has a mole you never noticed before? Guess what? That’s probably not a birthmark. A dirty monitor can slow productivity to a halt. Buy a few microfiber cleaning cloths or monitor wipes and see how much a clean screen affects your output.  Messy desk What’s on your desk? Do you have more than the bare essentials? If so, it’s time to go militantly minimalist. Remove pretty much anything that doesn’t have to be there at any given moment. The less stuff you have on your desk, the less time your brain will spend processing those unnecessary objects  Tangled cables What’s under (or around) the bottom of your chair? Are you tugging at your laptop every few seconds because its charging cable is too tight? Spend a few minutes untangling wires and arranging them neatly throughout the room. Most people will fight with annoying cables for days before realizing they’re even doing it. You don’t want to be one of those people.  Smudgy glasses Ah, glasses. They can be so helpful yet so…not-helpful. Do your glasses have smudgy fingerprints or scratches? If your glasses are simply dirty, don’t just clean them, move them as far as possible from your eyes by adjusting their position on the bridge of your nose. If your glasses are scratched, head down to the local eyeglass manufacturer and see if you can get the scratches buffed out. Many stores will do this for free, and the only price you’ll pay is time.  Inappropriate lighting What’s the lighting situation in your office? Has your family nicknamed your workspace “the dungeon”? Is it so bright that whenever you leave your office, you’re stricken with spotty vision? The best type of work lighting is natural light, but if you don’t have windows, a good, bright desk lamp will work. Also, consider painting your walls a light color or hanging brightly-colored posters. These two tricks will brighten your workspace and keep your eyes as fresh as possible. If you had to fix all five of these problems in your work-from-home life, it would take you less than a few hours to make things right. Set aside some time to right these wrongs and you’ll definitely see a jump in your output.


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Remote Control: 4 Big Picture Facts About Working Remotely

Remote Control: 4 Big Picture Facts About Working Remotely

Beyond • April 9, 2014

With so many ways to gather intel, the Internet is rampant with often contradictory survey data. So as I wrote this blog post listing out facts about working remotely, it wasn’t hard to find lots of data on the benefits of working outside the office. Although you can find stats on the drawbacks of having work from home employees, most data shows that teleworkers not only get more done, they have better quality of life. Here are some Big Picture stats on the state of telecommuting in general, from both an employer and employee perspective: 1. Telecommuting rose almost 80% between 2005 and 2012 (American Community Survey) This statistic probably was probably driven by two things: The increase in communication technology and the downturn in the economy. Today’s remote workers are available throughout the day (and night) through Skype and other tools, while cash-challenged companies save money on medical insurance and other employee expenses. Everybody wins. 2. Employers save up to $11,000 per remote worker (Teleworkresearchnetwork.com) Anyone who says that workers are the only ones to gain from telecommuting is dead wrong. Between rent and other expenses, employers can save more than $10,000 per employee that works from home only half the time. The same survey says that remote workers themselves save between $2000 and $7000 per year on gas, bus and subway fare, and other transportation expenses. 3. Almost 65% of remote workers now carry tablets (iPass) According to a 2012 survey by iPass, tablets are a huge hit with remote workers. When the survey took place, the most popular telecommuter-friendly devices were iPhones, iPads and laptops, and even though we’re well into 2014, you can bet those stats have probably not changed all that much. 4. Around 40% of remote workers get more sleep (Connectsolutions.com) A small study in 2013 by Connect Solutions, a company that provides Unified Communications tools, found that while remote workers got more done, they also got better sleep. The study also showed that teleworkers were more productive and have a much more positive attitude about life and work in general. In other words, more sleep = better output and happier workers. On the flipside, a rather humorous 2012 survey by Citrix showed that remote workers have done everything from watch movies to drink alcoholic beverages during the workday. For statistically accurate purposes, we’ll just consider those mischievous workers outliers.


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4 Sensible Tips For Finding a Work-From-Home Alternative

4 Sensible Tips For Finding a Work-From-Home Alternative

Beyond • April 2, 2014

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.


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Remote Control: Wake Up Like A Pro

Remote Control: Wake Up Like A Pro

Beyond • March 26, 2014

If I had to chart how I used to wake up in the morning, here’s how it would go. Sunny day? Jump out of bed like a rambunctious poodle. Cloudy day? Hit the snooze button over and over for at least two hours. Rain? Yeah, good luck with that. I’ll get up when King Tut gets up, and the last time I checked, he’s not moving. Working from home cranks the temptation to stay in bed up to 11, because your bed is just one room – or a few steps – away from your workspace. So in order to get moving in the morning, I follow these steps: Step 1: Open a window or turn on the AC The biggest enemy to waking up in the morning is warmth. I’m not talking 90 degree heat with Florida Everglades-level humidity, but the oh-so-comfortable feeling of body heat under an extra-soft blanket. So before I even go to bed, I open windows, even if it’s cold outside. This way, when I open my eyes in the morning, my face is practically frozen and I have to get up to - you guessed it – close the windows. Step 2: Drink water The general rule of thumb is to drink 8 ounces of water a day. At night, I’d estimate we probably drink about .0000074 ounces of water, at that’s by absorbing moisture in the air. So, when you wake up, it’s time to rehydrate. I keep a bottle of water next to the bed, and drink it before I even take the dog out. It gives me instant energy and jump starts my body for the day. Step 3: Stay up for 15 minutes Now that I use my phone as an alarm clock, I used to completely abuse the chance to snooze. One morning I set up a cascade of 10 alarms, all at 15-minute increments, and I STILL had trouble waking up. Now I torture myself by getting up and staying up for 15 minutes. I spend this time surfing Reddit, creeping Facebook or cleaning the kitchen. If I can go back to sleep after that, I win, but 90% of the time I’m up whether I like it or not. Step 4: Plan your breakfast I may miss lunch or I may miss dinner, but I will never, ever miss breakfast. Why? Because I love breakfast items like fresh fruit, cereal, and of course bacon. So if I’m going to force myself to get up, there better be some good eats involved. Before I hit the sack, I plan out what I’m going to have the next morning. I’ll set the table. I’ll dole out portions. Is the desire to rack out for an extra 20 minutes tempting? Of course! But the urge to get up, dig into a bowl of Special K or sliced cantaloupe is far, far stronger. If your bed is near your computer – or you use your computer in your bed – waking up will always be a grueling battle. However, by following these steps, you have a fighting chance to not only wake up on time, but actually feel alert enough to do great work throughout the day.


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Remote Control: 4 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Lulls

Remote Control: 4 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Lulls

Beyond • March 19, 2014

Remote workers, I know you’ve been there. You’ve just finished lunch. You sit down at your computer. Perhaps it’s the soft lull of the dishwasher or the birds chirping outside, but your eyelids get heavy and you feel the overwhelming urge to head over to your couch and drop right into a deep, cozy sleep. Even office workers face the afternoon lulls, but telecommuters have it tough. The problem is not taking a short nap, but the potent temptation to plunge into delta waves, and lose hours and hours of precious productivity. And it certainly doesn’t help that you probably have a couch, bed or recliner nearby. Instead of drifting off and falling behind on your work, here are some healthy, natural ways to stay awake when you’re away from the office: 1. Drink loads of water Water does so much more than quench thirst, it rehydrates the tissues of the brain. According to a recent study, people who drank water with a meal saw better mental acuity and were able to think 15 percent faster than their H2O-denied peers. 2. Keep yourself cold Just like a warm bed in the morning on a rainy day, heat is like crack to people who like to nap. If you want to stay cogent, cold air is your friend. Not only does cold air make the skin uncomfortable, but it forces the body to generate heat. Turn on the air conditioner, open a window, or put an icepack on your neck. Whatever works. 3. Play a 10-minute video game If you’re not into video games, this isn’t an option. However, even if you’re a casual gamer, this will get you through a rough spot. Grab a controller or a mouse and start a timed, short game. The time sensitivity of puzzles or the imaginary FPS threat of getting shot in the back will be enough to raise your energy levels and get the blood flowing. 4. Eat fruit, not candy In my mind, there are two types of sugar - all natural sweetness you get from fruit, and the white, processed stuff you find in everything from cookies to tomato soup. Don’t spike your glucose, snack on oranges, grapes or apples. This way you’ll get the benefit of fiber, with the slower-burning energy of something naturally sweet. There’s really no telling how many things you can do to stay awake throughout the day, but not all of them are healthy or effective. Here are the ones that work for me every time, so whenever the sleep urge strikes, see if they help you as well.


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Remote Control: 3 Ways To Make Visits To The Office Super Successful

Remote Control: 3 Ways To Make Visits To The Office Super Successful

Beyond • March 5, 2014

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.


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Remote Control: 4 Tried & Tested Tips For An Epic, Productive Power Nap

Remote Control: 4 Tried & Tested Tips For An Epic, Productive Power Nap

Beyond • February 19, 2014

Spain does it. China does it. South Italy, India and Vietnam do it. What am I talking about? Naps. While many highly productive countries encourage workers to shut down for a short while during the day, the United States has no such nap culture, despite countless scientific studies that tout the benefits of the siesta. Whether you work from home or toil away at an office, having a short, regenerating nap can make all the difference between great work and sub-par output. Rebooting your brain can be done in a bed, on the floor of an office, or in the reclining seat of a car, but here are ways to fall asleep quickly and get maximum benefits from a 20 or 30 minute window: 1. Aim for 10 or 20 minutes, not 30 Recent studies have debunked the myth that 30 minutes is the optimal time period for naps. Instead, 10 or 20 minutes can deliver a huge boost to cognitive function, alertness, and even memory. To hit this sweet spot, give yourself an extra 10 minutes for your siesta. You’ll probably need five minutes to fall asleep and a few minutes to get yourself together afterward, so tack on a few minutes just for these things. 2. Use a sleep app with earbuds Many sleep experts say you should shut off or silence any electronic devices during a nap, especially mobile phones. In my experience, your cell phone can actually be your best friend during sleep breaks. Download any free or paid sleep or power nap app, grab some earbuds, and set up your program. Even free sleep apps offer a 10 or 20 minute power nap sequence, and you can use the sounds of crashing waves, rain, or even a crackling fireplace to lure yourself to sleep. 3. Develop a sleep scene Is there a particular scenario that you think of that makes you sleepy? If not, come up with a sequence that accompanies the sound of your nap app. I call this a sleep scene. For me, I think of walking down a Hawaiian beach, and eventually lying down in the warm sand in front of the ocean. With an accompanying app featuring sounds of crashing waves, I can typically fall asleep just about anywhere – on a train, in my car on a cold day, or even during a KISS concert. Yes, that actually happened. Don’t judge. 4. Drink caffeine before you nod off When I first read about this theory, I immediately thought it was a dumb idea. Why would you hop yourself up on caffeine before you settle down to sleep? Apparently, the joke was on me. Caffeine takes around 20 minutes to kick in, so drinking coffee before your power nap can make you highly alert just minutes after you wake up. For anyone who nods off during the day, a short nap is not just a life-saver, it’s the only way to power through afternoon tasks. Some of the tips above might seem a bit odd, but as a work from home warrior who has tested almost every nap theory, I can confirm that a caffeine filled, sleep app-accompanied, sleep scene-induced 10 minute break is exactly the nap you’re looking for.


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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: 4 Ways To Kill Computer-Related Eye Problems

Remote Control: 4 Ways To Kill Computer-Related Eye Problems

Beyond • February 5, 2014

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.


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