I’ve Been A Remote Worker for 20 Years: Here’s A Prediction

It’s interesting to hear everyone go ga ga over doing a Zoom business meeting or cocktail party. To me online meetings are no big deal and after many meetings from my home office for the past 20 years, I’d rather just make a phone call. People are inviting me to meet via Zoom as if it’s super special or a game or something. I appreciate it but it’s not special or fun to me. It’s business as usual. I’m not going to glamorize it. And be careful what you talk about using the free services. Your security may not be so good unless you pay for a pro version.

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However, regarding birthday celebrations, yes, it is a nice gesture to see everyone’s faces on the screen. That’s different and is nice if you live in different countries or states. I would rather see the “drive by parades” instead if your buddies are close enough to do that.

I’ve been a remote worker both for IBM and for myself for the most part since 2000 when my son was born. He is finishing up his freshman year at University of California Berkeley right now. He turns 20 this year. He’s been around as long as I’ve been a remote worker!

I say I worked from home “for the most part” because when I was West region PR manager for  IBM I had a sweet office in Mountain View, which I think is now owned by Google, as well as a guest office at IBM Almaden Research Center. But I mainly worked at home. And by the way my son went to daycare while I did that. It would have been a bit dangerous for him to wander around the house as a baby or toddler during my super busy IBM days.  (Remote work parents of toddlers: be careful.)

Here’s my prediction about what’s going to happen: in the next 18 months we will all need to be able to turn on and off remote work. I don’t believe everyone will “turn remote” permanently though. I think schools will still be around. Offices and work buildings will still be around. So don’t get rid of your printer-copiers, desks or chairs.

After listening to numerous interviews with medical doctors and data scientists from places including Columbia and UC Berkeley, I have a strong opinion about what might happen.  I believe that almost all businesses will have both an in person and remote work option.

During the next year people will go back to school and to the office. But at some point, they will told to go back home. For example, they could go back to school and work in August but be called back home for a few months in December or February. These are made up months: the exact day will depend on what happens with the COVID-19 curve. But a UC Berkeley PhD said today during an online teleconference that COVID cases could very well start to increase again during flu season: that’s when people may be called home again.

Whether students and workers go out or go home will depend on if people are getting sick from something that isn’t very treatable. So if the COVID-19 numbers go up we go home. They go down, we go to the office. Therefore my prediction is that we’ll have this back and forth lifestyle for at least one and a half years. Then maybe there will be a vaccine and things might go back to normal again.

What problems will occur? This will put more stress on college students who go to schools far away from their parents’ homes. They have to decide, will they stay at their college apartment when they get called back to online school or move out and go to mom and dad’s? Will landlords give students a break if they move out back home for three months? One of more vocal parents from the UC Berkeley Cal Parents Discussion Group Facebook page suggested simply asking landlords to put a special clause into the leases. If you move out, maybe you can get a break that month.

Regarding K-12, poorer kids will need to get laptops and WiFi supplied to them. One school district representative from New York said just this week that around 20% of their K-12 school children don’t have technology or bandwidth at home for online learning. And they have figured out how to solve about 10 percent of this problem but are working on the rest of it. Business, schools and communities: let’s work on solving this digital divide problem as a team.

My advice is simple: go with the flow and stay flexible. Flexibility is the name of the game moving forward. But wait, there’s more.

Help someone and you will get a favor back at some point: I’ve already experienced that. I bought hand sanitizer for a stranger and got a much needed essential item literally gifted to me soon after.

Try to stay healthy because if you get sick you will recover faster.

Good luck and happy online meetings everyone. I wish you all long lives with much toilet paper. And sorry if I missed your fun Zoom party. It reminds me too much of work.

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Michelle McIntyre is the founder of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a tech PR consulting firm in Saratoga, Calif. She’s an IBM vet and also a future of work influencer. Follow her @FromMichelle on Twitter.

 

Are You One of the 52 Million People Who Work At Home? Do It Right With These 3 Tips

work at home lead photo purchased from Canva Aug 14, 2018

According to the State of the American Workplace Report, more than 40% of Americans say they spend at least part of their time working remotely, a 4% increase from 2012 to 2017.  Since a whopping 52 million* people work from home it makes sense to learn how to do it right. This article provides three tips on maximizing your remote work including one that may surprise you.

Why are there so many remote workers? Remote work means more flexibility and happier employees. It also saves time and money in areas like dry cleaning, gasoline, and day care. I know these benefits well: I worked at home for IBM for a decade and for the last five years for my own PR firm.

IBM’s old rule was that you were assigned a traditional office if you could be in it at least three days per week. My managers and closest coworkers were often in Boston and New York so this Californian usually was sent home to get her work done. That was a win-win. It saved Big Blue a lot of office rent money and I scored a bunch of awards for results. All that extra sleep due to not having to drive two hours a day to and from the office paid off in more energy and awards for results.

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Times, however, they are a changin’. Sadly IBM Corporate reversed their position on working at home. Luckily I left the company before this happened. I still “bleed blue” by the way; I don’t regret building my career there.

The good news is that many companies are still encouraging workers to stay at home. Some  established startups I’ve worked with are are mostly home-based. Executives tell me it makes it a lot easier to recruit. Worker retention is probably higher because employees don’t want to leave to change to an in-office role.

Here are three tactics I’ve used to be more productive and happier at my at-home job.

  1. Wake up early and take a shower. Don’t work dirty! You feel peppy and professional when you are dressed and feeling your best even if the only person who will see you that day is the FedEx delivery guy or gal. man showering purchased from Canva
  2. Decorate a teleconference wall. Make sure the wall behind you and above your head has attractive decor and the nice lighting. Test what it looks like before a video call with a client or prospect. One test I like is a laptop selfie. I learned this video conference tip from two under 30 CEOs, one in Austin and another Toronto, who had decorated their in-office walls. I thought, people at home should do that too!Home office bedroom wall decor photo purchased from Canva
  3. Get outside every day. Take a walk, run, swim or hike mid-day. Exercise during the work day even if it’s packed with urgent tasks. Remote workers who take on a lot of desk work have the challenge of getting a little lonely. Get outside for a shot of Vitamin D and energy and mood-boosting exercise. Additionally, attend networking groups a minimum of two times a month and invite your favorite client to coffee. When you have a lot of work and you aren’t pitching you clients this tends to happen. When you are wooing new clients it usually doesn’t happen. walk during a work break purchased from canva

In summary, if you are starting a company, don’t be afraid to encourage your workers to stay at home more. They’ll be happier. If you want the benefits of working at home like not having to sit in hellish traffic every day, consider moving to a stay-at-home job.

*How did I get this number? An August 2018 Statistica report said there were 130.64 full time U.S. workers in July. Forty percent of this is 52 million. Therefore around 52 million of us in the U.S. work at home either all or part of the time.

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Michelle McIntyre, an award winning Silicon Valley publicist runs Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC. She blogs for VLAB which brings together startups, established companies, VCs and members of academia to promote emerging tech like artificial intelligence. Follow her on Twitter @FromMichelle. Image credit: All are from Canva.