The Virtual Water Cooler: Staying Social While Working from Home

Working from home, we miss out on those quick “water cooler” discussions where we bump into someone and chat for a few minutes.

If you follow my blog or know me personally, you know that I love working from home. I’ve written about The Five Secrets to Working From Home, and I apply them every day since I work from home for my main job in customer service and also my side hustle teaching English online.

However, working remotely, especially if you do “shift work” in early or late hours, can be very lonely. If you live by yourself, it’s easy to go days without ever seeing someone else. In my case, I live with my husband and one of my sons. If my husband is traveling for work, it’s not uncommon for my son to leave for school or work while I’m teaching in the morning, and come back after I go to bed at night.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to result in isolation or lonliness. I have three easy suggestions for how to stay connected socially in a work-from-home environment.

Meet up.

With VIPKid, teachers organize local meetups. There is a page posted in VIPKid’s online community where you can search for local meetups, or you can host your own. Many companies do the same, hosting Friday afternoon happy hours where remote employees can come together to bond. This is my #1 tip because there is nothing quite like face-to-face time with your colleagues. They understand what you deal with on a day-to-day basis and can relate to you better than most people. If your company doesn’t offer something like this, start it yourself! Perhaps you are the only employee in your area, so this isn’t possible. If so, check out meetup.com. It’s totally free, and when I signed on today, two different networking events related to my industry immediately popped up. You could also look for other types of clubs to participate in after hours. I am a big fan of Toastmasters International. It allows you to improve your public speaking and leadership skills while networking on a local, regional, state, or even national level.

Host a virtual lunch date.

If you can’t meet up face-to-face, you can still introduce some social time in your schedule. Do you get a lunch break? Have lunch with a friend over video! If you don’t want to eat on camera (I get it.) Schedule a 5:00 Friday video call. Work talk is banned. I did this with two of my closest friends from work. We scheduled it on our calendars as though it were a “real” meeting, and we caught up on our families and lives.  It was so much fun, and it was a great way to start our weekend. Working from home, we miss out on those quick “water cooler” discussions where we bump into someone and chat for a few minutes. It’s important to nurture those relationships, even if we have to be creative to do so. If your company doesn’t provide video conferencing like OfficeSuite, Microsoft Teams, or Skype, check out a free software like Zoom and do it yourself!

Connect online.

My honors project for my degree in communications was predicting how the internet was going to change our tried and true communications models. At the time that I wrote it, we really had no idea just how much they would really change. (For perspective, this was pre-Facebook, pre-Linked In, and yes… pre-MySpace. I’m old.)

Today, there are so many ways to connect virtually. You can pick one based on your own personal communication style:

  • Linked In: This is my top choice for professional relationships. Not only can you “post” and share updates with one another, but you can blog, do recommendations, and join groups based on your interests.
  • Facebook: There are so many options on Facebook, and I bet you can find a group to fit any circumstances! I am a member of at least six different VIPKid groups and have even created my own (Amelia VIPKid – Teacher Central).
  • Twitter: My oldest son is a man of few words, so the idea of short and sweet messages has always appealed to him.
  • Instagram: If you are more visual in nature, Instagram is a great way to connect with photos and videos. It’s especially easy to connect if you use hashtags to target your audience and follow others.
  • Pinterest: It’s not just for crafters! You can find an almost addictive amount of ideas all neatly organized by enterprise on Pinterest.
  • You Tube: This is a favorite platform of many VIPKid teachers. It’s not my favorite because I don’t love how I come across in videos. But some people love it!
  • Snapchat: Yes, I’ll confess. I enjoy Snapchat. I don’t use it much but I get a kick out of the different filters. If you are a creative type, this can be a good way to bond and/or create content that your fellow co-workers can enjoy.

Ultimately, you need to find a method or a platform that works for you. Working remotely, it might take some intentional efforts to stay connected socially, but trust me when I say that it’s worth it.

Have you found other ways to stay connected while working from home? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Are you hoping to break into the “work from home” world? Let me know how I can help. VIPKid is always hiring and I would be happy to assist!

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The Five Secrets to Working From Home

Working from home is a great way for employers to save money on overhead and employees to benefit from flexibility and time.

At the risk of revealing how old I’ve really become, I’ll confess that I have been working from home on and off for the last (gasp) 20 years. The first time I worked from home, I was in my twenties, and I HATED it. I felt isolated and disconnected, and I struggled to maintain an appropriate work-life balance. Today, I LOVE working from home, and I truly value the flexibility it affords. Over time, I’ve learned a few insider secrets that made all the difference, so I thought I’d share those with you today. Read on to learn my top five secrets!

About Me

Today, I work as a staff manager for Windstream Enterprise. I manage a customer service team that spans three locations (plus a few other scattered employees here and there!) I also have project management/process improvement role that allows me to work with all of our leadership teams in many locations. In the mornings before my “day job” begins, I also teach English to students in China through VIPKid. Though these two jobs are very different, both share one amazing feature: my commute is one minute to walk upstairs.

About Working From Home

Working from home requires dedication, consistency, and boundaries. It is very easy to lose balance when you don’t have a traditional brick and mortar time clock. Some people find that they work all day and all night. If your workspace is the kitchen table, it’s altogether too easy to “hop on” and work a few emails while you make breakfast or eat dinner. This can quickly lead to burnout, not to mention frustration from your family. On the other hand, you can also err in the opposite direction. If you are supposed to be focusing on work but you stop to fold laundry, clean house, or do any one of the many other things that demand your attention – your productivity can take a hit.

The Five Secrets to Success

  1. Have a dedicated workspace with a door that closes. Working from the dining room table might seem like a convenient option; however, I can tell you from experience it is not. It worked great until:
    • I had to throw all of my work supplies into a basket when it was time for a dinner party, and then couldn’t find anything for the next week.
    • My kids were out of school and my family was visiting, and everyone decided they wanted to come in and “keep me company” while I was working.
    • My husband, who also worked from home, decided he would pace while on conference calls, regularly making the path from the kitchen to the living room (right through my “office”).
    • Once I moved my office upstairs, it worked much better for everyone involved!
  2. Shower. Shave. Get dressed. Yes, we’ve all heard the siren’s call of “working in your pj’s.” I might or might not be writing this blog post in my bunny slippers right now. And OCCASIONALLY, this is probably ok. But as a general rule, you are being paid to do a job, and so you owe it to your company and to yourself to give it 100%. That means being alert, focused, energized and engaged. When I’m in my pajamas (or yoga pants, or sweats and a t-shirt) I’m in Saturday morning mode. Sure, I can go through the motions. But I just don’t feel “on” like I do when I’ve gotten dressed for the day.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t wear high heels and a business suit to work. I’m not sure I even own “professional” attire anymore. But I always shower, get dressed, and put on (minimal) makeup. Here’s my morning routine on  a workday:
    • 4:30 am – The alarm on my apple watch goes off. (It vibrates, so it doesn’t wake up Michael.)
    • 4:57 am – After 3 snoozes on my watch, I get up and turn off my backup alarm.
    • 5:00 am – Shower/Shampoo/Wake up.
    • 5:20 am – Get dressed, slap on some basic makeup, and put on the little jewelry that I wear.
    • 5:30 am – Grab a Diet Coke and head upstairs.
    • 5:35 am – Dry my hair while booting up my computer and checking facebook on my phone. Continue to Drink Diet coke.
    • 5:45 am – Set up my VIPKid classroom. Lay out the props I’ll be using in class, sign into the classroom, and make sure the classroom is working properly.
    • 5:55 am – Sit down in my classroom. Apply lipstick. Put on headset. I’m ready for class.
    • 6:00 am – Begin my first of three classes. Each class is 25 minutes, with five minutes in between to reset my classroom, write feedback, or grab another sip of Diet Coke.
    • 7:30 am – Finish my last class. Feed the dog, grab breakfast, and finish any feedback from my classes.
    • 8:00 am – Move my chair from my classroom to my office. Sit down in my office. Put on headset. I’m ready for work.
  3. Establish boundaries. For those of us who like routine (see above) this may be easy. My work laptop “lives” upstairs, so when I come down after work, I rarely continue to work. Sure, I can check my phone, but I won’t get sucked into a big project. Likewise, my laundry, housework, etc. is all downstairs, so I’m not tempted to work on other things during my work day. I don’t have a television in my office, so I’m not tempted to turn on any shows that might distract me. And my family knows that if my door is closed, they should not disturb me. With Windstream, I work with a great group of people who don’t mind the occasional cameo of a spouse or child on video behind me, so my door normally stays open.  But with VIPKid, maintaining a classroom free of distraction is paramount, so the door is closed during class. Those boundaries help me be successful in whichever job I am doing.
  4. Take breaks. In an office environment, there are natural “water cooler” moments built into the day. When I first started working at Windstream, my desk was right by the main elevator, so people always stopped by to say hi as they were coming and going. Now, it’s possible that the only one to come upstairs besides me is my dog!
    • Plan a lunch break, even if it’s just to go downstairs and make a sandwich.
    • Make an effort to leave the house. Walk around the block, go to the gas station to get a drink, or make dinner plans with friends.
    • Stand up between meetings or classes and stretch. Walk around the room or simply look away from your computer.
    • Schedule time for conversations. Two colleagues and I recently put a meeting on our calendars for Friday at 5:00. We jumped on a video call and did nothing but catch up. It was FANTASTIC! With VIPKid, look for local meetups so you can get to know other teachers near you. These are the types of interactions that you miss out on while working from home, but you don’t have to!
  5. Embrace (and invest in) technology. If you are going to be successful working from home, you MUST have reliable technology. If you provide your own equipment, be sure it is high quality and dependable. With VIPKid, I invested in an iPad to ensure that I have a way to teach if either my internet or power is out. Be sure you have reliable, high-speed internet that won’t be impacted if you and your hubby are both on video conferences (ahem, Michael.) or if your kids are in a Fortnite dance battle.  Find a headset that is comfortable and works for you. I wear a headset almost nonstop from 6 am until 5 pm. My preference is  a simple Logitech USB headset, but my husband prefers airpods. Whatever you choose, be sure you have good quality, reliable equipment and technology.

Ultimately, you need to figure out what works for you. This might be the most important secret to working at home. Everyone is different, and what works for me, might not work for you. What worked in my old house no longer worked once I moved. So try different things until you find a routine and a process that allows you to be effective, efficient, and engaged.

Working from home is a great way for employers to save money on overhead and employees to benefit from flexibility and time. I have grown to love it, and have transitioned from the occasional “work from home” employee to a full-time “Remote Home Office” status.

I would love to hear from my fellow telecommuters. What do you love? What challenges do you face? Let me know in the comments!

If you don’t yet work from home and would like to try it out, VIPKid is always hiring. I’d love to help you get started, so feel free to get started by completing the VIPKid application, and let me know how I can help!