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!

 

VIPKid and Daylight Savings Time (Spring Forward)

Last fall, I was a shiny, new VIPKid teacher. I was worried about Daylight Savings Time, and didn’t know what to expect. After surviving my first “fall back” shift, I wrote an article about VIPKid and Daylight Savings Time (Fall Back) .

Tomorrow, we are set to “spring forward” and this time, I have a lot less stress about the situation.

So what is changing for me?

As you might know, I only work super-part time. I have a day job that I begin at 8am Central Time each weekday, so my schedule has been 5:00 am – 7:30 am Central Time. This equates to 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm in Bejing. Once we spring forward, if I were to keep the same times open in Bejing time, MY time would be 6:00 am – 8:30 am Central Standard Time, which now overlaps with my day job.

What did I do?

At the risk of sounding a bit anticlimactic, I did nothing. I am keeping 5:00 am – 7:30 am Central Daylight Time open. For my students, that now represents 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm in Bejing. The time is already updated in the VIPKid portal, so as long as you set your clocks with the time change, 5am is really 5am. You don’t have to do the math!

What will happen to my schedule?

My schedule is crazy for the first week after DST anyway, because it’s spring break week, so I am only working a few days. So my first “frenzy” (when parents book classes two weeks in advance) will happen this weekend.  It’s possible that I will lose a few regular students who prefer that later timeslot; however, many will shift with me.

What did I do to prepare?

  • A few weeks before DST, I left comments in my feedback advising my regular students that my schedule would be changing. I apologized for the inconvenience and assured them that I still wanted to teach their son/daughter.
  • If those later timeslots did not book in the frenzy, I started closing them. (If this were my primary income, I might not have done this.) My goal in closing them was twofold: a) to get an idea of what students this would impact by watching for priority booking requests and b) to prevent getting any new regulars that I fell in love with that had to have that timeslot!

If you are worried about the time change, please don’t be. Students will come and go, and their schedules change (just like our kids’ schedules change!) This may be a good opportunity to find some new regulars, and if you have flexibility to teach at different times, perhaps you could accommodate some students who need to find a new teacher! And you never know, you might just catch some amazing sunrise snapshots between classes!

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments, and I would be happy to help.

Happy teaching!

sunrise1

How I earned over $500 in my bathroom!

First of all, I don’t call it a bathroom. It’s my classroom. And I earned the money teaching English as a second language to children in China!

I have a full time job in corporate America, but a couple of months ago I decided I needed a more meaningful hobby – something that was different than my daily grind. The ability to earn money at the same time was just an added bonus! That began my journey with VIPKid.

Why did I turn my bathroom into a classroom? This was an unused area of my home off of a spare bedroom that I use as my home office. The countertop placed my laptop at the right level, and it allowed me to have a wall behind me that was in easy reach. The lighting is easily controlled, and it’s right next to my wireless router, so there’s a strong wifi signal. It was perfect! There were two previously empty drawers perfect for storing props, and the huge bathroom mirror also provides a surface I can use as my own personal dry erase board to write myself lesson notes!

My journey with VIPKid has just begun, and so far I LOVE it. The children and their parents are amazing. The hours are flexible, and the classes are fun. As you can see, the pay is pretty nice too!

In full disclosure, I expect my paycheck to continue to grow. I am a brand new VIPKid teacher, and so I’m still building my regular student base.  At the time I’m writing this article, I’ve been a teacher for 47 days. (I signed my contract mid-September, 2018.) It’s important to note that I ONLY make myself available to teach Monday through Friday between 5 or 6 am Central and 7:30 am Central. I need to be ready to start my regular job at 8 am sharp.

In this short time, though, here’s how my student base (and paycheck) have grown:

  • My first week I opened 10 timeslots (none short notice) and didn’t get any bookings.
  • My second week, VIPKid offered an incentive for opening up a certain number of short notice time slots, so I opened 25 available class times, and I got two short notice bookings. (Both of whom have booked multiple classes since then!)
  • The first half of October, my mom had surgery, so my availability to teach was limited, but I taught 9 classes with one trial no-show.
  • The second half of October, I taught 35 classes.
  • Looking ahead, it’s only November 3rd, and I’m already booked for 14 classes. (VIPKid only opens up two weeks in advance, so there are plenty more bookings to come!)
September 2018 – 2H October 2018 – 1H October 2019 – 2H
% of Timeslots Filled 20% 25% 92%
Pay $22.00 $84.00 $410.00

I cannot recommend this opportunity enough. It’s a good company with good training and a simple process to learn and grow your student base. It’s fun, flexible, and so far pretty profitable!  Whether you are looking for some extra holiday spending money, a second career, or a meaningful hobby, VIPKid could be a good fit for you.

If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact me. If you are looking for someone to help you through the process, I’d love to be your mentor, so please use my referral link if you are ready to sign up!

 

Classroom Basics – Set up a VIPKid Classroom Without Breaking the Bank!

When I was interviewing and preparing for my mock class, I wanted to rush out and buy every teacher prop available. I love buying school supplies under normal circumstances, so with the idea of a “new classroom” in my mind, I was almost unstoppable!  However, I’m happy to report that I did not break the bank and was able to show some restraint.

If you are just getting started, there’s no need to spend a fortune in props and classroom decorations. Below are my top picks for things to get your classroom started.

Things You Already Have

  • Tape. Yes, just regular scotch tape. If you have some favorite reward systems, you can later invest in magnets, velcro, or some other adhesive, but for just starting out, tape works just fine. I use tape to decorate my walls and whiteboard, and I use it in virtually every reward system I prepare. It’s easy to use, and you probably already have a roll in your junk drawer!
  • Musical Item(s). Yes, I know that it’s vague. But this can be literally ANY musical item. If you can plan an instrument, that’s great. I can’t even read music, much less play an instrument, so an old kid’s harmonica is what I use. Before I start singing a song, I play a few discordant notes on the harmonica to get my student’s attention and set the stage for the song. A toy xylophone, kiddie piano, a pair of drumsticks, a kazoo, or even a whistle would probably work.  Just find something you’ll enjoy and get to playing!
  • Toys. On the subject of toys and fun, dig out some of your favorite old toys or game pieces. I have used stuffed animals, toy cars, card games, dice, and even a dog toy in my lessons. Be creative! If you are having fun, the kids will too.

You will be amazed at how many household items you will find that you can use in class. However, there will be a few things that are worth purchasing.

Things to Buy

  • Magnetic Letters.  These are inexpensive and versatile. They can be used for beginners when learning letters and letter sounds. They can be used in phonics practice for more advanced students. They can be used to customize your classroom decorations or help with verb conjugation. The possibilities are endless! You could probably get by with one set of capital letters, and two sets of lower case letters.
  • Small Whiteboard.  I picked one up for around $5.00 I think, and I use it all the time. I use it along with my magnetic letters, and I use it to write examples. It can be used to correct pronunciation (b vs buh) and to draw reward systems. This is one of my go-to items in the classroom.
  • Something You Love. I have to confess. I did make a major splurge recently, but in all honesty, I would have bought these with or without a classroom! I came across a few finger puppets that were custom made from Chicago artist Dan Crowley.  I absolutely adore all of his work, and so I purchased two puppets, a sun and a moon. I’ve had the chance to use them when teaching about the weather and “good morning” but really, I just love looking at them! (But they do look FANTASTIC over video in the classroom!) While I try to be frugal, if you find something that you just love, it’s ok to buy it. Why? Because if you are excited, your students will be too. And I love anything that helps my students love learning.

Bonus Buy

  • A Laminator. I’m not sure why, but I already had a laminator. However, if you are hired, you can invest in a decent home laminator for $25-$35, and the plastic sheets cost about $11 online from Amazon. I use my laminator all the time, from making reward systems to decorating my classroom. I print, laminate, and attach pictures of animals to those pointy kitchen skewers I hate to cook with, and voila – instant puppet. If you don’t have a whiteboard, you can also use a laminated piece of paper as a makeshift whiteboard. I probably wouldn’t purchase a laminator just for the interview process, but if you are looking for a way you can start building up re-usable supplies for your classroom, this is a good place to start.

If you’d like to see more about the basics I use, I put together a quick video that shows these items in my classroom. As always, if you print pictures off the Internet, make sure you have permission to use the image.

Good luck setting up your classroom. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or contact me.

Of course if you are ready to get started with VIPKid and are looking for a mentor, feel free to reach out and use my referral link.

person holding pink piggy coin bank
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

An Apple a Day

Ok new teachers. Let me begin by saying that I am far from an expert on feedback. In my first month of teaching, I only got seven ratings. The good news? They were all 5-apples! As I renew my second contract, I’ve broken the elusive 100, but certainly, more parents don’t leave feedback than do.

I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about a few things I’ve learned about apple feedback.

  • Where to see it: You can see individual ratings under “parent feedback.” However, you won’t see it in your status until after you get 100 ratings. Although I like instant gratification, this is a good thing. By looking at your 100 most recent ratings, one or two “bad apples” won’t affect your overall score.
  • What’s important: Parents have the chance to choose positive feedback categories.  In the phone app, if you tap on “new feedback,” a second screen opens when you can see specific tags. So what’s important to parents?
    1. Encouragement
    1. TPR
    1. Timely and Accurate error correction
    1. Class environment
    1. Props

In short, it’s not one individual thing, but it’s the package!

abigail feedback

  • How to get it: This may sound silly, but to get feedback, you should ask for it! I’ve worked in customer support for years, and we regularly send out customer satisfaction surveys. What I’ve learned is that people rarely fill it out unless they are extremely happy (or extremely unhappy.) If you want someone to fill out the survey, ask them to!  A couple of important points:
    • I always end my feedback to the parents asking THEM for their feedback. By ending with that (as well as options to re-book with me) it gives them their next step.
    • I explain that positive feedback is 5-apple feedback. If you don’t explain that, they might think 4-apple feedback is good, and 5-apples should be reserved for absolutely earth-shattering!
    • I keep it short. If the parent has never left me feedback before, I simply say “Receiving positive (5-apple) feedback is very important to VIPKid teachers, so please take a minute to share your feedback. I will use any comments you provide so we can continue to help (student) in his/her learning!”

Of course, in order to get five apples, you have to earn it. To help make sure parents will be happy with your teaching, always keep the following things in mind.

  • Be on time! Parents are investing time and money into their child, so it’s important that you respect that and be on time.
  • Teach the full 25-minutes. There are full guidelines provided by VIPKid here.
  • Avoid eating or drinking soda on screen. Of course, keep water handy if you need it. We all know how kiddos at home get distracted by things you have (and they don’t), and kids on screen react the same way.
  • Use TPR, props, and realia to engage with the students.
  • Have fun! If you have fun, the kids will too.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and FIVE APPLES a day makes a VIPKID teacher very happy! Keep up the good work, and please let me know how I can help you in your journey. If you’re just getting started, feel free to use my referral link to sign up! Happy teaching!