So you want a job where you can work from home, but you aren’t sure how to get one. Maybe I can help.
One of the first things that happens when people are out of work is that they start doubting themselves and aiming low. They feel insecure about their abilities, maybe even defensive about their track record. Rather than think, Hey, now is the perfect time to learn a few things and become more competitive, it’s more common to think, I wouldn’t even make a good doorstop, or, I can’t even cast a good shadow.
What I’ve learned is that employers don’t care what you did before. They only care whether you’ll show up and do something for them tomorrow and the day after.
I spent a lot of time preparing for my new job. I read at least a dozen articles on tough, tricky interview questions. I scoured my resume and reviewed all my talking points from every major project I did over the last twenty years. I rehearsed answers to what I thought would be a sore point, which was, What had I done since I quit my last day job in January 2010?
Imagine my surprise when none of that came up?
In two phone screens and a five-person panel interview, nobody asked a single question about any of my past jobs. A couple of things from my resume were mentioned, indicating that it had been read, but that was it.
I put two important things on my resume: a list of all the software I know, by category; and a list of my skills.
I’ve read that “skills resumes” are frowned on because they can be used to disguise a patchy work history. I don’t know if that’s true for most places, but it seemed to serve me well - and I *had* a patchy work history. I was transparent about the fact that I hadn’t had a traditional day job in over a decade. In my case, the majority of my most valuable skills were things I had picked up in between.
The point isn’t whether you can prove that you’ve 100% done something under an official job title at an official employer. It’s whether you know how to do it, whether you can learn new things, and whether you are enthusiastic about giving it your best shot.
This is where being unemployed, even for a very long time, can be an asset. It gives you the opportunity to study up.
Someone close to me did this a few years ago. She had never really used a computer at work, literally did not even know how to right-click a mouse or copy/paste. She did a self-study Excel course, got over a 90%, and now knows all the advanced features I never learned even though I started using Excel around 1990. Since then she’s been promoted twice, has an impressive new job title, and makes a significantly higher income.
That is my first piece of advice: Go through a bunch of job listings and look at what requirements keep coming up.
(That’s why I went back to college. I kept reading job listings for which I was qualified in every single respect, except the bachelor’s degree. It was infuriating until it became simple and obvious).
Stories keep coming up about young candidates who are shocked, stunned, and amazed that the job requires Microsoft Word and Excel. For those of us who are familiar with these programs, this might seem funny. Instead of laughing, we should be taking notes and realizing that we have been taking for granted what are actually very desirable professional qualifications.
When we get mopey and fall into doubting our employability, we focus on ourselves and our shortcomings. We have no way of realizing that our supposed “competition” may be severely underprepared. I got my first temp assignment in an office because the woman before me quit two hours into her first day, saying, “I don’t have to do this.” They were looking for 1. Someone who would work for 8 hours and 2. See #1.
It’s a similar situation with work-from-home jobs. They’re looking for applicants who are ready, willing, and able to work from home. Not everyone can do this. Sometimes these issues are not their fault; a friend of mine lives about five miles away from us, but the internet is so poor in her neighborhood that she needs two separate devices to try to get a better signal.
If you have electricity, good wi-fi, a smartphone, and a computer you can use all day, you’re ahead of the game and more employable than you realize right now.
Learning the basics of even one in-demand software title can be enough to put you over the edge. If you can pass a quiz, do a demo, or answer a few questions about what you can do, that’s usually enough. Start writing down all the programs that you have used, even if you only feel a passing familiarity. It may surprise you.
Another approach is to take on a volunteer position and build your skills there.
I spent the past three years in leadership positions in Toastmasters. They stepped up in responsibility, and I learned so much that I got back more than I put in. I’m absolutely sure that I reached a higher level of leadership through Toastmasters in that brief period than I would have if I had stayed in my previous line of work for ten years.
Again, it isn’t what you’ve been paid to do under your official job title; it’s whether you can demonstrate that you know how to get things done.
Unemployed people, and their friends, family, and neighbors, often say the same thing, which is: “There are no jobs out there.” This is demonstrably false. Also, you only need one.
Talking about what doesn’t exist, or what you do not want, is a pretty useless way to spend time.
Much more interesting to talk about what you do want to do. If there is something you really want to do because it fascinates you, that will shine through. If it is true about you that you really want to do a good job and be proud of yourself, that will show too. Right now, there are thousands of WFH jobs available. Some of them have been open for months or years without the right candidate turning up. Maybe that person is you.
Some stuff you can learn for free:
Microsoft Office 360
Jira / Agile
Though we’ve been referring to it with the acronym WFH, telecommuting is not the same thing as working from home. Technically I’ve been working from home for over a decade. This telecommuting thing is entirely different.
I did a variety of things in my past work life, often switching between different projects and different styles in the same day. I booked client calls, wrote on freelance and on spec, traveled, worked on planes and in my lap and in coffee shops and on a hotel bathroom floor in the middle of the night.
In all those ways, my freelance life was (is?) both more versatile and less comfortable than what I’m doing now.
Telecommuting is like being in an ordinary office, only at home instead of inside a cubicle.
During my first week, I’ve spent more than half my time in meetings and webinars. Not only do we start on time, it’s necessary to start a bit early to make sure there is time for both the hardware and the software to connect.
Unlike normal meetings in conference rooms, most people are on mute for most of the call, so it’s common for someone to be talking to themselves in an empty room for several seconds before everyone realizes their mic isn’t on. Picture this happening with people sitting around a table and it’s actually quite funny.
Everyone is using different equipment, some company-issued and some more ad hoc. Most people have worked for the company for years - or decades - and others were actually hired after the shutdown. Like me, there are people who don’t have a physical desk, chair, computer, phone, or anything else. Our physical existence is hypothetical.
I have the good fortune to have visited the building several times. I’ve met a few of my new colleagues in person, some through my husband and others through Toastmasters. I know where I will probably sit, if we start going back to the corporate campus soon. A few of the new hires can only look at pictures of the building and guess.
One of the odd things about telecommuting is getting used to VPN. It’s like the movie Inception, a computer within a computer, or sometimes more. A desktop within a desktop, with its own wallpaper and its own software. “I’m opening a browser from inside a browser!” This is really important for security reasons, of course. It works well enough once you’re over the “nesting Russian doll” feeling.
This process has been fun. The days are going by so fast, and there are so many things to learn and so many people to meet.
It’s also been weird, because the interruptions are so different from the kind that are typical in an office. I joined a call with my boss first thing in the morning, and there happened to be an entire flock of crows freaking out for several minutes on the roof across from us. (“Us” meaning my household, not me and the person to whom I was speaking). Today it was a dog barking frantically in the alley on my end; last time, it was someone else’s neighbor’s dog barking in the yard next door. So many dogs.
Cats are another one. Someone will be talking, chatter chatter chatter, and then suddenly a plaintive MEOW. Must be cat lunchtime.
My parrot has her good days and her bad days. Sometimes she will play quietly in her box fort for hours. Other times she wants to be on the call and has a way of letting out a shrill whistle the moment I turn off mute. It’s like she knows. (She might).
We’ve been joking about making her a little headset of her own. She is a biped who speaks English, and at 21 she’s certainly old enough to start contributing to the household. Maybe they’re hiring a paper shredder, who knows.
Telecommuting has changed a lot in our household. My hubby and I sit at our own desks, together but apart, on opposite ends of our couch. We’re often on calls at the same time. We have the same schedule and the same days off. We work in the same department. This is how we met, fifteen years ago, though of course in those days we couldn’t have guessed we would marry and share a whiteboard together.
This style of working from home is much more interesting, now that the world has shut down for who knows how long. The time passes very quickly. I like to imagine what I’ll be working on three years from now, and how much of what is new to me today will be routine then. What will a regular workday look like in 2023?
“Many of us are done with this,” said one of my neighbors on Nextdoor, following a demand to “stop policing people.” Okay, fine, cool, thanks for making this decision easier on me and my household.
I’m staying inside until 2023 and getting a head start on the new supernormal.
Possibility thinking is not the same thing as optimism. For it to work as a strategic planning tool, possibility thinking has to include *all* possibilities.
At least in my region, there seems to be a pretty broad consensus that there is nothing to worry about. I read that 1 in 5 Brits believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, and it’s probably not too different here in Southern California. This makes me feel some kind of way, as you can probably imagine.
“I ate there and got food poisoning” NO YOU DIDN’T
“I got a speeding ticket along that stretch of highway” YOU LIE
“Attempted break-in on our street” NEVER HAPPENED
*shrug* okay, so I guess we’re done with the concept of social proof. I would really prefer that nobody else in our galaxy go through what I went through the entire month of April, but have it your way. My experience isn’t real to you, all right. Noted.
I feel no desire, need, or motivation to associate with people who feel that way... especially not in their physical proximity.
How am I going to deal with this emotionally, mentally, socially?
Reset my expectations.
Cases are rising in at least 18 states? My county has roughly half of the cases in my entire state, and more than half the deaths? Coronavirus is active on six continents? There may be a separate strain now that takes longer to show symptoms?
I don’t see this thing going anywhere any time soon.
Therefore, I don’t see myself doing what I used to do for fun, anytime in the near future:
Going to the airport, getting on airplanes, staying in hotels, going to live shows
Hanging out in restaurants, cafes, or movie theaters
Wilderness expeditions - will I ever be well or strong enough to do that again??
Everything else about my family, social, and commercial life can be done online, in some cases with more fun and greater efficiency.
Do I miss my family and friends? Yes, of course. Would I ever forgive myself for picking up COVID again and exposing them to it? No. Especially if any of them ran up massive debt in the hospital, or died.
We will meet again and we can hug it out when it feels obviously, finally, conclusively safe.
In the meantime, what are we going to do with ourselves?
We’ve doubled down with our quaranteam buddy. We’re helping her move to a new apartment this week, where we’re already planning a small shared garden. We’re teaching her how to pack a go bag and working on a team evacuation strategy for wildfire season. She’s our literal ride-or-die friend now.
I cut my husband’s hair for the first time. It actually turned out fine! He can’t stop raving about it and running his fingers through it. I give it... an 80%. I’m doing my own split ends and feeling glad I wear mine long. QT and I agreed to color each other’s hair, and maybe we’ll tentatively try a trim, in the back where it doesn’t show on webcam. With videos and practice... maybe it just becomes a thing and we all save hundreds of dollars a year.
We learn a few new artisanal skills, our cooking and baking improve, we expand the ways we support and care for each other, we develop a new group video call etiquette.
It’s up to us to decide - first as individuals, second as households, last as a society.
Or several adjacent societies?
I fear for those who are struggling to live in the reality-based community. It seems like an awful lot of people have lost the plot as far as what sources to trust, what is objectively testable or verifiable, and how to make decisions. Most people aren’t all that great at long-term planning or strategic positioning in the best of times, and when a crisis hits, we often begin to act less rationally than we did before. Clearly there are some issues.
One of the first things I’m personally working on is a quick vetting process. When I meet people (virtually) or see them (physically) how do I size them up? Who gets a shot at being in my social bubble and who would probably find it annoying and unsatisfying anyway?
Another thing we’re working on, as a quaranteam, is speculating on business and investment trends. Not in the “let’s gouge people for PPE” way but in the “what will the world look like in 2025” way.
Even *I* think this pandemic will be over by 2025! Though I have already made permanent policy changes, especially for travel, that I will carry forward. Reason: there are no rules about pandemics! We could have several new ones every year, which is one of the reasons why a COVID vaccine is, for my purposes, a moot point.
I got a new job while I was sick with COVID-19, as I mentioned. They’re WFH-mandatory right now, and it’s possible that most positions will remain that way because they’re already seeing higher productivity. My Plan A is to absolutely crush it at this job. Rather than mope around wishing I didn’t have to isolate, I’m going to pretend the outside world doesn’t even exist, and I work in an alternative arrangement.
Antarctica? A fire watch tower? Spacecraft to Mars or elsewhere? Emily Dickinson’s trance medium? Could vary from day to day or month to month?
As part of my job, I’m determined to get a few software certifications. There is a modest tuition reimbursement. I’d like to get a master’s degree, maybe an MBA too. I’ll have nothing but time and no particular reason to delay. It’s not like we’re going anywhere...
It would be easy to spend the next few weeks or months exactly as tense and anxious as the last few. It would also be easy to go out ONCE, like I did back before the shutdown orders, and get sick, and not even know for two weeks. Those are the default options. As a general rule, whatever is the default is uninteresting to me.
I prefer to move forward, through this intense time when we are all in the Place of Uncertainty, in a direction of my own choosing. To the best of my abilities, I’d rather come out of this in better shape than I went in. I have the power, as do we all, of determining my own attitude and my own behavior. I’d like to emerge in three years better than I am today: like myself, only supernormal.
This is Marie Kondo’s best book. I read it with a certain amount of trepidation, because I found several ideas in her previous books to be impractical or actively dangerous. It also amazes me that her clutter work is so broadly popular, because I have yet to see a hoarder like one of my clients actually complete the KonMari method. Joy at Work, on the other hand, should work for anyone.
Where this book shines is in its focus on time, rather than stuff. The reason for organizing papers or office supplies is to free up time, which can both improve one’s professional reputation and allow for an earlier end to the workday.
Joy at Work also highlights relationships and communication more than Kondo’s earlier books. Most of what constitutes “work clutter” is probably more about people irritating each other than about the arrangement of physical objects. This approach would be great for another household management book, if she ever chooses to write one.
There is a section on meeting management which obviously comes from someone with a full calendar. Here is an area where even one reader who is willing to share this material can delight everyone else in the office. Yes, let’s all have fewer and shorter meetings and excuse anyone who doesn’t need to be there.
The only thing that Joy at Work is missing, in retrospect, is a section on telecommuting. That could really be a book of its own, with chapters on how to balance homeschooling, electronic device sharing, and varied schedules. Maybe it could be called Joy in Spite of It All.
Someone asked me, You said you hadn’t had a job in over ten years. How did you address that in your interview?
This is what I said on the phone:
“I’m a radical candor person, so I’ll just tell you. I haven’t had a regular day job in over ten years.”
They already had my resume, which was of course an accurate reflection of how I have spent my time over the past twenty years. If I got an offer, they were going to do a full background check. They’d “find me out” one way or another, if they hadn’t already. I figured, if they’re talking to me, they’re interested. I have their attention.
Might as well be myself.
What I never realized when I was younger is that employers don’t care what you did in the past. They don’t even care what you’re doing today.
They want to know what you’re going to do for them going forward.
(And can you convince them that you will?)
It’s really hard to be future-facing when you have doubts, guilt, shame, or mixed feelings about your past performance. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in academia, family relationships, or even clearing out your closets. If you want to move forward, you have to figure out a way to integrate your experiences with your identity.
A fixed mindset will say, Failure is permanent, absolute perfection is mandatory every single microsecond, the way we have been is the way we always will be.
This never made sense to me because it’s unclear where that fixed set of attributes starts. After high school? Because surely we all remember a point when we did not know something that we know today. We were all completely incompetent at something, from tying our shoelaces to driving a car to filing a tax return.
If you learned one thing, you can learn another thing.
That right there is your growth mindset.
Not only CAN you constantly learn new things, but... why wouldn’t you? Why would you ever stop?
Another thing that I said during my interview is that “I’m challenge-driven. I’m motivated by curiosity.” I can’t let it rest with not knowing how to do something. As soon as I realize there is something more to know, I’m going to dive deeper.
This was actually a significant liability in some of the lower-level jobs I had as a young person. What those employers wanted was someone obedient who could be tasked and would cover shift changes or skip breaks with no notice.
This type of organization usually starts out interviews from an adversarial position. They are trying to hide their dirty secrets, usually including high turnover, low or no opportunities for advancement, unappealing benefits, uninspiring corporate culture, demands for unpaid overtime, and at least one supervisor who drives people out the door. Because they have to lie about what they are offering, they naturally assume that new hires are hiding things too.
What are you hiding??
I’ve been asked on interviews:
What is my worst flaw (almost every time)
How I would describe myself in one word (??)
Why I left my last position (almost every time)
Where I see myself in five years
These are ‘gotcha’ questions, as is the sneak-attack “Do you have any questions for me?” Nobody is expected to tell the truth about these lame questions; they’re expected to wear a good social mask and give the expected answers in the acceptable way.
My worst flaw? I’m excessively punctual! I’m such a perfectionist!
How would I describe myself in one word? Dedicated!
Why did I leave my last position? I’m looking for new challenges.
Where do I see myself in five years? Working here, I hope!
It doesn’t really matter how you answer the “do you have any questions for me” thing, as long as you actually have a question. This time, my question was, “How supported did you feel during the transition to telecommuting?”
What did I do over the ten years that I stepped out of the traditional workplace? I realized that no employer defined who I was or what I could do. I had “F.U. money” and the incredible luxury of never having to take a job that I didn’t want. I started to learn how to think like a professional (someone with a profession) rather than an employee or, worse, a servant.
(What does someone in customer service do? Serve. And what do you call someone who serves? Right).
To be transparent, I am emotionally attuned toward service no matter what I am doing. I don’t really mind doing scutwork or waiting on people. I don’t even care if I have to wait on Rude People because I think it’s funny to return their behavior with gracious courtesy.
Two things change everything about your outlook and your appeal as a prospect:
Whether you internalize the organization’s goals as your own, and
Whether you are very clear about what you bring to the table.
I’m not *asking* for a job from anyone. I am *offering* the option to bring me on board. Nobody wins if it’s a poor fit, if either of us on either side pretend to be something that we are not.
I was an obvious choice for my new job for a bunch of reasons. One was that I had taken the initiative to do a long-term project on spec, and after nearly two years, it demonstrated a great deal about my work ethic, creativity, and ability to adhere to a production schedule. There is simply nobody like me, and nobody else who can do exactly what I can do.
NB: That’s true of you, too (I’m certain of it), but it’s up to you to demonstrate whatever that is.
Another reason I was an obvious top candidate is that I spent my ten years off doing things that did not fit in my prior job descriptions. I built my resume around a list of untraditional, non-clerical skills, including event planning, ideation, and literature search. I had years’ worth of volunteer positions of increasing responsibility, including leading a team, and I had won a bunch of awards. I had felt stymied in my earlier work life, and I had found a ladder up and out.
Your boss and your job do not tell you who you are, what you can and can’t do, or what you have to offer. You do that. If you feel limited in any way, you’re already prepared to launch straight through the roof. You’ve already outgrown what you were doing. Now it’s up to you to decide what you’d rather be doing, and start figuring out how to get there.
Working at home is a whole different thing when suddenly you find yourself with coworkers. I used to contentedly wander around the house in my underwear, swigging San Pellegrino from the liter-size bottle, and writing whenever and wherever I wanted. Now there’s this cute bearded stranger doing who-knows-what across three monitors. It’s quite distracting.
(He’s not really a stranger; it’s just that the beard makes him look like a completely different person).
Imagine the swap from his perspective. One day he has his own private office with a door, and suddenly he has to share his workspace with two ladies who talk to themselves, both of whom are bipeds and one of whom has feathers. It’s a lot to fit into 650 square feet.
The way we’re adapting and sharing space is to simply indulge in separate mornings.
I know people who are chipper when they first wake up. In fact, my little parrot Noelle is one of them. She greets the day by making kissy noises and calling out “Whew!” Me? I’m more like one of those lawnmowers that won’t start until its cord is pulled several times. I doubt I’ve ever done anything good or interesting before 10:00 AM in my entire life.
My husband, on the other hand, is an extreme lark. Starting his workday at 7:00 AM is something of a prosocial compromise.
Some of you are saying, Ah, but you don’t have kids. Anymore, true, we don’t. Most people our age do not have little children at home. If there are two adults in the home, there’s a simple tradeoff, which is that one of you takes mornings and the other takes evenings. If neither of you is much good in the morning, then one can do baths and story time while the other gets clothes and breakfast prepped the night before. Or flip a coin.
What always surprises me is how so many households will allow for a culture in which someone or everyone is cranky all the time. Someone resents someone else for relaxing or enjoying any kind of peace and quiet. Someone tries to take a nap or sleep late, and someone else comes in and shouts at them and forces them to get out of bed. It’s awful. Personally I won’t stand for it.
Now that we’re all stuck indoors together and trying not to drive each other nuts, isn’t it time to let sleeping dogs lie? Or at least let sleeping people sleep?
I’ve built the culture of my household around High Quality Leisure Time. Reason: so that *I* get my share! I want to be able to take naps, therefore I must support others in their right to take naps. I want to be able to read quietly, therefore I must not distract others when they want to read quietly. I have things to do, therefore I need to accommodate others when they also have things to do.
Separate mornings are such a great way to do this!
We started this practice early in our marriage. My husband asked that I not get up with him on weekday mornings, because it would make him want to hang out and talk to me. He has always had his morning routine down to the minute, one of those proverbial “set your clock by him” guys. Even one minute of “good morning sweetie” and he’d have to recalibrate.
This is fine by me, since I’d prefer to sleep until 9 AM every day. Fortunately for me, almost everything I do is clock-free and virtually all my appointments are in the evenings.
It doesn’t really make sense for us to get up at the same time. There’s no need. We’d get in each other’s way, since we only have one bathroom and our place is so small we can’t even be in the kitchen at the same time. This is what I tell myself on the rare occasions it occurs to me that I’m spoiling myself by sleeping in.
Two hours of quiet time at the beginning of the day are worth four hours later on, when the phone starts ringing and all the meeting invitations start popping up.
Not everyone has a job. For instance, my auntie just reminded us that she has been retired for eleven years. She earned it! Just because you’re not reviewing engineering drawings or filing a patent doesn’t mean you can’t make use of separate mornings. It’s fair to have two hours to yourself, to read or stare out the window or doze off or whatever you like.
Honestly I think that everyone should be free to exert privacy on demand. Sometimes you just need a little breathing room, and that’s fine.
It’s a pretty common reaction to feel frustrated with someone else for having more fun than you are, for relaxing when you are not or for being able to concentrate deeply when you can’t. I blame the individual for this. If someone else is relaxing, then sit down and relax. If someone else is doing focused work, then you can do yours. If what is disrupting you is a power imbalance, such as unequal division of caregiving or household tasks, then it is your responsibility to advocate for yourself, set boundaries, and negotiate.
If an extreme lark and an extreme night owl can negotiate a schedule that they can both survive, then I think anyone can negotiate anything.
The nice thing about the separate mornings is how well it works. I offered to hang out in the bedroom longer, if he wanted more helmet time to focus, and he said he was always excited when I came out. It makes him happy to know that I am peacefully sleeping while he works. Though probably not as happy as it makes me to not have to wake up at 5:30 AM.
Mornings might not be the time to divide your living space. For others, it might work better to have a break in the middle of the day, or to go to bed separately. Some people need more sleep than others, and that is not a moral crime, it’s a simple fact of biology and neurochemistry. Why fight it? Accept it, appreciate it, and find a way to use it to create some privacy and peace of mind, both for yourself and for everyone else in your household.
For those of us who have ever been flat broke, busted, or dirt poor, now is our time! We get to turn all that old trauma and heartache into helpful information for our communities! Watch this space, because I’m going to use my self-isolation time over the next few weeks to share everything I know about turning nothing into something.
Let’s start with alternative sources of acquiring work, creating job opportunities, and solving problems without money.
First, there are thousands of fresh new job opportunities right now. Someone is going to have to build all those ventilators! Everyone I know in construction, engineering, and tech has more work on their hands than they can handle.
Some businesses are offering loyalty programs. Our gym is offering special-access workshops for “after this is over.” Other businesses are selling gift certificates. There are adjacent opportunities here; for instance, if I worked in a salon I would offer consulting for all my clients who are now on camera all day.
For some of us, the problem is one that I refer to as the Fish Cannery. An old friend of mine and her boyfriend used to work in an Alaskan fish cannery for a few months every year. They would get tons of overtime and work seven days a week. The bad news was, they couldn’t shower or wash their clothes most days, and they went to bed with rank hair every night. The good news was, room and board were included, there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy, so they just racked up money. Then the boyfriend would live on the beach in Mexico for six months and surf all day.
Those of us currently doing Fish Cannery are working mega overtime. We have money but no supplies and no free time to do much of anything else. Like fix things.
Keep this in mind if anyone or everyone in your household is out of work.
Crisis has a cream pie in each hand, one to feed you and one to grind into your face. The trick in times of scarcity is to take the pie in the face and scrape a little into a jar to save for later.
If I were out of work right now, I would sit down with a pad of paper and a pencil, and I would do two things.
Right now, we’re adding the constraint that this chore should not involve physical contact with another person.
One of the worst things about scarcity mindset is that it tends to convince us that we’re worthless, helpless, and hopeless. THAT IS A LIE. If you’re an able-bodied person right now, you’re better off than anyone in a ventilator, so quit the pity party and start ideating.
I’m going to do this ideation for you, right here, right now! I’m dividing the list into digital and physical, as in, things you can do on a phone or computer vs. things you would do with, like, tools.
You and client can wave at each other through the window, they leave the job outside, you do the work and they Venmo you. Or leave you trade items like TP, groceries, or whatever you have arranged.
Fix bicycles. Or small engine repair, like sewing machines, if you know how.
Home repair. I think it would be legit to do something like unclog a drain, if the family shut the door and stayed isolated in a room until you left.
Roto-tilling and putting in a Victory Garden. Also maintaining it. Most people who have a big yard don’t actually know how to grow vegetables. So they’re stuck on a three-hour conference call safe indoors, and you’re growing food for the neighborhood, safe outdoors.
Teaching. If you have specialized skills in anything from IT to canning, someone may be willing to pay you, or trade you, to get online with them and share your knowledge. Sure, they can watch videos online, but they probably already tried that before they called you.
Consulting. For example, what do businesses need in order to go paperless? I know for an absolute fact that some people are still being forced to commute into their offices because management has no clue how to do business virtually. PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DIE because of reluctance to learn these skills.
Entertainment. We have the entire internet to entertain us, and people are already climbing the walls with boredom. Offer something live and unpredictable, especially if it’s child-focused and educational.
These are just a few ideas. I certainly hope that it will be easy to add all the glaringly obvious opportunities I’ve missed.
Now I’m going to do a little futurism and offer some forecasts.
This thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. H1N1 lasted for a year back in 1918. We are currently just beginning a process of incredible transition. The world of 2023 is going to look very different than it does today. We’re going to need all hands on deck to make it happen.
I think most entertainment will become either audio-only, animated, AR/VR, or gaming because it will be a while before sports or Hollywood are doing anything in person. I think people will quickly adapt to remote personal training, education, and commerce. I think there will be more opportunities than ever to make and package food, manufacture products that can’t be shipped overseas, and make deliveries. Space, robotics, drones, medical equipment, security, and PPE (face masks, gloves, etc) are going to continue to expand. Pent-up demand for clothes, toiletries, and basic housewares will build until we finally get the all-clear. There will be jobs that don’t currently exist and money to be earned.
Do you know someone who has been unemployed since rocks were soft? I’m thinking that even that person will be able to find work soon. Even if it’s you! You can read, cantcha? So why not? We’re in a new world now, and I don’t think even a criminal background, lack of credentials, or being non-neurotypical is going to be as much of an obstacle.
One thing that poor people and wealthy people have in common is that they both think in terms of “multiple streams of income.” The only people who rely on one job or one salary are middle-class people. It’s time to learn new ways of thinking and new skills. We all need to work together to dream a new world into existence, and we’d better start acting fast.
There are two main settings for people at work: Always available, or mainly concentrating. Those of us who need helmet time to get anything done are starting to realize that almost nobody else has the luxury of signaling, “I need to focus so come back later (or not).” Now that many of us are working from home, sometimes for the first time, we’re going to have to design a new set of signals to communicate our availability.
If you have kids at home, teach these concepts as a game. Kids tend to be hardcore rules lawyers, especially the little ones, and there’s always one who loves being the warden or bad cop. Choose your little Enforcer and have fun.
The #1 best respected signal in the tech world is: headphones. Wearing headphones signals to everyone that you are doing deep work. Interrupting someone who is working with headphones on is discouraged and should only be done if it’s truly urgent.
Note: discuss with all members of household a painstakingly precise definition of what “urgent” means. May vary by household.
Again, former nanny here, kids like structure. They like to know how to get a win and they like being able to predict important things, like How do I get him in trouble? and When is the next snack time, it’s been 18 minutes already. Many colleagues and roommates are pretty much the same as preschoolers, only taller.
I normally work at home with my parrot, who is much shorter than a preschooler but also more devious, louder, messier, and more inclined to chew through things such as metal, or the baseboards. Birds are very into elaborate protocol. Cats, I dunno, you’re on your own as far as setting cat guidelines.
My husband has been sent home to work with us. He is on teleconferences anywhere from 3 to 8 hours a day.
Did I mention that our apartment is 650 square feet? And there is no wi-fi elsewhere in the building?
Since we are both often on overlapping calls, our first priority is making sure we don’t interfere with each other’s audio. This unfortunately includes both our work, and ordinary household tasks like fixing lunch or running water in the sink.
After a week of turning our little shoebox into a coworking space, we’ve used our understanding of lean manufacturing principles and business productivity to devise a system. The goal is to communicate without communicating. Just like a hotel might ask patrons to signal the state of their towels by either leaving them on the floor or hanging them up, we want something that we can check at a glance.
This is what we’ve come up with:
A whiteboard with a basket of colored dry erase markers, an eraser, and a spray bottle of cleaner. I set it up in the living room in landscape format, and drew a line down the middle. We each write our call schedule in blue ink, with red ink available for important notes.
The first day we did this, we realized that all his calls were in the morning and most of mine were in the evening, so one or the other of us would need quiet for over twelve hours straight.
Four colored manila folders that I dug out of our file box. I cut them in half along the fold so we each have a matching set of green, yellow, and red. The other color is orange.
Green: Working, but open for conversation
Yellow: Deep work, do not disturb
Red: On a call, quiet please
He displays his cards at his desk, where he does most of his work. I put mine on my side of the whiteboard since I tend to range from room to room.
The orange folder is to slide under the bedroom door to say it’s safe to come out. (I take calls in the bedroom, but we also sleep different hours, and I don’t want to suddenly burst out the door and unintentionally interrupt a presentation).
The idea with using all this visual communication, rather than texting, is that we’re often doing stuff on our devices and a text message can be disruptive. Visual signals are faster and easier.
Signals also work for little kids who can’t read yet.
If someone in the household turns out to be color-blind, or not everyone in the room speaks/reads the same language, a similar effect can be produced using shapes or objects. Maybe a favorite stuffed toy faces the room for an all-clear, but faces the wall when... ugh that’s creepy, never mind. Ask your kids what they suggest.
This type of flag is called an ‘andon.’ They are used with great efficiency in manufacturing environments, and they work well at home too. For instance, if there is an empty bottle of shampoo, the last person to use it puts the empty bottle on the counter, and the person who makes the shopping list sees it and makes a note. Even pets can learn to communicate this way, like the dog who picks up her leash with her mouth, or the cat who stands next to the empty bowl.
We’ve found that using workplace practices at home helps us to feel more respectful of each other. We are able to run our household with few or no conversations about who does which chore. These practices have helped us have more fun on vacation, too.
When our daughter was at home, the three of us could work quietly together for hours at the same table. I would write, my husband would write code or review drawings, and she would study. It was a very cozy feeling. No doubt it served her well when she went off to college and had to share space with three roommates in one apartment.
The thing about quiet time vs. the usual free-for-all is that there’s no reason to ever stop. Everyone deserves to be able to concentrate or take an important call. Everyone should be able to read quietly or take a nap without being disturbed. Respect is like anything else: give what you wish to receive.
We got a head start on this whole social distancing/work from home thing, because my husband was already home sick. Further, we suspect that we may have already been exposed to COVID-19, which is extremely sinister because the symptoms were relatively mild. I had to talk him into staying home one more day, so he didn’t cough on anyone, and that was the day they sent everyone home.
“They” meaning basically every engineering firm in our entire region.
This is the moment that every shy person, introvert, and/or helmet-time person on a maker schedule has been waiting for, the dream of a lifetime! Think how much more productive everyone will be! Think how much more we’ll all get done!
A real discussion from our bedroom:
Him: I’m worried if it’s ethical to go to morning classes at the gym. [the gym next door that is five minutes away]
Me: You worked twelve hours today and you’re concerned about taking a 6:00 AM gym class?
The problem for most “people like us” isn’t working at home, it’s NOT working at home. Like, around the clock. We’ve had to institute a formal sign-off procedure with at least three steps. Close work laptop. Eat meal. Take shower.
My husband and I met at work. We were casual lunch buddies for ages before we ever considered each other in a romantic context. Fourteen years later I sometimes still feel like, “OMG, kissing a colleague, so wrong” and I’ve actually dreamt about [censored] in a conference room.
If anyone were prepared to share a 650-square-foot home office, it would be us. Our apartment is essentially a hotel suite in almost every respect except that we have to change our own towels and we have a bigger bottle of shampoo.
There have been... some complications.
The first is that we’re ridiculously excited to be work buddies again. We keep making the mistake of turning to each other and talking. The other day that led to taking turns trying to knock each other on our butts with a compression strike to the midsection. (Acting out a highly dubious scene from a TV show). It had escalated rather quickly when his phone rang with a business call. Oops!
(If the above sounds alarming, we are both belted in multiple martial arts and we would never lay hands on each other in a disrespectful context, partly because I’m much farther along in Krav Maga and situational combatives).
The second complication is my little parrot. If you know Noelie, she is deeply obsessed with teleconferences. Often she has met at least a couple of the participants, and she recognizes their faces. She *knows* those are her real friends on the screen. She will throw a conniption fit if she isn’t on the call, which means imitating electronic sounds at 70+ dB until someone picks her up and puts her on camera where she can see herself.
She also has a theory-of-mind issue. It goes something like this. “If you are quiet, it’s quiet time, therefore I will be quiet. Alternately: if you are making noise, it’s noise time, therefore I will make noise.” Rule is in play whether you are on the phone, watching a movie, or running the blender. WHOO, NOISE TIME! She will start her daily practice session, which consists of an hour of chattering, kissy noises, whistles, beeps, electronic sounds, hammer strikes, and even ping pong games. If you think a daycare or kindergarten is noisy, may I introduce you to my personal one-bird band.
In practice, one or the other of us has to grab the bird and entertain her during a call. Since we are often on dueling conference calls at the same time, she is milking the situation for all it’s worth, beeping her little diva heart out.
When we try to take calls in the main section of our apartment, we interfere with each other’s audio. That generally means I need to get up and leave the room, and that means either the bedroom or the shower. No wi-fi in the hallway.
You wouldn’t think so, but all of this ad hoc alternative-mode productivity has produced a very upbeat, carnival atmosphere. We are strangely more accessible and getting probably 50% more work done than we would during a normal week.
[cite declaration of 2020 as year of “no normal weeks”]
It’s mayhem, and some of us actively enjoy mayhem!
Crisis mode = not boring
We have had to set new policies to try to respect each other’s boundaries. What I’ve been learning this year is that nobody respects a middle-aged lady’s mental bandwidth. Nobody!!! Not age peers, not other women, not elderly people, not teenagers, not professional colleagues or random members of the community, nobody. My husband included.
I was on an emergency conference call, dealing with a high-priority novel systemic issue. My husband started waving his phone at me from across the table, talking to me about the stock market. I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, the cover to my tablet, and held it up between us. He leaned over to peer around it and try to make eye contact, so I moved it again. DUDE!
After the call, he apologized. I told him it might seem strange, but I do occasionally have real work to do, as often as an hour a week! (Joke, go ahead and guess the real number). I’m not afraid to pull rank on him during the workday, as long as we can reconnect and find each other as friends later that evening.
What we’ll probably wind up doing is holding a standup meeting each morning, arranging our schedule so that we both have privacy for our respective calls. We’ll probably both wear our big headphones, like he used to when he worked in an open-plan office. We actually have a folding screen that we could set up as a room divider.
We’ll get through this weirdness together. We’ll have to, one way or another, since we are each other’s designated contact on our living wills and advance care directives... Emergency room buddies, nurses pro tem, sworn companions with a blood oath between us. In sickness and in health. We just have to improvise the part about “at work or at leisure.”
I had it in my mind to write about multi-level marketing, after being pitched by a friend, when it happened again. A random stranger started chatting me up, mentioned that he sells a particular something, and I instantly intuited that his product was also an MLM. Whatever, people can do what they want, and the appeal of this marketing structure will probably never die until it’s regulated out of existence. It’s still worth talking about.
99% of people who sign up for multi-level marketing lose money
It just takes a while before they admit it to themselves or others
If you try to sell me MLM products I will stonewall you and probably quit talking to you
Please don’t destroy your friendships and alienate your family by doing this
People do not want to BE SOLD, they just want to hang out with you
If they want to buy anything at all they will find it online and order it
Please research your target brand online and read what the skeptics have to say before signing anything
Okay, enough of all that for a minute. It either sinks in or it doesn’t. I got sucked in by an MLM when I was 18, and that’s because I was too young and dumb to know what I was dealing with. I believed every single thing I was told. It cost me close to a month’s pay. All I can say for an excuse is that this was before Wikipedia and Google, and there wasn’t really a quick or easy way for me to educate myself.
You can spot this stuff a mile away once you know what to look for.
Your friend suddenly wants to hang out, even if you haven’t seen each other for a while, or a new friend magically becomes more interested in you.
They keep changing the subject back to something like “nutrition” even though the conversation up to that point had nothing to do with it, or you haven’t discussed it with each other before.
They won’t usually come out and say what they want, but sometimes they’ll say there’s “something they want to tell you about” or that they just went to a conference and they’re super excited.
We have to remember that one of the major appeals of these programs is the free motivational speaking. An aggressive up-line person who is lit up by the dream of quick, easy money is going to spend as much time and energy as possible trying to inspire others to sign up, buy product, and push hard. Love-bombing works because it works.
Someone who might be drifting a bit in life, maybe a little lonely or isolated, suddenly gets swept up in this wave of fun, energy, and excitement. They keep hearing stories of how rich some other person got by selling these products. Now they’re getting tons of encouragement and support. Let’s do it!
The more desperate the up-line person is, the more they’ll double down on how much benefit they get from the program. They may truly believe this because they haven’t crunched the numbers yet, or they may be surfing on a wave of optimism, or they may be lying with a black heart because they’re frantic to make back all the money they’ve already sunk in.
Regardless, the industry statistics are very poor.
Step back a moment and compare multi-level marketing to other types of sales.
There are all kinds of sales jobs out there that actually include a salary! If you’re excited by commissions (I’m not), then why not sell cars or go into corporate sales? I have a friend who travels around selling heart defibrillators, and she makes a good living. Most products don’t require pressure or storing stuff in your garage as a key part of their business plan.
As an ordinary person, I am automatically suspicious of why a product would be somehow limited or only sold in a specific way. Like, why can’t I just order it myself from the website? Wouldn’t it be easier for the company to make more sales if customers didn’t have to buy stuff from someone’s living room?
I’ve been invited to so many of those. Someone’s Tupperware party, someone’s lingerie party, someone’s jewelry party, and on and on. I’ll do what a lot of women will do, which is to make a small one-time purchase out of embarrassment or guilt, or at best mild interest. Then that’s it. If this person makes another invite, I’m out of there. Are we actually friends or are you just hoping to make money off me? The up-line person may temporarily come close to breaking even by exploiting one social group after another, while you’ve just burned your one shot with everyone you know.
The last two MLM pitches I’ve heard have to do with nutritional supplements and “alkaline water.”
I’m automatically suspicious of both these things. Why would I take health advice from a random citizen? I can make an appointment with a doctor or someone who has credentials in nutrition or dietetics. If I were in the market for one of these products, I’d look one up and do my own research. There is basically never a situation where someone will pitch me something I’ve never heard of and I will find their marketing material convincing in isolation.
So quit asking
I knew there was a pitch coming just now, because this guy started going off on a heartfelt tangent about how the world works, and that people owe it to each other to help each other out. His philosophy seemed to be that if he spent time with someone or threw them business, they were then morally required to help him out by buying his alkaline water filter. (I looked them up and those things are like a thousand bucks).
Then I realized that this guy believed he could create some kind of energy exchange. By interrupting me and talking at me for several minutes, he would cause me to be indebted to him, and then I would owe him a sale.
I was totally right. Twenty minutes later, he came over to interrupt me again, saying that if I wanted alkaline water I would see him around.
Yeah, you and probably a thousand other people who are gradually starting to realize that they don’t know enough individual people in their area to support themselves by selling these products.
I agree that it’s good for people to help each other. That’s why I’m offering my advice for free. Buy into the concept that you can turn your personal social network into quick cash, and you’ve just cost yourself all of your accumulated social capital. That’s because there’s a lot more involved than commerce or financial exchanges.
A lot of people will humor you and spend a few minutes listening to your pitch. Once they realize that they’re little more to you than a potential convert or part of a sales funnel, they’ll be annoyed and disappointed. They probably won’t tell you face to face, and neither will the next person. You’ll probably be hundreds or thousands of dollars in the hole before you realize it isn’t going to work.
Multi-level marketing won’t work for you because it hasn’t worked for 99% of people who’ve tried it, and it isn’t designed to. Please quit pitching your friends and start focusing on your real purpose or passion, which probably wasn’t tights, juicers, vitamins, or weird water six weeks ago. Your passion probably didn’t start with someone else’s pitch, remember?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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