How to beat boredom working from home

How to beat boredom working from home

WELL-KNOWN New York Times columnist Megan Greenwell responds to a readers question.

Q: I work remotely from my home. The isolation and loneliness are really getting me down. Also, I’m fairly new to my city and have two young children and I don’t have any close friends I can socialise with after hours. I’ve tried to find a job that will allow me to work on site, but I live in a city with a tourist economy and there are no jobs where I can earn a comparable income and work in an office.

I try to spend time in coffee shops and other co-working spaces as much as possible, but my job requires me to spend so much time on the telephone that I often need to be in a quieter space to get things done. Do you have any suggestions to help combat the loneliness and isolation? I feel like I’ve tried all of the typical options and am looking for some outside-of-the-box advice to help brighten my work days.

A: After four years of my working from home, the thrill of the perks (no more commute, no more business casual, etc) have worn off, I find myself unable to separate work from just living. This state of constant multitasking has exhausted me and I feel like everything is turning into one big blur of errands and emails. What are some strategies to help separate work from life when you work from home? You are romanticising office life far more than any cheesy movie about a co-worker meets-cute.

Does your company use a messaging service that has replaced face-to-face communication? It is mostly a waste of time and also, according to nearly every remote worker I know, a total sanity saver because it allows you to share dumb jokes with someone other than your dog or your toddler. If you spend much of your workday on the phone, taking your calls near other people is not going to make you feel any less isolated, but an occasional video conference meeting and a virtual place to drop in tweets that enrage you will help break up the day.

But when you’re looking for “outside-the-box” advice, you need a bigger fix than a chat room. Your job is not your life, and the question you need to ask yourself is not “How do I improve my job?” but “How do I improve my life?”
Your loneliness is a real problem. But the real problem underlying that real problem is that you see no opportunity for fulfilment outside work.

Adjusting to life in a new city is difficult and parenting two small rascals is almost unfathomably difficult, so it’s not difficult to see how dealing with both those things at once could make you despair that you’ll escape your home again. But you are in desperate need of friends and hobbies and an occasional baby sitter so you can connect with real live adults in a far deeper way than water-cooler chat allows. But they’re an effective way to meet people who share your interests. Even a play date with a family from your child’s preschool class would give you a chance to hang out with other adults for a change while your kids play with finger paints.

This article first appeared in The New York Times.

Solutions to pesky workplace problems

Solutions to pesky workplace problems

MEGAN GREENWELL offers tips on how to handle office snacks, bad blood between you and your boss and the right way to call it quits.

Q: My workplace provides a variety of free snacks. They usually include bananas, and there is no problem with taking one or three of them to eat at one’s desk. Recently, the bananas provided were quite brown, which made them not very fun to eat, but very perfect to turn into banana bread. My first thought was to take a bunch home, turn them into a loaf and bring it back the next day to share with my colleagues. Is this stealing from my workplace? If we had each eaten one of the bananas at work, there would be no problem. So, is there a problem if they each eat one banana’s worth of my banana bread?

A: The taste, texture or smell of bananas of any ripeness level disgusts me. That’s before we get to that unmistakable muffled clacking sound one’s teeth make while chewing them. Banana bread, on the other hand, is a perfect treat, ideally toasted with a bit of melted butter. This should make me the perfect advocate for your cause. Yet, some people like to slice bananas into their Cheerios. Others have celiac disease. Yet others have unreasonably strong feelings about whether banana bread should have walnuts (it should) and some have voluntarily given up carbs although they are one of life’s few remaining joys.

I know maniacs who seek out the browner bananas, presumably because the most extreme version of that muffled clacking has some sort of ASMR quality for them. Food preferences are mysterious. Proportional distribution of bananas is not the issue here. You are asking for permission to make an executive decision about the snack options of all of your colleagues, which I cannot grant. If your office is small enough, that the loaf or two of banana bread you propose baking would feed them all, an all-staff email or slack message would be a good way to gauge support. Otherwise, ask the office manager or whoever oversees the whole banana situation what they recommend. If everyone is more excited about your bread than squishy fruit, you can smuggle the bananas home guilt-free. If most but not all are on board, leave some blackening bananas behind. And don’t forget the stick of butter – salted, please.

Q: Recently, I was approached on LinkedIn by a recruiter for a role. I was sort of passive in my job search but thought it sounded interesting. I had a phone interview with the hiring manager and came in to meet the team. As far as I could gauge, all of the conversations went really well. A few days later, I found out that the hiring manager contacted my current manager to, I assume, ask about me. My manager and I are not well suited, which is one of the reasons I have decided to look elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the employer I was interviewing with has decided to pursue other candidates. I am livid. I feel totally betrayed by this organisation that invited me in. Do I have any recourse? This feels totally unethical and has put me in a really awkward position in my current job.

A: Professional industries, especially small ones, are insular and incestuous and more gossipy than a middle-school bathroom. You have learnt that in your industry, as in mine, you cannot apply for a job without assuming everyone you work with and everyone you have ever worked with will know instantly. My last boss spoke to the three references I gave her, plus at least a dozen more people, before I was hired. That sucks. A hiring manager should never contact your current boss without your permission and you have no obligation to tell anyone that you’re looking before you have an offer. It is unfair. Like so many unfair things about work, you can’t do a darn thing about it. So, use it to your advantage.

Good managers live in fear of their best people leaving and it can be helpful for them to get occasional “reminders” that other people see you as a catch. I wonder if the bigger part of your justifiable anger isn’t actually about the hiring manager, but the assumption that your current boss trashed you and the fear that it could happen again. It is tempting to stage a coup, but since pay cheque are useful for paying rent and buying stuff, take a stab at resetting your relationship. Tell her the truth. The new organisation approached you, you had a few conversations and then they contacted her before you were ready.

Explain why you were interested in the job and what it offered that you feel is lacking in your current one. Maybe a heart-to-heart conversation will turn things around or maybe the memory of you taking the high road will make your boss reconsider next time she considers sabotaging you. Whatever you do, though, don’t tell her you assume that’s what happened, both because you may be wrong and because confronting her is just going to make the next informal review even more negative. If the relationship doesn’t improve, start looking for other jobs less passively, being tactfully honest with hiring managers about your mismatch with your current boss and proactively volunteering the names of several other people who will rave about you. If only universally liked people got hired, we’d all be screwed.

Q: I’m four months into my new job and two months away from joining the Peace Corps. Let me clarify. I applied for the Peace Corps before I took this job, but didn’t get their offer until after I started. So, here I am now excited about my future, but anxious and guilty about what I have to tell my boss and colleagues. Do you have any advice on how I should bring up this discussion? Am I right to feel like I have wronged and let down my employer and colleagues? Should I tell my boss sooner than later, but then come to work for the next two months feeling awkward and guilty everyone knows?

A: As discussed above, money is useful for paying rent and buying stuff, so I’m going to need you to stop thinking you wronged anybody by getting a job when you needed a job. Life happens and people sometimes quit more quickly than is ideal, so you have my blessing to gracefully resign without explaining the entire timeline. Give as much notice as possible and offer to help with the transition, then stop beating yourself up and save your energy for the Peace Corps.

This article first appeared in The New York Times

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