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I feel like I’ve been hired by Dateline to write this exposé (related: if you are a Dateline producer, have your people call my people—we’ll do lunch).
Time and time again, I hear from folks who are freelance-curious who think working for yourself amounts to a walk in the park. Literally, more walks in the park than actual work.
Let me break it down for you, and bring your dreams of getting paid to sit on your couch back to reality.
Myth #1: You Can Work from Home in Your Underwear
Reality: The only reason you’re working at home in your underwear is because you’re so busy you haven’t had time to get dressed—in four days. And now, your mother is coming over to visit and you also realize that you haven’t done dishes or even bathed in the last four days, either.
Myth #2: All Freelancers Make a Ton of Money
Reality: Hold off on buying that 157-foot yacht for a few minutes. Sure, you can charge decent money as a freelancer, but those rates also need to cover all your expenses, including MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, Apple Watches, and even a few non-Apple products (like software, tattoos, a desk, a chair, an internet connection, website hosting, a mailing list, it goes on and on). You also need to think about insurance, savings and investing, and paying a large chunk of your hard-earned cash money to the government.
Myth #3: No More Bosses Means No More Stresses
Reality: Know how you get hired by clients who give you money and expect work? Well, those people are your new bosses. And instead of having one boss, you’ve now got all of the bosses. They all want your time, your attention, and for you to reply to their 14 emails right now. Even though you’re your own boss (think Mona from that show in the ’80s), you still have to answer to a lot of other people.
Myth #4: You Now Have Free Time All the Time
Reality: Sure, technically you can brush off work on a Wednesday to day-drink in your underwear and binge on Netflix. Really, though, if you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. Which is why most freelancers will work more than 40 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else.
Myth #5: Your Work Can’t Even Be Considered Work Anymore Because It’s So Awesome to Do
Reality: Until someone monetizes Netflix-binging as a career, working for yourself still means a whole lot of work. Especially in the beginning, you’ll have to work harder than ever because you aren’t just responsible for doing the work, you’re also responsible for finding the work. That takes time. Sometimes a metric ton of time. Seriously though, someone please find a way that I can monetize binge-watching TV series on Netflix’
To get a job in the real world , I knew that getting an internship was a good first move. The problem was fitting one into my already hectic schedule: The requirements of many internships—travel, 40 hours a week in an office, or complete relocation—just weren’t an option.
But lucky for me—I found the solution: An internship that didn’t require me to move from my own desk and, yet, provides me with a world of opportunity. An internship with no office, no dress code, and no travel time—because it’s 100% virtual.
Virtual internships are becoming more and more common, and they’re a great way to get hands-on experience while being able to keep a flexible schedule. But there are some tricky aspects to working online, too. So, if you want to make the most of an internship like mine, check out these tips to help you on your way.
Do: Get a Feel for the Environment
Everything I do is on the computer or over the phone. I don’t have to show up to the office, and it’s possible that I’ll never meet the people I’m working with in person.
But, that doesn’t mean it’s not important to get along with them. Before I even applied for my internship, I checked out the publication’s “About” pages to get a feel for the company, and I read through the staff bios to make sure they seemed like people I’d enjoy working with. I also got to talk with my future bosses during a phone interview , which gave me more insight into the company and staff than merelyexchanging emails would have.
And I’m glad I did my homework. I correspond with various members of the team on a daily basis, and if we didn’t get along, then the internship—virtual or not—could very well be a disaster. Before you sign on to an online team, make sure you’ve done some research to make sure it’s a good fit for you.
Do: Be Timely
When you’re working at an office, you know exactly what days and times you need to show up. But in a virtual environment, there’s no official schedule, so it’s harder to be timely. You can easily ignore that email or put aside those assignments you promised to do until just a little bit later.
But whether you’re working at a cubicle or in your pajamas on your bed , it’s important to stay on top of deadlines. You won’t necessarily have someone checking in with you every day, so keep track of important dates and assignments in your personal calendar. (This is great practice no matter what full-time job you take later.) Even if the company you’re working for is easygoing like mine, you don’t want to disappoint them—like with any internship, your goal should be to stand out as best you can.
Don’t: Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
By the same token, when there’s no “end” time to the day or week, you might be tempted to take on more than you can handle. But remember that you can only do so much. Your supervisor knows that you’re enrolled in a full semester of classes and taking on extracurricular clubs and activities, too—in fact, she may have chosen you for the work you do at school!
But, that doesn’t mean she always has a good grasp of what you can reasonably balance and what is too much —especially since she doesn’t see you every day. Make sure to communicate with your supervisor when you’re overwhelmed and, to prevent that from even happening, only take on what you know you can handle. Chances are, she’s going to prefer quality over quantity (plus, you can always take on more later).
In an effort to increase creativity and efficiency, U.K.-based company Coexistunveiled a new company policy: period leave. Yes, it’s what it sounds like.
The policy, which is essentially an extension of a lenient work-from-home initiative, would allow women to take time off during their menstrual cycle, a time which Bex Baxter, director of Coexist, says women “are in a winter state, when they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies.”
The idea is not to have women call in sick when they’re doubled over with cramps or battling nausea coupled with an aching back and irritability levels through the roof; rather, the company considers the compassionate leave a way of encouraging employees to work when they are feeling at their very best. (It’s following the menstrual cycle, apparently, when “women [in the spring state] are actually three times as productive as usual.”)
Instead of working through a debilitating period month after month (which, as many women can attest to, is a real struggle), the taboo and stigma surrounding taking time off from work when you’re in bed with a heating pad and laptop on your lap is dismissed.
As a woman who has experienced all of the above-mentioned symptoms and more, I fully support the idea of being able to stay home on those particularly trying days of the month, but I also find this leave policy short-sighted.
If every workplace allowed for greater flexibility, we wouldn’t need this type of official strategy to begin with. Menstruation isn’t the only item that should be taken into consideration when organizations are determining and defining the WFH policy.
What about allergies? Insomnia? An emotionally draining conflict with a friend or partner? A dog who’s spent too much time alone lately? A child who’s having a meltdown? The day after taking a red-eye flight?
In no way is it my intention to undermine the impact of a woman’s period on her physical and mental well being (that would be like turning my back on my sex and pretending like my own monthly friend is a walk in the park), but, really, aren’t there so many reasons that one might be better off working from home (or not working altogether) because, barring official sick days or the death of a relative, that’s the rigid expectation?
If more CEOs understood the positive effect that instituting a flexible work policy has on its employees, the better off and more productive we’d all be. What’s it going to take for companies everywhere to embrace flexibility and trust that their staff isn’t going to drop the ball just because they met their deadlines from the comfort of their coach without ever changing out of their period, er, I mean, comfy pants? The period leave policy is an applaudable start, but it’s just that—a start. We have a long way to go.
Two years ago, thanks to a cross-country move, I made the switch from working in a large, bustling office to telecommuting from the guest room of my 1,000 square foot apartment. While I knew that I would love working in my Uggs and that I’d miss the constant interaction with my co-workers, I couldn’t fully appreciate all the perks or understand all the downsides of home office life until I’d lived it.
Thinking of trading your cubicle for the couch? Here’s the real scoop about working from home: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The 5 Best Things
1. You Can Work in Your Pajamas
Yes, it’s the most cliché working-from-home perk. But not having to put on a suit (or anything, for that matter) every morning is a huge plus. Aside from the mere comfort factor, not having to try on outfit after outfit, shave, curl, primp, and prime saves you a good five hours every week. Cut out the commute , and you’ve earned a full extra workday of time.
2. You Avoid the Drop-By
In an office, it’s hard to avoid the impromptu visit from your boss, the CEO, or the co-worker who wants to give you a play-by-play of his kid’s soccer practice. At home, you can avoid all this. Sure, you may get the phone call version—but if you’re too busy or not prepared, you can ignore it and call back later. “Sorry, I was on a call with a client” works every time.
3. You’ll Never Miss a FedEx Package Again
Not being tied to an office from 9 to 5 opens up an entirely new world when it comes to life maintenance tasks . Like being home to receive deliveries. Or going to the grocery store at 3 PM, actually finding a parking space, and not having to enter a fist fight over the last jug of non-fat milk. Small things. But amazing ones.
4. You Can Multitask in Meetings
Calling in to a meeting rather than being there in person does not give you a free pass from participating; in fact, it’s even more important that you speak up. But there are, of course, those meetings that veer off track or that really only require your presence for a few minutes. And those are the times that working from home means that you can actually work instead of being tied up in meetings.
5. You Can be Loud and Crazy
Are you at your most creative with Metallica blaring? Love doing yoga to think through a difficult situation? At home, you can sit on your Pilates ball, pace (or stomp) around, or live out any other crazy habit without your co-workers getting annoyed or, more importantly, thinking you’re insane.
It’s that time of year: The season of holiday cheer, itchy sweaters, and gatherings with relatives from the nether reaches of your family tree. And somehow, everyone shows up prepared with probing questions about each other’s lives.
If you’re a remote worker like me, and your job isn’t easy-to-understand, then you’re accustomed to a line of inquiry that, while well-meaning, veers on the ridiculous. Here are six questions you may get asked, plus the perfect responses.
1. “How Does Your Boss Know That You’re Working?”
Grin. Bear it. Then answer the question.
I can promise you that the person asking it didn’t mean to take a stab at your work ethic. It’s just that the idea of nailing it on the job, without someone looking over your shoulder is new-fangled to your family. But with a little insight, they’ll get it.
So, give them some info about what you deliver every day and how you communicate with the people you work with. A story about video chatting or instant messaging makes things more clear.
Side note: This question usually comes coupled with the comment “I bet you get so much housework done!” I like to retort that my house is just as messy as my friends with 9-to-5 jobs, and sometimes it seems like I’m logging even more hours.
2. “Could You Get Your Cousin an Online Job?”
By working remotely, you’re officially your family’s ambassador for the internet and all things tech, period. You’ve probably “fixed” your share of Wi-Fi routers (by resetting them). Blew their minds by introducing them to Instagram. Performed miracles by defragmenting a PC.
Am I right?
Now in my case, I’m obligated to help with any and all questions career-related, because it’s kind of my thing. But my guess is that you don’t want to become your family’s digital career Sherpa, and that’s totally fair.
Pass the buck. Keep a grab bag of two to three job boards in your head for these moments. In addition to The Muse, I like Authentic Jobs, We Work Remotely, and Working Nomads.
This way you’re helpful, but not stuck helping anyone job hunt.
3. “How Do You Know You’ll Get Paid?”
Wow, Grandma is going there! But it’s only because she fears you could be working for flaky people—digital swindlers, dealing in snake oil. She just wants you to get paid, bless her heart.
This one’s pretty easy: Explain to her that you’ve done your homework.
Tell her about what you do to avoid all the creeps about there. About how you research the crap out of companies or clients that you consider working with. About the signatures, dotted lines, and terms you put into place to keep things above board.
She’ll smile and move on to your cousin’s “trendy” new hairstyle.
There’s a reason it’s called “the grind.”
The standard work week grates on many of us, but especially those who have children at home. They’re stuck in rush-hour traffic while their babies are getting baths and bedtime stories, their grade-schoolers are struggling with multiplication, and their teenagers are up to who knows what.
A recent study conducted by LearnVest revealed that more than half of workers would prefer a flexible schedule, or even a job-share. Two in three wish they could log their weekly hours over four days instead of five, and 43% want to work remotely.
But since these arrangements aren’t easy to find, especially with several high-profile companies ending work-from-home status for employees, many people end up feeling like work-life balance is impossible.
Not so for these three parents, who each found a different way to secure the flexible working arrangements that let them keep their dream jobs and keep up with their families. So, how did they do it, and what does it look like? We asked.
I Asked For It
Earlier this year, Teresa Coates landed an amazing gig managing social media for a fabric company in Southern California. One catch: The single mother had to relocate from Portland, OR to Los Angeles for the full-time office job.
She found a home close to a good high school for her 16-year-old daughter and near Coates’ own sister, but it was 40 miles—and 1-2 hours, depending on traffic—away from her office. “The commute is hell in LA,” says Coates. “It’s really about as bad as you can imagine.”
Coates would leave at 6 AM every morning and get home 12 hours later, too exhausted to cook dinner or even hang out. Her daughter was not coping well with the schedule, and neither was Coates. Moving closer to work wasn’t an option—they had already searched the area thoroughly without finding another location that was safe, affordable, and had good schools. Coates started second-guessing her decisions, but thought one thing might help: flex time. “My friends encouraged me: Just ask! If they say no, they say no,” she says.
After three months on the job, she sat down with her boss. “I said, ‘I know everyone commutes, but I’m a single mom whose daughter has anxiety,’” recalls Coates. When her boss asked what she wanted to do, “I said, ‘I’d like to work at least two days a week from home,’” she remembers. Her boss agreed to give it a try. They settled on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the office, with Monday and Wednesday at home, and decided to reconvene after six months to see how the flex time was working out for everyone and if it could continue.
Related: Want to Work from Home? Here’s How to Ask Your Boss
“It was the best thing I ever could have done,” Coates says. “Our stress and anxiety levels are immeasurably better.” She still works from 7:30 AM to 4 PM every day, but saves herself six hours in commuting time each week (along with about $30 a week in gas). On her work-from-home days, she’s able to drop her daughter off at school, pick her up, and cook dinner. On the days she commutes, her daughter walks home from school or gets a ride from her aunt.
Coates is thrilled with the new schedule; her co-workers are adjusting. At first, she says, there were a lot of “Well, if you were here…” comments. But after a few weeks, everyone started to adjust.
“I really prefer the mix of being in the office and at home,” she says. “I work very effectively in the distraction-free zone of my home, but it’s also nice to get out of the house.”
I Looked For It
Maia Alees Walton adores taking care of children—that’s one of the reasons she became a pediatrician. But when her two bundles of joy came along, she realized that what she wanted most was to take care of her own.
“I’d wanted to be a physician since I was five,” she says. She was working 60-plus hours per week (five days a week in private practice, with additional evenings and weekends at a hospital and emergency center) when she got married and had her first child, returning to her job about six months after her daughter was born. “When it was time to go to work, she was crying, and I was crying. I didn’t want to go back at all,” she says. Walton decided to cut back her hours—to three days a week, then two.
“When I was pregnant with my second, I knew I really wanted to stay home with my kids,” she says. But she also didn’t want to abandon her dream job. Walton knew that urgent care centers often had odd-hour shifts, so she connected with one in the Atlanta area and worked out a make-your-own schedule to cover 6 PM to 9 PM shifts one or two days a week. “They said I could do one a month or 15 a month,” she says. “It’s totally up to me.”
Yesterday, I brought my daughter into my office for a visit. She loves to see where Mummy works, likes sitting at my desk, twirling round in my chair, and playing with my tiny abacus—pretty much exactly what Mummy does in a day, to be honest.
But as we left—at 10 AM—she said “Mummy, are all the men and ladies who work here going home now, too?”
I said no, that everyone else would be there for the whole day, “until teatime.” And in her very three-year old way, she was wide-eyed with bemusement, spreading her hands and asking, “But whhhhhhy?”
And as I opened my mouth to answer, I realized; I don’t really know why we all have to sit in offices up and down the country from breakfast time to tea time, five days a week. And so I said the only thing I could think of: “I don’t know, darling. Those are the rules.”
And since then it has been on my mind.
Now, I should say at this point, I’m lucky enough to work at an organization that allows me some flexibility. I work from home regularly, usually one day a week, and I make it a split day; I work from around 8 AM to 3 PM then collect the kids, do the whole bath-bed-story routine, and then do a bit more work once the house has settled into peace once again.
And, I have to say, it counts for a lot. To work somewhere that I can incorporate into my family life, instead of letting my family life suffer for my work, is something I’m really grateful for. And it makes me a better, more motivated employee, more likely to stick around for years to come, rather than plying my trade elsewhere.
My working week? I make it work for me. I’ve changed “the rules.” And here are a few tips on how you can do the same.
It’s pretty obvious—and I apologize if you don’t need this level of hand-holding—but if you don’t ask, you don’t get, as my Gran used to say. You might work for an organization that’s considering offering more flexibility but isn’t sure how interested the workforce might be, or the higher-ups may never have considered it at all. If you merely ask, you can be the forerunner, the one who proves the benefits of being flexible. And then your colleagues will bow down to you forever more.
(For more on how to ask the right way, check out Elizabeth Lowman’s tips.)
2. Get Your Fact On
That said, although loads of organizations now offer flexible working, companies like Yahoo have even banned all home working, saying it has become a barrier to collaboration, team effectiveness, and fostering a company culture. That’s probably what you’re going to be up against against, so make sure your reasoning lays out the benefits in a way that your manager can’t refuse.
For instance, does your boss know that, according to londonlovesbusiness.com, 47% of workers try to appear more visible when working from home by sending more email and making more calls than they would in the office? If you’re in a creative role, you might want to mention that 38% of workers feel more creative when they’re able to work more flexibly. Home workers also call in sick less often; they can be less stressed and tired, as they don’t have to commute any farther than the kitchen, and they may feel able to work from home on a day where they couldn’t face bringing their cold into the office.
Use all of these facts to your advantage.
3. Prove It
If the numbers aren’t making your case, try this: When you are struggling to complete a large piece of work or desperate for some peace so that you can concentrate on finishing an important report, get out of the office. Settle down wherever you feel most productive—at home, in the local café, it’s up to you—shut down your email, and focus on nothing but the task ahead.
Once you complete it in record time, it’ll be cast iron proof that you can get more quality work done when you’re not at your desk surrounded by ringing phones, grumpy colleagues, and those people who say “Oh, are you eating lunch? I’ll just ask you one quick question then.”
Getting ahead at any company requires a certain amount of strategy . But a company that operates virtually—with no offices, no cubicles, and no in-person meetings? That’s a different game entirely.
As the leader of a global professional services firm that operates in a completely virtual manner, I have dozens of people working without a traditional office environment. Some work from home , others are always on the road, and some prefer the local coffee shop (or bar). But regardless of where they work, there are some things that distinguish the best digital workers from the rest.
If you’re looking to impress in your virtual workplace, follow these five steps to success.
Step 1: Be Available
The most important thing you must do to succeed in this environment is to be available. Since you’re not sitting down the hall from your boss or teammates, you need to keep online communication open. If your co-workers have a hard time reaching you when they need to, it slows down their progress—and the company’s.
Does that mean you’re destined for a life chained to your desk? Not necessarily. I really don’t care where you work: If you can be productive bagging rays by the pool or are able to effectively perform your duties on top of a mountain, that’s great—as long as I can reach you. But just as you wouldn’t slip out of a physical office in the middle of the afternoon without telling anyone, you shouldn’t mysteriously go MIA from the web. If you need to be offline during normal business hours, let your boss, subordinates, or anyone else who may need you know that you’ll be unavailable and when you’ll be back.
Step 2: Be Productive
Once you’ve got the availability down, it’s time to get to work. And I mean, really get to work. Since your boss can’t see that you’re putting in time every day, you don’t get much credit for effort. As a virtual worker, you can only prove you’re working hard by producing results.
Sounds simple, but where I see employees trip up is when they’re struggling with an assignment or when something’s more difficult than it appears. If that’s the case, say something to your manager. He’ll still be able to tell you’re working hard if you ask for help, but if you prolong the task and don’t get it done in a reasonable amount of time, he might just think that you’re taking advantage of the flexibility of working remotely.
Step 3: Set Boundaries
This may seem counterintuitive as a way to impress, but the virtual employees I respect most are the ones who get their work done—but who also establish work-life boundaries . Without an office to leave at the end of the day, it can be easier for your work life to seep into the rest of your life. I, for one, am a huge workaholic , and have no problem reaching out to my employees at odd hours of the night. I can easily fill my employees’ free time with work—but I will also respect whatever boundaries they establish as long as they continue to turn in good work.
It’s unlikely that your boss wants to interrupt your exercise time, your family time, your dog-walking time, or your reality TV time (and if she does, you have bigger issues to deal with). So be clear with her (and yourself!) about what your work-life boundaries are. As long as you’re getting your work done, your boss shouldn’t blink when you tell her, “Not right now—I am watching The Bachelor .” You’ll be a happier employee, and your work will show it.
Step 4: Manage Your Career
Doing your job well may win you kudos, but it will not ensure that you continue to grow as a professional. After all, working virtually can lead to an “out of sight, out of mind” situation where your steady contributions are taken for granted and no one is pushing you to greater heights.
So, in order to advance your career, you have to be proactive about seeking out more challenging assignments and plotting a development course for yourself. Work hard to find new areas in which you could contribute or high-level projects you could take on, and don’t be shy about sharing with your boss and co-workers what your goals are within the company. If you don’t, you won’t advance.
Ask people what they think remote workers do all day, and many will say they picture us running personal errands and watching re-runs of our favorite shows.
And while it’s frustrating that people out there think this, it’s downright terrifying to think that some bosses feel the same way.
As a remote worker , it isn’t always easy to show that you’re productive and invested in your job, but it’s up to you to prove it to your boss—even if you are sitting on your couch instead of in a cubicle. If you think your boss may be questioning how you spend your work-from-home hours, here are some strategies to prove your productivity.
1. Be Reliable and Responsive
In an office, your boss can see, plain and clear, that you’re working away at your desk all day. But when you’re at home, you can send the same message by being responsive and available online.
This means, be hyper-aware of your phone, email, and instant messages all throughout the day, and when you receive a request from your boss, respond as soon as possible. You don’t have to drop everything and tackle his or her request right away, but do respond quickly with realistic timeframe of when that task will be complete. Many times a simple response—“I’ve received your email and this will be complete within the hour”—works great. Then, make sure you follow through on that deadline.
2. Keep Updates to a Minimum
That said, don’t go overboard on the communication front. While you may think a great way to show that you’re working is to constantly update your boss on what you’re doing and how projects are coming along—don’t do this. After all, your manager hired you to make decisions and get your work done, and if you’ve beengiven the green light to work remotely , you’re being trusted to manage your own time. Sending your boss hourly emails is unnecessary—and may even cause him or her to lose confidence in your ability to get the job done on your own.
Instead, meet with your boss periodically to ensure you have set clear expectations for your work, with hard deliverables and deadlines, and then follow through on them. Sure, occasionally updates are necessary, but in general, let the real work speak for itself.
3. Be Present When You Get Face Time
One of the easiest ways to impress your boss and co-workers is to be extra engaged when you do get a chance to interact with them—namely, on the phone or during video chat meetings .
While it’s tempting to multitask (check your email, respond to that IM) when you’re not in the same room with people, you’re better off focusing only on the meeting at hand. By paying attention, you’ll be able to ask questions, contribute ideas, and pick up on important bits of information—all things that help you show you’re an engaged member of the team.
Also, try to “arrive” to meetings a few minutes early, as it’ll give you the chance to talk to take part in the organic conversations that typically take place in person. This is your chance to ask what your colleagues are working on and share updates on all the work you’re doing, too.