Ultimate Resource On Working From Home
Employers use software to take screenshots of workers’ computers and measure their productivity. Ultimate Resource On Working From Home
Chris Heuwetter never felt a need to monitor the employees of his Florida social-media marketing company. He could glance across his company’s 3,000-square-foot office and see them.
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The coronavirus pandemic changed his thinking.
So he required workers at his company, 98 Buck Social, to install a tool that takes computer screenshots every 10 minutes and records how much time they spend on certain activities.
“We realized we didn’t know what was going on,” he says. “We were just worried that we were losing productivity.”
Now that millions are suddenly doing their jobs at home as a result of the new coronavirus, more companies want to know how employees are spending their time. Some of them are relying on the same surveillance tools that have been used to monitor work in the office, and they don’t always disclose when the software is added to laptops remotely.
The technology provides managers with daily productivity scores for remote workers or detailed reports on which tasks consume their days. Other tools are designed to catch employees who might be more tempted to download files from the company or violate security rules.
Companies also use such surveillance and analytics tools to determine everything from who is influential at a company to which teams tend to be most productive. Advocates say such technology can help companies assess high and low performers and better allocate resources, while critics warn the tools might not be nuanced enough to render balanced judgments.
“What’s happening today is just an acceleration of what’s been happening,” says Brian Foster, senior vice president of product management at MobileIron Inc., a device-management and security company.
Makers of workplace-monitoring products say they have logged an increase in orders since the coronavirus altered life. Rita Selvaggi, chief executive of employee-monitoring software ActivTrak, says more than 1,000 new companies have signed up to use her company’s tool in recent weeks.
“It’s been a little insane,” she says. The companies, she says, range from law firms to insurance companies to banks—businesses that “maybe hadn’t had remote employees before, and they were super anxious about it.”
At Teramind, whose technology can give employers a live look at employees’ computer screens or recordings of videos of their activities, inquiries have tripled since mid-March, and about a third of the company’s 2,000 clients have requested additional licenses to track more users, says Eli Sutton, vice president of global operations.
SiteTech Systems, a property-valuation company based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., went remote on March 16, just days after President Trump declared a national emergency, and rolled out ActivTrak on employees’ laptops. The initial goal, says Trevor Greene, director of business development, was tracking working hours for the company’s 30-odd hourly employees. The tool, he notes, allows employees to work more flexible schedules and still have their hours be accounted for, something he says is particularly important for parents with children at home.
“We understand this is an unprecedented, atypical situation,” he says.
“This is not a witch hunt to try and find the guy who spends 20 minutes a day on the news,” he says. But he also thinks the tool—which the company uses to track web browsing and time spent on work-related apps, such as Excel—will pay longer-term dividends.
“We’re able to get a lot more granular insights into how much time they’re spending on individual tasks,” Mr. Greene says. Each staffer has access to their own data, he says, and can see how their own productivity levels fluctuate.
The roughly 300 staffers at Anequim, an Omaha, Neb.-based company that handles maintenance and billing issues for apartment complexes and other property managers, are all remote workers across the U.S. and Mexico. But now that children and other family members are home during the workday with them, many employees have new distractions and challenges, says Gwenn Aspen, the company’s president.
The new monitoring software Anequim uses, Hubstaff, can be a conversation starter during the pandemic that helps managers figure out which employees are struggling and find a solution, she says. “If you see in the software that people really aren’t being productive, you can have discussions about how to make them more productive.”
Employers have wide legal latitude to use tracking tools, though the products can test employees’ threshold for privacy concerns. Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor at Cornell University’s ILR School, formerly known as the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says oversurveillance of a workforce can turn counterproductive.
“It becomes more about the worker being stressed out about surveillance or paying too much attention to the surveillance rather than getting the work done,” Dr. Ajunwa says.
Many employees have a heightened sense that their performance on the job matters even more now, with more than 22 million Americans seeking unemployment benefits. “Frankly, employees already have an incentive to be productive, just by mere fact of wanting to keep their jobs,” she says.
In Florida, Mr. Heuwetter, of the social-media marketing company, explained his rationale for installing the Hubstaff tracking system last month in an email to employees and discussed it in a virtual meeting. A few staffers pushed back, and one called it spyware, he says.
“There was some tension when we first rolled it out,” he says. “I didn’t see any eye rolls, but I felt the eyes roll.” Some employees asked whether Mr. Heuwetter could now see their files or web-search history during nonworking hours. He explained that he couldn’t. The software stops tracking activity when employees hit a timer to pause or finish work for the day.
Productivity has noticeably increased in recent weeks, Mr. Heuwetter says. He can now identify staffers who seem overworked and those who are especially productive and might deserve a pay raise. He is also paying attention to which people might require on-the-job coaching in the future.
“I’m in love with it,” Mr. Heuwetter says of the tool. “I’m never going back.”
Cyber Attacks Are Making Work-From-Home Expensive For Businesses
Working from home during the pandemic cost German companies some 53 billion euros ($62 billion) worth of damages from cyber attacks, according to estimates by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.
Overall damages hit a record 224 billion euros last year, more than double the value reported in a 2019 survey. Increased remote work accounted for about a quarter of the increase, according to researcher Barbara Engels, whose calculations are based on a Bitkom survey.
“Too often there were no company laptops, no training courses and no security concepts,” Engels said. She reckons the actual number of damages could be higher, since the survey data didn’t include smaller companies that are likely to struggle more in terms of safeguarding their IT.
Home WiFi connections are typically easier to hack than company networks, and only 16% of German companies ramped up their IT security budgets during the pandemic, according to a separate survey by the Federal Office for Information Security. Many companies across the globe are now considering implementing permanent work-from-home arrangements to offer employees greater flexibility.
Keyboards For Hire: Tech Freelancers Help Companies Plug Talent Gaps
With digital overhauls stretching IT teams, CIOs are hiring tech freelancers to cover a wide range of tasks.
From software engineers to data scientists, chief information officers are stacking corporate technology teams with hired guns, filling skill gaps with freelancers and independent contractors.
The strategy, which isn’t new but has seen an upsurge since the onset of Covid-19, comes as companies race ahead with pandemic-spurred plans to digitize more business processes, CIOs, staffing firms and industry analysts say.
At the same time, they say, the rise of remote work and cloud computing and advanced data tools is driving record demand—and fierce competition—for cloud engineers and architects, data analysts, artificial intelligence developers and other enterprise-tech pros.
Rather than face an uphill battle for full-time employees, many tech chiefs instead are cherry-picking temporary workers for expertise in specific project areas. Others are using freelancers to cover more routine IT tasks, freeing up their own staff to gain skills and experience with advanced capabilities.
Flexera Software LLC, a Chicago-based software firm, currently employs about 35 freelancers in various tech roles across the company, said Conal Gallagher, the company’s CIO and chief information security officer. That is up from previous years and likely to increase in the year ahead, Mr. Gallagher said.
“The number ebbs and flows, depending on the project we’re doing,” Mr. Gallagher said. Right now, he said, the company is moving a lot of on-premise business applications to the cloud, adding, “we have a freelancer on board helping with that.”
Flexera has a total of about 1,300 permanent employees, including Mr. Gallagher’s team of 36 full-time IT workers.
As the company’s head of online security, Mr. Gallagher said he is well placed to ensure that freelancers working remotely—a growing category—have restricted access to sensitive data, systems and networks. “We can safely pull in talent from just about anywhere and I can see us pulling in more and more over time,” he said.
U.S. employers last month posted 295,034 unfilled IT job openings, pushing the total number of postings since January to nearly 2.7 million, IT trade group CompTIA said Friday. They include a range of IT jobs at professional, scientific and technical-services firms, banks and insurance firms, manufacturers, schools and retailers, among other sectors, the group said.
Of a total 5.6 million tech workers in the U.S. labor market last year, 161,000 described themselves as self-employed, up 2.1% and nearly double the share in 2019, according to CompTIA’s analysis of U.S. Labor Department data. The number of tech workers classified under all other forms of employment, a broader agency category which includes part-time gig and temp work, was up 2.2% to roughly 454,000.
Software developers, which was the most sought-after position based on job postings, were also the single biggest category of self-employed workers, said Tim Herbert, CompTIA’s vice president for research and market intelligence.
He said it is difficult to pin down a firm number on freelance tech workers, in part because the Labor Department doesn’t explicitly break out freelance or contract work in broader employment reports. But, he added, “from the employer perspective, the extremely tight labor market puts all options on the table.”
Over half of 1,000 U.S. hiring managers recently surveyed by online freelance market platform Upwork said the shift to remote work triggered by Covid-19 has increased their company’s willingness to use freelancers. Among those already hiring freelance tech workers, demand was highest for web, mobile and software developers, with nearly two thirds of hiring managers surveyed saying they plan to increase their use of tech freelancers across the board in the next 12 months, according to Upwork.
Sam Bright, Upwork’s chief product and experience officer, said employers are starting to shift toward the idea of accessing talent, rather than seeking permanent hires. “It gives workers a better opportunity to find something they like, and employers to quickly find the people they need without going through the long, costly and hit-and-miss process of hiring,” Mr. Bright said.
Les Ottolenghi, chief information and technology officer at online education provider Stride Inc., said in addition to a full-time team of about 400 IT workers, he hires freelancers in a range of enterprise tech areas, including workers with specialized cloud migration skills or cybersecurity experience.
The best enterprise IT departments, he said, are focused on creating business value, not managing servers or running reports. “No one organization has all the skills necessary to keep up with the pace of change,” Mr. Ottolenghi said. “That is where freelancers come in,” he said.
For their part, tech freelancers see a lucrative seller’s market for their skills, said Thomas Vick, a regional director at the technology divisions of staffing firm Robert Half International Inc.
“They can actually make more money working on projects as a contractor than what they would as a full-time employee,” Mr. Vick said. “There are a lot of IT projects going on right now within companies and most don’t have the bandwidth to handle them,” he said.
Josh Burns, a 31-year-old IT worker in Versailles, Ky., who specializes in database administration and database development, said he recently quit a $100,000-plus salaried job to pursue freelance work.
He said freelancing offers higher pay and more freedom: “I can work from anywhere I want and charge the rates that I want,” Mr. Burns said.
Remote Workers Can Live Anywhere. These Cities (And Small Towns) Are Luring Them With Perks
From Topeka to Bemidji, Minn., localities try to boost populations with offers of cash, free coffee and grandparent stand-ins.
Shara Gaona didn’t know much about Topeka when the pandemic struck. But the remote-working United Airlines analyst, untethered from her Chicago office, decided to move to the Kansas capital and collect $10,000 in local government incentives.
Topeka is on a growing list of locations—from Bemidji, Minn., to the state of West Virginia—dangling incentives to entice remote workers. Many companies are offering office-free jobs, and some workers are willing to relocate for cash, cheaper housing or other perks.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘What the hell are you doing in Topeka?’ ” Ms. Gaona said. “Well, they’re giving me $10,000.”
The 41-year-old sold her Chicago condo early this year, and she and her fiancé, Matt Gordon, are renovating a house in Topeka they plan to move to soon. The couple, who had office-based jobs at United Airlines Holdings Inc. UAL 0.28% before the pandemic, can continue working remotely, Ms. Gaona said.
Similar incentive programs existed before the Covid-19 pandemic, including in Vermont and Tulsa, Okla., while others were in the works. But they started sprouting up quickly after Covid-19 shut down traditional offices, including a Paducah, Ky., program that launched in August.
In addition to financial offers, some places are offering extra perks, like a free year at a co-working space in Bemidji, free coffee and martial arts classes in Stillwater, Okla., and subsidized rafting and rock climbing in West Virginia. A new program in Greensburg, Ind., includes a couple in town who offered to serve as “grandparents on demand” to help with babysitting and Grandparents Day at school.
In Topeka, the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s had kicked in $1,000 for remote workers who moved to one of its local delivery zones, though this promotion just ended, according to an economic-development spokesman.
These incentive programs mark a shift from an older economic-development model: trying to persuade companies, rather than individuals, to relocate. In some cases, communities say they are hurting more for people than for jobs. They also hope an influx of skilled workers will make them look more appealing to large employers. It is also hard not to join the fray.
“Is this the new arms race? I would say yes,” said Justin Minges, chief executive at Stillwater’s chamber of commerce.
An Indianapolis-based company called MakeMyMove debuted a website in December that acts as a listing site and portal for such incentive programs. The company said there are now at least 24 programs specifically targeting remote workers in the U.S., including 19 launched since the pandemic began. The company also acts as a paid consultant to help create some of these programs.
Cash payments can have requirements pegged to people staying a certain amount of time or making enough money, and bigger paychecks can mean bigger payments. Topeka pays $10,000 to home buyers making at least $60,000, but less to those with lower salaries. Officials with several programs say they believe that paying to attract people with high-salary jobs will pay off as the movers spend in their new communities.
Officials running these programs are betting the U.S. will never completely return to pre-pandemic office life. Remote job listings in the U.S. with salaries topping $80,000 reached about 15% of all job listings in the third quarter of this year, up from about 13% in the prior quarter and 4% in late 2019, before the pandemic started, according to Ladders Inc., which runs the job site theladders.com.
“This is a real, structural permanent change in the American workforce,” said Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella.
While the mobile workforce grows, so does the competition. Stillwater, a city of 48,000 people, has thus far made offers to four people after launching a program in July that uses city funding to offer $5,000 in home-buying assistance. No one has moved yet, and at least two of these applicants are weighing other incentive programs, according to the chamber of commerce.
One is Torin Dougherty, a 27-year-old 3M Co. employee in Minneapolis, who plans to visit Stillwater for the first time this weekend. But he may also apply to a few other programs, including in Tulsa and a regional program covering part of Alabama, he said. He’s going to visit Tulsa, too, after a week and a half in Stillwater.
Mr. Dougherty has made a spreadsheet to rank the various places, comparing them on fields like presentation on their websites, length of applications and access to activities like hunting and fishing. He’s weighing not just the money, but also opportunities to help build the programs and put a stamp on the local community, he said. If he were to move to Stillwater, he would first rent a place to live, and is talking to the chamber of commerce about potential rental assistance.
The San Francisco native has spent most of his life in California and Minnesota, and said he wants to experience more of the country.
“It’s really important for your own experience to see what else is out there,” Mr. Dougherty said.
Several communities say early demand is strong. Tulsa’s three-year old program has already brought in more than 1,100 people. A two-county Alabama program in a region dubbed the Shoals has received roughly 1,800 applications since launching in mid-2019.
So far 71 newcomers have arrived. The screening process there requires making sure applicants meet qualifications, such as salary and employment requirements. Program administrators also interview applicants to make sure they understand the community, including that they would be moving to an area with small towns, where they will rely on a car and not public transit.
“We don’t want someone to move here and regret it,” said Mackenzie Cottles, a spokeswoman for the Shoals Economic Development Authority, which runs the program.
This Alabama program is funded thus far with about $600,000 through a half-cent in sales taxes already collected to cover economic development, Ms. Cottles said. Payments to people moving in can reach up to $10,000 depending on salary.
In West Virginia, a program offering up to $12,000 in cash along with outdoorsy perks has netted 50 remote workers and another 60 family members, though not all have moved yet. Launched in April, it is funded by a $25 million gift from Brad Smith, a native of the state and executive chairman at TurboTax maker Intuit Inc., and his wife Alys.
The program is currently aimed at sending people to the cities of Morgantown and Lewisburg. The program is sponsoring a picnic and kayaking event for recent relocators this weekend.
Quintina Mengyan, 29, director of customer experience at Chicago-based ticket marketplace Vivid Seats, moved to Morgantown with her boyfriend in August. West Virginia was new to her, but she has already added a side job coaching lacrosse at West Virginia University. She also said she has considerably more space to work in a new townhouse, where she has a dedicated office.
In Chicago, Ms. Mengyan said, office closures “quickly evolved to me feeling suffocated in a 618-square-foot apartment with my boyfriend and 80-pound dog.”
Paying to lure new residents has drawn some skeptics. In Vermont, some lawmakers have questioned whether payments are really the deciding factor when people move there, though its programs have paid out money for hundreds of people who moved to the state, including recipients and their family members. Lawmakers this year re-funded the program but also called for a study on its effectiveness.
“I can see where this is going to end up going to people who were going to move to a community anyway,” said Tessa Conroy, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies economic development. “Or maybe you do manage to attract someone. Is that really the ideal resident, someone who was paid?”
Communities should also invest in keeping people who already live there, and who might be disgruntled to see money spent on luring newcomers, Ms. Conroy said.
Jack Calcutt, who manages a global sales team for financial-information firm FactSet Research Systems Inc. and used to work from a Norwalk, Conn., office, received Topeka’s incentive for taking his job and family, including six children, there in late 2020. The family would have gone anyway, he said, as his wife is from the area. They had long thought about moving there and he suddenly had the chance to take his job on the road.
But the family is also grateful for the support, and Topeka has proven to be an excellent fit, Mr. Calcutt said. “It feels like Topeka wants me here, and that gives me a degree of loyalty for the community,” he said.
The city of 127,000 and surrounding county first launched an incentive program in late 2019, aimed at helping local companies fill jobs. They added remote-worker incentives last year.
The program, with funding to cover roughly 15 to 20 new remote workers a year, has fielded some 535 applications since it rolled out in August of 2020 and approved 19 remote workers, according to Bob Ross, a spokesman for the local economic-development agency. Requirements include proof of employment outside the local county; if a recipient doesn’t stay a year, the program can claw the money back.
Ms. Gaona is temporarily living in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula while organizing renovations on her Topeka house. She said she welcomed the change from Chicago but has some concerns about life in a smaller city, including things like easy access to a gym and grocery store.
“We don’t have to stay forever,” she said. “But if we like it, we can.”
Some Of The Incentives Available To Remote Workers Who Move To Selected Locales:
Incentives Include: Up to $10,000 in cash, with the highest amount available to home buyers making at least $60,000, and lesser amounts for lower salaries and renters.
Requirements: Applicants have to come from outside Topeka and Shawnee County, must stay a year or money can be clawed back. Minimum salary for program is $35,000.
Incentives Include: Up to $2,500 in reimbursement for expenses such as moving, one-year membership at co-working space and chamber of commerce, a “Community Concierge” program to introduce new arrivals to the community.
Requirements: Applicants must come from at least 60 miles away.
Incentives Include: $12,000 in cash, with $10,000 paid over the first 12 months and $2,000 after a second year. Other perks include free co-working space and a year of free outdoor recreation, with the total incentive package valued at more than $20,000, according to the program.
Requirements: Applicants must come from out of state and participate in interviews. Program is currently aimed at bringing people to the cities of Morgantown and Lewisburg, with a third community to be added next year.
Incentives Include: $5,000 toward a home purchase within city limits, estimated $2,000 in free coffee for a year from a local company, free martial arts classes, other gifts from local stores and restaurants via the chamber of commerce.
Requirements: Requires a job with full-time work at home, but chamber says hybrid workers who commute may also be eligible.
The Shoals (Alabama)
Incentives Include: A reimbursement of up to $10,000 based on salary, with the highest amount paying to people who make above $124,800.
Requirements: Salary of at least $52,000, staying in the region a year to collect the full amount.
Traders Working At Home Should Expect A Knock At The Door
Traders and investment banking staff who plan to work from home regularly should expect the U.K.’s markets watchdog to come knocking.
The Financial Conduct Authority on Tuesday warned regulated firms that it has powers to visit any address where work is performed and that includes private residences. The FCA could visit a home for ongoing supervision, not just as part of an investigation, the regulator said.
The updates come as staff across the financial services sector move to a hybrid working model. The FCA said firms will now need to prove that remote working arrangements don’t increase the risk of financial crime or hurt competition.
Even as London’s financial districts start to fill with office workers again, banks are grappling with staff wanting more flexibility in where they work. A Deutsche Bank AG survey showed people expect to continue working from home two to three days a week once the coronavirus pandemic is no longer deemed a threat, while UBS Group AG said at at least two-thirds of staff in the investment bank should be able to do some of their work from home.
The FCA has said since the beginning of the pandemic that it expects financial firms to manage the risk of their staff working from home, said Neil Swift, a white collar crime lawyer at Peters & Peters.
“However, firms themselves will be taking note that working arrangements, and safeguards around them, are now factors the FCA will expressly take into account when authorizing firms,” he said.
Kitchen-Table Traders Should Be Scrutinized For Naughtiness
The finance industry can’t complain about regulators seeing work-from-home as increasing the risk of dodgy dealing.
The Financial Conduct Authority of the U.K. has warned work-from-home traders that their domestic trading desks don’t provide sanctuary from its regulatory reach. The history of money suggests the overseer is right to suspect that conduct may have become more unbecoming outside of the office.
Just 19 months into the pandemic — lightning fast for a regulator — the markets guardian said on Tuesday that finance firms have to prove that remote working doesn’t increase the risk of naughtiness, and that it has the right to visit private residences if it sees fit. As kitchen tables and spare bedrooms have replaced trading rooms, there’s just been that much more scope for financial misdeeds.
Herculean stimulus efforts by central banks and governments to ameliorate the economic effects of Covid-19 knocking the world sideways have fostered one of the easiest bull markets ever to trade — as investment bank results over the past year can testify.
Pretty much everything went up and kept going up. So how tempting is it to go along for the ride with a cheeky side bet for the personal account? It’s not as if the regulators themselves haven’t been tempted to line their pockets during the boom.
The FCA seems to have belatedly realized that the fear of a knock on the door to have a look-see is a powerful deterrent to dodgy dealing. Certainly, it is more compelling than yet more anti-money laundering computer courses created by compliance departments. Bankers working remotely still need oversight; and a home visit doesn’t impinge on liberties.
The right to play with vast sums of money comes with responsibilities. Banks have been caught rigging everything from Libor rates to currencies to metals prices, all of which happened in plain sight at their trading desks. They can’t complain if the regulator sees their employees’ abodes as being within its bailiwick.
Modern trading desks at banks are steel traps for capturing every single action that happens in their purview, but even such pervasive monitoring doesn’t always prevent bad things happening, as Credit Suisse Group AG found in its dealings with Archegos Capital Management.
But take away the cameras, recorded phone lines, MiFID II justification for every step on a transaction and the in-house compliance team’s presence, and life is bound to have become a bit more relaxed.
It is not just your boss breathing down your neck but also your colleagues’ presence overhearing your conversations that helps keep most people on the straight and narrow. The restraints are off when you’re in your kitchen all day every day for hours on a mobile phone.
To be sure, bank compliance departments will also have done everything possible to raise remote monitoring to the highest possible standards. And to be fair, the vast majority of players are honest, upright citizens of the markets.
But not everyone is equally trustworthy, and the phrases “rules are there to be broken” and “while the cat’s away, mice will play” exist for a reason — which is why compliance departments exist in the first place.
“The mercantile community will have been unusually fortunate if during the period of rising prices it has not made great mistakes,” Walter Bagehot wrote in Lombard Street, his 1873 book. “Every great crisis reveals the excessive speculations of many houses which no one before suspected. The good times too of high price almost always engender much fraud. There is a happy opportunity for ingenious mendacity.”
The prospect of a market officer knocking on the door will be more effective in making a trader think twice about bending the regulations than being required to click through the latest how-to-spot-insider-trading module. Let’s hope the pandemic doesn’t turn out to have allowed “ingenious mendacity” to flourish.
Smart Gadgets To Improve Your Remote Working Experience
How to give your home office a much-needed high-tech boost.
If you’re like us, you’ve probably been spending more time than you ever expected in your home office.
And odds are you’ve been considering small upgrades to increase your productivity or make working from home a little more enjoyable.
The best gadgets reinvent the familiar. They sneak smart technology into sleek designs, turning once-inert objects into adaptable tools for work and life.
That coffee mug or clock may look passive in your home office, but with app-enabled brains, they now offer personalization that once seemed like sci-fi. The result is everyday items that actually change to suit your needs instead of just taking up space on your desk.
Here Are Some Of Our Top Picks For Smart Items To Give Your Home Office An Easy Upgrade:
Too cold. Too hot. Just right? With this app-enabled smart mug, it’s possible. The heat-maintaining Ember lets you set an exact drinking temperature via your phone. The battery-powered vessel then maintains your chosen temperature for up to 90 minutes. It’s safe to hand-wash, and—if you’re a klutz—submersible up to one meter in water.
The Ember Mug2 heat-maintaining mug is available from Ember for $129.95.
Courant Catch: 3 Classics
The smartest smart devices conceal technology beneath elegant design. This tray from Courant is a great example. Bound in Italian saddle leather, it would make a rich hallway or bedroom accessory even if it didn’t wireless charge up iPhones, AirPods and a host of other handheld devices. Under the hood are three “coils” that transmit energy to your handhelds through cable-less technology known as inductive charging. You’ll want to plop things on the tray just to feel the smooth cowhide; if you run out of room on the powered side, there’s a USB port in back to hitch a ride for extra devices.
The saddle-leather phone charging tray is available from Courant for $175.
LaMetric TIME Wi-Fi Clock
It’s time to check your social-media followers – quite literally, with this internet-connected clock. Through its Bluetooth speaker, you can also stream internet radio streaming and Spotify Connect, which makes a nice alternative to the usual AM/FM drone from clock radios. This one looks as slick as it sounds, with customizable interfaces like the retro-cool 1980s dancing pixels. A host of apps created specifically for LaMetric turns this clock into command central for your home; link to Sonos speakers or your smart appliances from brands like Bosch, Siemens, Neff, Gaggenau and Thermador.
The TIME Wi-Fii clock is available from LaMetric for $199.
Brother Pocket-Jet 773
About the size of a large candy bar, this sleek Brother device looks like a relay baton, but prints 300dpi full-page documents and labels. Got the urge to print while taking a spin or a stroll? The PocketJet’s enabled with both Wi-Fi and AirPrint, and syncs with a huge range of mobile devices. At just 1.3 pounds. with its lithium-ion battery installed, The Pocket Jet’s easy to pop into a briefcase or knapsack. Despite its diminutive dimensions, the machine prints about eight pages per minute; Brother promises output of 600 pages from a full charge of the PocketJet’s lithium-ion battery. If that’s not enough, a car-adapter keeps it revved up on the go.
The Pocket-Jet 773 printer is available from Amazon for $538.
Will Work-From-Home Employees In The U.S. Get A Tax Break?
Not unless the home office is used “exclusively and regularly”
Q. Are there any tax breaks if you work from home full time in the U.S. as opposed to going to the office?
A. Those who work full time for a company but have been working from home because of Covid-19 are not eligible for tax benefits for doing so.
But for those who are self-employed or who handle business exclusively from an office at home, some income tax deductions can be taken.
For those workers, a portion of home expenses can be deducted if they have an office that is used “exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business” or if the home is a place where the owner has frequent meetings with clients or patients, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That means there’s no other office where the worker primarily does business.
“Deductible expenses for business use of home normally include the business portion of real estate taxes, mortgage interest, rent, casualty losses, utilities, insurance, depreciation, maintenance and repairs,” according to the IRS. “In general, a taxpayer may not deduct expenses for the parts of their home not used for business; for example, expenses for lawn care or painting a room not used for business.”
Before the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees who worked from home at the convenience of their employer were also eligible for the deduction. But “miscellaneous itemized deductions” are currently not allowed as per the IRS, and won’t be until the provisions from the tax overhaul expire in 2025.
Some states also allow taxpayers to take a deduction for their home office, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania.
Does Working From Home Have To Mean A Lower Salary?
The flexibility of remote work doesn’t have to come at the expense of your current compensation.
As return-to-the-office dates come into focus, more people are looking for new remote jobs, but many worry such a move could result in a pay cut.
Experts say a pay cut isn’t a given—but individuals must be savvy about how they negotiate.
Workers looking to take the remote leap should do research about pay scales in the market where they want to live and be prepared to make a compelling case for how they should be compensated.
“Remote jobs tend to pay about the same as their in-office counterparts,” said Brie Reynolds, career development manager and coach at remote job listings site FlexJobs, speaking at The Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit in early October.
Companies typically set salaries based on the market value of the jobs and the cost of living in the employee’s city. Remote work complicates this equation: Some companies are agreeing to let employees work from anywhere for the same pay, but other companies, particularly those that have adopted a hybrid model, are setting remote salaries based on pay in the locations where employees actually live.
In the case of a fully remote company, salaries could be pegged to the region the organization calls its headquarters or where the remote worker is based, or some combination of the two.
“When you’re doing your salary research, you want to look at both your location and the company’s location and see if you can get a decent range out of that,” said Ms. Reynolds, who recommends workers research salaries on Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com.
A lot of companies are still hoping for a return to normal, which means people in offices. Permitting flexibility has become crucial to hiring the best, said Lauren Gardner, a talent executive at Microsoft Corp.
Getting hires “where they want to live and where they can do their best work,” is key to staying competitive, Ms. Gardner said.
New data from LinkedIn show that since early September 70% of people have filtered their searches for jobs on the platform to show exclusively remote-only job postings. But some jobs can’t be done from home and many managers will prefer to see their teams in person, at least some of the time.
People who want to work remotely or have a certain hybrid schedule need to be upfront about what makes them attractive as a remote employee and the exact type of work arrangement and pay they are looking for, said Michael D’Ausilio, global head of talent acquisition at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“Have the honest conversation with the recruiter or with the hiring manager, because you don’t know if you don’t ask,” Mr. D’Ausilio said. “It is our job to make sure we’re giving you a realistic job preview of what life here would be like.”
Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, said people in good standing at a company can make their case for maintaining their current pay when they move to a new, cheaper location.
“If you’re a high performer, they are not going to want to replace you,” she said. “They have to make an investment in hiring and bringing somebody up to speed, so there is a cost to the company.”
Job hunters should also review the expenses associated with going into an office. Working from home could save them so much that a pay cut could pay off, Ms. Sutton said. Around 40% of remote workers report personal savings of $5,000 annually on expenses related to working at the office, such as commuting, dry cleaning and buying lunch, she said. Another 20% said they save up to $10,000 a year—a big consideration when negotiating.
San Francisco Girds For Blow of Office Workers Never Returning
The tech hub is particularly vulnerable to a long-term shift to remote jobs.
As major U.S. cities recover from the pandemic, San Francisco is getting left behind.
The tech hub, an economic boomtown over the last decade, is struggling with the nation’s weakest office occupancies, stubbornly low transit ridership and one of the country’s slowest recoveries of jobs. White-collar employees embracing remote work have decamped to less pricey areas, raising the question of if they’ll ever come back.
For businesses such as Spice Kit, a casual Asian-inspired eatery on the ground floor of a 10-story downtown office tower, the situation is dire.
“With no residents around here, we definitely got hit the hardest,” said Fred Tang, Spice Kit’s owner, as he waited for customers on a recent weekday afternoon. He’s hoping the partial return of BlackRock Inc. employees across the street could help turn things around, but if not, “end of this year and we’re done. We’re throwing in the towel. That’s it.”
With Covid concerns receding and U.S. employers calling staff back to offices, San Francisco stands to be an important test case on the persistence of remote work and how a leading American city is forced to adapt. It’s particularly vulnerable to a long-term shift given its high concentration of office jobs and tech companies’ embrace of flexible policies to attract and retain talent in a heated labor market.
Employees Working From Home Use Mouse Jigglers, Fake PowerPoints To Fool Bosses
Companies that track employees’ productivity run up against their inventive workarounds.
In a time of hybrid work, employers are extra-focused on making sure their staffers are being productive.
Now come employees with work hacks to keep the bosses off their tails.
Lisa Crawford works in marketing from her home in Phoenix. She says she is wary of her computer falling asleep when she gets up to throw in a load of laundry or prep ingredients for dinner. She might miss the ping of an email from a supervisor and be slow to reply.
Her solution? Sloth TV, a live-cam of a Costa Rican wildlife rescue ranch, where volunteers feed cute baby sloths for the viewing audience.
Ms. Crawford pulls up the stream on a second monitor. Her computer stays awake to hear notifications that pop up so she can dart back to her desk.
As a bonus, she keeps up to speed on sloths. “Watch as they take naps, snack, snuggle in their blankets, go for an adventurous climb, and even get fed by our caretakers!” says the live-cam site.
Since the start of the pandemic, an estimated third of medium-to-large U.S. companies have adopted some kind of worker-surveillance system, bringing the overall share of employers using such systems to two out of three.
Others tally badge swipes into the office or make lists of less-productive employees, in case a recession calls for layoffs. Or they hire consultants to identify quiet quitters, the buzzy term for employees who do what is in their job description and no more.
A September report by Microsoft Corp. described a “paranoia” in which 85% of business leaders said they questioned whether their hybrid workforces were being productive (even though, the report said, people generally are working more than ever).
That has led to “productivity theater,” the report added, in which some employees try to show they’re busy by doing things like joining meetings they don’t need to be in.
Workers nationwide are sharing their ways to outsmart supervisors, guard their personal lives or just avoid looking like shirkers.
Career coaches such as Sho Dewan provide lessons on techniques. Early in his career, while between consulting projects, Mr. Dewan would wake at 8 a.m., open a PowerPoint slide on his laptop and click “present,” he says.
He wasn’t outlining strategy for a client. No one else was seeing the slides. Mr. Dewan had learned that his computer wouldn’t go to sleep or mark him as “idle” during a presentation.
His computer being alert meant he didn’t have to be, and he would catch more sleep.
Mr. Dewan dashed off a TikTok video on the strategy in October. His slide was all white, with black text reading “REALLY IMPORTANT WORK MEETING” centered on the screen. “Just hit ’slideshow,’ and you’re good,” he says to the audience as he flashes a thumbs-up.
The tutorial got more than 10 million views and drew more than 1,600 comments.
“Explains why I see people presenting for 5 hours,” one responder cracked.
“And this is why the people that HAVE to be in office are asking for more money,” another wrote.
Mr. Dewan wouldn’t necessarily recommend his maneuver. Using it too much is probably a sign the worker should get a new job, he says.
When Mohamed Abbas’s job went remote early in the pandemic, the management assistant liked the idea of being at his home in Barstow, Calif., collecting pay of $27 an hour.
Then friends in the IT department shared some bad news. Work computers would shut down if left inactive for more than 10 minutes. Bosses would know who was away from their desks.
That irked Mr. Abbas. His responsibilities included setting up training for new employees, coordinating calendar invites for meetings and handling travel vouchers. Sometimes there was none of that to do, he says, yet “they still wanted us logged on. It didn’t make any sense.”
Mr. Abbas wrapped the cord of his computer mouse around a rotating desk fan. Its motion kept the mouse moving and prevented his computer from shutting down. “I logged on, went to the gym,” he says.
Another time, Mr. Abbas says, he opened the notes application and placed a lock on the keyboard over the letter C. The page filled up with row after row of the letter while he stepped out.
For workers who aren’t as handy, mouse jigglers are for sale on Amazon. “Push the button when you’re getting up from your desk and the cursor travels randomly around the screen—for hours, if needed!” says one review.
Employees who go to the office also are sharing tips for dealing with productivity-focused bosses. “A desk covered with papers makes it look like you’re in the middle of 5 things at once,” advises a Reddit thread.
What annoyed Ma Treeka Rogers, when she was a sales manager at fashion retailer Forever 21 in Dallas, was that when employees like her were taking 10 minutes in the break room, “the managers would just keep interrupting you with questions about work.”
So she stacked her breaks on top of her half-hour lunch to make a nice stretch of time, then sat in her car and watched “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The first rule of all such strategies is to keep them quiet, to stay employed while looking for a new job, says Leigh Henderson, a human-resources executive in San Antonio who moonlights as an online coach.
Years ago, back from a vacation to a job she had quietly quit, she found 800 emails in her inbox. She deleted them all, on the assumption that if any were important, people would resend. Only a few did.
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