Keyboard Poison Day And Other Tips For Managing The Remote Life

It took me years of working from home to learn how important it was to take breaks in the middle of the day. In an office setting, there are lots of opportunities for people to relax their minds and move a little. You go for walks with co-workers, chat with your boss about his weekend, and trade gossip with a friend in the ladies room.

Marie Swift takes at least one virtual coffee break a day. She’s also declared Sunday “keyboard poison day.”

None of those things happen naturally at home. You can build in coffee breaks or lunches with your neighbors who also work at home. I love those times and do try to schedule them into my weeks.

They don’t have quite the same value of the informal exchanges with your co-workers, where work ideas can be born, and where relationships that stand you in good stead in the office are deepened.

I was on the phone recently with Marie Swift, who started as a one-woman band in the marketing business, and is now the CEO of Impact Communications, talking about this problem. Impact is a marketing consultancy with a team of 12-20 people, some employees and some independent contractors, which produces content for big financial companies including Fidelity Institutional Wealth Management and Pershing Advisor Services. Swift has an office in Kansas City but travels frequently and works remotely from wherever she is, using using, Skype, instant messenger,, teleconference services and other online tools.

She sent me these tips, via email, for managing a virtual work life:

• Take virtual coffee breaks.

“When a feeling of inertia or overwhelm sets in, I ping one of my team members on IM to ask if we can take a virtual coffee break. The coffee is real – and so is the conversation, which we typically do on the phone while taking a quick walk around the block or munching on a healthy snack. We vent, rant, sigh, confide, ask for and give advice, ramble about our kids’ fender benders, share vacation ideas, and so forth.”

“For the most part, I love working in my office alone. I get so much more done without the constant interruptions that are the norm in a big office setting. But it can feel lonely from time to time. So I try to take at least one virtual coffee break each day.”

• Stand instead of sitting.

“Like most small business owners and sole practitioners, once I get into my chair and start working, long stretches of time go by and I realize that’s not good for my health. I’ve heard it called ‘sitting disease.’ So pace while I’m wearing my headset and talking on the phone, I stand when I’m eating lunch, I run up and down the stairs a couple times a day, and I always stand or pace when taking a virtual coffee break — it’s good for the body, mind and the soul.”

• Declare Sunday keyboard poison day.

“If I touch a keyboard, I’m dead. This gives my eyes and my hands a break from the usual computer strain I encounter for long periods during the rest of the week. I’m always thinking about my business, even on Sundays, but if I sit down for even a minute to check on just one simple thing, I find myself hours later telling my family ‘Just one one thing and then we can go…’. Declaring Sunday as keyboard poison day has really helped, in many ways.”

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