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We’re seeing a major trend in employees working from home in 2019. In fact, work from home is the new standard for 50% of the workforce. While there are perks aplenty when you have a home office (sweatpants for the win), it’s easy to forget to take care of your health. Below are some tips to make sure you take care of your mind and body while cranking out solid work.
Invest in good furniture
If you’re going to be working from home, it’s important to invest in good furniture to ensure you’re taking care of your body ergonomically speaking. You don’t want to be slouched over at your dining room table all day or sitting on your couch for 8+ hours. It’s important to read up on ergonomics and find the best furniture to support your work. This may be a chair with lumbar support, a wrist rest for typing, or even a footrest, it all depends on your comfort and job duties. Furniture that supports ergonomics can be pricey but this is an investment in your health, especially if you work at home every day.
Be aware of digital eye strain
Digital eye strain is the discomfort felt from extended use of digital devices. This includes your computer, television, smartphone, gaming device and tablets. You may feel the effects of digital eye strain after just two hours of device usage, maybe even less if you use multiple devices at once. Natural blue light isn’t harmful (it’s the light that makes the sky appear blue) but the artificial light from digital screens is emitted at a much higher frequency. Consider buying a new pair of eyeglasses to help avoid headaches, dry eyes, and blurred vision, which are common physical symptoms of digital eye strain.
Schedule your days
Scheduling your work day to the fullest extent possible can have many positive effects. Firstly, if you are able to schedule your day by the hour then you can be as productive within that hour as possible and avoid overworking yourself. It’s common for people who work from home to work from the moment they wake up until they go to sleep at night. This can cause the inability to be productive in your work and ultimately, burn out.
Second, it’s important to schedule a time to workout, have lunch, and take breaks. Seeing these breaks on your calendar will allow you to be more mindful about actually taking the time for yourself, not skipping over it. Take breaks to stretch, go for walks, or grab a coffee. Things you’d normally do with your coworkers to get time away from your desk are still important to do at home! If you need some inspiration, treat yourself to a new planner to help motivate you to plan ahead, take time for yourself, and be the most productive that you can be.
Working from home is an amazing perk that the Internet has brought us. However, it can be harder to pay attention to your workplace health when your workplace is your comfy home. These tips are an easy way to improve your overall wellbeing! Do you work from home? Share your tips to stay healthy throughout the day below!
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3 Healthy Work from Home Habits to Incorporate
As the trend of work from home employees continues, it’s important that we remember to take care of ourselves. From scheduling out our days to protecting our eyes, check out these three habits to incorporate when working from home.
Strong Wi-Fi is not just a perk; it’s an essential service these days, now that remote work and school are the norm. Unfortunately, many of us have learned there’s nothing more frustrating than experiencing internet problems just as it’s your turn to speak on a Zoom call.
Those glitches in your service, however, could mean that someone is piggybacking on your Wi-Fi. After all, in the worst-case scenario, your systems could be hacked, and someone could gain access to your personal information.
“The first thing everyone should do to safeguard their in-home Wi-Fi network is to password-protect it. A strong password will help keep the Wi-Fi door locked to hackers,” says Todd Smith, a spokesperson for Cox Communications in Atlanta.
Not everyone who piggybacks on Wi-Fi is a criminal; some may just not be able to afford high-speed internet for their own needs. But as unfortunate as that is, you need to make sure your network is not vulnerable to malicious attacks, and that you’re able to get the speedy internet service that you’re paying for.
Penalties for stealing Wi-Fi are still being developed, so it’s best to be proactive. In the meantime, here are some clues that a Wi-Fi squatter is in your midst.
1. Slow internet speed
If your previously blazing-fast internet has slowed to a snail’s pace, that may be a clue that something is amiss.
“If your internet speed has decreased, and you are starting to notice an increase in buffering, this could be a sign that someone is using your Wi-Fi,” says Paige Hanson, chief of cyber safety education at NortonLifeLock.
Noopur Davis, executive vice president and chief product and information security officer for Comcast, says that for peace of mind, “Users may want to periodically change their Wi-Fi passwords, which will help to keep unauthorized people or devices from joining.”
Always use a password that is not obvious, with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
2. A sudden change in ads
These days, we’re all used to online ads that are strangely tailored to our tastes. If, instead, you’re suddenly seeing ads for products or services you’ve never heard of, it may be time to change your Wi-Fi password.
“Ads are typically tailored to you and your internet activity, so if you see a noticeable uptick in ads that don’t resemble your search or activity at all, this could be a sign of a Wi-Fi squatter,” says Hanson.
3. A higher-than-normal internet bill
Some internet plans allow you to pay a set rate each month, but with other plans, you pay based on how much data you use or when you exceed a certain amount of data in a month. If you have the latter and you notice a higher-than-normal bill, something may be amiss.
“When reviewing your bills, if you’re seeing an unusual spike in data usage and costs, this could mean someone else is using the Wi-Fi network,” says Hanson.
4. Spam notifications
Notice any spam notifications in your email inbox? If you’re sending emails and they’re getting flagged as spam, someone could be participating in illegal online activity on your Wi-Fi.
“If a Wi-Fi squatter is present, they could be causing your home IP address to get flagged by spam engines that filter into major email services and network security providers,” says Hanson. “This will create issues for you in the long run, as emails sent from home Wi-Fi networks could begin to get blocked and filtered into spam folders.”
5. New devices logged in
Regularly check your router by logging in to see all the devices connected to your network. Many network routers come with mobile apps that let you monitor and control your network from your phone. If someone you don’t recognize is on there, you’ve got a squatter.
To find out who is using your Wi-Fi, log in to your router and look to the “Client List” or “Attached Devices” tab.
“After identifying the squatters, change the password for your router,” says Hanson.
She recommends making sure to choose WPA2 as the password type, a kind of encryption used to secure Wi-Fi networks. Turn off the Wi-Fi Protected Setup, or WPS, as she says this makes it easier for people to crack your Wi-Fi password.
“Once you’ve changed your password, restart your router, and this will kick off the squatters,” she adds.
Filing taxes in the United States could be free and simple for everyone — if only tax prep companies weren’t lobbying to keep it so complicated.
Reporter Jessica Huseman pointed out this frustrating truth in a 2017 story for ProPublica, which resurfaces and regains steam each year around tax time — this year with a bump from a replay of her appearance on WNYC’s “On the Media”.
“Think about all the things that the IRS already knows about you,” she told OTM.
From your bank and employer, the Internal Revenue Service already gets a lot of the information you painstakingly report on your tax return. We could, in theory, have a return-free system, where the IRS sends you that information and how much it believes you owe, and you don’t have to file anything unless you disagree with it.
But we like a challenge, don’t we?
Instead of this straightforward public service, we have the next best thing: A private system that helps the majority of Americans file a federal tax return for free.
Except most of us don’t use it… because we don’t know it exists.
The Free File Alliance MUST Let You File Taxes for Free
The Free File Alliance is a public-private partnership between a group of tax software companies and the IRS. Nine companies are part of this agreement as of January 2021, according to its recent press release.
The agreement says these companies have to provide the majority of Americans with a free way to prepare and file their taxes online. It also bars the IRS from providing its own free filing system — like that dreamy no-return scenario I mentioned above.
The problem, predictably, is that no one advertises the free services.
The government has no budget to market it, and the for-profit tax preparers have no incentive to let you know about their free options — and every incentive to funnel you toward a paid option.
The result is that most filers have no idea the option exists, and hardly anyone takes advantage of it.
(BTW, we are happy to tell you all about those free tax filing services.)
Last year, the Alliance touted “soaring” participation in a press release — a 28% “jump” from 2.3 million filers in 2019 to 2.9 million in 2020. Sounds great, except more than 130 million taxpayers qualified for free filing through the program. That’s a participation rate of less than 2%, exactly where it sat when Huseman called B.S. on the program three years earlier.
How to Get Free Tax Filing Through the Free File Alliance
This part is, in fact, easy. Once you know about it.
To qualify, you have to earn below a certain income limit, which changes each year.
For tax year 2020 (what you’ll file in 2021), anyone with an adjusted gross income below $72,000 qualifies for free filing through an IRS partner.
Choose a filing service through the IRS browsing tool. It’ll ask you some questions to help you determine which service is a good fit for your tax situation.
Before you choose a service, read through the requirements for free filing. Some of them cap incomes as low as $39,000, or tack on an age requirement or state limitations. A few, but not many, throw in free state filing so you can avoid that surprise charge at the end of the process.
Most importantly: Assume you can find a way to file for free. The agreement aims to make free filing available to 70% of Americans, so the odds are in your favor.
Tax companies will make plenty of offers that tempt you to upgrade to a paid option — or make you believe you have no choice. But you do. They’ve barred our government from offering us that choice, and in return, they’re required to provide it themselves.
We just have to make sure we can find it.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media. She was ticked off she didn’t know about the Free File Alliance and wants to make sure you don’t face the same fate.
Even with the possibility of a refund dangling in front of us, most of us hate to file our taxes.
Online tax filing services significantly ease the burden without paying personal-accountant-level dollars. But of the many available tax preparation companies, which is the best?
In this review, we’ll cover TaxAct, one of the lesser-known income-tax filing programs — but a frugal filing option you’ll want to check out.
Here’s what you need to know about TaxAct.
How Does TaxAct Work?
TaxAct offers DIY online tax software that helps you file your tax returns neatly, completely and accurately. Even if you’re a tax whiz, having a guide streamlines the process and could save you time and money. These services scan hundreds of credits and deductions to ensure you get the biggest refund (or lowest tax bill) possible.
Compared with the better-known e-filing products, like H&R Block and TurboTax, TaxAct is pretty scaled down — and thus, more affordable.
Rather than inundating you with options, tools and features, this program is all about getting down to business and getting your taxes done, as quickly and cheaply as possible.
TaxAct offers four pricing tiers based on your tax situation: free, Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed. Here’s everything you need to know about each (current as of January 2021 and subject to change).
If you’re a “simple filer,” you can take advantage of free preparation for federal and state returns with TaxAct’s basic product.
This tier covers W-2 income; tax breaks for dependent deductions, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other child tax credits, education expenses for current students, and retirement income.
Cost: Free to file a federal return, plus $4.95 per state tax return.
TaxAct Deluxe offers everything you get with the free version as well as coverage for itemized deductions, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, student loan interest, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and adoption credits.
This tier also includes help from a live professional over the phone, in case you need a little more personalized guidance.
Cost: Starts at $24.95, plus $44.95 per state return.
TaxAct Premier covers all the basics from the Deluxe version, plus options for investors, people earning royalties or K-1 income, rental property owners and foreign bank account holders.
In addition to phone support with a tax specialist, you’ll be able to share your screen live with your guide, and your support will be prioritized.
Cost: $34.95, plus $44.95 per state return.
If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, you already know you’re going to be paying more in taxes — and that may mean you need more support to fill out your return accurately.
TaxAct Self Employed customers get everything at the Premier level, as well as the ability to calculate personalized business deductions, calculate depreciation and access year-round planning resources. You’ll also get prioritized support, screen sharing and phone conversations with live tax specialists.
Cost: $64.95, plus $44.95 per state return.
Weighing your options for filing taxes? We’ve got you covered with an overview of all the best tax software.
All TaxAct customers get access to its suite of basic features, guarantees and goodies. Those include:
No matter who did your taxes last year, TaxAct makes it easy to import your information— including data coming directly from H&R Block or TurboTax.
While TaxAct might be simpler than its more expensive cousins in most ways, it’s the only one of the three that offers a FAFSA guidance worksheet.
TaxAct is confident in its ability to meet your tax needs, and it backs up that confidence with several guarantees: $100K Accuracy, Satisfaction and Maximum Refund.
If an error means you get a smaller refund or larger tax bill than you should have, the company will reimburse you for your trouble up to $100,000, as well as refund your TaxAct fees.
Compared with the better-known e-filing products, like H&R Block and TurboTax, TaxAct is pretty scaled down — and thus, more affordable.
This $100K guarantee extends to those who are audited after filing with TaxAct. You can submit “reasonable,” documented, audit-related expenses, and the company will reimburse you, again, up to $100,000.
Finally, if you’re not totally satisfied with your TaxAct product for any reason, you can discontinue using it before completing your return and paying the fee. You can’t get a refund after you’ve printed or e-filed your return.
Mobile App for Apple and Android
TaxAct offers mobile apps for Android and iOS, though they’re not as highly rated as the sleek versions from H&R Block and TurboTax.
Eligible filers can pay their TaxAct filing fees with a portion of their refunds to avoid an out-of-pocket cost.
You’ll pay an additional fee for this service: $17.99 if you’re receiving your refund payment by direct deposit or $9.99 if you’re receiving it on a PayPower card.
Protection Plus Audit Defense
For TaxAct Professional users (tax pros filing taxes for clients), TaxAct works with Protection Plus to provide audit assistance and tax debt relief services for clients, regardless of where you filed.
Price Lock Guarantee
Most years, TaxAct offers an option to auto-enroll your return before the tax season starts to lock in the lowest price of the season — because prices fluctuate throughout the season and tend to be highest closest to Tax Day.
You can also nab that low price by paying for the product early in the season, even if you’re not ready to file yet.
TaxAct pricing is somewhat simpler than competitors, which means you’re less likely to be surprised — but you have less choice to customize. To prepare and file your tax returns through TaxAct, you’ll pay a fee for the filing program, plus additional fees for state filing.
Unlike H&R Block and TurboTax, you can’t pay to upgrade to live tax pro help. Various levels of live help are included with each tier.
Product fee: Free to $64.95, depending on tier.
State filing fees: $4.95 or $44.95 per state return, depending on tier.
TaxAct: Pros and Cons
What makes TaxAct stand out — in good and bad ways? Here are some of its benefits and drawbacks:
Affordable: For filers with more complicated taxes, TaxAct is less expensive than most competitors, including for live help from a tax pro.
Ease of use: TaxAct’s website is easy to navigate, and a clickable questionnaire makes it easy to figure out which product is right for you based on your tax information.
FAFSA help: TaxAct offers a useful FAFSA guidance worksheet to make tax time a little less stressful for students.
No personalized audit support: TaxAct offers less robust, personalized audit support than TurboTax or H&R Block, though you are covered by its $100,000 guarantee.
No refund advance: You’ll have to wait to receive your refund on the government’s schedule.
State filing is pricy: For most filers, TaxAct’s state filing fees are higher than competitors’, and it doesn’t let you file state taxes for free through its free tier, as competitors do.
Less customizable: You don’t have the option to upgrade to an edition with live CPA help, though that’s available in some tiers. You have to choose the tier that fits your tax situation and offers the level of live help you need, which could mean paying for features you don’t need.
Who is TaxAct Best For?
If you’re after the very best bang for your buck, TaxAct is a hard act to beat. It’s the most affordable of the popular online options, and you even get access to live help at a relatively low cost.
If you’re looking for a tax filing platform that’s easy to navigate while still offering all you need to get the job done, TaxAct may just be the pared-down servicer you’re looking for.
Remember, you can always file federal taxes for free, if you’re eligible, through the IRS Free File portal. This service is available to filers who earned $72,000 or less (for tax year 2020), and the page also links to free fillable tax forms for earners at all levels.
Still comparison shopping? We’ve reviewed these other popular online tax programs: TurboTax and H&R Block.
As we continue to make our way through COVID-19, many people are still looking for ways to get items they need without physical contact with another person.
Vending machines serve that purpose — and make money for the machine’s owner.
Owning and operating vending machines is big business, providing passive income without any specialized skills. It’s also called automatic merchandising.
Basically, all you need to get started is some startup money to buy a machine, a good location and the right products.
The Vending Machine Business During COVID-19
Revenue for the vending machine industry was $24.2 billion in 2019, up 3% from the year before.
That data came from the Automatic Merchandiser’s Annual State of the Industry Survey — before the full impact of COVID-19 hit.
There were 2,175,756 vending machines in service in 2019 in a variety of locations including:
Hospitals and nursing homes
Restaurants, bars and clubs
Cold beverages were the top-selling product category. A majority of vending machines involve food and beverage products including sodas, coffee, snacks and candy.
There are also machines for bulk vending like gumballs, stickers, toys, novelties and more. During COVID-19, machines popped up selling masks and hand sanitizer.
At places like airports, vending machines often sell tech accessories and travel essentials like neck pillows, blankets and eye masks. Laundry rooms in residential buildings often have machines with detergent and fabric softener.
With many offices, businesses and other public spaces closed or restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vending industry is certainly taking a hit.
“We’re in a tough, tough industry right now with COVID-19. A lot of stores don’t want the machines there, they don’t want the kids congregating, they don’t want people touching them,” said Scott Ausmus, director of manufacturing for National Entertainment Network, Inc. and president of the National Bulk Vendors Association.
He grew up in the vending business. The machines he sells and operates are the novelty kind, offering things like stuffed animals, toys and gumballs. Many are in restaurants and entertainment venues like bowling centers.
Many factors make owning a vending machine an attractive business venture.
The startup costs are relatively low, sometimes around $2,000. The work is flexible and often doesn’t require much day-to-day involvement. The risk is comparatively low and there is growth potential.
“There’s a higher profit in the gumball then there is anything else,” Ausmus said. “The cost of goods is low on the gumballs and everybody likes gum, so everybody still purchases a gumball and so that is a winner for a lot of people.”
Starting a Vending Machine Business
While the startup costs are low and the income is often passive, owning vending machines is not without risk. You must be able to understand your own financial situation and how much you can afford to invest.
There is the cost of the machine, the cost of inventory, personnel to keep it stocked, maintenance and more.
The more perishable the product and the busier the area, the more of your time the machine will take.
“If (your machine location has) a big break room and a lot of employees, you would have to be there once a day to fill your machines up because that’s how busy they are,” Ausmus said. Other machines like toys and candy don’t require as much restocking.
One of the first steps in starting a vending machine business is finding your niche and deciding what to sell. That takes a bit of research and knowing who your customer is.
“You gotta buy the right product. If you buy the wrong product, it won’t move and you won’t make any money and you certainly don’t want to throw [product] away,” Ausmus said. “You’ve got to have the variety for people and find out which ones they want and that’s what you restock with, what sells.”
Vending machine businesses are scalable, meaning it’s possible to start small and expand. You don’t have to wait for payments because customers pay when they purchase an item.
Location, Location, Location
To put yourself in the best position to be profitable means finding the right location.
Places with lots of foot traffic are good. Before COVID-19, that meant schools and universities, malls, office parks, etc.
Think about where people need to wait. While waiting, they may get hungry or thirsty. Ausmus’ novelty machines need kids around.
“One of the hardest things to do is to locate a location,” he said.
Location can be about trial and error.
“It’s really not a bad risk to put it in a location and find out that it’s not making enough money. … You can remove it and move it to the next one until you find that right location,” Ausmus said.
When looking for locations, be prepared to approach the owner or landlord with a business plan for the machine.
Also be prepared to:
Pay a percentage of sales or other fee for having your machine in their location.
Pay for the electricity the machine uses.
Ensure the security of the machine. There is money inside a machine as well as inventory. Theft and vandalism are always possible.
Research state and local laws and regulations.
Pay sales tax on the revenue the machine generates.
Key Purchase: Your Vending Machine
Then you will need an actual vending machine. There are several types, and prices vary depending on what is in the machine, whether it needs refrigeration or heating, and the interactivity.
Buying directly from a manufacturer or supplier is one option, as is purchasing on a secondary market. Some companies also rent machines. Ausmus cautioned to make sure there are spare parts and support available for what you buy.
Machines range from about $1,500 for a used or refurbished machine to several thousands for a new, high-end machine with many technical features.
Some machines have:
Remote monitoring software: This helps keep track of how the machine is working and notifies the operator if something is wrong.
Low stock alerts: Notify the operator when items needs replacing.
Vending management systems (VMS): Tracks sales and other data to help owners make better business decisions.
Running a Vending Machine Business
While owning vending machines does not require any special skills, it is a business.
You will need inventory and someone to keep the machine stocked and maintained. This may require a van or truck.
Perishables need to be stocked more often than other items. Learning some basic maintenance skills could keep you from having to hire someone if there is a problem with the machine.
Different types of machines have different capabilities. Some take only cash while others will process credit or debit cards. Some models have touch screens or voice capabilities.
“Make sure that you have your phone number on the machine, and that the store location knows your phone number,” said Ausmus. “If somebody didn’t get what they wanted, make sure the store can give them a refund and you pay the refund back to that store. Then get out there as soon as you can to fix the machine so that you can continue to make money.”
Automatic merchandising isn’t for everyone, but owning and operating a vending machine can be a good business. Being able to retrieve the money you make and restock your machines easily is the key.
“Then you only work probably three days a month, basically on the whole gig,” said Ausmus. “Three four days a month can make somebody a good little extra income.”
Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.
The dining table was fine for a while. We were supposed to be working from home for only a few weeks. But then the weeks turned into months, and now the months have turned into (gasp!) nearly a year.
So we found refuge wherever we could—behind closed bedroom doors, out on the patio, or even inside our closets.
And so the “cloffice” was born.
Sure, we used to dream of closets filled with designer handbags and red-bottomed heels and stacks of cedar shelves meticulously filled with new fashions. But times have most certainly changed. And for so many of us trying to type and Zoom through the chaos, the closet has become the last bastion for something resembling a dedicated office space.
In fact, the idea of the cloffice has become so popular it’s been called out by Pinterest as one of the hottest trends to watch for in 2021.
“Say goodbye to open floor plans,” the folks at Pinterest say. “Pinners are getting creative with closed doors. In 2021 we’ll all learn what a ‘cloffice’ is. Even when doors aren’t available, people will find new ways to create some personal space.”
While the circumstances surrounding our collective cloffice creation are undeniably garbage, that doesn’t mean our personal spaces need to be, too. We reached out to the experts for their best advice on creating a cloffice—these smart ideas will make you want to work overtime to transform that cluttered, dust bunny–filled closet into a bona fide home office fit for a boss.
Your ‘cloffice’ must-haves
There are three primary things every good cloffice needs, according to Ginger Curtis, owner of Urbanology Designs in Dallas: a place for everything, good light, and comfort.
“Good lighting is extremely important to a functional and pleasing workspace. If you are lacking natural light, make sure you have good overhead lighting,” says Curtis. “Having a designated spot for everything is also critical to making it a comfortable spot.”
Ideally, a cloffice should be a beautiful, personal space that helps set the tone for the workday, even if there are barking dogs, leaf blowers, and TV cartoons blaring in the background.
“I would elevate a cloffice by doing some really fun wallpaper paired with amazing art,” Curtis advises.
For inspiration, Instagram and Pinterest are filled with gorgeous cloffice spaces—some more lavish than others—but all manage to carve out a tidy, functional, and beautiful professional oasis in the middle of home.
Plan how you’ll keep your cloffice organized
Kayla Wallace, the designer behind Chippy Charm, says she’s thrilled with the results of the cloffice (above) she just installed in her home.
“When designing your cloffice, keep in mind what is going to be the most effective for your family to keep it organized,” says Wallace. “Open storage is usually best, so utilize as much wall space as possible for shelving.”
That’s why the shelves in her home cloffice are custom-shaped, she explains.
“Our closet is deep past the wall on both sides,” she says. “This is why our shelving makes U shapes instead of standard straight-across shelves. This way we can still utilize the free space between what would typically be the shelf and wall. It also creates a more custom built-in look.”
But you don’t need custom-shelving talent to create your own cloffice. This chic, airy closet-turned-homework station for the kids was done by Jennifer Gizzi, the talent behind the blog Making Pretty Spaces.
She created it with the Elfa system from The Container Store. Here, the wallpaper gives the area a bit of fun and focus, and helps define it from the rest of the surrounding room.
Keep your closet-office hybrid simple
This cloffice space is done in a beautiful blue, anchored by striking art, and even has a high shelf for functional storage with offsetting wallpaper for a finished, detailed look. The designer Lahari Rao calls it a “space within a space, ‘Inception’-style.”
But even though it looks complicated, creating a beautiful cloffice of your own is all about keeping things simple, Rao says.
“With a cloffice, you can leverage the existing features of the closet easily—for example the side nooks to tuck away bookcases or the top shelves for storage/books,” Rao says. “Since it is a smaller space, it’s critical to add just enough to still maintain an open, seamless feel.”
Pick a neutral paint color and/or wallpaper (pictured: Benjamin Moore’s Gentleman’s Gray and a terrazzo print), she suggests, and be mindful of the small space.
“Avoid too many decorative accessories and clutter,” Rao adds. “Swap the desk lamp for a ceiling one, or the horizontal paper tray for a vertical magazine file to store papers.”
And don’t forget to have something inspirational to look at during the workday.
“I’m a big proponent of surrounding yourself with imagery that reflects and inspires you,” Rao adds. “For me, that was powerful brown women that broke norms.”
Rao’s cloffice came about because trying to get work done in the common areas of her home just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
“Like many others during the pandemic, I tried to work in transitional spaces—the kitchen, living room, front door area, etc. It wasn’t working,” Rao says.
“I realized I owed much more importance to my workspace—it wasn’t selfish, but rather a self-care gesture to provide my mind and productivity the respect it deserves.”
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Working from home has become more prominent than ever, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, when you’re living in an apartment, it can sometimes be challenging to create a productive remote workspace.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to maximize your space (no matter how small it may be), arrange it in a way that inspires creativity and productivity, and take care of yourself so you stay motivated.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can make the most of your apartment while you’re working from home, so you can find a healthy work-life balance and stay focused on your job each day.
Arranging Your Space
A productive apartment work-from-home space starts with actually creating a designated workspace. You don’t necessarily need to have a separate spare room to set up an office. As long as you have a specific location in mind that is dedicated to your work, you can get things done effectively. Some suggestions include:
Fixing a folding shelf to a wall.
Using a large closet/wardrobe.
Utilizing a large hallway.
Pulling your sofa away from the wall in the living room and using it as a desk chair.
Having your own workspace can help you to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Remember, your environment can affect your mental health. It can either keep you motivated or bring you down. So, focus on things like using natural lighting, having live plants around to give you energy, and even controlling the temperature to keep things a bit cooler.
If you know you will have to participate in Zoom meetings or similar video chats, make sure that your office looks as professional as possible. Because you’re at home, it’s okay to make things personal. But, whatever is in your background should still suggest that you’re working. A professional background for a video call can include things like plants, pictures, and artwork, but probably shouldn’t include your Star Wars actions figures.
Keeping Your Health in Mind
In addition to having the right space set up, it’s crucial to take care of yourself in order to stay productive. When working from home, it’s easy to feel distracted and unmotivated. Taking care of yourself, physically and mentally, can have a huge impact on how well you do your job.
One of the potential drawbacks of working from home is having a harder time with a work-life balance. You can combat this by having a routine each day. Start work at the same time and end it at the same time. Having a separate office space in your apartment will make it easier to “walk away” from work at the end of the day.
It’s also important to take breaks, and you may need to encourage yourself to do so. Your apartment might be small, but don’t be afraid to splurge on a few “self-care” items including, perhaps, a sofa that you can put in or near your workspace for whenever you need to take a break.
Your breaks should also consist of movement, as much as possible. Stand up and stretch every hour. Or, take longer breaks throughout the day that allow you to get outside and go for a walk. Studies have shown that simply being out in nature can improve your mood, which may help with productivity, and it will give you a chance to get some space after being in a small apartment all day.
It’s possible to create a productive apartment work-from-home space and to stay motivated each day. With a few simple changes, some organizational skills, and maybe a professional purchase or two, you can turn almost any area of your apartment into an effective workspace.
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How to Create a Productive Apartment Work-From-Home Space
With a few simple changes, some organizational skills, and maybe a professional purchase or two, you can turn almost any area of your apartment into an effective workspace.
Now that several vaccines are being distributed and hospitalizations appear to be on the decline in many areas, we can start thinking about life after COVID-19. I am interested to see what habits and cultural shifts stay with us and which ones are cast aside as soon as we can safely do so.
My instincts tell me that, for the most part, whatever happens in a crisis stays in a crisis. This is to say, I don’t expect that we will continue to bake our own bread and make time for afternoon walks once all businesses and commerce are back to full steam. But will we go back to shaking hands in the workplace? It is part of our human wiring that old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to grow. So what about the relatively recent cultural trend of working from home?
Even before COVID-19, there was a rise in people working from home.
From early in the crisis, we had a we had a significant increase in working from home early in the crisis, as seen in this chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
It is a law of nature that parabolic moves like the number of folks working from home eventually moderate once the pressure that drove them diminishes. This is true in economics (like the parabolic rise in new home sales that are now moderating) and is true for cultural movements.
So will WFH be a cultural shift in society that sticks? The option of WFH is one that has great appeal for many people and offers some benefits to employers as well. For example, a company may shrink its corporate footprint and save on facility costs if its workforce is distributed rather than centralized. And the appeal of WFH will only increase when the additional burden of schooling from home is lifted off working families.
And if WFH does stick, what will the consequences be for the housing market? For most of us, that decision is in our employer’s hands and not one we make for ourselves. But it is exciting to think about what the future may hold for our society if this trend that started during the COVID-19 crisis becomes a permanent feature.
One possible positive benefit would be an increase in inventory in urban areas. When workers are no longer obligated to live within driving distance to the office, homes in the centralized business area will become less attractive. A family that wants a bigger house or even a young couple who wants to start a family will no longer be geographically bound.
This doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the state — It may just mean going from expensive central cities to more affordable suburbs 20 to 40 miles away. But leaving a state like California to get a much bigger home and a less congested lifestyle for a much lower cost of living will have appeal for some.
Although inventory may increase in some areas, I do not expect WFH to result in forced selling. WFH does not force anyone to sell and move, but it is a variable that could create more inventory in certain areas if people do want to move. The WFH trend is more likely to increase inventory than if mortgage rates fell.
You may be familiar with the questionable mortgage rate lockdown thesis, which suggests that homeowners delay moving to preserve their low mortgage rate on their loan, and if interest rates fell, they would move. Therefore, according to this thesis, if interest rates fall, inventory will rise. This has never happened, and it won’t. Note that the last time rates moved lower, total inventory also went lower – because more folks wanted to get into the market. It all makes sense when you think about it!
The WFH trend may allow some folks to move, but the fact is that people move every year, COVID or no COVID. People move to buy bigger homes, smaller homes, be near better schools, or get away from city life. But the trend before COVID was that Americans were staying in their homes longer. Homes have been growing in size for decades. If a family’s first home is large enough to accommodate a growing family, there is no need to move up. In an article I wrote earlier last year, I highlighted this reason as one factor that is keeping Americans in their homes longer.
American demographics are such that we have many people coming into the family formation/home-buying ages. The years 2020-2024 have the most significant number of people ages 27 to 33 years old ever. We had approximately 32,458,118 Americans in this group in the year 2020.
People of this age typically have gone past the rent, date, and mate phases of their lives and are into the marriage, planning, kids, and home-buying phases. This demographic motherlode means we will have a healthy number of replacement buyers for 2020-2024. Even COVID-19 wasn’t big enough to destroy mother demographics.
With the trend of WFH in play, some people might consider moving who wouldn’t have if the COVID crisis didn’t happen. During 2017-2019, the cities with the most significant total population growth were Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, and Austin.
Looking out in the future, a young couple or a married couple looking to have a larger family might not need to worry about finding a new job to do so.
From the Census Bureau:
Only time will tell if the work-from-home cultural phenomenon is just a trend or a persistent social movement. Curmudgeon that I am, my gut tells me WFH won’t be as big as some people will hope. Surveys show that workers typically feel that they have the resources needed to be productive working from home.
A study of nearly 3,000 employees in a global work from home survey last year showed that 78% of North American office workers say they have the resources they need to be successful. Additionally, most managers “are just as satisfied” with the work performance (70% report the same or better results) of their WFH employees. The companies surveyed included heavy hitters like Adobe, Aetna, and Amazon.
Some companies can function well with some of the workforce home-based. And for some people, it makes perfect sense to take advantage of the WFH trend. A young family that wants a more prominent home than they can afford in their current location can get a bigger home elsewhere and skip the commute to work.
But the question remains: With over 6 million in total home sales, will the WFH trend be big enough to dent this number and create the much-needed inventory to cool down home prices in certain areas and drive home prices up in others?
My guess is no. We tend to go back to the norm, and while working from home sounds great on paper, I don’t think most of corporate America is ready to jump on board fully. I would love to be wrong here. However, like many things that happen in a crisis, the excitement of a change loses its luster once the crisis is over and we drift back to “same as it ever was.”
To meet the overwhelming demand for loans, independent mortgage bankers have quickly adapted to social distancing and remote working via work-from-home models that were previously unimaginable. Through this rapid growth in use of online and digital correspondence, today’s IMBs continue to originate more than half of all new mortgages.
These rapid changes have not been without pause for concern with regard to regulatory requirements and legal statutes as well as enforcement. Many states and regulatory jurisdictions restrict, and in some cases unilaterally prohibit, mortgage workers from conducting their activities outside of the branch office. Fortunately, a patchwork of executive orders, temporary waivers, and do-not-enforce letters have enabled the workforce to continue operating safely from their homes, albeit temporarily. In turn, IMBs have acted responsibly, putting in place policies, processes and protocols to ensure robust managerial supervision over all remote employees and security over confidential and non-public information.
We believe that the move to a remote work model is a long-term, technology-driven transformation which was well underway prior to the pandemic and will continue long after the pandemic. The Community Home Lenders Association took the lead early on this issue, with a letterto the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. Work from home safeguards our workforce as well as our customers and ensures that mortgage credit continues to be available for the housing market. We urge state and federal regulators alike to address these temporary work-from-home flexibilities and to make them formal and permanent.
Our proposal makes the case for smart regulation. Smart regulation does not require that we choose between stronger or weaker sets of rules. Flexibility is appropriate and strengthens compliance. Allow mortgage employees to work from home without requiring their home to be licensed as a branch location. Allow them to work from home without imposing an arbitrary distance requirement to and from a licensed office. Consumers need to be protected as well. Require robust corporate policies and procedures to ensure sound managerial supervision of employees. Require that consumers’ data and private information is kept confidential and secure.
Mortgage servicing requirements by non-banks are another concern. Regulation can be effective without imposing unnecessary compliance burdens or costs on IMBs and ultimately on their customers. The CSBS is in the process of soliciting comments on a proposal to create financial and management requirements for non-bank servicers (often IMBs) in all 50 states. This is in response to the strong growth in servicing by nonbanks in the 12 years since the 2008 housing crisis. It makes sense for CSBS to ensure that the largest servicers are properly regulated. It is the handful of large servicers that have grown quickly that pose the great majority of financial and systemic servicing risk. It also makes sense to close servicing regulatory gaps for non-agency mortgage loans.
However, CHLA is requesting adjustments to this proposal to protect smaller nonbank servicers from new unnecessary burdens. These changes would support the CSBS’s overall goal of closing regulatory gaps in supervision of servicers without impeding the consumers’ access to credit. Smaller IMB lender/servicers primarily originate federal agency loans — GSE, FHA, VA and RHS loans — and are already subject to robust capital, liquidity and corporate management requirements by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. The proposed requirements are largely duplicative of existing GSE and Ginnie Mae requirements. Therefore, in its comment letter to the CSBS, CHLA is asking that smaller servicers with de minimislevels of nonagency loans should be deemed in compliance with the new CSBS requirements if they are a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac servicer (or Ginnie Mae issuer) in good standing.
The letter also asks for state-by-state exemptions from the new requirements in states where a servicer has a de minimis number of loans serviced in that state. CHLA members are typical of smaller community-based lender/servicers; they originate and service loans primarily in one or only a few states, but also originate and service smaller levels of loans in a number of states in proximity to their main state(s) of operation. Without exemptions in states with de minimisservicing volumes, smaller servicers will simply abandon servicing in these states.
Without these changes, the risk is that many smaller servicers will simply exit the servicing business and the servicing industry will be more concentrated, meaning less competition and higher prices and less personalized service. The broader impact would be more concentration of nationwide mega-servicers, leading to more financial and systemic risk exposure.
The choice is not between either more or less regulation. It is how to achieve smart regulation. Smart regulation is the best way to protect consumers and reduce risk, without imposing unnecessary compliance burdens on small lenders and the consumers they serve.
Best Cities to Work From Home in 2021 – SmartAsset
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Since the onset of COVID-19, remote work has become the norm for many Americans, allowing them to continue to meet some of their expenses while saving where possible. In the late spring of 2020, about half of American workers were working from home, according to two surveys conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Many researchers believe that increased work flexibility and work-from-home opportunities may continue even after the pandemic is over. With that in mind, SmartAsset looked at the best cities to work from home in 2021.
To determine our rankings, we compared 100 of the largest U.S. cities across seven metrics. They span work-from-home flexibility prior to and during COVID-19, along with employment opportunities, poverty rates and housing affordability. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s third annual study on the best cities to work from home. Our 2020 edition can be found here. Note: This year’s methodology was adjusted to account for COVID-19 and its impact.
A strong showing from North Carolina. Three cities in North Carolina rank in our top 10: Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte, taking second, sixth and seventh place, respectively. In all three cities, the percentage of people working from home grew by more than 3% between 2014 and 2019, so that even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 7% of all three cities’ workforces worked remotely.
Mid-sized cities also rank well. With the exceptions of Charlotte, North Carolina and Austin, Texas, all other cities in our top 10 have populations between 240,000 and 500,000. These cities potentially offer residents larger homes and apartments better suited to working from home. In all eight cities, more than 80% of residences have two or more bedrooms and workforces of which more than 7% were remote in 2019.
1. Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale, Arizona ranks in the top five cities for four of the seven metrics we considered. Census Bureau data shows that in 2019 about 17.9% of workers did work from home, a 6.7% increase from 2014. Additionally, Scottsdale has the fourth-highest estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home – at about 37% – and third-lowest 2019 poverty rate – at 6.0%.
2. Raleigh, NC
Like Scottsdale, a high proportion of the workforce in Raleigh, North Carolina worked from home prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, 10.5% of the workforce worked remotely in 2019 – the fourth-highest rate for this metric in our study. Raleigh also ranks in the top quartile of our study for four other metrics: It has the 21st-highest estimated percentage of the workforce that can work from home (31.79%), fourth-largest five-year change in workers working from home (4.3%), 18th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate (5.3%) and 21st-lowest poverty rate (10.9%).
3. Plano, TX
North of Dallas, Plano, Texas ranks as the No. 3 city to work from home in 2021. It ranks in the top 10% of the study for three metrics: percentage of the workforce who did work from home in 2019 (9.6%), estimated percentage of the workforce who are able to work from home (35.44%) and 2019 poverty rate (7.5%). Additionally, Plano has the 14th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate, at 5.2%.
4. Gilbert, AZ
Working from home often requires more space, whether that’s a dedicated room or section of a room where one sets up shop. Gilbert, Arizona – one of our best cities to buy an affordable home – has the potential for just that, with a high percentage of residences that have two or more bedrooms. Census Bureau data shows that 96.3% of Gilbert apartments and homes have two or more bedrooms, the highest percentage for this metric in our study. Gilbert also ranks well in our study due to its high percentage of the workforce that worked from home in 2019 (9.5%) and relatively low poverty rate (4.6%).
5. St. Petersburg, FL
With particularly strong low unemployment numbers, St. Petersburg, Florida takes the No. 5 spot. As of October 2020, the greater Pinellas County unemployment rate was just 5.2%, which is 1.5 percentage points below the national average. Remote work has also grown more popular here over the years: The percentage of the workforce working from home grew by 4.6% in St. Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, the third-highest increase in the study.
6. Durham, NC
Durham, North Carolina ranks in the top third of cities across six of the seven metrics we considered, only falling behind for its high poverty rate (15.2%). Durham had the 10th-highest 2014-2019 increase in the study of the percentage of the workforce working from home – and as of 2019, more than 7% of the city’s workforce worked remotely. Taking into account recent changes during COVID-19, we estimate that an additional roughly 25% of the workforce could have telework flexibility.
The October 2020 employment rate in Durham stood at 5.7%. Furthermore, housing costs make up less than 36% of earnings and 86.3% of residences have two or more bedrooms.
7. Charlotte, NC
Charlotte, North Carolina saw the second-largest 2014-2019 increase in the study of the percentage of its workforce working from home, at 4.8%, such that in 2019, 10.0% of workers were remote. Charlotte ranks 23rd-lowest out of all 100 cities for its relatively low poverty rate, at 11.2%.
8. Colorado Springs, CO
Though housing costs as a percentage of earnings are high in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the city ranks in the top quartile of cities for four metrics. It saw the seventh-largest 2014-2019 increase in percentage of workers reporting they worked remotely (3.6%), and it had the 13th-highest percentage of 2019 remote workers (8.5%). Moreover, the city’s 2019 poverty rate is the 12th-lowest overall (9.3%), and it has the 17th-highest percentage of homes and apartments with two or more bedrooms (87.3%).
9. Austin, TX
Working from home was on the rise in Austin, Texas prior to COVID-19. The percentage of workers reporting they worked from home increased by 3.7% over five years, from 7.1% in 2014 to 10.8% in 2019. With that increase, Austin had the third-highest 2019 percentage of the workforce who worked from home across all 100 cities. Employment in Austin has remained strong during COVID-19 relative to other cities. As of October 2020, its unemployment rate was 5.2% – the 14th-lowest of 100 of the largest cities and 1.5 percentage points lower than the national average.
10. Fremont, CA
Fremont, California rounds out our list of the 10 best cities to work from home in 2021. Based on the occupational breakdown of workers, we found that upwards of 35% of Fremont’s workforce could work from home if necessary – a top-10 rate. Apartments and homes in Fremont also generally have the space for working from home. Census Bureau data shows that 87.7% of residences in Fremont have two or more bedrooms – the 13th-highest percentage in our study.
Data and Methodology
To find the best cities to work from home in 2021, we examined data for the 100 largest U.S. cities. We compared those cities across seven metrics:
Percentage of the workforce who worked from home in 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
Estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home. This metric was calculated using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017-2018 Job Flexibilities and Work Schedules Survey and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
Five-year change in percentage of the workers reporting they work from home. This is the difference between the percentage of the workforce who worked from home in 2014 and 2019. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2014 and 2019 1-year American Community Surveys.
October 2020 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is at the county level.
Poverty rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
Housing costs as a percentage of earnings. This is median annual housing costs divided by median earnings for workers 16 years and older. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
Percentage of residences with two or more bedrooms. This includes both owned and rented apartments and houses. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
We ranked each city in every metric, giving a double weighting to one metric – the estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home – and a full weighting to all other metrics. We then found each city’s average ranking and used that average to determine a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Deciding Where to Live?
Buy or rent? Even if you have the savings to buy a first home, be sure the switch makes sense. If you are coming to a city and plan to stay for the long haul, buying may be the better option for you. Additionally, a home may offer more space for people who do regularly work from home. However, if your stop in a new city will be a short one, renting may make the most sense. SmartAsset’s rent vs. buy calculator can help you see the cost differential between purchasing a home or apartment and renting.
Mortgage management. It is important when purchasing a home to know what you’ll pay each month and for how long. To get a sense of what that might look like, check out SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator.
Seek out trusted advice. No matter where you live, a financial advisor can help you get your financial life in order. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Questions about our study? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Horan, CEPF® Stephanie Horan is a data journalist at SmartAsset. A Certified Educator of Personal Finance (CEPF®), she sources and analyzes data to write studies relating to a variety of topics including mortgage, retirement and budgeting. Before coming to SmartAsset, she worked as an analyst at an asset management firm. Stephanie graduated from Williams College with a degree in Mathematics. Originally from Philadelphia, she has always been a Yankees fan and currently lives in New York.