Nathanael is an experienced remote worker, having worked from home for 23 years and counting. During that time, he has worked in various states and regions, as well as from his own personalized office environment. He has found comfort and productivity in the ability to work from anywhere, as evidenced by his successful career path to date. In addition to being a long-time remote worker, Nathanael also has valuable insights to offer on how working from home has impacted the agent space. His remote working experience leads him to believe that agents benefit greatly from being able to work with flexibility and freedom.
What’s your background?
“I've been working from home since around early 2000 when I was with a major retail organization. My position took me to many different states, many different regions, and I couldn't always be working from an office. So I had to work from home, work from an airport or work from a hotel. Essentially, remote working has been in my blood for, you know, 23 plus years.
I went full time working from home when I exited the retail world and joined the fast paced, exciting call center world with one of the pioneers in the industry in 2003. I started off as a frontline agent working from home 100% of the time. There was no office for me to go to. There was no call center. I plugged in my headset, took calls and assisted customers, and I've been a work at home evangelist ever since.”
What does your office setup look like?
“It's kind of changed and evolved over the 20 some odd years that I have been working from home. I'm not one to have multiple screens and I never have been. My offices are usually very comfortable. I always have a nice ergonomic chair and I’ve probably gone through about three or four of them over the last couple of years just because I spend a lot of time in my office.
My desk is somewhat chaotic. I am pretty old school with notepads, pens, papers and color coding because it helps keep me organized.
So my office space is definitely intended to be just for office use, but that wasn't always the case. There were times when I didn't have a dedicated office space and I was taking calls from our bedroom just because my financial position didn't allow me to have the extra space. So I set up a corner in our bedroom, and that's where I would take calls on an old windows computer back in 2003-2004.”
How do you manage your time?
“That's an interesting question. I've learned over the last several decades to manage my time better. In the beginning, when I was working from home, even before I was an agent, I didn't really have that start time and end time, which was really detrimental.
In the long run, it was detrimental because my home life became my work life and vice versa. There was no separation. So I really learned that when I'm working, that's my working time. When I'm off, I'm off and I make sure to leave the house, go for a five minute walk, go get coffee or go get lunch when I can. It’s the idea of just getting out and getting some fresh air. They’re the same things that people would do in an office, right? They would go with coworkers. They would go get, you know, coffee and make sure that they were stepping away from work a little bit. But time management, I won't lie, still becomes a challenge because it's really super easy to look at the phone, answer that email. And I've been fortunate, right? I've had leaders who had no expectations that I answer emails at 9:00 at night, or that I answer emails when I'm on vacation. At times, it is self-inflicted and it's something that I continually work with to ensure that I protect my time.”
What does your work/life balance look like?
“I won't lie. I think it's hard for a lot of people who are working from home to really look at that work life balance, to understand that there are going to be times that you need to go to a birthday party, you need to leave, and you need to be productive in your own life along with your work life.
I've been pretty good about making sure I start my day as I would any other day. So I shower, I get my coffee, I turn on my computer so that I can really get into that productivity mode. I've never been one of those people who can just work from pajamas and I know there are people out there who can, but I think the key is find what works for you and stick to it.
That means at 5:00, you set an alarm on your cell phone that you're done, right? You walk away, you step away from that project. You go cook dinner with your family. You do the things that you need to refresh, right? You can't refuel others on an empty battery. And I think it's important that organizations support people who are taking vacation, support time off.
Every now and then, you're probably going to need a mental health day where you're going to need to just kind of step away. I think it's really important for you as an individual to really understand how you define work life balance for yourself.”
What kind of boundaries do you have in place during a normal work from home day?
“For a good first part of my career, there were no boundaries. I really learned the hard way. That I needed to ensure that when my workday was ending, my workday was ending, that I shut down my laptop, I shut down my company equipment, I turn off alerts on my phone, and I go and I enjoy life.
And it really wasn't until probably later in my career that I really learned that I have to say no to some things. I have to be able to say, I just can't do that right now. I have to get to this birthday party. I have to get to this anniversary party. And it really was through years of missing some of those things.
As I was advancing through my career, working from home, I sacrificed birthday parties, I sacrificed graduations. And those are things that you can't get back. And there are things that I wish I would have done differently. But, you know, every time I talk to people about boundaries and working from home, what do I do? I let them know that you can't get those family moments back.
So it's important to take a step back from work and those family moments. And of course, there's going to be some work. Emergencies come up, right? We are in a fast changing call center world, but again, we’re not performing brain surgery.”
In your 20+ years in a WFH environment, what’s one thing you wish you learned sooner?
“I think the one thing I wish that I would have probably learned sooner was how to tackle just the sheer loneliness of it, right? Because my partner would go to work and I would be at home working.
When I worked in the very fast paced retail environment where I was at a mall, where I was at a store I could walk and I could leave and I could go to grab a, you know, grab a Coke and a Cinnabon in the food court. I could see someone who was in a store that I knew and I could say, “Hey, do you want to go grab lunch?,” “Do you want to go grab a drink after work?”
So I think I wish I would have learned how to manage that better because it did take me a good year or so of working fully from home to realize I need to still do those things or I still need to reach out to my friends and say, “Hey, do you want to go grab Panera for lunch?,”
“Do you want to go walk to Starbucks?” There's all of those things that I would have normally have done in a setting that was a brick and mortar that I just didn't transition well to working from home at first and I get this question a lot, right?”
Any items that you recommend fellow work from home employees? Desks, chairs, etc.
“I think get a good comfortable chair, make sure your desk or set up is something that you're going to enjoy spending, you know, five, six, seven, 8 hours a day at.
As a frontline agent you're sometimes in back to back calls, taking back to back chats, answering back to back emails. You just need something that's comfortable, right? Make sure the space is kind of your office sanctuary, so to speak.
I always say it's where I'm spending 8 hours of my day. I want it to be pretty, right? So sometimes I make sure I have fresh flowers on my desk. Just those things that make you comfortable and bring you joy in life. Consider setting up your desk as if you were in a brick and mortar center.
Create a setup that's going to make you happy to come to work every day because we know sometimes frontline call center agents, especially, get some tough calls and it can be really daunting.”
How do you take care of your mental health?
“I won't lie. I've struggled with it. Not as bad as I did when the pandemic started, because the world kind of shut down.
I lost a lot of the comforts, so to speak, that I had. I couldn't just walk and go get to Starbucks. I couldn't just walk in, go sit inside a cafe, grab a croissant or get lunch with people. It all changed. And it did take a toll on my mental health. And I'm very thankful that I had people and friends who were very supportive, who I could talk to, and I learned to change my routine.
All right, so I can't go do this, but I can go do this right? So I looked at the things during lockdown, especially the things that I could go do. And it's still a struggle today, right? Balancing mental health, making sure that you're leading a happy and productive life. And it has to be super challenging to balance a lot of the pressures that we have today with inflation, with, you know, the constant barrage of news that we hear from organizations laying people off.
There has to be a great support system at work, whether it's through mental health services that work offers or supportive coworkers. My advice would be if you're unsure if your workplaces offer any of those things, reach out to your human resources department. I can tell you how often human resources has been a huge benefit to me. The organizations that I've worked for over the years point me in the right direction, to say, hey, we've got this, we've got this service that we offer, you can talk to a therapist.
As daunting as it is sometimes sitting, working from home, and especially if you're just there by yourself and you're working, it can be challenging. And, you know, thank goodness now there's some modern tools that I didn't have when I was an agent, right? Like, we have Slack, we have Gchat. I mean, for goodness sakes, I think 20 some odd years ago we were relying on Yahoo!
Chatrooms which were not reliable. Now we have video chat so you can actually see people face to face. It wasn't until after three years of working from home that I met my boss face to face.
I think the world has become more connected, which is a great thing, but it has also taken a toll on people's mental health because we’re constantly overwhelmed with information and data. I think we just have to do a better job of acknowledging and promoting that taking a step back, taking a breath, doing some deep meditation, maybe doing some yoga can work wonders.
I’ve found that walking really helps me. I do believe you just have to find that thing that helps you and learn to embrace it. So I really am a firm believer that over the course of the last 20 years I have been working from home, it's gotten better. We've made improvements in technology, right? The world shut down in 2020 and there are a lot of skeptics pre 2020 about call center agents working from home.
And as you look at what's happening and the forced kind of return to office, I don't think the office is going away. I believe how we work is going to be different and evolve. In the organization I currently work for there are people who enjoy going to the office, but there are also those who don't ever want to go to the office.
I think it's up to organizations to ensure that their people are working where they want to work, how they want to work and where they're most productive. And that means technology has to keep up, right? So there are some things that organizations have to do to prepare, and I am pretty confident we'll hit that topic some other time because I could go on and on about it.”
“In closing, I think the 23 years that I've spent working from home, there has been a huge focus on executive levels and management levels who are working from home, but not as much attention on frontline agents. They are often overlooked, especially those who are working from home, who are doing it day to day and have been doing it for, you know, almost three decades. It’s important to understand how we can better equip them and everyone to work from home securely, productively and make sure that every interaction that they have with customers is impactful all from the comforts of their home.
The fact that we’re now able to distribute work where agents live is allowing them to help take care of families. Nowadays, it’s not necessary for agents to commute to a big, bulky call center in a crowded city. For these reasons I think that there have been some amazing benefits to society because people can work remotely, provide for their families, take care of their families, do the things that they love and live a more balanced life.
I certainly know that I've been blessed to be able to do the things that I love over the last 23 years.”