Out of the Office: A new take on remote estimating

The pandemic has created a situation in which it is safer for many employees to work from home. Essentially, I have been a remote estimator since I started my company in 1994.

Working from a home office had its difficulties in the beginning. My first mistake was not making my work environment comfortable. I sat on an unpadded, steel folding chair at a folding table that was not the correct height. The table was also not stable, which caused me to make mistakes in measurements and markups. My body told me very quickly that the situation was not acceptable.

I moved my office from the guest room to the kitchen table, which was also unacceptable, and then I remodeled the guest room into a proper office with a desk and comfortable office chair. I understand not everyone has a spare room to turn into an office. However, it’s really important, for the sake of your comfort, health and productivity, to provide yourself with a functional and ergonomic working space in your home.

My second concern was establishing a regular work schedule. I assumed I would be working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or later) like I had been for my entire career. So much for that assumption. Working at home made it possible for my wife and kids to accomplish more. My wife returned to college, while my kids were able to participate in many after-school activities. I adjusted my schedule around theirs, and I still had plenty of time to get my work done.

I was looking for help on how to handle this new situation and stumbled on Home Office magazine. I subscribed and found it to be full of ideas on how to cope with my work from home situation. Unfortunately, that magazine does not seem to be around anymore. However, I just did a search and found there are many new sources of information for starting and running a home office.

Eventually, I learned to become goal-oriented. I just had to make sure my goals were aggressive enough. I can successfully accomplish those goals, most often by working more than 40 hours per week.

The next problem that I needed to overcome was trust. Many employers have a hard time trusting that their employees will be productive when not in the office. If you are working on the company server from your home office, the boss can easily watch your progress. If not, I suggest increasing communications with the office, but be careful not to become a pest. Provide your boss with regular updates on your progress. Ensure you communicate your goals and ask for more work when you need it. I prefer to communicate by email because it leaves a written trail. Phone calls (and video calls) are reserved for problems that are too complex for an email and require an interactive conversation. Always follow up calls by emailing a written summary.

Another consideration is power. I had a regular 4,000W generator, so I thought I was covered. However, the first time the power went down, some of my computer files were damaged because the generator did not provide “clean” power.

I did several things to fix that. First, I purchased a battery backup system with enough power to allow me to save my work and shut down the computer during a power outage. Next, I purchased a generator with inverter technology that is guaranteed not to damage electronics. Finally, I rearranged the power connections so that all of my office equipment was plugged into one receptacle strip. This made it quick and easy to switch to a generator when the power goes out.

One very important reminder: please place your generator outdoors where the exhaust cannot get into your house. I hear too many stories about people getting sick or dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Technology makes working from home much more practical. Thanks to the internet and today’s software, you can be just as productive from home as you are in the office. Of course, you need a fast internet connection, and if possible, a secondary way of connecting. If my cable internet goes out—which it seldom does—I connect to a Wi-Fi hot spot created by my cellphone.

Digital takeoff software also facilitates working from home. Adopting this software meant I no longer had to wait for drawings to be delivered or print them myself.

I wish you good fortune in your efforts to work from home. It is possible, as my 26 years of doing just that demonstrates.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or steve@electrical-estimating.com, and...

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