Friday, March 18, 2011

If you're a moron, like me

One of the banes of my existence is managing the timezone thing - I live in mountain time and work largely with clients and employers who are based on the East Coast. Normally it's not that big a problem, except when I travel there. Flight times are always local time, so you get hosed when you take the flight info stuff from a travel booking site and put it in your calendar - yes it lands at 11:00 pm, but that's mountain, so like 1 am Eastern. I'm forever making the wrong calculations.

Because I am a moron.

But I just added the Mountain timezone to my Outlook display following these helpful instructions from Lifehack, and I'm feeling better already!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

So, Here's the Deal

Yes, months have passed, but dear readers, don't think that I haven't been thinking of you. Really! But I've been a bit busy. I was on-site with my new employer for about five weeks for training and on boarding and all that good stuff. It was great and the company is great, but they have a strict no-blogging from their IPs policy. This is a new world for Stella - a publicly-traded employer who has to be very careful about what they say.

So that's the story. I'm back in my home office again for a few weeks, and I'll be figuring out how this blog is going to be moving forward. I think that I still have enough to write about because even though I'm a bit of a road warrior in the new position, all the same productivity and focus issues arise whether you're in a home office or churning out a little extra work in your hotel room at night. As an added incentive, I'm billable, with some pretty ambitious utilization goals. Balancing work (gotta get those hours) with living (the children aren't going to hug themselves, here, people) should provide some interesting fodder for ol' Stella.

Stay tuned. I'm back, baby. To the extent that I'm here and not sullying other people's networks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh, I've Been Remiss

Yes, Stella is well aware that she has not posted in quite some time. The truth is that once again, Stella is making some professional changes. I'll be moving from the non-profit sector to the for-profit world in January, working as a consultant for a really great software company, one that works with non-profits. It should be a great change, and the greatest part about it: I'll still be based in my home office.

I'll be doing a lot more traveling to client sites, but when I'm not there, I'll be safely ensconced in slippers, with a cat sleeping happily on my desk. So that's the big news. I'll continue to blog, of course. For all six of you out there reading, I know you've come to expect infrequent and random posts, so there you go.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Federal Telework Act Passes

The good news is that the federal telework act finally passed the house last week. Since the senate had already passed it, all it needs is a little signature from the President, and then all your federal teleworking dreams will come true.

Release the unicorns.

Okay, maybe it's not quite that glorious yet, but the federal telework act does provide some incentives for government agencies to promote and support telecommuting. And sometimes just saying it's okay is a big step forward.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free Videochat Apps Reviewed

One of the most important tools any shut-in has is her videochat. It makes a huge difference when your colleagues see you and more importantly when you see them. Having easy to use tools that don't take a lot of special gear, networks, set up, or technical acumen to use is absolutely essential to a successful telecommuting program.

Stella has struggled on and off with her video conferencing tools. I've slogged along with Skype (even though it when through periods of time when it stopped wanting to drive my camera), I've tried Oovoo and Yugma (not good options because they require so much account set up on the part of your partner), there's WebEx, and my beloved GoToMeeting is promising HD videoconferencing at some point "soon". Yay.

If you're weighing your free options, the nice people at Gizmodo have a good test drive of Google, Skype, and iChat. Check it out.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Filling Your Talent Gaps with Telecommuters

We all know that there are a lot of unemployed people in this country. Tons of qualified folks are actively looking for work and would be really grateful to get a job. But there are also lots of jobs in places that go unfilled. Maybe you have somewhat lower-level programming jobs in a big expensive metropolitan area - those kinds of jobs typically don't come with relocation reimbursement, so after you've hired all the entry level programmers around you, what can you as an employer do to fill your talent gap?

Maybe you need to open your mind to telecommuting. Once you give up on the idea that all your little worker bees have to actually be in your hive, you suddenly have an enormous pool of talent to choose from. This article from the New York Times goes into more detail, but don't make your people commute between two cities or choose between their families and their jobs. Telecommuting lets you hire outside your metro area and not destroy people's lives by making them relocate.

You already have your remote working systems in place, so why not harness them to get the best talent you can, irrespective of where that talent might have a hard-to-sell house that's underwater on its mortgage.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Small Changes to Routine

Sometimes you can shake up your day's work just by making a small change to your routine. Maybe you change the order you do the first things you do in the office - instead of opening email first, you do the other data chores first, or maybe you get up a half hour earlier or later. Maybe it's changing the music or radio choices you make, or eating after you do some task first thing.

Whatever it is, I find that making tiny changes to how I do the things I routinely do can cause me to feel very differently about how my day is starting. Whether it's actually more productive,  I don't know. But try shaking it up today.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now That's What I'm Talking About

You can read that title as, "Now that's what I'm talking about!" or "Now that's what I'm talking about!" but either way, you're capturing my enthusiasm. There is apparently a book called Hacking Work and it looks pretty good. But what caught my eye was this excerpt on Fast Company. A person who wanted to telecommute started telecommuting, but on his own time. He documented how awesome it was and then when he was ready to make his telecommuting proposal, he had proof that it (and he) could work!


Simply put: if you show that remote working is already working already, it makes it hard to use the common arguments against such arrangements. You'll be distracted, you'll sleep all day, you won't have access to the tools and systems you need. Um no, actually, I did fine, I worked *more* than I would have otherwise, and I delivered the project on time at no additional cost to the company.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Telecommuting Fashion Watch: It's Not a Bathrobe

One of the well known benefits of telecommuting is that you don't have to strap yourself into a work costume and trudge into the Real Office. You can pretty much roll out of bed and get to work naked if that's the kind of thing you want to do. I don't recommend this, mind you, because of the prevalence of webcams and windows and suchlike, but hey, I'm not here to judge.

Yes, you can be casual, but that doesn't give you a license to let yourself go, of course. No pajamas. I mean it. But do you need to make yourself uncomfortable? No, I don't think that either. Allow me to suggest real clothes that function like their more pajamaesque cognates.

Bathrobe? No.
Long sweater? Yes!
It's warm, comforting, and because it's long it can be helpful in managing the low-rise jeans/plumber issue that seems to arise these days.

Slippers? No.
Nice sandals? Sure, why not?
I like the idea of having a dedicated pair of house shoes, flip-flops or sandals to slip on, Mr. Rogers-style. I hate the idea of tracking dirt into my and home office, and I would prefer that people remove their shoes. But I understand that you might like to wear shoes to avoid seeming like a complete shlub.

Sweatpants? No.
Yoga pants? Maybe.
Here's the thing about yoga pants: elastic waist. It is a slippery slope from a forgiving waistline to sloth. I'd like to recommend that if you're going to wear work out clothes as clothing that this is only acceptable if you are actually going to or coming from the gym or other actual physical exertion.

I'm tying the belt on my long sweater and saying it over and over like a mantra: it's not a bathrobe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Virtual Meeting Tips

This advice about how to stay together and seem professional during conference calls and teleconferences is all right on the money. Really the best thing to do is to treat a videoconference or online meeting as a meeting meeting. I find that I do well to pretend that I'm actually sitting in the room with people - don't do anything during the meeting that you wouldn't do in a room full of people.

Of course I do wear flip flops during meetings, which I would not normally do during a Real Office meeting. But other than that, I try hard not to get distracted and stay "in the room" even when that room is 2000 miles away.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Praise of POTS

No, not that pot. Sheesh you people. I mean Plain Old Telephone Service. I've taken a step back in time and obtained a super old fashioned telephone line. No VoIP, no schmancy stuff. Just a telephone. What I like about it is that it doesn't compete for bandwidth with all the other things I'm shoving through my internets. It will work when the power is out so I can call people and tell them my power is out. It works when the internet is out, so I can call my internet provider and tell them the internet is out.

Simple. Maybe not the cheapest thing, but it works.

So now I forward the local Skype number I've set up for my local colleagues to the landline when I'm physically in the office, and to the cell phone when I'm wandering the streets. This preserves the illusion of "I'm right down the hall" but rings in my distant location. I can call reliably, and people can call me directly on the real number when all else fails.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Have I already complained about this?

Honestly, after so many posts (more than 600!) I know I'm a bit of a broken record about some topics. I have my little set pieces.

Telecommuting isn't a substitute for childcare.

You can goof off just as easily in your Real Office cubicle as you can in your home office.

Face time is for the birds, except when your manager really values it, and then you have to figure out how to have electronic face time through passive "I'm here" tools like your IM status.

Yes yes yes, you've heard it all before. The thing I want to complain about today is the utterly reproachful tone of error messages in software. Lately, my email has been giving me lots of scolding: You failed to shut your inbox properly. Your account is over its size limits. We're going to stop sending email. When I read these messages, I hear my own voice, but at age 14 sassing back at my poor mother.

"Um, you FAILED to shut your inbox properLY? Duuuh!"

 I love how web apps approach error messages. I love reading things like "Oh heck. It's probably our fault, but something is not right. Sorry, but could you try again?" Would it kill the folks at the giant traditional software companies to adopt a slightly less accusatory tone in error messaging?

As I say to my children: please use nice words and pleasant voices with each other.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting Beyond Pitfalls

Telecommuting is pretty much like regular work in most ways - if you goof off, people will notice, you can be unresponsive and annoy your coworkers just as easily from home as you can from the cubicle down the hall. But there are some particular issues that you'll notice when you work from afar most of the time. This piece from Read Write Web has some good ideas for dealing with some of the most common issues you might see.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Far Away Could You Be?

All airfare and needing to be onsite aside (which explains in part why Stella didn't post much last week) here's the question: once you make the break to working from pretty far away, how far away could you actually be? Is there a limit?

This article from InfoWorld says: why not half a world away? I will say that the time difference could get confusing, but if you're really just a contractor and working through project work with a set need to meet with people or otherwise be available, why not just say Phuket?

If I didn't have children to educate, I'd be working from a little beach town in Mexico or the U.S. Virgin Islands so fast it would make your head spin. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Telecommuting Job Watch: Elder Services

This morning I heard an interesting story on NPR about an application of teleconferencing tools to help monitor older people to avoid "I've fallen and I can't get up" incidents. This is a really great way for distant relatives to keep tabs on aging parents, aunties, uncles, or anyone who is able to live by themselves, but about whom you worry just a little bit.

I've heard of other applications like that - there are telemedicine programs, for example, where a nurse or physician's assistant looks in on people who have chronic health conditions. These programs combine teleconferencing with systems that send biometric telemetry (blood sugars, blood pressure, pulse, or data from wired medicine dispensers) to help medical professionals monitor a patient's condition and compliance with treatment plans.

Pretty nifty - it seems like a cost-effective way to prevent more serious problems and complications from a chronic illness (or from just getting older). And the monitors can also be telecommuters.