Saturday, December 29, 2007

Robots

I'm celebrating a little robot uprising of my own here in the distant future - the year 2000. For Christmas I received not one, but two robots who will shortly be making my life better.

First, the programmable coffee mill/brewer will, when properly instructed and primed with coffee beans and water, grind and brew coffee that will then await my return from the gym in the morning. Yay. No more waiting for me to grind the beans and kick off the brewing process manually. I do kind of still have to do these tasks, but I don't have to perform them competently at six in the morning.

More wonderfully, the Roomba scheduler robotic vacuum can be cajoled into launching itself into my crumb-and-doghair-filled adobe abode and it will clean it automatically. Of course, there are a few technical issues to work through, like the fact that the thing won't hold a charge. But for a brief shining moment yesterday it fired up and started bustling around the living room, busily cleaning the floor.

The little dog was beside herself with frenzied barking.

The big dog hid.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's Not That Big a Deal

Used to be that having remote workers took a lot of extra work. You know, the tech guys had to set up banks of modems and workers had to have extra ISDN lines put in their houses and such. It was a pain.

But in our wonderful modern age, technology is no longer a meaningful barrier to working from anywhere, at least for the majority of knowledge workers. All the technology commonly used by remote workers (video conferencing, VPNs, home broadband internets, instant messaging, voice over IP, laptops, mobile phones and texting) is ubiquitous and trivial to deal with. Moreover, for the next generation of workers, these tools are seamlessly ingrained in how they interact with the world. They don't even notice them when they use them. (Whereas I, elderly Gen Xer that I am, almost keel over whenever I receive a bit of text on my phone -- "Ooooh look, someone's sent me an epistle on the telemaphone!" Cue the youthful eyerolling.)

So the only meaningful barrier left between the workers of the world and widespread telecommuting is the attitude of managers. And this is at once the easiest and most difficult thing to change. Telecommuting requires managers to think in a different way about what it means to supervise workers, but I don't think that business can afford to wait to change its collective mind about this stuff. Your key players are increasingly coming from the under forty set, and we intuitively understand this relationship between ubiquitous technology and work. Smart companies will harness this flexibility and enjoy a significant advantage over those folks who still think that people have to exist in the same physical space in order to collaborate.

All you have to do is change your mind.

Monday, December 24, 2007

How to Get Telecommuting

A nice reader at the Evil HR Lady asks a convoluted question about how to get telecommuting approved for a complex personal reason. I left a comment over there, but I was thinking a bit more about this. The most important thing to realize when you're pitching telecommuting is that the boss doesn't really care that much about your reasons for wanting to do it Don't waste your breath explaining about your blood pressure, the fact that your high school kid can't be trusted home alone with the cable TV, how you can't morally justify driving your car three hours a day in an era when the polar ice caps are dissolving.

These "facts" just cloud your proposal. And they don't help make your case.

Your boss only wants to know just how is it that you propose to actually get work done in your pajamas. Better yet, she wants your assurances that you won't ever work in your pajamas.

A good telecommuting proposal has to focus on the business at hand, and it should include:

1. An accurate, complete, specific list of the things you do and how you will do them remotely. When I say specific, I mean statements like "Using the existing VPN, I'll connect to my office desktop PC inside the firewall to complete the weekly server updates." If your boss isn't technical, include pictures. Be sure that you have tried these methods for getting your work done and that they really work.

2. A communication plan that describes how colleagues, clients, and managers will reach you on a daily basis. This should not involve you calling into voicemail several times a day, by the way, unless you're only telecommuting sporadically. People must be able to pick up the phone and reach you immediately in a consistent fashion no matter where you are working. Learn how to use the forwarding features of your office telephone. You should establish regular hours that correspond to what everyone else in the office is working. You should specify a variety of communication methods (IM, email, phone) and the time frame for responding to each of these.

3. A set of criteria by which your manager can evaluate your effectiveness. This ties back into the specific list of duties -- if you know exactly what you're supposed to be doing and how you'll be doing it, it should be relatively easy to tell when you're getting it done. You should also specify how you'll report on the things you do each week -- whether it's through an email that gives the low-down, a weekly onsite meeting, or something else.

4. An escape clause. If your manager really can't stand it, or you find that you don't like wearing slippers all day as much as you thought, either party should be able to kill the agreement with reasonable notice, say four weeks. That time frame gives the telecommuter a chance to weigh his or her options (going back into the office, finding a new job, or what have you).

That's it. No flowery language about caring for small children, work-life balance, saving the environment, or sparing shoe leather. Of course, the exception to this would be if your boss has a mandate to save the environment, for example. But generally speaking, focus on the facts and you might have a chance.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Do the math


Like anyone else who does a job where the bottom line depends on getting out and seeing folks, I have goals that I'm expected to reach. They start out looking kind of benign. It's really two simple goals: 18-22 substantive contacts per month, and two contacts per year with the fifty top prospects in my pool. Oh, and there's a large dollar figure that our office is supposed to raise overall, but I don't really worry about that much.*

That doesn't sound too bad, right? I decided to apply my analytical self to figuring out exactly what those goals mean. Let's do the math, shall we?

18-22 contacts per month adds up to 264 or so for the whole year.

100 of those are taken up with my top fifty folks. I should be having two or three substantive contacts with different members of my top fifty prospect pool per week. I should also be able to move some of these top fifty toward some kind of meaningful gift, one assumes. Of course, in the absence of meaningful guidelines on who should constitute a top fifty prospect, I could totally neglect my stewardship obligations and only go after new people, or waste 100 visits on people who are perhaps not a good use of my time, or just go on visits who are fun to see (three-martini lunches, picking up the tab, exotic locations, what have you). I know better than to do that, but you can see how it could present a bit of a problem from a management point of view.

164 contacts are left to cultivate new relationships and advance people towards gifts that will make my employer happy. I need to be making at least three or four visits a week to reach this goal, and I'll need to try to reach many (many, many) more people than that to have any hope of getting there.

And so that's what I'll be doing. I know what I need to do: Develop my own criteria for "top fifty" and dump people who meet those criteria into my pool. Get appointments with them and any other human being who will see me, and don't stop trying to do this until my calendar is full from now until next Christmas. It sounds like one of those "if you do the work, it gets done" situations.

Does everyone here do this kind of analysis, I wonder?


* Why don't I worry about the dollar goal? Frankly, it's out of my hands. My job is to figure out who has money and interest in the place, and then get out and see those people. I cannot make them give money to me if they are not predisposed to want to get involved. I cannot make people who love the place rich so that they will have money to give. I cannot cause the market to go up and leave people with huge taxable gains at the end of the year that they're dying to give to my employer. These things are simply out of my control. What I can control is:

1. Knowing who has given in the past and taking good care of them so they might want to give again.

2. Treating everyone with an existing non-financial relationship to the place well, so those with wealth will think of it as a good place for their money and dreams.

3. Staying alert to opportunities.

That's pretty much it. If I'm spending my time seeing the right people (those with money, affinity and inclination to give), and I'm giving them the right experiences, I think the money part will take care of itself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another Take on the AT&T Telecommuting Business

From the Canadian paper the Globe and Mail, this article has some good perspective on the AT&T crackdown on telecommuting. I think it strikes the right balance between optimism and realism. Apparently HP is also scaling back telecommuting -- another tech giant with products that web workers use a lot. For goodness sake, what are they thinking? Of course, there are reasons these companies are cracking down. Unfortunately, they're not very good ones.

- Security: Nobody wants to be on the news when a telecommuter's laptop is stolen with everyone's name, SSN, and home address on it. But in a rigorous security environment, nobody should have sensitive data on a local drive anywhere in the organization, whether they are using that drive in a cube or on their patio. Poor security procedures are a problem no matter where your workers are.

- Accountability: If you can't see workers how do you know they're working? Well, kids, the corollary is true, too: just because you can see people doesn't mean they're working. There will always be people who abuse the privilege of working at home, in a cube, in an office, wherever. You'll always have to babysit some of your employees. As a manager you have to have real, measurable goals for every employee, and then measure their work against those goals -- I know it's a pain, but that's why you get paid the big bucks. If you can't tell what people are doing by what they produce, you need to look at your management practices. Reeling in hard-working telecommuters isn't going to help you be a better manager, and will only succeed in alienating your most self-disciplined and productive workers.

- Results: Telecommuting isn't saving us enough money, and our stock is in the toilet -- we must get all those people back in the office! Somehow if we make the workplace look like it did back when we were profitable it will be like it was then. So you revisit a classic logo, you start airing commercials that make people nostalgic for the big profitable you, and paint the offices the same color as in the 1990s. It's not going to work. The genie is out of the bottle and your workforce has changed, along with the rest of the world. Give it up and move on. You may have to actually innovate instead of rearranging the deck chairs on your personal Titanic, but like I said, that's why you get paid the big bucks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Taking Accountability to the Next Level

I think this is a really interesting idea: these guys at givewell.net are asking non-profits to really quantify what results they achieve with donations. Their methods sound a little hard to take (one charity said that the person who called them for stats and facts seemed evasive about what they were doing and for whom they were doing it) but the idea of taking accountability beyond the "how much do you spend on fund raising v. how much do you spend on your programs" is the right way to go.

When you're raising money, it is absolutely critical that the donations that people make go to the places they intended for them to go. That's it. So we need to have transparent and rigorous systems in place to account for this. If someone gives me $10,000 for the division of embarrassing problems, I should be able to follow that check into the accounting system and out the other end to address embarrassing problems. That is the bottom line, at least from the donor's perspective, and systems that allow me to quickly report that back to my donor are the minimum requirement for accountability.

In a perfect world, all non-profits would have tight fiscal controls that allow them to more quickly and easily answer the kinds of questions the GiveWell guys are asking them. Seriously, if I give you $10,000 for a particular use, say for repellent-infused mosquito nets, you should be able to show me that you really put $10,000 worth of repellent-infused mosquito nets into people's houses. Donors deserve it.

A special note to GiveWell -- you might could go ahead and get the .org version of your domain name instead of having an unfriendly 403 error display there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three Tips for Learning a Database


Rather than curse the darkness, Stella is going to light a little candle here. It seems that a lot of people never move beyond the basics of looking stuff up in a database: You need to find a person and you type his or her last name into the Last Name field and click find or submit or whatever. Congratulations! You are now working slightly more efficiently than if you had an index card file. The real power of any database is in finding groups of people who have things in common so that you can do things with them. For example, you could find everyone who had given to a particular area and then ask them to give more to a similar area. Or you could find everyone who lives in a certain area and then call them up to see if you can visit them. The possibilities are endless.

But if you're faced with an unfamiliar data structure, a completely horrible user interface, and no functional help files, how do you get from simple name look-ups to cooler stuff? Try these tips:

1. Don't be afraid. You're not going to break anything, really. In most databases you have to work pretty hard as a mere end user to mess things up, and so you'll be okay. If it asks you to save your changes and you either didn't intentionally change something or you're totally not supposed to change things, tell it to not save your changes. And if the database doesn't warn you before saving your changes, then it deserves what it gets and whoever manages the database should be taken out back, given twenty lashes with a slimy bit of pond scum, and then sent packing with his or her person still festooned with the aforementioned bit of pond scum.

2. Find a record that looks like what you are looking for. Let's say you know one of your constituents meets the profile of your target audience: he lives in Akron and has given more than $50 to the division of embarrassing conditions, and he's over 60 years old. Look him up by name and note where and how those other pieces of information (location, giving history, age) are stored in his record. Then head back to the advanced search interface and plug those criteria (location, giving history, age) into the right places, and suddenly you're finding groups of people who are like what you want.

3. Question your results. This may come as a shock to you, but databases are not magically created; rather, much like Soylent Green, it's peeeeeeeeeple. People make the data in your database. And people make mistakes. And store the wrong thing in the right field. Or store the right thing in the wrong field. And neglect to tell you that the advanced search features of their databases are terminally f*cked sub-optimal and cannot be relied upon. So anytime you're working with a new database or you're starting to push your knowledge of queries past the basics, it's important to go through your results with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that you have what you think you have. If it's a small, important group of results, I look at each one to verify that it does meet my criteria and that nothing unexpected has happened. If you have a really big result set, do some sampling to check it out. Look for problems -- someone who should not be on the list, at least on the face of it -- and then try to figure out how they got there. Unless your database is truly awful, there will be a reason that an out-lying record is there -- it's that people problem again.

With a little curiosity and some purposeful clicking, you'll be on your way to generating magical lists of people, places, and things to use in your work. And you can stop asking me to get you these lists. And that's good for everyone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Thing You Must Absolutely Know How to Do

I'm constantly amazed by people in the workplace, both in good ways and bad ways. The good? They're kind, interesting, and they often have wonderful talents that you might never discover if you didn't take the time to listen to them. The bad? I am constantly discovering that people lack the most basic skills in the software tools that they use every day. The most important thing that people don't know how to do?

Use application help.

I'm pretty good at using basic office productivity software (stuff to write, manipulate numbers, design and run presentations, you know the Office software I'm talking about here). So how did I get like this? I didn't attend instructor-led classes or have a private tutor. When I needed to do something that I didn't know how to do, I just fired up the online help in the application. I typed my question, I used the index, I picked through the help files until I found what I needed, and then I did it. It's pretty simple, really.

Look, people, a nice team of technical writers spent months or years going through that application with a fine-tooth comb discovering all the bells and whistles and documenting them. Most software (though certainly not all) will at least point you in the right direction when you're trying to learn how to use it. Most of the big label products also have tutorials -- lessons built right into the help files that will step you through all the tasks you need to create a new whatever-it-is-the-software-is-designed-to-help-you-make. But the technical communicators can only do so much for you -- at some point you have to take responsibility for your own growth as a software user and open up the book. Or, as I like to say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think.

I know that not everybody learns the same way, but between the tutorials that talk you through stuff, the "Show Me" features, the pictures and the words, and the fact that when you use online help you're theoretically actively engaged in a meaningful (to you) task and you have some motivation for completing it successfully (e.g. not getting fired) -- well, it sounds like most of the learning style bases are covered. Like I said, vast teams of specialized technical writers, learning and cognition experts, and other smart people spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways they can help you git-r-done with their software. It's their job.

I can't help but note the corollary principal here: It's not my job.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was shopping on my "lunch" break (really more of a brunch break) in part to have human contact because I was feeling a tinch isolated in the home office. I really got a lot of Christmas shopping done because I was in stores at a time when most people weren't, and it was a little heavenly. This year I'm constrained to shopping on evenings and weekends with predictable results -- a case of severe misanthropy combined with a certainty that I'm single-handedly propping up the economy.

That's okay, though, I'm sure the feeling will pass soon. And then I'll have a brief reprieve until September 2008 when the chipper retailers will begin pumping Christmas songs on the Muzak again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Telecommuting Takes a Hit


Why is it that when push comes to shove, telecommuting is one of the first things that takes it on the chin? People are buzzing about AT&T's move to rein in its telecommuters, under the guise of ... well who knows, really. What could they possibly be thinking?

First, they're going to lose a lot of great talent that will not be persuaded that their long-term telecommuting arrangements are somehow suddenly ineffective, even though they've been dutifully making money for AT&T from where ever they are for years.

But more important is the fact that AT&T/SBC is turning its back on a work trend that actually makes it a lot of money. When people work remotely they use telecommunication devices -- like the ones AT&T makes. Rather than have an internal base of people who could test products and lines of service and help them develop a strategic advantage around this growing market, they're going to pretend like it's 1991 and only weirdos (or would that be weirdi?) work in their slippers.

Come on, AT&T/SBC, wake up and smell the telecommuting.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Extra Time Isn't Always Useable


It's early here. I'm a naturally early riser, and that's a good thing, because I can do important things like run or blog. (But no running today, because I set the wrong alarm and woke up too late to really get to the gym and get things done. But I digress.) The extra hour or so that I can have in the morning is wonderfully useful to me personally, but I have a small problem:

I'm starting to call people with whom I would like to set up appointments to visit. These folks are busy professionals who have extremely demanding careers, and they are not at the numbers I have for them between 9:00 and 5:00. Okay, I should call them at home at night. The problem is that the best time to reach people is, sadly, during the dinner hour, say 6:45.

But dig it: that is the witching hour around my house, too. I've got children wanting dinner, homework help, nose-wiping, and the like. When I come home from the office I am on duty, like every other working parent (read "mom"). Some nights my beloved husband has been home all day and has a dinner plan and so on, but three nights a week I'm on my own to get things rolling until he gets home close to 7:00. By the time things (read "children") settle down, it's 8:30, too late to politely call another person if you ask me.

Possible solutions include: being a Fifties Dad and repairing to my home office with a martini and the phone to continue making calls. This may lead to certain feelings of hostility from my beloved husband who, like any reasonable person, appreciates help in distracting the children while he tries to prepare dinner. Plus on the days he's not here, this will most certainly lead to small children standing on the patio, pounding insistently on the office door and sobbing. And that's bad.

Okay, I could use my phone earpiece and try to make some calls on the short drive home and catch as catch can between 5:00 and 5:30, at which point a small and very talkative child joins me in the car and wants to tell me about rocks that she found on the playplound today. Risks include crashing the car because I'm a bit of a panicky idiot when it comes to driving and yakking.

Ummm....that's all I've got. Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finding the Middle Path





In my current work, I needed a way to manage tasks that I think of now, but which cannot be completed until some future date. It's really important -- if I say I'm going to phone someone in two weeks to follow up on their decision about something, I simply must do it.
The answer: a tickler file.

Now those of you who are Getting Things Done probably have some array of folders. This is nice, but big. I don't want to be dragging around a filebox, and because some of my calling and work has to happen after hours, I need the information with me in a convenient form.

I decided on index cards after I found the pictured index card binder. Great day in the morning, it's a wonderful thing. So here's how it works: I've got 1-31 for the days of the month, and then a Jan-Dec section for things that aren't this month. I move cards from day to day, and then I'll move next month's in at the end of this month. Pretty simple. For cards that are going to have a long life (for example, people that I'm working with and will be making a series of calls to over the course of a few months) I use a Sharpie to put the permanent information on the card -- name, phone number, class year and the like. I add the notes from my most recent call or my planned call in pencil, then as I transfer those notes into the core database, I erase and put my next planned action on the card, and rotate it into the day or month when I plan to call. I punch my own cards using a standard three-hole punch, and as I get things completely done, I just file away the completed index cards.
I feel a little obsessive-compulsive, but then I am reminded of things like this, and I don't feel so bad.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Remote Work in Hawaii

Under the category of "nice work if you can get it", I file this report: From the Honolulu Star Bulletin, a nice bit of reporting about how people are working from anywhere, including assorted coffee shops and mall food courts in Hawaii. Nothing in this article is earth shattering, it's just nice to think about people geeking it up in paradise, especially when it's 38 degrees outside and we might get a little snow tonight.

There are also some novel rules of coffee-shop-office etiquette at the bottom of the article. Scroll all the way down for gems like:

Buy clients a drink -- If clients are coming in to meet you, offer to buy them a drink. Don't use the cafe as a revolving office, where people come in and out without buying anything.
I think it's always a good idea to buy clients a drink. When will bars add wi-fi? Who needs video poker? I need a Guinness and a broadband connection, stat.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What Are You Doing, Stella?

Okay, so it's well known that I'm not telecommuting any more. I work in a real office, I waste time yakking with co-workers literally at a water cooler, I show up on time, I leave late, the whole nine yards. So where do I get off keeping the whole Stellacommute-Telecommute thing going on?

Part of my ongoing reason for keeping this blog alive is that I love writing about technology and the like, and this is a jolly place to do it. For all eight of you who visit me on a regular basis. And probably six of those visitors are actually me. Okay, whatever.

Another reason is that I maintain a fervent but secret agenda to go back to at least a part-time telecommute arrangement at some point. I'm still learning what the heck I'm doing in my job, and still proving that I can pull my weight, but I do believe that I'll keep working my way back to you, babe (e.g. working some of the time at the homestead).

And, as I discovered today, I'm keeping my edge even after achieving my goal. According to the nice folks at LifeHack, I've become a sportscaster, taking my real world telecommuting experience into the commentator's booth. It's really true: I achieved the complete, total dream of full time telecommuting for a job I loved from a place that I love. Then I kind of stopped loving the job as much, and something more challenging opened up, and I moved on. But I keep my hand in the telecommuting world by continuing to write about it, even if only in the wishful abstract. Swell!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

People Like the Telecommuting

Or wish they could find out whether or not they like it. That's the conclusion of a survey sponsored by Citrix (provider of one of my favorite pieces of remote-working software, Go-To-My-PC). The survey was actually relatively uninspired with regard to the questions it seems to have asked: Do you telecommute? Would you like to? Okay, thanks for your time.

But 23% of those surveyed say they do telecommute at least some of the time, and 70% would really like to.

Overcoming both management fears (they're goofing off! I can't sneak up behind them and catch them goofing off!) and worker fears (they'll think I'm goofing off! I'll never get promoted again!) is increasingly the critical part of successful telecommuting programs, it seems to me. The technology for working well from anywhere is now trivial, so it's time for people to change their behaviors to make it work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Productivity Perfectionism Follow Up


Courtesy of The Onion, which has, once again, hit the nail on the head with its insightful analysis of the issues of the day. We must all be vigilant to make sure that our efforts to Get Things Done don't actually get in the way of...ummm... getting things done. You know?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Perfectionism v. Happiness

My beloved former boss always used to scold us as we burnished the last little bits of our projects until the material wore thin: "Perfection is the enemy of done, and right now done is more important." And I would shudder a little bit, avert my eyes, and launch the code. And most often, nothing truly horrible happened, and the problems we did have were easily fixed. Of course, in software projects that last little bit of testing and bug fixing is really the least of the project and most of the critical work was done way earlier during analysis and design. And naturally, I would obsess over analysis and design prompting the inevitable Analysis Paralysis meeting with the big guy.

What you may detect here is that I am a bit of a perfectionist. My older child will tell you that I look over a math test and ask her why she got two problems wrong (not in an unreasonable way -- I just ask her to check her work and figure out where she went wrong, I'm not an ogre). I suppose I should focus on the twenty problems she got right, but that's hard for me.

It turns out that perfectionists can be more unhappy than slackers -- even seriously so with suicidal ideations, anorexia, and other self-harming behaviors undertaken in pursuit of artificial ideals. This Times article about the perfectionism got me thinking about the productivity blogosphere's mania for getting stuff done. While I'm sure that many of the people who are making lists at the altar of Dave Allen are out of control and need help, I suspect that many of the most enthusiastic practitioners are people who were already pretty together.

Perfectionism often makes you see a big problem that requires a big solution (43 folders, plus index cards, special pens, a Moleskine, and a relentless search for the perfect online task manager! Go!) when you really have just a small ripple in your generally well-organized world. Research has shown that the truly awful may not even realize that they are stinking at something like getting things done, and the people who think they are the worst at something may, in fact, be pretty competent. So the more you seek to improve how you apply structure to getting things done, the more unlikely it is that you actually need to improve dramatically.

And yet you feel like you must. Because you are a perfectionist. So you read another "squeeze every moment out of your day" blog entry. You feel guilty when you leave an email in your in-box for three days. You stay at the gym twice as long to make up for the day you missed.

Part of me thinks that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I always say that mental illness is only a problem if it gets in the way of living life, and if tweaking your productivity systems makes your brain happy, then go for it. But if you find yourself paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake or experiencing some small lapse in efficiency, then maybe it's time to pop a 'luude and force yourself to relax.

Now I've got to go sort towels so my linen closet is neat and tidy.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

X Marks the Spot


I went to hear a lecture by Marilyn Moats Kennedy about generations (you know, Boomers, Busters, GenX, Gen[wh]Y) last month that has been nibbling at the back of my mind. The talk was mostly about all these generations mixing in the workplace, and the well-documented challenges of managing this latest generation of folks in their early twenties to thirty.

It really got my goat. No, I don't have a goat, but if I did, it would be had.

I am a prototypical GenXer -- I'm all space shuttles exploding, Reagan declaring ketchup a vegetable, Madonna with the "boy toy" belt buckle, post-punk, riot grrrrl, I used a typewriter when I started my first job but by the end of the year we all had Macs and the typewriters were gone -- and I've been working for seventeen years now. It's almost accidentally turned into a career path at this point, so I feel like I'm not doing badly.

But the fact that GenX was barely mentioned in this lecture was very strange to me. Ms. Moats Kennedy was waxing rhapsodic about how GenY is so different and how boomers have to figure out how to deal with them. Among her insights (which were truly insightful):

  • GenY doesn't want to go out for happy hour with the crew from work. They want to go home and eat Lean Cuisine and go to the gym, and each drink they might have with you just translates into another hour at the gym. They don't exercise or play outside, also -- they just go to the gym and use devices specifically made for exercising.
  • You have to tell GenY explicitly what you want them to do -- if you want them to show up in a grown-up costume for meetings with clients instead of flip-flops, you must tell them to do so. They're happy to do it, but you need to be terrific - be specific.
  • GenY has been extremely attentively parented -- this is the first generation to have play-dates. You must schedule things with them and follow the schedule. They don't want to blue-sky, they want to follow the agenda, and will cheerfully work through whatever bullsh*t you put on the agenda. But don't expect them to enjoy a freewheeling bull session where you come up with twenty wild new ideas that may or may not pan out. Why don't you just tell them what product you want them to innovate.
Yes yes yes, this is all well and good, but here I am in GenX thinking, What about me? I mean, come on! I know there aren't as many of us, but heck, don't we deserve some kind of special management attention too? We're really utterly ignored now that GenY is proving to be such a pain in the collective behind. And I'm not the only one who's noticed.

Well, it turns out that GenXers are kind of a zelig in the workplace. We are really good at navigating the boomers' expectations, but we are also fully digital so we don't find GenY's focus on technology-mediated socialization that foreign (although we secretly think it's kind of bogus). We lived with self-absorbed boomer parents finding themselves throughout the seventies, we dealt with the absurdity of the eighties, we came into our own in the nineties (and everyone should be grateful to us for ending the era of hair bands and ushering in post-punk grunge), and now we should be running things in the aughts.

But we're not. All those dang boomers are not retiring, leaving us malingering in middle management. And we have to look out because all the self-entitled GenYers might run roughshod over us.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another post about posting

With this post, November now becomes the most blogged month since the 12 post May. I know I've been remiss, and it's in large part because I'm not telecommuting any more, and I'm more of an office drone than ever.

But here's my resolution as I enter month four of my Real Office lifestyle: I'm going to work in the next two weeks to set up appointments that will take me out of the office at least two days of the week as a rule.

Why is this relevant to the StellaCommute conundrum?

Because if I'm not in the office I'll be getting busy in my car, in my house, and other locations around the great state of New Mexico. And by "busy" I mean getting the other stuff done that I need to get done.

And that will help me refocus on the Stella themes of telecommuting, mobile working, and the whatnot and all.

See? This is much better than a metablog post about blogging.

I know I promised...

...not to meta-blog again, but I'm going to do it. Here's the issue, friends: Do you know why Stella put those blogs on her "Links Stella Likes" section over to your left? She put them there because she likes to read them.

I know that most bloggers can't post every day, but I'm starting to feel like kind of a loser when I check in on a blog and there's nothing new there. Sigh. I actually sigh. Yes, I should just put a feed in and then I'll be alerted to when changes are made because new stuff will pop up on my feed, but whatever. I'm old fashioned. I like to go to the library rather than use ebooks. I like to read the paper. I like to visit actual blogs and see what's changed, and I feel a little bit heartbroken when there isn't something new to read.

So blog, blog, blog, my comrades.

And I'll try to do the same.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New Family Member


Loyal Stella readers will be familiar with my existing former colleague/office mate/most excellent dog, Bettie (pictured here demonstrating her mastery of the "high-five" for last year's science fair project). Well, we've managed to convince ourselves that Bettie is lonely and also managed against the odds to locate a dog that is, dare I say, Bettie in Miniature. Meet Freda, a half wire haired dauchshund, half chihuahua mix. We'll see how she works out, but so far, so good. No yapping. No cat chasing. No biting. Lots of frisky play with our beloved Bettie.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Coping with Crackberry Addiction

A lovely little op-ed today appeared in the Times about tuning out the communication devices and getting more done, including relaxing, meaningful conversations with family, drinking pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain.

I have a Treo for the new job, but because they don't push email to mobile devices I have so far managed to avoid getting a serious addiction going. I think if it was buzzing on my hip every three minutes with new emails arriving, it would be much easier to get way into it. As it is, I have to whip it out, explicitly tell it to go get my email, then wait whilst it painfully downloads it all.

This suggests that setting your Palm-Berry up to work like this might be a good way to prevent or treat addiction.

Because I'm completely representative of the entire world, and my experience should guide everyone else's behavior.

Ummm, right.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

They do actually telecommute here

Stella is pleased to note that there are one or two telecommuters in her new Real Office. She is also sad to report that it turns out to be the worst kind of telecommuting. Yes, that's right, these folks are doing the "mommy telecommute". Our full-time telecommuting part-time worker doesn't keep routine hours, doesn't have a dedicated phone line that is business-only, doesn't use IM, and is often minding her two small children while working. (Actually, minding two small children while also trying to conduct non-child related work is more than working. It's just not effective working.) It seems to me that, in fact, her tasks are well-suited to remote work, but if it were my call, I'd insist on the things that make remote work work well for the people who are left holding down the fort, as it were. As it is, it's frustrating to everyone in the office.

What would I change?

1. Regular business hours: The people in the Real Office need to know when they can call and know that they won't be disturbing naptime. Everyone understands that you're working at home with small children, and nobody wants to be the jerk who calls just as the baby is drifting off. Help us out by telling us, "Hey, I'm always working between 8-10:30 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday."

2. Two Letters - IM: No human being can work off-site without making nearly constant use of instant messaging. I've now managed to get the whole Real Office using the IM amongst ourselves, and will be working with the telecommuter to do the same. That way, we'll be able to see her pop on the system, and know that she's botherable. It's absolutely critical.

3. Tell us what you're doing: I'm not sure what exactly this person actually does. I know she produces some stuff, but I find that she's often doing things that would inform what I'm doing, and I have NO idea. This means that you, as the telecommuter, need to initiate the conversation to tell me what is going on, make an extraordinary effort to show up at staff meetings, and the like. It's not fair that you have to go the extra mile, but that's the price you pay for working in your slippers.

I have an ulterior motive for making the telecommuter more effective and easier to work with. See, if I can make her work a success, that means maybe I can do it to, at least one or two days a week. I'm not as altruistic as I seem.

Surprise, surprise.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do you ever just skip a whole week in your mind?


I am finding myself becoming mildly disoriented in time and space because I'm skipping over entire week's worth of time because I know that it's all taken up with "stuff" and thus unavailable for getting stuff done. For example, next week there's something or other sitting in the middle of Monday, the office potluck occupying much of Tuesday, no one is going to do anything on Wednesday, then tryptophan-n-football Thursday, followed by finally-take-down-the-Halloween-decorations-and-put-up-luminarias-Friday.

Basically, the whole week is shot.

But then I found myself panicking because I jumped ahead to the week after next in my calendar and looked at what was scheduled there and began conflating the two weeks. Wait, I can't have a meeting with Dr. So-and-So on Monday, that time is all taken. Except it isn't.

I might just be an idiot, though. This possibility has occurred to me.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Okay, I might miss telecommuting a little

I don't want to be an anti-telecommuting bummer, and I realize that I haven't been as positive about the telecommuting as I was in the past, like, when I actually was a telecommuter. So, while I love my new job, I do miss some key things about telecommuting.

I miss the ability to be around the house to get little things done during the day. I love my house and it was fun to spend my lunch doing little yard things and whatnot. I find that even the short commute eats into the day, and now that it's dark so early, I feel like I'm getting less done than I should. This feeling is also probably compounded by the fact that I was traveling last weekend, so I really didn't get things done. We only got one out of three jack-o-lanterns carved, and managed to not take any pictures of Halloween costumes.

I also miss being able to work in a steady and concentrated way. I find myself feeling frustrated by the level of interruption in the real office, not so much for me, because I'm pretty good at focusing and keeping my head down, but moreso for my colleagues. Some days I see folks spending what seems like an inordinate amount of time massaging a project that really should be kicked out the door lickety-split. Or it seems like we veer from coffee, to a two hour luncheon with a prospect, to an afternoon meeting about how we're going to count planned gifts, to quitting time without actually doing anything.

But of course we are doing what we're supposed to do. We in development are at the whim of the donor, the doctor or scientist, the dean. We exist to make those other things happy and fulfilled, and sometimes that means dropping everything to get something done. So this kind of work is pretty different from programming and web stuff, where you have a project, it's mapped out and you hit your deliverables. Getting things done is a much fuzzier area, and sometimes it's hard to tell that you're really working, especially as you dine on a cobb salad at the country club. But trust me, it's work.

I may also be feeling a little negative because there are attempts to rope me into office politics. In the old job I had a long-standing reputation as a relentlessly positive vault. People knew they could piss and moan to me and I

a) would not comiserate, agree, or disagree

b) would not repeat what they said to the person or persons involved

c) would not fink them out to the boss

d) would try to see the best in the whole situation and make the complainer feel listened to and less miserable.

In the new job my attributes are not well known to my colleagues yet, and so they're actively trying to whip me into a frenzy around certain issues. Good luck. I am a rock, and I'm not going to repeat anything out of turn. Although I'm not sure if similar levels of discretion extend upward. But I'm learning to govern myself accordingly.

But I digress. What I'm really trying to say is that I seem to get nostalgic for the liberty of telecommuting and the familiarity of a long-time job when things in the new job get a little sticky. But that's okay.

Because I'm on the verge of raising some money, and that's going to be a nice kick in the pants.

Friday, November 9, 2007

There sure are a lot of shut-ins

This article(?) Op Ed(?) (I'm not sure and I can't quite tell from the labeling, but the tone is pretty opinionated) from the NYT is interesting because it points out some inconsistencies and new ideas in how the government can treat telecommuters and all non-traditional sub-fulltime something-less-than-employees better when it comes to taxes, health insurance, and the like.

What I found most compelling, though, is the graphic that shows how many telecommuters there are in various metro areas as compared with the national average of 3.5%. And 3.5% sounds like a lot to me. But maybe not.

Monday, November 5, 2007

For $260 a night

...wouldn't you think that the nice people at Marriott could throw in the high speed internets, you know, like, gratis? I mean, come on, how much bandwidth could I possibly be using? I'm just a little grumpy right now and not for any good reason.

Well, one or two kind of good reasons.

I was too cheap to pay the extra $10 a day to get the internets sent up to my hotel room, so I didn't get to calculate a potential giving total based on average gift size because I didn't have that data downloaded already. Thanks Marriott.

And because when the Marriott business center drones finally used their eyeballs to look for the package that the printer had overnighted my business cards in instead of their database they actually found the box. (That seems like a good thing, I know, but stay with me.) I opened the box and the printer had spelled both my last name and my email address wrong. Bummer.

But on the way way plus side, I had a fantastic meeting with the one prospect I'd managed to get to see me on this trip, and he was so gracious with his time and with his enthusiasm for what I was there to visit him about. It was truly the highlight of the trip, and it made me really increasingly sure that I've picked the right kind of job for me.

Plus medical conventions have this weird crossover with porn conventions (not that I've ever been to one, but I've seen documentaries on the HBO late night). It turns out that medical simulation is really going for some realism. I watched some med students demonstrate the assisted childbirth simulator, and wow. I think it actually may have been made from the cast of Jenna Jamison, but I could be wrong.

I digress again.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I'm in with the in crowd


If by "in crowd" one can mean "dorks who connect to airport wireless just because they can," then, yes, I am certainly in with the in crowd. I'm sitting here blogging in the Albuquerque Sunport (it's not an airport, but I don't notice the sun coming in for a landing per se, which is probably a good thing).

But I digress.

This will be my first trip with a laptop, and I'm looking forward to watching the first season of Ugly Betty on the flight -- thanks for the DVDs, Margret and Jared. We'll have to see if the benefits of lugging this thing across the country outweigh the...well...the weight. It's gotta be good for more than watching DVDs, I think, to justify my growing feelings of irritation.

I do have a plan for using it -- I need to calculate the gift potential of a pool of prospects that we're developing a strategy for, and so I can crank up a little spreadsheet to generate a nice picture of what five to ten times their previous giving levels would look like. Fun! After that, I can continue to do research in the donor database and on the internets to figure out more about those folks. And, of course, I'll be keeping up with office email to such a degree that I didn't bother to put an out-of-offiice reply on the thing.

I'm not on vacation, and they gave me the Treo and the laptop for some reason, so I can only assume they mean for me to stayon top of things. Seems reasonable.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Does my butt look big in this budget statement?

There is a really interesting piece in the NYT today by Lisa Belkin that rounds up a bunch of the research on perceptions of different kinds of female behavior in the workplace. The gist of it is:

...whatever was most valued, women were seen as lacking it.
On the one hand, the research that she cites seems like real research, and inasmuch as sociology research is science, that's pretty real. The studies are ingenious -- hiring students to play Boggle and telling they'll be paid some amount between $2 and $10. In that one, most of the women accepted the first (low) offer without further question, and most of the men didn't.

Super.

But I was also thinking to myself as I read this article: gosh, all this navel gazing about how we're perceived in the workplace seems like a big distraction from actually getting the work done, doesn't it? I was reminded of the fashion magazines' relentless nitpicking on female appearance. Is my hair glossy enough? Do I have bilbobaggins under my eyes? Should I be thinking about laser surgery? Does my butt look big in this? And I've noticed that if you try not to spend time caring about whether your butt looks big, it frees up your time for fun things like reading a book, enjoying a run around the block with your kids, or blogging.

So the corollary: If I'm spending any of my time fretting over whether I got too angry or not angry enough in that workplace situation, it seems like some of my valuable brainpower is not directed at my work.

Although apparently directing the full force of my brain at work will make me seem like a grind, and that's a negative quality for a woman.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Here's a hypothetical situation

What would you do if you had mentioned to a colleague that you liked literature, for example. Let's be honest: you love literature, and you know a lot about it. You have wide ranging taste honed by years of reading and you really, really know what you're talking about when you make critical comments about things that you've read.

Imagine if you will that this colleague, a nice person who has a lot of skills that s/he brings to the job, starts foisting terrible, awful books on you with the intent of having you read them. And then this coworker for whom you have the highest professional respect begins asking you what you thought of the books s/he passed on to you. And then, after you gently told him or her that they weren't your cup of tea, this person continued to pass increasingly horrible tomes on.

What would you do?

My recommendation is to smile thinly as you accept them, and then don't read them, whilst reiterating the opinion that they're not your cup of tea. Steer strongly away from discussions of precisely what it is that prevents the offering from being your cup of tea, for you will surely launch into a sharply worded and incisive critique of the volume at hand.

But then again, I am an unrepentant liar.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Search engines can yield strange results

I was actually looking for groovy seventies-style tube socks like we had when we were kids for a Halloween costume. I typed in "tube socks" and I got a page full of tube tops, and this handy item: The 2007-2012 Outlook for Womens and Misses’ Finished Anklets, Slack Socks, Crew Socks, and Athletic Socks Made from Manmade Fibers Excluding Sheer Hosiery in Greater China.

Ummm...okay...

How many $495 treatises like this do you think Target moves in its econometrics book section in a month, would you say?




Stella Did It


I ran 13.1 miles and didn't die on the course and/or walk over the finish line. I know, all y'all marathoners are snorting into your Gatorade, but this was pretty far for me. In fact, it's the farthest I've ever "run" (if you can call 11:00+ minute miles "running").

Nevertheless. I did it. Lo hicimos. (Yes, I know that's technically "We Did It" but it's all the accomplishment spanish I've learned from Dora The Explorer).

And now I'm looking forward to not running for just a day or two. My feet are killing me, far more than my legs or any other part of me. It's a small price to pay for a feeling of accomplishment.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to find my Sister Mary Francis shoes to wear to work tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sure I could make coffee at home, but...


Would it be this beautiful? I spoiled it a little bit by putting some sugar in the middle of the design that Andre the coffee cart guy put in my latte foam today. I must say that not only does the coffee really taste great, but the attention to detail makes it worth my time and money to stumble out to the lobby of my building to get it.
Yes, there is free coffee down in the executive dean's office, and it's pretty good, but there just isn't the love that I can taste in the coffee cart offerings. And frankly the "International Delights" creamlike substance doesn't really make up the difference.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oh, For Pete's Sake

Why-o-why can I not get my LLL (luscious little laptop, not La Leche League, silly!) onto my wireless network at home? I know my router should be able to assign it an IP (especially since I restarted the whole rig so that everything would start at the begining of the IP range on my network). I know that my LLL has a rocking wireless connection because I was able to fork over my ten bucks for five hours of T-Mobile Wireless at the Hyatt a couple of weekends ago when I was working an event there.

Maybe I should become one of those horrible customers and call the IT guys at home on a Sunday night and ask them why some crazy-ass network that they have absolutely no knowledge nor control of is being difficult.

Maybe not.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Job Resolutions, Revisited

I boldly made some resolutions about the new job. You may have thought, "Good luck with all that, loser." Well. The amazing thing is that I'm actually doing pretty well on some of them.

Managing email effectively: This is something I'm rocking on. My in box has only new email in it, and I'm using folders organized around the different areas of my work. I'm keeping a lot of email for reference because often when I first receive something I don't understand the full significance of it (what with the being new and somewhat confused). But an explicit filing system means I can go back and find it without resorting to searching for a string of words in the message.

The only downside is that when the institutional email server has a major problem with what day it is and archives everything in those folders, it can be hard to work. Fortunately all my email and appointments came back from beyond the grave, so all's well that ends well.

Learning about stuff: This is the best part of my job. I get to learn about the whole organization and get a grip on it daily. Some of it is just because everything is new and so if I'm aware of it at all it's because I'm learning and growing every day in every way. But still.

Not turning into an annoying customer: I think I'm failing miserably at this. Each day the database irritates me in some new and exciting way. And it's not just the database, it's the crazy sloppy data -- like a record with the mailing name "The Such-and-Such Family" that was given the record type "Individual" (which should signify a person. Just one.). I know, I should pop a 'lude. Whatever.

Not turning into a grind: I am eating lunch with my colleagues almost daily, but I'm also not taking time off during the day to do things I want to yet. We'll see how that goes as I get my feet under me.

So not bad. The biggest surprise for me is how much starting out with a firm grasp on my email and not letting it go actually helps me do things. If you're thinking about either declaring email bankruptcy or you have an opportunity to start fresh, I really recommend this.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sometimes the Drive Isn't Bad At All




Here's something I never really saw during my patio-based commute. It's Balloon Fiesta time, and, fatalities aside, it's pretty spectacular, even if you're not in the two-hour traffic backup around Balloon Fiesta Park.




Nice.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Do I Miss Telecommuting?

I've been working in a Real Office now for a little over a month, and I'm trying to decide if I miss telecommuting. Well, yes and no.

Yes, I miss the smug feeling of rolling out of bed, performing minimal ablutions and hitting the computer in my slippers. It was fun to have a unique arrangement, and I felt like I was part of a cool trend. I miss not having to drive the car to get to work, and I miss being able to dart out in the middle of the day to hit Target, the grocery store, or other conveniences of modern shopping. I miss being able to serve baked potatoes on a week night because I was able to shove them in the oven promptly at five, even after I'd gone running and picked up the baby at preschool.

I am forced to draw your attention to the fact that none of the things that I miss were actual attributes of my job. They were the things around my job that telecommuting made easier.

I don't miss worrying about whether I am working hard enough to stay in touch with people. I am glad I don't have to constantly be available and chasing people down to reassure them that I do still work there, and that I can be called during east coast hours without regard to what time it may be here in the 'Burque. I am glad that I have my early rising benefits again (e.g. I can go running in the morning before work, rather than working in the morning). And I don't miss the meandering and largely irrational direction my technical work was taking, and how increasingly un-fun it was without my old boss there to provide a spirited intellectual dialogue.

In the new job, I'm pretty focused: I've got a goal, I need to dig up people who I can cultivate, and whose money can be put to work to advance that goal. In the course of doing this, I can send emails, I can write letters and print pieces, I can put on events, I can talk to people, or all of the above. It's kind of up to me. And I get to spend all day learning about science and medicine from people who are doing some pretty cool things that really, actually make people's lives better. Like, their actual, factual LIVES saved...by the stuff I'm raising money for.

I can bake potatoes on Sundays.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

...Party All the Tiiiiiiime...


As in, "My girl wants to..." Say what you will about Rick James, he was a brilliant lyricist.

I'm home finally after working reunion weekend events, and while it was fun, it turns out that working parties is much more like work than partying. I also have some self-imposed rules (I don't drink, I stay until the bitter end) that make it grueling. But mostly it was a lot of fun to help people have environments where they could reconnect with their classmates and enjoy themselves. Yesterday was a pretty long day, though: from 6:30 in the morning to set up for the continuing education sessions until 11:30 or so at night when the band finished packing out of the evening event.

Things I learned:

1. I should thoroughly prep to introduce speakers even for somewhat informal presentations. I'd like to send a big "Sorry" to my speakers at my morning sessions.

2. We should have had "Our University Alumni Association" notepads and pens for the continuing education session. People would have taken them and used them for the session and back in their professional lives. Free marketing-o-rama.

3. People expect wine gratis with a $75 dinner. They will share with you their disappointment when it is not gratis, and really they're right. We'll do better next year.

4. Picking up an event that was half-planned before the planner quit makes it hard to really get the kind of event that you would want. Doing so when you yourself have spent less than a month on the job is particularly unsatisfying, because you will have no idea how to get done the things that need doing to make the tattered remnants of the event planning better.

5. Hotels have some kind of kitchen magic that allows them to deliver 80 filet mignons that are still rare inside. I can't seem to get potatoes and chicken breasts done at the same time for a family of four, so I have no idea how 80 hot dinners show up at once.

6. You'd be surprised at who will dance to a competent live band. Like almost everyone at the reunion. I was stunned and amazed (and completely wrong in my early misgivings about the band when I saw them setting up their seemingly too large cabinets and sound system). The band was beyond competent, and the guests who stayed late really enjoyed dancing. At several points the dance floor was, dare I say, packed.

7. A party at an alumnus' house can really get going when a classmate shows up with a bottle of Patron to share.

Good times. Good times.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Crime and Education


This week our temporary secretary had her purse stolen from under her desk -- the whole thing was just gone, with all her wallet stuff, her house and car keys, prescriptions, just everything in it. Of course, this kind of thing is not uncommon, but it's a serious drag. She's had to deal with getting everything cut off, changing the locks on her house and car, monitoring her credit for identity theft, and calling the people from whom she had checks in her purse to tell them to watch their credit rating and bank accounts since the thief has their information too.


Blick.


But it got me thinking about the general security and safety of our office. Aside from doing the basics like locking up handbags and valuables (which we should have been doing anyway) there are a number of security concerns with the building. We're located in the same space as Financial Aid, Student Accounts, and Admissions -- all areas that could attract an irate and deranged person bent on violence. We look out on the central plaza for the health sciences schools. And of course, it's an open campus and anyone can walk in or out at any time, all the time.


Note to readers: I'm not really paranoid. I was charged with preparing disaster recovery and emergency response plans for the old job, and so I did a fair amount of reading on this subject. And I might have been known as "Miss Worst Case Scenario". But I digress.


Our university has a system similar to this one, and I was very pleased to read that it worked well at St. Johns University during a scenario similar to the ones I've thought of. I've signed up for the one here, but I don't know if they test it or are just hoping that it will work if they need it.


I hope I never have to find out.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Something Else You Can Do At Home

You know, it's not all computer work that I can take home these days. Last night I spent a bit of out-of-office time hitting craft stores to look for stuff to make into re-usable centerpieces. If you didn't know already, fund raising work is a job comprised almost entirely of "other duties as assigned". We're writers, strategic thinkers, financial analysts, and party planners!

Given that the event is a couple of days away, I'm not sure I'll be able to come up with something that will work. Plus Hobby Lobby closes at eight in the 'Burque, and so by the time I wrassled the youngsters into bed, there was not much time to find what I needed. Alas. I'll see what the Hyatt wants to offer in terms of hotel-issue centerpieces.

Note to self: We absolutely must keep the new alumni relations staff member happy and engaged through next year's reunion events. It is sub-optimal to pick up an event that was halfway planned by an employee who was walking out the door. It is even worse to do so in your third week on the job when you know little to nothing and are trying to make a good impression.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Back to Work-at-Home Norms

Okay, so I'm working at home today (well, not right this second, I'm blogging right now but I'm going to get back to working here in just a minute) and I think that this working at home is much more typical of the majority of people who are working at home.

Because it's Sunday.

I'm not working at home in lieu of going to the office. I'm not making my own hours because I'm a free-wheelin' fun-lovin' contractor and I can do what I want as long as I bill enough.

No. I'm working at home because I need to read through my draft fund raising letters in peace and think long and hard about whether we're taking the right approach, and I haven't managed to get to this during the standard workweek.

In the office, I find that I'm tempted to say, "What do I care, I've been here for three weeks, I'm sure that whatever they decided to do last year is fine for this year." But I don't think that's the right thing to do, for a number of reasons. For one, my new boss is coming off a significant illness, and I'm thinking that some prior decision making might have been deferred, given how those kinds of things go. Also, I know how to write and I'm sure that there are some improvements I can make. (Readers of this blog may demur, but really, I'm not a bad little wordsmith. Really.) But mostly I can't stand to think that I didn't really give it my best shot.

So I've fished the drafts out of web mail and I'm sorting through them on Sunday. I suspect that this kind of working at home is the most common: most people have a bit more to do than they can accomplish during the 9-5 bits, and so we work extra "from home".

I am wearing slippers. I am not a full-time teleworker any more. And that's okay by me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Having Dedicated IT Is a Good Thing and a Bad Thing

Dear readers, Stella knows she hasn't been writing like she should, but give a girl a break. I'm starting a new job after more than nine years of total stability (at least in terms of the circumstances of my employment, if not the actual daily duties of said employment which in fact changed so dramatically and regularly as to make my head spin). There have been one or two things to take care of, not least of which is remembering to put on Real Shoes before I leave the house for the Real Office. I'm pleased to report that after a week of steady grown-up shoe wearing that my feet did not enter a state of agony today, a major accomplishment.

My Home Office-Real Office insight for today is this: real IT support is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it is a bit of a relief not to have to horse around with my router, firewall, networking settings, opening ports, configuring which virus scanning server to avail myself of, and the like.

On the other hand, I must wait for people to do these things for me. I'm finding that the few things that I'm able to do in the new job are being somewhat hampered by my lack of access to assorted network crap, or want of the client-server version of the database app installed on my laptop. It is tough to adjust to being a mere customer rather than a purveyor of these services, and to add insult to injury I know no one and thus don't know where to go to get the things I need done done.

And please don't get me started about what an idiot I feel like for not being able to prise the laptop off the DVD drive/psuedo-docking station. I'd like to use the real docking station and thus be able to undock the thing, but when I unlatch the DVD bit, I feel that I may break the whole rig by dragging it apart too vigorously.

I am a mere customer, with problems that will surely make the dedicated IT staff roll their eyes. Let me just apologize up front.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And So It Goes




It's the end of my first day of semi-unemployment (e.g. the vacation I'm taking between the two jobs) and I used the time to




...get the carpets steamed. Wow were they dirty. Now they're beautiful again. And that fresh smell in my house is from actual cleaning for once, rather than excessive Febreeze use. Always something new.




...move the work computer into the house, as I'm purchasing it from my fine employer rather than pack it up and ship it back to them. I'm blogging on it now!




...convert the office into a music room. Just in case you loyal readers were worried about the renovations we completed earlier in the year going to waste, we've quickly converted it into our rock-n-roll palace.




I know what you're thinking: that was quick. And it was, but I think that I've been gone in my mind for quite some time. I'm psyched about the new job, and having all the amps somewhere we can play them easily.




It's a win-win.




Monday, August 20, 2007

New Job Resolutions

It's been so long since I've changed jobs that I'm kind of struggling to picture in my mind what it's actually going to be like to have an empty in-box, or the opportunity to make a first impression again. I guess this is actually kind of sad. If you can call extreme career stability sad.

In any event, I want to try and take all the lessons I've theoretically learned from the GTD-Productivity-Zen things that I've read over the years and get started on the right foot in the new job. To that end, I'm making some resolutions:

  • I will manage my email effectively. I'll be damned if I'm going to have a couple hundred emails in my in-box. Not. Going. To. Happen. I've actually been doing pretty well at this in the current job, but every time I spend any time out of the office I end up with a big pile of unresolved issues that takes more than a day to work through. I am hopeful that if I really attend to keeping the email under control that I will stay on the path of email righteousness.
  • I am going to take the time to understand the whole context of my new work environment. This is something that I'm really excited about -- the opportunity to learn about an entirely new organization and really immerse myself in it. I had the same experience in my old job by virtue of serving as a trainer. I met almost everyone from every part of the university and worked hard to keep my eyes open to their challenges and issues. I'll be working in a division in the new job, and it can be easy to isolate yourself in the issues of your particular office (as I discovered from observing my divisional colleagues). I pledge to work hard to get my brain outside myself and my department.
  • I promise to not turn into one of those annoying customers who drive the IT shop nuts. Yes, I used to do their jobs, but no, I will not point this out to them repeatedly (as some of my current colleagues have done over the years). I will not ask for direct access to the tables in their database so I can run my own sql scripts against them. I will not point out all the ways that their database is inferior to the one I currently work on. I won't do it. I may need horse tranquilizers to accomplish this goal given my proven inability to keep my mouth shut, but I will try.
  • I will not be a grind and eat lunch at my desk. I will ask colleagues out to lunch, I will use lunches to get to know key non-development players in the school where I work, I will get out of the office. Yes, it's my job, but it's also something that I've been traditionally bad at. I resolve to get out.
  • I will ask for and/or make time for the things I want to do during the day right from the start. If I want to volunteer for an hour one morning a week at my kid's school library, gosh darn it, I'm going to do it. I've written before about what a grind I am and how I've managed to turn telecommuting into as much of a grind as going into the Real Office, and I'm going to try a different path.
  • In this same vein, I will work actively to fold telecommuting into what I'm doing. There is no reason that I can't and won't make calls, write letters and notes, analyze reports, and so on, from my comfy home office. Why give me a laptop if you don't want me to be productive from wherever I am? By the way, thanks for the sweet little laptop! I saw it when I went in to sign the paperwork, and I am stoked to get my hands on it. Although I may bring in my spare monitor so that I can really enjoy time spent in the office with it!

That seems like enough to get started on. Any other suggestions?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Pseudo-First Day of Work

I've spent the past couple of days immersed (somewhat) in my new gig with a local university. The development staff was attending a retreat designed to enhance fund raising skills, and my new boss was nice enough to invite me to attend two weeks before I officially start. So I've spent the last two days strapped into the most grown-up clothes I've worn in more than a year, and in shoes. All day. Listening to trainers talk about motivating donors, and using our personality profiles (I'm high-pace) to work effectively with people to move them toward giving.

I must tell you that I haven't felt so comfortable and ready to start a new job since I started with my current-but-soon-to-be-previous employer almost ten years ago.

I feel like the organization and the work that is expected of me is an ideal fit, and I have absolutely no reservations about making this change now.

Yes, I will miss my slippers, and being there after school, and all the good things about telecommuting full time, but I am ready to grow and really kick some ass in this new job.

A funny telecommuting-related aside: many people know I'm coming from a university in Baltimore and I spent a good portion of the day explaining that I wasn't house-hunting, but that I had been here in the 'Burque for a little over a year, all whilst working for my employer. Yes, from home. Remember, these are development people, and in this business, face-to-face contact is the absolute gold standard for our work. The idea that I could work like this was troubling to people, almost unbelievable.

I'm sure they'll get over it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Time Zone Mayhem: A Good Thing and A Bad Thing

As I count down the days remaining in my full-time telecommuting gig, I'm reflecting on the good and the bad that I will miss. And one aspect of my work has always been a bit of a love-hate: the time zone thing.

I work east coast hours from the mountain time zone, and I've complained and raved about this over the year+ I've been doing it. On the one hand, being at work at six in the morning is really not that much of a problem for me, because I am naturally a morning person. I rarely am awakened by my alarm clock, and I really am at my best in the morning.

Likewise, wandering out of my office around three in the afternoon is lovely. I can hit the gym, be around after school, and generally have some "me" time in the afternoon before I have to fetch children and so on.

But one thing that I miss is being able to have productive time before other people show up in the office. When I worked in the Real Office I would often get in quite early (like six in the morning) to really get something critical done. I was sharp, and the office was empty. But when my "early" is everyone else's "on time", I find that I don't have that feeling of getting extra done. That early productive time is spent doing regular stuff.

I've also been concerned that I won't have as much time for my daily tidying and cooking and all the things I've been enjoying over the past year of working at home once I transition back to a Real Office setting. But I realized today when I was reading this Zen Habits post that my early rising might actually start doing me some good again. Except instead of plunging headlong into the work day I'll be able to run a quick mile with the dog, start a crockpot dinner, cuddle with the baby (who is three today and would be quite upset to see herself described as a baby -- good thing she can't read), et cetera.

But we'll see how that goes.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Stella's Making a Change

It's official: I am returning to the world of regular-ole-office workers. I know that you, my dear readers, may find this shocking, or perhaps distasteful, but it must be done. All the paperwork was finally completed to the satisfaction of the rulers of HR last week, and so all that remains is to serve out my four weeks notice, and fly to Baltimore one last time for a going away party.

I really tried to get out of having a going away fest. They're awkward, I don't want to cry in front of people (which I very well may do), and my frugality on behalf of my employer is offended by the notion that they would pay good money to fly me out there for a relatively pointless endeavor.

But another thought occurred to me: much like funerals, going away parties are really for those who are left behind.

My dear colleagues will be left not only with my stultifying workload and the responsibility to train my replacement. Don't they deserve some crab dip and a domestic beer or glass of volume-discounted wine on the house? I do wish that employers did more to reward the folks who stay put. You should get flowers or a "Thanks for sticking with us, big guy!" card, or some kind of recognition each time you pass your hire-date anniversary, if you ask me. After nine years of 1.5% raises and training replacement after replacement after replacement for other folks who have left my institution, it is sad but true that I must quit in order to get some scallops wrapped in bacon in my honor.

Although I may have to suggest healthier food...I am training for a half-marathon, after all. But it's not about me, it's about those I've abandoned in the throes of a corporate culture shift.

Let the crab dip flow like water!

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Best Thing About Telecommuting Is...

...being at home for the summer with my eleven year old daughter. I don't pay attention to her all day, she probably isn't as productive as she should be (violin practice, anyone? unloading the dishwasher without reminding? whatEVer.), and I'm sure that actually going to a summer program or camp of some kind would have been more fun for her.

But it is great to not have to worry about where she is and what she's doing for the summer. And she goes back to school in about three weeks, so the "keeping her busy" is almost over.

I will miss this aspect of working from home. But I'll cope, I'm sure. And she's excited at the prospect of getting a cell phone because I won't be home when she gets home after school.

It's the little things.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Questions Potential Shut-Ins Should Ask Themselves

From Life Hack, this interesting post presents some of the questions that people who are thinking about wearing slippers as a work-style should consider before taking the plunge. For me the most serious consideration is the isolation from the main group of people that I work with. I can (and do) socialize a lot in my real life, but not being out and about amongst my Real Office colleagues is a bit of a barrier to getting stuff done, at times.

I'm just saying.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What's Going On

Even when you work in the Real Office all the time, it can be hard to really know what is going on when change is afoot in an organization. For the long-term shut in, getting plugged in and staying plugged into the scuttlebutt is critical during times of change.

I have a network of contacts that I keep up with, but making sense of the intelligence I receive is hard. I feel a bit like the three (or four or six) blind men and the elephant -- each person touches different parts of the changes that are transpiring, and thus has a wildly variant opinion about what is going on. I spend a lot of time filtering and correlating to determine what is really going on.

Luckily I have a long history with the organization, and this helps me with placing it all in context. But I discover something new everyday, and I'm realizing more and more that keeping those intelligence (okay, gossip!) networks alive and well is a big part of my job now.

Sounds productive, doesn't it?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fighting for Focus


Maybe it's just because I'm hitting a lot of roadblocks in the getting my job done lately, but I'm struggling with remaining focused. What with flakey connections to my remote PC, terrible videoconferencing technical difficulties induced by people over whom I have no control randomly resetting firewall and Polycom settings, insane three-hour meetings during which I can hear every third word because of the aforementioned connection and videoconferencing difficulties, it's no wonder.


And naturally this is compounded by anxiety as I await an official job offer that will, like Calgon, take me away from all this.


I find it exasperating to be making progress on something only to be stymied by some technical hiccup that slows things down, and this leads to distraction. When something is taking a long time to run, compile, come up, show up, whatever, I just pop over to another window and start doing something else. When I've got every real thing that I'm trying to work on stuck, then I really feel like I'm being driven slowly mad by the internets.


I don't have any insight or solution. I'm really just complaining.


Maybe I should just work on one thing at a time and accept that I'll be doing it slowly whilst waiting for the system in question to get its act together. Perhaps it's like coping with an injury -- I just need to accept that I won't be able to use my broken left leg as fast as I would like until it heals. I can try to run a marathon on it, but it is unlikely that I would have much luck at that. Perhaps the same is true on somewhat hobbled systems I'm working with -- I just need to get the Zen mind kicked into gear and be in the moment of waiting for it to return my results, be appropriately configured and patched, or what have you.


Yes, be in the moment. I'm breathing deeply.
(Image from pushindaisies.com)