Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
You may have it bad, but not as bad as people who commute ninety minutes or more each way to work. Computer World reports that the Transportation Research Board finds average commute times rising and more people are moving into the category of EXTREME COMMUTER. I did some time as a Baltimore to DC commuter, and it is truly hellish to be in your car ninety minutes or more every day; public transportation is only a bit better, and the TRB says train- and bus-jockeys commute twice as long as those in cars.
Tucked in the headline and getting only one mention in the body of this article is the report of a survey that finds:
The growing travel times for physical commuting may encourage more businesses to
offer telecommuting options if workers consider time traveling to work as
wasted. A survey of 1,400 chief financial officers said offering telecommuting
as an option is the second-best way to attract top job talent.
Of course, the best way is more money, but having your work day not eat two or three hours of your home life because you have to get to some office. People are waking up to the undeniable fact that it does not make sense to drive two hours just to get on a computer and get back on the Internet. I'll try to track down the original study to see what other conclusions it might have about the importance of telecommuting as a beneft.
Once again that behemoth, the General Services Administration, is actively working to encourage telecommuting. One reason, according to a study covered in this article in EWeek, is because federal workers just aren't taking advantage of the programs that exist:
Just 140,694 federal workers telecommuted in 2005, 7.7 percent of the
federal work force and less than one-fifth (19 percent) of those who were
eligible, according to a report released by the U.S. General Services
Administration Jan. 29 as part of an effort to attract more workers into their
On the face of it, this seems like kind of an indictment of remote work, but the study goes on to reveal GSA's real interest in promoting telework:
In data collected from their 14 telework centers, the GSA found that these
facilities had saved commuters nearly 2.8 million miles of travel, or 115
thousand gallons of fuel and 2.3 million pounds of emissions.
Telework = big savings (and, as many survey respondents noted, career satisfaction). For the people who throw caution (and their concerns about ever being promoted again), most react positively to working without spending quality time in their cars staring at the bumpers in front of them.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Naked computing may be the latest trend in some places, but this is something that I just can't endorse. First of all, I use a webcam for hours every day and I never know when someone is going to pop in on me, visually. Second, I find that getting up, showering, putting on a happy face (e.g. some makeup so as to ward off comments like, "Are you feeling all right?" and, "Are you sure you're breathing?!?!"), and donning clothes that would pass muster on Extremely-Casual-Friday to be essential parts of making a successful transition to the office. It really helps a lot, because I don't have a long drive during which to do these things any more.*
The reasons not to do this kind of thing are legion: Really, shouldn't people be concerned about overheating fans on laptops getting all hot on their bidness? What about getting suntan oil on your flatpanel? Your laptop could get knocked off your lap by an errant volleyball and then what?
Naked telecommuting is a bad idea, most importantly, because eventually someone in the Real Office will find out and then everyone will be picturing you naked and goofing off for the rest of your remote work tenure. Which is bad.
* I would never put makup on during a drive. I don't even talk on the cell phone. I forbid people who drive my children in their cars from talking on phones whilst driving. I'm not kidding about that.
From Web Worker daily, these are some great phone conferencing tips. It's not ony the remote worker who spends too much time in phone conferences -- everyone does this these days. I also recommend having a good desktop sharing application like GoToMeeting -- even if you're not able to see each other, using these tools allows you to point out the part of the document you're discussing at the moment and so on. Very useful.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I'm frankly torn. The American Telecommuting Association thong-th-tho-tho-thong is really awfully nice, but such a gift might constitute fostering a hostile workplace. In this modern age, Killer Bunny Slippers might be a safer choice for the telecommuter's manager to send along to recognize his or her far flung workers' dedication and self-discipline. The nice people at Think Geek have them available in many sizes that will fit the most gargantuan or lilliputian telecommuter out there.
I, for one, am counting the days. And flossing my ass.
Well, the state of the nation is strong apparently, and reducing our consumption of oil is a priority. Well super-de-duper. How about incentives for employers large and small to encourage telecommuting in addition to fuel technologies, automobile efficiency, and all that jazz.
The technology for effective telecommuting already exists and works pretty darn well. It's self contained and fairly explanatory. How much could eliminating your commute save? The Metro Washington Council of Governments has this cool tool to calculate the dollar savings telecommuting could give you.
Heck, I don't get in the car for days on end. Sure I might be getting a little cabin fever, but I'm not burning as much gas as I would if I were making even a short drive to the Real Office every day.
Monday, January 22, 2007
The agency believes that this program will improve work force recruitment and retention, reduce traffic congestion and pollution in the Washington, D.C., area, and deliver substantial cost savings. It expects to have 3,300 employees participating in this program by 2011.
The next best thing to being there? The Baltimore County School System Home and Hospital Center, a unit charged with teaching students who will be out of school for more than four weeks, is using real-time conferencing to teach students over the internet.
School administrators and teachers point out that because they are teaching
real-time Web-conferencing, the homebound students' experiences are similar
to what they would have in a regular classroom.
You can see the whole Baltimore Sun Article here, but the gist of it is that a combination of a shared workspace (not videoconferencing, but a shared whiteboard online) and telephone conferencing is proving very effective for teaching students all kinds of subjects. Having shared visuals is better than just a phonecall, too, students and teachers report in the article.
The technology really is essential. Being literally on the same page whether you're in the same meeting room or different timezones is key to everyone in a meeting or conversation understanding and following.
When we bought this place, we knew that a home office was the key ingredient -- the move was predicated on me becoming a successful full-time remote worker so the office was not optional. We found a place that had the right price, enough bedrooms for each of the kids to have one to herself and an "extra room" -- an addition that opens off one of the girls' bedrooms and that also opens off the patio. And thus, my office was born, but we lacked an extra room to serve as a guest room.
- Getting rid of or otherwise storing all the junk that is in there.
- Moving the electrical bits so they're not blocking part of the window opening.
- Installing a ceiling fan/light fixture.
- Installing a secure glass door and window.
- Painting and/or doing something with the walls.
- Installing carpet. (Yes, I know that it would be more practical to put tile in there, but it's cold here and carpet seems more welcoming. I don't do that much zooming around on my office chair casters anyway.)
- Installing baseboards/moldings.
- Schlepping all my office crap across the patio.
- Determining what we'll do about heating. In the short term, an oil-filled space heater will do the trick. A final heating determination will depend on whether we also do the garage-into-family-room conversion, at which point we might put an additional heat-pump kind of thing on the side of the house for both heating and cooling. We're thinking of the Mr. Slim split ductless heat pump. It's a pretty groovy device.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I'm much more oriented in space and time now that I've got both batteries replaced. I can tell that it's lunch time in the Real Office and that's why nobody is answering the phone. Or that it's three o'clock here and that's why the children are coming home from school.
There are a few tools I use that make my lifestyle possible, and the most important are the remote access tools. Getting inside the firewall and having access to all the networked crap that I would were I sitting at a desk in Maryland is essential, and I have a few things that work really well.
For a long time I was totally devoted to the institutional VPN and XP Remote Desktop. Ah, so secure, so free. It was great, but the VPN killed my bandwidth and made videoconferencing a little too Max Headroom for some people's tastes. But it is good and I can do just about everything on my remote PC that I can do when I'm sitting in the Real Office.
GoToMyPC is a late but formidable addition to my arsenal. It has a few distinct advantages: no VPN is required, great for videoconferencing quality and the ability to fire up the IM Webcam option on the spur of the moment. I do have to pay for it, but the easy login, speed, and file transfer utility are pretty swell.
Once I get into that remote PC, a magic daisy-chain of remote connections takes place as I use a combination of XP Remote Desktop to connect to newer servers, and PCAnywhere to connect to the Windows 2000 boxes in our server room. All together, this stuff lets me be as good as "there" from a server maintenance and get-access-to-the-stuff-that-must-be-inside-the-damn-firewall perspective.
Too bad for anyone else in the house who wants to use the Internet though. With all this fired up, plus VOIP and maybe a little videoconference thrown in for good measure, it's a bandwidth bogarting situation. They should all be at school, babysitters, and work anyway.
What telecommuter isn't writing or thinking about this one: I'm only in my seventh month of telecommuting so I can't really say for sure, but a recent study of 1,320 global executives conducted by HR consulting firm Korn/Ferry says that I'm less likely to get ahead by virtue of not being physically in front of my boss every day. It's the classic conundrum: everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Executives want to seem supportive of flexible work arrangements -- hey, we're hip, we're now, we're progressive, we're change agents. But they also want things to stay the way they were, and that means people in offices wearing ties and pantyhose.
In my workplace, there aren't a lot of opportunities for "promotion" per se. We're an academic institution and my productivity doesn't have a direct impact on my advancement -- I don't get a bigger bonus for writing more code or garnering more online transactions. Frankly, I feel grateful that I received the standard 2% raise during my recent review.
That said, I do feel that I could miss out on opportunities because I'm not "there" to be invited to meetings on an impromptu basis, or to identify and fix some problem by walking around the Real Office and hearing people talk.
So what do I do to counter this? By being as "there" as I can be. I work the same hours as everyone else in the Real Office so they almost always get me on the phone, IM, or videoconference as soon as they call, IM, or ping me. I keep my technology humming so that I can pop-in on a meeting by camera or phone whenever I'm needed. I keep an eye on what's going on on the conference room and ask to be invited to meetings that look like things I should be a part of. I call people just to chat.
But we'll see. One review down, but will I ever be promoted? Only the shadow knows...
Thursday, January 18, 2007
There are a fiew pieces of technology that I have running locally that make all the mayhem I create in Maryland possible. Actually, it's a lot of technology and this is just a picture of the stuff that's running here. Almost all of it has some counterpart in the real office that also has to be up and running for things to work well for me. The amazing thing is that on my side of the equation, it didn't really cost that much to get set up -- less than two grand for the PC and multi-function printer/scanner/fax, some software to make it all useful, some free tools. Here's the rundown on the hardware:
PC: Nothing special here, just the usual Dell desktop.
Multi-function printing device: HP OfficeJet 7210 All-in-One. Works great, but because my desk is a little stylish (read somewhat flimsy) it causes everything to shake when I'm printing. It makes the cat happy -- she can bat at my Harvey Pekar bobblehead figurine as it nods in assent at the brilliance of the documents I'm printing.
Webcam: I use a Logitech Fusion. The headset that came with it stank, so I've been through several iterations, and now have joined the Bluetooth crowd (despite my paranoia that Bluetooth is actually how the Machines will Rise -- please refer to Terminator 3 for an example of what can happen when all your household devices start to have their own little networks that you don't really have control over. But I digress.).
Headset: Plantronics PLT 510. Comfy, not too noisy, I don't get too many complaints from my videoconferencing partners. Wireless is just a little more complicated than wired, but much more comfortable. If I could get my desk phone to also be bluetoothy, I'd really be stoked. As it is, I use a separate, wired headset with the desk phone so I really look like a dork when I'm taking a call and I'm on videoconference. But you can never look too dorky, really.
Phone Service: VOIP. I won't mention the company name here, because I would hate to seem like I'm endorsing them. It's good enough, though sometimes prone to random call dropping and echooooooing. The VOIP was critical to maintaining a local telephone number with fairly reliable service. I'm not certain that I might not switch to a Maryland-based cellphone at some point, because frankly it couldn't be worse sound quality than VOIP is. VOIP has some cool features that help when I'm "out of the office" (e.g. back in the real office). Like I can forward my desk phone to my cell phone and people call me at the same number they know, and it rings where ever I am. I can get my voice mail from anywhere there is an Internet connection, get voice mail in my email, it's hours of fun for the whole family. Well, me.
Telecommuting. It's the Holy Grail of the knowledge worker, but does the reality live up to the dream? The answer depends on many things -- how much coffee I've had, how well my technology is functioning, whether or not I'm getting the feeling like I'll never be promoted again -- well you get the idea.
My impression of what telecommuting is really like varies day-by-day, but after doing six months (hard) time in my slippers, I feel like I've gained some insight into the ups and downs of PJ life. Won't you join me as I regale you with tales of bulging capacitors in remote computers, co-worker misapprehensions about what it is I do all day, dogs barking during videoconferences, and much, much more.
And for the record:
1. No, I don't actually wear PJs in my office*.
2. Yes, I do routinely work in slippers. In fact, I've put all my shoes on the top shelf in the closet because I don't need easy access to them.
3. No, I'm not enjoying the extra time with the kids because I pay for a babysitter. When the babysitter was sick, I took family sick leave, just like I would do if I worked in the real office. And I did some work with the baby sitting on my lap to try and get something done because my deadlines are pressing on me like a two year old squirming on my lap.
* Okay, I did wear my PJs to do some work, but it was when I was on "vacation" and had to duck into the office for a few hours every day because it was the end of the tax year and things were really rockin' on some of the sites I adminster. But they were very office-appropriate PJs, neatly pressed, I assure you. I could probably wear them to the real office on casual Friday. If it weren't 2,000 miles and two time zones away, I'd do it too. Really.