Thursday, May 31, 2007

Speaking of Shoes

I'm going to be heading into the Real Office again next week for a retreat, and as usual I'm looking forward to it: seeing my beloved colleagues in person, having an opportunity to really suss out the vibe in my rapidly changing workplace, imbibing free drinks provided by my fine employer. Ah, this is the life.

There is something that I'm dreading -- wearing shoes for several days in a row. Every time I go into the Real Office I have the same revelation: I rarely wear shoes at home and I pay the price when I strap them on for business trips. It's not that I wear stripper shoes. To the contrary, my shoe wardrobe is strictly from the Sister Mary Frank Collection of sensible shoes. Nevertheless, it seems that when a foot spends the majority of its days in slippers its tolerance for restraint inside a street legal leather-and-rubber device is reduced.

As I see it, I have a few options:

1. Wear fuzzy slippers all the time, even to meetings with the Vice President. (Pros: Continuity for my feet. Cons: Potentially career-ending.)

2. Go on a shoe buying spree until I am able to somehow locate a pair of shoes that feels like slippers but doesn't look horrible on the outside. (Pros: Buying shoes is fun! Cons: Buying shoes is expensive!)

3. Start wearing my Real Office shoes in the home office to re-acclimate my feet to their sensible prisons. (Pros: Ease back into the real shoes. Cons: Feet hurting for two weeks instead of just four days.)

Sadly it looks like it's option three for me. I'll let you know if weaning myself off slippers makes a difference.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

About the New Look

Just so we're clear, I'm not a Wizard of OZ geek (although Baum's books are enjoyably weird) -- but the ruby slippers are a rather perfect symbol of my shut-in, slipper-based lifestyle. There's no place like (my) home (office)...dig?

When I'm in the Real Office I often find myself wishing that I could click my sensible yet fashionable high-heels together three times and be home in the confines of my little home office, if for no other reason than the fact that I wouldn't be wearing sensible yet fashionable high-heels.

Of Course It Saves Gas

Everyone is wailing and moaning about gas prices heading toward $4 a gallon or more. And some organizations, like this one, are actually lighting a candle against the darkness (though one hopes not at the gas station, because that wouldn't be safe). They're advocating that their employees work abbreviated schedules (four ten-hour days, for example) and/or telecommute to reduce their commutes and thus reduce costs.

It is true that telecommuting dramatically reduces the cost of being employed. And the impact that your company's employees have on the environment. So why don't more companies add telecommuting to their quiver of "We're so environmentally conscious" efforts?

Come on, it's not that hard, and will cost you very little -- as compared with, say, figuring out how to go zero-emissions or replacing your fleet with hybrids, or what have you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Another Side of Multitasking

Lately The Onion has had some pretty good telecommuting articles, and it's not surprising really. America's Finest News Source has its editorial finger on the pulse of what's going on in America, and telecommuting and web work in general are a big trend. This week's article on multitasking is representatve of their insightful coverage of important issues of the day.

And it reinforces my traditional point about some workers' well-honed goofing-off skills, which will come into play whether you're under the boss' baleful gaze, or happily surfing in your slippers.

Now get back to work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cooling the Home Office

I know, I was just complaining about how cold my hands always are, and that is true. But I worry that it gets too warm in my office for the poor computer. Because the office is disconnected from the rest of the house, it doesn't get the benefit of the heating and cooling systems therein. And lately it seems that the ceiling fan may not be keeping pace with the heat coming out of the back of Ms. Dell.

But what to do? Luckily, this is the desert. For those of you in less favorable climes, here's the deal: if you add humidity to the very dry air and just kind of move it around, it feels about fifteen degrees cooler. It sounds crazy, and when we moved here from humid and sticky Baltimore, we were unconvinced. But after spending last summer with nothing but a fan blowing over a giant sponge to cool our home, I'm a believer.

So I'm plotting the acquisition of a portable swamp cooler for Stellacommute central. I guess I could jury-rig a swamp cooler by taping a wet sponge to the front of a fan, but I think the nice people at the Fuji company have probably spent a little more time on the design and function than that. Stay tuned for an in depth report on how it's working.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Seeking Telecommuters with Disabilities or Addictions

My blogging worlds are colliding today -- I am hopeful that Stellacommute readers have experiences that they are willing to share for a couple of pieces that I'm working on for my other gig, Web Worker Daily. I'm interested in learning more about two things:

1. People who are using telecommuting as part of a plan to accommodate a disability. For example, if you have limited mobility and you're cutting down on the time you spend on public transportation by telecommuting, that's the kind of thing I'm interested in. How did you and your employer work through the legal and technical issues of accommodating your needs and how has telecommuting helped?

2. People who are fighting an addiction or mental illness that is either helped or made more difficult by the fact that you work from home. For many people with addictions or mental illness, the routine of having a job to get up and get out to can be an important part of keeping it together. Does working from home make it harder or no different with regard to dealing with your illness? Are particular kinds of addiction (e.g. sex or pornography addiction) more difficult to deal with when your work environment leaves you isolated?

Thanks for any insight you can provide, dear readers. Leave a comment with contact information if you wish, or just leave a comment -- I won't be publishing these comments, unless you tell me it's okay to do so.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why All the Hating On [Insert Computer Brand Here]

I have a confession to make: even though I love my computer, and I spend an unnatural amount of time interacting with it, I am not super-crazy about horsing around with its insides. I did the obligatory take-a-PC-apart-and-put-it-back-together-and-you-get-to-keep-this-cute-screwdriver class and that's fun and all. But when push comes to shove, I really just want it to sit under my desk and work goddammit, and I don't need to be messing with a bunch of case mods and overclocking and whatnot. Really.

So I love going to mom-and-pop computer shops for fixes -- we used to use a great one in Baltimore called Little Shop of Hardware, and here in the 'Burque Sandia Computers has been knowledgeable, friendly, and more than a little geeky (my favorite thing is talking to men who can't make eye contact with a computer lady).

But why-o-why does every geek in every shop have to have a strong opinion about whatever I bring into the shop? Emachines? Junk! Dell? They're getting sued by the state of NY! Mom-and-pop build? You can't trust those! Apple? If that's how you want to be (lameoid)!

Enough already. At some level the computer is wires, chips, disks, and some other crap that makes it all go. I just want to be able to write, work, and maybe look at pictures of the kids now and then.

So stop hatin' on my PC, brother man.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

One Hundred Posts

It seems obligatory that one spend at least some time doing meta-blogging, that is to say blogging about the practice of blogging. Or as Madge the Manicurist used to say, "You're soaking in it!"

When I look back (lo those five months ago) at why I started this blog, it was in part to remind me to reflect positively on the experience of being a shut-in. And indeed, most things about telecommuting are truly wonderful:

  • I'm able to literally stop and smell the roses by wandering out into my backyard.

  • I can indulge my office supply fetishism at unprecedented levels.

  • I gas up my car so infrequently that I'm constantly shocked by how much the price of gas has gone up in the last month. It's kind of like getting on the scale once every six months -- good god, when did I gain fifty pounds?!?

  • My feet are resting on a warm and peaceful dog who is sleeping under my desk right now.

The downsides exist, too. There is the risk that I'm getting out of touch with my rapidly changing Real Office, missing out on the subtle politics that may be happening as we navigate the time after losing our long-time boss. There is the possibility that I may never be promoted again. And there is a lingering feeling of isolation that isn't quite assuaged by videoconferencing and IM. But on the whole, it's pretty much fun.

And on this, the occasion of my one hundredth post, I also issue this solemn promise: I will never blog about blogging again on this blog.

To the extent that I can avoid it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Study in Contrasts

When I get to thinking about whether telecommuting is destroying my chances to advance in my so-called career, or whether I'm just on the edge of a wave of telecommuting that will be sweeping my fine employer in the coming energy-strapped years, I always seem to come back to thinking about FMLA. You know, that great law that says you can take twelve weeks of unpaid leave from your job if you have a baby, adopt a kid, or have a serious illness in your immediate family.

Don't get me wrong, it really is a great law, and having experienced blatant but unactionable pregnancy discrimination at a former employer that was too small to fall under FMLA, I appreciate the way it's leveled the playing field for women who aren't opting out but who do need a little time after procreating to adjust to the new pup.

But this is also kind of my problem with it: men could use leave for these same purposes under FMLA, but in general practice they don't, making it yet another reason why women make less money than men.

And this brings me to telecommuting policies. Looking at it from an epistemological perspective, telecommuting is gender neutral, right? Everyone benefits from reduced commuting costs, reduced impact on the environment, the luxury of uninterrupted thinking time in which to accomplish great things, flexibility to accomplish work in off hours, and the like.

So why is it that when I am scanning the internet I see article after article like this vaguely nauseating Mother's Day press release from Xerox? Flextime and telecommuting will help you retain men, too. The other thing that is making me crazy about this press release is that most of the women who are using these flexible arrangements are administrative assistants. Xerox, tell me about your top salesperson in the midwest region who works from her home office and still brings in $100 million in revenue. Please?

Of course, there are also articles like this, about how some big firms are actively working to get rid of the glass ceiling impression that one might get about flexible work arrangements by featuring the high-level men who are using them. This seems like a really smart strategy -- if in fact it is true that partaking of a telecommuting program or working flex hours to better accommodate your home life will not be career suicide in the firm. Show me people who have been consistently promoted, given more managerial responsibility, and more money after they started flexing/telecommuting/job sharing. That will make me want to explore telecommuting myself, and might make my manager more eager to embrace the magic.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Technology Uber Alles

This is a really great summary article about the whole telecommuting thing from -- I think its points about providing appropriate technology are particularly key. If you just say, "Work from home, we trust you!" without making sure that people can get access to systems, files, networks, and so on transparently from wherever they may be, it's not going to work.

Likewise, if Real Office managers and shut-in managees don't have the same level of skill-comfort-and-enthusiasm for varied communications tools (IM, Email, voice-over-whatever, videoconferencing), the relationship is going to be difficult.

Technology is really at the center of all successful telecommuting. To me, it's more important than the personality of the telecommuter or manager, the home office set up, the nature of the work, or any of that other soft mumbo-jumbo (although that stuff is important, too).

If your technology is working well, you'll be working too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Accessible Doesn't Mean On-Site

Yes, I know. Ol' Stella has been in communicado lately. (Where's that, you say. Ha-ha, I say.)

It's really been quite a trial because I have been traveling a bit on business and thus I haven't been as accessible as I normally am when I'm 2,000 goldurn miles away from my colleagues and customers. It's ironic (and not in the Alanis Morrisette sense, but in the genuinely ironic sense) that when I travel to the Real Office I am actually significantly less in touch than when I'm here in the Land of Enchantment kicking ass in my little home office.

I found some solace in this article from down under which notes that “Work is less about location and increasingly about accessibility.”

If you invest appropriately in remote accessibility technology -- local numbers for all staff with unlimited long distance plance, ILO for server folk, VPNs, Palm-Berries, and the like -- suddenly your staff will be able to do the things they need to do from wherever they are, whenever they have a few moments to spend some quality time with their portable electronic devices.

That's anything with an on-off switch.

Note to self: I need to spend less time on planes. Or more time convincing the powers that be that I need a laptop and Palm-Berry.

And a wireless card.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Don't Fear the Telecommuting

One of the big objections that I often hear about telecommuting is that it's a Pandora's Box, employee relations-wise. "If I let [this responsible person] telecommute, pretty soon all these [ESPN Online-watching slackers] will be wanting to do it, and then I'll really be in a pickle." To which I say, "Those [ESPN Online-watching slackers] are already wasting your time [watching ESPN Online]. Either people are working or they're not, irrespective of where they may be physically located. Get over it."

If you don't start a telecommuting program -- and figure out how to effectively roll it out to the multitudes without frightening managers to death -- when you really, really need people to work from wherever they are, you'll be out of luck. I think many businesses in SF are discovering this now. For example, in an article in Forbes Online, Jamie Jarvis of Adobe Systems notes:

Our telecommute program is always there and available, and we don't have to say, 'There's a disaster, so we're going to turn on this program now.'

That's the key to success: It's all sitting there, ready to go. It's regularly used by the hard-core telecommuters and the occasional parent whose kid is sick enough to stay home, but not so little or sick that it requires constant attention. IT isn't struggling to simultaneously support 100 new users who are having trouble downloading the VPN client or what have you.

So come on, let's all go home to work, if only to be prepared for natural or unnatural disaster.