Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More on Marginalization

I just want to be clear: I don't think that being a shut-in inherently leads to significant reduction in being-a-playerism in the workplace. To the contrary, in some organizations the biggest players of all are those who use telecommuting technology to be everywhere at once. It can be a signal of power to be so important that you're contactable and critical from your villa in France or whathaveyou.

In my line of work, however, the non-technical staff members place the highest value on face-to-face contact. People who succeed in the business side of the operation are those who excel in personal interaction, in getting visits with their prospects, and in advancing those relationships.

And like it or not, people like that can forget about you when you're far away. Certainly, there are lots of ways to get back on the radar screen: lots of onsite visits, ready email and phone contact, producing work that advances their work.

But I do think there is a trade-off for being outta sight, which is that you are just a bit outta mind.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Contemplating Heresy

Gentle readers, this is only hearsay heresy at this point (in the absence of a formal offer letter), but Stella is considering...

...taking a job that will require her to go to a real office.

A lot.

Like, every day.

I'm not really in too much of a quandary about the job. It's a great job in the my chosen field, a reasonable bump in salary and a lot of growth potential raising money for a place that is coming into its stride, development-wise. I did what you're not supposed to do and said yes yes yes, not bothering to negotiate maximum salary or any of the things you're advised by myriad job sites to do when you receive a job offer, because I really want this job.

And I must say that I'm excited to be going back into a Real Office setting, a fast-paced one doing a job that requires a ton of face-to-face contact with colleagues and prospects.

I'm not particularly sorry in the strict career sense to be giving up the full-time offsite work either. What's been missing from my work from afar is a sense of being in play.

As in being a player.

Being a player is something I really enjoy. I love being the person at the holiday party who knows everyone and spends the evening introducing people who should really know each other based on my knowledge of what they do and what they ought to be doing. I love sitting next to older ladies on airplanes and hearing about their daughters moving to Albuquerque to open Trader Joe's stores, or about how they've moved around because their husbands were in the military and now they come to Albuquerque for three weeks at a time to take care of their sis...

Oh, wait, maybe you're not like me and aren't that interested in those kinds of things. But I am.

No, dear reader, the real quandary is this: what will be the fate of StellaCommute, the online persona I've been cultivating?

I think that she will continue as a part time telecommuter. The fact is that the job I've (nearly) been hired to do is quite a bit more than a full-time job, and the only way to be successful at it without moving into one's office is to spend time at home doing it too. There is research, writing letters, proposals, notes, and other material, making phone calls to people who are hard to reach during the day, so many things.

So we'll continue this journey together, even as I hang up the slippers and reinvest in grown-up costuming for Real Office wear.

It's Getting Hot in Herre

However, I will not be taking off all my clothes. Trust me, nobody wants to see that. We've had a few days of really scorching weather here in the Big Burque, and it's been punishing in my office. I've got the little swamp cooler, but as anyone who lives in this climate knows, it lowers the air temperature only about fifteen degrees. This is awesome when it's 90 out, and inadequate when it gets close to 100.

Really inadequate.

I'm just going to give up working when it reaches 85 degrees in my office. It's not that I mind, because I don't. I love the warmth and everyone in my household is making fun of me because I'm wearing a sweater even though it's 83 degrees in here right now. I'm concerned for my computer, and I really really don't want to fry its little motherboard. So I'll be knocking off in about an hour or so.

Maybe when it cools down tonight, I'll come back out and resume migrating forms off my old transactional server.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Virtual Philanthropy

I shouldn't be surprised that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is starting to make grants (the NY Times may want you to register to see this) in the Web 2.0 space. After all, I first got involved in the Internet back in the day because the radio show I worked for needed grant money and foundations were far more interested in the Internet than in long-form documentary.

But, wow, half a million dollars to do "stuff" in Second Life is pretty amazing.

The more time I spend in the 'net, the more profound the effect I think it is having on certain groups of people, particularly the young. It is a sign that I'm getting old that I spent a lot of time saying, "Pooh-pooh, these are just websites. We all thought the Internet was going to change the world of journalism and communication back in 1994, and here we all are still watching TV." And we are, but the yoot are also multitasking like mad whilst doing it, and doing it all on a computery device instead of a televisiony device.

I don't know what it all means, and I'm still trying to get it all to gel in my brain. But something's happening and it's big. And it's not just about digital Bedouins making increasingly swank Flash menus and people talking about happiness at TED. People are interacting with each other and with the world (and the "world") around them in new and strange ways.

Lots to think about.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Work at Home Job: Radiologist

In today's New York Times, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman writes about his father's radiology practice, which he practiced in his home for many years. Yikes, I'm not sure that I'd want to live upstairs from a lead-lined safe with radium in it, but the office itself was lined with lead as well, so I'm sure it was fine. La-la-la....not worrying about the Altman family's cellular activity....la-la-la....

Dr. Altman notes, "...many doctors, even in a technically oriented field like radiology, practiced in a home office until shortly after World War II."

I think this is interesting, especially because, as I have noted in the past, some radiologists are working from home in this day and age. The highly skilled technicians who actually capture the images do seem to need to be on site to work with actual patients' actual bodies, but the analysis of images can be completed from wherever you may be, thanks to the rise of digital imaging.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Is telecommuting wasted on me?

Sometimes I wonder. I read other people's descriptions of telecommuting, filled as they are with jaunts to the coffee shop and volunteering one morning a week at their kids' schools, and I am forced to take a hard look at my own telecommuting lifestyle.

I get up really early because I work east coast hours. I work steadily throughout the day, not running on my lunch breaks as much as I would like, and not really taking lunch breaks as much as I would like, either. I do occasionally wander around the yard with the dog, but this generally takes me about five minutes, and then I'm back at it. I find myself not going to things at school, not doing laundry or small household chores during the day.

Basically I've managed to turn telecommuting into a 9-5 grind. How can I possibly be such an utter dork?

I don't think I'm a total workaholic, not by any stretch. I spend a reasonable portion of my day checking CNN, blogging, and otherwise wasting time on the Internet, but I just don't get out much.

The way I see it, I have two options: I can work a lot harder at chilling the heck out and taking more advantage of the possibilities of the telecommuting lifestyle. Or I can admit defeat and make an effort to go back to a Real Office setting where my possibilities for advancement will not be limited by the fact that everyone thinks I'm wearing pajamas all day.

Too many choices, I'm afraid. And this is something that I'm traditionally bad at: deciding what it is I really want. Heck.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Update on Exercise Ball Chair

My foot re-education campaign was a dismal failure, but I'm pleased to report that the exercise ball experiment is kind of a success. While I do not have a six-pack anywhere but in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator, I do find that sitting on the ball is by far more comfortable than using a traditional chair.

What's so great about it? It's just more active, and thus more energizing. I'm able to bounce a little bit all day as I work. When I'm on a conference call where I'm just listening in, I put the phone on mute and lean back on the ball to make my stomach muscles work some. Those muscles in turn reward me for these efforts by hurting in new and exciting places after these little bouts of exercise, so that is a good thing.

I do have to do some maintenance of the ball -- it seems to lose some air on a regular basis, so now the bicycle pump is part of my office equipment. I keep it under the printer table. But the difference in how my posture is and how stiff and uncomfortable I get during my day is profound and well worth the bi-weekly pump up.

So try it -- it's the cheapest office chair you'll ever buy!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Shoes Hurt, Shoes Mar...

...shoes wound and scar! Well, I had hoped to report that a program of wearing shoes in the week leading up to my recent jaunt to the Real Office would lead to significant gains in my comfort level in said shoes.

Alas, it turns out that I had mis-diagnosed the problem.

It's not wearing shoes, apparently, it's bustling around in them. I discovered that I walk very little in my shut-in office life, and I walk quite a lot in the Real Office life. And it seems to be the schlepping, stomping, striding, and so on that leads to pain.

This is a bitter disappointment to me. I do get out, mind you. I run, I walk to the park with the kids, and I do wander around the house. But further analysis finds that I do this in shoes that are far too comfortable to be worn in my Real Office. So. It seems the only option is suffering, and perhaps through suffering I will grow as a person.

Or buy bigger, different, or somehow magical shoes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Everybody Loves Telecommuting

From Information World, yet another article noting how gosh darn fantastic telecommuting is. Well, let me tell you, you're preaching to the choir, brother!

Howesomever I just returned from a work-related retreat and we were talking a great deal about inter-departmental collaboration and information sharing. I work for a very large, very prestigious research and medical university, and the science that is done there is inherently collaborative. People are working across disciplines like crazy, and the result is big discoveries. Cool. Cut to the fundraising side, where people are often mighty choice of their philanthropic prospects, to the point of potentially disappointing the donor by not allowing her to give to all the parts of the cause in which she might be interested because we're afraid that she might give less to the thing that we originally had in mind to ask her about. (Sorry about that sentence.)

I was in a working group which was discussing how to foster a more collaborative atmosphere, so as to more fully engage the donor and (we believe) raise more money to support the good work of our fine employer. Most of the ideas involved soft-skill type goals -- measure collaboration, model collaboration, choose target projects that will attempt to unstick a stuck donor by using a collaborative approach to cultivating the gift, and so on. But "space" kept coming up. Over and over again. From the Vice President saying "Getting more of the staff in one space is a top priority," to group after group reporting back that "Space will allow for better communication."

Let me tell you that as one of only two people in this part of the organization who commute from a plane ride away, this made me a little nervous.

Finally, someone from one of the departments that currently occupies three floors in one building spoke up. "We're all in the same office, and I still don't know what's going on."

To which I say, "Hallelujah, I'm glad I didn't have to say that." But I made a point of mentioning in our group report-out that physical proximity does not a collaborative environment make. If everyone is sitting in his or her office making calls and lining up visits without thinking about what information and insight their colleagues might bring to bear on the solicitation, then being next door to the person who knows that your prospect's newborn grandson was recently diagnosed with a particular metabolic disorder (and that the prospect had signed a HIPAA release form, of course!) isn't really going to help you make those connections.

You've got to connect with your colleagues in meaningful ways, whether you're picking up the phone to call them in their office down the hall, or two timezones away.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Multiplying Virtual Workers

The headline is funny, implying that telecommuters are multiplying (perhaps more time at home with their spouses?) but the information is quite good. A new study of 120 corporate managers has them reporting that nearly 30% of their workers are "virtual". Whether this means virtual like me, in another part of the United States, but being paid as a real salaried employee, or virtual like the guy I'm contracting with in Singapore who's getting paid some amount and works during the wee hours for a pittance before he goes to his silcon chip research job is not clear.

But I like this:

[The research firm] notes that there was a 'correlation between an organization's IT culture and their propensity toward becoming a virtual workplace.'
In other words, if you have a robust IT infrastructure, it's probably already set up to handle remote connections, and thus going virtual is not that big a deal. This is a position I whole-heartedly endorse.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Trying Telecommuting on for Size

As part of a series in the Albuquerque Trib on reducing the need to drive cars around, J.A. Montalbano spent a day telecommuting, and wrote about it. It's a reasonably good snapshot of a typical telecommuter's day, except I wish there was a bit less getting a haircut and shopping for groceries and a bit more working and doing things that can be difficult to get accomplished in the office.

The piece also notes that some things were hard to do, like collaborate with the layout artist. This is a problem easily solved by the right tools -- a small investment in some online workspaces and they'd be in business.

But all in all, the article illustrates what I know about telecommuting from Albuquerque: it's pretty darn nice. Now if I could just get out of the house more.