Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Telecommuting Isn't All Sunshine and Roses

Well for me in the spring and early summer it is, but hey, it's December here. People, my yard is just as grey and dispirited as yours is, trust me. The snow that lurks in the shadow of the wall won't melt for some time, and lawn is, well, most unlawnlike. It's much more strawlike. That said, telecommuting is still pretty awesome, even if I don't yet have a bevy of roses greeting my eyes when the sun comes up each morning.

There are some drawbacks however. This post from Network World does a good job of enumerating them. All seventeen of them. I'd like to add a few of my own:

- The propensity of the network, webcam, teleconference, VPN or other critical technical link in the chain to punk out just when I need it most. You know, just as the meeting starts, or when you need to post something to a remote server right now and not a moment later. That bums me out.

- The lack of a transition at the end of the day. You have to take special care to make sure you don't go directly from work to taking care of kids. I've engineered a faux commute for myself by making my after work transition a go to the gym time for myself. I blow off a little steam, keep myself in the same size pants, and hopefully I feel a little calmer by the time I pick up the kids and start that portion of my day.

- The sameness of the days. Lately I've been dealing with this by getting more of my colleagues into using the IM tools I favor so that I can pop in on them and have a quick chat about work and non-work stuff. I'm getting to know people a bit better and so this is a good way to solidify those relationships. It does take some discipline not to pop that Skype window every time the stuff I'm working with online is slow to respond, but those kinds of interactions can break up an otherwise too quiet day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Do You Do All Day - Slight Return

This is a great post from Web Worker Daily -- it crystallizes what is so confusing about working from home full time. I know my neighbors are particularly weirded out by the fact that I am able to work for an institution on the east coast whilst looking at mountains that exist in mountain time. People think you don't work at all, you're somehow doing something weird for a living, or I don't know whatall.

The fact is that I have an ordinary job with the usual job demands: meetings, cranking out stuff, dealing with colleagues delightful and annoying, phone calls, emails, the usual job scene. It's not strange.

Working in your slippers is perfectly normal and possible. It's okay.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Competence Is King

This post from Bob Sutton rings true to me. So much of what we do in organizations is grand planning and big picture, but when you come down to it, what people experience of your organization is the simple competence of every employee. There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with people who tell you all the ways they can't help you do the thing you really want to do. Plans and strategy are good and important for keeping the whole thing rolling along, but not at the cost of investing in every person's ability to get stuff done.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Little Something for the Geeks

And not the ones who drink. This article from CIO deals specifically with code review process for distributed teams, but I think the ideas and issues are broadly applicable to anyone who has to coordinate a complicated project with far-flung participants.

What I really take away is this: the tools (while important) will not actually make the process work. You still have to have the human beings commit to the process, a fact that is true whether people are in the same room, or just on the same planet.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

May Santa Bring You New Slippers

Stella would just like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. But of course, as we all know, being a telecommuter means never having to say, "I can't go into the office." Which would account for this post.

Happy night #4 of Hanukkah tonight, too. Maybe I'll make some latkes in the spirit of an ecumenical celebration!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Telecommuting Bright Spots in a Sea of Job Misery

Well, ho ho ho, Challenger, Gray, and Christmas. This grim little report on the job outlook for 2009 can be summarized as follows: telecommuting probably will be on the rise because you can hire without paying for office space and desks and stuff for telecommuters (yay!), but too bad because there are no jobs (suck-city).

Note to self: make sure employer remains aware of how much money is coming through the online giving system I just implemented.

A Gray Christmas indeed. Keep your telecommuting chins up, dear readers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pre-New Year's Reflections

Every year, Stella is a little surprised by the new year. You know how it goes: the wind up to Christmas is so intense and you just try to get through it. And then suddenly it's a week later and you're looking a year-in-review retrospectives and thinking to yourself, "Was it just this year that Heston died?"

That said, I have been trying to keep a grip on things and not go too far astray from being productive, going to the gym, and the other routine things that make me feel like I have a degree of control over my life. I'm plugging away at the work stuff. Chug chug chug.

Because here is the thing: there is no substitute for just doing it. I can spend time hacking my systems and improving my to-do lists, I can color code my filing system, I can transfer action items to index cards. But the reality is if you do the work, it gets done.

And all the productivity experts agree. Well, Merlin Mann does. But you get my point: resolving to do better, and engaging in lots of meta organization won't get you where you want to go. Eventually you have to knuckle under and do the heavy lifting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Tis the Season

Stella's got parties on the brain, and it's really no surprise. Every day there is some announcement about this unit or that being out of the office for the afternoon "teambuilding" -- I'm thinking bowling and karaoke, myself, but maybe they're using bataka encounter bats and competing in American Gladiator-style feats of strength.

In any event, tomorrow is the big division wide party and it kicks off mid-afternoon. I am going to take some time off, as though I were attending the party myself. But I've been wondering what I should do with the time and I came up with a number of good candidates:

- A quick bus up at the spa: if a mani-pedi is your thing, why not take yourself out for a little off-hours treat?

- Last minute holiday shopping: Or if you're like me, first-minute holiday shopping. I kind of need to get my act together on this one.

- More gym time: Going to the gym is one of the few outings I get on a regular basis, so I could go extra early and wail on my pecs. Actually that doesn't sound like much fun.

- Do something good: You could volunteer somewhere, visit an actual shut-in neighbor, or do what I'm doing: give blood. The need is critical (they tell me -- that isn't just a come-on to get me to give blood is it?) and it doesn't take that long.

I'll feel less guilty about skipping out early and I'll be woozy without having had a glass of bulk wine. Win-win!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Telecommuter's Holiday Party

While technically not a holiday party, Stella did go out last night and she did play pub quiz. While our team came in a disappointing second, there was some joy in the evening. Your gentle correspondent was the winner of the email bonus question, and it was a perfect week to win. The prize: a dreidel decorated with Christmas icons (depicted at left).

I'm not even sure how to play with this. Does Santa represent Gimel? Does he beat a Christmas Tree? There aren't instructions.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is It Just Me?

Or is everyone kind of getting scared to talk about telecommuting again? I wonder if, because the economy is in the toilet people are growing nervous about the idea of being able to exercise their ability to work wherever.

Just wondering.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Preparing for Telecommuting Holidays

You don't need me to tell you that Christmas and Hanukkah are fast approaching. Those of you lucky enough to celebrate Eid al-Adha are already out of the woods; congratulations. For the rest of us, however, there are a boatload of tasks to be completed to ensure a festive time will be had by all.

The most important preparation for telecommuters: reinforcing the sanctity of your home office. Seriously.

Your children may not go to school for weeks. They will be hopped up on goofballs and roaming around the house like a pack of goats, eating everything in sight and and playing Nintendo DS until you are ready to lose your mind. Maybe this is my children, but I suspect that other people's children may exhibit these same symptoms.

I'd like to recommend the following:

- Remind your children of the rules of engagement. For example, I have a sign that says NO that I hold up if they're peeking through my office window to come in while I'm on a call. Even the little one can read that, and they do a pretty good job of respecting it.

- Consider a lock. If you have very little kids, or it's really important that there be no interruptions or the perception of being anywhere other than a Real Office, a lock is essential. Preferably you'll want to get one that the kids can't open.

- Line up help. Even if you're home and your children are fairly self sustaining, you can buy yourself some time by getting some cousins or other slightly older people to hang out with them.

- Take a break. Don't forget to have fun with your kids, too. After all, the work will still be there even if you wander out of your office for half an hour to goof off with your little tykes. Don't be a grind.

I know. Just get a lock on the door. I'm way ahead of you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Telecommuting Fashion Watch: Slippers

They're the most important part of my wardrobe, dear readers: my slippers. I wear them all day, every day, and I've tried to get some fairly businesslike models that are good for dressy or for play. But don't you ever get to wondering what else might be out there?

I do.

So I've prepared a small survey of slipper stylings for the fashionable shut in. You'll find I've created a bit of a taxonomy that may be helpful as you try to describe to your family what you'd like in a pair of office slippers. Enjoy.

The Shearling
The idea behind these fuzzy scuffs is part Grizzly Adams, part Bear Force One. Oh, wait, that's the same part. These are warm, and if they have a little plasticy sole you can probably wear them to stagger around your yard if that suits your fancy. The downside is that the creamy white inside quickly becomes a bit grey and dispirited, and you have to confront the fact that the soles of your feet may not be the cleanest part. I wonder if this style made of actual shearling would moisturize by default because of the natural lanolin in the wool. Not sure.

The Bootee Call
Mukluks are great and warm the ankles without the trouble of legwarmers. If you're troubled by legwarmers that is. And you should be. These are by Kate Spade, and I'm not sure that even my heavily slipper dependent lifestyle warrants $90 slippers. Seriously that seems like a lot. Note, too, that these have a soft leather sole that is entirely ill-suited to staggering around the yard. So stay indoors and keep programming in these bad boys.
Dad's Slippers

You really should be smoking a pipe while wearing these. It seems that even having to go get them yourself rather than having them brought to you by your devoted dog is wasted effort. These remind me of my parenting nadir, when I tried to convince my oldest daughter to put down the maribou-encrusted lovelies she'd picked out in favor of the "pretty grey ones." My mother in law laughed and laughed at me that day, and rightly so. But who's laughing now: her, or the mother of a girl who would wear a Buzzcocks t-shirt every day if I didn't think it would get her thrown out of seventh grade? Right. Don't buy these kind of slippers.

The Mock-A-Sin
These will pass for shoes in many places and times, but I find they're a poor substitute for actual shoes, and lousy slippers, to boot. (Ha ha. Get it? To boot.) They tend to be under-lined, and for those of us with narrow feet, they really don't stay on that well. I understand that a certain amount of flipping and flopping is inherent in a slipper wearing situation, but these are just not that great a choice, it seems to me. But maybe if they were beaded? No, still no.

The Zsa-Zsa
These slippers scream fabulous. They also cry out for a bit more attention to your telecommuting caftan than maybe The Shearling might. They'll work well with animal prints, velvets, sequins, bugle beads, satins -- none of which I wear to my home office. Still, it might be nice to have something a bit fabulous for when you have company. You could probably wear these on trips to the real office, too. Maybe not.

All photos: Zappos. Go there and buy something if you like. Help the economy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Looking for Something Special for the Geek in Your Life

This group of photographs will surely inspire your gift giving juices. I'm feeling a somewhat desperate longing for a "ctrl" ring. Oh goodness, I'm a dork.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm Kind of Amazed This Is News

This is a real life article from a Minnesota news source. While I applaud the news -- worker works from a sunny climate and no one is any worse for the wear -- I'm thinking to myself, "Slow news day at the old MinnPost."

But I'll expand on this idea: telecommuting can help you both retain people who must move (retirement, can't stand seven months of snow without killing the family, spouse job changes) and attract people who might not otherwise consider you as an employer (seven months of snowfall, anyone?). In a real estate market where people are having an incredibly hard time selling their houses, the employer who is able to say, "Start now. If you sell your house, great, move closer. Or not. We have the technology and the management where-with-all to handle you whether you're here or there," is an employer who has a distinct advantage over the traditional "relocate to our location or you can't work here" kind of place.

Which is a long sentence to say that embracing telecommuting means you can hire worldwide, and retain your stars even if they want to move somewhere where you aren't. And it doesn't cost you a thing, really.

Telecommuters and Virtuality Go Together

As a full-time telecommuter the vast majority of my relationships are virtual by the nature of my work arrangements. Of course, I have a long standing in person relationship with my boss -- I was lucky enough to work with him for about eight years before I went virtual. But most of the people I work with on a daily basis are predominantly virtual associates -- I've met many of them in person, but our day-to-day interaction is virtual.

IM, email, phone, teleconference: lots of contact, but always intermediated by technology.

Lately, I've also been getting more into Facebook. For whatever reason my friend list has really expanded in the last two months and filled itself with people I once had close in-person relationships with. In many cases, I've not seen or spoken with these people in 15 or more years, but we're now communicating regularly on Facebook and through other technologies.

And I love it.

I am finding that we're picking up where we left off, and I feel like I'm connecting in ways that feel really real. There are a few reasons for this. These are people with whom I was really close at one point: whether it's old boyfriends, people I lived with in college, people from the music scene right after college, I spent a long time in the real world with these people. This makes it easy to feel close and communicate freely when we reconnect.

Most of these people are liberal arts grads, too, and what can liberal arts grads do? Write. Frankly, it's the only reason I have a job today (well, that and my fast typing). People I know are good with words, and choosing words that express your emotions and whatnot well makes virtual connections more fruitful.

I think I also am making the best of it because this is how I live my life now. I just type type type and get things done, whether it's socially, professionally, or creatively.

But is it really as intimate as it feels? Would I be able to connect with these people as well if we were face to face at a party? I don't know, but I'd like to think so. I do still see people in real life, I go to bars and talk to people I don't know, I'm hip, I'm cool. But then things like this make you think.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking For Telecommuting Information

The feds come through again: The Telework Exchange site is packed with research, savings calculators, advice, tips, you name it. There is something for everyone here. Are you a policy wonk? Then check out the list of telecommuter-related legislation. Focused on telecommuting as a way to open more employment options for people with disabilities? They've got you covered.

I can't recommend this site strongly enough. It's got great information to shape your telecommuting proposal along with advice to help you work efficiently once you get home. Check it out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sustaining Telecommuting Momentum

Back before we expanded our economic worrying to fretting about the looming Greater Depression, we were just worried about gas prices. Remember how great that was? We were all excited about how the high cost of gas was going to drive telecommuting, and those of us who already were telecommuting were feeling stoked about how little we drove.

But now that gas is down below $2 a gallon in most places, will the trend to let people telecommute as a cost-saving benefit be cast aside again? I don't think so for a couple of reasons.

First, things really aren't that much better. In fact, just because gas is cheaper doesn't mean that you're not also facing very lean times at work. Your company is probably not handing out raises, bonuses and the like, and the cost of absolutely everything is going crazy. Continuing to allow people to save time and fuel is a smart move, and a pretty easy perquisite to offer.

Second, once people have demonstrated that they have the capacity to work effectively in their slippers there isn't much of an incentive to make them stop. The backlash of disgruntled former telecommuters (while muted by the uncertainty of the job market) is probably not worth it to an employer. With everything else your manager has to worry about -- budget squeeze, endowment performance, trying to keep the business alive -- why bother cracking down on productive telecommuters.

Just stay focused on your bottom line and let people work from where they are.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Geeky Winners: Us

Thank goodness we finally won again, because it was getting expensive to buy drinks without the winning subsidy.

I know, dear readers: it's depressing for you to think of Stella and how her only social outlet (other than rampant instant messaging, yakking on the phone with colleagues, and talking to the elderly check out guy, Mac, at the grocery store) is going to a bar to drink beer and take a test. But that's how it is.

At least we're good at it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You Would Never Slack, Right?

Just like every employee, a telecommuter can slack off by doing all the things that all your other employees do to goof off: surfing, yakking, smoking, long lunches, in-cube sabbaticals. But managers often worry more about their telecommuting employees because they can't actually see them working or not working.

And everyone is secretly really worried that you're just vacuuming your house all day. (Or napping. Or watching television. Or out shopping. Or whatever.)

Rest assured, dear managers: there is only so much that people can really vacuum (and I'm a little bit obsessive about this kind of thing, so I should know!). You'll see that the person is kicking out the jams or isn't kicking out the jams. If you're still worried, check out this BNet blog post that includes some ingenious suggestions for detecting the hard core slackers out there in slipper land.

Or if you're a telecommuter looking to slack off, here are some good tips that you can use to try to disguise your ne'erdowell nature.

It works both ways! Now that's a blog post!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Hire" v. "Contract with You"

From the big media folks at CNN, this piece lists a number of legitimate companies that routinely employ home-based workers. It's a nice alternative to the multi-level marketing malarkey that passes for jobs on many pro-telecommuting sites. But my research shows that in fact many of these companies don't actually hire home-based workers. Most enter into independent contracting relationships with people who are then personally responsible for supplying their own computer equipment and handling their own taxes and whatnots. You might as well be a freelancer.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But I think it's a far cry from the real telecommuter-friendly places that hire real employees (with real benefits) and empower them to work from wherever they may be. Maybe Stella is timid, but I like having a real job with all the perquisites that go with it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

This Is Exactly The Conversation I Have at Office Parties

Precisely. But without the bustle. Thank you, Wondermark, for capturing my life so eloquently. In my case, my colleagues spend much of the day asleep at their workstations. It is quite frustrating because I'm working hard all day and it gets hard to hear myself think over their gentle snores.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sloppy Seconds

Sigh. Again. Second place by one point, and we had many second-guessed points that we gave up throughout the course of the evening. But with our regular compliment of team members and a whole round on Cyberpunk movies that we did quite well on, it was an overall fine showing. And once again, I'm forced to emphasize that the point of Geeks Who Drink is going out with my family and friends and enjoying each others company.

And winning, dammit. We're going to redouble our efforts next week, I'm sure.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I know everyone out there is writing their obligatory Thanksgiving post, and Stella is no exception. As a telecommuter what am I thankful for?

  • A wonderful manager who enthusiastically supports my remote working, is always concerned with how I'm doing and connecting with colleagues, and who is one of the most kind, scrupulous, and ethical people I know.
  • A smart, hard-working, savvy, fun employer that gives me the opportunity to do interesting work for a really good cause.
  • The ability to live in a place of my choosing without needing to worry about my work situation -- when work is independent of location you enjoy a feeling of freedom and flexibility that is unparalleled.
  • My left pinky, and truly the full use of both my hands -- doing what you want, when you want to with your body is a joy that should be treasured every day.

And of course, Stella is grateful for her wonderful family, outrageous good fortune and health, the opportunity and hope that exists in the world even in times of trouble. But that has nothing to do with telecommuting, so I relegated it to the end of the post.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Won't You See Coming?

Over the weekend, Mr. Commute and I unpacked some boxes in the garage and discovered a large cache of videotapes we made of one of our favorite TV shows that aired in the early and mid-1990s. We finally acquired a VHS-to-DVD burner, and so we're transferring these gems to a more modern medium. The shows are great, but the best part about the whole process is the commercials. Remember 10-10-321? A ton of big stars advertised this service in the waning days of payphones before cellphones became ubiquitous.

There are also a ton of ads for cameras and film. The idea seemed to have been that you would want to take the highest quality picture possible so that when you scanned the photos in (or had them scanned at the processor) they would look good on your computer. It was kind of weird.

Car advertisements were remarkably un-different than they are today. Zooming around, maybe with slower editing. And Geico was running a weird ad starring the AFLAC duck (or maybe it's just that all ducks in television advertising look like the AFLAC duck because AFLAC so owns the duck that's branding kids!).

In any event, there is nothing in any of the ads from 1995 that suggests smart phones, iPhones, internet fast enough to watch more than a clip on it (although SciFi and Comedy Central were both pushing video on their sites even back in the dark ages). Ipods and digital music aren't even a gleam in the eye of advertisers. And then this post on growingchanginglearningcreating (not sure if that's all one word or what) got me thinking about things that I don't see coming now.

I'm kind of freaking out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Should Shut-Ins Get Flu Shots?

Last year at this time, Stella was working in a Real Office that was in a medical setting, and you better believe she hustled herself over to the nursing students to get a flu shot. Everytime I go to a medical facility (doctors offices, hospitals, the pharmacy) I feel like it's vaguely filthy and I wash my hands a little bit more obsessively than usual.

But now that I'm back to being a full time shut in, I shouldn't need a flu shot, right? Not so fast. This article from Web Worker Daily posits that working from a remote location may make you less prone to catching things, but I'm not so sure. While it's true that you're not exposed to all your colleagues coughing up a lung on your keyboard because they don't want to use up a precious sick day, you still have to encounter your friends and neighbors.

And sadly, some of them may be sick when you see them.

Your children bring home crud from school or daycare, or your spouse who works at a used bookstore gets sneezed on by one of his erstwhile colleagues or customers, or the UPS man vomits on the package before he hands it to you, and before you know it, you've been exposed to viral mayhem. And then you're sick. So working at home can't prevent every illness, unfortunately.

I will say this: telecommuting may make you less likely to take a sick day when you're feeling iffy because the barrier for going to work is set so low. Even if you really feel crappy, you will probably end up shuffling down the hall to read some email just to take a break from watching various Judges adjudicate mind-numbingly dumb cases on daytime television.

But prevention is the best medicine, so get a flu shot, people. For the love of pete, you don't want to get sick.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Economy Needs Shut-Ins

This article from PCWorld notes that the bad economy may be good for the spreading of telecommuting. As you might imagine, Stella agrees wholeheartedly. In times when giving people raises may be downright impossible, giving them telecommuting instead is a great way to reward high performers with a benefit that improves their lives in both tangible and intangible ways.

The tangible: reduced commuting costs, more productivity, saving the company money on lighting and heating (Potentially: If you send everyone home for a work at home day on the same day, you can turn off the heat and the lights; if you stagger the days you may not notice the same impact as you do with one big day. And you should make your mass-work-at-home-day Wednesday, to counteract the potential three-day-weekend-effect that you might notice you did such a thing on a Monday or Friday.).

The intangible: feeling like your employer really trusts you and values you, getting to be a part of this cool remote working movement, less of your time lost to commuting. These are good things.

I also think that business gets a big advantage in tough times by having the tools of telecommuting already tried and tested by their telecommuters. Suddenly nobody wants to spend the money to put people on planes to do a two hour demo of the software. Tapping into the network of experienced online meeting-holders to teach their Real Office colleagues how to use those tools is a great way to save that travel money. Soon, nobody will have to go anywhere, and we'll all just meet from the comfort of our desks, whether that desk is in a Real Office or in the spare room.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

You Know You're Tired When have a dream in which you take an extended nap. Seriously, Stella is dreaming about sleeping whilst sleeping. That seems kind of sad, really.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Did I Miss the Telecommuter Re-Moniker Contest?

I know what you're thinking: it's too much time with the gin and phonies, Stella. You gotta be sharp to stay on top of things around here. Nevertheless.

Plantronics (makers of some of my headsets of the past) sponsored a contest to re-dub telecommuters. The winner:


I'm not sure, really. Cloudworker? It's a little Rainbow Brite for Stella. Although it could be worse, apparently. Somehow "mobiworker" got 10% of the votes. Until we're all making semi-ambient electronic music and making a stink about our books on MTV Cribs, I refuse to go by "mobiworker."

Stella's sticking with shut-in.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not The Usual Roster, No Victory

Well, two of our team members were knocked out of commission last night. Apparently the pregnant one was "sick" and her baby-daddy (e.g. her devoted husband) had to take her home. I'm thinking Dead Kennedys on Rock Band was beckoning in a more appealing way than taking a test in a bar, but I'll accept her explanation. So a second place finish was all we could do. And they called us "Gin & Phonies" all night, totally missing the pun of Gin & Phonics. Ha ha.

We all agree that Margret is the decisive brains of the operation. We did well enough, but I have a feeling that Margret would have overridden my brother in law's guess on our sudden death round question and would have instead gone with my answer. My correct answer. That I wrote down, and scribbled out in deference to my BIL's wrong answer.

I'm not bitter. Really.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Those Telecommuting Feds

The federal government is really taking the lead on big, institutionalized telecommuting. And it's doing this under the current administration -- I can only imagine what a broadband-using paradise it will be when things change over in January.

So officially committed to telecommuting is the federal government, I make a point of going back to their fine website frequently, and I always find something good. Like this listing of key practices for a successful telecommuting program. It's right on the money.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Holiday Party Season Commences

And for far-flung telecommuters like Stella, this means one thing: sitting in my home office continuing to work whilst my colleagues toddle down the hall to enjoy assorted pot lucks, cookie trays, shrimp cocktail, and occasionally free drinks. Actually, avoiding all that stuff doesn't sound that bad, now that I write it. I only need to resist the treats that normally reside in my house, without contending with a parade of fattening temptations that appear in the break room at this time of year.

That said, it is also a well-documented fact that holiday party attendance can be an important career move in both a positive and negative way. The positives: networking, a chance to meet people you might not normally encounter, free food and drink. The negatives: lampshade on the head.

But what kind of holiday party equivalent exists for the telecommuter?

I suppose someone could drag a laptop and camera to the party venue and I could watch from home. But that's kind of lame. I will often start a personal party at the same time -- I'll go to a movie or get a pedicure or something fun.

This year, I'm thinking about trying to organize a telecommuter office party here in my town. I first need to figure out how to hook up with other telecommuters (without getting involved with a lot of work-at-home multilevel marketers -- nobody wants to deal with those people because they're always trying to rope you into selling their fine products). From there, it should be easy.

Bar, hors d'oeuvres, terrible holiday sweaters, fun!

So if you're a telecommuter in Albuquerque, let me know.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Q: What Is Easier With Two Hands?

A: Absolutely everything. Specifically:

- Fixing one's hair in a style other than "stiff crazy mop"
- Making meatballs
- Doing yard work
- Showering
- Dressing oneself
- Putting in contact lenses

And the most important thing that is easier with two relatively functional hands: Blogging

What Do You Do, Exactly?

I'm still very new at my job, closing in on six months, and so I'm still meeting a lot of people for the first time. And because I'm meeting a lot of people for the first time from 2000 miles away, it's extra important that I be able to clearly articulate what the heck it is that I do.

Frankly it's something that I've struggled with a little bit. Which is odd, because generally speaking, Stella isn't at a loss for words. But dig it, here's what I do:

I launched an intranet for the fund raising division of the university I work for. I feed it with tidbits as well as figuring out what features and what not we need to add to it. I can do some of the technical stuff, but the guys who manage the server haven't really freed up my permissions. Plus I didn't work with Sharepoint even a little bit until I started this project, so I'm pretty much flying by the seat of my pants. Thank goodness I'm not troubled by not actually knowing how things work and willing to monkey around with it to make it do what I need.

I'm trying to get online giving squared away. This seems to involve everything from creating templates and training the finance people so they can adequately reconcile the various accounts, to working out the logistics of account set up, to building forms, to counseling various fund raising offices on how best to use online forms in their sites.

I execute mass email campaigns -- but actually we're still trying to figure out what technology will be best. So in fact, I cajole the central IT guys to install upgrades on their list server, I paw through the various systems that we're already subscribed to to figure out what they're capable of, I advise the direct mail people on how best to segment and proof their copy, and hope that we can actually drop the stuff on their target date.

External web presence for the Advancement operation is also my job. But I'm not a designer, and so I really just try to get stuff to happen by serving as a useful go-between amongst the fund raisers, the designers, the programmers, and the people who let us into the centrally managed servers. It's kind of all over the place, semi-technical, semi-business, a lot of yakking at people, and explaining it has not been easy. But I finally came up with it:

I'm an internal account manager for all of our electronic communications projects.

That's it. It's actually pretty simple: I am here to ensure that customers (my advancement colleagues) get the results they need on their web projects. If they don't know what results they need, I help them figure that part out, and then I recommend ways to get to that end. If I hear about something that is going on that should have a web component, I insert myself into that process on behalf of my customers. Okay, so whether that role actually makes structural sense, given that I operate out of the Advancement Services part of the organization I don't know. But much like all my web projects, I don't care where it is on the org chart -- does it make sense from the customer's point of view?

I hope so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Alcoholics Victorious*

Okay, we're probably not technically alcoholics (one of us is pregnant, for pity's sake) (oh, and it ain't me, babe) but we did come out winners on Wednesday at Geeks Who Drink.

The pluses: going out with beloved friends and family, enjoying a tasty beverage, pretending I have a social life, pwning the competition.

The minuses: it's in a cavernous sports bar that caused the more noise sensitive of our group to hold his head in agony, the waitstaff is all female and all clad in tiny referee shirts and very short shorts. Which in and of itself isn't terrible I suppose, but it just felt like I'd stumbled into the wrong place.

Will we go back? Yes, we must because we won a gift certificate with which to acquire complimentary sliders and beers when we go back.

* This is the name of an actual alcoholics' support group that meets in Baltimore. We never were really sure if it was intended to help people not drink, or to celebrate the awesomeness of an alcoholic lifestyle -- you can't keep us down, Bill W!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Am A Morning Person

But I will admit that the time my mornings begin (circa 5:20 am) can become a bit of a drag. Particularly if I'm not well-rested because I'm soldiering through my last two days of wearing a stinking (actually smelly! how fun!) cast on my left hand. It's like sleeping in one clog.

That's why I read this item from Jezebel with interest. Morning routines are fun for the shut-ins because we don't have the same requirements to be out of the house in time to catch our bus, train, or traffic jam. That said, it can be a strain.

Stella's morning routine is as follows:

5:20: Alarm goes off
5:22 Stagger to the bathroom and glare at reflection for a few moments noting how impossibly tired and haggard I look
5:25 Shower
5:35 Moisture, makeup (did you not read the part where I said I look haggard? I meet with people on the webcam all the time, and I don't want to frighten them)
5:45 Clothes, slippers, and...what's that I hear? The robotic coffee maker is firing up!
5:50 I walk out to my office and fire up the computer because it takes it 10 minutes to start itself anymore. I don't know why -- I think it has something to do with my network because it didn't do it when I was on site.
5:51 Back in the house to tap impatiently at the coffee tank meter and wait for there to be enough for me to put into a cup and drink
6:00 Finally logging in and starting the day

It's a lot of staggering around and shower taking. Sometimes I wonder if it would be more beneficial to skip the morning shower and sleep a little longer. I could then shower at lunch. Hmmm...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Am Suddenly Afraid

Stella is afraid of many things that she doesn't understand well. In fact, I am often mocked by Mr. Commute for my conviction that the furnace is only moments away from leveling the house, that the children are somehow in danger of the electricity jumping out of the sockets and onto forks they are holding several feet away, and the like.

Imagine my horror upon reading this article.

Radon? Really? I hadn't even considered the possibility. All irrational fears aside, the author does make some good points about creating a healthy environment for yourself. This means a proper chair, good lighting, and a fire extinguisher. Actually, you should have one of those whether you work from home or not.

What if the lampshades all spontaneously combust? Think about it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Do You Employ Folks Who Live in Kitsap County, WA?

View Larger MapAre you interested in trying out a telecommuting program, but you'd want to have some support? Well, perhaps this pilot program will be of interest to you. As part of their regional planning process (and because it seems like there is a boatload of bottleneck-inducing highway infrastructure projects going on at once) the Washington DOT is running a program to encourage and measure the impact of telecommuting on the Kitsap peninsula.

You get support, a telework tool kit, and you'll be a part of an official program that will yield (potentially) good data on the impact that formal telework support programs have on the environment, traffic, and so on.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sounding Busy Whilst Working at Home

I know. You actually are busy. But sometimes it's very quiet around the house. So maybe you're in a business where the appearance of busy-ness is key, or maybe you're a freelancer who's trying to compete with much bigger "real" companies. In that case, maybe this Thriving Office CD (reviewed here) is just what you need.

I don't know whether it's really necessary, honestly. If there could be some sort of frequency cancellation technology that would specifically negate the sounds of dogs barking at the mail carrier, that would really be something. It seems that no matter when I schedule meetings, the moment I get on with people is the precise moment that the front door is menaced by the USPS.

It's a little uncanny.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm Imagining Sweaty Feet

But it turns out that the jellies that are spreading around the world are instances of Jelly, the totally fun co-working sites that people participate in. Casual co-working sites are a good way to break up your routine a little, meet like-minded people who work in the same ways that you do, and maybe network a little.

Personally, I've been considering trekking over to my local coffee shop one afternoon a week just to have some fun and jolt my brain a little bit. It seems like it would be easy enough to do -- my Skype rings wherever my computer is (or I can just forward it to my Blackberry), the wi-fi is everywhere, and I'd be drinking coffee anyway, so why not give it a try? I'm just a little paranoid because of my long held position that as an employee, I should be grinding away in my office just like everyone else.

I'm a little conflicted about it. What do you think I should do?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Simple Steps for Managers

Because I am an employee who telecommutes, I most often worry only about how you, my fellow mortal, can get out of the office and into some slippers. But maybe, just maybe, some of my gentle readers are managers who want to offer this awesome benefit to your employees.

To you I say: Kudos!

And check out this checklist from the government telework people. The steps they outline here really are the basis of good telecommuting management, and aspiring to these guidelines might help you avoid some problems as you roll out your telecommuting plans to your employees.

I really like this: "Base denials on business reasons." Just like I continually harp on employees to steer clear of heartfelt explanations of how they have no daycare for little Susie, or Grandpa Ulee is too addled to be left home alone, managers, too, should avoid any whiff of the personal when denying (or approving) telecommuting arrangements.

This isn't to say that when an employee's personal problems are interfering with their productivity that you shouldn't deal with that (whether the person works in the Real Office or in slippers). It just means that you should focus on the "you're not getting work done" part, rather than the "it pisses me off that I know you're throwing laundry in during the work day and I just feel like that's wrong even though you're getting more done than ever for us here in the office".

You ultimately have to trust your employees and be comfortable measuring results rather than time elapsed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Is It Like to Work At Home?

I'm a technology person in a sea of people doing other kinds of work, and in general my colleagues have no idea what the heck I do all day. So I've blogged about that. This article is from another point of view: a human resources guy who works for a geeked out employer (HP, one of the great telecommuting-allowing employers out there). This article has a very accurate description of what it's like to work at home.

Especially true: the fabulous luxury of popping into the house to help with a five minute family thing (wrangling a small child into a sweater, moving laundry from place to place) and then being back at work in the blink of an eye. It takes about as much time as listening to that person who has to wander into your cube to regale you with details about their recent digestive disturbances, but it's much more pleasant.

Yes, We Did!


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More Telecommuting Fashion Advice

You know telecommuting has arrived when serious newspapers are covering what to wear when working at home. Like in this piece from the Washington Post. The cheapskate in me must object to the notion of buying an $88 cardigan to blog in, but I think that $9 is a lot to pay for a coat at the Thrift Town so take my comments with a grain of store-brand salt.

Despite my caveats, I strongly urge you to read my previous fashion advice. Then do the opposite.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Succinct Arguments for Telecommuting

This quick little piece from CIO has seven quick reasons why telecommuting is good for business. The information is good fodder for your telecommuting proposal, because most of the pros are from the employer's perspective. One that I think will particularly get their attention: "Telecommuting means no excuses for missing deadlines."

I like this because it's absolutely true. I am one of a small collection of full time remote workers in my organization right now, and I keep (informally) lobbying my Real Office colleagues to exercise their ability to work from home for their own purposes. It's a hard-charging environment and there are no excuses for not working until the job is done.

But the fact is that people who know how to use tools can work wherever they are, including home. So they should do so.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

University Sustainability Includes Telecommuting

Universities are key economic forces in their communities (and sometimes in the world as a whole, depending on the institution's reach). As leaders in employing people and driving how work is done, they should totally embrace green policies, including encouraging telecommuting.

That's why it warms Stella's heart to read that Syracuse University has specifically included flexible work and telecommuting as part of their sustainability plans. Along with Zipcars and pre-tax bus passes, "Supervisors have been asked to encourage their employees, when appropriate, to consider flexible work schedules that cut down on commuting. Four-day weeks or telecommuting are among the options."


Monday, October 27, 2008

Tips for Coping with a Wrecked Hand

I know I said I wasn't going to be blogging, but I just can't stay away, dear readers. I've had my sweet little cast on for two weeks (almost) and I'm finding some good ways to get around the inconvenience.

1. Thumb typing can be less annoying than hamfisted traditional typing. I've been going slowly insane, driven to madness by the slowness of my typing, and I discovered that answering all my email on the Blackberry is, in some ways, easier than trying to peck out coherent responses on the full size keyboard.

2. Embrace plastic baggies. One of my big concerns is keeping my cast as fresh as possible so that I am presentable for social situations. I slap a baggie over my left hand when I'm doing stuff around the house -- cooking, tidying, petting dogs -- and it seems to really help. A related tip: Febreeze (aka: why clean when you can just make it smell clean?).

3. Take breaks. Often I will get on a roll where I'm really trying to type something important, and I have to consciously remind myself to stop using my bad hand because I'm also making my shoulders, neck and back feel bad. I stop, do some arm circles to try and keep some semblance of arm muscles, and then I put the bad hand up and go one handed for a while.

4. Proofread like crazy. You should do this anyway, but it's easier to get your fingers on the wrong keys when one hand is completely (well, nearly completely) useless. Give everything you write a super-duper-twice over.

I know this blog post will be incredibly useful to the large segment of the population out there who is trying to get stuff done with a broken pinky. That's what bloggers call knowing your audience!

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Isn't Some Kind of Gang Sign, I Hope

Well, the good news is that your gentle correspondent did not need surgery on her injured little finger. The bad news is that it had to be configured as depicted at right. My pinky and ring finger are extended at roughly a right angle to my palm. It's like I'm wearing a very stiff Michael Jackson glove. One that I can't remove for six weeks.

I'm pecking at the keyboard in a way not unlike a chimpanzee operating the controls in his space capsule. I predict that I'm probably only 7 to 10 days away from wrecking my left shoulder by typing like this.

So much to look forward to.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Brief Blogging Hiatus

Stella is sad to report that she must take a brief blogging break -- she broke a finger on her left hand* and cannot waste any of her limited tolerance for one handed typing on recreational use. Seriously, I normally touch type at 75+ WPM and this is going to drive me to drink. I have to keep my sh!t together for my real job, so I must conserve my keyboard essences.

If I can figure out how to post my x-rays, I will surely do so.

* It happened in the sliding door of our minivan. The door did manage to close all the way and latch, so my pinky is decisively brokesville, baby! I've got a sling, an arm splint, and orders to see an orthopaedist on Monday. Fun!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Telecommuting Wardrobe Tips

It's easy to think that when you work at home you no longer need to worry about clothing at all. Let your freak flag fly, you figure, because who will see you?

Well, dear readers, if you're doing things right, people will actually see you pretty frequently (through your web cam). So you need to make sure that you look reasonable when you're virtually attending meetings. I've got a few suggestions:

1. No pajamas. I know it's a cliche, but just don't do it. Even the most professional looking pajamas are still vaguely floppy. And really what's the point of having business-like pajamas?

2. Try shirts with collars. There is something about a shirt with a collar that makes you look somehow more pulled together from the waist up than a t-shirt. Even the most chic, sophisticated jersey knit t-shirt will look slouchy and too comfy when people see you online.

3. Wear shoes every day, at least for part of the day. Stella has learned one thing over the years of wearing slippers: they're a lot more comfortable than shoes. But the sad thing is that you will always have to wear shoes at least part of the time, so don't let your feet get too comfortable. Put on Real Office shoes for at least part of your day.

4. Pay attention to what you wear. A corrollary to my wear real shoes every day is this little rule. It's far too easy to slip into the same yoga pants, cardigan, blogging muu-muu or what have you. But working from home is your lifestyle, not a temporary illness where you give yourself a break. I'm not suggesting that you spend a ton of money and buy a whole new casual home wardrobe -- that would defeat the purpose. But don't forget that you're a vital, attractive, young telecommuter -- wear stuff you like that looks good.

Particularly from the waist up!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Telecommuting Is Awesome, Study Finds

From CIO, this quick piece covering a survey conducted by CompTIA about the perceived and actual benefits of telecommuting. Of note: 60% of respondents said that telecommuting programs saved them money, although the amounts varied widely. This stands to reason: if you send all your employees home and eliminate your rent and facilities costs, you'll save a lot of money. If you let people work from home one or two days a week and maintain an office or cube for each of those folks to use when they are in the Real Office, you'll save a bit less.

I would have liked them to ask people whether giving people telecommuting is a good way to offset paltry raises (or worse yet, cuts!) in an era of economic instability. Because I think this is going to be a growing benefit of telecommuting. If you can't help your employees keep pace with the rate that gas and other commuting expenses are increasing by increasing their pay, you can help reduce their costs by having them not drive their cars to and from the office.

It really doesn't cost you a thing. And that could save your employees a lot.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

This story about Comcast customers in the Houston metro area is really awful. First of all, on a personal level I'd kind of freak out a little bit if I wasn't able to obsessively read crap on the internets for several weeks. But the work aspects of it are truly horrifying.

This is the flip side of having remote employees -- if they are remote in places that are experiencing the same natural disaster that your Real Office is experiencing, you don't tend to get the disaster responsiveness you might could be hoping for. That's why everyone should hire telecommuters from New Mexico -- other than the occasional high wind, fire, or sand storm, there isn't a lot of catastrophic weather stuff that happens here.

Okay, we do have the plague. But it's highly treatable now. Really.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Driveable Telepresence, Again

Okay, this is a movable telepresence device I could get behind. Or inside. Or however I would be, prepositionally speaking, relative to this nifty little item. I have to think the badass design would reduce the risk of involuntary hat-wearing at the remote location, and I love the idea of driving it into people's offices and frightening them at their desks.

The problem with a lot of telepresence stuff is that you can't drive it from home. So if I need to meet with someone who is less technically adept that I (or less willing to horse around with Skype killing off their webcam every three minutes or whatever) it's a problem. I need to be able to get myself into a conference room without the other party having to do anything except show up. Just like if I was there, no one would be responsible for wheeling my disembodied head into the conference room.

Well, under ideal circumstances that would be true.

(Image from io9)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Telecommuting Definitely Saves Gas

I know that there are some doubters out there who say that even though telecommuters aren't driving to work that they're still using gas. You know how we're all driving to lunch with colleagues and running errands and stuff, and so it's probably a wash.

Well, I beg to differ. I must tell you (and please don't hate Stella, dear readers) that I am only filling my gas tank once a month. I noticed this trend in July -- I filled up on July 2, then August 5, then again after Labor Day, and I just did my October fillup. That's not much gas.

Now I'm not taking crazy measures -- I pick up my little kid at daycare three days a week when it's my turn to do so, I drive to the grocery store more than I should (largely because I'm too lazy to schlep a gallon of milk home by hand), I zip up to the gym, and so on. But really, it's so much less gas than I used even on my modest commute to the Real Office during my brief respite from full-time shut-in-ism. I'm a little shocked myself, honestly.

I really think that folding support for broad based programs to support telecommuting (improving internet infrastructure without metering and with neutrality, consistent tax policy so people aren't double-taxed by states, tax rebates for employers who promote telecommuting, oh, I suppose there are other things too, but I am policied out after watching the VP debates) has got to be a part of an energy strategy. A small part to be sure, but be terrific, be specific.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I'm Not Getting Political

...but I will say this: do you ever find yourself in the middle of a rambling question and/or answer, and sorta come to outside your body and think to yourself, "What on earth am I talking about?"


Okay, it's just me. But lately when that's been happening to me, I've been feeling like I know what Sarah Palin must feel like sometimes, and I've wanted to say to the person I'm going crazy on how sorry I am for getting Palinesque. And then I stop because I'm afraid they'll take it like a partisan thing instead of a "string a coherent sentence together" thing. But I mean it as a coherence-competence thing.

I mean, really. We've all had tough interviews where we found out about halfway through the interview that when they said TCP/IP, they meant a whole lot more than basic configuration of a firewall on a home router. I don't know about you, but when that happens to me, I just answer honestly and say, "I'm not familiar with the intricacies of configuring switches," or what have you.

I've never done it, but I know enough about it to know that it's not the kind of thing I can bullshit through with a Sams "Teach Yourself TCP/IP in 24 Hours" book and a smile.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tips for Videoconferencing

From the New York Times, these are some good basics to keep in mind when you're on the videemaphone with your colleagues. I find it's one thing to be the person running the meeting -- I have no problem focusing, filtering distractions, and all the rest of it. But it gets a lot harder to focus when I'm on the periphery of a meeting.

It's so easy to start picking through email. Or do a little IMing. Or spacing out and looking out the window.

Well the last bit you could do if you were in the conference room with everyone else. But you should knock off the rest of it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sniff. My Social Life Grinds to a Halt

But at least we went out with a whimper! Second place yet again. Oh well. I'm quite sad that I will have to find some other way to both be lamely competitive and drink on weeknights.

Perhaps we can all go a a bar somewhere and take LSAT practice exams.

Or something.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Practical Tips for Establishing a Telecommuting Program

The federal government is such a leader in telecommuting (no, really, they have a mandate to get as many people telecommuting as is possible in order to meet efficiency goals by 2015). So it shouldn't be a surprise that their technology and business publications are a goldmine of good advice for setting up and managing telework programs.

There is a nice assortment of tips in this article from FedTech Magazine. These tips are coming from agency CIOs with tens of thousands of employees and significant portions of that employee group telecommuting for real. These folks know whereof they speak.

Friday, September 26, 2008

If You Can Work While On Vacation

Sometimes managers are resistant to telecommuting. I know, it's shocking to hear this, but it's true, dear readers. Maybe you've encountered resistance from your manager, who has concerns that you won't be able to do what you need to do from home.

Okay, I hear you. But as this piece in the CNN notes, people are increasingly working from home anyway. And from the beach. And from the middle of the Sahara desert.

And if you can do that while you're on your own time, you could also do it on the company's time. In other words, all things being equal nobody would even notice that you weren't there because you would be working. Just like you do when you check your email at night and on the weekend.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Telecommuters Are An Anchor of the Digital Generation

If your devoted correspondent Stella was a little sharper, she'd figure out how to get invited to things like this and get them paid for. As it is, she can just pass them on to you, gentle readers, and for those of you in Ireland or close by, you might could attend. Stella often fantasizes about how, now that her work is entirely independent of her physical location, she might could just move to Ireland. And it seems like Ireland would be mildly interested in supporting that fantasy.

Sounds interesting, no?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dealing with the Disgruntled

This little post from the Wired blog has a novel solution to soothing the resentment of those who labor in the Real Office: get rid of the real office entirely. It's not so crazy, depending on the nature of your work. For many endeavors, physical location has almost completely lost its meaning. Given good impromptu meeting tools that give employees the ability to come together easily, why would you need a physical office, anyway?

Oh, I suppose there are some reasons. But if you work toward the goal of being rid of your office, you might just get there!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Help Your Boss Say "Yes!" to Telecommuting

Right now everyone is getting way interested in telecommuting. We all want to save money on gas, save the environment, enjoy the fruits of widespread broadband, and wear slippers. We have read up on what our telecommuting proposal should include, we've carefully written up how it's going to help our employer while de-emphasizing how awesome it will be for us, the employees. That's all great and good, but your boss has a problem:

She doesn't have an official policy to measure your lovely telecommuting proposal against.

I'm sure she wants to say yes to you, but she's afraid. If she lets you wear slippers all day, pretty soon she has to do that for everyone, including that dead-eyed slacker in sector 7-G who never does anything anyway and is this close to being fired. And she doesn't want to do that.

Frankly, you don't want her to have to do that either, because dead-eyed slackers don't get any more lively-eyed at home, and people like that will bring down a telecommuting program. You need only top performers who continue to perform well even if they are wearing slippers.

So what to do? Volunteer to draft the corporate telecommuting policy. Offer to form a committee, find a powerful sponsor, and get something in place that will allow managers to cover their bases when evaluating telecommuting proposals. They need a rubric to fairly apply to all comers that will help them weed out the bad and reward the good without the appearance of favoritism that can sully these things.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Do-Good Telecommuting

As you may or may not know, Stella has worked in the non-profit realm almost her entire career. There was that brief stint as a secretary at a brokerage firm for two months after college, and some temping for a software company, but the rest of my time spent in the office has been to advance the more noble causes of humanity.

So I telecommute for the good of the world, but starting this week I'm also going to start volunteering in the real world. I'm going to be a friendly visitor at our local VA hospital. I'll let you know how that goes.

But if you're a truly committed shut in, it turns out that you can still do good for the organizations and causes you feel strongly about. Like this woman who still volunteers even though she's moved across the country. See? You can do it.

You really ought to do it, too. Even if you have to go out into the real world.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Do You Do All Day?

It's a fair question. I did a post like this more than a year ago, and I think it is instructive. A lot of people wonder what exactly it is that you can do all day when you're just sitting in your house pecking away at the computer. Are you really working?


8:00 - Fire up the computer and check email.
8:15 - There's an item in the all-campus email update that is relevant to Advancement, so I post it to the intranet; because it includes a nice photo, I spend a little bit of time figuring out how to make it look good because I've never included a photo in an announcement on my intranet before.
8:30 - It turns out that Advancement doesn't want to emphasize the event I just posted to the intranet, so I kill the announcement I just made.
8:50 - I post another announcement from my in box -- this is definitely a keeper.
8:55 - I need more coffee.
9:00 - Work on the intranet for a while -- I'm changing a bunch of settings on all the folders we have in there, and so I need to just go through each folder and do the same set of changes. Dull, but I'm glad I'm here by myself so I can concentrate and do each one the same way.
9:30 - Working on a quick guide on how to manage documents in the intranet, now that I've changed everyone's document library to accommodate how I think their documents should work.
10:45 - On to another intranet issue. I'm on fire!
11:00 - Interruption -- a colleague is having an issue with one of my products and emails me a bunch of queries. I respond to her questions and send her some documentation that may help.
11:07 - Back to the intranet.
12:00 - Lunch - I go and lie down for a little bit, because by Friday I'm pretty beat. Somehow the being at work at 6:00 my time is cumulatively tiring. Alas.
1:00 - Weekly meeting with my manager. We use Skype to do a videoconference, and go through the stuff I'm working on. Fire up an ad-hoc GoToMeeting session for a little tour of some stuff.
2:00 - Process email that came in while I was in the meeting. Answer a couple of questions.
2:15 - Back to the intranet -- it is really my day to work on this thing.
3:00 - Phone meeting on an event site that we're plotting. Internal client doesn't have time to really think in detail about it for a couple of weeks, but at least the ball is rolling. SkypeOut to several people works great!
3:15 - IM with the other webguy who was in the phone meeting to digest what we heard.
3:20 - Seriously, I need to adjust the size of the middle pane in my intranet. Please please please Sharepoint, could you make this easy? No? Fine, be that way.
3:38 - Okay, my Sharepoint book has no insight that I can discern from its index, so I'm now Googling to see how to adjust those columns' sizes. Sigh.
4:30 - I give up on my zone adjustment, and start emailing a few people who I'm giving access to their document libraries.
5:10 - Done. I'm actually just kind of giving up for the day because I can't make any more progress on adjusting my columns, and I'm kind of fried on everything else. Time to go to the gym.

And that's what I did all day. I was remarkably focused on the intranet today, with brief email based diversions into other areas. It's a real luxury to be able to focus and work steadily on something like that because it's hard to make sure that all 23 pages or document libraries or what have you all have the same dumb formatting changes applied in the same way.

See? I don't "work at home", I work at home.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Properly Feted

Stella's little home office has been brightened up by yesterday's arrival of the depicted bouquet of flowers. No, they weren't sent "just because". My wonderful sisters and mother sent them to help me celebrate a milestone (or is that millstone? I guess it all depends on your perspective!) birthday.

Stella is older, wiser, and sturdier.

Okay, and now for the telecommuting angle on this: You should not fail to have plants and flowers in your office. It's pleasant, soothing for the eyes, and it makes you feel special.

Now isn't that special?

Telecommuting Crisis

Can you imagine my horror this morning when I awoke to discover I had forgotten to set the automatic coffee maker. There was no coffee waiting for me.

After making the coffee, I then had to confront the reality of no milk in the house. I don't think I need to tell you that I got myself immediately over to the grocery store to purchase the same. So desperate for coffee was I that I almost stopped at Starbucks on the way to the store.

But I managed to keep it together. Barely.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Strengthen Your Telecommuting Proposal by Talking About Your Strengths

This interview from Shifting Careers in the NYTimes makes me want to read Tori Johnson's book Will Work From Home. They talk about some interesting points, but the one I want to pull out is that being an employee or an entrepreneur from home requires a common skill set -- a certain willingness to git-r-done that not everyone has. If you're an entrepreneur, you have to move it to get business, and sleeping late or letting small connectivity problems get in the way has a direct impact on the bottom line.

But the slipper-wearing salaried employee can learn something from this, too.

You, the telecommuting proposer, might want to think about noting your amazing sticktoitiveness in your pitch to your manager. Note how you solve technical problems, have administered your own home network since you first set it up in 1998 to play Doom with your roommates, and how you haven't called tech support in three years.

This also points to a way for managers to assess that pile of telecommuting proposals from employees who long to stop driving around so much. As you determine who might be a good candidate for a telecommuting arrangement, you definitely need to consider whether or not an employee is the type of person waits until someone comes to fix the problem when his computer goes down, or whether he tries restarting the thing himself before calling tech support.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Always a Bridesmaid, Rarely a Bride

Well, we did it again: second place. Stella realizes that posting this as my Tuesday post is a total cop-out, but frankly I'm tired after staying up "late" (10:30, which is like 12:30 in my east coast brain, right?) . We had a number of slow brain stumbles, like coming up with answers five minutes after we handed in our quiz sheets, which, as it turns out, doesn't help your score.

But I did win two $.75 pints for the team by knowing that Danny Pintauro was on Who's The Boss ("ANJAH-LERR!") and something else that I forget now.

Like I said, I'm tired, but working hard.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Goldmine of Telecommuting Resources

This series of articles from PC Magazine has a ton of good ideas, tools, tips, and whatnot for getting started and thriving in a telecommuting arrangement. The tools are probably not going to be news to most of the hard-core remote working enthusiasts out there, and frankly they've picked the most blogged about stuff out there. You might do better to look at sites that do nothing but worry about webworker tools.

But tips for convincing your boss to let you strap on slippers -- you can never have too many of those! I absolutely love the idea of taking bullets for the team. This is a great idea, and it goes beyond taking travel gigs that everyone else is dreading. I will always try to volunteer for late-night upgrade babysitting duties, staying late to take a vendor call during a technical issue resolution process, dealing with after hours support calls from customers, or checking critical systems on a holiday. It's not like I have to go extremely out of my way to do so -- I just stumble across the dang patio. Easy as pie.

Look, dear readers, you have to be honest with yourself: telecommuting is an enormous and pleasant luxury. Not everyone gets to do it, and you're really lucky. You have to go the extra mile, and picking up those rubber chickens when you can is a a good way to get started on that extra mile.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Verizon Calculates Meatspace Meeting Costs*

If you can take my word seriously after my shocking Junior Miss revelation, you should definitely check out this item from Endless Knots, wherein Verizon quantifies the cost of meeting face to face, and decides that they really should do videoconferencing and other non-three dimensional meeting techniques.

Here's the deal: once people get used to the equipment and the idea that you don't have to spend six hours in an airport and a night in a posh but still vaguely noisy and not-that-restful hotel in order to spend three hours yakking with people, you'll get just as much out of your meetings. Friends, I've been doing this for a year and a bit (with a brief interlude in actual conference rooms) and I can tell you that if you apply yourself, you won't even miss the conference room table.

* Can we call those meatings? I like it!


And no, I'm not frozen. I've been tagged by the (apparent) woman of my Punk Rock HR dreams, Laurie Ruettimann, to engage in listmaking. Here is my task:

Six Random Things About Myself:

1. Myself is self-contained.
2. Myself is fairly self-explanatory.
3. Myself is self-actualized.
4. Myself is my-own
5. Myself is...uh...okay I can't sustain that trope.
6. I have something in common with Sarah Palin: No my teenage daughter isn't knocked up with the child of a mullet-wearing dude, I'm a former Junior Miss from a small town.

The rules to play are …

  1. Link to the person who tagged you. Please see above. Or here.

  2. Post the rules on the blog.

  3. Write six random things about yourself.

  4. Tag six people at the end of your post.

  5. Let each person know they have been tagged.

  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
Okay, but here's where it breaks down...I'll fulfill this myself, but I'm not sure I can rope in six others. This is why I'm a terrible fundraiser: I hate to be a burden to others. But will this work: If you read this, post your six random things where you will and you know, follow the rules. God, I'm a shitty chain letter recipient. I just killed a puppy in Kazakhstan or something, didn't I?


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Zoning Problems for Telecommuters

An interesting item from the action-packed Idaho Business Review -- it turns out that some local jurisdictions may have rules against running a business from your home. I suspect that many places have rules and regulations like this, and they may or may not affect you, depending on your telecommuting arrangements. For example, if you're a full time employee, you might not need a business license. But full time freelancers may need permits and such.

Check your local listings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm Stella Commute, and I Approve This Sentiment

From U.S. News and World Report*, a fine blog post advocating that all political parties get behind supporting telecommuting through tax breaks for companies that promote telecommuting to their employees.

The Federal government is already doing a lot to promote telecommuting -- primarily because they are headquartered in one of the great traffic hells of the world, Washington, DC. But pushing telecommuting hard to places outside the Beltway is a great thing to do.

Oh, and work on passing the Telecommuting Tax Fairness Act, too, so that telecommuters aren't wantonly taxed by every state that might somehow lay claim to their incomes.

* Were there ever two separate magazines, U.S. News, and another publication World Report, that combined to become U.S. News and World Report, or is it just a terrible terrible publication name? Also, I've discovered the secret identity of one of my favorite bloggers, Evil HR Lady -- it's the person who wrote the post I've linked to here. Cool.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Whose Responible, Indeed

I promised John Ellsberry that I would wear this Fabulous Whose Responible? t-shirt every opportunity I had to be photographed, and I'm pleased that last night's second place finish at Geeks Who Drink was one of those occasions.

Blog O'sphere Dreams

Okay, what does it mean when you have a dream in which another blogger (whom you've never met, mind you) is featured? Because I had a dream in which Laurie Ruettimann of Punk Rock HR and I were camping.

So, I don't camp. I have never met Laurie Ruettimann. And why would my subconscious be working on such things?


Monday, September 8, 2008

Comcast Worries

I've been following this Comcast nonsense about punishing broadband users who go over 250GB upstream a month. I've got to be honest with you, I have no idea what my upstream bandwidth usage is, but it seems like 250GB is a huge amount. I've also looked into ways to measure my bandwidth usage at my router using SNMP, but this GigaOM article got me thinking that it kind of doesn't matter what I measure.

Because Comcast can just calculate my usage any way they want, and they can cut me off any time they want, too. And then I can't work at all whilst I appeal their decision and take my SNMP logs to their offices and stand outside and cry.

And that's a bummer. Because I really need to work. Like everyday. Not just when Comcast deems me a non-excessive user. Sigh.

I hate monopolies.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why Working Five Days a Week is a Good Idea for Telecommuters

There is a lot of talk these days about four day work weeks, mostly as a way to help your employees conserve gas. And apparently, if you give everyone Friday off, you, the employer, probably save money on cooling/lighting/all that other stuff that goes on in your Real Office. (Although I think that's kind of dumb from a customer service viewpoint, you didn't ask me.)

I think if you're a full-time telecommuter, however, you should work five days a week. The most important reason to do this is because everyone back in the Real Office already thinks you're a total slacker who works a lot less hard than everyone else.

I know. You're not a total slacker. You get more done every day than the Real Office folks do in a day and a half. I'm not asking what you do, I'm telling you what they think. And they think you're not working that hard.

Another reason to work five days is to take advantage of the extra productivity. You are probably working from home in part because a lot of your work can be done without a huge amount of in-person interaction. Why wouldn't you kick out the jams as much as possible, even if other people are goofing off?

And one more thing: there are lots of advantages you have that your Real Office compatriots can't take advantage of. You know what they are: the ability to fold laundry whilst attending dull meetings on the periphery of your responsibilities, the luxury of a warm cat on your lap, the joy of not looking at cubicle walls all day. It is only reasonable that there might be some Real Office benefits that you cannot partake of: bad coffee, cubicle walls, and yes, four day work weeks.

Listen, I'm not trying to be a jerk about this. (I don't have to try - I'm an expert jerk. Ha ha.) But for those of us who are both shut-ins and full-time, real employees, the appearance of being extra-exemplary is important. You have to ask yourself this important question: do you really need a four-day work week? The answer is probably not. You're already saving as much gas as is humanly possible -- what more do you want, people?

Let your Real Office colleagues have some fun.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Telecommuting Questions

From the website ITBusiness Canada, this article raises a number of key management questions that any employer should consider as they plan their telecommuting program. The good news? Almost all of these questions can be resolved with good planning and good tools in place. The big issues they raise: collaboration, performance, and access. All of these are big problems in hastily slapped together telecommuting programs, but can be readily dealt with if you take a little time.

Take access problems, for instance: Real Office workers may feel as though they can't bother people who are working at home because they're not sure if the telecommuter is actually working at the same time as everyone else in the office is. And how easy is this to solve? Super easy. Just put this sentence in your telecommuting policy (you have one, right?): "All employees are expected to keep routine office hours that meet the staffing needs of their department, unit, or work group."

See how easy that is? Even if you're working at a ROWE "no rules-just right" environment, as a manager you can say, "Gee, guys, I really need to have someone here to provide service to our customers between 10 and 6, because that's when people want the thing we do."

You still have to manage. Sorry.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Interesting Telecommuting Legal Ruling

This is an interesting question: if you telecommute from one state and your employer is in another state, how does it work if you become unemployed? This note on a recent NY state court of appeals ruling is thought-inducing. It seems to my (non-lawyerly) reading to indicate that you are eligible for unemployment benefits in the state where you work, not where your company is located.

Interesting, indeed, given that New York State wants to tax your income in the state where your employer is located, rather than letting the state you work in have its share of your income. Huh.

I don't get it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stella's Going on Vacation

I know what you're thinking: vacation from what, lady? You sit around your house in slippers all day and you get paid good money to perform assorted mayhem on the web. How exactly do you get more relaxed than that?

Well, I intend to find out, so don't look for any postings on Monday or Tuesday, dear readers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back To School: A Boon for Telecommuters

Don't get me wrong: I do not take care of my children during the day whilst working. I'm not "working at home", I'm working, and as a general rule, my job description does not include parenting.

Once my workday is done, naturally I'm on the mommy tip, making sandwiches and the like. But during the day, I am not here. Seriously. Don't ask.

When school is out, the little kid still goes to preschool, but the big one really is big -- twelve. She's quite old enough to make sandwiches, go swimming, take a bike ride around our quiet neighborhood, and so on. But somehow just having her around all summer takes away just a little bit from my focus.

Today I put my finger on it: having someone around the house who is really in the local timezone rather than in my otherworldy East Coast existence is really distracting at a psychic level. It hit me as I made pasta with pinenuts and romano cheese today at ten in the morning. Without a pre-teen lounging around sluggishly in her pajamas, it was easy to stay in my East Coast mindset.

I know, it's a little deranged. But this is how it works for me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I've Said It Before

...and I will say it again. Right now, in fact: I have got to learn how to slow down when doing conference calls. It is the hardest thing in the world, but it's really important, and here is why: When you are in a face-to-face meeting, the other party can read your body language and see you nodding in agreement before you say, "Right, right!" in assent.

Absent those non-verbal cues, saying, "Right, right!" at the end of the other person's sentence can seem like you are trying to rush them along. The other people on the line don't have the luxury of reading your face, posture, and all that other good stuff. And you might come off as an impatient jerk. Which I hope I don't. But I could see where I might.

So, I'm making a note to my self: CHILL. THE. F*CK. OUT.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More About Telecommuting Monitoring

I wrote last week about oDesk (a tool that lets contractees check in on their contractors during their billable hours to make sure they're doing billable work). Now I'd like to share with you from IT Business Edge, this blog post that explains oDesk and some other monitoring tools that the more suspicious amongst us might want to use.

Interesting...I wonder about using these for all computer-based employees, really. People can be running eBay side businesses from their cubes just like the shut-in might be.

I'm just sayin'

Monday, August 25, 2008

Consider Cancer Conquered

Or at least Sandia Peak has been conquered. Cancer may take a few more years, but thanks to your support, Stella is proud to say that we've done a little bit to fund cancer research and patient education. THANK YOU!

More details: it was definitely a long walk. It turns out that six and a half miles straight uphill moving from 9,000 to 11,000 feet is the kind of thing your body notices. Most especially your feet will let you know that you've done something a little out of the ordinary. But no matter, it was a beautiful day, and walking through the Cibola National Forest was a treat.