Friday, February 29, 2008

Are You A Trainer?

Even if you're not specifically called a trainer, chances are you probably have to teach people how to do things, orient them to stuff, show them how your products work in detail, or otherwise stand up in front of small- to mid-size groups and do some 'splaining. If this is you, please make sure that you regularly take time to refresh your approach, even if your subject matter is timeless and unchanging (sex educators, anyone?).

I'm not talking about simply making sure your facts and figures are updated. I'm advocating that you go back to the very beginning of whatever process you use to figure out what you're going to talk about and do it all over again.

Start with your learning needs assessment -- what do people need to know now? Has it changed since you first set up your objectives and goals for the orientation? Or worse yet, did you never pause to think what people would actually be able to do after they go through whatever learning experience you're going to subject them to? Whatever, go back to the basics and make sure you're teaching what people need to know.

On to your materials. Yes, PowerPoint, handouts, demos, role playing, and the inevitable certificates of completion are dandy. But are they really helping people get what they need out of what you're showing them? Scrap it all, and try building them from scratch. See how much better they are when they're made by someone with more skills, a deeper understanding of the material, a better feel for the audience and its questions? That new-and-improved someone is You -- now with several more years experience in your industry!

Freshen your patter. We all know that stories, jokes, and anecdotes can make presentations more lively -- but are you like your dad, exclaiming, "Why not the wurst!" every time you go to the German restaurant? Cast your mind over your experiences since the last time you really thought about what to say, and find some new things to say: new examples and metaphors for what you're doing, different client stories, novel scenarios for folks to work through, etc.

How do you know it's time to do this? Ask yourself these questions: Do you find yourself bored while you are doing your training? Are you routinely skipping over big chunks of the prepared material? Do you spend a lot of time following up on questions asked during class that aren't covered by your standard schtick? Are your participants glaring at you in resentment?

These are signs, my friends. Heed them wisely.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Death By Powerpoint

I'm attending training at a very prestigious facility in my industry and while the content is really good, their slides are, ummm, what can I say? Three little words:

Comic Sans MS

Honestly, I want to put out my eyes. There is a lot else wrong with their slides (too many words, reading the whole slide, terrible graphs and charts) but I'll leave that to your imagination. My strategy for today is to avert my eyes from the slides and just look at their more sensible printed materials.

Sigh. Stella has two more days of this.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On The Road Again

Stella is going to be a tinch incommunicado for the next few days as she travels about the country in search of the best freezing rain the nation has to offer. While she'll try to post, she can't really make any promises. In fact, she's only going to refer to herself in the third person so as to properly communicate the distance between herself and her readership.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Keeping Telecommuting Alive

The longer I observe telecommuting programs (and also because of my own experiences with doing it) the more I notice this trend: they can be extremely vulnerable to management personnel changes. Sure, maybe your manager understands that seeing people in the office isn't necessarily the same as watching them get work done, but if she gets a new job somewhere else, the next person may not be so forward thinking. Suddenly you find yourself sitting in a cubicle wearing pantyhose, and asking yourself, "What just happened?" On a grander scale, the move by companies like AT&T and Intel to round up their telecommuters as part of a management effort to streamline and save money is an example of this vulnerability.

Of course, you, the telecommuting cog in the machine, may not have much control over this. But I think that every telecommuter must try his or her best to advance the overall cause of remote work at their employer. It's one of those hidden job duties that comes along with wearing slippers: yes, in addition to being the preemptive strike telephone call specialist, the IM client set-up guru, and the getting-the-videoconferencing-through-the-firewall wizard, you must also become the telecommuting evangelist. Moreover, you must get your manager to start infecting those around her, as well.

The two of you have to work with whoever puts together the management training stuff at your company to make sure there is a "Managing Telecommuters" class that is required for everyone who is a "manager" or is training to be one. That class should include first hand experiences at your company (like yours, and any others you can dig up).

Maybe you've had my favorite telecommuting moment: You've finished your first big project with someone new and he wants to get together with you for a celebratory lunch, except you're 2,000 miles away. After your colleague or client gets over being amazed with how he didn't even realize that you might have been wearing slippers the whole time you were working together, suggest that he mention how great and seamlessly the telecommuting program worked in his project update to his manager. And they'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on.

Take a look at your org chart and see if you can target managers in departments full of people who are seemingly a good fit for telecommuting. Take them out to lunch when you're on site, or make your manager do it, and talk about how telecommuting really isn't that bad. In fact, it's good.

I know it's tempting to try and keep your telecommuting arrangement a secret for fear of drawing too much attention to what you're up to. Maybe management is worried that everyone will want to do it if you promote it too vigorously. Whatever, I really think you have to get the word out and show the whole company that it's working. Having lots of powerful people in your organization who believe in people's abilities to get things done irrespective of where their computers are located is important to sustaining telecommuting programs. Seriously.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Good Things To Read

There is a lot of good stuff here, written and gathered by Jessica Lipnack. I really like these tips and other stuff about keeping your virtual teams a-hummin' a lot. There's gold in them thar blogs, friends. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

4 Tips for Inching Into Telecommuting, One Day At A Time

The Wall Street Journal has some fairly standard suggestions for making telecommuting work for you. [yaaawn] Um, right, set up a dedicated space, be in touch, don't watch TV all day. Check. Got it.

Since, as they note in their article, the vast majority of telecommuters are working in a Real Office most of the time, and from home only one day a week, it might be more helpful to focus on ways you can look at the things you're doing in the Real Office to identify a segment of your work that you could do from home. Dig it: many people aren't going to be able to put together a pure-play, 100% wearing their slippers telecommuting plan because of the nature of their work. Maybe you have to work with legal tender or other confidential documents that you would be ill advised to take off site. Perhaps you have some need or obligation to provide in-person customer service.

Whatever the reason, you still want to make the point that the flexible options your management trumpets in their recruiting materials aren't just for the technology-humping elite. I believe you can do it. Try this:

1. Scan your workday for activities you can do on any computer, not just the Real Office rig. I'm thinking about things like doing research, reviewing or checking printouts of data against records stored in the system, online training, reading professional journals, writing manuals and procedures, working on budgets, reviewing resumes, writing reviews or doing other HR tasks. Spend a month logging the time you spend doing every little thing in the day, and then analyze the data to flag tasks that are not location-specific. Then ask yourself:

  • Can I batch my need to do these activities -- in other words, can I pile this work up until Wednesday and do it all at once, or does it require a daily review?
  • Do they add up to at least eight hours a week?
  • Can I access the systems and information I need to do these tasks from any computer, generally speaking?

If you answer yes to these questions, then you may have just identified a work at home day.

2. Test out all the technology available to you. The goal of this exercise is to make absolutely sure that you're going to be able to do everything you need to from home. Get an account and fire up the VPN from home, then systematically go through all the work-from-home tasks you identified in step one. Start using the web version of your core database to make sure there isn't some missing functionality that you're going to desperately need. Hit all the file systems to identify when you're likely to hit security roadblocks, and come up with strategies to get around this. Like, "Oh, I'll need to make a local copy of those budget files on my laptop on Tuesday afternoon so I can work on them from home on Wednesday, since the server isn't available over the VPN." Don't forget about the phone system, too. Many systems will allow you to forward your phone to any number, not just those within the system, so you may be able to send your desk phone to your home office, making it seamless for folks who call you.

3. Write a specific plan and sit down to discuss it with your manager. Steps one and two have given you a lot of specific data: you know what you want to do from home, and exactly how you're going to do it. Write it up in a concise document, and for Pete's sake, leave out any reference to how great it's going to be for you to work at home. You're writing this plan to make your boss feel good about how smart she is to let you work from home, and she won't feel smart if you talk about how you'll be able to play more with your kids. Really. Trust me on this. Instead, your plan should spell out:
  • The specific things you know you are able to do from home and how many hours a week they take you in the office
  • An explanation of the technology and techniques you'll use to do those tasks, noting which are already in place, and which might need to be added
  • A description of your home office that specifies that it's quiet, businesslike, fully broadbanded-up, and absolutely free of small children or elderly parents whom you might be called upon to care for during your work-at-home days
  • A set of expectations your manager may have of you on your work-at-home days, such as calls returned within X period of time, emails returned within Y period of time, availability on company IM, etc.
  • Suggestions for ways your manager will be able to tell you're working -- maybe you'll turn in all your TPS reports for the prior week first thing in the morning the day after your telecommute day
4. Produce. The single best way to obtain, retain, and expand telecommuting is to produce good results. Remember, if you do the work it gets done. When you're working at home, you must be extra vigilant to call folks back (or better yet, pick up the phone when people call you in the first place, if possible), to do the things you planned to do on your telecommute day, and to generally kick ass in all regards. It's a combination of actual working and window dressing, to be honest with you. Of course, you've got to crank out your budget numbers, yes, the actual work you're charged with. But you also need to play the game a little bit -- make sure that you're on the IM right at the crack of the business day, or make a point of calling into your manager or a cranky colleague first thing in the morning (and don't call just to say, "I'm working at home today, remember?", or worse yet "I can't get to this thing from here, can you do it for me?").

Monday, February 18, 2008

Going Green

I haven't rambled about how good telecommuting is for the ol' Earth in a while, because it's just so intuitively obvious to the casual observer. But Computerworld notes companies with big telecommuting programs in a series about green IT. Discovery Communications comes out high on their list, in part because their green efforts fit in with their overall brand so well (walking the talk and all that jazz, dontcha know). They're doing things like keeping their server rooms a few degrees warmer, doing some other cool power management stuff, and doing some simple things to keep staffers off the road as much as possible. From the article:

IT issues a laptop to every one of its 3,619 employees who require a computer and provides secure remote access and voice-over-IP capabilities. All laptops have power management capabilities enabled, and users are encouraged to turn off the computers at the end of the day. "Thirty percent of the staff telecommutes at least one day a week," says Kline.

In 2004, Discovery installed teleconferencing systems to cut down on business travel. "Teleconferencing has a huge ROI for us because it's a cheaper use of people's time," says Kline.

If I had to pick, I would say that getting telecommuting going is good, but ubiquitous videoconferencing is even better from a making work efficient for everyone who works for you. We all waste so much time physically moving in and out of meetings. Being able to pop into a meeting in a matter of seconds rather than having to shuffle down to the conference room, wait for everyone else to show up, run back out for coffee and copies, sit back down, and so on and so on -- well, you can see why it's better. Not only do you save time, but using good meeting tools you can eliminate the need to make copies of agendas and other materials -- everyone has a digital copy on his or her desktop, and no trees are harmed in the making of that particular meeting.

Plus if everyone is virtual in the meeting then it's no longer important who is virtual from their desk down the hall and who is virtual from their back patio. It levels the playing field. How nice.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Awakening the Millennial Within

We've all heard about what pains our young friends in GenY are. We call them Gen Why? or Gen Whine, and note how much attention they seem to require in the work place. GenX folks like me have also observed how many of them there are and are maybe a little concerned that if we don't get it together they might could eat our lunch in a few years if the Baby Boom ever (ever) retires.

But frankly, there is a lot to be learned from these demanding Millennials. What they are demanding in the workplace -- meaning in their work through good projects for a good cause, a low Bozo Factor from management, good value (e.g. money) in exchange for their time, prompt , thoughtful feedback -- these are good things, really. Why doesn't GenX demand this from their work, too?

These kids value their time highly, and they walk into job interviews with that attitude. They are not going to work 70 hours a week unless they are really passionate about something. It just won't happen. Some people see this as not wanting to pay their dues, but honestly, why do any of us pay our dues? Do we really want to belong to a club that's built on extracting as much labor as possible from people who aren't in a position to say no?

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I am determined to put more pressure on myself to demand the things I want from a workplace. I don't know if it means going to work in flip-flops more often, or what, exactly. Maybe I'm just going to open my eyes more, see what is right and what is wrong, and start making the changes that are needed. Maybe I'll embrace the idea that I'm done talking myself into jobs that don't engage every single part of my brain and make me feel like I'm running a marathon (you know, it's really, almost impossibly hard but I feel an immense sense of accomplishment at the end of the race).

I guess I'm saying that I won't be making big compromises for the workplace any more. I will deliver enormous value for every penny they pay me. I will take their mission as my own. (Didn't I just say that is one of my conditions working there? If I don't believe in what you're doing, I'm not going to be a part of it.) In return, I ask that the workplace respect my individuality and intellect and make best use of it. That's not so hard, is it?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Non-Shoring? Non-Offshoring? Whatever, It Works

Here's an interesting twist in the "times are tough" reporting: a call center is closing in Indianapolis, but nobody is losing his or her job. I hope that these folks will continue to be real employees, with benefits and support systems and the like. But really, for a call center, the idea that people have to go somewhere special to hop on a computer and telephone and take calls for six to eight hours is really quite silly. Rock on with your bad self, MetLife.

But Why?

From ZenHabits, a nice post about keeping your energy up without drinking lotsa coffee. I can see the virtue of this, mostly. I am certainly a well-known coffee addict, and I have gone through phases where I have dramatically cut my coffee consumption (primarily through the addition of green tea to wean me off the hard stuff without excruciating headaches). I gave it up almost entirely when I was expecting each of my two lovely daughters, in fact.

But the same thing happens every time my dosage gets low. It starts out with a late night -- too much pub quiz, a sick baby, what have you -- and you're driving by the coffee shop and think to yourself, "Gosh, I have so much to do today, maybe a little tiny espresso will be just the jolt I need." A one time shot.

And soon you're back to guzzling cup after cup because it's tasty and it makes your brain feel busy, even if you're just reading blogs about how you should drink less coffee.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It All Depends on Your Point of View

Sometimes it's hard to know which is the case. Maybe videoconferencing is a better idea?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Good Advice for Managing Mobile Workers

Well, one assumes that all your workers are somewhat mobile -- moving fingers on keyboards, using legs to wander around the office, wielding arms to pick up donuts, breathing and the like. But for those who move a bit further afield, this article from the HR World website (a whole world of HR -- wow!) has some pretty detailed management considerations for dealing with people who go places for work. I particularly like the analysis of the types of mobile workers and worker personalities. The main take-aways from this piece: make it easy for people to get in touch with each other, and measure results.

Plus it's nice to see someone writing about telecommuting without invoking that RPI study.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Until We're All Working for Best Buy

As a telecommuting advocate, I'm a huge fan of the results-only thing that they're doing at Best Buy primarily because it refocuses management on what actually gets done and its effect on the bottom line, and everyone has to meet those expectations -- whether you're a telecommuter or a Real Office worker. Unfortunately, most of us don't work for such enlightened workplaces, and so we operate in environments where showing up and looking busy are still a part of how we're measured.

That's one reason why telecommuters might should ignore Cali and Jody's advice in this post from their blog. They argue that all the typical advice about telecommuting (regular hours, have a quiet space just for work, keep the kids out, get dressed) is jive. You're just making the beauty of telecommuting like the grind of the regular office, so what's the point? And I can see that, but there are some valid reasons that telecommuters are wise do these things:

1. Often, you're one of a handful of people who are allowed to telecommute, and most of your coworkers and clients are still working traditional hours in a Real Office. You better believe the folks back in the office will become annoyed and resentful when they can't get you on the phone during the day. (Of course, if everyone is free to come and go as they wish and all are equipped with mobile communication tools and expectations (e.g. if the work cell phone rings, you answer it), then this isn't an issue. But most places aren't like this yet.)

2. You do have to actually work at some point. If your home is always filled with toddlers who want you to put together puzzles with them, you're not going to get much in the way of results-only. Without a place you can go and hide and actually work, you'll be an exhausted shift worker in short order: Get up at 4 am so you can have some quiet time to work at the kitchen table before the kids get up, then chase them around all day until bedtime, then start working again until you drop off to sleep at your laptop. That really doesn't work.

3. If you want to deduct your home office space from your taxes, you have to have an exclusive, dedicated space. Worse yet, if you telecommute for a company in New York, you have an additional series of hoops to jump through, so your home office really does have to be a work temple.

4. Working at home can be a slippery slope of sloth, and because you're away from the Real Office, it may take them a while to notice. But notice they will, and then you may be in trouble. Being rigorous with yourself about working on a regular basis and taking it seriously can help you avoid starting down the path of ruin.

5. You really ought to get dressed if you're going to be videoconferencing with folks. Seriously, nobody wants to picture you naked from the waist down during a meeting. And successful telecommuters should have tools that let colleagues and coworkers pop in on them visually throughout their work day -- so it's best to be somewhat clothed.

6. Many telecommuters are freelancers, and their livelihoods depend on them getting lots and lots of work done, and prospecting for more. Having separate office space and keeping regular hours actually helps them set limits on how much they work and also helps with balance. Even if you're not a freelancer, you may be a workaholic, and having the door to shut at the end of the day (or when you achieve your results) can be a helpful cue to stop.

Don't get me wrong, I think that there should be flexibility in your days, whether you're working at home or in the Real Office. Do some laundry. Run an errand at 3 in the afternoon. Throw the ball for the dog for fifteen minutes. But during this transitional in the U.S. workplace, you have to give some concessions for the privilege of working in your slippers on the cutting edge of workplace policy.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Other Side of Research

I know that I've given a hard time to the "Left Below" study that looked at one company's telecommuting program and found that people who didn't telecommute felt resentful and had more work to do. Well, the pro-flexible work arrangements side has one-company studies, too.

I recognize that it's a sign of my bias that I think that these studies are more reliable.

Of course, the researchers who studied Results-Only-Work-Environment (ROWE) at Best-Buy headquarters have put the full text of their study out on the web, unlike the RPI study (which I have tried to find and failed -- although I guess it's not really his fault that the journal in which it was published only lets its subscribers read the full text of the article). Oh, and their research was funded by the NIH, so one might think that they had to pass some rigor with regard to research methodologies and what not.

I just want rigorous research about what telecommuting policies work best so badly! Research, research, research!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Makes Me Glad I'm Not A Lawyer

There was a recent decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court on a workers comp case that I thought was interesting (here's an opinion piece about the decision in the Tennessean). A woman who telecommuted full-time was assaulted in her home during her workday, and the court has ruled that she is entitled to workers comp for her injuries.

This kind of ruling could have a chilling (or, at best, complicating) effect on telecommuting arrangements. On the one hand, I think that workers compensation would likely be appropriate if my employer-issued computer malfunctions and electrocutes me as I work. But I don't think that it's my employer's fault if I walk out to get a sandwich at lunchtime and am hit by a bus. But -- this gets hazier -- what would happen if I choke as I'm eating a sandwich in my employer's private cafeteria? I don't know. See -- I'm not a lawyer, and I'm glad.

So, some employers will read about this decision and say, "We can't afford the risk of having uncontrolled workers comp claims coming in -- who knows what could go wrong in these people's houses!" And they have another excuse to not allow telecommuting. That's a bad thing.

But another way to handle it would be to construct telecommuting agreements that would simply and fairly spell out liability and how it's divided between the employer and the employee.

Just like you explicitly say who pays for the Internets, furniture, phone, lights-electricity-n-heat, and so on, you also put in the agreement that the employee recognizes that s/he must provide adequate security for the dedicated workspace in his or her home. This might could include additional riders on homeowners insurance policies, guard dogs, locks, alarm systems, or whatever else you, the employer, would require for any facility. You could also spell out that stuff that happens outside the dedicated workspace in the home is not the employer's responsibility.

Oh, by the way, you should always require that your telecommuters have a dedicated workspace in their homes. The kitchen table office just won't cut it for a full-time remote worker. Telecommuters should provide you with a photograph or tour and a detailed description of this space, and if you have ergonomic and/or risk specialists on staff, you should have them review that photo and description so they can advise whether or not it looks safe and comfortable.

I'm just saying.

Work Can Be A Privilege

For all Stella's complaining about cruddy data management practices and confusing communication problems on the job, there are many, many parts of the job that are truly wonderful. In fund raising, you spend a lot of time trying to sit down with people, and when you're starting out with an organization, like I am, most of the people you contact say no. They know when they get a call from someone in the development office that eventually someone is going to slip their wallets out of their pockets. A lot of people feel uncomfortable with this idea.

But the really great thing is that the people who say yes and agree to meet with you are a self-selecting group that is predisposed to liking what you have to say about the organization. They say yes because they want to connect with the place, or maybe because they understand how the philanthropy thing works and want to see if your joint would be a good place to lay some dough, or maybe because they really have a love of your institution.

Whatever their motivation, it works. If you can get in the door, you're halfway home. You'll probably have a complaint portion of the meeting (particularly if you're working cold, hard prospects like I am), but once you get through the airing of grievances you can tap into the reasons why they agreed to see you in the first place. And it's because they like you(r institution).

This week I've really seen this in action. I had a chance to sit down with some of the first people to ever pass through our doors, and they were so delightful, so thoughtful, and clearly so happy to be asked to help us. Years ago, a VP gave every staff member who had been involved in a major campaign a little plaque as a thank you. At the time, I was working back office operations, and thought it was strange, but now I really get the quote:
While the work of going from door to door and from office to office is hard, disagreeable, and costly in bodily strength, yet it has some compensations. Such work gives one a rare opportunity to study human nature. It also has its compensations in giving one an opportunity to meet some of the best people in the world -- to be more correct, I think I should say THE BEST people in the world. When one takes a broad survey of the country, he will find the most useful and influential people in it are those who take the deepr interest in institutions that exist for the purpose of making the world better.

-- Booker T. Washington

I know what you're thinking: she's drinking the Kool-Aid. This may be true, but sometimes it's hard to remain cynical in the face of a group of people who really have served humanity through their careers, and who are so willing to work with you to advance your institution's goals, too. It's pretty cool.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Telecommuting City

Or biking, or walking. The New Mexico Business Weekly is reporting on Mayor Marty's latest environmental salvo, the Clean Air Challenge 2008. I, for one, think it's great that the city is actively trying to encourage non-driving alternatives, including working with companies to encourage flexible work arrangements and telecommuting.

It cracks me up just a tiny, little bit that one of the program's sponsors is the French Mortuary -- I'm not sure I want them picking up corpses using the Zip Car that I will later sign up to use.

Perhaps I'm superstitious. Or perhaps that's not quite what they have in mind.

We can only hope.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Working with Snakehandlers

Do you work with extremely literal people? You know who I mean: people who only see exactly what is in front of them, who wait to be told precisely what to do, who don't seek out answers independently but wait for you to come up with what you want them to do, and who never question what you tell them.

I think of these kinds of workers as snakehandlers. Maybe you've heard of them: the Pentacostal religious group that places specific and oddly literal emphasis on a single phrase in the Bible, "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

There are a lot of things in the Bible that people over the years have chosen to understand as metaphors for stuff. Like this part. But the folks who subscribe to snakehandling read that and say, "The good Lord must mean for us to take up serpents and drink Dran-o." And so they do, and that's fine.

But if I issue a memo that says, "Take up serpents, coworkers!" I would hope that someone would perhaps take me aside and say, "You know, I've been doing some research on the Internet, and it turns out that most organizations like ours aren't handling snakes. I found three other places that are similar to ours and they don't use snakes at all, but they are using teambuilding exercises instead."

But it turns out that some people may just sit there and wait for me to decant the snakes.

Monday, February 4, 2008

This Is Why It's Better From Another Time Zone

That's right, kids, if your boss is in another timezone, s/he can't bust you enjoying margaritas on the deck on a nice summer day.

But seriously folks, even though this Business Week article brings up that feeble, one bad telecommuting program at a single company "Left Below" study from RPI yet again, it does raise some interesting points about telecommuting.

Business Week notes that you're most likely to have people "working" from home when you don't update your management skills to accommodate actually measuring what people do, rather than how much they show up. You're apparently more likely to be bummed out by your telecommuting program if you "...haven’t been able to figure out a way to effecitvely measure short-and-long-term output—rather than activity—for people [you] rarely see. 'That’s the single biggest factor for success or failure,' says the Virginia Labor Studies Center director Robert Trumble, who has studied telecommuting since the 1970s."

The moral of the story: good telecommuting programs with well-trained managers who know what they're about tend to make for happy and productive workers, no matter where they are. Badly designed programs with managers who don't adapt their style away from face time and more toward outcomes will make everyone miserable.

And that IBM rule about all teams having to get together ever three days -- that's gold, baby. Gold!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I've Got A Little Crush on Mike Rowe

You know, the guy from Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. Ol' Stella isn't one to shill for corporations, so rest assured if I say I like him, I really like him. We've been watching him for years, having had the benefit of seeing him on the classic "Your New Home," on which he interviewed real estate agents and builders about the many fine attributes of the homes they were hawking.

I wish I were kidding, but we seriously used to get up on Sunday morning specifically to watch this show, and it wasn't because we were looking for Our New Home.

Fast Company has him on the cover of this month's offering, and the article about him is fun to read. You should also watch Dirty Jobs, if you get a hankering to see the guy we like to call "The Most Relaxed Man on TV" handle lots and lots of manure, and the occasional piece of heavy equipment. The FC article also includes this fine aside by Mr. Rowe, seven useful traits that I have employed on the job, I'm afraid. Even the vomiting one, sadly.

  1. Never follow your passion, but by all means bring it with you.
  2. Beware of teamwork.
  3. Vomit proudly and whenever necessary.
  4. Be careful, but don't be fooled--safety is never first.
  5. Think about what you are doing--never how.
  6. Ignore advice such as "Work smart, not hard." It's dangerous--and moronic.
  7. Consider quitting.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What Do You Care About?

I do a lot of reading about finding happiness and satisfaction at work and I'm not sure why. I think in part it's because I have a hard time making decisions about work and what I really want to do with my life and the whatnot and all. Also, because of my somewhat ridiculously stable work history (I can still fit all the jobs I've had on the front and back of a sheet of paper, and I'm old) I haven't worked that many different places. Much like dating, it can be hard to figure out what you want in a (working) relationship until you date a few jobs and see how annoying they can be. But I'm beginning to develop a short list of criteria that, it turns out, are pretty important to me. And so I give you...

5 Qualities a Job Must Have to Really Make Me Happy

1. The smartest people -- I am reasonably with it on some topics, but I desperately need to grow and be challenged in the workplace. I need to work with people who know a whole lot about whatever it is they know about, and hopefully those are different things than the crap I already know. The corollary to this rule is that those smart people have to be willing to share what they know with those around them, and interested in receiving the same.

2. Astute leadership -- Okay, this is kind of like being smart, but it's more about being realistic, visionary, and skilled practical managers. I have a hard time enjoying my work if I don't have absolute confidence in the direction of the overall place. I want to follow people who don't hire and/or promote bozos, who firmly believe that the organization is the best at what it does (or who have a workable plan to make it so), and who work harder than anyone else at the place to make it happen.

3. Solid technology -- Whatever the business may be, everyone needs to have kick-ass tools to do their work. Nobody should be pushing uphill against unwieldy antiquated systems. And the people who provide the worker bees with technology, well, see quality number one, above.

4. Meaningful work -- If what I'm doing helps humanity (or is supporting people who help humanity), that is pretty cool. But it's a little deeper than that, I'm realizing. I try to make sure that the things I do every day are really focused on what I should be doing -- and I feel frustrated when I'm forced to spend time on "other duties that pop up and nobody else seems to be able to figure out how to get 'em done."

5. A climate of innovation -- Not innovation for its own sake, mind you, but working at a place where new ideas are embraced is pretty important. It goes back to all the first four principles, too. To make innovation work, I have to have smart people thinking and exploring new stuff all the time. I have to have a clear vision of where I'm going so as to evaluate whether that groovy new thing will actually help you be the best in the world at what I'm doing. I need to have a technology environment that actually is poised to embrace new stuff. And innovating is a key component of having meaning in my day.

So there you have it. Like you care what ol' Stella wants in a workplace.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Virtually Hosting Desktops

There are a lot of ways to help telecommuters connect to resources at the mothership (aka the Real Office). Many people use VPNs to form a secure connection, and from there use a variety of ways like XP Remote Desktop through ye olde firewall to access servers and other stuff. Other people might use GoToMyPC to get in, and then have a free for all. Or maybe you're a twice a week telecommuter, and you save up all your writing tasks and put the files you need on your laptop in preparation for your work-at-home day.

All these solutions have one thing in common: they require double-PCs (which may not lead to double-happiness). Or you're not really accessing the real stuff on your network. Okay, that's not one thing. But you get the idea. This business of having to have a PC inside the firewall and a connection machine outside the firewall could eat into the mythical "You'll save a bunch of money if I telecommute full time" argument that Stella believes is so appealing to employers.

Enter virtualization. Much like you have a host of golden dafodils ... er, I mean virtual servers blooming on your servers, you can likewise host a host of virtual desktops on a server. Or 40. Whatever, the point is that VMWare proposes that you could have a bunch of wimpy thin clients and virtual machines and make better use of time and space than with loads of zombie PCs waiting for your telecommuters to connect.