Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Growing Addiction

Stella has only had a Crackberry for two days, and she is already becoming rather too fond of her wee little beauty. Yes, she had a Treo for the old job, but because it didn't automatically sync with the institutional email system, it wasn't that thrilling. But the Black Pearl that is now sailing through my seas?

Oh my.

It gives a gentle buzz each time a new email comes in, and now I understand why people love them so. It's just darling, slender, easy to navigate. Yes, I know I'm getting to this party late, but I already have a lampshade on my head.

I think it just buzzed again...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Finding Your Way Around

xkcd has it about right. I am going on site for the second time for the new gig. It should be said that while I grew up in the general region of my new employer, I have never really been to its fair city prior to my whirlwind interview day -- a day that I spent entirely in a conference room. I know my way around that conference room pretty well, but the details outside the room trail off precipitously.

I'll be driving myself around to various orientations, picking up of various pieces of equipment, meetings, and what not, and so I've done something kind of stupid: I've got Google maps for point-to-point directions for all the various legs of my trip. I know I'm going to get lost, lost, lost. And I'm kind of dreading it, but I think that, given my notoriously bad sense of direction, it's inevitable.

Maybe I will go to the bookstore to see if they have street map books for non-tourist destination cities. Because I need something, kids!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm Opting for a Cape

Fashion-wise, working from home is great...as in large or immense, we mean it in the pejorative sense. From Jezebel, one of my most treasured Simpsons memories: Homer's stint as a home worker.*

But I digress. Today, on my last day of Real Office work, I wrapped up everything, turned in my keys and badge (apparently I no longer need no stinkin' badge) and then came home and sorted through the grown-up clothes in my closet, relegating most to the storage room in the garage. All that's left is muu-muus and capes.


*Note about Stella: I can't actually have a conversation without making (or having the desire to make) a Simpsons reference. I wish I was kidding. Anyone who has spent more than five to ten minutes with me knows I'm not.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Three Keys to In Box Enlightenment

Okay, back when Stella last changed jobs (from slipper-wearing shut in to Real Office worker) she made some new job resolutions, which you can review here. While most of these were a mixed bag, success-wise, the one thing that I did do religiously was stay on top of email. And it really made a big difference in how under control and organized I felt. In addition to feeling good about my in box, it also turned out to really help with finding things. Rather than pick through 300 messages in an in box and random folders, I was always able to put my hands (my mouse?) almost instantly on the thing that I was looking for. My email system of success was as follows:

1. Deal with or delete everything as quickly as possible. I was relentless in my pursuit of emptiness, and I'd forward what I wanted to share, then delete. Or respond to what needed a response, and get rid of it (more about that later). Relentlessly. Four times a day.

2. Create a system of folders with very few layers. I made a folder system that was much like I would organize files. In fact many of the folders in my email system were the same as my paper files. If a subject warranted its own folder in a file somewhere, I used the same name for the folder in email -- then, when I needed an email on a subject as I worked with other info about that topic, it was intuitively obvious (to me, at least) where to look.

I kept a lot of email, maybe more than true in box zero devotees might feel comfortable with, but in my work it was really necessary. But I'd file things away quickly after responding or otherwise dealing with the message. Coped with, out of the in box and into a sensible, labeled place where I could find it again when I needed it.

3. Use (nay embrace) the archiving features of the email system. My employer had a pretty aggressive archiving policy (eight weeks and an item gets archived). But religious folder use meant that

a) Things don't disappear from my massively out of control in box necessitating a huge search to find them.

b) Retrieving items from the folder-only archive set is much faster.

c) I stopped worrying about the archive thing because I knew that things were organized.

I know. This isn't huge or deep, but it really is reassuring that all the online attention to managing the in box isn't just a bunch of GTD OCD, KWIM?

Monday, April 21, 2008

I Can Relate

From Lisa Orrell ("Generations Relations Expert" -- nice moniker!) this post about the looming crisis for Gen X (and the Gen (wh)Y after them) that will be caused by caring for their aging and increasingly decrepit parents. My own family is going through a mini-version of this which will, fortunately, have a good outcome it seems. But the fact is that when your parents are getting on in age you end up having to worry about them a lot. And you should probably go to help them a lot too.

And of course, flexible teleworking arrangements can help make this all be less of a burden to your employer.

What if you need to go chill with the 'rents for two weeks after a big surgery or some such? If your employer has a robust telecommuting program in place, you pack up your laptop and work from their house in between making batches of Jello and listening to a lecture about how fat you're getting and how you won't be worth much on the market like that. Or you could take one week a month in their little town, work most of the time, but still be around to make sure they remember taking their vitamins each day but prevent them from OD-ing on the Vitamin A.

The ability to work from wherever you may be is really priceless, and if you make it work for your employees they will surely reward you with loyalty and hard work beyond your wildest dreams.

Or something like that.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Telecommuting to the Rescue

It's no secret that gas prices are a killer these days. I feel a little like George H.W. Bush looking at scanners in the grocery store every time I go to the gas station. "You mean it costs $3.50 a gallon now? Gosh, that seems like a lot!"

From the SF Chronicle, this article includes a big section on how SF area drivers are putting a tele- in front of their commutes as one way of dealing with the rise in gas prices. I think this is a good strategy. If you have a long commute, the price of gas is most certainly outstripping whatever meager raise the prevailing economic conditions may have allowed you (unless you're a hedge fund manager, of course).

Employers looking for ways to reward their employees could do a lot worse than allowing them to telecommute several days a week as part of an energy saving plan.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Holy Mother of God

I like the parody song as much as the next person who used to have to attend senior staff retreats but wow, this just takes my breath away. And doesn't make me want to upgrade to Vista. Or spend time with any sales person who may want to convince me to upgrade.

Thanks to the nice folks at Big Marketing for Small Business for turning me on to this gem!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Library: Co-working for those dealing with caffeine addiction

There has been a lot written lately about how shut-ins are growing weary of being actually shut-in and looking for places to get out and work while not actually going to the office. Coffee shops, Jelly sites, crayons and computers businesses -- people are looking for ways to work from home that occasionally include things outside their homes.

In Waynesboro, VA, enterprising city librarians are pitching for library expansions by noting that they provide a useful third place for telecommuters. And you know what? It makes perfect sense. It's quiet, it's got tables, it may even have municipally-provided Wi-Fi, and you have a load of magazines and reference books readily available for your use throughout the day. No coffee, but maybe you're trying to cut back?

So give it a try. It'll just be you and a bunch of retirees who go there to read the Wall Street Journal every morning. And maybe some creepy guys trying to cruise p()rn on the public workstations.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

But Why...

...do they have to drive across town in the first place? This article from today's NY Times is actually really great -- employers doing simple things to help employees adjust to change. People's cars break down, and their enlightened employers don't fire them for being late to work, they help them get a new car (not brand new, used, but running).

This is actually great -- kind of like an employee assistance program for more than a total descent into alcoholism. Too often people in low-level positions get fired just when they need their jobs most because they are having trouble that prevents them from getting to their jobs, whether it be car trouble, daycare trouble, or what have you. It's a good thing to do from a human being perspective, and if you've hired carefully and invested in your employees in other ways, they are unlikely to take undue advantage of perquisites like this and will instead reward you with loyalty and years more hard work. That's good for your business, kids!

But Stella has to wonder why people have to drive to their stinkin' offices in the first place. If you've got a good telecommuting program in place, employees with temporary car troubles can just hop on the net from home for a day or two until the wrinkles are out of their transportation scheme. Or if your offices have to move to someplace far away, why spend tens of thousands of dollars moving people, cajoling their spouses and helping them find jobs and so on? Just restructure your work a little and get 'em online.

Be a little creative here, folks!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Telecommuting and Taxes

When work transcends borders (city, state, nation, planetary?) who gets to tax the effort? Maybe nobody, or maybe everybody. Stella comes down on the side of almost nobody. After all, my payroll taxes, paid to the state where I consume government-provided services, benefit me and my community in ways that I value. Assuming that the people I elect to the statehouse are doling out the dough in ways that jibe with my view of what's important to spend money on it's a good thing. (A quick rundown: subsidizing golf courses: no; subsidizing equal access to high-quality schools for all regardless of whether English is their first language: yes; teaching intelligent design in those high-quality schools: no.)

But when enterprising states start looking at how to snag every single penny that might be due to them, it really makes me nuts. I understand that I may be enjoying some of your state's fine state services whilst on-site (driving on your roads, giving my lunch money to workers trained in your fine public schools and all). But really, is the $250 you might collect in tax from me for the 30 days total I spend in your state worth my having to hire an accountant to figure out how to pay everybody?

Goodness gracious.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How To Convince the Boss

No, Bruce doesn't really care whether you telecommute or not, but your manager and his or her managers may. From LifeHacker, via Web Worker Daily ... I'm not sure who to link to, really, it's getting a little incestuous, and you could find both by looking at my blogroll over to the left there ... my point being ...

Uh, I got a little lost there. Anyway, I think the comments of these posts will be chock-a-block with advice on how to convince the boss to let you put on slippers and work from wherever.

My secret: I just keep working for the same person who knows that I'm utterly, madly driven and eager to make it work well for all concerned. Maybe you could find a person like that, too, and just follow him or her from job to job?

Stella's not being very helpful, is she?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Back In The Slippers Again

...back where your feet are your friends...

Okay, not quite yet, but soon. Stella is leaving the clutches of the Real Office and returning to the paradise that is her home office. I have accepted an offer to do assorted web stuff for a wonderful university located very far away from my location. I'll be working for my old boss (a.k.a. the smartest and best manager I have ever worked for in my life, a guy who I would follow anywhere). I am beyond excited!

I cannot wait to fire up my slippers, roll up my sleeves and get things started.

Stella's back, baby!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Office Space Has an Effect on Creativity

No, not watching the movie over and over again. Dan Benjamin over at Hivelogic has a nice post about how the physical surroundings of work can make you more or less creative. He notes that having the freedom to choose how much hustle and bustle surrounds you, to elect to have non-fluorescent lighting, and so on can really help people get into The Zone (again, not the low-carb diet plan, but that blissful state where you're really doing great work).

Mr. Benjamin may or may not be advocating for working from a home office (I actually don't see why Real Offices couldn't give people more ability to control their surroundings) but the folks who have commented on this article sure are. There is a lot of good information in the comments about the pitfalls and benefits of working from a home office, and mention of lots of strategies and tools to combat loneliness and creative isolation.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

An Alternative to the Mommy-style Telecommute

I have long had a beef with people who pitch telecommuting to their companies as a way to help them balance childcare needs. Uh, no. You're working, not watching your kids. Watching children is a full time job, and that's why we pay people to do it for us when we're not able to do it ourselves. Telecommuting in the same space as small children works about as well as taking those same small children to important meetings in the Real Office.

Which is to say it doesn't. Don't do it.

However, here's an article about a good alternative that an entrepreneur in the SF Bay area has come up with: co-working space with built in childcare. I must say that this sounds fantastic. They have a separate space for the kidlets, plus a conference room and by-the-hour cubes for you to hide/get some work done in. It would probably get expensive over the long haul, but for the casual tele-worker, or those times when your daycare arrangements break down and you still need to work (but you don't go out to a work place) this kind of thing could be truly ideal.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What Kind of Tasks Do You Give Interns?

This week I got to wondering how best to make use of student employees, interns, lackeys and the like. Is it better to give them dull, menial tasks with little or no measurable effect on the bottom line? Or should you go out of your way to give them interesting, meaningful things to do that helps them learn about your business?

Stella tends to fall on interesting and meaningful side of the fence. I'm a busy and highly paid professional, but, seriously, I don't spend so much time making photocopies that I need to spend fifteen minutes explaining to the student employee how to do the copies just the way I like. Instead I spend 90 seconds just doing it my own dang self.

I will spend fifteen minutes explaining how to use mail merge to generate thank you letters and why it's important to do them as quickly as possible. I do expect you to remember what I have told you, but I am also more than happy to entertain questions about the nuances of the project.

So what do you think? Are you too important to make your own copies? Or should your students and other low-level folk be indoctrinated into the mysterious ways and means of your business to the greatest level possible?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Security Is The Final Frontier for Telecommuters

Of course, Stella is pro-telecommuting. I know it works, and I know that it's a great way to work. Most of the complaints and concerns about telecommuting from a management perspective (people will goof off, there won't be adequate teamwork, my slippers are getting worn out) are easily resolved with good behaviors and tools.

Security is a huge concern, though. This article from IT Business Edge goes through a lot of the concerns, and they're valid. Telecommuters must be ever vigilant because if there is a security breach and it is your fault, that's really bad.

Lock up your laptops. Use the VPN religiously. Keep the kids and their nasty downloads off your work computer. Don't mess things up for the rest of us.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Okay, I Got A Little Inspired

For people about my age, Live Aid was one of those things that was big. Really big. For many of us it was the first time we really knew about things that were outside our little tiny towns and dull little high schools. It was huge, and it was the idea of one guy: Bob Geldof. Stella heard him speak today, and while I'm sure it was a set piece that he's done a zillion and one times, it was still kind of amazing to hear him and see him in person.


But with eyebrows.

In any event, it got me to thinking about some folks I've been admiring and learning about for years, folks like Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer, and now Bob Geldof. These are people who firmly believe that the actions of a single human being can really have an impact. And, dare I say, it's not foolish idealism if you actually do something. Now I'm forced to wonder if I'm really using my powers for modest good, or crazy good.

Maybe we should all shoot for crazy good.