Thursday, May 29, 2008

Telecommuting Leads to 3-Week Suspension for Manager

This article from the Boston Herald reports that the chief of the department of public works has been suspended for three weeks for allowing an IT employee to telecommute. I find this disturbing on several levels.

First, the chief of a major city agency should have been aware that union contracts forbade telecommuting. That's a basic HR thing that he should have known or been made aware of by the HR people. By the way, if you're a manager and you're considering starting a telecommuting program, do speak with HR to make sure that there aren't (admittedly stupid) rules like this in existence.

More troubling, however, is the tone of the comments on this article. I leave you to read them yourselves, gentle readers. They're the typical angry-guy-style comments, but it is just puzzling to me how really angry people are to find out that an IT staff member might be working from afar. Uh, dudes, it's IT. It's all done on computers and networks, friends. It does not matter if you get on the network in a cube somewhere, or in Venezuela. In this case, it's the Venezuela thing that may be causing the ire (what with all the Chavez stuff, I guess).

I think it's significant for city employees to live and contribute to the cities where they live, but honestly you would think that Venezuela would have more to be mad about. After all, they have a highly-skilled IT person not contributing to her local economy and instead shipping all her brain power overseas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

DIY Makes It Better?

Stella has written in the past about roaming robot proxies for remote workers, and I stand by my contention that they are more weird than workable. That being said, the home-madeness (madness) of this little number is inherently appealing to me. It's like McGyver had to build a telecommuting device or something.

I still think that involuntary accessorization is a risk.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The More Articles I Read About Telecommuting

The more I realize there isn't a whole lot more to say about it. It always boils down to communication, good teamwork, and vigorous technology use to support those first two things.

Seriously. It's that simple.

Okay, there are some nuances too, like having the kind of job where you don't have to set broken legs and whatnot, but overall, you pretty much show up in your home office and do the work.

This article from Baseline goes through the basics yet again. I do like this piece of advice: "4. Talk to each member of your staff at least every other day via phone. This is important: You will hear nuances from how they respond to you. These calls don’t have to be long, but you need to originate them and see what your peeps are up to."

I think this is true for those managing the remote worker, but some of the responsibility also falls on the remote worker. Shut-ins must be ever vigilant about their own visibility, and you have to make it hard to ignore you by being super-duper in touch with the people you need to be responsive.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We Had a Fun Guest

We have had a fun house guest, Eric. He's riding his Vespa the length of Route 66 (including the part here in Albuquerque) and we hooked up with him through my scooter-mad brother in law. Apparently there are scooter-related blogs and stuff out there, and you can meet other people who are willing to ride scooters on the highway through these sites.

We had a great time hanging out, we took him to our Monday night pub quiz (it turns out that even a dedicated non-drinker, non-bar-goer can have a good time at pub quiz, and we only came in third by three points), and I discovered that the wireless part of my network didn't want to talk to his adorable Linux-based laptop. Alas.

But by far the best part was when I found a young black widow spider hanging out in our dogloo this morning during my "lunch". I tried to get her out using a stick to show our out of town scooter gangster, but she disappeared, as they are wont to do. So I flipped the dog house over and discovered a veritable smorgasbord of sowbugs and cockroaches, and at least three of the healthiest and most GIGANTIC black widows I've seen in a long time. They were impressive, but they had to die. There are just too many small children and pets, and these ladies would have packed a punch.

It turns out that Eric, peaceful vegan that he is, was all, "Squish 'em. You've got to kill them." He may have stomped nervously in his vegan biker boots.

I apologized to the spiders, sprayed them with poison to weaken them and then stepped on them to put them out of their misery. I feel bad, but what can you do?

Beautiful photo by Peasap.

Yeah, What He Said

As usual, Seth Godin has distilled a big idea into a tidy and truthful post. I really don't have much to add, honestly. Whether it's a conference or any other kind of business travel, you really owe it to yourself and anyone else who will be attending to make it worth the trip. So just do what Seth says.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Virtual Team Advice

I'd like to get my hands on this book, Uniting the Virtual Workplace, because from this review in Business Week, it sounds like it has some good advice for anyone working with a team, virtual or otherwise. Whether you're far-flung or near-flung, every team can have crippling communication problems. We've all been there: you work two cubes away from someone, and you have to find out from a vendor that your colleague is working on the exact same project as you, but from a different angle. It's a pain and it makes you feel out of touch and irritated. (By "you" I mean "me". Just so we're clear.)

I have this idea that far-flung teams with communication problems just get symptomatic more quickly than those with the luxury of sitting in the same room for a couple of hours every week. Let's face it: when you're virtual, all you really have is communication. You can't stumble upon your project update in the copier, you won't overhear your colleagues talking about something that is germane to your work and be able to barge in on the conversation. As a virtual worker, you live and die by phone calls, emails, IMs, and online meetings.

So like I said, I'm going to get this book and see what guidance I can gain. Because I'm always looking for ways to make my mostly traditional-with-one-virtual-member-e.g.-me team work well together.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Not in the Top Ten

But that's okay. Stella's actually a pretty typical telecommuter, nothing extreme. Dedicated home office, regular work hours, a standard employee. No coffee shops or nothing. Not like these people. Although I do like the idea of orbiting the earth -- do I have to be a creepy billionaire to do so?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hang Your Slippers By The Chimney With Care's National Work from Home Day Eve!

Yes, kids, it's the day we've all been waiting for, National Work from Home Day in the U.K. Okay, so technically it's kind of a promotion for a nice non-profit called Work Wise UK, but even so I heartily support celebrating the telecommuter in your life.

How to observe this very special day? First of all, don't go to the Real Office. That part should be easy. I'm letting you know about it a day ahead of time so you can prepare a slice of work that you can effectively do from wherever you may be. Then all you have to do is bring it home on Wednesday night (WFHD Eve). When you get up on Thursday morning, a wonderful surprise will await you: no commute and a peaceful day spent focusing on some stuff that really matters.

If you already have a telecommuter in your home, perhaps you should take him or her out for lunch in a Bennigan's or TGIFridays near a local office complex wherein s/he will point and laugh at the cubicle drones in their ties and security badges.

Or maybe the telecommuter you know is a less misanthropic person than I am.

For your sake, I hope this is true.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'm Raising Money Again

What? Stella, didn't you just leave that front-line fundraising gig to go back to the bits and bytes of worrying about raising money on the web? Well, yes, but I'm now raising money in my spare time, and I'm hoping you'll consider joining me. In August, a group of friends and relatives are participating in the Climb to Conquer Cancer -- I'll be staggering up the Sandia Mountain in August. And while the altitude does make it a bit cooler up there, it's still August and all. It should be a fun challenge.

I know what you're thinking: I wish that I could stagger up the side of a mountain in August!

Alas, not every Stella reader lives in New Mexico, but you can get involved by going here and making a tiny little online gift. You'll be doing more than helping me raise money for the American Cancer Society, an organization that provides funding for research, patient education and support, and lots of other direct services for people with cancer throughout the country (including here in New Mexico and wherever you are, too). You'll also be helping me evaluate the Convio fundraising management system, which is what ACS uses to manage these friend-to-friend fundraising events.

More important, every last one of you...every single person reading this...has been touched by cancer. Maybe you have a friend, maybe you're related to someone, maybe you yourself have had cancer. In my case most of those are true, plus I'm also feeling mighty grateful that some people I know who thought they had cancer didn't. So that's why I'm doing the Climb to Conquer Cancer.

You have your reasons. But you don't have to climb a mountain. Just a few clicks and you're in.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Two Weeks Into the New Telecommuting Gig and...

...I'm loving it. Big surprise.

But seriously, I can't imagine why I voluntarily gave up this arrangement before. Well, I do know. It was no fun to telecommute without a boss who was totally into making it work. But two weeks into working with my old wonderful boss in the new job, and it's like I never left. Could there be anything better than boss who is happy to be available for web conferences and responds to IM and email reliably? Love it.

The stuff outside work is good too. I'm working long east coast hours, but since I am turning into an old lady and I'm unable to sleep in past 5:30 in the morning under normal circumstances, I might as well get up and get to work. Even if I work from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm their time, I'm still wrapping it up at 4:00 my time. I'm still able to hit the gym after work, get the little kid at the Little Corral*, and cook a nutritious dinner for the family, all before I would have been home from the Real Office gig.

This is complete, total, and utterly unmitigated luxury.

It makes me realize what dead and wasted time a commute is -- even if it's just twenty minutes in the car each way, it's useless. I suppose I could have listened to self-improvement books on tape rather than crank the MC Chris to make myself feel rebellious and hip despite the straight arrow job. But I didn't do that, so it was not necessarily time well spent. Now there is zero commute time, I'm working as soon as I'm awake and clean.

It is actually all good. I'm not just saying that. My job = good. I can hardly stand it.

* Daycare is actually called Little Corral. They do not use ropes on the children. At least not that I have seen.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Virtual Team Advice

From the Wall Street Journal, some good advice about managing far-flung teams. It's pretty standard stuff, but always a good reminder.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Stella's Favorite Researcher Is Back

Apparently Network World just woke up and found Timothy Golden's highly comprehensive study of one crappily managed telecommuting program at one employer and decided to feature it ... again. Seriously, people have to stop writing about the "dark side of telecommuting" and citing this limited scope study. You'd be much better off looking at the breadth of telecommuting programs that are out there like these folks did.

And please, could people stop interviewing Professor Golden? I know you want to do the balanced journalism thing, and it can't be all sunshine and roses on the telecommuting front (although my roses are starting to bloom!). But balanced journalism doesn't mean that you take the word of any person who has the opposite viewpoint of what the majority of people say -- it's possible that, in fact, telecommuting is generally awesome for business and for workers.

Did you ever think about that?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'm Pretty Extreme, But This Is Something Else

While many people who hear where I work from tend to leave of the "New" and ask me if I need a passport to get back and forth from "Mexico", I am firmly rooted in the U.S. of A. I am very far away from my coworkers in the Real Office, but for a variety of reasons the distance doesn't seem that huge. In the old remote work arrangement, I'd worked there for a long time so I had good relationships. In the new remote work arrangement, I'm still working to get to know people, but because I'm originally from the region I feel an affinity for them already. And because there are so many similarities between where I was and where I am now, I am finding it easy to get to know the business.

And so remote work is going smoothly so far...and so far away.

But this article from ComputerWorld has notes from a real extremist who is telecommuting from Greece. To which I say, "Nice work if you can get it."

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Mixed Bag for Telecommuting

This report on a couple of recent studies of the impact of telecommuting has a number of good factoids that may be of interest. Like, one study found "an almost unanimous belief that the benefits of [telecommuting programs] far outweigh their costs."

But also important are the concerns that these studies found around managers' abilities to manage their remote and otherwise flexed-out workers. Many felt that they didn't have the tools to measure the impact of their telecommuting programs. Even more troubling, telecommuting programs often didn't extend across the whole organization, relying on particular managers, particular job functions, and with little systematic control or evaluation.

The good news: This problem is easily solved. Just set a company-wide policy and put into place an evaluation plan that will let you measure the impact of your fabulous telecommuting policy.

Easy as eating pie.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Reason Number 903 to Cultivate Remote Work:

Air travel. What a nightmare. The airports are full of folks either sitting very, very still in despondence waiting for their (air)ships to come in, or folks like me sprinting at top speed trying to make a connection that is only possible because not only did my flight get delayed, but so did almost all the other flights, too. It's just madness and the reasons why people are traveling are equally mad.

For example, I spoke with a guy who was flying home, having been brought in from parts distant for a two hour meeting. Seriously, his employer paid for a $600+ plane ticket, and because of the timing of the meetings and the flights, he had to spend the night in his destination city and for what? To sit in a conference room with his regular colleagues, folks he works with from the satellite office on a daily basis. No special major announcements were made, there was no introduction and vision statement from the new overlord of the company, nor anything monumental like that. It was just a regular meeting.

And they do that all the time, apparently. Like once or twice a month.

What an utter waste of his time and the company's money. Just the toll on his good will is staggering -- his company is forcing him to spend significant portions of two days sitting in an airport waiting. Not working...waiting.

Maybe people should consider whether big face-to-face meetings are even needed -- try this helpful list of questions. And more to the point, why can't the company just take the money it's spending on plane tickets and luxurious hotel rooms that its executives end up spending a total of nine hours in (seven of those asleep) and wasted time of its executives, and put it into a high-end telepresence system instead? The company would save a fortune, get more work out of its people, position the firm as a technology leader, reduce executive exasperation, burnout, and carbon footprint -- well the benefits are just too many to list.