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.