Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Telecommuting Isn't All Sunshine and Roses

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Do You Do All Day - Slight Return

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Competence Is King

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Little Something for the Geeks

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

May Santa Bring You New Slippers

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Telecommuting Bright Spots in a Sea of Job Misery

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pre-New Year's Reflections

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Tis the Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Telecommuter's Holiday Party

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is It Just Me?

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

Just wondering.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Preparing for Telecommuting Holidays

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

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

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

I'd like to recommend the following:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Telecommuting Fashion Watch: Slippers

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

I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Looking for Something Special for the Geek in Your Life

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm Kind of Amazed This Is News

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

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

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

Telecommuters and Virtuality Go Together

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

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

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

And I love it.

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking For Telecommuting Information

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sustaining Telecommuting Momentum

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Geeky Winners: Us

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

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

At least we're good at it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You Would Never Slack, Right?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Hire" v. "Contract with You"

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

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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

Monday, December 1, 2008

This Is Exactly The Conversation I Have at Office Parties

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