Friday, February 27, 2009

Six Tips to Energize Yourself Whilst Telecommuting

Stella goes to work early. Okay, it's not early by Real Office standards -- I show up at the same time as everyone else. But remember, too, the Real Office for me is two time zones away from where I'm actually temporally located. And while I love this schedule round about 3:45 in the afternoon (my time, aka 5:45 Real Office time) there are two dark moments in my day: The first happens at 5:00 in the morning when I get up and go to work. And the second happens at 10:00 at night when I go to bed in the mountain time zone and it's late, Real Office time-wise.

By the end of the week, I'm getting ragged. So I actively seek out ways to stay energized in the office:

1. Good smells: I find that lavender and rosemary are particularly energizing and refreshing, so I create opportunities for me to smell these good smells throughout the day. A little lotion here and there just goes a long way, I find. I also like minty stuff, so sometimes I'll brush my teeth several times a day to wake up, freshen up, and straighten up and fly right.

2. Music: I've written about the music I listen to throughout the day, and it's really essential to keeping my focus and my energy up, even when I'm beat.

3. Fresh air: I guess this is a form of good smell (at least here in the 'Burque it is) but just opening a window as soon as it is climatically practical to do so is fantastic. Lots of oxygen, natural sounds of birds singing and dogs barking. It helps me feel connected to the world around me and a little more oriented in the actual time zone where I'm physically located.

4. Drop and give me twenty: I do push ups. I roll around on my office ball. I flex my feet. I get up and dance around like an idiot. Whatever. I move.

5. Reach out and touch someone: When I'm feeling sluggish, I call some poor colleague to shoot the breeze, follow up on some long term project, or some such. I figure I'm probably helping that person refocus too, but interrupting them. Right?

6. Nature's perfect food: I know the health people out there will say, "Watch out for too much caffiene," but to them I say, "Fie!" I make a cup of green tea. Or I make an(other) espresso. Or I drink a Diet Dr. Pepper. Or if it's the day after pub quiz, I do allllllll threeeeeeee...

Maybe you do these things, too?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pub Quiz Domination

I'm kind of surprised we did as well as we seemed to have. We won, and apparently we lead all night long, so that's kind of awesome. Our full team was back -- the impregnated one has been a little punky over the past few weeks but she was back full-force last night -- and so success.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Running a Webinar?

Of course you are. You're a full-time shut in like ol' Stella here, so every meeting you have with your colleagues is a bit of a webinar. This advice is excellent for all of us who use remote meeting software and whatnot to facilitate our day to day communication, as well as anyone who puts on sessions for groups of people.

Don't do the bad stuff he mentions, mkay?


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This Is What My Children Think I'm Doing

You know...a "conference call". But seriously, kids, when the "Do Not Disturb - On a Conference Call" sign that I made four years ago when I worked in the Real Office back in Baltimore and started using a headset that would cause people to wander in and start talking to me is up, don't disturb me. Please?

And may the Good Lord in Heaven (or wherever) please bless the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks for bringing such "joy" to my life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Save on Recruiting Costs Through Telecommuting

I know, I know: jobs are being lost at a staggering rate. It's really quite frightening. But there are still people hiring -- in fact some companies are hiring in key positions even as they lay people off in areas where there is redundancy. Stella has some advice for those companies that are still looking to hire stars:

Offer them telecommuting.

Seriously, friends, one of the best ways you can help attract key people to your operation is by making it easy for them to accept your offer and telecommuting sweetens the deal in a number of key ways:

1. It doesn't cost you a thing, but it's perceived as a really awesome perk. You already have all that VPN and remote desktop stuff installed as part of your disaster recovery/business continuity planning, right? So let people use it as part of their regular work arrangements and offer it up freely to sweeten your hiring package.

2. It can help an out-of-town candidate accept your offer more readily. Even if they ultimately have to move to your location, you can help ease that transition for them by giving them the flexibility to unload their house at a reasonable pace.

3. If they don't have to relocate at all, all the better. You can get the best possible talent and not have to put together the big relocation package, deal with an unhappy-in-transition employee, and risk losing that employee after six months because his or her spouse doesn't move and they all decide they'd rather be where they were.

Friday, February 20, 2009

You Already Know This About Me

I'm geeky. Not a little...a lot. I'm not the best coder in the world (I stink). I'm not a big gamer. I don't do assembly language. But I do self-identify as a geek, and so I was happy to see She's Geeky (thanks Rebecca and Jean!).

I love the idea of a community of nerdy women who define what it means to be a geek, and encourage other women in their geekiness. I am the nerd I am today because I was lucky enough to be hired into an environment with a lot of women coders, DBAs, analysts and the like. I learned a ton from them and will be forever grateful that they took the time to explain stuff to me. I know a lot of great men who have been similarly generous with their technical skills and whatnot, don't get me wrong. But it's nice having a lady role model, you know?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Guinness and Victory

Okay, last night at pub quiz was fun and successful. What more could you want? Our team name, "Mike Hunt Takes a Beating", is from a proposed series of hard-boiled detective novels that we're planning on writing.

At some point, Mike may take on a sidekick: Dick Hurtz.

All that derivative ridiculousness aside, we had a respectable score, a few rounds aced, and we beat a tough opponent. And there were two questions on music that I pwned: a sort of tough one (how many clefs in modern nomenclature), and a totally easy one (notation system invented for lutenists that is still in use).

It's nice that my music history degree is paying off so handsomely.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Think I Really Need These

Although they are ugly as sin, they are also heated. Via USB. And they're wireless. I'm kind of in love. But seriously, folks, slippers are the most important fashion choice I make all day (I know, it's kind of sad, really). My feet do get chilly throughout the day and so heated slippers don't actually seem like a crazy luxury. It's almost spring, though, and I probably need to think about switching back to something I can wander around the yard in too. Oh, so many choices.

To heck with it. I'm just going to wear my 4 inch high red Steve Maddens for now and decide about this later. I can't walk in them anyway so they'll keep me sitting still and hard at work.

Oh, I am sensing a new productivity movement: staying on task through the wearing of impossible shoes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This Explains A Lot

There is more to my good friend, caffeine, than its ability to serve as 23% of my bloodstream. Apparently, as few as three cups of coffee can cause hallucinations. This is an older bit of news, but one I just discovered, probably because I've been staggering around my house talking to the pets in a bit of a haze.

Sorry about that!

Monday, February 16, 2009

When Times Are Tough Be In Touch

It's no secret that the economy is ... um... how to say it delicately? It sucks. This is frankly the most frightened I've ever been about the future from a financial standpoint -- maybe it's because I have more to lose now, maybe it's because the reverberations from all the economic troubles are being felt absolutely everywhere, I don't know.

Plus I feel extra vulnerable because I'm physically far away from my employer. But what's a savvy telecommuter to do? Do you lay low and hope that nobody remembers you're out there working in your slippers?

I think that's a terrible idea. In fact, when things are sour or shaky at work, that's the time you need to be most in touch with people. There are a few reasons why this is so important.

First, you need to actively reinforce the perception that you are a team member just like everyone else. You're working the same hours as everyone, and volunteering for more because it's that much easier for you to "come into the office". You're fully engaged in what's going on with the projects and tasks at hand. You are there.

Second, you need to be able to get a read on the mood in the office, and the best way to do this is to talk to people. Lots of them, in different departments and at different levels in the organization. Talk to people to see how they're feeling, but for goodness sake, don't overtly pump them for information. Nobody likes feeling like you're just calling them to get the scuttlebutt.

Third, you don't want them to forget about you. Really.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Soundtrack for My Day

One of the great luxuries of telecommuting is the ability to listen to music (sometimes loudly!) when I'm not on calls. This is really important for me: music seems to make my brain act in different ways and serves as an important energizer for me.

So what do I listen to all day? I'm pretty regimented:

I listen to my local public radio station all morning, first for news, and then when they transition to NPR classical music programming I stick with them because I'm a sucker for the Piano Puzzler on Performance Today. The news makes me feel connected to the world at large, and the local news breaks keep me plugged in to the place where I am. As an added bonus, they fill the hour between the end of Morning Edition and the start of Performance today with variety news shows that I might not otherwise hear. Up today: This Way Out, one of my favorites!

After lunch I switch to Pandora where I have a few stations that I move between. Brazilian when I need a cool jam tempo but no distracting words -- well there are words, but they're in Portuguese and I can't understand it so the net result is the same.

I'll hit the Baroque music when I'm crunching numbers or doing really detailed programming work. It's orderly, and the total rightness of it makes my brain feel tidy.

When I need to kick out the jams, I use a station I made that combines nerdcore, old school rap, and joke rockers like Tenacious D, along with a heavy dose of Radiohead for some reason. It sometimes veers wildly, but it is always energetic and keeps me dancing around my office (on my chair...yeah it's not a pretty picture!).

And that's the name of that tune.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Second Place Is Okay

We had our full team last night at pub quiz, plus a special out of town guest and so we did well, score-wise. Just not quite well enough. And frankly the team we lost to (by a mere two points) is comprised of worthy opponents all. I don't mind losing to them, honestly.

We scored a surprising perfect round on the Mixed Martial Arts. Strange. And the whole team contributed to that ace, not just the 23 year old man we keep on the team for just such purposes. Interesting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Defense of Multitasking

I have read the studies that note that multitasking sometimes (often) equals somewhat reduced performance on all the tasks one is attempting. And in general, I tend to kind of believe that. Lately I have been working on a web-based tool that is a bit slow, so there are a ton of microscopic little downtimes even as I work steadily to complete a complex bit of work in the tool. This is what two hours of my day was like today:

Click ... pause for ten seconds ... type something and click three settings ... click to save ... pause ten seconds more ... click to review the changes ... pause for 13 seconds while the new window opens up ... scan the changes ... close ... click to proceed to the next setting .... pause for ten seconds ...

You get the idea. There is this dead, useless time built into every little step I take with this web-based application. I can't be drafting a document in my ten second and 20 second waits on this thing. I need to keep my brain solidly on the details of setting these thing up, and it's detailed. But not all consuming.

So I multitask on fairly mindless other occupations. I open emails in my other screen just to make sure I'm not missing stuff when I'm head-down. I have some IM windows open and I make small talk with friends. I look at the information about what Pandora is playing for me at any given moment. I cast my eyes out the window and watch my cat consume yet another hapless bird in its entirety.

I don't recommend this for heavy thinking, but if you're keeping your place and working on the web, it might be better to multitask than to sit there wishing the network would just go FASTER.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where I Work

Yes, kids, this is where the magic happens. I work in this lovely space day in and day out, and frankly it's pretty dang nice. Key features you may notice:

1. Exercise ball chair -- hands down the cheapest and most ergonomic choice for me.

2. All in one fax-printer-scanner -- I don't print much, but it's dead useful to scan signed documents and stuff in and send them places. Oh, and scan my high school yearbook for Facebook purposes.

3. Wireless headset -- whether I'm listening to music, talking on Skype, or wandering around the house, I think being able to hear what's happening on my computer is kind of important. Okay, it's plugged in in this picture, but it's just recharging. It'll be wirelessly perched on my head shortly.

4. Wireless keyboard and mouse -- I can't be using the keyboard and touchpad on my laptop all the time. I can barely stand to use it when I'm on-site, so a comfortable interface is key.

5. Plant -- I think it may put oxygen into the air. Could that account for my extreme productivity? Possibly!

6. Giant Glass of Water -- hydration is very important at altitude, and it also makes me stand up and walk to the bathroom at least once an hour.

7. Winged Dia de los Muertos Skeleton -- A trenchant reminder of my own mortality. Must work harder...faster...smarter...and then go to the gym.

I try to keep it tidy so I don't get distracted by cleaning it and so I can find the things I need to keep working. All my input devices (headset, keyboard, mouse) are Logitech products at this point. And the exercise ball is whatever was the cheapest at Target.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Almost Right

This list of the top twenty cities around the world for telecommuters almost gets it right: they mention Santa Fe, NM as one of the best places from which to telecommute. Not quite: one thing that a telecommuting location really needs is a convenient airport. And the airport is here in the 'Burque.

Look, even if you're completely virtual, you do have to travel for your work every so often. And it's a lot more convenient to take a 15 minute jaunt to the airport, as opposed to an hour's drive.

I'm just saying.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Transition...Back to the Same Job

Okay, I know that the governor of my fair state is not going to Washington because he might be under investigation by a federal grand jury or some such. Which is a bummer. Especially for his Lieutenant Governor who was all cowboyed up for transition -- it turns out she's transitioning back to her old post.

But she did have a good transition team and they came up with some excellent ways to save money in tough times, including:

... more video-conferencing and Webinars.

“Increasing telecommuting options can allow us to reduce motor-pools and take more vehicles off the roads,” she said. “It was suggested that this recommendation also be considered by local and county government.”

Yes! More more more telecommuting. Get out of your car and into the internets, people!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Winners, But with a Pathetic Score

You're all well aware of the sad state of Stella's social life. We're talking about a life limited to moderating a tiny number of comments on her blog, special times in her home office with the dogs and cats, and Geeks Who Drink. It's gratifying to win, but it does make me sad that we scored so poorly. Oh, well.

At least our team name was good this week: Ironically, Michael Phelps Finished the Freestyle in 420. We were clearly missing our main stalwart, Margret, but the addition of a new bit of estrogen was a welcome treat.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Little Excited for Skype 4.0

I'm a heavy Skype user -- when I started the latest gig, I decided to try the SkypeIn for my regular phone number and for the IM and videoconferencing and what not. Apparently the new release is pretty good, and so I'm looking forward to trying it out.

Although I'm not playing shuffleboard with anyone.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Be Kind to Your Behind

I may have mentioned that I just got back from an on-site visit. Whilst there, I run from meeting to meeting, and when I'm not basking in the glow of my colleagues' physical presences, I hover in a conference room.

Well, actually, I don't hover. I sit. In a rather unforgiving chair.

Look, I'm not complaining: I am happy to keep my chair in my home office, and I am glad my fine employer doesn't have to pay to keep a space and a chair and all that. But I do start to notice the ill effects of poor posture by the end of the week.

Tim Ferriss had an interesting chair taste-test in his blog this week. For working only four hours a week, he seems to have a lot of requirements for his chair. But I guess he's factoring in recreational computer use and the blogging and what not. But I agree with his assessment: dollar for dollar, the exercise ball chair is probably the best choice out there. If you're like Stella, you outfit your own home work space with the furnishings and fixtures and things. And frankly, the gazillion dollar Aeron isn't in the cards for me.

I actually had one when I worked in a Real Office, briefly, and I found it wasn't that comfortable. When I sit all day on the exercise ball I find that I don't feel all stiff and hunched over at the end of the day. If I get restless during the day, I can bounce, swivel, roll around, and otherwise tempt fate by pushing the equilibrial limits whilst keeping my hands on the keyboard.

I do not, however, have a six pack. Well, there is one in the fridge, but I'm drinking wine a bit these days.

But it is energizing. And heck. An exercise ball is only $15 at your favorite discount retailer, so you can certainly give it a go without feeling like you're going to go to the poor house if it doesn't work out for you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On-Site Insight: Part I

Stella is back and nearly fully recovered from her sojourn to the great city of Rochester. My suitcase is back in the garage for now, and all the laundry is clean. I'm in my quiet little home office again, and trying to actively reflect on what I learned during my visit. Other than I have a lot of work to do, and going back through my notes is going to yield a hefty little to-do/to-untangle/to-figure-out-if-we-can-really-do-it list.

And so StellaCommute is happy to present a new feature: On-Site Insight®!

My first On-Site Insight®: People in Real Offices (particularly mine) really like to meet a lot, but it's not always the best way to get stuff done. When I'm in my home office, I meet with them all the time, too, don't get me wrong. I phone into a few standing meetings a week, plus I run online meetings with various tools and whatnot, and I generally make myself available. Some days, I really am back to back with meetings.

But what I don't do is have to drag myself from conference room to office to campus and back to attend those meetings. I don't have to sit in an empty conference room by myself waiting for people to show up and make small talk and then get rolling 13 minutes after the hour. I don't have to wait while someone goes and makes copies of some document or some such. And if I do have to wait around, I can switch back to work while I'm waiting.

And it seems to me that the non-meeting aspects of going to meetings (getting there, waiting, materials distribution, small talk) are the things that really eat into your feeling of getting stuff done.

By contrast, let's examine the structure of online meetings. They are quick to fire up and the waiting time can be used efficiently: you call in and log in, and you're there. No need to find the right conference room because it's right at your desktop. And if the other people aren't in the meeting yet, just switch windows and keep churning through your in box.

They're easier to schedule: Again, because you don't have the X-factor of finding a place to have an online meeting, you can jump on the first available time for your participants, rather than having to figure out which conference room is big enough or small enough to be appropriate for your little gathering. And in a meeting heavy culture, sometimes the conference room is the hardest guy to get in the room.

You can meet back-to-back without running late: Do you need to have a weekly meeting with all your staff members? Block off three hours and do 20 minute audiences online back to back. Yes, you'll get phone ear, but you won't have that sinking feeling as you wait for one person to collect his papers and shuffle out and the next person to shuffle in and get her act together. You can ruthlessly move from meeting to meeting by disconnecting the person and waiting for the next person to call into the meeting.

Materials distribution doesn't require trees or time: The agenda? It's on screen in the online meeting software. Need to see a document that someone forgot to bring? Go fetch it off the network and show it online. Someone wants to show the team something and they have it bookmarked on their desktop? Switch who the presenter is and get it done. Then when the meeting is over, gather all the crap you looked at together and send it out in an email.

Getting to meetings takes valuable time: Depending on who you meet with it's a least a five minute walk, and can be a 20 minute drive-and-find-parking extravaganza on each side of the appointed meeting time. That's a waste. Really there just isn't any other way to put it.

So here's the Insight®: Organizations should use their virtual meeting tools as much as possible, even for people who are just a floor away from each other. Why?

1. It will save people time.
2. You will maximize your investment in those tools by getting lots of use out of them.
3. You will have better meetings in which more gets done.
4. People will feel less ill-used by a meeting-heavy culture.
5. Everyone will develop their online meeting skills, so when they really need to use those tools (pandemic flu, anyone?) they will be ready.
6. It levels the playing field between your Real Office workers and your shut-ins.

Okay, maybe only Stella cares about the last one, but I think those are six pretty good reasons to get on board.