Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't Do These Bad Things

From InfoWorld, great advice (in a backhanded way) about running a successful telecommuting program. While it's kind of written like "Don't do what Donny Don't does," it's really chock full of gold, if you're trying to get a telecommuting program started, or expanded.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I Am Not Sure This Is A Good Idea

The in-bed laptop stand is, on its face, a telecommuter's dream. Because nobody's commute is so short that you can't improve your time by cutting out the toddle across your patio to your home office. Yes, you too can go directly from drooling on your pillow to kicking out the jams.

But should you? I tend to think not.

I need a transition from snoozing to cruising. A shower, clothes, the whole nine yards. Just like I need a transition back from the world of work to the world of housework at the end of the day. Listen, I'm not going to tell you what to do.

But don't buy this thing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On-Site Insight Number Two

Okay, Stella technically wasn't on-site this week. She was not in her home office, but rather than traveling to the Real Office she instead went to the city where her Real Office used to be for a conference. That is a terrible sentence. I should just say, "Baltimore".

Yes, the conference was quite worthwhile. Yes, Stella managed to get a fair amount of the regular work done at night and that one day when the luncheon was so packed full that she couldn't get a seat and so she hid in her hotel room for an hour and a half and worked while eating a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips she pilfered from the exhibitors luncheon buffet. But here is my on-site insight for this trip:

Being out of the office causes a greater hit on productivity than just the time spent away -- you have to add in the time you spend catching up, too. You know it's true: when you're not in your office, even though you answer your phone and zip off emails every time your Palmberry goes off, the reality is that there are something things that you just can't deal with when you're not in your natural habitat. It's more a mental thing, I think, than a lack of access to the technical or information resources you need.

Maybe it's just me, but I find when I crack open my Blackberry and see some horrible problem arise and it's ten at night and I'm in a hotel room, I just can't deal with it. It exasperates me. I don't want to fire up my VPN and get the documents that prove that the other person is deranged and send them around to all the people the crazy person carbon-copied on the original message.*

I. Just. Don't. Want. To.

So I fire off an email response that says, "I'll fix your wagon when I get back home." And I do that again and again. And then when I get back home I have to pick through all that stuff I only half answered and re-answer it. Not efficient. Ah well, such is life. I should be all caught up by Friday.

* For the record: this didn't actually happen on this trip. All my colleagues were perfectly well-behaved and in full possession of their mental faculties, no worries.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Science Confirms What We Already Know

Yes, it's true, friends: Caffeine is a performance enhancing drug. If you're running, it can help you run faster, ignore fatigue, and keep going.

Funny, I notice it doing the same thing for me sitting here making online forms work well. Thanks, science!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My New Office Mate

Is a non-trivially proportioned* jumping spider. I tried fruitlessly to take a good snap of him, but I don't have a good macro-mode on my camera so he's blurry in all the pictures. But Oh What a Lovely Spider: brown with orange spots on his body, four nice eyes, green mandibles, a real classic specimen.

He's a really good jumper though. I'm trying to keep an eye on him, so there aren't any unpleasant surprises during my one o'clock meeting.

*AKA: Big. Especially for something that jumps like this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lazy Pants? Or Efficiency Pants!

From Gizmodo, these pants have everything the busy telecommuter needs: pockets, a plate, and much much more. If properly provisioned, you could work efficiently in your home office for hours at a time without those pesky trips to the kitchen for snacks and water.

If only these pants included a coffee maker, they might be perfect.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nostalgic for Your Old Cube?

Here's a little something for those of you who are working for home, but find yourself longing for the comfort of a cubicle. The OfficePod. It's actually pretty cool -- like an ultra sleek shed that is devoted to work instead of mixing up paint and sorting out yer jam jars. And work.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mobile Videoconferencing?

Stella is traveling today, and she really could stand to be more in touch as she moves freely about the cabin. That's why I was interested in this little analysis of Cisco's acquisition of the company that makes the Flip video cam. Some would say it's intended to give them some more heft in the small videoconferencing area.

Ooh. I like it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back To Basics

This piece from Forbes has the basic stuff that you should pitch to your boss when you're pitching a telecommuting arrangement. So emphasize your productivity, do it on a trial basis, keep regular hours, come in when you're needed.

Yes, yes, yes. Do those things. Ask today. Get telecommuting.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Classical Music Is Like Customizing Off the Shelf Software

Stella has a confession to make: she is a bad programmer. I understand the basic ideas (if then else, loop until, blah blah blah) and I can get stuff done, but I don't think it's my default setting. My strength has always been in two key areas:

- Understanding what it is that people are actually trying to do with computers; and

- Making systems get as close to that outcome as is possible.

Sometimes I get to make the system from scratch, and the outcome is pretty darn close to what my customers probably wanted to do. Sometimes I have to jolly other developers along and persuade them that the thing that customer wants to do is actually significant and worthy of their time and attention. But mostly lately I figure out how to get what we want out of third party products. And it occurred to me today that this is a lot like playing classical music.

When you play classical music, you can complain about how unplayable it is, but it won't do you any good. The composer is dead (usually), so it's not going to change. For all your complaining the music is what it is. Your job is simple: make it as close to the composer's vision as you possibly can. You need to play it well so the audience can make sense of it and enjoy it. You need to master the intricacies of the piece so you can perform it fluidly and make it sound easy. Easy!

That's your job when you're working with third party products: master the stuff you need to make your use of the product effortless. Understand the underlying structures and philosophies and make a mental model that bridges that view of the world with your customers' view of the world. Because most of the time you're dealing with a vendor who doesn't care that much about your perspective. Unless you're their only customer, they aren't going to respond to your every whinge and whine. You have one simple task: Make it work!

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Numbers Too Large To Ignore

We are telecommuters, hear us roar! Rawr.

But seriously, folks, ZDNet just published a nice little summary of a much larger forecast of telecommuting produced by Forrester Research, and the numbers they project are kind of exciting. Based on their research, they project as many as 63 million telecommuters of one type or another by 2016. (By the way, that's only seven years away for the futurists out there.)

I think that's swell. The more, the merrier -- in this case you will have actually merrier employees if you figure out how to support telecommuting and get them working at home more often. The post also has some good action items. One I really like:

Find the pockets of telecommuting support in your organization and create a collaboration environment for managers to support each other. There are real issues for a remote workforce around onboarding new employees, managing a younger workforce, establishing clear key performance indicators, learning how to manage by objective, and the like. The experienced managers in your organization can help each other with collaboration like wikis, training, and portal resources.
This is so very true. Often, telecommuting programs spring up sui generis when you have a committed manager who's doing what it takes to keep a key staff member. They figure it out and make it work, and then maybe a few more people get involved. But rooting out the pockets of remote workers and managers and connecting them with each other will help you make the most of their collective knowledge.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Home-Based Career: Caterer

Stella would like to apologize for her paltry posting. She has taken on a secondary career as an amateur caterer for a friend's baby shower and has just been swamped, frankly. It's so much fun, though. I can see why people do this for a living. But as a second job it's a lot of work. But do stay tuned for more fabulous telecommuting fun soon.

Like Monday. As you were!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm Not Complaining

Okay, wait. I am complaining. Every morning starts really early. Really really early. And not only do I feel tired, I look tired. Really really tired. I'm happy to get up early. I'm often awake anyway so what the heck, I might as well get up and work. But what to do after a shower and what passes for "getting ready" doesn't cover the bags under my eyes?

I'm considering this stuff. Of course nothing will actually work, but I want to have dreams. You know?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Telecommuting Is Working

The Evil HR Lady has an interesting question from someone who works in a Real Office but whose manager is a telecommuter. It's interesting for a few reasons:

The manager does do something a little unexpected -- calls another exempt employee out for taking a flexible hour for a doctors appointment. During a conference call with other people.

But the employee's reaction focuses on the slipper-wearingness of his or her manager and how dare she call someone else out for exercising flexibility. S/he writes, "This from a woman who could be getting a pedicure at that very moment for all the rest of us knew. I always just assumed that during her WFH time, she was caring for her children, taking them to the doctor, picking them up from school, etc. It certainly did not bother me because it’s a new world, right? It’s all about results and not so much about bottom-time-in-the-chair, right? Well, apparently not for the daily schleppers."

Uh, no. Much like telecommuter proposals often wax rhapsodical about how great telecommuting will be for the shut-in's own lifestyle, kvetching about telecommuters often focuses on how they're not working.

Except we are. We work hard. We are real employees who sit in our offices eight, ten, or more hours a day doing what needs to be done.

So if you have a telecommuting manager, complain if he's not available by phone. Complain if she is a micromanager who calls and IMs twenty five times a day about that project. Complain if he can't seem to master using his headset. Complain if you actually hear children in his office during work hours and it makes it hard to hear him.

But don't complain because she wants to know where you are during the day. She can't see you leave for an hour during lunch and then come back, so communicating to her what *your* schedule is seems just as important as her communicating *her* schedule to you.

Don't blame it on telecommuting.

Monday, March 9, 2009

getting things done

Stella likes getting things done. Note that this is subtly different from Getting Things Done. But if that's what gets you moving, Getting Things Done can help you on the path of getting things done. When you're cranking out ideas and then making them turn into stuff that people can use, you're doing what you're supposed to be doing.

When you're relabeling your file folders, maybe not so much.

Then I read this manifesto and I fell in love, just a little tiny bit. This is my favorite item in the manifesto:

The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.

And that's really it, don't you think? We can all sit around and sort our task lists, but really getting through what you need to today just frees you up for doing even more awesome stuff tomorrow. Or later this afternoon. Or whenever you are ready to move on to your next big idea.

Friday, March 6, 2009

On All The Time?

Stella tries to work regular hours -- generally speaking my standard is if they're working in the real office, I'm working here. I think it's important that my colleagues never have to think about what time it is here, they just pick up the phone and call me. And I answer.

Or email back. Or whatever.

But what about after hours? Do I have an obligation to be available as much as possible? I am of two minds about this. Part of me says, "Yes, I need to do what needs to be done, whenever that is." And part of me says, "I need to draw the line somewhere."

The folks at ITBusinessEdge are wondering the same thing. What do you think?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Three Big Things

Check email three times a day? Work on only three big goals per day? I love these ideas, because they seem so sensible. I know everybody is linking to this from everywhere, but it's because it's a great idea.

Okay, gotta go work on the first big thing I'm going to get done today. And this isn't it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Upcoming Telecommuting/Work Webinars

The Telework Exchange is a site dedicated to federal teleworkers (aka shut ins, telecommuters, cloud workers or whathaveyou). There is a ton of useful stuff there, and they're now offering a series of webinars about assorted telecommuting subjects. There's one coming up. Maybe you'd like to attend -- they're free you know. Just go here for more info.

I do believe I might attend.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

One of the Best Things About Telecommuting

It's a sad thing I know: when I drive in the car I listen to pop music on the radio. I've got CDs and stuff, but I like the empty sweetness of pop music. Lately, the station I listen to has been playing this Jason Mraz song that includes the line "Open up your plans and damn you're free."

This has been stuck in my head. Mercifully not the song. Just the lyric.

Because it gets me to thinking about one of the things I most enjoy about being a shut-in: for whatever reason, people don't meet with me as much when I'm in my home office as when I'm on site. And this means my schedule is largely free. Don't get me wrong, I have meetings and such. But my time is much more my own in large chunks. And it means I can really get things done.

Just like Jason Mraz.

But dig it, this isn't just a luxury for the shut-ins. I've been advocating for people in the Real Office to block off more meeting-free time and I think it would help everyone execute with more ease, more focus, and just make the days more pleasant.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Culture Change Begins With You

I like a lot of things about this little story from Work Happy Now. What is that you like, Stella?

- I like the fact that a person just decided they were going to do something other than the usual way of doing things.

- I like the fact that they did it without any real hope or expectation of being recognized or rewarded for altering their own behavior.

- I like how they assumed the other guy would probably appreciate the effort, at the very least.

- I like that it was done without convening a committee of twenty and meeting for three months.

- I like that it worked to change the atmosphere of the workplace, and did so pretty darn quickly.

And here is the telecommuting tie-in: what could you do today that would enable a person to not have to drive 15 minutes and spend an additional five minutes parking, walking, and then walking, de-parking and driving another 15 minutes back to the office, just to attend a meeting that could last only 30 minutes, but that everyone stretches to 65 minutes, just to justify the hassle of getting everyone together?