Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paltry Posting

Stella is apologizing in advance for slow posts this week. Okay, actually it's Tuesday already, so it's not really in advance, but you get the idea. I'm onsite this week, and by the time I get home to the hotel I'm kind of more than a little zombified.

Mmmm, I wonder if they'll have brains tomorrow at the hot breakfast bar downstairs?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Telecommuting and Pandemic Flu

Here's something Stella really hates: getting off an airplane on a layover and seeing Janet Napolitano's face on CNN over a "Breaking News" graphic. It's probably partially a function of it being a slow news day, but people getting this wound up about swine flu is troubling.

The good news is that a robust telecommuting program can help save your business in the event of a widespread health scare. In Mexico City, the streets are deserted, and tomorrow should be interesting too. Companies who enable their workers to work from wherever they are (including making the phones ring where people are, VPN and other secure access, and so on and so on) will be in much better shape than those businesses where people have to show up to log in.

The same is true here in the US. So dust off those disaster preparedness plans, friends, and make sure that people know what they should do to connect in case there are restrictions on travel, going to offices, and the like.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Here's Some Good Advice

David Christiansen at IT Dark Side has written a good post about maintaining balance when working at home. It seems like a no-brainer: work-life balance is built in when you work at home, right?

But as I was just kvetching about on Wednesday, in fact it's hard to stay focused and work hard, and not be a total grind and never see your kids too. Because it's entirely possible to work all the time.

Don't do that, okay?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Take Your Daughter To Work Day

Does that actually work when you work at home? All the time? My daughters see me at work: there I am, working in my flip flops, having a meeting and waving them away frantically while trying to stay professional and calm sounding on the call I'm running.

Maybe I should make them take me to school with them.

Here's my dirty little secret: I know lots of mothers who look at working at home as a way to "spend more time with their families". Maybe I'm a grind. (Okay, I'm definitely a grind!) But I do not see it that way. It is a bit easier for me to pinch hit in a crisis at school or what have you, but I work when I'm working. I do not pay attention to my children, not even a little bit.

Does this make me a bad mom? Perhaps. But when you're the primary wage earner, and you work from afar, you kind of need to be focused.


Monday, April 20, 2009

One Inbox Reduction Strategy

Stella has really been trying, gentle readers. Really, I wanted to keep my inbox pure, containing only items that actually fresh and awaiting action, not those which are malingering and making me feel guilty. I've got mail folders for my major and minor projects, and I've really made an effort to put things there rather than let them stew in my inbox.

And I've failed.

I have been getting nasty messages from the Outlook administrator that my mailbox is over size, and I decided to do something about it today. I've found one way to make things more sortable and file-able: I lined the contents of the inbox up by sender name. It turns out that each person emails me about one or two specific projects that I might be working on for them, and so it is really easy to find all the stuff about the alumni directory when it's all grouped by the two or three people who are really working with me on it.

For sorting and filing, time is not as useful as sender, it turns out. And seeing all those old messages when I have it sorted by time is just kind of depressing. I'll go back to date sorting tomorrow, but right now I'm down to just fifty four items in my inbox.

I feel pretty good about that. Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wondering Why Stella Is Grumpy?

I had an insight this morning. Not an On-Site Insight (TM) but just a garden-variety insight. I am the mother of two charming and extremely well behaved children and a natural morning person. I'm up bright and early every day and working east coast hours.

But by the end of the day I am psychotically grumpy and willing to do almost anything to hustle the children into bed. And today it finally occurred to me: in my brain, it's like the kids are staying up until 11 pm every single night.

In point of fact, they're going to bed at a very reasonable hour, and we have a nice structured bedtime routine and all that jazz. The super nanny wouldn't find much to fix in the kids' behavior.

Unfortunately, it's all your dear correspondent's fault.

What to do, what to do? Honestly I'm not sure what I can do. I mean, this is the gig people. I have a few ideas:

  • I could delay my afternoon green tea fix until four or five in the afternoon to get that gentle caffeine boost a little later in the day.
  • I could be more disciplined about not doing recreational computer work between the end of my work work and bed time.
  • I could chill out.
I think recognizing the problem is probably the first step to solving it. Seriously, pinpointing the causal relationships between early rising and late-day grumpiness may just be enough to make me exercise a little more self-discipline and reduce my harpy factor measurably.

I'll let you know how that all works out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Better Conference Calls

I saw this post from Sasha Dichter by way of reading about it in Seth Godin's blog. Is that enough blog call outs? Okay!

But seriously folks, he's absolutely right. Conference calls can often turn into torture. It happens pretty easily. Add to all the sins he notes poor sound quality on any end of the call, yammerers, table thumpers and so on and so on. His tips are also right on.

I'd like to add one of my own: make EVERYONE on the call call in. You eliminate the need for the voice of "in the room" because everyone is on an even footing. Use a tool that combines screen sharing with voice conferencing (there are free tools to use with Skype, or you can use a fee tool like GoToMeeting, WebEx, or what have you to get these things done).

But there is nothing more frustrating than being the only person who is calling in from afar, so level the playing field.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bigger Is Better

Stella uncrated her new 22 inch monitor last night, and let me tell you it is phenomenal. I found a great price at NewEgg, they shipped it fast fast fast, and now I'm basking in the gentle glow of so many pixels that my eyes are spinning.

Things I notice:

  • I need to practice moving from screen to screen -- it's a little tricky to figure out where my mouse can traverse the gap between my ginormous main monitor and the laptop monitor.
  • I need to figure out how best to work with all this real estate -- two browsers side by side, quandrants, what? Not sure what will be best, but I'm happy to experiment.
  • It's awesome.
Now on to the next phase of my over-computerized lifestyle: building a rig that is intended strictly for video conferencing, IM, Skype, etc. I feel like the video conferencing is straining my darling laptop's ability to cope, so I'm going to re-purpose an old desktop computer just for the communication stuff. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Internet Alternatives

I was speaking with my rep from a third-party vendor that I work closely with, and she is a telecommuter too. She was telling me a horror story: her home office internet went on the fritz and the ISP said that it would be perhaps a day before it was back up and running. Horrors! She hopped in the car to go to a nearby coffee shop and discovered their interwebs were out too. And so it went. Hours (and a few repair guys later) she was back in, but in the meantime, no work, no meetings, no VoIP, none of the things you rely on.

Honestly, I don't know what I would do if I had a lengthy internet outage. Cry maybe?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bad Hair City? Really?

Stella likes many many things about living at 5,000 feet. I love the fact that the clouds one sees are frequently peeking up from below the horizon because we're up so dang high. I love the fact that the arid climate means that sweat functions as it is supposed to: you sweat and it evaporates, thus cooling you. I come home from a run dusted in salt -- it's like being a piece of trout on the grill. Lovely.

And I find that the climate means that my hair is smooth and pleasant most days because there is absolutely no humidity. Why is this relevant to StellaCommute readers? Because I get up really early and I don't do anything to my hair, so the fact that it can look reasonably okey-dokey without much effort is non-trivial. But come to find out, we're the 12th worst hair city in the country. I'm questioning their methods.

I'm just saying.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Telecommuting Commute Time Reducer Number Two

As a follow up to the efficiency pants and the in-bed laptop stand that Stella recently covered, I am pleased that Gizmodo called my attention to this time saver: the keyboard pillow. They imply that one will be napping on the job with this, but I see it as a way to move seamlessly from sleep to productivity in the morning.

But then again, Stella gets up really early so she can be at work on the same schedule as her east coast colleagues, so perhaps my interpretation is off.

Nap on, dear readers. Nap on.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shoes Are Shoes...Except When They're Totally Awesome

Stella has a complicated relationship with shoes. It's well documented. I have a love of shoes. I have pretty, narrow feet that look good in shoes of all stripes, and that I get pedicured before I travel. On the off chance that I'm killed in a plane crash I want them to find my remains and take extra care because they'll know I'm a well-kept and respectable person. But sometimes I find that my feet and shoes are not getting along well.

Lately I've been wearing some pretty fierce shoes, despite the fact that I only sit in my office and trip daintily back and forth between my desk, kitchen, and bathroom. And despite the fact that I frequently tout the slipper-wearing lifestyle that I'm privileged to pursue.

Part of it is that I'm a very short woman and wearing heels keeps my pants from dragging on the ground. I'm also experimenting with the uncomfortable shoe theory of productivity (wherein if one cannot walk easily around the house, perhaps one might best stay seated and working at the computron). But now I read that sky-high heels are a secret source of power. And that people (just like me!) are wearing them during conference calls to make them feel powerful and edgy. Actually, I did that yesterday and it kind of worked.

Maybe it will work for you. But this begs the question: is there a male equivalent of the five inch heel? What could a male shut-in wear around the house to bring himself sartorial pleasure and power? A tie? Hmmm. That doesn't seem right.

Ideas, dear readers?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Headphones as Noise-Proofing

It's been a little noisier than usual around Stella central this week, because the small kid has been home since Tuesday with some sort of eye thing*. I took a sick day on Tuesday (which is to say that I did my meetings with the plaintive strains of "A Part of Your World" in the background, but I charged myself a sick day because other than meetings I just made noodles and applied warm compresses), but the kid has been hanging around the past couple of days with Daddy on his days off.

It's tough.

They are noisy and prone to wandering into my office and demanding nail polish and whatnot. What is a shut in to do? She straps on her headphones and just ignores them. With my headphones on, I really can't hear people yelling in the house, I can't hear the terrible terrible score of "The Aristocats", it's like it's not even happening.

* I don't think it's contagious -- nobody else has caught it yet, so it may be allergies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I'm Starting My Own Jelly

Well, kind of. My very good friend and fellow pub-quizzer (and her delightful pub-quizzing husband) just bought a house around the corner from mine. Like, it's a three minute walk over there (unless you're accompanied by dilly-dallying preschoolers, in which case all bets are off).

She's a nerd and usually she works in a Real Office. But she's having a baby really soon. And she's not really taking any maternity leave to speak of. And she'll be working at home very soon. So we're plotting our own informal semi-regular co-working arrangement.

I know what you're thinking: Stella, aren't you always preaching that working at home isn't a substitute for daycare? It is absolutely true. You cannot really work with a kid around. I am also a person who came home from the hospital after having my second kid and immediately logged into to take one last bit of malingering code live before officially starting my maternity leave. The baby was asleep in her little carrier seat next to me, and I worked. A bit, and not because my manager asked it of me, but because I wanted to get a few things wrapped up so I could relax.

Newborns eat, sleep, and poop. In between, you're kind of left with vague worrying about whether they seem stuffy or not, checking to see if they're poopy, and messing around on Facebook. Why not be productive? If that's what you want to do.

So yes, we'll give the co-working thing a try on an ad hoc basis. I'm envisioning walking over there for lunch and then working for the afternoon. Or vice versa. Or her coming over after my older child gets home from school -- the big kid can look after the baby, and we can go partake of wi-fi and geekery.

But first she has to have the baby.