Monday, August 31, 2009

I Really Don't Mean to Harp on This

But if you're not thinking about telecommuting as a key component of your pandemic influenza preparedness planning, I don't even know what to say about it. When you have the tools for people to be in touch and productive from wherever they are, that's a good first step. But you also need to empower people to STAY HOME when they first feel iffy, rather than soldiering through another day a little bit achy.

Dig it: when you're a little bit achy (but not that sick) you are most likely at your most contagious.

So you come into work a little under the weather but still functional, and then you proceed to touch stuff and breathe on people all day until you give up. Then the next day you have a fever and you're really sick, but friends, the damage is done.

As an alternate approach, you could have access to robust telecommuting tools that allow you to be as good out of the office as you are in. You have a laptop, you can connect to your phone system and forward your desk phone to where you are, your VPN is pre-installed and all you need do is connect to see all your network stuff just as though you're there. And your boss knows this and will expect you to be in touch just like you are in the office as long as you're only mildly ill.

You're home just infecting yourself and your family. And that's better for the rest of us.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Feeling Lonely?

This is an interesting idea: a virtual portal. It's like having a little window into your office with a friend at the other side. This piece from LifeHacker suggests that you do it with sound, but you can also use a video-only+IM solution to have that sense of "someone else" with you without disturbing each other with the quiet swearing under your breath and keyboard clacking that might happen if you have a live mic and camera going all the time.

This would also be good practice for people like me who have to go back to the Real Office on a regular basis. Because when you're all by yourself all day it's easy to forget that removing shoes, applying lotion to your feet, and then putting your shoes back on to enjoy the fabulously moisturized feel between your toes is not something you can do in your Real Office. With people around. Who can see you.

Just saying.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Forcible Telecommuting

Most of the time, Stella hears from people who desperately want to convince their management to allow telecommuting. Now it turns out that companies are trying to save money by shutting down facilities and making people telecommute. Big call centers, companies where most of the staff is out in the field selling or servicing products, and of course, technology companies are all finding that they can maximize the savings that come from their telecommuting programs by making everyone do it.

You. Out of the office. Go on now, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

I think this is great -- on the one hand people may feel lonely, and what not. But it's on the employer to make use of tools that help connect people virtually -- low cost ad hoc videoconferencing and instant messaging, for example, or occasional ice cream socials for people who are remotely co-located.

I don't even know what remotely co-located really means. But you get the idea.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stop Using Specs as a Weapon

One of the things I've been working on is specs. I think of myself as being kind of good at the functional spec -- I'm not always clear on the precise technical means to accomplish the things that people want to do with systems and services but I'm very articulate about what we're trying to get done. I love writing specs, and I find them to be useful tools to

  • prompt questions from the non-technical customers and the programmers alike, all of which can make the project better
  • make it clear what we're doing and what we're not doing
  • avoid heartbreak and disappointment at the end of the project
Specs are great. But in the wrong hands, they can be deadly. Like when they're treated as a legally binding contract and are invoked to defend programmers against dissatisfied customers: But dude, you didn't say you wanted it to record the transaction in the database, the spec says "accept transactions" and the system doesn't throw an error message on submit, so it's working as we defined. Uh. Right. Don't get me wrong, customers are guilty of throwing the spec up in the programmers' faces, too.* Maybe you can't have a helicopter, and maybe you didn't hear the people say that a helicopter wasn't going to work.

So as the spec-gal, you also need to make sure that the customers and the programmers know that the spec is a living document, and features may be added or removed, but everyone's gotta know about it and agree to it.

*Yes, I know this conversation isn't about a computer programming project, but I think the common elements are easy to see: unrealistic expectations, the technical execution staff going off and not communicating with the customer thoroughly, with a hearty dose of mental illness. Pretend instead of "helicopter" they're talking about "dynamic form handling widgets" or somesuch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Just So You Know

This is what Stella looks like when she doesn't do her normal morning routine. Without the designer dress, but with the high heels and odd hair.


Monday, August 10, 2009

I Did The Unthinkable

This morning, Stella did a couple of unthinkable things. First of all, I completely slept through and/or sleep-disabled my alarm clock. I attribute this to action-adventure dreams that I was having where there was so much gunfire in my dream that I might not have noticed my alarm clock's plaintive cries or perhaps just turned it off with a kung fu move in the dreamscape.

Be that as it may, the automatic coffee maker did its job in the kitchen and entered my dreamscape in the form of a pause in the action to sit in a cafe. My brain noticed this was unusual enough to wake up. At that point the smell of coffee in my conscious brain was enough to make me look at the time, and realize it was ten after six. And I'm usually at my desk by six. Whoops.

My second unthinkable act: I went to work in gym clothes. I did not do my usual morning routine of shower, put on a happy face, comb hair, smell decent, and so on. I just brushed my teeth, put in my contacts, and that's where my morning ablutions stopped.

You know what? The world didn't end. It was okay. I had meetings and the smell-o-vision wasn't functioning, and I was alert all day, and it was fine.

Just thought you'd want to know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Did You Celebrate?

Yesterday was National Telework Day! How did you mark the occasion? I did what I always do: took a shower, got a big cup of coffee and shuffled across my patio in flip-flops to work. I talked to folks on the phone, sent email like a fiend, cranked out work, took a break to go to the gym and do the family thing, and then I did a little more work that night.

Celebrate good times, come on!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Telecommuting To The Rescue

When a big influx of people comes to a region, even if there are two or three years to prepare, not everything is done in time. This is the case with the Base Re-Alignment Commission (BRAC) work that is bringing a ton of workers to the Ft. Meade area in Maryland. There were road building projects in the works, but with this and that (major economic meltdown and loss of tax revenue?) the projects won't be done.

Officials are anticipating a bit of a traffic nightmare when all those people start coming to work at Ft. Meade.

One of the answers to this problem: telecommuting. As with all parts of the federal government, the military is interested in encouraging telecommuting, especially where their base realignments are going to cause epic traffic.

Yay, telecommuting!