Monday, November 30, 2009

A Friendly Smiling Face

Stella has been working on her videoconferencing as of late. Skype is great for some stuff, but it seems to be relatively disinterested in driving my webcam for longer than a couple of minutes. And after reading through like a year's worth of discussion board discussions about this issue, I'm just at the end of my rope in trying to deal with it. The fine institution for which I work is looking at some higher end stuff from Tandberg that seems quite promising, but they're still piloting that. And it's not going to deal with my main videoconferencing problem: most of my colleagues don't yet have desktop cameras.

So most of the time I'm doing straight up phone conferencing and desktop sharing. I call into assorted conference rooms, I fire up a GoToMeeting (my go-to tool for desktop sharing), and we all yak and look together. It is generally okay, but sometimes it feels like there is a barrier of communication. Everyone is sitting in a room looking at each other, but I feel like sometimes they're not one hundred percent sure I'm there.

Lately I've been trying something new: showing them me. I'll fire up the camera on my GoToMeeting rig and show them my smiling, awake, non-pajama clad self. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but I feel like having me visible on the screen helps to build trust, because I'm not afraid to show you me even if I can't see you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Touch of the Fabulous

Stella is all about utilitarian gear for the shut-in. After all, working at home is not a fashion show, and while you should be comfortable and have a workspace that is functional, you don't always need the slickest and schmanciest stuff. Unless that's the kind of thing you like.

I like these things. They're too fancy for me. But Christmas is coming. Hint hint.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Was It Prescient?

Stella dressed up as Lady Gaga this year for Halloween. If I may say so, my costume was pretty good, and as it turns out, highly appropriate for a telecommuter who relies on video conferencing to get things done. See this new video with Ms. Lady Gaga and Ms. Beyonce.

I will point out that neither of them is really dressed to convey the "office" feeling on videoconferencing systems, but that may not, in fact, be the point.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

So Stella Just Woke Up

And realized that Thanksgiving is next week. Really, how did it get to be almost December so quickly? However it has come to be, the holiday season is upon us and I can't help but feel a little bit like the Grinch in my disbelief that it's happened again. Last year, Stella was going to try to organize a telecommuters' holiday party in her home town. That didn't get very far, largely because I just sat around and didn't really do anything. This year, I posted a Craigslist ad recruiting local telecommuters. Um, that'll work, right?

So, taking it one step further: I'm declaring December 18th official holiday party day (to coincide with my Real Office's actual holiday party). So you know what we're going to do? Twitter a party. I'm starting it now #vivaciousdisembodiedhead.

Twitpic your best crazypants holiday sweater (or crazypants crazy pants!). Get drunk in your pajamas at eleven in the morning, and then tweet. Come on now! Well, not now. Unless you want to now.

You know, I'm not about command and control. I'm about having a good time all the time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Telepresence Gone Wild

Stella often fantasizes about having a wireless webcam strapped to the top of a RC Car that she could drive around the Real Office. Sadly I lack the basic skills or cognitive capacity to make such a thing. If only I worked at a robotics company like these guys. Then all my Real Office fantasies might come true.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Consolidation in Videoconferencing.

Cisco bought Tandberg. Now Logitech has purchased LifeSize. Interesting. I am happy there is all this interest in teleconferencing, and it's probably a good thing that Logitech (which produces a ton of affordable cameras that many telecommuters rely on to show their co-workers their happy faces) is getting into the more high-end videoconferencing market.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trying to Look Good

Stella loves to give shut-in fashion advice, but like the shoe maker's children, she isn't that fab herself. But I try, I really do. I try to pay attention to what is considered cute, and then do an approximation of that. But when you telecommute, it really feels like there isn't much point. As long as I look simply presentable from the waist up, things are good, right?

Well, there are areas where you can play. Like hair fashion -- I've been growing it out, so perhaps I'll experiment with headbands, barrettes, and braids. Earrings, that's good. Scarves and wraps? Okay! I'm going to start experimenting a bit and see if it makes me feel more un-dowdy. Because it's really far too easy to wear jeans and a t-shirt every day.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Being an Introvert Is Okay

I don't know if it's a chicken or egg thing, but I find the longer I work as a shut-in, the more introverted I become. It's not to say that if you met me you wouldn't find me to be a gregarious person -- I love to meet new people, I enjoy going out to parties and such, and I do well in meetings and in front of audiences. But I also crave time alone in my office to do sustained thinking, planning, working, writing. And I need downtime by myself (maybe a lot of it!) to recharge my brain and my ability to deal with people.

So I would characterize myself as a closet introvert.

Working at home is perfect: when I go on site, I'm all out. I meet all day, happy hours, dinners with colleagues, anything, all face to face. But other than that, I'm really mostly working quietly. So I read with interest this little piece from the New York Times. My favorite bit:

What does that look like on Monday morning? They prepare well for meetings and negotiations; they’ve done their reflective thinking in advance. They also schedule down time in order to recharge. And they seek out allies as trusted sounding boards and champions who can help spread the word about their quiet strengths.

This is good advice for the telecommuter, too. You are, by the nature of your working environment, an introvert, especially to your Real Office colleagues. So give yourself the illusion of extroversion.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extreme Telecommuting With Kids

Sometimes I watch "House Hunters International" on HGTV and see folks buying houses on the beach in some South American country and I think to myself, "Heck, if they have an airport, why couldn't I do that?"

As it is, Stella is very far away from her place of employ, and there's nothing that would prevent me from going somewhere even more pleasant than where I am and working. Except that I have kids who need to go to school, and I just wouldn't want them to have to struggle in another language in a small town in another country. And where I live I'm surround by family who make my life extremely easy, so I really couldn't possibly complain. Although a beach...never mind.

Maybe you too long for an extreme telecommuting arrangement, and you have school age kids. Well, could full time online school work for you? Maybe.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Wired Employees Are Good

I'm really fortunate: my job requires me to stay on top of the more fluttery edges of the online communication so I get to explore Twitter, Facebook, augmented reality, and whatnot as part of my daily work. But it turns out that my willingness and interest in these things may also make me a better employee.

At least that's what they think at the delightfully named Gruntled Employees. The part I like the best: "They also know that what they say reflects upon them and their company."

That is so true. The fact is that in this modern age, your personal online profile and your professional online profiles, pages, blogs, tweets and so on are almost inextricably linked. It's a Catch 20/20 (as I once heard someone say -- a conflict in hindsight!). On the one hand you need to use your real self in some of your online activities so you get the networking benefit -- after all what good is your fabulous online brand if it doesn't also help you when you need to make your connections work for you and your company. On the other hand, there may be drunkface pictures of you out there in your online activities.

But I don't think that's a big deal. Because in the main, you, savvy online denizen that you are, know that your online personna is a big whole picture that includes the drunkface and the brilliant blog posts. And the ability to balance your personal life and your professional life is inextricably tied to that, too.

So you need to exercise balance and being awesome in all media. Real life, online, tweeting, blogging, and so on. It will make you a good employee and a good person.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Telephone as a Pandemic Survival Tool

I am not a germophobe, really. But I'm glad every day that I get to do a lot of what I do over the phone and through the interwebs. Why just today, I was phoned into a meeting where one third of the other participants seemed to be coming down with something or recovering from something. Yuck.

Newsflash: You don't have to be in another timezone to call into a meeting. If I'm calling in, maybe the sick people could stay holed up in their offices and phone in, too?

If you're experiencing an outbreak of illness, use your telecommuting tools to keep people from congregating together and sharing it amongst themselves. Even if people are just calling from office to office, minimizing face-to-face contact can really help minimize the spread of disease.