Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snow Makes for Exciting Driving

But not as exciting as zombies. Whoever did this in Austin: You Are A Genius.

Meanwhile, Stella just had to drive around her second city in a 7-10" snowstorm which, on my home turf, would shut the city down. Here? Not so much.

If they shut down Rochester everytime it snowed, no one would get anything done. So you just brush off your car and go slow. It's actually not that big a deal.

Zombies would be much worse. Really.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stella Is On-Site

And so posting may be a tad bit irregular this week, but not to fear. It's just one week dear readers. One week of wearing shoes. Heels. Because I'm short.

It's kind of fun, actually.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Set A Goal

Companies that want to really be telecommuter friendly might could take a page from the federal government: like this Medicare office that is shooting to have at least 15% of its workers at home by the end of the year. They've done a few key things: they have identified some core jobs that can definitely be done better from home, established a core set of technologies, appointed a key person who is charged with promulgating telecommuting, and, most importantly, they have a goal.

If you're at a company and maybe in the vanguard of telecommuters, what could you do to expand the program? What goals could you set for the organization as a whole with regard to building more flexible arrangements for its workers?

Think about it!

Photo from The GuardianUK

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More On Finding Flow

It seems that people who write about flow find it most often in somewhat solitary pursuits -- writing, programming, running, or perhaps practicing an instrument. It's the time when your utter involvement in the task at hand is most noticeable, and I've personally experienced profound focus when engaged in all of these activities.

But I think it is also possible to find that state of flow in more social activities, too.

Take teaching, for example. I used to be a technical trainer -- it was the way I transitioned from a straight fundraising person to being a fundraising nerd. When you're running a class, sometimes you just really get on a roll. You are comfortable with the material (but not bored by it), you've got a class full of people who want to learn what you are there to teach them (or maybe not). You win over the skeptics, you get lots of questions that help everyone learn more than they would have otherwise, you're making great analogies, you see eyes light up and heads nod throughout your class room.

You're having social flow. It's a product of the same thing that makes you flow when you're by yourself:

- A certain mastery of the basics of the task at hand.
- An internal motivation to really bring it on.
- A feeling at the end that you've transcended just "okay" performance and really pushed yourself to get something great done.

Performers get this feeling all the time -- you're on stage and just hitting every note right. And training is certainly a lot like putting on a show. But you can also find social flow in meetings -- you just have to train yourself to recognize that it's happening. You can run a really great meeting where you're organized, you get decisions out of your colleagues, everyone has some good fellowshipping and that's flow. You can have a great social flow at a party -- everyone eats and drinks well, the conversations are awesome, people leave happier and more connected.

You've got to have your eyes open for it though. So next time you've got a day full of soul-sucking meetings, maybe if you look hard enough you'll find a little flow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wondering If You'll Be Happy Telecommuting?

This guy sure is. I think David Christiansen at the IT Dark Side has identified almost all of the great parts about working from home, but I also think he's buried the lead a little bit. Because the truth is that all of this is good not only because he's doing it in his slippers, but also because he loves the job he's doing. He's engaged in the work, he clearly likes the people he's working with and they're all doing well using the tools that remote workers use to connect to each other.

A cruddy job doesn't get better because you're doing it from a fabulous location.

An awesome job would be worth going to a Real Office for.

But if you can do an awesome job from your house, it's like nirvana.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Is What You're Doing for the Rest of Your Life

Penelope Trunk is always an interesting (sometimes infuriating) read, and this post really hits it out of the park. She's tapped into the great zen truth of being a grown up: this is it. You're already doing what you're doing, and if you don't enjoy it, you should probably go in a new direction.

It's all process. Reaching a goal is transitory at best. The bulk of what you're doing is what you do to get there, and it better be stuff that you enjoy, that feels worthwhile to you, that has meaning in and of itself. It's awfully zen, and it's a way to find the joy in the every day.

I get this feeling when I'm doing monkey programming -- you know monkeying around with someone else's system or code to make it stronger, better, or just different enough to satisfy my customers' needs. The time just seems to go away, and when I finally make things work it's so exciting for me. I know it's nerdy, but it's true. Is monkey programming a true discipline? I don't know, but it seems to work for me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hey, Kids, Go Virtual

I liked this article about how to line up a virtual internship. This is a good way to get experience in both your chosen profession and in telecommuting, and can let you consider low or no-pay internships in places you could probably not afford to live otherwise.

The other thing about these tips is that they're good for anyone who is evaluating any telecommuting position. There is a lot of enthusiasm for telecommuting these days, but if an employer is not ready to really handle remote workers, it may not be a good choice for you, the job seeker.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Love Le Mot Just

I've coined some words in my day (greatest achievement: IMterruption: being interrupted by an IM). Bob Sutton has drawn my attention to a great new word: hasshole. This magical combination of hassle and asshole really describes a certain kind of customer. I'm fortunate that nobody I work with now suffers from this condition. And I'm not just saying that because I want to keep my job; it genuinely seems to be true that everyone has enough to keep them busy. As long as you deliver what they need when they need it, they're generally content to leave you alone whilst you do it.

I have experienced folks like this in the past, though. You know the type: they would like you to produce something for them, but they also want to call you several times a day and regale you with how important getting it done in a timely fashion is.

I am a firm believer in an explicit hassle-tax. I will tell hassholes (generally during the third call within a single work day), "You know, I was working on your project. Now that we've had this forty-five minute call, I'm going to stop working on it for that same amount of time. You've just taken me from your project for a total of an hour and a half. Please consider this before you call me again. Thanks!"

Of course, I'm a doufus, so I don't actually stop working on their project. My logic is the sooner I get something off my desk and into a hasshole's hot little hands, the sooner the hasshole will leave me alone. Oh, and I like to get things done quickly.

It's a sneaky way of under-promising and over-delivering. Or over-threatening and under-punishing.

Photo from Wikipedia. Don't Hassle the Hoff.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

As an Office Supply Fetishist

I have determined that I must get this notebook:


Because I need a more comfortable notebook. I really do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Military Joins the Rest of the Federal Government

This is pretty cool: the Navy is experimenting with telecommuting as a way to reduce costs and retain career sailors. They're starting with an extremely small and structured roll out (six positions total throughout the whole operation), but it is yet another bit of momentum on the growing trend toward telecommuting wherever possible.

Because isn't that really the ideal? Any person in a position that can be done remotely should be offered the option of performing those duties remotely. When everyone is doing it as much as possible, then it's not a special privilege any more and we're all happy, saving gas, and spending our time working not sitting in traffic.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Embracing Authority

Lately I've been getting a lot of stuff done at work. I spent the first six months trying to get things aligned so I can do the things that we need to do, and now those tools are in place. I've been cranking out stuff we need, but I'm coming to a realization, and that is this:

I need to push my colleagues to do things in better ways.

I was hired because I have a lot of experience in doing the things I do. I have big ideas and the technical skills to make them happen. But I'm still kind of treating myself like a little worker bee, rather than someone who is leading the charge toward greatness. And it's time to change that. Because that's why I'm there.*

I need to work on taking my consensus building instincts and turn them into "bending people to my will but in such a nice way that they don't realize that's what happened" kinds of skills. Because I'm pretty sure I have those skills, too, I just need to cultivate and embrace them.

* Um, here. I'm here, but I work there. Oh I get confused.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Something New for My Fevered Imagination

Like I needed this: it turns out that people have been proven to send weird emails whilst asleep. Admittedly this has primarily happened to people taking prescription sleep medications, but I'm already prone to sitting bolt upright in bed and carrying on semi-lucid seeming conversations with my family. Now I have to worry about drifting off in the office and sending email messages with contents like "come TOMORROW AND SORT THIS HELL HOLE Out!!!!!!"

Wait, that's the kind of thing I'm likely to send when in full possession of my senses. Never mind, then.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Is Videoconferencing So Hard?

I have really been struggling with videoconferencing since starting the new gig. I don't know what the problem is. Even with simple tools like Skype, my camera often peters out two thirds of the way through a webconference. It's getting on my nerves.

Luckily, most of the people I meet with are not webcam-enabled, and so desktop and audio sharing tools like the wonderful GoToMeeting work really well for those kinds of get togethers. They're dead easy to use, quick to fire up and meet, go through firewalls with a single bound, and nobody has ever had a hard time connecting to me.

Unluckily, the person I most need to videoconference with is my boss. He's a recovering nerd, so he's pretty tolerant of the technical mayhem, but it's getting old. So my new year's resolution is to find a better videconferencing tool. Yugma? DimDim? WebEx? NetMeeting? Not sure. I'm fixing to try them all and see what will work well with my cambot and the network in the Real Office.

I'll let you know how I make out.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Telecommuting Job: Doctor

I have written in the past about jobs one may do from afar, and some of those have been medical jobs. But this little item from the New York Times really warms my heart: doctors will now be doing housecalls through videoconferencing. In Hawaii.

How many ways is this awesome?

First, this takes the big idea of telemedicine and takes it small. You don't need a lot of special stuff to make this happen: a couple of webcams and the internets, and you can have a quick chat with your doctor. It would be so amazingly useful for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and the elderly. So often you just need to have a quick looksee to figure out if someone is really sick, or just a little bit sick. This makes it happen.

Remote places like Hawaii (and New Mexico wherein your gentle correspondent resides) have huge problems with access to medical care. This doesn't take the place of having adequate medical facilities readily available to people, but it could help people be less sick when they do show up to their regional medical centers. A physician can make a better assessment from seeing and hearing a patient, even over the internet, than say doing nothing. Good.

It's in Hawaii. Okay, that's just because it's cold here today. But still.

I'd love to see this expanded to mid-level practitioners, too (physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, midwives). From what I hear, those folks are the key to handling the burgeoning healthcare crisis. If you want to really scare yourself, try googling primary care medicine crisis.

Then go to the gym to try and stave off chronic illness for as long as you possibly can.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Change We Can Believe In

The Telework Exchange is encouraging DC area employers to validate their continuity of operations plans and keep their employees from completely going bananas in traffic by allowing them to telecommute during the inauguration festivities. Anyone who has ever driven in Washington, DC knows how hellish the traffic is there -- and I mean 24 hours a day, seven days a week you will be sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic at some point during a jaunt around that stinking Beltway.

What a great way to show your employees you care about them and you want them to retain some semblance of sanity. And really, what is the point of making people sit in cars for two and a half or three hours just to sit at their desks and use computers.

So you've got a few days to get this together, DC area employers: figure out who can telecommute, figure out how they'll do it, get their work organized, and then let them rock their slippers on and around January 20th.

They will be so grateful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Am I Becoming Weird?

I work in an entirely different time zone than all of my colleagues. I interact with them quite a bit on the phone, web conferencing, IM and email, of course, but generally speaking this interaction is on my terms. I initiate a call, I look at who's calling and decide if I'm going to answer, or I opt to look at my email.

It's peaceful.

So yesterday when I was at the gym, I almost fell off the eliptical machine when the person next to me burst through my bubble of "I won't see anyone I know here". It was the girlfriend of one of my niece's friends, a perfectly nice young woman. We chatted for a while, and then my time of punishment was over. But I felt vaguely disturbed. Should I change gyms so I don't have to see her?

Yeah, okay. I am becoming weird. I must embrace random acts of socialization, I guess.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Reverse Telecommuting

From the Sunday New York Times, this article details a new trend: people telecommuting not to their jobs, but to their lives. It's a symptom of the times: people are not in the mood to turn down a good job for any reason, and are willing to make significant sacrifices to make things work. In these examples, there are a few factors contributing to the telecommuting working out one way and not the other.

In all cases, the nature of the work is such that you really have to be there to do the work. Things like being a college professor at a prestigious university, or managing physical construction projects are not well suited to getting them done virtually.

The current market for executing real estate transactions, it sucks. People facing selling a house in a really down market (move real estate in Detroit, for example? Yeah, I didn't think so) just can't do it. And so if you're trying to advance your career without dragging your family to the poor house, maybe just the worker goes and the rest of the family members keep the home fires burning until times get a little better. Plus there are the usual reasons for families to not want to relocate: kids in schools, the other spouse has a career that s/he doesn't wish to give up, and so on and so on.

So the same technologies that would help a remote worker get into his office can help an on-site worker get into his home.

I'm not sure what I think about all this. At my old employer, there were a number of notorious cases where we made a significant hire and only the hired person made the move, leaving behind the rest of his or her family. And this arrangement worked for, like, six weeks, and then the new hire went slinking back from whence he came. And then the next person who was hired into that position left after six months to marry someone who lived and worked in Las Vegas. The running joke became that unless the person interviewing for that position showed up for the interview with a moving van and his whole family in tow, we wouldn't even talk to him.

Ha ha. It's not funny any more, because clearly people are willing to do whatever it takes and sacrifice quite a bit to get and keep their jobs.