Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh, I've Been Remiss

Yes, Stella is well aware that she has not posted in quite some time. The truth is that once again, Stella is making some professional changes. I'll be moving from the non-profit sector to the for-profit world in January, working as a consultant for a really great software company, one that works with non-profits. It should be a great change, and the greatest part about it: I'll still be based in my home office.

I'll be doing a lot more traveling to client sites, but when I'm not there, I'll be safely ensconced in slippers, with a cat sleeping happily on my desk. So that's the big news. I'll continue to blog, of course. For all six of you out there reading, I know you've come to expect infrequent and random posts, so there you go.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Federal Telework Act Passes

The good news is that the federal telework act finally passed the house last week. Since the senate had already passed it, all it needs is a little signature from the President, and then all your federal teleworking dreams will come true.

Release the unicorns.

Okay, maybe it's not quite that glorious yet, but the federal telework act does provide some incentives for government agencies to promote and support telecommuting. And sometimes just saying it's okay is a big step forward.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free Videochat Apps Reviewed

One of the most important tools any shut-in has is her videochat. It makes a huge difference when your colleagues see you and more importantly when you see them. Having easy to use tools that don't take a lot of special gear, networks, set up, or technical acumen to use is absolutely essential to a successful telecommuting program.

Stella has struggled on and off with her video conferencing tools. I've slogged along with Skype (even though it when through periods of time when it stopped wanting to drive my camera), I've tried Oovoo and Yugma (not good options because they require so much account set up on the part of your partner), there's WebEx, and my beloved GoToMeeting is promising HD videoconferencing at some point "soon". Yay.

If you're weighing your free options, the nice people at Gizmodo have a good test drive of Google, Skype, and iChat. Check it out.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Filling Your Talent Gaps with Telecommuters

We all know that there are a lot of unemployed people in this country. Tons of qualified folks are actively looking for work and would be really grateful to get a job. But there are also lots of jobs in places that go unfilled. Maybe you have somewhat lower-level programming jobs in a big expensive metropolitan area - those kinds of jobs typically don't come with relocation reimbursement, so after you've hired all the entry level programmers around you, what can you as an employer do to fill your talent gap?

Maybe you need to open your mind to telecommuting. Once you give up on the idea that all your little worker bees have to actually be in your hive, you suddenly have an enormous pool of talent to choose from. This article from the New York Times goes into more detail, but don't make your people commute between two cities or choose between their families and their jobs. Telecommuting lets you hire outside your metro area and not destroy people's lives by making them relocate.

You already have your remote working systems in place, so why not harness them to get the best talent you can, irrespective of where that talent might have a hard-to-sell house that's underwater on its mortgage.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Small Changes to Routine

Sometimes you can shake up your day's work just by making a small change to your routine. Maybe you change the order you do the first things you do in the office - instead of opening email first, you do the other data chores first, or maybe you get up a half hour earlier or later. Maybe it's changing the music or radio choices you make, or eating after you do some task first thing.

Whatever it is, I find that making tiny changes to how I do the things I routinely do can cause me to feel very differently about how my day is starting. Whether it's actually more productive,  I don't know. But try shaking it up today.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now That's What I'm Talking About

You can read that title as, "Now that's what I'm talking about!" or "Now that's what I'm talking about!" but either way, you're capturing my enthusiasm. There is apparently a book called Hacking Work and it looks pretty good. But what caught my eye was this excerpt on Fast Company. A person who wanted to telecommute started telecommuting, but on his own time. He documented how awesome it was and then when he was ready to make his telecommuting proposal, he had proof that it (and he) could work!


Simply put: if you show that remote working is already working already, it makes it hard to use the common arguments against such arrangements. You'll be distracted, you'll sleep all day, you won't have access to the tools and systems you need. Um no, actually, I did fine, I worked *more* than I would have otherwise, and I delivered the project on time at no additional cost to the company.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Telecommuting Fashion Watch: It's Not a Bathrobe

One of the well known benefits of telecommuting is that you don't have to strap yourself into a work costume and trudge into the Real Office. You can pretty much roll out of bed and get to work naked if that's the kind of thing you want to do. I don't recommend this, mind you, because of the prevalence of webcams and windows and suchlike, but hey, I'm not here to judge.

Yes, you can be casual, but that doesn't give you a license to let yourself go, of course. No pajamas. I mean it. But do you need to make yourself uncomfortable? No, I don't think that either. Allow me to suggest real clothes that function like their more pajamaesque cognates.

Bathrobe? No.
Long sweater? Yes!
It's warm, comforting, and because it's long it can be helpful in managing the low-rise jeans/plumber issue that seems to arise these days.

Slippers? No.
Nice sandals? Sure, why not?
I like the idea of having a dedicated pair of house shoes, flip-flops or sandals to slip on, Mr. Rogers-style. I hate the idea of tracking dirt into my and home office, and I would prefer that people remove their shoes. But I understand that you might like to wear shoes to avoid seeming like a complete shlub.

Sweatpants? No.
Yoga pants? Maybe.
Here's the thing about yoga pants: elastic waist. It is a slippery slope from a forgiving waistline to sloth. I'd like to recommend that if you're going to wear work out clothes as clothing that this is only acceptable if you are actually going to or coming from the gym or other actual physical exertion.

I'm tying the belt on my long sweater and saying it over and over like a mantra: it's not a bathrobe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Virtual Meeting Tips

This advice about how to stay together and seem professional during conference calls and teleconferences is all right on the money. Really the best thing to do is to treat a videoconference or online meeting as a meeting meeting. I find that I do well to pretend that I'm actually sitting in the room with people - don't do anything during the meeting that you wouldn't do in a room full of people.

Of course I do wear flip flops during meetings, which I would not normally do during a Real Office meeting. But other than that, I try hard not to get distracted and stay "in the room" even when that room is 2000 miles away.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Praise of POTS

No, not that pot. Sheesh you people. I mean Plain Old Telephone Service. I've taken a step back in time and obtained a super old fashioned telephone line. No VoIP, no schmancy stuff. Just a telephone. What I like about it is that it doesn't compete for bandwidth with all the other things I'm shoving through my internets. It will work when the power is out so I can call people and tell them my power is out. It works when the internet is out, so I can call my internet provider and tell them the internet is out.

Simple. Maybe not the cheapest thing, but it works.

So now I forward the local Skype number I've set up for my local colleagues to the landline when I'm physically in the office, and to the cell phone when I'm wandering the streets. This preserves the illusion of "I'm right down the hall" but rings in my distant location. I can call reliably, and people can call me directly on the real number when all else fails.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Have I already complained about this?

Honestly, after so many posts (more than 600!) I know I'm a bit of a broken record about some topics. I have my little set pieces.

Telecommuting isn't a substitute for childcare.

You can goof off just as easily in your Real Office cubicle as you can in your home office.

Face time is for the birds, except when your manager really values it, and then you have to figure out how to have electronic face time through passive "I'm here" tools like your IM status.

Yes yes yes, you've heard it all before. The thing I want to complain about today is the utterly reproachful tone of error messages in software. Lately, my email has been giving me lots of scolding: You failed to shut your inbox properly. Your account is over its size limits. We're going to stop sending email. When I read these messages, I hear my own voice, but at age 14 sassing back at my poor mother.

"Um, you FAILED to shut your inbox properLY? Duuuh!"

 I love how web apps approach error messages. I love reading things like "Oh heck. It's probably our fault, but something is not right. Sorry, but could you try again?" Would it kill the folks at the giant traditional software companies to adopt a slightly less accusatory tone in error messaging?

As I say to my children: please use nice words and pleasant voices with each other.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting Beyond Pitfalls

Telecommuting is pretty much like regular work in most ways - if you goof off, people will notice, you can be unresponsive and annoy your coworkers just as easily from home as you can from the cubicle down the hall. But there are some particular issues that you'll notice when you work from afar most of the time. This piece from Read Write Web has some good ideas for dealing with some of the most common issues you might see.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Far Away Could You Be?

All airfare and needing to be onsite aside (which explains in part why Stella didn't post much last week) here's the question: once you make the break to working from pretty far away, how far away could you actually be? Is there a limit?

This article from InfoWorld says: why not half a world away? I will say that the time difference could get confusing, but if you're really just a contractor and working through project work with a set need to meet with people or otherwise be available, why not just say Phuket?

If I didn't have children to educate, I'd be working from a little beach town in Mexico or the U.S. Virgin Islands so fast it would make your head spin. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Telecommuting Job Watch: Elder Services

This morning I heard an interesting story on NPR about an application of teleconferencing tools to help monitor older people to avoid "I've fallen and I can't get up" incidents. This is a really great way for distant relatives to keep tabs on aging parents, aunties, uncles, or anyone who is able to live by themselves, but about whom you worry just a little bit.

I've heard of other applications like that - there are telemedicine programs, for example, where a nurse or physician's assistant looks in on people who have chronic health conditions. These programs combine teleconferencing with systems that send biometric telemetry (blood sugars, blood pressure, pulse, or data from wired medicine dispensers) to help medical professionals monitor a patient's condition and compliance with treatment plans.

Pretty nifty - it seems like a cost-effective way to prevent more serious problems and complications from a chronic illness (or from just getting older). And the monitors can also be telecommuters.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

FiOS versus Cable in a Battle for My Internets

The phone company has been sending Stella some postcards lately with a bit of intriguing information: FiOS has come to my neighborhood. We're seriously considering making the switch to fiber optic internets, but I'm just not sure.

Could it really be that much better and faster?

Here are the decision points, most of which, I realize, are irrelevant and crazypants. And yet:

  1. Which company is likely to be a more reliable source of customer service? Qwest or Comcast? Who knows?
  2. Which company is less of an evil, crippling monopoly? They both kind of are.
  3. Is it really faster, the fios?
  4. Would the productivity gains we make by ditching the cable television at the same time (because that's what we're thinking about doing) have a multiplying effect on any internets speed increase that we might also see?
  5. Can Mr. Commute live without hot and cold running ESPN?
You see, it's quite a quandary.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Apocalyptic Guidance for Telecommuting Managers

Stella can't resist articles that refer to the apocalypse in daily life so I was drawn to this little item from a summary of news about federal telecommuting programs. Four simple points (or horsemen if you will) about managing telework, and they really ring true.

If you perform knowledge work, you can telecommute at least part of the time. If you drive for forty five minutes and then log into a computer and begin working with things that exist on a network, you can telecommute. If your manager only sees you once or twice a week at meetings, and the rest of the time you're just cranking out work, you can do this.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Vacation Day is Best Taken Not In the Office

Okay, I know it's intuitively obvious to the casual observer, but your best vacation day will be one taken outside your office. But when you telecommute full time and you take the occasional vacayday it can be so tempting to just pop into your home office and do a little work. Stella is not going to lie to you: she did pop in the office this morning for a little work, but now I've taken myself out for a quick bagel.

And I'm blogging to you live from the coffee shop. I've totally become that guy tippity-tapping my keyboard at the coffee shop.

Don't hate me for my battery life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Sharpie Company Has a Direct Link Into My Sooooooul

Oh, Sharpie, why do you torture me so? I love every pen you've ever made and own an embarrassing number of them. And now pencils?


I mean: may God have mercy on my soul.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Real Advice About FLSA from Lawyers

Stella is not a lawyer. Not even close. But I recognize when lawyers are a good idea, and one area is around human resources, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and who gets paid for what when. Seriously, if you're managing a telecommuting program, you need to be thinking about this stuff. Most telecommuters are exempt staff (e.g. we work til the job is done, or our brains are fried, whichever comes first).

But there are lots of jobs where you might could use telecommuting to manage people that would be non-exempt: data entry, transcription, inbound phone operations, and so on. And in those cases, you need to craft a telecommuting agreement that is quite clear on what time is compensated and what time isn't.

This article from has some other good questions you should be asking your counsel about. I strongly urge you to do so, so as to stay out of hot water.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some Blogs You Might Like

I'll be adding these to the "Links Stella Likes" section, but I just wanted to give a little bit of a shout out to a couple of useful and active telecommuting blogs that could be of interest:

  • Telecommuting Journal: Articles about telecommuting, and also some good links to leads on jobs that have a telecommuting aspect (and that aren't MLM or scams)
  • Chief Home Officer: A freelance writer who blogs about the tools and quandaries of running a business out of a home office.
Both these blogs are actively maintained, and had a lot of good information. I'm always looking for more to read and understand about telecommuting, so if you know of a good blog, feel free to post it in the comments.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Making the Case for Telecommuting: A Simple Approach

As Stella has mentioned, she's been traveling a lot to different on-site things, conferences, and other things. Everywhere I go, I have to explain to people how it is that I work for an institution in upstate New York but live in Albuquerque, and everyone I explain it to asks immediately, "How did you manage that?"

I try to counter by asking them: do you ever log in from home on Saturday to do a quick task?

If the answer is "Yes," then you have a fundamental case for experimenting with telecommuting at least some of the time. Because dig it: if you can log in from home on your time, why can't you do the same thing on their time and be just as effective? If that kind of access is good enough for an emergency, then it should be good enough for a regular work day as well.

I just don't understand what is hard about this. If you're feverishly working in the evenings and weekends on stuff when you're on business travel, or god forbid working while on vacation, you should be able to extend this style of working to the regular work day as well. It's a benefit that costs the employer very little -- once they've put in place the basic infrastructure you need to have safe remote access to systems, it's really pretty easy to just let people use it all the time.

So let them. And you, the employees: Ask For It At Work.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This Just In: People Who Are Able to Work More Easily Work More

Stella has long held that one reason for telecommuters' increased productivity is that they're able to work more hours without really feeling much of a pinch. If I need to crank out some project or another in the evening or for a couple of hours on Saturday, it's no big deal. I already have all the equipment and access I need to be just as efficient and productive at home as I would be in the Real Office.

But now researchers at Brigham Young have confirmed this. As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, researchers found that people who had flexibility in their schedule, from telecommuting to being able to set their own hours, worked more hours per week before getting cranky about it. And so if having people working a lot and working happy is important to you, telecommuting seems like a good way to get to that end.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yes, Okay, I get it

I haven't been posting like I should. Between being on the road for two weeks in July, working hard to keep focus with people in varying states of summer vacationing, and assorted stuff, it's been hard to gather thoughts and post.

The good news is that school starts here in two weeks, so soon there will be fewer distractions. Honestly when there's even the slightest disruption in the force I find I really have to work hard to maintain my concentration and keep cranking out the work.

Including the blog.

But rest assured, faithful readers, soon you'll be finding lots more stuff to read here. Like tomorrow!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Good Advice on Managing an Emergent Telecommuting Program

This quick post from the Washington Post has excellent tips on starting to manage a telecommuting program. If more managers would just focus on RESULTS -- e.g. what you are actually doing and accomplishing -- rather than how much time you spend wandering around the office with your coffee cup in hand, the better everyone's lives would be. Even workers who are physically in the same office shouldn't be measured by time elapsed, but rather on whether they're fishing or cutting bait.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Persistent Telepresence on the Cheap

This quick article talks about a couple of free tools that telecommuters like me use all the time. Seriously I'm rarely not "available" on Skype, but this guy goes one step farther: he connects to a Skype instance on a computer on a desk in the remote office and is "there" all day. So people can stop by, see him working, and he can see them. I think this is a pretty nifty idea because it gets at one of the problems that telecommuters all suffer from: out of sight out of mind.

Okay we're all outta sight, man.

But you know what I mean. People all too easily forget you're there, you're working, you are available. By being actually visible, that could help address the problem.

Maybe if the IT guys stick with their plan of replacing my overheating slow rig I'll get them to use the old machine as a disembodied head end-point. It's something to consider.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Update: The Chill Mat Helps

Believe it or not, the chill mat seems to have helped the flagging performance of my laptop. I would have thought that refrigerating my office to ridiculous levels would be good enough for my little buddy, but it turns out that is not the case. I bought the cheapest one, plugged it into the USB and fired it up (cooled it down?).

And the past few days have been Four O'Clock Failure (TM) free. Yay!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Could It Be The Heat?

I don't know if it's just summertime laziness or what, but my computer has a new afternoon trick. Every day around four in the afternoon it grinds to a halt. It's absolutely infuriating because not only is it close to the end of the day, making its usual 20 minute start up a reallly un-appetizing option, but also because it tends to be an extremely busy time of day.

In Stella's line of work there are two busy times: end of the tax year and end of the fiscal year. We are trying to get in as much cash as possible before the end of the fiscal year and so that means we're asking a lot of people to fulfill a pledge, make an additional gift, send us five dollars in an envelope, anything. Solicitations mean email solicitations and my customers all wake up at about 3:45 and say, "Gosh, we might should get that email out!" and send along their datasets and content.

So I really need to crank at 4:30, not click and wait seven minutes for whatever is going wrong in there to redraw the screen.

I am thinking about getting a chill mat for the darn thing - could it be getting too hot by the end of the day? Does that happen?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summertime Focus

It's only early June but we've been having one hundred degree plus weather here at Stellacommute central. Luckily my office is an air conditioned wonderland because the sad truth about evaporative cooling (which we have in the rest of the house) is that it only lowers the temperature about twenty degrees which is awesome when it's 85, but less inspiring when it's fifteen degrees hotter.

All of which is to say that I shouldn't be complaining about getting to be in my office all day.

Except everyone else is on vacation. The children don't have school, and at least 40% of the in laws work in the school system so they're goofing off, too. It's hard to stay focused and feel good about staying out of the sun when everyone is going for ice cream by the pool and whatnot.

But I can do it. I might take some calls on the patio though, I'm not even gonna lie. It's a pretty nice day here, after all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

For the Pen Fetishists

This fantastic blog, Does This Pen Write? -- I love it so much. It turned me on to the fact that there is a National Stationery Show.

I just drooled a tiny bit on the keyboard. I need to be alone with my pens now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Telecommuter Fashion Forward: Flip Flops

Summer is officially here at StellaCommute headquarters. While we fired up the office air conditioner a couple of weeks ago, it's really kicking into gear now. With that in mind, it's time for our irregular feature on telecommuter "fashion" -- note those are not unnecessary quotation marks, because we're talking about flip flops here, people.

 What Did You Say You Bill Hourly?

For the truly discerning shut-in, these lovely numbers from Roberto Cavalli are ON SALE at Zappos for more than a grand. I kid you not. These are perfect for the telecommuter who doesn't actually need to work for money. Or who bill out at, like, $500 an hour. And really, I'm not sure what you can do at home for $500 an hour, but I'm pretty sure it involves different shoe styles than these.

My Legs are Cold, But My Toes Are Warm
These are the perfect choice for the telecommuter who suffers from chilly calves on those jaunts to the refrigerator. Or maybe you're too lazy to shave your legs every day -- wear these and keep your hirsutism to yourself. Elegant brocade plus white leather mean you can only wear these between Memorial Day and Whitsunday, though, so govern yourself accordingly.

Fringe Benefits

Buckle up, it's going to be a ticklish ride. These shoes will make you feel like you have small flies landing on the top of your feet all day. You'll get a nice workout from twitching and shaking your feet to get them off GET THEM OFF NOW AIIIIIIIEEEEE!

The Enterprise Edition

Something about these just makes me think "Trekkie" and I'm not sure why. The angular cut of the straps, the groovy 70s refrigerator/stove/wall oven color scheme, it's hard to put my finger on it exactly. Hey, they look comfortable.
Okay, at this point I just want to note that none of these shoes is less than $100. For flip flops. Am I so hopelessly out of touch with what shoes should or could cost or is that unreal? Okay, hopelessly out of touch it is! Let's continue...

Not Safe For Work (If Your Job Is Cowboy) 

Don't be fooled by the top people, these will not protect you if a horse steps on your foot whilst you try to saddle him or her. They are very sparkly, though. But bedazzling is, generally speaking, not a safety feature.

Back To Basics

All right, enough of this silliness. These are your basic flip flops, like the ones you had as a kid. They're less than twenty dollars, the straps look like they won't wear you raw, and they're perfect for staggering around your yard looking at flowers while you listen to a conference call.
So there you have it, a nice selection of extremely casual footwear. Please feel free to go to Zappos, where I found these fantastic shoe pictures, and purchase yourself a new pair of flip flops for the summer. After all, as a shut in, you don't spend nearly the money you might otherwise on clothes shoes and stuff. And please, don't call them thongs. That's something else entirely.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One Little Idea About Blogging

I have been blogging for a while, and it's fun. All six of my regular readers (hello, family members!) keep coming back, and occasionally I write something that gets people reading and talking. I think I've managed to stay pretty focused on the topic at hand, too: the exciting world of being a shut in.

You know what helps keep me focused? Tags.

I set up a group of tags that represent what I think this blog is about, and then if I can't figure out what to tag an article with, it clearly doesn't belong on the site. Pretty simple, but it really helps keep things from veering off too far into what I'm cooking for dinner, how I'm thinking about cutting my hair, or the other kinds of things that I think about and might could write about.

Focus, people.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Like I Don't Already Look Like a Corpse

This is an interesting product, a monitor top light that is designed to better light online videoconferencers. I think it has potential to make it easier to see people's expressions when doing online video, and I like the idea. Of course part of me thinks, "Nobody wants to see that!" And by "that" I mean "my face at 6 am my time". High-definition cameras for the desktop? Ai, papi, no.

But maybe this is deeply flattering light, like those old makeup mirrors they had in the 1970s where you could change the light (Office - Daytime - Home - Evening) -- the office setting was green, but the evening setting? Mood lighting straight from the best bordello.

I'm sure that the monitor light has the same settings. At least I hope so.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seeing It and Being It

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and there was a ton of interesting cognitive and behavioral information in this book. A lot of it seems theoretical, but there is a practical way to apply some of this stuff. Several of the examples show how priming people with words and images sets their brains up to perform in certain ways. Like priming folks with words about old age and death makes them perform a certain way on a seemingly unrelated task, or showing people positive images of black people makes them sort words with less bias than they might otherwise.

Interesting stuff. It got me to thinking that you could prime your own self to perform well in a variety of situations by using words or images to evoke the kind of underlying psychological state that would benefit you. Like for a big presentation, look at images of people facing appreciative crowds, or top athletes crossing the finish line, or whatever. I know it sounds cheesy, but the research suggests that this kind of thing actually gets into your subconscious.

What imagery do you think we should be looking at to get us psyched up to rock out? Maybe not this.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sarbanes Telecommuting Bill Killed

The federal government is one of the biggest promoters of telecommuting, overall. Many federal agencies actively encourage telecommuting because they're based in Washington, DC and traffic is utterly hellish there. Telecommuting makes for a workforce that doesn't get caught up in snowstorms, that can continue to serve through pandemics and other disasters, and that is as efficient as you can imagine.

This is not to say that it doesn't require some effort -- you've got to equip people with laptops, administer VPNs, and get webcams and stuff. But really, it is short sighted to focus on the cost rather than the savings and benefits.

Unfortunately, the Sarbanes bill was used as an object lesson in penny wise-pound foolishness. Sigh. Maybe next time, eh?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Responsiveness Works Both Ways

Stella firmly believes in relentless responsiveness. All people can see of the telecommuter is how he or she responds to email and phonecalls. That's it - other than that you might as well not even be there. But it turns out that the flip side of that equation is also true.

All you can know about your colleagues and customers is their responses.

Seriously, that's it. And as a telecommuter it can be incredibly exasperating to feel like you're the only one talking in a conversation when the other person is unresponsive. You don't have the benefit of seeing the person rushing around the office clearly harried, sitting in a conference room all day obviously occupied, or otherwise busy-but-present.

So if you're a Real Office employee (or another telecommuter in another location) do the shut-ins in your life a favor and let them know that you received their communications. You don't need to give a full-blown answer, just a shout-out that says, "Hey, I know you exist. I'll get there! Thanks!"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Guess What? *

I work on an online thing that has security, and it includes a feature where our users store answers to questions like: What street did you grow up on? or What was your first school?

That's kind of lame.

Because frankly, anyone who knows a person fairly well (or even one who is relatively casually acquainted with a person on Facebook) could probably figure out the answer to those questions. That's why the free form question where you provide the question and the answer are so great. And these questions and answers? Epic win.

*Chicken butt.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nice Move, New Jersey

Taking a page from the crazypants tax laws of their neighbors in New York, the State of New Jersey has (incredibly) decided it can require a company who has a single telecommuting employee residing in the state to file a corporate tax return. Seriously. The tax court of New Jersey feels that one person with a laptop comprises a significant presence in their state, never mind that the bulk of this person's output (in this case, software) is not tangibly present in New Jersey.

Oy, has anyone in the NJ state office of taxation ever driven there? Do they really want to discourage people driving less and telecommuting more? I didn't think so. Hey, here's an idea: how about structuring tax laws in such a way as to not double tax telecommuters? Or eliminating the complexity and punishment clauses that make it hard for businesses to administer their telecommuting programs. That would be nice.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

An Object Lesson in Availability

I've said it before and I'll say it again - working from home means you can work from anywhere. I can see where this would be a problem for those who are over-utilized to start with, or for those who must work all the time to keep the freelance fires going. If you are relying on your billable hours and work all the time, then you should set boundaries and try to be more in your real life when you can.

But for a Real Office employee like Stella, in an environment where people are still grudgingly getting used to the idea that you can, in fact, be a Real Office employee, you should remove boundaries and be as responsive as is humanly possible.

I received an ASAP request for data this evening on the cell, and was able to fulfill it within an hour. That's not the kind of responsiveness you'll get from a person who might have to go into the office to do a thing; that's what you get when you have people and tools that work from wherever they are.

Even if that's two thousand miles away.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Either You Work Or You Don't

This is an interesting post about an issue of Inc. that was produced entirely whilst its employees worked from home, as reported on Marketplace*. Naturally I am not surprised that they were able to do this and that they did it well. Writing is one of those tasks that's ideally suited to a shut-in lifestyle. You collaborate with people when you need to (IMterrupting others for facts, to question a turn of phrase or what have you) but focusing and doing for long periods of time.  And in the end, either you produce a written piece of work that is tolerable for others to read, or you don't. No amount of face time will excuse not getting writing done.

Nobody ever says this: "Oh, he's a great writer: he's here writing from eight in the morning until seven or later at night."

"Have you read any of his stuff?"

"Well, no, he never turns it in. But he works really hard!"

No they don't. You either write or you don't. When you do it is kind of immaterial. Like much knowledge work the proof is in the pudding. It's either done, or not. Who cares where you are when you do it?


Well, maybe your boss does. But maybe she should start chilling out?

*Yes, I'm blogging about a blog post about a radio report about a magazine. Metablogging indeed!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Using Music to Cue Tasks

I listen to music almost all day while I work. I'm finding that I soundtrack different sections of my day with different genres, and the more I do this, the more it cues certain mental changes. I find baroque music really good for detail oriented but not necessarily super-creative tasks, for example. It just maintains a calm focus, and the "rightness" of baroque music is condusive to an orderly state of mind.

For more creative work, or to rev myself up for a writing project that I've been delaying on, I look to something more modern: Gorillaz et al. It's complex, energetic, a little challenging but not overwhelming.

Brazilian music is also good for energetic focus - I don't speak Portuguese so I'm not distracted by words, and the rhythm gets me going.

For a while I was putting all my proclivities into a single Pandora station, with hysterical results. First, my mood would change abruptly as it moved from genre to genre, and it also started mysteriously equating some of that smoove R&B (Anthony Hamilton and the like) with "F*ck Her Gently" by Tenacious D, or "I'm gonna Love you Tonight" by Tripod. Not quite the same thing, and I got distracted by trying to figure out what the heck Pandora was thinking as it put these together into a sexytimes set.

So now, separate stations by mood, and all is well and productive in my ears.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Third Place Is Still A Win

I really enjoy going out on a school night and participating in Geeks Who Drink. I don't like to lose. Really, I hate it. But I'll accept a third place finish -- at least we're finishing in the money here people. Also: I take it as a point of pride that I had no idea what the name of Michael Bolton's heavy metal band was, and that I do not associate with anyone who does.

Just sayin'.

Monday, April 12, 2010

4 Tips for Tackling Telecommuting Skeptics

Stella is an unbridled telecommuting enthusiast. I think that telecommuters are more efficient, more available, and more productive than other knowledge workers, in large part because we get to structure our days in the ways that work best for our habits and proclivities.

And we get to wear slippers. Or flip flops in the summer.

But how do you address hardcore telecommuting skeptics in the workplace? There are (I know, perish the thought, but it's true) people who truly believe that telecommuters are less available and less useful than people who are sitting in the office. I work with some of these people now, and I'm really trying to think strategically about what I can do to make them feel more comfortable with working with me. I've got a few ideas about what I'm going to try:

1. Relentless responsiveness. No matter when these key opinion leaders (and telecommuting skeptics) call or email, I want to get back to them immediately. I tend to anyway, but particular aggression in problem areas is key.

2. Technology streamlining. I want to be easy to be in touch with, so reducing the complexity of working with the tools that let you get to me is key. This may mean using the cellphone instead of the Skype, just because cellphones dropping calls is "normal", and Skype doing something weird is "on the computer and therefore something weird I have to do to be in touch with this one difficult person." It means taking time at the start of every web session to go over how to use the online meeting tools and make sure everyone can see and hear okay.

3. Clear availability. I make a point of telling everyone, "Oh, don't you worry about what time it is where I am. I always work east coast hours, so if you guys are in the office, I'm in my office, too, and available for a quick conversation anytime. Just stop by!" I am also going to work on getting the casual contact tools we use (Skype for the most part) on more desks because it helps people to see that I'm online, available, and pop-in-upon-able.

4. Aggressively communicated results. If you got a problem, yo, I'll solve it. Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it. I am the guy who gets things done, and I need to not only do that, but communicate that one of the reasons that I'm able to kick out productive work so fast (and often in an urgent situation) is that I can work from wherever I am. Telecommuting means that I'm never not in the office because wherever I am is where the office is. At. I just need to make sure that the skeptics know that things are getting done because I'm not there, not in spite of the fact I'm not there.

Four simple steps. I'm doing all of this, plus going on site a lot more. What the heck, I like to fly, and Rochester is a beautiful city. We'll see how it works.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Verdict on the Netbook

You may have noticed the paucity of posts. Stella was on-site last week and not only did I not post, I also didn't even mention it before going away. Rude, I know, but it just kind of crept up on me and before I knew it I was there, and really cranking the work every day and night.

I did something completely revolutionary on this trip: I took no physical books. Yes, I had a paper notebook, and some files and stuff that I was going to need for meetings. But the only book I took was my netbook, and let me tell you this: it worked out really well.

I borrowed several e-books from the library before I left, as well as my collection of the classics from the Gutenberg project, and all of it provided plenty of reading material. I finished up The Scarlet Letter, read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and started an Elmore Leonard novel. And I didn't have to carry them along. One little netbook with all that in it.

Plus I was able to use the netbook as a backup when we were doing a bunch of upgrades to my work laptop. Try that with your average hardcover book!

Or iPaddy.

Or Kindle.

So my verdict: I think the netbook is a win for travel. I've got an Acer AspireOne and it delivered a solid day's worth of battery power -- I read on it on and off from 6 in the morning until about 4 in the afternoon, and I still had juice to go. With the right book reading software, you can read very comfortably on screen, and the other features are nice for other forms of goofing off in your spare time. Having a backup for your main computing device is also very very very nice.

But that's just me. You should do what you want. And if you really want an iPad (and after handling my brother-in-law's iPad I must tell you they are very very compelling) -- well heck you work hard for your money, give yourself a little treat. But if you're a frugal cheapskate like Stella, a $300 netbook will do just fine.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stella's Team Wins

We all managed to get our babies to sleep through the night, get out of our jobs on time, and have no sick family members and thus we made it to Geeks Who Drink last night. And we won it. Which is always a jolly good time.

Unfortunately, Stella revealed her other secret shame: she knows who Rockapella is. And that they're known both for singing that Folgers ad, and for singing the theme song to "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego".

Sheesh. I need professional help.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stella's Secret Shame

I have a confession to make. I watch those Housewives shows. I don't know why. There is something about them that fills me with moral outrage and schadenfreude, and it happens miraculously all at the same time. I have the same feelings about the matchmaker lady show, Invervention, the OCD show, that show about the drunk stupid girls on the Oxygen channel (I am pretty sure it's called Bad Girls Club but it should be called Drunk Women Who Might Should Get Sober Club because that's what it is).

Most of these shows are vile -- I sit around feeling smug because I know better than to wear spangley tank tops and go to tanning beds. Almost everyone on these shows needs to get a j-o-b and stop asking other folks for money.

There is one reality show that is the opposite: it makes me feel like I should work much, much harder. This show is Kell on Earth and Kelly Cuttrone truly an inspiration for a number of reasons:

1. She works like a dog and expects everyone who works for her to do the same. They work hard. All the time. All of them.

2. She is smart and understands the difference between the work being important (doing a good job, making sure that the details are nailed, that everything that can be handled is, and that nothing is left because you weren't willing to work a little harder) and the business being important (it's fashion -- as she says, "Nobody is going to get excited about paying $2,000 for a pair of pants in this economy.")

3. Technically, she works at home. As a single mother of a school age kid, she's designed her life so that she lives and works in the same building. She runs downstairs and works works works works, and then darts upstairs and Swiffers the kitchen.

I love seeing people actually doing work for once, rather than "launching lines" (whatever that is -- it seems to involve paying other people to draw and make clothing, makeup, or jewelry), going to spin class, drinking too much wine, and generally sponging off of other people's ideas, money and energy. It's one of the few things I watch on television that makes me feel like going back into my office and doing more work.

I'm sure that feeling will fade if I watch the Countess drink wine on Ramona's rented boat. Er. Yacht. God, how I hate them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Meetings on My Mind

Stella's fixing to go on-site again next week and so I'm thinking about meetings a lot. I need to get with people, and the people I need to get with are boooooooooked. Like until next year. Seriously, I have people who are telling me that they can see me in 2011.

What's a telecommuter to do? I've tried suggesting the office hours concept, and people just don't seem to be able to embrace it. But maybe shorter meetings as the standard might work? I feel hope when I read things like this post from Polly Pearson that talks about how 15 is the new 60. Maybe people will do that?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Good Getting Started Advice

This post from Work Happy Now has a ton of good advice on setting up your workspace for good work-from-home habits. All of these suggestions are right on -- good light, good chair, pleasant environment that makes you want to be there for ten hours a day.

Lately the thing I've been appreciating most in my workspace is a plant. I have a palm tree, and I recently moved it from behind me to the desk next to me. I was feeling like I was neglecting it a bit, and having it right there helps me remember to dump the dregs of my water glass on it once a day. Also, I think it gives me a bit of oxygen. My brain needs all the help it can get.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Much of My Face Do You Need to Face?

I am of two minds about face-to-face meetings. On the one hand, I am a pretty social person, and I love to go to the Real Office and meet with people. I like happy hour, I like lunch meetings, I like wearing shoes, I like bumping into people in the hall way. I recognize that this is useful to me.

On the other hand, I know for a fact that the contents of meetings expands to fit the time allotted. People love to waste time in meetings, and will re-hash decided issues in a way that is not super productive if there are twenty minutes left. I would think busy people would be grateful for an extra twenty minutes to sort through their email between meetings, or make some calls or whatever, but no. Once we're in that conference room together, we're going to discuss things until it's time for our next meetings.

That said, this post from Web Worker Daily notes that there is still value in face-to-face meetings. It's absolutely true. I just wish that there were more web cams everywhere. I find that when people can see me at all (vivacious disembodied head, in person, at happy hour, whathaveyou) they feel better about our interaction. I know they know I'm listening. I need to get a way that all the people I meet with can be visible to me, so I can see their smiling faces.

Maybe it's time to talk to IT about deploying more cheap webcams.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Office or No Office, Goofing Off Is a Risk

So apparently there was some sort of summit where people were asked whether the whole notion of an office, of work being a place you go, was obsolete. And a lot of people who were there thought yeah, there isn't any reason if you are in a knowledge-based business to have a single physical space that is where your employees work.

Stella certainly subscribes to this theory.

But then there is always some person in the audience who is all, "But how do I know people are working? What if they're watching NCAA tourneys all day?" Um, dude? If they're going to watch NCAA tourneys all day, they can do that at work on the internet. Have you heard of the internet? They have it on the computer now.

You can't nannygoat your employees all the time. Goof offs will goof off no matter where they are. You need to have real work for people to do, and you need to manage them to make sure they're doing their work -- are they writing the code, making the sales calls, delivering the proposals, hitting the milestones. This is the stuff that your business is made of, not staring blankly at a spreadsheet for hours on end because they are having an in-cube sabbatical and are merely fulfilling their face time requirements.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Defining Your Personal Brand as a Telecommuter

Having an idea of what you want to project to your colleagues and customers is important to any worker, but especially for the telecommuter. As a vivacious disembodied head, you need to be aware that all they have to go on is what you do and how you do it. So always doing what you do with a joie de vivre, a sense of what you want people to take away from the experience is helpful.

Stella has decided to embrace this idea. And here is my personal brand: I am the guy who gets things done. Do you want to have endless meetings and have nothing to show for it in six months? I am not that guy. Do you want to have something to show pretty soon here? I am the guy who gets things done.

It's pretty simple, really. I am the guy who gets things done.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Six Little Ideas About Headsets

I spend a lot of time in a headset and I never know what's going to work for me. I've done wireless, one ear, clip ons, speakers and a mic -- really too many to count. I've recently reassessed my headphone needs and I've come to a few conclusions about what works for me:

  1. Wireless doesn't work for me: I like the idea of being able to wander the yard with my headset, but in reality, they clip, cut out, and aren't charged up when I need them.
  2. If you wear glasses, an ear-bud style may be preferable: The overhead traditional "can" style headset can pinch your ears against your specs and over the long haul this is painful. In-ear may be a better choice for the four-eyes set.
  3. Position of mic is critical: I hate having to find the sweet spot for my mic every time I take a call, so having a mic that is both out of the way so I can sip and snack when not on calls and right there when I do get a call is nice.
  4. Changing it up can help: Sometimes I'll use one headset for a few days to give my ears a break, or if I know I'm going to be heads-down working for a few hours, use the speakers for a bit and ignore incoming calls if they come. 
  5. Test your sound daily: My computer likes to unset its preferences and options on my sound options, so I do a daily test call to the Skype call testing service to make sure the rig has found the right mic, and that the levels are okay.
  6. Know your mute button: This is the most important thing -- know how to mute your mic on the device itself. Oh and know how to un-mute yourself, too. Get good at this because you need to be able to filter out the barking, whining, flushing, or other audio detritus that may occasionally fill your peaceful home office.
So yeah, headsets. I'm a little in love with my new Plantronics earbuds. They are comfy and sound great.  I'm sure I'll fall out of love with them soon, but for now, they are full of awesome.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Reducing Isolation: An Update

If you're a full-time shut in like Stella, you know that you can get a little weird the more time you spend alone. That's why it's important to seek out interaction and activity outside the house. I find that getting that interaction during my workday is a little hard to manage -- I've yet to really work successfully in a coffee shop, for example. I seem to spend so much time horsing around with the wi-fi in public places and by the time I get it all set to rights my laptop battery is 2/3s gone and my hands are shaking from the coffee.

So instead, I'm trying to be more social in the other things I do in my life besides workin. For example, I'm making more of a point to make friends at the gym. Okay, friends is a strong word for it - acquaintances is where I'm at, truthfully But it's nice to see people with whom you can share some desultory chit-chat with, and on whose lives you can catch up. It keeps those small talk skills honed, and helps tamp down the monk-like desire for absolute quiet.

I also started singing with a symphony chorus this year, so this is a weekly commitment to go out and sing music, do performances every few weeks, and generally act like I'm a member of a larger community. Again, it's not exactly a pathway to deep connections, but it means that I now know people in my city who are not related to me by blood or marriage. I know a good optometrist who is also a lovely soprano. I know a couple of musical computer geeks who do assorted nerdy things.

And of course, I still do tons of stuff with the extended family -- I'm no more than two phone calls away from having a house full of people drinking gin and tonics and eating gluten-free hors d'ouvres right now.

But what these casual social commitments are doing for me is just taking me a little more out in the Real World - and that can't be a bad thing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Does Stella Get This Gig?

Yes, telecommuters tend to be better employees -- they're not distracted by the Real Office crap, they don't waste time in their cars. So says Jayna Wallace, who somehow managed to get to SXSW this year. Dudes, I've been telling you exactly this for years now.

How do I start getting invited on paid junkets to talk about how telecommuting is the I gotta figure this one out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Telecommuting Fashion Tips

Stella is starting to think about springtime. I notice the birds are singing an awful lot just before dawn (which is when I get up to start my work day). I totally should have pruned the roses last weekend, and didn't get around to it this weekend because I was singing concerts (more about this later). It's still pretty cold outside, but a coming change of seasons gets me thinking about sorting through the clothes in the closet and making sure that I'm not descending into utter sloth.

So what better time for a fashion post?

If you're a man wondering what to wear when you telecommute, I don't have a lot to say to you. Seriously, just put on some clean jeans or trousers of some stripe and a shirt with a collar. Add socks, comb your hair, and bob's your uncle.

No elastic waist pants though, boys. I don't want to have to say this to you again. Just. Don't.

For the ladies, I've got a few ideas for stuff to wear that is comfortable and not yoga pants. Not that there's anything wrong with yoga pants per se, but unless you're also doing a metric assload of yoga in them, you probably are headed down a slippery slope to needing ever larger yoga pants.

Again, not that there's anything wrong with that. But really, yoga pants are for yoga.

You know what's not for yoga? Some tights, and a dress with a bit of a flared skirt, with a cardigan. That would look cute.

You might also try some jeans with not-a-t-shirt. I don't know what shirt you should wear, but one with a collar is a good bet. Or maybe you could try one of those shirts that's made out of jersey but which has a bit of a feature on it -- trim, a twist, some sequins or some such.

Novelty glasses are an interesting choice for those who do a lot of videoconferencing. You can surprise people on the other end of the connection with different looks. Or not.

Okay, this is actually bad advice. You can tell Stella has been in a rut of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies, and is looking forward to getting back to skirts and summer stuff. I think I can make it until it's time to break those out again.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Alternative to iPad

Stella just got a netbook, and the first question everyone asks me is "What, no iPad?" Yes, we have no iPads today. The main reason is that terrible terrible name.* I just don't feel comfortable buying things from a company where there are so clearly no women in any kind of product advisory role. Because could no one in Cupertino think of anything better than this?

Seriously, what about iTab -- it's a tablet device, after all. And it sounds retro-low calorie. Whatever, nobody asked me.

* Also: no webcam.

Monday, February 22, 2010

When Are Pajamas Not Pajamas?

Apparently when you call them a suit. Or maybe the question is when is a suit not a suit? When it's made of flannel and costs more than $100. I'm not sure what my position is on pajamas that look like a suit on a webcam. Part of me thinks why not just get dressed? Put on a shirt with a collar, and a cardigan and comb your hair.

An additional part of me thinks that if I wanted to sleep in my suit I could just go and get many martinis in the hotel bar and get to the same place. It doesn't sound as restful as making a conscious decision to slip into nice pjs and really rest.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stella Has a New Special Friend

Yes, my laptop is pretty small, and that's nice. But sometimes you need something smaller, something that your employer's IT crew doesn't care about, something that's just for you. And that's where my little candyapple red netbook comes in. I became convinced that I needed some form of e-reader after my last two trips on which I read through everything I'd brought on the plane ride there.

That is the worst feeling ever in the history of terrible feelings.*

So something that would allow me to read without carrying six or seven books seems like a good idea for Stella. I looked at e-readers, and then thought about a netbook. And decided netbook. Because I can blog on it, surf on it, skype and IM on it, and read ebooks. I am not tied into a proprietary format and can download free public domain ebooks from the Gutenberg Project (hello Frankenstein and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin), books from the library, and stuff I buy on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I'm kind of excited about this. We'll see how it all works out for me.

*Okay, slightly behind unmedicated childbirth, but friends, it's right up there.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wait, Most Telecommuters Are Men?

I was surprised to read this analysis of a couple of studies of trends in telecommuting. Most telecommuters are 40 year men. Huh. That kind of belies those stereotypes of mommies putting in laundry and sitting there computing with babies on their laps. I hate those stereotypes -- maybe I'm a bad mom but if my children are in my office for too long I start feeling like my head is going to explode. And I have exemplary children, behavior-wise. So.

Otherwise, this article points out all the things that cause HR people to wring their hands when people telecommute. What if I slip on a grape in my own kitchen while on the clock? What if my home office consists of me perching on top of an extension ladder with my laptop actually on my lap, leading to a repetitive stress injury and weird marks on my behind? Whose time is it when I travel into the Real Office?

On all of these questions I don't have good answers. But here are my tendencies (bearing in mind that I'm not a lawyer, nor an HR person, and I really don't know much at all, actually)

  • I have homeowners insurance, and it covers me for stuff that happens in my house. So if I slip on a grape in the kitchen, it's my problem. Likewise if someone steals all my work gear out of my home office, that's a claim on my homeowners' insurance.
  • I pay for my own high speed internet. All of it. Because I'd pay for it anyway, and I'm not about nickel-and-diming my poor employer to death. Seriously, would you not have the high speed interwebs coming into your house but for that pesky telecommuting gig? Really? Really. Dial-up it is then, kids. Have fun on the intertubes.
  • I am an exempt employee so I travel on my own time. It would be different if I traveled all the time and that was a key component of my work. But I figure it all comes out in the wash. This ties into the fact that my manager treats me with respect as concerns my time management and tends to not wig out about the little bits here and there. As long as I'm gittin-r-done, it's all cool. So I give that right back. Also, I don't get reimbursed for the food I eat while I'm there, or for the gas I use. I am an employee, just like everyone else. Nobody is paying for my colleagues' breakfsts, lunches, dinners, brunches, snacks, second breakfasts, teatimes, or gas to and from work, and so I don't expect that either.
  • If I were non-exempt, I would expect to be paid for the time I was logged in doing productive work, and I would expect to have my work logged or monitored to assure that I was processing claims or transcribing or whatever it is during the times I was scheduled to work. I would also expect the same logging or monitoring to go on with all employees doing my kind of work in whatever setting -- after all unless you're really going bananas with the firewall, works just as well on a computer sitting in a cubicle as it does on one sitting in my spare bedroom. And even the most deranged micro-manager can't be lurking over the shoulder of all his employees all at once.

So that's the Stella position on things. If you don't have a written telecommuting policy even for ad hoc once in a while telecommuters that addresses things like this, you should probably write up guidelines that give you some way of keeping the absolute deadwood from going home to watch Judge Judy all day and not work. But other than that, you might should trust your employees a little bit too.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Being Virtual Means Never Having to Say, "I can't make it in today"

The east coast is still a hot (cold?) mess with the snow. People who live in Rochester, where Stella's Real Office is located, can't understand how it is so hard to get rid of the snow. After all, 30 inches is a lot of snow at once, but they get feet upon feet of the stuff every winter. What's the big deal?

Well, in cities where snow isn't a way of life there are a huge number of impediments to getting it cleared away. For example, in Baltimore, people don't have driveways as a general rule, so the streets are lined with parked cars that make it hard to plow. There are also no ditches -- it's all street to the curb where the sidewalk starts. So when you plow, there's no place for the snow to go. And there are just so many people packed into a small surface area that it's hard to move them all around.

What does this mean for you, the east coast employer? Your people may be snowed into their apartment complexes and side streets for quite a while more. It stinks. But you, the east coast employer with a robust telecommuting program? You know that your people can still work from wherever they are because you've given them the tools to do so. Awesome.

But as Eve Tahmincioglu notes, you miss out on the fun excitement of SNOWDAY!!! Because it's just another work day for you. Ah well, suck it up, little slipper wearer, you are lucky to have a job at all. Get back to work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Kind of Like Saying "Texas Robot"

And I really like the idea behind this prototype mobile telepresence thingy called the Texas Robot. Basically, it's a camera, a monitor and a little drivable robot that can make a remote person be more there when they're not. There. You know. Like, in person.

I think there would be some non-trivial challenges to working with something like this -- for example, I still have trouble navigating my way to some of the conference rooms and offices in my Real Office, and I'm not sure having to drive a little robot around would necessarily improve my navigational performance. I would also like it if it had "random stagger" mode, kind of like a Roomba floor cleaning robot, where it would just drive you around, lurching into people and rooms, in a manner beyond your control.

That mode might be especially effective at the holiday office party.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowpocalypse? Or Snowtopia?

You know, it's really up to you whether or not your employees are able to get stuff done during adverse weather. Those employers with good remote working tools in the hands of their employees (stuff like a real VPN and training on how to install and log into it, webcams on laptops, virtual machines, and all that good stuff, along with people who are able to use it) are able to do a little work today in DC and Baltimore.

Just forward your phones to your cell, fire up the laptop and get rolling. And suddenly it's a Snowtopia!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

You Know What You Don't Get As A Telecommuter?

You don't get an office Super Bowl pool. You don't get randomly selected numbers, and so if you're like Stella, you have even less incentive to pay attention.

That said, having lived in Baltimore for 15 or so years, I cannot be indifferent to the joy of watching the Colts lose. And as someone concerned with economic justice and who is nonplussed by our inability to rebuild huge swathes of NOLA, I'm also pleased to see the Saints win.

I wonder who won the office pool?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stella's Team Wins

After a long hiatus caused by work, babies, and general malaise, we were back at Geeks Who Drink, and we pwned. Yay us! I was sad to miss the excerpt from "Turandot" on the Opera/Opera round (actual opera and rock opera) but really, it was one pretty small sung moment, and not really enough to tell.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Key Is In Your Data

I know Stella has said that face-to-face visits are the gold standard of development work, and that's true. But the information about whom to visit and what to talk with them about is all in your database. I love databases and people who know how to look for things in them will rule the world.

People who know how to find lists of entities that have key attributes in common will rule the world even more. This post from the Tom Donovan in the Harvard Business Review blog goes through why and how this is so. These are good insights about data use. My favorite:

Everybody who makes observations has to collaborate in entering the data.
Saints preserve me from development databases where the gift officers don't enter their own data or who aren't capable of pulling their own reports. I know you're busy folks, but you cannot be too important to take control of the nuts and bolts of your business.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Simple Criteria to Evaluate Your Telecommuting Readiness

From the IT Dark Side, a quick list of characteristics that might preclude you from doing well as a telecommuter. Honestly, Stella can't see anything to add. Oh, wait. Yes I can.

The most important skill for a telecommuter is a willingness to deal with the messy technical details of handling your own IT life. You need to be able to plug in a new camera, mess around with your home network, install new VPN utilities and so on without hand-holding from IT. I can't tell you the number of people who have a hard time getting to the stuff they need to do their work because they can't work around small technical hiccups.

Your manager probably needs some of those skills, too, because you're both going to need to do a little somethin somethin to make it all work well together.

You can do it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

You Can Say What You Want...

...but overall people seem like they're very honest around here. I know I was joking earlier about how I like going to the Real Office so I can read the notes about how people are stealing food from the fridge. But I must tell you that even though there are occasional bouts of food going missing, the two-thirds of a six pack of Diet Dr. Pepper I left there in October was still there. So either nobody in the office likes Diet Dr. Pepper, or they're really good people.

I'm leaning toward thinking they're really good people.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Do You Live Here?

Well, in one of these terrible traffic places? One of the best ways to avoid nasty traffic situations is (surprise surprise) telecommuting. So many good things about it. You can use telecommuting to start your work day early, and then hit the road to the Real Office at ten in the morning so as to avoid the hellishness. Or leave at two in the afternoon, score your kids at school and get them settled in on homework, then flex your time from home from four til seven to get things done that you would have in the afternoon time you missed.

Or anticipate that traffic will be painful if there is weather, a ball game, the Olympics, or some other drive-disrupting deterrent, and stay home on those days with work that you can do from anywhere. For goodness sake, get out of your cars, though, people. More drivers isn't going to make that better, so get off the road!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Heading to the Real Office

Stella is heading to the Real Office in beautiful Rochester, NY for the upcoming week, so posting will be even more paltry than usual. Things I like about the Real Office:

- Sitting down with colleagues and getting to see them make stink-face over what I'm proposing instead of having someone have to tell me, "So and so is making a bit of a stink face right now," during a conference call.

- Eating at Swan's Deli.

- Reading all the refrigerator, kitchen cleanliness, and bathroom related missives on the bulletin boards. Usually I have to satisfy myself with stuff like this.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tips for Booking Your On-Site Time

In the world where Stella works (non-profit fundraising and advancement), making visits is the bread and butter of the work. Major gift officers are assigned a territory and start mining the people in those areas to find folks to visit and engage in the work of the non-profit. Ideally, you see a mix of people whom you're meeting for the first time, along with more established prospects whom you're trying to move along toward making a greater commitment to your cause. But unfortunately, what sometimes happens with gift officers is they go back and see the same people over and over again because they have developed a rapport with them, and they're fun to visit with. But if they aren't moving along toward a gift you have to focus on new faces, too.

For the telecommuter the same risk exists. When you are on-site, it can be tempting to go back to the old standbys -- people who always have an hour to meet with you, people who are good to have a happy hour with, people who know where the good lunch spots are. You want to fill up your on-site time with face-to-face meetings, and familiar faces make it easy.

But it's important to keep your schedule mixed up. Some tips:

  • You should have a balance of people with whom you have on-going projects and relationships, and also make a big point of figuring out who the new faces, emerging trouble spots, and up-and-comers are and seek those people out. Aim for a 60% on-going business/40% new faces mix.
  • Consider taking less focused meetings into overtime: put together small happy hour groups, for example, or use lunches to have those conversations that fall more into the "Remember me? I work here like you! We have a lot in common. Don't forget!" range rather than the "Let's hammer out these requirements and figure out our action plan"-type meetings.
  • Be ready to rock: when you're an infrequent visitor to the Real Office, each visit is a bit like a job interview because you never know when you're going to meet someone important for the first time. Yes, of course, you already have the job, but if you flip the Bozo switch with someone recently hired into a leadership position, you may not get another chance to make a better impression for another quarter. So always be prepared to put your best foot forward.
  • Have a little flexibility: don't book yourself completely before you show up. You'll discover when you're face to face with people that there are things you didn't know before you got there. Have a some room in your schedule toward the middle and end of your time to schedule follow-ups with new folks that you've identified as new faces, emerging trouble spots, or up-and-comers.
Needless to say, Stella's schedule for her next on-site doesn't completely follow all these rules. A couple of existing projects are dominating my time, and I have a feeling that a few other emergent issues will pop up that will eat into the open space that is still there on Thursday and Friday. I do have a couple of new faces in my schedule, and I'm also making a presentation to the whole staff that will max out my personal visibility in a quick ten minute show and tell, so that's promising. We'll see how it all works out.

Friday, January 8, 2010

This Is Not Something I Advocate

Stella does advocate getting dressed every day. I even advocate wearing power shoes when you have a difficult conversation to have virtually, because they make you feel, well, powerful. So it should not be a surprise to regular StellaCommute readers that I unequivocally reject this. Don't be fooled just because it's belted (and belts are a great way to keep track of your girth so you don't have my aforementioned Real Office Costume Crisis (TM) ).

Friends: just because it has a belt does not mean that you should wear it anywhere where people who aren't required to accept you "as-is" by marital law and custom and/or who related to you by blood might see you. And this includes your home office, because you never know when your videophone is going to go off and you'll need to be presentable.

No business-casual snuggies or slankets. For the love of god.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Do What You Have To

Stella is an advocate for doing what needs to be done. While I love telecommuting with all my heart and think that nearly any job can be done effectively from any location, many companies don't share this view. If you're in a position where you need a job and the only way they'll work with you is in the Real Office, you should by all means take that job, especially if everything else about it is the right fit for you (except that part where they expect you to wear shoes every day).

Trust me (and Alexandra Levit of the WSJ), you'll adjust.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This Is a Particular Problem for Shut-Ins

Maybe you have this problem at work, too. But for Stella, staying on top of the wardrobe is really important because though I'm largely a slipper-sporting dress code-scofflaw, I do have to go to the Real Office on a regular basis. Recently I had the unpleasant experience of getting to the Real Office and discovering that my anchor suit for the trip was ... wait for it ... way too big all of a sudden.

Yes I know, you're all trying to lose ten pounds as your New Year's resolution and I should just keep my gym-going mouth shut.*

But seriously, it was a bit of an issue. I plan to wear the pants with a few things, and suddenly I'm tying a rope around my waist like a hobo and trying not to look completely lost in my clothes. And that's why I recommend that shut-ins make a practice of regularly trying on their Real Office costumes so that you don't get in a situation where you pack your standard repertoire of sensible suits only to discover that they are too big or too small.

* For the record, I think that as long as they make a size larger than what you are wearing, you should eat another Snickers bar. I also am pathologically cheap and I don't like shopping, so I work hard to stay able to wear my existing clothes. It's complicated.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Like Stella Said

One of the most frustrating things about being a key decision maker or trying to get a meeting with key decision makers is that they're often booked from now until the next fiscal year. Getting time with people is almost impossible.

Now note how Google does it: office hours. Marissa Mayer of Google has time every day where people can line up outside her door and come in on an ad hoc basis. I have long held that this kind of "free to meet" time is essential to a smooth operation. Much like a pediatrician has time every day to see emergently sick children, having time available daily (or even weekly) that isn't already booked that can be used for issues that are arising is a good idea.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

It's a new year, and Stella is glad to still be here and still wearing slippers. So rock on with your bad selves!