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!