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.