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.