Great Stephen Collins cartoon in the Guardian yesterday – Graphic designer meets Tradesman. The graphic designer is described as a ‘work-from-home nancy’. Always good to have a new term to refer to yourself by
Although it is US focused I think it still shows some of the trends in a compelling way.
My working life began at a very early age helping out in my parent’s restaurant. I can still remember the pinny the staff used to wear!
Since then I’ve had various jobs that involved a mixture of uniforms (retail, catering) and smart wear (teaching, library staff).
My first decent graduate job saw me working in a large multi-discipline Architectural firm. We were all expected to turn in up in smart business suits, a bit of a shock after my years in scruffy student attire. I didn’t really mind. At the time it was a good excuse to spend lots of money and it divided the line between work and play just nicely. (At the time play involved dressing up in spangly, shiny outfits in which I danced the night away in some random derelict warehouse or club.)
I started working at UKOLN in 2000. I can still remember the interview and the blue trouser suit I bought specially for the occasion. For 7 years I worked on-site at the university. Although academia doesn’t necessitate the wearing of business outfits (ulike much of the corporate sector) most people do still avoid very informal clothes. I think the look is officially called ‘smart casual’. I’m talking shirts and trousers for the men and skirts/trousers and tops for the ladies. No t-shirts with slogans, no jeans. Some people do dress down and go for jeans but they are definitely in a minority – or in the systems team .
You are probably wondering why I’m reminiscing about the clothing I’ve worn over the years and what exactly this has to do with remote working.
Working at home means I no longer need to ‘dress up’. In fact I’m sat here now in my scruffy clothes, a scarf and my special fleece work jacket – it keeps me warm when all else fails! I actually don’t think I’ve brushed my hair, I definitely haven’t got any make-up on, hopefully people waiting outside school and nursery didn’t notice what I looked like. I’m a real scruff and yet I’m at work.
I’ve never been very bothered about what people look like, in fact for me it was always the stranger the better. Conforming was never my thing and cosmetic surgery and over the top make-up make my blood boil! That said I do like dressing up. I’m always the first one in the queue for face painting or looking for a reason to put on some butterfly wings. I also realised last week that I actually like dressing up and making an effort for work too.
I had my appraisal on Wednesday and so had to head over to our base at the University of Bath. Attending conferences or meetings means digging out my ‘grown up clothes’ and catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror I was pleased to see myself looking quite smart.
I suddenly realised that this made me feel quite good, and quite it possibly it gave me a spring in my step that made me work just that little bit harder.
Some food for thought:
- So does what you wear make a difference to your self-esteem? Many people believe so. The University of Illinois have an entire Web site dedicated to Dress Skills for Career Success.
- Should organisations have dress codes (as is discussed here in this about.com article)? And if the answer is yes where does this leave remote workers?
- Does looking ‘smart’ make any difference to your work outputs when working from home?
- Do you dress up for conference calls?
- Is it just about context (right clothes for a certain place)? Or is there more to it than that?
OK, so I’m not going to be putting on a suit to sit at this desk (I’d only have to spoil the look with a woolly hat!) but I will be looking forward to those occasions when I can make an effort. And tomorrow I might even brush my hair!:-)
Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is something that has always interested me. I was one of those youngsters who wasn’t very good at doing what they were told to do, I had to actually want to do it, or be bribed! I wasn’t lazy though, if I wanted to do it then I was away. Natural justice has meant that I now have a daughter who works in the same way. I spend many an hour thinking about how I can I make room tidying seem like a fun activity that benefits her in some way.
I’m mentioning intrinsic motivation because apparently it’s a hot topic at the moment having been talked about by Clay Shirkey (who I recently met on a train!) at TEDGlobal 2010 in Oxford. I know this because Martin Hamilton recently wrote a thought provoking post (Intrinsic motivation – from Magic Trackpad to @psychemedia) where he explores this idea and what it means to employers.
So, what’s this all about? Let me frame it like this… Why is it that companies like Apple and Google consistently produce exceptional ideas, products and services? How can other organizations best learn from these firms?
Intrinsic motivation is all about doing things because they interest and stimulate you. This is in direct contrast to extrinsic motivation, which is principally about doing things because you have been instructed or coerced to – often with some implied threat of punishment for failure.
Martin concludes his post by mentioning Open University lecturer Tony Hirst. Tony is a bit of a god in the HE developer world. His blog ouseful is full of amazing ideas and exciting suggestions. Tony works as a robotics lecturer but he is fully supported in his role as an ‘idea creator’ (my words), to be honest his role isn’t that dissimilar from my team leader Brian Kelly’s. For a while Brian was funded as UK Web Focus and was just fountain of ideas, he still is but probably doesn’t have as much free rein these days. OK we can’t all be as creative as these guys but each of us has something we are interested in or a work area we’d like to do more of.
Martin ends his post with some questions about how we measure impact in a world of Tonys (and Brians).
So how would your organization recognize and reward (or even attempt to “manage”!) someone like Tony? Of course we can’t all be Google, but a useful first step is undoubtedly some level of self-awareness of the power of intrinsic motivation and the results that it can deliver.
One thing Martin doesn’t consider in his post is the current economic climate and the leash it will put on us having time to work on intrinsically motivated projects. The government might like to argue that cut backs will make us more creative, but the reality for most of us is that doing the day job (if we still have one) will become higher priority then innovation. So over here in the UK we won’t be creating any Googles or Apples of our own in the near future.
When talking about Google Martin mentions “Google’s famous “20% time” for personal projects, which gave rise to the likes of Gmail, Google News and Adsense“. That free time would be a serious luxury to most.
After reading Martin’s post I posted something about it on Twitter and a Twitter friend pointed me in the direction of this particular story on NPR – Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some.
The jist of it is that some companies over in the US are giving their employees unlimited vacation time. Unlike over here where this means redundancy there it is what it says it is! The theory is that flexibility makes people more productive and engaged. Not only that but the key is getting the work done.
“some companies said as long as the work gets done and the productivity that we are looking for is achieved, you don’t have to track your time and you can take unlimited leave.“
The article also points out that companies value workers who can manage their own time. Paul Boag’s recent post Work less, produce more touches on this. I liked his comment:
“Participating in life beyond the web provides a valuable perspective that can be missed when you are constantly on the job.“
My mother, who is Dutch, was recently telling me about the long holidays all my cousins have been having. I asked her how they’d got so much time off work. Her reply was that “they worked less hours and had more holiday time in Holland because when they were working they got more things done than the British did“. Now those of you who know Dutch people will probably agree with me when I say that they aren’t noted for their tact, but that they do normally tell it like it is! I don’t think British workers are lazy but we are a society that still doesn’t really get output driven working.
I think both Martin and Paul’s posts and the NPR article are saying something along the same lines. If an organisation gives its staff the space to be intrinsically motivated, it allows them flexibility and it also support an environment of output driven working then ultimately both the employer and employee will be better off. I guess you could say it’s all about respect and being given the space to have a clear head…
My big worry is that we are rapidly heading away from these ideals, or am I just a pessimist?
It’s Friday morning and every one probably needs a little something to lighten the day. The Oatmeal is a one man band comic site. Yesterday he posted a set of brilliant comic strips on home working. It seemed cruel not to share them with you. I’m hoping I don’t get into trouble for reprinting these, I can take no credit whatsoever for them – all credit goes to the Oatmeal. All I can say is have a look at the site and as soon as they sell a poster with these on I’m getting it! You can follow the Oatmeal on Twitter.
Two of my favourite comic strips, there are plenty more on the site.
Have you ever dialled onto a conference call in your underwear, from a sun lounger in Las Vegas or whilst lying in the bath?
Remote Employment in conjunction with BT Business are running an Extreme Conferencing Survey which looks to uncover the most unusual conference call locations. Those who admit to the most interesting and bizarre locations will win £100 worth of Amazon vouchers.
I’m a pretty unadventurous home worker and tend to carry out most of my conference calls from my home office. Probably the most exciting tale I have to tell is my cat spraying one. However I’m sure many of you out there lead more thrilling lives than me and like to work beyond the office. Why not have a go at the survey (it’s only 7 questions long and should take less than 5 minutes), I’ll be interested to see what the winning answers are!
Maybe there is a new fury bubbling under the skin of many on-site employees?
Maybe they’re secretly filled with jealousy and hatred towards their off-site colleagues?
Maybe they’ve got a stash of voodoo dolls hidden under their desks?
OK, maybe I’ve taken it a a step too far, but an interesting piece in this weeks BNet magazine entitled Remote Working: Our Manager Likes You Better openly talks about the resentment felt by those in-the-office towards those out-of-the-office.
Remember the biblical story of the Prodigal Son? One child stayed home, did all the work and the other one came home and got full honours? Needless to say, the stay-at-home son resented the situation. The same thing is going on in your office whether you want to admit it or not.
Possible complaints by on-site employees include “I’d like to work from home but they (managers) don’t trust me enough“, “We get all the dirty work because we’re close at hand” and “Those people working at home think the world revolves around them“. I like to add a few of my own…”why do remote workers get expenses for social events when we are just expected to attend” and “remote workers get out of things we can’t get out of – like boring staff meetings“.
Having been both an on-site and off-site employee for UKOLN I’d like to clarify that I’ve never felt resented in anyway by those in the office, nor felt any resentment myself towards our remote staff. As I’ve well documented on this blog remote working has it’s own set of challenges, and I’d still say that the majority of people I know do it as a necessity rather as a choice. It isn’t always the easy option it’s depicted as. Different locations of work offer different challenges and different opportunities, that’s just the way it is.
However if there is some tensions between staff then it’s a manager’s job to smooth these over. The BNet article offers a number of handy tips including:
- Be aware of sensitivities, however silly they may seem. Don’t send remote employees news about the pizza you’re bringing in unless there’s a reason.
- Keep your remote team up on office news (not gossip) and keep the home team apprised of what’s happening with those team members who are working elsewhere.
- Don’t discourage the employees that do work together from collaborating and working together in a way that makes sense. If hallway conversation or visiting cubicles gets results, let them visit. Just be sure to keep remote employees into the loop.
Here’s the thing: it is a relationship that needs to be worked at and making sure that issues aren’t being left unsaid is really important.
And if anyone does feel jealous of me they are quite welcome to come over one lunchtime, eat heated-up leftovers and sort out my washing. I’ll take their place in the staff canteen having a catch up with colleagues. Is that a fair swap?
A recent survey carried out in the US has found that of companies with remote workers only 39.4 percent actually have a policy detailing or enabling remote work. The report commissioned by Microsoft through 7th Sense LP was into remote working practices in various US cities.
In my Ariadne article on remote working I highlighted the need for such a policy.
In order to formalise such practices, organisations which increasingly allow staff to work flexibly should make sure that they have good working policies and procedures in place. A policy might cover how remote working can be applied for, health and safety, data protection, security issues, financial issues such as when expenses can be claimed, legal and contractual issues, work hours etc. Such a policy should also provide useful guidance. As an article in Business Zone explains, “The key to unlocking the benefits of flexible working is to ensure that when a boardroom policy is being created it always keeps practical implementation front of mind.”
An article by Catherine Roseberry on About.com gives a number of other suggestions for what an effective policy should clearly state. These include details on non-reimbursable work expenses, tax implications, insurance information and determination of who is suitable for remote working.
British Telecom actually provide a remote working policy toolkit that makes suggestions in how you can use ‘plain English’ and “make the grey areas, black and white“.
At UKOLN we have recently updated our remote worker policy and it now covers:
- Existing staff moving to Remote Working
- Integration of Remote Workers into the work place
- Homeworking environment, office furniture and ICT equipment
- Internet connections and phone lines
- Travel expenses
- Links to related documents (such as the University of Bath policies and one on secure data)
A quick trawl shows that there are plenty of policies available on the Web for admin staff to use as a guide. So there really are no excuses.
Do you have a remote worker (or remote working) policy? If not then maybe it’s time to write one.
Last week I received a email from someone over in Canada asking for some remote working advice. (Just to say it’s great to hear from you out there, it makes it feel less like talking to your children – they have an incredible knack of closing their ears!)
Anyway the email went along the lines of:
I’m a technical writer based in Canada. I’ve approached my company about the possibility of working for them remotely in Scotland for six months, and I’ve been asked to put together a proposal to counter any concerns and show my colleagues how this arrangement might work.
One of the issues is good connectivity to my company’s network. Currently we are using OpenVPN for remote access; while a secure connection, OpenVPN tends to disconnect for workers within Canada and the United States. It’s possible the connectivity would be even worse, or perhaps even impossible to work with in the UK. Do you know of any software that provides good connectivity overseas for remote workers?
I was also wondering about management systems for remote workers. My company is one that does not micromanage, so a different management style would be required. Are you supervised and managed differently from onsite employees? If so, how?
Thanks so much for taking the time to consider my question!
So in an effort to share what I’ve found out and solicit some ideas from all you remote workers out there here’s my reply.
At Bath University we use Microsoft VPN server and there are very rarely any issues. I’ve heard pretty good things about OpenVPN and didn’t realise there were problems with it in Canada and the US. There is a lot of remote office software floating about but I’m not too sure of their worth.
After posting to Web-support@Jiscmail.ac.uk I’ve had the folowing replies:
reply 1: We use OpenVPN here, albeit on a very limited scale and with mostly local people. I haven’t really had any experience of anyone doing this for long periods from any distance. I have used it for hours at a time from Scotland without experiencing any problems and also used it on the train with mixed results, probably more to do with the train’s uplink failing that anything else. Of course, it might not be OpenVPN that is unreliable but the overall end-to-end network ...
reply 2: Oxford uses the Cisco VPN system and has done for a number of years . We have colleagues working across the planet, including North America, who access our services and in my opinion it’s pretty solid… Probably not the cheapest VPN system around, and I hesitate to use the term, but it really could almost be described as bombproof. I’ve certainly never heard of it timing out! Take a look at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/vpn/.
reply 3: That throws up a very big “why?” question. Why does OpenVPN disconnect? At a basic level, it will disconnect and re-establish (if configured to do so) if the connectivity is interrupted – line drops, congestion, dynamic IP address changes and so on. The biggest reason I’ve seen for VPN applications dropping connections is a fundamental misunderstanding that, for example, if you have a 4 Mbps broadband service and you’re running OpenVPN over it to do some interactive stuff with a remote end, plus VoIP, and you then start doing a massive Vista patch download (which is outside the VPN) then the two will compete for resources.
If the upstream bandwidth gets saturated – normally between 128Kbps and 512Kbps for most domestic service in the UK – then traffic starts to get dropped and retried. It’s possible to configure OpenVPN to act more robustly under congested conditions, but there’s a trade-off between how long it takes to drop and reconnect and how long your apps can withstand a “hung” network. For the record I used to use OpenVPN almost permanently to provide inter-site private services in a previous job for a web host/ISP, and it worked perfectly unless we got massive congestion. I guess the advice is to have a good understanding of what you’re doing through the VPN, and outside it – and don’t let the two get in each other’s way.
From these replies it sounds like OpenVPN is not going to be the problem…
On the matter of management I can probably be a little more helpful. UKOLN (where I work) has as many different management styles but here it tends to be fairly hands-off management. I think it’s partly to do with the fact we are based in a university and the staff are respected and expected to get on with their work without constant check ups. I think less controlling methods of management work better in remote working.
I have a good working relationship with my team leader. We have regular phone and Skype chats, and tend to send brief questions and comments via Skype chat. We both also record our main outputs during the day using Yammer (work version of Twitter) – so know what’s been achieved. Because I am lucky enough to live near the office we have regular face-to-face chats when I’m in the office – though this could be done using Skype and a webcam. We also tend to go to the same events fairly regularly so catch up at those too. I think the key is regular informal catch-ups so nothing is left too long. You could schedule something for every Monday morning say?
There’s quite a few good articles on management about including these:
- Effectively Managing Remote Workers
- Remote working ‘will be the death of the middle manager’
- 10 ways to help you manage and motivate your remote workers
I hope this helps.
I’ve written a few articles about remote working that might help too:
- Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers
- A Desk Too Far?: The Case for Remote Working
I hope I’ve helped our Canadian neighbour. Anyone got anything to add?
I was at a Bathcamp (interesting people, meeting regularly in Bath, UK) meet last week and saw Ryan Carson from Carsonified give an interesting talk on Ubiquity for Firefox (will blog more about it when I’ve had a go). Anyway at the end of his talk Ryan announced that they have a number of desks available in their office for anyone who wants to work in town.
It reminded me that the idea of ‘remote office centres’ is something I’ve been meaning to blog about.
Remote Office Centres (also referred to as co-working sites, telecentres, teleworking Centres or telework centres- and of course the US use ‘center’) are defined by Wikipedia as:
“..office space leasing centers which lease individual offices to employees from multiple companies in a single office location or centre. The purpose of Remote Office Centres is to provide professional office space in locations that are near where people live, so they can cut down on the commute, but still work out of a real office with professional grade internet, phone service and security.“
They can offer a number of advantages over working at home such as demarcating home and work, removing possible home distractions and allowing the centralisation of professional office equipment. Of course it also means you get some co-workers again – be this a bad or a good thing…
At the moment these seem to be springing up mainly in the US where there are even a number of search facilities allowing you to locate your nearest office.
In the Washington DC Metropolitan area the General Services Administration (GSA) currently sponsors 14 Remote Office Centres. There is also an interesting article in the Chicago Herald on how these type of sites can help alleviate the loniless remote workers can sometimes feel.
Here in the UK the best list is available from the telework Association Web site.
Using these centres won’t work for everyone but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.
Anyone out there have any experience of using them?