Posted on May 26th, 2009 6 comments
I recently received an email asking for a bit of advice on time zone trouble. The email went along the lines of:
I’m working for a company where we have an office in the UK, and an office in California. These have an 8 hour time difference. The team in the UK is a small team that works semi-autonomously, but it requires better communication with the US head office than we currently have. I’m looking for help with strategies on getting people communicating better with a large time difference. Any advice, gratefully received.
This is a tricky one. On this blog and in the articles I’ve written I’ve mentioned lots of synchronous forms of communication (telephony, VOIP, virtual meetings, chat, Twitter etc.) but all of these rely on people being around at the same time to be effective. An 8 hour lag makes for a fairly stilted conversation…
However globalisation of work is happening more and more and small amounts of time difference can be over come as Amanda Hill’s explained in her recent guest blog post.
The time difference between the UK and Eastern Canada can occasionally be problematic. It works fine for me, as I am part-time on Names and usually work on that in the morning, when UK folk are putting in their afternoon’s work. Then I can work on the Dundee module (or my garden) in my afternoon. I find that Twitter really helps in keeping connected with my various professional communities.
One possibility is to use the time zones to an organisation’s advantage. This would mean ones work place enabling staff to work around the clock (i.e. making sure the office is open and accessible late at night). Teams could also look at the order of certain tasks – tasks that require the other team’s input are carried out later in the day. Maybe some tasks or chats could even be carried out in employees homes. Staff could work later from home one day and come into the office later the next day. Flexible working means that there could be some time zone overlap (make sure you pay your team back though for their extra hours!) As long as the schedules are rotated and workers don’t always have to work out-of-hours this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The key is that everyone is clear on what the situation is, knows what time it is in the other office and who it is OK to call. Otherwise there might be some very cross employees taking part in conference calls in the pyjamas! One idea might be to schedule a call every day at the end of the UK day and the beginning of the US day.
Without being online at the same time teams will be restricted to asynchronous communication. This means that quite a lot of work must be carried out early to allow the other team enough time to reflect on it/use it. What you don’t want to do is waste precious time in a difficult to schedule meeting with everyone catching up on documentation.
Technology wise a few ideas might be:
- Use a time zone software like timeanddate.com.
- Use something that allows conversation threads (like the Facebook threads) as well as email.
- If you want to use Twitter make sure you agree on an appropriate hashtag for filtering so you can pick up tweets later on.
- Try a project blog so everyone is kept up to date with the current status of work. Shared project management tools can also help and Wikis for collaboration on documents.
- Let the team to have mobile email devices.
- Use an organisational Intranet.
- Try making short videos to send over. This will allow the teams to get to know each other better and clarify things that can’t be explained in an email.
- Use meeting planner software like Whenisgood Meetingmade, – more ideas in this Web Work Daily article entitled How to Plan Virtual Meetings With a Global Teleworking Team.
Thanks to Twitter people for help with some of these ideas. Any more suggestions?
Posted on April 8th, 2009 6 comments
People seem to like showing off their desk space.
Maybe it’s a bit like ‘show and tell’ at school. There are plenty of sites where you can upload a photo of your working environment for others to see. Some of the more interesting sites include deskography and the Lifehacker Workspace Show and Tell Flickr Group. Most of the photos on there come from the Lifehacker Coolest workspace competition. Voyers might also want to take a look at Web Worker Daily’s home office, Spy journal and the many screens of biscade.
Help is at Hand
There also seems to be a lot help for those who are unsure of how to set up their home workspace. The great Monkeysee video on how to organise your office really made me laugh (it’s done by a professional organiser!). It keeps going on about Health and Safety precautions when moving furniture about! Of course this is relevant, and making sure your desk is a comfortable place to sit at is really important, but it does seem a little out of context.
The article on How organised is your home-office workspace? also has lots of ideas.
If you have a small pot of gold to use when planning your home office then Web Worker daily gives some tips on the whole planning process from putting pencil to paper. There are also reviews of a couple of 3D planners including the Ikea Planner and Google Sketchup
My Home Office
All of this has inspired me to write a few words about my home office.
I don’t work for a big commercial company and don’t have lots of expensive kit but I still want to make sure that my workspace is right for me. It’s a decent size space but has to double up as a spare bedroom and storage room (probably like most people’s office).
As you can see I’ve got a box room and all the exciting stuff happens along one wall. I’ve got a desk, some great wall-to-wall shelves, books galore and drawers full of supplies. I have an all-in-one printer (scanning, photocopying, printing) which saves space. Unlike all the flash people on Flickr I only have (and need) one monitor. I’ve also got a keyboard, lamp, headphones, DVD rewriter, speakers and phone on my desk. The most important thing I have is my notebook. I still love writing stuff down on paper! I have a red swivel chair, which probably needs replacing – ergonomics – health and safety and all that! Work will pay for our home office furniture but it’s up to me to order it (using their supplier catalogues). I’ve also got a special mouse and wrist rest as I have carpal tunnel syndrome and can get really sore if I do too much typing.
I have an electric heater for when it is impossible to fit more clothes on. If it’s really cold I tend to shut the door and try and heat a smaller space.
On the walls I’ve got quite a few photos and pictures my children have drawn, contacts lists and calendars.
I’ve also got a futon in the room, so sometimes when I’m trying to do a bit of brainstorming I’ll have a lie down on there.
The wackiest Home Office
I’ve mentioned the Shedworking site before, but I guess a lot of us would love to have an office down the end of our garden that we could shut and lock the door too. I saw a great blog post recently on the 10 most unusual places to set up an office. It’s worth a look even if just to have a peep at what the inside of Airforce one looks like. Now that is working on the move to the extreme!
Posted on February 27th, 2009 1 comment
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?
Posted on January 14th, 2009 1 comment
Living in a small town is a relatively new thing for me. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in pretty big cities: Manchester, Liverpool, London, Prague, Bath. There have been a few stays in smaller places but I didn’t really start to feel that whole “small town community thing” till I had children.
The government has recently brought out a pamphlet entitled ‘Guidance on building a local sense of belonging‘. It is aimed at local cohesion practitioners and “suggests ways in which councils, voluntary groups and other organisations can encourage a sense of belonging”.
Apparently civic pride is powerful stuff and a sense of belonging and loyalty to your town is one of the key steps to happy living.
Mark Easton quotes Communities Secretary Hazel Blears on his UK blog:
“People who feel that they belong to their local area will get involved with local schemes and initiatives, will help their neighbours, will challenge inappropriate behaviour, will welcome newcomers and help them settle. They will pull together in a crisis and join together in a celebration. All this helps to build cohesive, empowered and active communities.“
This is even more important given our current financial crisis with shops going under and the move from high street shopping to out of town retailers.
Where I live is really important to me. I live in a small rural Wiltshire town called Melksham. You probably won’t have heard of it and it’s unlikely you’d have a reason to go there other than to visit someone. It’s a struggling town but the sense of community is still pretty strong. I am a member of Melksham Climate Friendly Group and active at the toddler group and school my children attend. I like meeting local people and am not much good at “keeping myself to myself”.
Unfortunately Melksham has relatively little local industry and few big local businesses. It’s probably what people would refer to as a satellite or dormitory town. Most people work in neighbouring cities and towns like Bath, Chippenham or Trowbridge. Working from home I am lucky enough to be able to pop into my town on a regular basis. I know quite a few of the shop-keepers and can normally say hello to a number of people on my walk in to the centre and back. This is definitely one of the benefits of being a remote worker.
If more people start to work remotely then maybe this will help smaller towns? It might bring back that sense of community that seems to be slipping. Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean you have a small town mentality. Us remote workers might even like to meet up for a coffee sometime?
Any other Melksham remote workers out there?
Posted on December 23rd, 2008 3 comments
By now most of you will be off indulging in festive cheer. The great thing about scheduling blog posts is that I am too!!
Anyway I just wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks to you for reading my blog – who ever you are!
Here are a few festive snaps for you to enjoy…
If there is one thing Melksham (the town where I live) does well it’s Christmas lights. Longford Road is just round the corner from me and has even been listed in the Telegraph’s top 10 places to see christmas lights. The residents spend a fortune on buying and maintaining lights and heavens only knows what their electricity bill must be! Despite my reservations on the environmental front they raise a lot of money for charity so well done them!
Here’s one of my lovely family. Aren’t I lucky!
Enjoy your Christmas and make sure you spend at least a few hours of the day off your computers!
Posted on December 17th, 2008 3 comments
Last week I posted on Twitter that I’d hit all time low and eaten a pot noodle for lunch. A fellow Twitterer commented that I hadn’t mentioned this in my articles on the benefits of home working. This got me thinking….
Today is UKOLN’s Christmas Lunch and I’m hoping to catch up with all our remote workers who are dropping in specially. With the holidays in sight and New Year not far round the corner I thought it was maybe time for my ‘top 10 lunches as a Remote Worker’ list. Enjoy…
- Cold Pasta – Cover with cheese and put in the microwave for 1 minute.
- No lunch today – Child sent home from nursery ill, usual stuff, nursery says “your child is ill, you’ll have to take him home before some other child catches it”, I think “well he wasn’t ill when I left him, he must have caught it off of one of the other children, in fact one of the children that he has to keep away from in case they catch his illness!”
- Cold brussell sprouts, cabbage and leeks – Veg box overload. Good job I work alone!
- No lunch today– just Hot-mail, Facebook fruit and BBCi Player sandwiches.
- Pasty from the bakers in town – Does anyone know that it’s actually my lunch break or do they think I’m a unemployed couch potato who has made it into town? Maybe they think I’m a student? Erm…perhaps that’s being a bit optimistic….
- 8 biscuits, 2 lumps of cheese, 3 yoghurts and a bag of kettle crisps – This wasn’t so much a lunch as an activity for my mouth. I made up for the calories by the frequent trips to the fridge (14 in total).
- 6 cups of coffee – nuff said…
- Quiche and salad – Went out for lunch with a friend. They brought their kids with them. Now having work life ruined by annoying children as well as home life. Joke!!
- Sandwiches – Why is it only the doorstep end bits are left? In fact does bread without butter or filling constitute a sandwich? Chewing on office furniture more appealing.
- Very quick soup so I have time for the laundry, unloading the dishwasher, sewing up the holes in children’s clothes and sorting out the recycling. Husband thinks that all these jobs are done by the tooth fairy.
I know it is all wrong, wrong, wrong so here is some Advice for Grumpy Home Workers from an expert on what you should really be doing.
Posted on December 1st, 2008 6 comments
At both events everyone seemed to be using Twitter. Twitter for notification about the event, Twitter hashtags for live blogging and Twitter for chatting about the event (before, during and after). I’ve seen it before at other events but this time I started to feel a little left out…
For those who aren’t familiar with Twitter it is:
“a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
As someone recently explained to me: every tweet is a bit like a haiku! What a creative bunch the Twitterers are!
For those more familiar with Facebook it is like the updates bit on its own, you ‘follow’ people and they can ‘follow’ you back.
I had a go at writing a few tweets during the events but previous to this my last tweet was 7 months ago. As one colleague put it:
“intrigued by @mariekeguy tweet pattern… “back to watching the Gadget show” on Apr 28th, then nothing until 5 hours ago! hell of a show!”
When it comes to Twitter I’m just another one of those people who “doesn’t get it…”
I think the main reasons for this are:
- I spend a lot of time offline and I have a pay-as-you-go phone (OK embarrassing but true – 3 small children cost money to keep) so I don’t want to do updates via my phone.
- I like the status updates on Facebook because you can do them every couple of days and it doesn’t seem odd, but with Twitter you feel like you have to update it a lot. People have compared it to an open chat forum; I just think I’d never have enough to say. One blog describes Twitter as “a weird animal that seemingly only exists to feed one’s ego” (though you could say the same about blogs…). Perhaps I don’t have the ego?
- Twitter isn’t mainstream yet so a lot of the people I know don’t use it…I’m not sure if this is a proper excuse…
- I’m not very good at having to restrict what I have to say. I’d probably go for an email or skype chat to fill in the detail.
- I don’t seem to have the time (or the inclination) to get my head round how you use it. What’s are @replies and nudges anyway?
- I think it is mainly work people who use Twitter but still the work/home boundaries can get very blurred. Last week on Facebook updates I put that I was off to the CETIS conference and a couple of my friends mentioned extraterrestrial life (they obviously thought I was going to a SETI conference!). I’d be concerned about scaring friends with work information and boring colleagues with home information!
That said I’m concerned that I’m going to miss out. Those who are into Twitter seem to be first with the news and first on the scene. My colleagues rave about it (Brian Kelly – UK Web Focus , Paul Walk, eFoundations)) and I keep thinking maybe I should just persevere.
And then I get distracted by something that can’t be described in 140 characters….
Posted on October 24th, 2008 1 comment
Last month’s Ariadne carried a great article on managing information overload: Being Wired or Being Tired. I think the whole time management thing has become amplified since I became a remote worker. The distractions have become bigger (that pile of washing, that DIY that needs doing) but there are also less useful distractions (coffee with colleagues, a lunch break!) so at times I start to feel like I’m handcuffed to my desk.
So here are Sarah Houghton-Jan’s ten techniques to manage the overload. The article is really worth reading.
- 1. General Organisational Techniques
- This suggests starting off by making an inventory of information received and the devices you use. You should then read up on dealing with information overload. Other ideas include thinking before sending (for emails and the like), you could always talk to someone face-to-face. You also need to schedule yourself, schedule unscheduled work and use your ‘down time’ to your benefit. Another key factor in being organised is staying tidy and keeping lists.
- 2. Filtering Information Received
- Weed out what matters, schedule unplugged times and encourage your team to do the same.
- 3. RSS Overload Techniques
- Only use rss when applicable, limit the number of feeds and organise the feeds you do use.
- 4. Interruptive Technology Overload Techniques
- Interruptions make us less effective so only use interruptive technology when appropriate and do not interrupt yourself
- 5. Phone Overload Techniques
- Again use the phone when appropriate, feel free to turn your mobile phone off or let it ring (a tricky one for people with children) and keep your number private. Remember Work = Work; Home = Home.
- 6. Email Overload Techniques
- Set aside time to do emails and clear your inbox. Filter and file messages, delete and archive. Limit the number of lists you join.
- 7. Print Media Overload Techniques
- Recycle it if you don’t need it and cancel unnecessary subscriptions
- 8. Multimedia Overload Techniques
- Be strict with yourself and limit television viewing
- 9. Social Network Overload Techniques
- Schedule time on your networks and pick a primary network to use.
- 10. Time and Stress Management
- Use your calendar, take regular breaks, eliminate stressful interruptions. If you need to look for time-management software to help. Make sure you balance your life and work.
Some great tips in there, I’m going to try a few…when I get time!
Posted on October 3rd, 2008 No comments
Recently a friend of mine read my recent Ariadne article on remote working and commented on how the bit I put in about my cold spare room really rung true.
It was in the editors note:
Marieke Guy has been with UKOLN since May 2000 and has worked remotely since April 2008. She currently lives 15 miles from UKOLN’s offices and made the decision to work from home for family and environmental reasons. Since taking this decision, she says, she has learnt a lot about herself, communication technologies and how cold her spare bedroom is!
Today I’ve been really cold. My spare bedroom is at the back of the house and north facing I think. It just seems to be always cold. In fact I’ve just taken a little trip into my bedroom (at the front of the house) which seems to be filled with light and positively roasting. At this moment I wish I could swap my rooms round!
This has led me to thinking about my heating costs. I’ve had a small fan heater on intermittently today. I haven’t had the central heating on as it seems pointless heating the whole house up just so little me gets warm, and actually this room still doesn’t seem to get warm anyway.
I guess I am using more heating and energy than if I went in to the office but does this stack up against me not making the drive to work? I need my carbon calculator out! I’ll try and look out for some comparisons to put up.
I’ve actually just stumbled on another remote worker blog (she’s based in France) and she talks about weighing up these costs:
there are some interesting comments too…
She actually says:
Luckily there is plenty of space in my house so I chose a room that has plenty of natural light. This is good for moral, and keeps the lighting and heating bills down. You should also take into account the electric lighting – do you need a desk lamp?
And did I say that she’s based in France…
Hmmmm…I guess that beats sunny Melksham then.
Posted on September 17th, 2008 No comments
Although I’ve contributed to blogs (primarily the JISC-PoWR blog) this is my first go at writing and maintaining a blog on my own! Being the shy, retiring type…sharing my innermost thoughts online doesn’t really appeal. However since I started to work from home I’ve felt that I need some outlet for my thoughts and refelctions on issues related to ‘being out of the office’. I also think that many of the feelings/insights I’ve had may benefit others. So here it is…my new blog, Ramblings of a Remote Worker. I’ll try to keep my posts on topic and useful but there’s no guarantees! If you have any relevant ramblings please do share.
Marieke Guy, UKOLN