Tag Archives: telecommuting

The New Cheese: RANT… News from Galileo, an individual is NOT the center of the universe!

I think one of the most difficult parts of existing, persisting, and excelling in the new marketplace, business structure, or classroom of today is trying to absorb and respect all the cultural aspects and diversity that exist and understand what each different facet exemplifies as consideration and manners… and what apparently doesn’t rate as worthy of such. For me, this is a daily… ok, hourly struggle. Let me boil it down and stop dancing around what I’m trying to say. Respect! That is it. It is the considerable lack of manners and respect that appear to have prevailed in a greater sense and with growing rudeness for well over a decade, possibly two!

At one point, I think I blamed the 80’s… you know, that “Me Era” that people talk about where wolves ran Wallstreet and were popularized as the It dudes and Tiger Ladies of society and success. Where the merit of standing on and walking over people to get to the top meant you were hungry, ambitious, and Machiavellian (not originally or necessarily a compliment, by the way) instead of being recognized as, well… just a jerk. What everyone seems to block out and ignore is that the majority who didn’t manage to find the secret of their success or make it to the top though still emulating the cut-throat behaviors of those who did were not so admired. Being a jerk without the accompanying glitter of fame and fortune merely made you an asshat with no manners instead of a shark gobbling the competition and commanding adulation from the pilot fish hoping to feed upon the leftovers and crumbs. Sadly, even with a resurgence of vintage and nostalgia waving merrily in our fashion columns, eBay sales, and television programming, the old fashioned concepts of please, thank-you, sorry, excuse me, and waiting your turn never seem to make the comeback. Instead, social media and popular figures have continued to promote talking over, talking badly, interrupting, insulting, and generally treating even friends, family, or colleagues worse than you would a soiled nappy from a baby’s bum.

And… I seem to have gotten myself off my originally intended topic… looks like it may be one of those days.

One of the biggest peeves that has been on my radar of late is a sadly common failing of an occupational perk. Now that technology has really made it possible to be in multiple places at once virtually and hold meetings all over the world from the comfort of your bedroom, telecommuting has been embraced globally. Not only do the employees dig it, many companies are finding it financially attractive due to less time lost for commuting, socializing (but wait, people still socialize, don’t they? I’ll get to that), and illness. They have a greater access to quality staff who may not want to move to Mumbai just for project management position or chance at promotion. It is truly fascinating to be able to work in three countries without actually leaving my office. Very sci-fi. But like any other wonderful advancement, there is always something a little less positive for which we must control. In this case… it might be due to lack of maturity. On the other hand, I may just be overly sensitive to certain immaturity levels and not giving people enough credit because this is a serious hot button of mine. Telecommuting requires a certain level of self-discipline. Without a boss looming or coworkers watching, you have only yourself to crack a whip or focus that attention that wondered over to the laundry that is laying over there next to, but not actually in the hamper. However, that is an even more responsible distraction than the most common. It is far more likely that the attention was actually drawn by social media newsfeed, online shopping, or random video rabbit hole… and before you know it many, many moments have flitted by without a single productive activity.

Additionally, one of the benefits of the telecommuting gig is that your actual commute is likely a few steps away instead of a slogging to a tram stop or having to drive through harrowing rush hour traffic. It also means that meetings may be attended in pajamas or worse (please don’t share, and keep that webcam OFF). Morning briefings don’t require so much as a good tooth brushing, much less hair being tidied. Then again, without anyone looking, it is also just as easy to multitask during said briefings. Trainings, meetings, and conferences held across the ether without any accountability that you are actually paying attention… oh yes, it happens. And… I am as guilty as the next person. I’m not going to lie about it. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, though. Whether I believe that a meeting deserves my full, riveted attention or not, I should at least try to make sure that I am absorbing the majority of what is being shared by “being here now” (as we say in my company). I cannot complain about being left out of decision-making or not having all the information needed to perform my duties if I’m not listening while they may actually be imparting that very same wisdom I seek. As I have grown to understand how my own success frequently is tied to taking responsibility for my own actions, behaviors, and attention, I try to make sure that I am giving my attention (painful as it is sometimes) in meetings, trainings, and conferences.

So, why is this a rant, and what has me so peeved? Well, one of the outcomes of people not “being here now” in teleconference situations (or even in person as many of my workplace folks and teachers will attest) is that they miss important announcements, information shared that they may need later, which leads to errors and chastisement, and generalized annoyance spawned within the hearts of managers and supervisors at large. Distilled to the purest form, this aggravation stems from the fact that people don’t @#$%ing listen! There is nothing quite like that feeling of being asked something that has been trained upon, gone over in meetings, reminded in emails, and provided in job aids or instruction manuals readily available in a common and easily accessible location. A colleague and I were mutually absolving our consciences of the desire to throw large temper tantrums over this exact phenomenon. It seems we have both continually experienced the scenario of staff members who will continually ask questions about things that 1) is not new information and has not changed for say the last 2-4 years; 2) should not really require either of our positions, educations, or experience to answer… because it is available in job aids, from their peers, and various other sources of disseminated information; 3) the question has actually been answered before directly to said person as well as to the team or possibly department… multiple times; and 4) it is available in a memo that was emailed to everyone, maybe even that same week. We both were able to come to some insight as to why the aggravation and anger over this particular peeve seemed more difficult than any other to shake. The most likely reason is because each and every time that it happens, it actually implies… actually shouts, loudly… “I DON’T BLOODY LISTEN TO YOU BECAUSE YOUR @#$% AIN’T THAT IMPORTANT TO ME, AND NEITHER IS YOUR TIME SINCE I DEMAND THAT YOU DROP EVERYTHING YOU ARE CURRENTLY DOING AND ANSWER ME.” Granted this is the perception rather than the intention, but it goes back to the first little tangent I traipsed upon at the beginning of this post: Consideration and manners have become a rare commodity. The rule has become that most people consider that their priorities are much more important and therefore more of a priority than any other priority that you might have prioritized in your own mind… Yes, that is a lot of priorities. When everyone thinks that their stuff is the most important and more important than anyone else’s, we start to have a problem. People who believe themselves to be the center of the universe have a tendency to dismiss anything else and anyone else as trivial.

What’s the one conclusion I can bring this number to? (I totally went there…) First, be present and pay attention. Maybe it is boring. Maybe you don’t feel like you should have to take time away from your Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon perusals to listen, but the person presenting or holding the meeting put their time and energy into it. Shouldn’t you at least give them a small amount of yours to actually listen? Second, do your own homework. Look things up. Use your resources before potentially interrupting the flow of someone else’s work to ask what you may very easily have found was already answered earlier. And lastly, remember that other people are just as busy as you believe yourself to be. It is entirely possible that they cannot suspend their current activity in order to immediately answer your inquiry (that may actually have an answer in the aforementioned resources). Exercise some patience before double texting, blowing up instant message, or lighting up every one of their phones. (See Pause and Reflect while you are at it.)

So endeth the rant. In the spirit of full disclosure… some of the people out there trying to keep you informed and focused on quality of performance are feeling a little unappreciated, ignored, and unheard… in short, we feel a little disposable, much like the meeting agenda/class syllabus/memorandum that we took a week (or more) to create and you took less than a second to toss in the trash (or deleted items file).

Ok, I’m done now, for real. <sigh> as you were… Pity party of one… ah, that’s my table ready.

Telecommuting: The Good, The Bad… The Yoga Pants

In the modern marketplace, technology has allowed for a less traditional approach to workspace. Thanks to internet speeds, mobile technology, webmeeting applications, and virtual conference areas, we are no longer bound by boardrooms and cubicles. Telecommuting is the perk… and yes, the curse… of the modern professional.

For those who have known me the whole of my professional life, it comes as no surprise that I have seen the opportunities and trials of non-traditional workspace. In days gone by, I actually field tested some of the earliest incarnations of smart phone technology at remote access sites for internet providers and mobile communication services. I am an unashamed and unabashed geek. At the time, I was totally excited by the prospect of being untethered to office walls and windowless workspaces to access servers from wherever I could catch a decent signal. It felt like Star Trek, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be part of that away team.

As my career path shifted, I entered my current field and as an emergency service worker, my office was mobile. It was often my vehicle. The ethical considerations of confidentiality and security for privileged health information were forever in the forefront of my mind. The technology was improving, but I still spent a good deal of my efforts and time safeguarding actual paperwork and worrying about what I would do if the worst should occur, and I happened to be in an accident that would leave my work unguarded. Other downside of my previous roles involved the definition of “business hours.” Being on call, sometimes 24 hours per day and without recognition of holidays or paid time off led to a little something I call “boundary blurring.” Yes, my job was my life. Part of it was just the nature of the beast. Pagers that went off at all hours and employers that called me whether I was scheduled for a shift or not were just part and parcel of the gig. Crisis intervention, intensive inpatient residential, and critical incident work do not know a 9 to 5 schedule. Besides that, another part of problem was my own work ethic and difficulty establishing a personal life boundary as well as hesitancy in being assertive with bosses that tended to lack respect for life outside the office and the need for personal time.

Sadly, this resulted in what usually happens when the work-life balance is ignored. I became completely crispy. I developed burnout and compassion fatigue accompanied by some not terribly healthy relationship neglect issues. It actually got so bad that for a time, I considered leaving my chosen career all together. This is a common risk for people in the helping professions and for those who work in the first responder fields. However, it has also become a risk for anyone who has a telecommute position.

When I took a position with my current employer, one of the “perks” of the job (according to my colleagues and supervisor) was being able to work from home anywhere from a couple of days per week to full time telecommuting. For many of my coworkers, this was a blessing and a treat. They saved gas, and did not have to brave traffic and weather to sit in a somewhat colorless office space 40 or more hours per week. I was the holdout. I staunchly refused to use my opportunity to WAH (work at home). They thought I was nuts, but I knew myself better. I needed the physical, geographic boundary between office and home. I knew the dangers of the workplace invading my home space. I didn’t trust myself to impose the psychological barrier if the physical wasn’t there as a reminder. So, I continued to leave my office at the office, and my home was free from the work influence and accoutrements of the office life.

Over time, I started feeling braver about my ability to separate myself from the job at the end of the workday. That, and some health issues that presented themselves, resulted in a choice to take advantage of my opportunity to WAH on occasion. I was not telecommuting full time, and I would be found frequently on the couch with my laptop and one or more phones to take clinical reviews, conference calls, and trainings. It wasn’t particularly professional, nor was it very healthy from an entirely orthopedic standpoint. My back and neck would ache after trying to work in that configuration for a day. The additional downside was that my old boundary issues started creeping back into my approach. It was too easy to sign onto my laptop early and get in some work before traditional business hours, or worse, the end of day would come and go and I would always find “just one more thing” that I could do.

That is the danger of telecommuting. You don’t worry about drive times and do not have coworkers leaving for the day to prompt you to pack up your own kit and go home. Being at home already, telecommuters often find themselves working longer hours than traditional office workers. It is just too easy to keep going in the comfort of your own abode. So… I put myself back on office duty. I tend to be a bit of a workaholic as it is. I might work over at the office, but with the prompts of others packing up to go home and saying their farewells, it was a cue for me to wrap things up for the day and head home myself.

I took a promotion with my company (oh, and believe me, I struggled with that decision). The promotion came with a different office and some new staff to manage. We had our own space and everyone worked from that location. There was camaraderie. The work we was and still is meaningful (most of the time), and our group had a good fit with each other. As a manager, I was required to be in the office where my staff were based the majority of the time. There were, as usual with any new program, a lot of long hours, but having the geographic boundary between work and home was good to keep some level of balance. But things change…

The work we did gained a good deal of attention, and the decision was made to expand the program. With that expansion, there came transition. My staff became full time telecommuters. That’s right. They all went home to work. Again, with the program expansion, there were some long hours put in by myself and my colleagues. I found myself in a darkened office alone until 7:00PM or later many nights. As you might imagine, this was not well received by my family. Aside from the actual lack of time, there were some concerns for my safety being alone at the office after dark. Eventually, I allowed myself to be convinced of the folly of staying at an empty office, and I packed up my cubicle and brought my workspace home.

As it happens, it hasn’t been so bad. In fact, it has been much better and more positive than I had originally experienced or feared. However, the more positive experience has been due to some very conscious decisions on my part.

The first was my home office. While I am by no means the champion of housecleaning, I am pretty obsessive about my workspace. I have been teased by coworkers that I decorate my office with a slide rule, but it is true that my office tends to be a good deal neater and uncluttered than the other parts of my life (yes, take that however you may). Most of my day is filled to the brim with multitasking and a lot of technology. So, my workspace tends to be as organized as I can make it, but I keep some comforts and personal mementos around just to soften what could possibly lead to a depersonalized and cold atmosphere. Instead of working from the couch, which previously led to the boundary deterioration as well as a need for chiropractic services; I set up my home office in the spare bedroom that we had been using as a makeshift library (mainly because we have a book addiction). With the help of my spouse, I set up the network and laid out the design much as I had my cubicle at the office. The benefit of this arrangement is that it is organized, neat, and has appropriate space for locking away information for compliance and ethical consideration. Unlike the old cubicle, this space is warmer in style and more personal to me, and the chair is definitely more comfortable. Lastly, at the end of the workday, I can shut the door on it. That is a very important part of the telecommuting culture. It is absolutely necessary to have a space that I can physically leave (even if it is just departing the room and walk downstairs).

Another decision that I made was to change my schedule. Prior to moving my office home, I chose to run and work out at the end of the work day on the way home from the office. It was a good transition and helped me rid my body of some of the physical components of work related stress. Another reason was that the gym was on the way home and too far from the office to make it convenient to go at any other point during the day. The problem that arose was late in the day meetings that interfered with my usual workout time and time zone differentials for some of my staff who may have end-of-the-day questions. However, it became apparent that with my gym being about 5 minutes from my house, I could actually take my lunch to go to the gym. It was miraculous. Suddenly, I could have my run, workout, come home and shower, and I could be back at work in the time most people take for lunch. It broke up the day. It got me off my derrière. It made me a better employee and (though you’d have to ask my team) a better supervisor.

So, what is the downside? Well, there is the whole fashion issue. I’ve fallen into the habit of wearing workout gear the majority of the time. Yes, you guessed it. I am the queen of yoga pants. Now, I have not yet fallen to the depths of wearing them in public (except to the gym), but I have to maintain a very strict watch that I don’t start slipping. I do get up every day and put on different clothing than I slept in, and I consider that a good sign. Another possible danger: I am an introvert. Without the necessity for getting out of the house to go to the office, it is entirely possible that I would never leave. Between working from home and the prevalence of businesses that will deliver food, I could potentially become a hermit. However, my gym time has come in handy for getting me out of the house every day and regular social activity and off site work functions provide enough opportunity to make sure I do get out now and then.

Do I still tend to be a workaholic and sacrifice personal time to the job? Of course, but the truth is that I would likely do that even if I still had an office space outside my home. I try to be mindful of time and boundaries, though, and for the health and wellbeing of all my friends and family, I promise not to wear my yoga pants out anywhere but the gym.