Adventures in Telecommuting — The Sky Is Falling

June 8th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

bathroomceilinglights1This week, my bathroom ceiling collapsed on my head in the middle of a work day and I didn’t miss a single conference call.

This is the sort of adventure you just can’t enjoy in a corporate bathroom.

Then again, my home office bathroom is blissfully free of rude and smelly co-workers.

I think I’d rather deal with the occasional deluge of plaster and old paint (and nothing else, luckily).

Are You a Super Commuter?

May 4th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

trafficjamHow many hours do you spend commuting to and from work? How much more time would you be willing to spend commuting for a great new job or client?

Long commutes can be stressful and exhausting. In fact, a British study found that commuters can experience more stress than fighter pilots or riot police do.  But sometimes you do what you’ve got to do to make a living.

In the current job market, are you more willing to sign on for a longer commute just to land a job? If you’re a consultant or entrepreneur, are you willing to commute further for the right client or business opportunity (say, cheaper office space)?

Let’s take it a step further. Would you be willing to commute to another city for the work week and see your family (and/or home, cat, etc.) only on the weekends? If so, a reporter for a major New York publication wants to talk to you. She’s doing a story about New York super commuters who have recently taken on jobs or work situations that force them to commute to and live in a different city during the work week.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, contact me at story @ and I’ll connect you with the reporter for your 15 minutes of fame.

Even if your commute is not quite that super, please  share your commuting horror stories and commuter sanity-saving tips in the comments. Or go ahead and gloat about your work-at-home commute from bedroom to desk.

The Ultimate Home Office Printer

March 20th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

office-space-printer I am pretty serious about my home office. I spend a lot of time in that one room and, as an entrepreneur, my productivity has a direct impact on my cash flow. So I’ve got my three-monitor set-up a la Bill Gates. I’ve got my wall of white boards. And now, I’ve finally had the chance to test out my ultimate home office printer — the Brother MFC-6490CW.

Brother offered me the opportunity to review the MFC-6490CW — which is a combination printer, scanner, fax, and copier — from the perspective of a home office power user. And I was definitely game.

I have a love/hate relationship with my current printer,which takes up a lot of space and has become temperamental in its not-so-advanced age. Plus, my current set-up requires room for a separate printer and scanner and doesn’t offer the ability to make copies or send old-school faxes (for those, I have to go into the office proper or run to the copy place down the block).

The idea of a compact all-in-one sounded too good to be true, but I was very pleasantly surprised with the Brother MFC-6490CW. It’s not much bigger than my current printer and it performs all of its many functions well. For about $300, that’s a pretty good deal for any telecommuter, home office worker, or small business owner.

The Brother all-in-one printer fits easily in the same space that I use for my current printer. After a brief period of getting to know the machine’s quirks, I was up and running and printing, scanning, and copying with ease.  You can print and scan letter, legal, and tabloid-sized documents. You can copy large documents using the 50-page automatic document feeder. This printer also offers an Ethernet connection and Wifi support.

While I don’t often have the need to send or receive old-school faxes (which is why I’ve never purchased a fax machine for my home office), I’ve discovered that it’s nice to have the option as long as I don’t have to clear extra space for another machine.

The scanner also works great for scanning, printing, and emailing your photos directly from your camera’s media card or from USB Flash Memory. This is nice if you want to use your home office computer for non-office tasks like sharing pictures of vacations and family events.

I did find one con among the pros. The Brother MFC-6490CW is not the speediest printer out there. It may not be the best bet if you frequently need to print or copy lots of pages quickly. But for me, printing speed isn’t a major concern in my home office. If I have to print or copy hundreds of pages fast, I usually outsource the job anyway.

From the perspective of most telecommuter and home office workers, the efficiency of the multiple functions and the compact size at a reasonable price will more than make up for any speed complaints. Learn more about the Brother MFC-6490CW.

The Collapsing Corporation and Rise of Virtual Distance

March 19th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

We’ve been hearing a lot about collapsing corporations lately.  Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, author and Professor of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, says Virtual Distance may be to blame for many of today’s corporate problems.

Last night, I heard Dr. Lojeski speak at a lecture sponsored by the Project Management Institute.  She has spent the last several years studying the concept of Virtual Distance™, which she defines as  “the perceived distance between two or more individuals when their primary method of communication and  coordination is not face to face.”  Her research shows that our increasing dependence on technology for communication (even with those in the cubicle down the hall) and outmoded vertical corporate structures have led to failures in efficiency, collaboration, engagement, and innovation.

She is not proposing that we outlaw telecommuting, email, and conference calls. Instead, Dr. Lojeski has  identified some techniques for minimizing virtual distance within an organization, regardless of the geographic distance between team members. These include building in face time at key points in a project and forcing focus during calls (shut down your email and step away from distractions).

Most importantly, she believes that techniques for managing  successful virtual teams must be people-focused, not technology-focused. The technology enables, but there is no innovation without engaged human beings.

I must say that I agree strongly with that philosophy. And because  I value the flexibility of being able to work from just about anywhere in the world, I’m a big supporter of any research that will help make remote workers, telecommuters, and road warriors more effective.

Virtual teams are here to stay.  And if they are managed well, they can help companies achieve serious business and productivity benefits.

However, I do find that work relationships develop more quickly when I have already met someone in person. That’s not to say that I don’t have close and valued clients and colleagues that I’ve never met face-to-face.  I do, but it usually takes a bit longer to bond when you only communicate via phone and email.

Ask any sales guru — they always try to score an in-person pitch meeting because they know it will improve their chances with a prospect exponentially.

So what do you think? Does virtual distance make the heart grow fonder or is it a productivity-killer? Have you found successful techniques for maintaining strong relationships with virtual team members?

For more information about Dr. Lojeski’s research, check out her latest book, Uniting the Virtual Workforce (and look for her upcoming follow-up, Leading the Virtual Workforce, later this year).

Telecommuting Is Good For You (And Your Company)

November 28th, 2007

Written by Pamela Skillings

Your dilemma: You’d love to work from home a few days a week but your boss thinks telecommuting is just an opportunity to slack off and watch Oprah. Well, I’ve got just what you need to make your case: Real numbers from an academic study that shows that telecommuting is better for both workers and bosses.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University looked at data on 12,833 telecommuters and found that telecommuting programs have beneficial effects for both the workers and their employers. Study results showed that telecommuters reported more job satisfaction, less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings by supervisors. Managers supervising telecommuters also reported that their performance was not negatively affected by working from home.

And if your boss argues that face time at the office is necessary to foster good work relationships, you can oh-so-diplomatically beg to differ. Telecommuters who worked away from their offices for less than three days per week did not see their work relationships suffer Those who were out of the office for three days per week or more, however, did see their bonds with co-workers diminish.

If you have been fantasizing about telecommuting, now may be the time to pitch the idea to your boss. Approximately 45 million Americans telecommuted in 2006. If you want to join their ranks, your best bet is to put together a written proposal for your boss. Address any of her potential concerns and explain the business value of the arrangement for the company. Perhaps you will be able to start work earlier or work later because you can cut out a long commute. Or maybe you can deliver higher-quality work in an environment away from the cubicle-farm distractions where you can focus. Cite the results of the Penn State study to help make your case and show that you’ve done your homework.

Be prepared to compromise. If your manager remains skeptical, offer to do a trial run for a few weeks and see how it goes. Then bend over backward to show that you can be even more productive from home than you can be in the office.

If all goes well, you will soon be be enjoying the benefits of the telecommuter’s life. Of course, there are also challenges to making telecommuting work, but most find that the increased flexibility and the reduced commute time are well worth any effort required to adapt. Just ask those guys from Penn State.

Telecommuters Get No Respect

August 20th, 2007

Written by Pamela Skillings

A recent survey of executives found that many corporate managers are still clinging to the outmoded idea that the employees who put in the most face time are the ones that should be promoted. 78% of managers agreed that those working remotely were just as productive as other employees (if not more so), but 61% said that telecommuters were less likely to advance in their careers than those working in a traditional office setting. Read more about the survey.

Are older managers just having a hard time letting go of the old rule book or is there a legitimate reason that telecommuters don’t get the respect they deserve? Maybe it’s that horrible name, telecommuters. It’s a term that sounds like it was coined by futurists in the early 1980s. Maybe it’s just me.

So why is face time still so important in the corporate world? For old-school executives, managing telecommuters can be a challenge. Micromanagers probably hate the idea of telecommuting on principle. When managing telecommuters, there is more pressure on the boss to hire the right people and be clear about job responsibilities and expectations. If you want telecommuters to be productive, you have to actually manage effectively. Radical concept.

As telecommuting becomes more and more common, executives will have to step up and get comfortable with different management styles. Interestingly, 48% of the executives that responded to the survey said that they would personally consider taking a job that involved telecommuting on a regular basis.

Of course, there is also something to be said for the “out of sight, out of mind” concept. It’s easier to form real bonds with people that you actually see face-to-face on a regular basis. Telecommuters that want to be promoted need to understand that and compensate for it.

Tips for Telecommuters that Get No Respect

  • Try to visit the office on a regular basis and to be there for key meetings and social events.
  • When you do stop by the cube farm, make the most out of it. Take the boss to lunch and make a point of visiting colleagues in person. Get as much team bonding out of your limited face time as you can.
  • When you’re working remotely, make a point of staying visible through email, IM, and phone. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for virtual team bonding.
  • Make sure you promote yourself and your accomplishments so everybody knows that you’re not just sitting around watching paternity tests on daytime TV.