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Thankful to be Telecommuting

A peek at how telecomuting can make a difference in the lives of people living with, or caring for, people with chronic illness and disabilities.

This telecommuter is a tired one today.  I am a single parent with two children with Type 1 Diabetes.  Last night was a rough one — both kids had high blood sugars that necessitated additional insulin and monitoring at regular intervals throughout the night.  It was 3:30 am before my weary head hit the pillow.

Days like these make me incredibly thankful that I am able to work from home.  Typically, I am writing by 6:30 or 7:00 am, but today, it is 8:00 am before the first sip of coffee hits my lips.  I don’t usually work in my pajamas or yoga pants, but I can, and I am.

I’m not alone.

Millions of people world wide live with a disability.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that over 54 Million Americans or 19% of the U.S population have some sort of disability.  It reports “Disabled persons, as other members of society, have demand to be engaged in significant work, useful for society and for them.”

We all desire to engage in meaningful work.  People with disabilities are no different.  “Many people with disabilities have the desire and capabilities to work from their homes.  These individuals, many with good job skills, and a strong work ethic, constitute a hidden labour pool” (West and Anderson, 2005).

Telecommuting Loneliness is a genuine factor to the live of people who work from home.  Would a disabled person feel this isolation to a greater degree?  Not so, finds a Virginia Commonwealth University and MITE study (2001) which found that 90% of disabled teleworkers did not feel socially isolated during teleworking.  These people achieved a balance between their work and family life (Anderson, 2003)

Work Life Balance is a hot topic these days, and for good reason.  As with able-bodied people, working at home provides disabled people with an increased sense of control over their lives, leading to “greater productivity, better health, and increased morale.”. (Xu et al., 2006)

Telework is not for everyone (or every organization), and it isn’t the only viable choice for people with disabilities, either.  But for those whom telework is a good fit, based on their own personal ambitions, attitudes, and work habits, it is an effective way for millions of people around the world to be gainfully employed while considering their unique situation.

Thankfully, long nights like last night are not too frequent.  But they happen often enough.  Hopping in my truckfor an early morning commute today would not be the safest (or most productive) choice I could make. 

But call in a sick day? I need those for appointments, days the kids get sent home sick from school, and emergencies that dwarf my own exhaustion as a parent/caregiver.  I know that those extra hours of sleep this morning will make a world of difference in my day today.

And I can always nap, my hammock is calling ( :

Do you have any stories to share about telecommuting and disabilities or chronic illness?  We’d love to know how telecommuting has impacted your life.

How do You Unplug?

One Telecommuter’s Story

Earlier this summer, I read an article about people spending oodles of cash on “camps” for adults — camps that prohibit technology in order for people to unplug and reconnect with one another.

Really?!  Digital Detox centers?  Good grief!

Do we really need someone else to “take away” our technology in order to step away?  That’s kind of scary, if you ask me.

On one hand, I do understand the impulse, the nearly compulsive need to check your smartphone for “updates”.  You can find me on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, etc., and I consider myself to be “plugged in”.  If my phone doesn’t vibrate or chirp within a certain amount of time, I will check to see if I’ve missed anything.

I get it.

But the very real danger is, that by checking to see if we’ve missed anything in our electronic world, we miss what is happening right under our noses, in our “real” world.

My boys and I unplugged this weekend — we went camping.  We didn’t spend much money to do so, we just decided to turn off our phones and free ourselves from anything that wasn’t happening right there.  (Surprisingly, this was as easy for my teens as it was for me.  Turns out, many of them want to disconnect, too.)

Our trip was fantastic.

We kayaked to a working harbor and bought lobsters straight off a lobster boat, we hiked, we jumped off a cliff, we watched the tides and sea birds of all sorts (the only tweeting around).  We slept on rocks in the sun, we gazed at the stars.  We talked.  We laughed until our cheeks hurt.

Today we are home, welcomed by a mountain of email and the constant chirping of our smartphones.

We are refreshed and happy.

We need to do this more.  We will do this more.

What do you do to unplug?

Dividing the Housework without Dividing the Household

Teleworking and Relationships

I sit on the couch reading an article about men doing more housework than ever before while my boyfriend handwashes dishes in our tiny NYC apartment. He has just served us an elaborate breakfast of omelettes and French pressed coffee, which we ate in silence as I checked email and created my daily to-do list. Part of me –the feminist, liberal-arts-degree part—feels deserving and almost expectant of this behavior. However, another part of me—the Texan, raised-to-be-a-southern-housewife part—feels unsettled by this strange turn of events.

To clarify the situation: I work from home. I am a remote intern for a consulting firm, which means that I sit on the couch in my pajamas translating research into more meaningful terms for my bosses, who then translate it into more meaningful terms to their clients. My partner has been off work for a month, awaiting the start of his new job this coming week. During his time off, we have exhausted our free time (and ourselves) by exploring our new home: the touristy sites, the dive bars, and the overwhelmingly diverse population of NYC.

In order for us to have the time to do these things, though, there has been a severely uneven distribution of labor. He cooks, he cleans, and he runs our errands. All the while, I type away at my laptop, lost in the world of data analysis and theoretical modeling. It’s the most efficient way to do things: we both work, we both play. We both have it all.

The problem I see approaching us, however, is the beginning of his job this week. He will be working long hours with a grueling commute, whereas I will be working long hours primarily from home and the café across the street. I want to reiterate: We will both be working. So my question is, will we both make breakfast? Will we both wash the dishes?

This is where telework is potentially dangerous for relationships. Historically, the distribution of labor in the household has been much clearer: there is housework to do, and bacon to bring home. Each partner chooses a task and both are accomplished. However, as more and more couples are choosing to have a dual-income household, the boundaries between tasks become fuzzier. Add in the complicated phenomenon of being a “telecommuter”, and you have yourself a pretty confusing situation.

As a telecommuter, your home is your office. As a 1950s-style housewife, your office is your home. Do you see how this could lead to confusion surrounding whose job it is to do the housework around here? Typically the housework is done by the partner who spends more time in the house, thus is more available to do these tasks. However, this rule can’t apply for telecommuters—the time we spend in the house is already spoken for.

I’m not sure I have a resolute answer for how work should be divided in a dual-income partnership, especially with the added complication of telecommuting. But I do know that gender roles are changing, and that these issues will come to the forefront as women slowly earn more than 77 cents to the male dollar, and telecommuting becomes more popular for both men and women alike.

In the meantime? My BA in Psychology (as well as a certain amount of trial-and-error experience) qualifies me to advise the following:

  • Discuss your expectations. Splitting things down the middle is probably impractical, but an open conversation should allow you to come to a more equal arrangement. Your partner might not realize how much weight you have been carrying while he/she is at work; simply listing all the chores that need to be done in a given week might give them insight into how they can contribute.

  • State the obvious. Although it seems obvious to you and me, your partner might not understand the terms of your work-from-home situation. Try to patiently spell it out by comparing it to their work experience: although working from home does free you from a long commute, being “on the clock” means the same as what it would in a traditional office. Just like he/she wouldn’t interrupt their busy workday to go grocery shopping, you can’t be expected to drop your work to fold a load of laundry.

  • Be patient. Any change in a relationship dynamic takes time. Although you might not be completely satisfied in the beginning, know that any progress is still progress. As you and your partner transition to a more equal distribution of work, be sure to tell him/her how much you appreciate their efforts.

Questions for readers: How do you divide the housework in your family? How does telecommuting affect the way you accomplish household tasks?

Telecommuting: How Much is Too Much?

As telecommuting experts, we know that telecommuting is both flexible and productive. However, as telecommuters, we know that it can also be a bit isolating.

For many telecommuters, the first half of the work week goes swimmingly. You feel focused, determined, and ready to work. But as the week progresses, you start to miss water-cooler gossip and office lunches. Sure, the lack of commute is nice, but the cat is only so much company after a certain point.

If you’re not careful, the “deluxe work-from-home set-up” that you brag about to friends and family can become a burden that makes you feel disconnected from your organization and dissatisfied with your work.

So what is the optimal amount of telework?

Is there some magical ratio of office-to-home work?

Fortunately, recent research by Virick and colleagues (2010) suggests that there seems to be a “happy medium” for teleworkers. Specifically, employees who spend 45-60% of their work week telecommuting report higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment than do employees who telecommute more or less often. These employees in the mid-range are also less likely to turnover than are other employees.

For those who are more statistically inclined (or just like to see pretty-yet-informative graphs), consider the upside-down “U” curve below:

As the graph shows, increasing the amount of time you work from home is only beneficial to a certain point. Initially, the flexibility and productivity you experience makes you happy with your job and your company. But once you start using your home as your primary office, you start to miss out on some of the important social benefits of the traditional office space. When you lose the social connection with your colleagues, you’re more likely to become dissatisfied with your job and less committed to your company.

Are you dissatisfied with where you fall on this “U” curve? Talk to your manager about changing your schedule so that you can come into the office once or twice a week. If that isn’t an option, consider meeting with co-workers at a coffee shop or restaurant to discuss your current project.

Questions for readers: Where do you fall on the curve? What is YOUR optimal amount of telecommuting?

 

 

 

 

Source:Virick, M., DaSilva, N., & Arrington, K. (2010). Moderators of the curvilinear relation between extent of telecommuting and job and life satisfaction: The role of performance outcome orientation and worker type. Human Relations, 63(1), 137-154. doi:10.1177/0018726709349198

Telecommuting? It's all about Control.

Whether you’re bookmarking an article to make an after-school snack, interrupting a teleconference to soothe a crying baby, or simply reiterating to your partner that you are on the clock and thus unavailable, working at home introduces distractions that aren’t found in a traditional office space.

So how can you balance work with family, and still maintain some semblance of sanity?

Recent research on telecommuting (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2009) has pointed to two important factors to consider when creating a positive telecommuting experience.

  1. You must perceive control over how, when, and where you work
  2. You should set clear boundaries between work and home roles

Control

As an employee, do what you can to establish your own control over your work. If you find yourself constantly changing your schedule to align with a co-worker’s, try to be more assertive in setting meeting times. Talk to your manager about having more autonomy in your job. This could mean setting your own deadlines or creating your own list of weekly goals. The more control you feel, the better you’ll perform—both at work and at home.

As a manager of a telecommuting workforce, it is important to grant your employees individual autonomy in deciding how they do their work. If they have certain hours that they prefer, or they want the option of working in multiple locations, it is important that you support their decisions. The more control employees feel over the way that they work, the less work-family conflict they will experience. Thus, they will be less likely to turnover or move on to a new career.

However, there is a delicate balance between allowing employees autonomy and ensuring a predictable flow of communication. For instance, it is difficult to coordinate “catch-ups” with employees who have highly irregular schedules. Thus, depending on how often you feel that you need to meet with your employee, try setting a regular (e.g., weekly, monthly) meeting that is inflexible. This will ensure that contact is still readily available, even if your employee is working at times or locations that don’t align with your own.

Setting Boundaries

It is also important to be deliberate in separating your work and family responsibilities. Individuals who integrate their work and family roles (e.g., using one “catch-all” email account for work and home) are more likely to experience work-family conflict. In contrast, individuals who make clear boundaries between their work and family roles experience a greater sense of well-being and balance.

Having trouble separating your responsibilities? Try creating a space in your home that is “off-limits” to family members while you are working. This could mean closing the door to your workspace, or posting a sign that says “Dad is not available until 4pm”.

Just as you communicate to your family when you’re working, you should also communicate to your co-workers when you are enjoying family time. Grant your co-workers access to your weekly schedule so that they know when you are available to answer phone calls and emails. Set a precedent of not answering communications when you are “off-duty” unless it is time-sensitive or a high priority. Setting these clear boundaries ensures that others respect how you manage your responsibilities, which will decrease your work-family conflict and increase your well-being.

Source:  Kossek, E. E., Lautsch, B. A., & Eaton, S. C. (2009). “Good teleworking”: Under what conditions does teleworking enhance employees’ well-being?. Technology and Psychological Well–Being. Cambridge, MA Cambridge University Press.

Virtual Teams

Today’s organizations rely on virtual teams to deliver critical work product.  Technology makes it possible to share resources across multiple teams and for talented people to join teams regardless of geography.

Applying yesterday’s models of teamwork to this new, and complicated, environment often leads to frustration, disappointment, and reduced productivity.

Successful virtual teams have learned how to overcome the barriers of time, culture, and geography.  They know how to transform apparent virtual limitations into opportunities for enriched collaboration.

We believe that all virtual teams can learn how to collaborate successfully by developing skills, agreements, communication plans, and trust early in their development.  Likewise, we believe it’s never too late to learn how to work together successfully, even if the team has been operational for some time.

Utilizing our proprietary assessments, we have been helping virtual teams to pinpoint their strengths and challenges since 1998.  With this unique understanding, we tailor our proven methodology and training to meet each virtual team’s specific needs.

We are optimistic about the future of virtual teams and believe that, with the right training, people and technology will come together to achieve unimaginable things.

How much of your day is spent working virtually?

Are You Addicted to Email?

According to Radicati, “The average corporate worker spends a quarter of his/her work day on various email-related tasks. In comparison, the time spent in personal meetings accounts for about 14% of the typical day at the office, and phone conversations occupy only 9% of the typical workday.

In addition to this whopping 25% of your daily work effort, is the time it takes to shift gears in and out of your work flow to accommodate the incessant interruptions.

Recent research shows that having your smartphone at hand dramatically increases the interruptions as “checking habits” become, well, habitual and obsessive.

Email is a critical component in professional communications, yet it is a significant detractor to productivity.

That 25% of each day rapidly builds up into over 1 full work day each week.  What would YOU do with one extra day each week?  What about an extra day from each person on your team or throughout your organization?

Think about it.

Each week.

Each employee.

More than one full day on email.

They don’t like it any more than you do.

We all recognize the problem, but how, exactly, to address it?  Here’s one way:

Try setting aside “email free” time periods.  Everyone says things like this, it’s like the age-old joke of new mother’s napping when their babies sleep.  Just doesn’t happen.

But give it a try.  You will be amazed at how much more you get done.  No one is recommending that you turn off email for  day or anything drastic like that.  Just 90 minutes.

Take your first 90 minutes of the day and close your email, tuck away your smartphone and work.  If you’re in an office, put out a “do not disturb” notice or whatever you need to do to block off that time, and time yourself.  At the end of 90 minutes, take a break.  Get a healthy snack, go for a short walk.

Ideally, create a second 90-minute interruption-free block of time each day.  But I know you’re busy and the world will come to a crashing halt if you don’t check your email more often, so start with just one.

How often do you check your email?  Do you think the interruptions are significant?

Never Ignore the Basics

Despite years of helping organizations bridge the gap between people, we recently hit our own great divide.

It began innocently enough — as all misadventures do — in a simple quest to establish a virtual collaborative workspace for our own group.

It has been our great fortune to be geographically near each other, so that face to face meetings were possible and frequent.

Business is good, the partners are busy, and the frequency of these meetings has declined, even though we have more and more projects underway that require a collaborative effort.  I’ve contemplated installing “find my iPhone” on their mobiles just to  keep track of which part of the world they are in on any given day (Shh!).

But that’s okay, because, after all, we are the experts on working virtually.

And we do work well together.  Our roles are mostly independent, we each do our own thing, and come together as needed to keep the whole business rolling.  This limited need from each other allows us each to move forward with our tasks regardless of where the other people are and what they are doing.

It was a shock to embark on the task of choosing a collaborative workspace only to realize how very different our expectations were.  I (so very wrongly) assumed that my priorities and tolerances were shared by all, and that assumption led us down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Taking a step back to view ourselves through our own Distance Lens, we identified several gaps to bridge — we span 3 generations, 3 distinct cultural backgrounds, both genders, and a startling variety of technological gadgets we prefer to use at any given moment, not to mention an array of learning styles and tolerances for adopting new technologies.

Now that we’ve had the conversation around each person’s expectations, we are in a position to be as successful in this adventure as we are in so many others.

I’ll keep you posted, and in the meantime — remember that, no matter how small the project, and even if you are your own customer, don’t forget the basics!

What’s your favorite virtual collaborative workspace?  Why?

Managing Expectations

Last week, we had the great pleasure of attending PMI Mass Bay Chapter’s 2013 Professional Development Day.

While this conference was specifically for Product Managers, the keynote — It’s all about ME – Managing Expectations — is applicable in all walks of life.

Projects fail and discord occurs when someone’s expectations are not met. Yours, your team, your larger organization, or your customer.

The challenge becomes — were those expectations known?

When you go to a restaurant and order a steak, you have the expectation that the steak will be cooked to your specifications, let’s say medium-rare. This is your expectation. To the waiter this is a requirement. To the chef this is a requirement. But there is another, unspoken expectation — a process expectation — that you will get your steak within a reasonable amount of time, not tomorrow or even two hours from placing the order.

This example has the stated expectation / requirement of how the steak is cooked AND the unstated expectation that it be done in a reasonable amount of time.

Both expectations are end-products. Both are “project” requirements. A deficiency in either one is going to lead to frustration and disappointment.

Consider your own current project. What are the stated requirements? What are the unstated requirements? If you are not managing these expectations, you are reacting and running your team on a wing and a prayer.

Ask yourself — what are the issues that are currently driving you nuts? More than likely, there are several unspoken expectations that are not being met. They seem obvious to you, but clearly not to others. Chances are, other people have different unspoken expectations that you aren’t meeting and are driving them nuts over, too.

Happens all the time. But it doesn’t have to, or, at least, we can strive to make it less.

How? Think about it. Talk about it. Discuss with your team and develop a plan for the HOW aspect of working together. Having these “process” discussions early on in the project can save you valuable time and frustration as the project moves forward.

If there is something YOU truly need from someone, it is YOUR responsibility to speak up. If there are things that your team needs from you, encourage them to bring it up with you.

What drives you nuts at work?  In what ways do you think you drive other people nuts? ( :

Professional Development

Most everyone would agree that continuing to learn and grow is important for all people in all organizations, regardless of industry.

Thankfully, many organizations — large and small — not only agree, but set aside time for employees to attend available training opportunities.

Such an opportunity exists for people in our area as Professional Management Inc, Mass Bay Chapter, New England’s #1 advocate for project management leadership, is holding its fifth Professional Development Day tomorrow and Saturday, April 26 and 27.

The focus of this year’s professional development is:

The Changing Landscape of Project Management.

This year’s keynote speaker is Ernie Baker — It’s All about ME! — Explore your role as “Expectation Manager” by learning a new approach to getting commitment, and developing accountability for project deliverables.

This session will talk about the problems with managing expectations and review the project management tools that you have at your disposal that make this job easier. We will also cover some techniques and recommendations for applying these tools. Samples of project management motivational posters will be used to illustrate some of these concepts.

In the leadership track, our own Stefanie Heiter is presenting, Electronic Body Language — the ability to accurately interpret behaviors using technological communications is becoming an essential skill for those working in virtual teams.  The opportunities for misinterpretation are immense; the consequences can spell disaster for a project.

Participants in this session will highlight different individual interpretations and assumptions; review types of distance in the virtual arena; and gain strategies for maintaining their (true) beneficial electronic persona.

The mission of the PMI Mass Bay Chapter is to promote the principles and practices of Project Management within the Greater Boston Area.  We are excited to be part of fulfilling this goal.  Here’s the complete agenda.

Follow us on Twitter as we explore and tweet during this exciting conference:

Bridging Distance
Stefanie Heiter
Mary Lou Jurgens
Heidi Jakoby