Five Things I’ve Learned While Telecommuting

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a job that has allowed me to telecommute for the past two years. It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that I was lucky enough to have had the following conversation with my boss:

ME: “Um, boss, what would the chances be that I could move 500 miles away and keep my job … you know – telecommute?”

BOSS: ~thoughtful look for a moment~ “I don’t see why not”

ME: “COOL! Thanks. Do we need anyone else’s approval?”

BOSS: “I’ll double check with ~general manager~. but he shouldn’t have a problem” … next day … “You’re good to go”

Two two years later, I do not regret it for a moment… and neither has my boss.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been work – a lot of work. What surprised me most was how much work I had to do on myself. You see, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I’m the type of gal who gets a great deal of my sense of personal satisfaction from feeling that I do a damn good job at what I do. This caused me to have to do a bit of mental adjustment and self-monitoring to avoid over-stressing… to strike a proper balance between work and life.

Anyone who works in a field where it is possible for folks to work remotely has probably had ~that co-worker~ the one who says they’re “Working from home” when they’re really “Working” (intentional use of quotes there) from home…. or to put it bluntly – fucking off.

Well, when you’re full-time telecommuting… even when you’re actually working your arse off, there will always be those who assume you’re not actually working. Either because they’re jealous, or because they would just use it as an excuse to goof off on the company’s dime.

So long as those with that attitude are not your boss and are not in your immediate chain of command, you’re generally ok … but surprisingly, there’s one person who you would never expect to feel that way about you … and that’s you.

Yep, because:

Telecommuting Makes You Feel That You Need to Constantly Prove Yourself

I spent the first 6 months of my telecommuting job never taking a lunch break, and never, ever actually logging off work “at quittin’ time” I would regularly end up “staying late” and checking up on work stuff at all hours because I felt I had to prove how much I was working.

I’ve always done that to some extent as it’s my nature as a Type-A personality – I worry, but I kind of went into hyper-self-critical mode thinking I wasn’t working hard enough that everyone was going to think I was screwing around.

It took my boss pretty much ordering me to take care of myself – to take lunch breaks and relax, to trust that she would tell me if she had an issue with me before I finally got the message and reached a good place in my head so that I stopped burning myself out.

That being said,

Staying “Part of the Team” Takes Active Effort

In a regular office environment, just showing up at the office every day – grabbing your coffee, taking a bathroom break – others see you (note to self: proximity of “bathroom break” and “others see you” may not be the best mental image); they know you’re there.

Also, it’s amazing how much input/feedback you get from simply passively hearing the office chatter and from seeing who is talking to whom or who has been in the bosses office with the door closed for the last 30 minutes.

That office gossip and the environment is full of useful information that we make use of… but being “out of sight” can mean “out of mind”… and if you’re not careful to actively participate, there’s a danger of being left out.

My coping mechanism for this was to use Google Hangouts to keep an active conference with my boss and the two other engineers on my team (another of whom was also a telecommuter) we basically made our own little virtual office, and that really made a huge difference. Even with the sound off, my co-workers and I could see when the others were on a phone call or were away from the desk – not in a big-brother kind of way, but in a way that mimics a traditional office.

When all you have is Email and IM, it’s hard to get a feel for someone’s presence and current state… if you IM them or email and they don’t respond right away – are they ignoring you? or are they on a call ? or are they on lunch? In a meeting? Having a chat with someone who is stopped by to ask them a question? abducted by aliens? Who knows?

With that video conference, my co-workers could see me talking on the phone, and I could see them having a conversation with one of the sales reps who stopped by to ask them a question – just kind of getting that visual feedback we take for granted when we are in the same office.

However, it goes beyond that – it means always making sure to keep an eye / ear out for an IM or email coming in and trying to give quick feedback (to the others in the office who may not be in the hangout) so that you don’t leave anyone sitting around waiting for you to get back to them.

There are some really big benefits to working remotely – for you and for your co-workers. one of the most surprising was

Telecommuting Reduces Sick Days

This happens both because you can “tough it out” without worrying about spreading the ick around (which means ~they~ don’t get sick… continuing the chain) and it also means that you are likely to miss out on the latest plague that everyone else who IS in the office trying to tough it out keeps passing around.

Your average office is a veritable Petri dish… because far too many folks are either afraid of getting yelled at or they’re saving their sick days for when it’s important (Monday morning hangovers) or for taking their sick kid to the doctor (after politely bringing the ick into the office)

Working remotely, you get to break that cycle and it’s amazing – Other than an occasional migraine attack, I’ve not needed any sick days… EXCEPT FOR THAT WEEK I ENDED UP IN THE HOSPITAL WITH A COLLAPSED LUNG AND PNEUMONIA BECAUSE I GOT THE OFFICE PLAGUE FROM A QUARTERLY TRIP INTO THE OFFICE yeah that was fun. I can legit say that my job “tried to kill me” that one time.

Still, that week of my life (Actually, I pretty much lost a month to that plague, but only missed about a week of work), I have gotten back more time because…

No Commute Means You Get WEEKS of Your Life Back

Personally, the longest commute I ever had was a 45 minute drive each way (no traffic) that would regularly turn into a 1.5 hour drive due to traffic… and the shortest commute (aside from my current Telecommute) was about 15 minutes each way which never had any traffic… On average, over my career, I’d guess that I spent about 7 hours a week commuting. That’s ~350 hours or 8.75 work weeks a year. That’s twice as much as my vacation accruals.

Okay, so I do drive 7 hours each way to visit the office once a quarter but that’s still 1/15 of the time I spend telecommuting – and since it’s a business trip, I get paid mileage and per-diems on my travel days – hell, I ~could~ fly, but I am the “fly only if it’s more than 8 hours driving” type – I kind of ~like~ road trips where I’m not stuck losing my mind in bumper to bumper traffic…

Oh yeah and that’s one down side:

You Lose Tolerance for Even Minor Traffic

Nobody really likes being stuck in traffic… well, I’m sure Rule 34 even applies to that , but ewww… but most normal people will understand that traffic sucks.

However, one of the things I though would happen when I started telecommuting was that I’d be less annoyed on those occasions when I did encounter it simply for the fact that “at least I don’t deal with this every day”…

NOPE.

It’s turned out to be exactly the opposite. I’ve gotten very very used to not dealing with traffic every day – you might even go so far as to say “spoiled’ because OMG! WHY IS SHE DRIVING SO SLOW!!!!

Yep I’m even less tolerant. I guess I should have seen it coming – I mean I’ve been a user of ad blocking browser add-ons for ages… so when I sit down at someone else’s PC (like doing tech support for my partner or my mom) ALL I SEE ARE THOSE GORRAM ADS! because I’m so used to NOT seeing them that I have lost the ability to mentally block them out.

Well, traffic is just like that to me – any little bit of it gets to me because I’m completely spoiled by not having to deal with it every frigging day.

On the whole, I think I’ve managed to find balance. I have been able prove my worth and to maintain the self-discipline needed to make telecommuting effective for both me and my employer. However, I never lose sight of just how damn lucky I am to have a boss as open to telecommuting as mine has been.

Here’s hoping my luck will continue.

The Digital Sorceress

Server Migration Fun

I’ve been with my current web hosting company for quite a few years… I can’t recall precisely how many, but it’s safe to say just short of a decade.

Over the years, they’ve been a great hosting company, and they’ve worked with me through a couple different upgrades as my hosting needs increased.

However, over the last year or so, I’ve been working toward the goal of removing myself from being a web hosting provider for others as I just haven’t had the time to keep up with the demands of PCI security (For one of my customers who hosted her own storefront and shopping cart/checkout system which I helped design), and just general business of hosting headaches.

So, this weekend is the penultimate pay-off of that slow transition – I’ve officially moved myself and my last hosting customer to new virtual servers and am shutting down my dedicated physical server.

This change allows me to keep all the features and hosting my remaining hosting customer Andi had working just the same, yet significantly cut the monthly cost. (I was paying more per month for my dedicated server hosting than I pay for heating or electricity in my home.. seriously.

I will just say that Netsonic has been a seriously good web hosting provider and that Adam and Bleau in particular have been super helpful and awesome over the years. I look forward to continuing to host with them for a long time – but only being responsible for my own web sites and leaving the support and maintenance to someone else.

PaleMoon, Please do not Disappoint!

I’ve been a long-time FireFox user – the tabbed browsing features and certain vital add-ons like NoScript and FlashBlock make it a good “default web browser” that makes web use fairly safe (almost all web-delivered malware requires JavaScript and/or Flash or other vulnerable plugins… so by not having flash and turning off scripts by default, it’s a lot less risky)

Anyway, several versions back, FireFox completely changed their UI … making it look and work a lot more like Chrome. If I’d have wanted Chrome, I’d have used Chrome dammit!

So, I held back updates on FireFox for a bit until I found PaleMoon (www.palemoon.org) – it’s a “fork” of Mozilla FireFox which keeps the old UI / tabs… but keeps up with security updates.

I’ve been a happy user ever since… until I started noticing a HUGE slowdown on web sites … bad enough that I was double checking my system for malware and badly behaving programs …out of desperation, I tested in Chrome and FireFox and everything was “snappy”

/endRant

So long, Apple, Hello Samsung!

After 6 years with iPhones (a 3GS followed by a 4S) I’ve finally made the switch to an Android device… a Samsung Galaxy s6 to be precise. My switch over is nearly complete, and I thought I’d share a few observations and tips with anyone else making the switch.

For those switching from iPhone … pay attention: the iPhone and iOS are delightfully free of most shovelware/trialware/crapware. OK, yeah, they have that annoying Nike tie-in thing (at least my iPhone 4S did) and there are a few other apps that were pretty ~meh~ but Apple apparently used quite a bit of muscle to keep the cellular providers from loading up your phone with the usual pile of trialware.

On my brand new Galaxy, most of the trialware / crapware was easy to spot and remove. However, there was one glaring exception. The built-in Voicemail app comes with this “Voice to text” feature and other “premium” services enabled and in “free trial mode” for 30 days after which (if you fail to notice it) you’ll be charged an additional $7.99 a month for…

Seriously? I would have just installed it and found a highly rated replacement app and paid for it… except you can’t actually uninstall it because it’s part of the phone. You have to be really careful to go in and disable the Voice to text and text to email features and tell it you want to unsubscribe, then click that you want to opt out of all future free trials and click Yes I really Mean it another couple times.

I just really hate things that give me a free trial after which I will be billed monthly unless I cancel. This form of trialware marketing is NOT the same thing as shareware (software that is free for N days and then stops working or has reduced functionality unless you buy the full version… that is at least honest. It’s the things that are hooked directly to your phone bill/account and are set up to AUTOMATICALLY agree and bill you monthly after your trial.

I think they’re getting a large percentage of their sales from people who just failed to notice rather than from people who used it and really liked the features and consciously decided to buy it.

Just kinda shady in my book.

Some Missing Stuff Isn’t Missing…

I almost missed the built in calendar and calculator apps … the Samsung Galaxy has this two-tier system – there’s an Apps app that shows you ALL the apps on the device, but the main home screen(s) are essentially your chosen pages/layout where you can put your most used apps.

It’s hella convenient for hiding stuff you can’t uninstall but don’t care about, but it also makes it easy to forget to look to see if there’s a built in high-quality fully free version of the app you’re looking for.

… and Some Stuff Really ~is~ Missing

I’m an avid listener to several podcasts, and I was aware of the fact that there’s no “default” Android podcast app (I did my research on the phone and OS so I knew to expect this). I just up and paid for PocketCasts. It’s got really good reviews, and it’s simple and works enough like the iPhone Podcasts app that I’m right at home.

Sounds. I miss the sounds from my iPhone.

Yeah, what a silly thing to miss, but man did I miss them – this is likely my mild Aspberger brain… I just got hardwired to the particular bleedeep, bleedeep of my calendar, and the mild bonng of a new email and the RIIINGGGGGG RIIINGGGG of the classic phone. I really found the default sounds lacking.

However, Android being so open – I could just connect to a PC and drop sound files into the Ringtones and the Alerts and Notifications folders… and I found this article which covered the topic in more detail that I needed.. what I needed was the link to a ZIP file containing all the extracted .ogg files used by the iPhone: [here]. VICTORY!

However, Android being so open – I could just connect to a PC and drop sound files into the Ringtones and the Alerts and Notifications folders… and I found this article which covered the topic in more detail that I needed.. what I needed was the link to a ZIP file containing all the extracted .ogg files used by the iPhone: [here]. VICTORY!

Porting Data To the New Phone

Samsung really nailed this one… They’ve got an app called SmartSwitch and so long as you have a USB-A female to MicroUSB Male adapter and your iPhone charging / syncing cable, it’s quite painless.

You just connect the devices together and run the app and it discovers all that’s on your iPhone, and then asks what things you wanted. Since I already copied my music (MP3s) over to the new phone from my network, and since I already backed up my photos to my main network storage, I got to skip the majority of my iPhone contents, but the big thing was I got my entire text message history, my entire phone call history (important to me) and most importantly – all the contacts that were up to date in my iPhone but that I had not kept synced with my Google account.

The Verdict

This new phone is one nice piece of tech – it’s got a hell of a nice camera and I’m LOVING the Phone calls over WiFi (basically, using VOIP when you’re at home and have a better Wi-Fi connection than cellular signal).

Once I got a handle on all the trialware, found equivalent Android apps to the iPhone apps I used most, got my classic iPhone sounds back, the Samsung Galaxy s6 us really a great device.