Monday Jun 23, 2008

Working from Home (or anywhere)

I've been thinking about giving up my office and engaging Sun's work from home program. I've always supported the notion of working from home -- or wherever you need to work from given the circumstances of your projects and your geography. Place shouldn't matter. Results should matter. Being tied to an office as the only place of work is outdated at best. But I also value the concept of everyone getting together in the same space at times because I believe that face-to-face contact is essential to getting quality work done over the long term. Local teams can get together weekly in the office for meetings and white board sessions, and distributed teams can get together quarterly or bi-annually. And in between team meetings, various members can be interacting at conferences or user groups. In other words, there needs to be a balance of face-to-face and digital-phone relationships. Everyone has a different opinion about what the mix should be, but pretty much everyone who values innovation believes that a variety of work experiences is necessary and the key to that is flexibility.

But many times working from home doesn't fit for some people. They miss the office interactions that proximity enables. And that's real. I have certainly experienced that there is great benefit to being close to others and close the action if an organization is centralized. The "bump-into" factor can be a significant cultural bit on some teams, and that puts remote employees at a tremendous disadvantage. However, I have an interesting twist to this. I live in Japan. Just outside Tokyo. And I go to the office every day, yet 99% of my activities are global. I actually do very little work in Japan with the Sun Japanese team for the Japanese market on the Japanese time zone. The cultural and language barriers are gigantic for a solo American to focus on the Japanese market, and also I'm the only Westerner as far as the eye can see around here at Sun. As a result, I'm actually working more and more on a US schedule so I can connect to my core team in California. So, that means I work most nights and early mornings to get the guys in the US and Europe on the phone live. I find that real time communications -- phone and email -- is the most effective way to compensate for the distance and time problem I live with every day. When you are responding to things 10 hours later than everyone else it's just too late. Over time, the conversation simply moves on without you and you are slowly forgotten. I can give many examples of this. It's real. To compensate, you over work so you are on the same time zones as whoever you are working with 10,000 miles away. That's not a good long term strategy because over time you simply die.

So, real time interaction with a distributed team is absolutely critical if you have no local team that forms the base of your job. That's the key. Now, most Asia Pacific Sun employees eventually cross over and interact with the US and/or Europe at odd times of the day for meetings and such, but for me working at odd hours is quite literally my entire job. And it's exhausting. It does wonders for the family life, too. Not to mention the early death part. So, that's why I'm thinking about doing the work-from-home program. The team I work for is spread out in six cities on three continents. For me, I come to the office to get in to Tokyo, but it's not really necessary, and at this point I'd argue it's wasteful. At the very least I can save the commute time (45 mins each way standing on painfully packed trains). I can walk my daughter to kindergarten and back 10x during that commute time to get to an office where I have no real day-to-day interaction with anyone there. Or I can sleep, too. An extra hour and a half of sleep would come in handy -- especially on my 22 hour days. Perhaps by working from home I can get more of my main tasks done, and then when there are occasional opportunities for Japan-specific projects I can take better advantage of them. We'll see. I'm just thinking about it. Two things are clear, though: I have little time or patience for inefficiency anymore, and no one in my position does what I do. They are all global employees working from home.

I'm off to Prague tomorrow ...

Saturday Sep 15, 2007

Telework

The quiet revolution: telecommuting: "Telecommuting will become a mainstay in Corporate America but that doesn't mean everyone will be working at home all the time, a prediction made by many workforce observers just a decade ago. The U.S. worker will be a mélange of office inhabitant and work-anywhere warrior." -- MSNBC

It seems that the US is far ahead of the rest of the world in this issue. It's great to see. The article also talks about Sun's Open Work program.

Tuesday Sep 04, 2007

Trust

At I.B.M., a Vacation Anytime, or Maybe None: "For the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time." -- New York Times

There are other companies cited in the article doing interesting things in HR as well. Sun in the U.S. does a very good job on this issue, too. It all comes down to trust and treating people like adults. But the article also cites the influence of "peer pressure" at work. Pressure -- both good and bad -- among peers probably influences your productivity as much as any corporate policy directed down from the top. So we can't always blame the company if we are treating each other like children. Fortunately, there are usually more than enough really excellent role models to hang out with so the anti-bodies aren't so bad.

Sunday Jul 08, 2007

Employee Performance

The Work Force of One: "The growing recognition that business results are largely attributable to employee performance is leading many executives to seek creative ways of significantly improving that performance." -- Susan Cantrell, Wall Street Journal.

This is so true. And refreshing to hear, too. The article outlines some ways that companies are re-thinking how they manage human talent. Hint: flexibility and customization provide the basis of the most effective techniques.

Friday Feb 16, 2007

Always On

Seems people with all these mobile devices are working longer and longer -- Survey: Blackberry owners chained to work. Well, if that makes them happy, more power to them. Not me, though. I already work too many hours and need to cut back. At times, I can do this pretty well, but occasionally I fall back into my pattern. I'm still interested in working more efficiently and with a higher degree of focus than I am in doing more things in even more hours. I actually want to do less. Much less. Longer and harder and "always on" have only negative connotations to me at this point. Now, having full mobility while you are working a project is beneficial in many ways, but if that means you never stop working then that's a problem.

From the article: "Contrary to shiny happy ads suggesting we do more in less time, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that we simply do more, more of the time," analysts Kaan Yigit and David Ackerman said.

That's been my experience, too.

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