A Few Thoughts After Four Years of Working From Home

After four years of (mostly) working from home, I thought I had done it enough to add my thoughts to the pile of home office advice. Rather than playing off and parroting advice we have all been hearing for years, I thought I would simply write down what worked for me and what didn’t, bust a myth or two, and perhaps hear from some other folks’ experiences in the comments.

The Experts Are Right

You need a routine in a home office. No distractions, no housework, no TV. When I started working, I was working. Laundry, dishes et al can wait – with reasonable exceptions (if my son had a game that evening being home meant I could get his uniform in the wash if I had to).

Part of that routine is setting a space; I have an office in the home, which creates a boundary and a place to be away from other noise and distractions in the house. When I started working from home I thought that with a laptop I would work from wherever was comfortable. That proved to be only a part-time indulgence, particularly in the summer when I might work in the backyard on a sunny, quiet day.

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I did not set up a single-purpose office, though, so I often had office -mates (my wife working, or my son doing his homework at the family desktop computer).

One piece of flexibility I took advantage of sometimes was that I could work from coffee shops. If I needed to get out of the house or wanted to be closer to the school for an afternoon carpool, I would spend some time and use the new surroundings to refresh my mind. Camping out at a coffee shop all day? No thanks. I found I risked being obnoxious, even slightly creepy, and totally annoying if I had to take a phone call there. The coffee shop office has its limits, but the change of scenery or simply cutting down some travel time for later errands made it worth it.

Productivity is a Wash

I did have the frequent opportunity to work in an office over the last four years as well. When I did, I noticed that productivity was no better or worse at either location. What was different was how I felt about the productivity gaps. In the solitude of a home office, it meant forcing myself to get up and take a walk rather than stare at a screen and not get anything done. Some days, I felt as if I had spent hours not getting something done when the real time “wasted” was never anywhere near that.

At the “proper” office, it meant getting up and talking to colleagues, possibly disrupting their work flow as well – or having that done to me in turn. Was I more productive in one setting or the other? I don’t think so. The socialization took up as much time, maybe more, than the occasional breaks a solo worker needs.

On/Off Switch (The Experts Are Right II)

One skill I had to acquire early on was being able to change from “work” mode to  “home” mode while not changing buildings – or sometimes, rooms. I found that while in the past I would tote around my laptop at night – because if I was not at the office then it wasn’t work (right?) – working from home I needed a fresh break and would put the computer away completely in the evening. That rule (it wasn’t a rule, really) softened with time, but only after I got comfortable compartmentalizing “work” and “home” mindsets.

Flexibility: Some

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The main gain in flexibility working from home had to do with the lack of a commute. This meant I could start work early some days, or go to the gym later than I otherwise might (no more 5:45 dates with the elliptical machine); on the other end, it guaranteed I could make earlydinners or school pickups and events. I took advantage of this found time frequently, no question about it. Working from an office again will mean readjusting again and managing time and commitments like everyone else does.

I also have a cat. Cats rule as office mates.

I Wore Pants

No, I did not work naked. Or in my pajamas. I did wear shorts on hot summer days, where I tend not to dress like that in the office. Getting dressed is part of the routine mentioned above. While I did have the flexibility to wear whatever I wanted, it is important to inject a little civility into my demeanor.

Mind you, I’m not saying I never broke that rule.

One strange thing I did notice, however, had to do with footwear. A few weeks into my first summer, I noticed my feet were calloused in ways that I had never noticed. It turns out the culprits were sandals; never in my life had I worn sandals, but I had just bought a pair for summer wear.  I started wearing them every day around the house, much more than I might have anticipated (I never said “getting dressed” for telework meant strictly confirming to business casual).

Aside from dressing up, managing remote teams was another adjustment; however, remote teams are now much more common, and I don’t consider my remote communications skills to be unique to the home office, certainly not anymore.

Overall…

…working from home required some adjustments, but for the most part I don’t consider it radically different than working in an office. As I get back to a daily office grind soon, I may have some different feelings; we’ll see.

Those of you who work from home or do both – what is your take?

My Career is Not a “Game”

Well, that tears it. People are writing about “Social HR” now, as if it’s a thing. The problem is, people are attaching that term to dead-ends like “gamification” of the job process,  the “death of the resume” and using Klout scores and other such nonsense to weed out candidates.

The article at Forbes linked above lays out five supposed trends for “Social HR” in 2013. I don’t like doing rebuttal posts, but sometimes easy is easy (disclosure: Monster.com is a client, and they are much, much smarter than me about both careers and recruiting thinking – but here I go anyway):

 

  • Gamification: I get the idea of badges or other signifiers of accomplishments, skills or other merits. However, my career is not a game. One must be careful not to trivialize the hopes and dreams of a job seeker, whether they be in need of work or gainfully employed but listening for other opportunities. Work is the roof over our heads, the food to feed our families, our lives. Not a game. Again, be careful not to trivialize it in the name of fun.
  • Death of the Resume: This one is a little easier. There are plenty of alternatives to the traditional resume. However they augment the traditional resume – they don’t replace it. Try to apply for a job without having to show someone a resume at least at some stage. It can happen, but if you think it will be prevalent in 2013 you have your head firmly up your Silicon Valley. Just like the death of print, the sentiment is logical but the reality is years away – and never total.
  • Klout Scores as a Job Requisite: This is the big cruel joke of the Internet. Klout scores are fun, but mean little beyond the ability to make noise online. Yes, some recruiters have used Klout as a yard stick, though it is hard to see where that has been a good thing. I play around with Klout, I’ll admit. I also like to bowl – that’s actually more fun – but I won’t be putting my 219 game on my resume, even though it probably means as much (and maybe more).Bowling- high score!
  • Personal Branding: I have this blog, am active on Twitter, Facebook and other places, so I guess you could say I play at “Personal Brand.” I say that using an online presence as an advantage and requiring it as a recruiter are two very different things, The former is a proactive career help. The latter, a shortcut to some qualified candidates but certainly no indicator of the only qualified candidates out there. Reward public smarts but don’t treat them as false gods.
  • Recruiters Using Social to Find Passive Job Seekers: This I agree with completely. To be honest, it’s more an extension of the last point about personal branding, highlighting the real advantages. It’s best used as a way to get found, rather than proof of superior credentials.

I’ll admit that I have an automatic reaction to made-up phrases like “Social HR.” Overall, there is too much bending over to make up things to fit the script of new buzzwords. There are elements of careerists’ use of social media that makes sense for recruiters and employers to take greater advantage of them than they have.

Thoughts After a Year of Telecommuting

I composed this post without realizing it was Telework Week. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but what the hell…
I hereby resign my right to ridicule cat-bloggers and Tweeters

After commuting to office and studios for more than 20 years, I joined the ranks of teleworkers a year ago January. I promised myself (and others) that I would blog observations, but I think the year’s wait was worth it to give me a little perspective on what has worked. Here are a few of my observations:

Routines may be great, but breaking them is more important: There is no shortage of articles (like this from Monster.com, a client, and this from Yahoo!- also a client- maybe I should get out more) on telecommuting advice, and they largely include some sort of advice about routines– set up your work boundaries even though you are at home, resist the temptation to do dishes and laundry during office hours (nailed that on day 1, by the way), and more.

What I found more difficult was breaking those routines. It is easy to get locked in work until 8. That’s great short-term, but long-term it’s deadly. I found that actually breaking the routine is very healthy and important. No, I don’t do laundry or dishes (again, nailed that one), however:

  • I occasionally move offices- most telework equipment is portable enough to afford a change of scenery- the dining room, the porch, the backyard. As a bonus, send pictures of your workspace on a nice day to your office-bound colleagues (the isolation of telework can incubate a nice cruel streak).
  • I regularly get out of the house altogether, attending a weekly coffee group when I can, networking with folks for lunch and coffee, and attending events when I can (I can do better at this).

In all, changing scenery is important. In this laptop age, I found moving from my office to a conference room or other location on occasion was just as beneficial.

(Cliche warning) Social media really is the new water cooler: At an office, getting up and gathering at the “water cooler” (whether or not it is actually a water cooler) is not (just) a waste of time, it’s a vital socialization component that helps productivity by fostering workplace relationships, informal brainstorming, and simply clearing minds. At home? I do find yelling at my printer sometimes yields (imaginary) results. However, tools like Facebook, Twitter and Yammer are good for trading information, questions and quips with company and industry colleagues. It’s not face-to-face, but it is social and intellectual stimulation.

Similarly, I would say that many workplaces lack that stimulation– they may have the water cooler, but sometimes it is great to get out (and encourage your workers to get out) and talk with others.

Shutting off is hard. Shutting off completely is easier: When I worked at an office, I found that I would get home and set aside time to get back on the computer to do personal blogging and social networking many evenings. When home IS the office, I find I am either online or off. That’s no judgment either way, but an observation. Before, getting on the computer at home wasn’t work (aside from taking work home like many of us do). Now, being on a computer at home defines “work” even when I am doing personal things. I find myself shutting it down more after hours.

No line is uncrossable, but that’s what it feels like.

Culture is important: I work for Voce Communications, a company that has several senior people telecommuting (not to mention a small office in Florida to go with two in California). It’s important that that culture was in place as I joined, and the company does much to include the remote folks. Other people arrive at telecommuting in different ways, so mileage varies, but it is important that I have the support to be able to do my job and deal with the unique issues telework brings.

Those of you who telecommute, even sometimes, or did so in the past: what has defined telework for you?


Help a PR Pro Out Day – February 19

As someone who just went through a job search and remains grateful for the help offered by an amazing network of friends, colleagues and (not-quite) strangers, I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to join up with “Help a PR Pro Out” (HAPPO) day. Arik Hanson asked me and several others in cities across the U.S. to become “Champions” – experienced PR pros available to help guide PR job-seekers on their way to finding a job.

This is a fantastic idea, born of the same spirit that led Laura Fitton and other friends to put together a “Pink Slip Party” in Boston a year ago, at a time when a number of great PR and marketing pros in Boston were suddenly looking for work.

HAPPO is February 19, and you can expect a number of Tweets, blog posts and other postings form me and the other champions that day.

In the interest of “sharing,” I have cribbed the crucial details from Arik Hanson on the HAPPO site.

“On Friday, February 19, from 11 am – 3 pm EST PR bloggers, agency leaders, and PR professionals from across the country will donate their time and talents to help fellow PR pros connect with employers as part of the first-ever “Help a PR Pro Out” day.

  • Are you a job seeker? Prepare a creative blog post, pitching yourself to prospective employers and share it via Twitter during the event on Feb. 19 using the hashtag #HAPPO. The HAPPO “market champions” (see below) will help by retweeting and connecting you with potential employers in your specific market (or markets you’re willing to relocated to).
  • Are you an employer looking for talent? Follow the hashtag #HAPPO on Friday, Feb. 19 and share your openings. Market champions will do their best to connect you with talent they think matches your specific needs.
  • Are you a PR blogger/Twitter addict? Yes? Then share the #HAPPO tweets with your personal networks and lend your support to those in need. Help your market champion identify job seekers and pair them with potential employers. This is your chance to make a difference!

Of course, we realize not everyone looking for a job can do so publicly online. So, for those candidates who wish to be more discrete about their job search, please contact one of the local HAPPO champions who can help facilitate the appropriate introductions through the Twitter back channel or via good old-fashioned email.

I realize we don’t have all the major markets covered in the list below, but please realize this is a volunteer event. We’re all donating our time and efforts. And we all want to help. But, we also wanted to put some kind of definition around this event. If you’re in one of the markets we didn’t cover below, please don’t let that stop you. Reach out to myself, Valerie Simon (my partner in crime) or any one of the market champions to see how you can help. This certainly isn’t meant to be exclusive.

Below is a list of HAPPO champions. Over the next two weeks leading up to Feb. 19, these folks will be posting and tweeting about the event. Make sure to connect with them if you’re a job seeker or an employer looking for PR talent. That will help us all connect the dots on Feb. 19.

There are also a number of other folks who will be supporting the event in different ways, including Sarah Evans, Dave Fleet, Allan Schoenberg, David Mullen, Shonali Burke, Rachel Kay and a few others.”

Quite an undertaking, and I am glad to be a part. Stay tuned, and get ready.

Dissecting the Personal Network

Pg 118 Blood VesselsI have blogged already of the importance of having a network in place even when you are not actively seeking work. Another thought that has crossed my mind frequently is the actual makeup of a network. Every person has his or her role, no matter how many people make up the network. I actually see them as part of a body, representing the different, um, bodily functions (feel free to wordsmith that in comments). Truly, you must represent these functions yourself at the same time your network also pulls through for you. Here are my impressions:

Head (Brains)

Your Network: The people you know are smart, otherwise why would you trust them? They have advice, know where to lead you, help you prepare for interviews and negotiations, and help you figure out what you really want. Brains are not only delicious (blame late-night blogging for random zombie reference), they are the starting point for your job network- and literally, the nerve center

You: Do your research, and be aware of your surroundings. Think before you act- or email, as everything you do or say can have an effect on your job search process.

Eyes and Ears

Your Network: Where do you get leads but from your contacts? Your networks sees and hears things you can’t and brings them to you.

You: Always be looking for info and opportunities. It should be part of your daily ritual to deal with these.

Shoulders

Your Network: Never underestimate the power of friends in your network to hold you up, evaporate your doubt, and be your cheerleaders. This puts the key word “support” in “support network.”

You: If you can’t hold yourself up, all the encouragement in the world from your peers won’t help.

Heart

Your Network: You have surrounded yourself with peers who share your ethical beliefs, have empathy, and are able to help you see the balance between happiness and success. Right?

You: This is where I choose to say: make sure you are giving back- always, even when you are in a time of need. There is always something to give.

Hands

Your Network: People will do things for you. They will write recommendations on LinkedIn and elsewhere, and serve as references. They will help you do and get the things you need.

You: Develop your routines and stick to them (not just in job search, but in any daily routine). Use your hands to make sure the work of your heart (servicing your network) gets done.

Gall Bladder

Your Network and You: A certain amount of bile is healthy, as is a good sense of humor. It helps you bounce back and keep the other parts in working order. Don’t let anyone tell you the gall bladder is a “non-vital” organ.

How about your network? Have I missed any parts?

*As ever, the phrase “you know who you are” applies to members of my network who fit these descriptions

Careers and Inbound Marketing

Social Media Camp 2009- Social Media for the Job Search

Photo Credit: deanmeyersnet on Flickr

Inbound marketing? What the heck does that have to do with the job market?

Well, first a quick definition of inbound marketing from the Hubspot blog, in a post by Rick Burnes:

Inbound Marketers flip outbound marketing on its head.

Instead of interrupting people with television ads, they create videos that potential customers want to see. Instead of buying display ads in print publications, they create their own blog that people subscribe to and look forward to reading. Instead of cold calling, they create useful content and tools so that people call them looking for more information.

This definition concentrates on content creation, but the real meat is the phrase “people call them.”

Again, what does this have to do with careers? It’s this: when was the last time you had to splat your resume all over the place looking for a position? What did these people know about you? Did you have any presence in the market before making these “cold calls” (and how many times has the job interview process been referred to as “sales?” Yuck). Wouldn’t it be great if people called you?

This has been my experience so far. It’s not some sort of snooty “people know me, they call me” thing, but more that the hard work many people put into spraying their resumes, I put in over the last several years in building up a network, and a body of content that, somehow, has earned me some respect and goodwill- and resulted in people seeking me out. It’s not that I am not doing any “outbound” work as well, but I am confident that this “inbound marketing” version of the career process leaves me with, to put it in marketing terms, higher quality, pre-qualified leads.

All wheat, no chaff. It has certainly made things easier this time around. And if I have talked to you about a job and you’re reading this; yes, I’m talking about you.

A Personal Perspective on Making Career Networking Work

Photo Credit: PlusDelta on Flickr

As you may have gathered from my recent post, I am making a career transition- ok, I’m looking for a job, sound better? The process of the search has changed a lot since 2001/2002, the last time I left one job without immediately having another to go to. I don’t necessarily think these differences are due to social media, but more to my own maturity in my approach to my professional relationships.

Of course, social media helps. A lot.

Here are some thoughts on the current state of career networking and job search- through my eyes.

Every job I have ever had, I got through someone I know

I know, people sing the praises of Monster.com or the job board of the moment (actually, maybe they don’t- do they?), but I always found those boards to be resume treadmills of the worst kind; lots of broadcasting and cattle calls. Before I knew I needed a network, I had one, and it worked for me. It was a great lesson, learned more easily than I deserved. How do you start a network, anyway? College student? How about that advisor, interest groups, frats or internships? Lots of people to know and keep up with there.

Fun fact: I got my first job at the end of college because I was napping in my advisor’s office. Students, I recommend trying this method out.

All that stuff about cultivating your network before you need it? Gospel. Do it.

This is where social media forced me to be a lot better at networking than I naturally was. Nearly ten years ago, I discovered I had an accidental network after nearly thirty of us were laid off from the agency I worked for (rhymes with “Forts”). I got lucky- rather than the network of co-workers that only gets you so far, this same network became far-flung against its will, but I still got two jobs out of it.

Since diving into online social networking, that network has grown exponentially, geographically, and in influence. Part of that, of course, is that my work has dovetailed with social media, and some of the people I got to know became rather well-known within the social media world. Lucky me.

The real lesson is- get out there. Network online, Tweet, Facebook, blog- and definitely do a lot of real-world networking, any events you can get to. As my good friend Tim Allik has dubbed it; “meating.” Force yourself to do it if you have to.

Fun fact: I always considered myself shy. Taking on Radio as a major in college (why the heck did I do that, anyway?) forced me out of my shell. Perhaps I just kept going from there. I still don’t consider myself an extrovert, but I am not afraid to communicate, because I know how it helps.

It’s ok to ask for stuff, but oh the things you get if you spend a little time giving.

I don’t think of myself as someone who gives too much. There’s always someone I didn’t help, someone that perhaps I was rude to. But I try to be generous; answer questions here, make introductions there, listen to someone who needs it. What I’m getting at here is that the old saw about gathering your network before you need it works better if you are the helpful one when you don’t need help. Those people helping you come from somewhere, don’t they?

The other thing I have learned over the last several weeks (and more) is that you really learn who your friends are when you need them. Not the “little f” friends that you gather by the dozens or hundreds on Twitter and Facebook, but those truly generous souls that come through for you. I also mean not merely people who pass on job leads or contacts (remarkably, those folks have been legion and I’m not trying to devalue that here), but the smaller circle who become your real source of strength and support.  These are the “Big F” Friends, many of whom you may not know you have right now.

Fun Fact: I said I now know who these “Big F” Friends are. I’m not naming names, because I think I know who they are too.