Archive for June, 2006

Laptop Stolen from VA Teleworker Recovered

The head of the VA reported that the stolen laptop with veterans’ personal information on it had been recovered.

If, as it appears, the data has not been compromised then this is good news for vets. However, I don’t see how it lets the VA off the hook for their shoddy data security practices.

They don’t need to forbid teleworking, they simply need to implement policies and practices to protect data. Some of these practices will include technology, some will include behavioral changes. All will include an awareness of security implications on the part of all who access or transport data.

Wow! Buffett Gives $37 Billion to Charity!

Yeah. That’s billion with a “B”.

Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the world, announced that he is giving about $30 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (You know, the charitable foundation created by the richest man in the world.) Buffett is also giving about $7 billion to the charitable foundations of his wife and kids.

For those counting along at home, this leaves about $7 billion for those incidental expenses required as Warren winds his way through his senior years.

Wow!

I don’t really know what else to say. I just hope to do the same thing some day. I had better get started.

An Old Joke

There once was a woman who was very good. She was completely selfless. She volunteered. She went to church every day. She was a fine upstanding member of the community.

Even though she was so good, she was very poor. She always thought that if she had more money she could do more good. So each night she prayed to God and asked that He let her win the lottery so she wouldn’t have to worry about money and could concentrate on doing more good.

She spent her entire life living a saintly existence and continued to pray to God to win the lottery.

She lived well into her nineties and finally died never having won the lottery.

Naturally, she was ushered right into heaven and found herself face to face with God.

“Welcome to Heaven!” His great voice boomed, “You were so good on earth, you really deserve to be here. Make yourself at home.”

“I am very happy to be here!” she replied and then meekly added, “But I have one question. When I was alive on earth, I did everything I could to be good and I only asked for one thing in return. After all those years, why did you not allow me to win the lottery? I could have done so much more good with all the money.”

“Well,” God said, “I actually would have loved to have let you win the lottery, but don’t you think you could have met me half way and bought a lottery ticket.

This little joke isn’t about playing the lottery. It’s about doing what is required to make things happen. Most “lucky” people work very hard to be that “lucky”. Don’t wait for a miracle. Figure out what you want and start doing things to make it happen.

New York Provides No Relief to Overtaxed Teleworkers

In response to citizen outrage, New York made changes to it’s unfair and nonsensical telecommuter tax policy. However according to the Telework Coalition, the words may have changed but the impact is still the same: the vast majority of telecommuters will get no relief.

I first wrote about this topic back in November when the the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a teleworker that lived in Tennessee and telecommuted for a company in New York. Although he worked from his home 75% of the time and worked in the New York office 25% of the time, the state of New York wanted to tax him on 100% of his salary. Because the case went unheard, New York got its way.

At this point, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska have laws that allow them to squeeze telecommuters that work for companies within their boundaries even if the teleworker lives in other jurisdictions and never steps foot within the taxing state. Given the Supreme Court actions, or rather inaction, other states may be emboldened to balance their books on the backs of telecommuters as well.

Since New York has chosen to waste time with a PR move that does nothing to provide relief to the teleworker, it is time to take action. Contact your senators and representatives in Congress and ask them to support the The Telecommuter Tax Fairness Act (S. 1097, H.R. 2558).

You can reach your congressperson at http://www.house.gov.
You can reach your senator at http://www.senate.gov.

“Extreme” Telecommuting?!

On Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun had an article called “Telecommuting to Extremes“. Apparently, telecommuting has become so commonplace that people are trying to find ways to make it sound exciting again.

Of course, what they call “extreme telecommuting” I call “work”. According to the Sun, telecommuting becomes extreme when the teleworker is in a different state than the company for which they telecommute.

Frankly I don’t think the distinction is that important. I also find it a little funny that they would use the hip young term extreme to describe something they go on to say isn’t really embraced by the younger set. One point they make in the article is that younger workers often benefit from being in the workplace because it helps them strengthen their career path.

I don’t think age has as much to do with being a successful telecommuter as maturity, discipline, and need for regular human contact, but if you are going to generalize I guess it makes sense to say that older folks have more of those qualities than younger ones. I am 33 so I’m not sure in which group people would plunk me.

So maybe it’s just a slow news day. The rest of the article goes on to make all the important points about the pros and cons of telecommuting.

(editor’s note: the Baltimore Sun’s online version of the story has been renamed “Telecommuting Long Distances Works.”)

VA cuts back on telework to increase security

GovExec.com reports that the VA is cutting back on telework and prohibiting the use of personal computers for telework.

Um… didn’t they already have that rule?

The theft of data on 26 million veterans could have been prevented if existing rules weren’t ignored and unenforced. Period. Punish the people that are flouting the rules and fix the process.

I believe in rules, especially for teleworkers. I believe that if security policies and processes aren’t in place to effectively protect important data, then teleworking shouldn’t occur when that data is required to do the work.

The problem is people are lazy and that is really one thing you can’t be if you work from home. You have to do the job and you have to do it better than people that go to the office everyday and are seen regularly.

Simple everyday technology would have protected the data that was stolen. Encryption is easily implemented on laptop harddrives. VPN and terminal server access could prevent the data from ever leaving the servers in the VA office.

If you run a business or a telework program for your business you have to take security into account when you design your program and set your policies. Just like you have a lock on your front door and an anti-virus program on your computer, encryption will be the next mandatory component for the mobile workforce.

I am currently doing some research on encryption for small business. An article on the topic is on my to-do list.

HP regressing on telecommuting

Here’s an interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Apparently the new CIO has decided that employees are abusing flex time and telecommuting privileges and need to be reigned in and slapped down. He has taken the draconian step of eliminating the option to telecommute for about a thousand IT personnel. This will require employees to commute up to 50 miles a day, relocate or quit (without severance pay.)

This is from the company that was a pioneer in the flexible workplace. A company whose telecommuting program began in the 1960’s. A technology company that makes a lot of the products that enable telecommuting. Hmmm.

So what does this mean? Is this a new trend? Is telecommuting a failure? Will other companies start to follow HP’s lead?

I really don’t think so.

As far as I can tell, this is just poor management. Here are some of the reasons for the decision specified in the article and my take on them:

  • Some employees were abusing the system. Frankly, I have never thought it is a good leadership practice to punish everyone for the mistakes of a few. I mean really… this sounds like what the nuns did to us in 2nd grade because Johnny in the back row was talking.
  • Poor performers learn better when they can interact with good performers. Ummm… does it really make sense to punish (and possibly lose) the high-performers for the sake of the poor performers.
  • “There’s a certain synergy when people are together in a room”. That’s true but there is also a lot more socializing, idle chatter, wasted time, distractions and interuptions. Does everyone need to be in the same room all the time?

I have always found that for telecommuting to work you need an employee with certain qualities and training and a manager with certain qualities and training. Obviously it doesn’t work for everyone. But just as obviously, it really works well for many.

I can’t see this move as anything other than a management failure. It’s sad to see, but I don’t think we will see a large crackdown on telecommuting and flextime from other companies. Of course, my vision may be clouded by my obvious bias but I will be keeping my eye on the situation.