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.

I Bought the Law… (But the Law Won)

This article on Enron’s Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling made me very happy.

Skilling and Lay were found guilty by a jury of their peers. Okay well sort of… I mean it wasn’t a jury of gazillionaire white-collar crooks that convicted them. It was a jury of real people, with real lives just like the real people with real lives that were screwed by the obscene greediness of these guys.

Okay, but how do I really feel. :-).

Well the remarkable thing about this conviction is that it actually happened. These guys gave so much money to politicians that they should have been protected… but they weren’t. It could be argued that political contributions simply don’t buy favors and protection. It could also be argued that these guys’ crimes were so outrageous that the millions paid to keep them out of jail simply weren’t enough.

In any case, the conviction couldn’t have happened to a more deserving pair. I know, I know the appeals are just getting started. But let me enjoy the moment.

Report: Washington DC is Best City for Teleworking

A new report sponsored by Intel and the Sperling’s Best Places names Washington DC as the “Best City for Teleworking”.

The first thing I noticed about the report was the blatant advertising for Intel products. The next thing I noticed is that the cities highest on the list also ranked highest on the list of cities with the worst traffic. That is when I noticed that the study shows the cities with the most potential for teleworking and not necessarily the cities that ranked highest for people already doing it.

To determine what made a city good for teleworking, they used the standard “best places” type of criteria like climate and combined it with factors that make teleworking more desireable or possible like communications infrastructure, amount of telework friendly jobs (office workers) and as I pointed out – worst traffic.

So… workers, employees and governments of the listed cities – This is not a pat on the back for a job well done. This is a call to action. You have all the ingredients required to promote teleworking as a viable option. Get out there and make it happen.

Teleworking improves the environment, prevents wear and tear on the roads, provides flexibility and business continuity options for companies and represents a cash and time benefit for the employee. Everybody wins.

Home Office Security: Protecting Information

An article on Yahoo! today reported that the personal data of 26.5 million veterans was stolen when a telecommuter’s laptop was taken during a home burglary.

Information security is a big deal for government and for companies. They need to protect employee, customer, and vendor data and privacy as well as intellectual property and trade secrets.

Data security is a big reason why many companies refuse to embrace telecommuting as a viable work option. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can have data security and a flexible work environment, but it takes planning, processes, rules, technology, education and enforcement.

In the coming months, we will be addressing this topic on a number of levels. Keep an eye out for articles on:

  • Network security
  • Physical security
  • Encryption
  • Writing data security policies.
  • Insurance for the home office or home business.

I want to hear your experiences with data security as a telecommuter – both good and bad. Leave a comment with your horror stories, questions, answers and suggestions.

Gas Prices are Crazy, Time to Telecommute

When I drove to work, I spent about $20 a week on gas. When I began telecommuting full time, I was able to save about $1000 a year on gas I didn’t have to buy. It was like a raise I gave to myself.

Of course that was before the price of a gallon of gas doubled and tripled. I often think about what I would have to give up if I were still driving so much and paying $2000-$3000 a year in gas.

Are you still driving to work everyday? What are you giving up to deal with the high costs of gas? What if you could get some of that money back by telecommuting one or two days a week?

Yahoo had a story on the topic today. At the end of the story there are some good questions to ask yourself if you are considering telecommuting and it gives some good strategies for getting your company to support you in your efforts.

The Cluttered Desk; The Tidy Desk

A cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind”

“A tidy desk is the sign of an insane mind”

What does your desk really say about you? Do you have trouble finding things? Do you know exactly where everything is? Would someone else be able to find anything?

My desk is a mess, but I can tell you exactly where everything is. The system works for me. But what if I had an assistant or needed to bring in extra help for a short time? Would my organizational style help or hinder?

I have been in the mood to tidy up lately (much to the joy of my wife) so naturally I turned to the internet. Nothing like some cyber procrastination to get things off on the right foot.

I found a couple of articles, but basically they all included the same information that I boiled down to some simple strategies for getting organized.

  1. Really want to get and stay organized. If you don’t really want it, it ain’t gonna happen. Don’t even bother with the rest of this article if your heart isn’t in it.
  2. Don’t try to tackle it all at once. Spend a set amount of time each day. Perhaps 20 minutes, perhaps an hour. Whatever is necessary to plug through the current mess without burning out.
  3. Come up with a strategy. For instance “In, Pending, Out”. Or  “Keep, Toss, Move”. Or “Working, Reference, Archive”. You can come up with any combination of categories, you just need a category and a place for everything. Don’t forget to have and use a category for trash. You must throw things away.
  4. Develop a routine. Get in the habit of processing all current papers using your chosen strategy. Practice this strategy even while you are still working through the existing mess. Without developing a habit, your desk will eventually return to it’s wild state, and you will have to start over again.

I was amazed to see how many services and consultants there are that want to help you get organized. But hey, if you’ve tried everything else, you may need to bring in the big guns.

Me… I will try it on my own for a while.