Scott Hanselman

Tragedies of the Remote Worker: "Looks like you're the only one on the call"

March 16, '15 Comments [70] Posted in Remote Work
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You're the only one on the callI'm writing this as I sit alone in a remote meeting room. As a remote worker, this is just one of the tiny, daily paper cuts. To be clear, I like being remote and I wouldn't change it, but some days Being a Remote Worker Sucks.

This is a rant, but if you were remote you'd understand.

You're the only one on the call.

It was nice of them put a link to join the meeting into the invitation, except they never joined the meeting. They've changed their IM status to Do Not Disturb and aren't answering their phones. You're all alone in a virtual room and are now late for a meeting you were originally early for.

When's the next time you're up?

Whenever you are on-site, folks always say "when are you up next?" Seriously. Like I'm just on vacation the other 6 weeks I'm not at the mother ship.

If only there were a global network with cameras and audio that would allow us to have a conversation while I'm away? But, alas, there isn't, so I'll see you again in 6 to 8 weeks.

I'm remote but that doesn't mean I'm not available EVERY WORK DAY.

Fifteen Minutes of "Can you hear me?"

Please. Unmute your damn phone. http://howtounmute.com. Learning how to use your basic VOIP camera and audio is a sign of respect for your remote workers.

You have a Webcam, use it.

You can see each other, but I can't see you. I don't care that you "don't like to use your webcam." We are having a business meeting, turn it on so the remote works can get one of their 5 senses back. Seeing your face is the whole point. It really helps. Bonus points if you adjust your webcam when it's time to see the whiteboard.

Have Empathy - Put yourself in the remote person's shoes

When I came to work here I sent five managers gift-wrapped web cams with a note on how to use them. During my next office visit I found 4 of them opened and shoved off to the side of their desks. If I had a gluten allergy I think you'd be more accommodating. But I don't, I'm a remote worker.

Remote iPad on a Stick - Double Robotics

I'm remote, please add call link to the meeting invite

Thanks for scheduling that meeting. Awesome that you got a room and everything. But I'm going to email you right back and remind you to add a call bridge/goto meeting/lync invite/google hangout. I just need access.

Move closer to the mic

You're in your office talking to me remotely, but not only will you not turn on your camera but you're talking on a speaker phone with your back to me as you spin in your desk chair.

Did the meeting end? Guys? Any one there?

It's so sad when I'm left on the table and you've all left the room. I'm just trapped in the Klingon Phone and you've got feet.

Don't fade away. When someone is remote it's so important to check in as you're closing the meeting.

The Klingon PhoneYour Inability to Deal with Me Remotely

Everyone has some special need. Mine is I'm remote. Your inability to be even slightly flexible to that fact causes me problems literally daily. Remote workers go out of their way to be available.

I'm on Lync, Skype, Slack, Twitter, and my cell phone is published in the company directory.

And you just literally said with a straight face, "I couldn't get ahold of you." O_O

Hearing an Important Conversation...as they hang up

This happens more often than you'd think. The meeting is over and they are hanging up. You can see their hand dropping to hit "End Call" and then someone starts mentioning something TOTALLY IMPORTANT and....dial tone.

Why don't you move up here?

Wow! I never thought of that. After 7 years of working remotely for a dozen reasons, you finally asked the right question! Why don't I just move up there?

Because. Reasons.

What tiny indignities do you deal with as a remote worker? Sound off in the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Review: Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e - A fantastic pan tilt zoom camera and speaker for remote workers

July 7, '14 Comments [10] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews
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cc3000eI'm forever looking for tools that can make me a more effective remote worker. I'm still working remotely from Portland, Oregon for folks in Redmond, Washington.

You might think that a nice standard HD webcam is enough to talk to your remote office, but I still maintain that a truly great webcam for the remote work is one that:

  • Has a wide field of view > 100 degrees
  • Has an 5x - 10x optical zoom to look at whiteboards
  • Has motorized pan-tilt-zoom

Two years later I'm still using (and happy with) the Logitech BCC950. I'm so happy with it that I wrote and maintain a cloud server to remotely control the PTZ (pan tilt zoom function) of the camera. I wrote all that up earlier on this blog in Cloud-Controlled Remote Pan Tilt Zoom Camera API for a Logitech BCC950 Camera with Azure and SignalR.

Fast-forward to June of 2014 and Logitech offered to loan me (I'm sending it back this week) one of their new Logitech ConferenceCam C3000e conferencing systems. Yes, that's a mouthful.

To be clear, the BCC950 is a fantastic value. It's usually <$200, has motorized PTZ, a remote control, (also works my software, natch), doesn't require drivers with Windows (a great plus), is a REALLY REALLY good speakerphone for Skype or Lync calls, it's camera is 1080p, the speakerphone shows up as a standard audio device, and has a removable "stalk" so you can control how tall the camera is.

BUT. The BCC950's zoom function is digital which sucks for trying to see remote whiteboards, and it's field of view is just OK.

Now, enter the CC3000e, a top of the line system for conference room. What do I get for $1000? Is it worth 4x the BCC950? Yes, if you have the grand and you're on video calls all day. It's an AMAZING camera and it's worth it. I don't want to send it back.

Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e - What do you get?

The unboxing is epic, not unlike an iPhone, except with more cardboard. It's a little overwhelming as there are a lot of parts, but it's all numbered and very easy to setup. My first impression was "why do I need all these pieces" as I'm used to the all-in-one-piece BCC950 but then I remembered that the CC3000e is actually meant for business conference rooms, not random remote workers in a home office like me. Still, later I appreciated the modularity as I ended up mounting the camera on top of an extra TV I had, while moving the speaker module under my monitor nearer my desk.

You get the camera, the speaker/audio base, a 'hockey puck' that routes all the cables, and a remote control.

The Good

You've seen what a regular webcam looks like. Two heads and some shoulders.

Skyping with a regular camera

Believe it or not, in my experience it's hard to get a sense of a person from just their disembodied head. Who knew?

I'm regularly Skyping/Lyncing into an open space in Redmond where my co-workers move around friendly, use the whiteboard, stand around, and generally enjoy their freedom of motion. If I've got a narrow 70 degree or less field of view with a fixed location, I can't get a feel for what's going on. From their perspective, none of them really know what my space looks like. I can't pace around, use a whiteboard, or interact with them in any "more than just a head" way.

Enter a real PTZ camera with real optics and a wide field of view. You really get a sense of where I am in my office, and that I need to suck it in before taking screenshots.

The CC3000e has an amazing wide field of view

Now, move the camera around.

The CC3000e has a remote control to turn it

Here's me trying to collaborate with my remote partners over some projects. See how painful that is? EVERY DAY I'm talking to half-heads with tiny cameras.

My co-worker's chin

Part of my co-workers' faces

Half my boss's head

These calls weren't staged for this blog post, people. FML. These are real meetings, and a real one-on-one with the half a forehead that is my boss.

Now, yes, I admit that you'll not ALWAYS want to see my torso when talking. Easy, I turn, and face the camera and zoom in a smidge and we've got a great 1:1 normal disembodied head conversation happening.

A bright HD Skype

But when you really want to connect with someone, back up a bit. Get a sense of their space.

A wide field of view shows you more context

And if you're in a conference room, darn it, mount that sucker on the far wall.

A wide field of view shows you the whole room

While only the me-sides of these calls used the CC3000e (as I'm the dude with the camera) I've used the other screenshots of actual calls I've had to show you the difference between clear optics and a wide field of view, vs. a laptop's sad little $4 web cam. You can tell who has a nice camera. Let me tell you, this camera is tight.

The CC3000e has a lot of great mounting options that come included with the kit. I was able to get it mounted on top of my TV like a Kinect, using the included brackets, in about 5 minutes. You can also mount it flat against the wall, which could be great for tight conference room situations.

1photo 2

The camera is impressive, and politely looks away when it's not in use. A nice privacy touch, I thought.

photo 4

The optical zoom is fantastic. You'll have no trouble zooming in on people or whiteboards.

Here's zoomed out.

Zoomed out

Here's zoomed in. No joke, I just zoomed in with the remote and made a face. It's crazy and it's clear.

Zoomed in

The speakerphone base is impressively sturdy with an awesome Tron light-ring that is blue when you're on a call, and red when you're either on hold (or you're the MCP.)

The screen will also show you the name/number of the current caller.

image

A nice bonus, you can pair the base with your cell phone using Bluetooth and now you've got a great speaker and speakerphone. This meant I could take all calls (mobile, Lync, Skype) using one speakerphone.

The Weird

There have been a few weird quirks with the CC3000e. For example - right this moment in fact - the camera on indicator light is flashing blue, but no app is using the camera. It's as if it got stuck after a call. Another is that the microphone quality (this is subjective, of course) for people who hear me on the remote side doesn't seem as deep and resonant as with the BCC950. Now, no conference phone will ever sound as nice as a headset, but the audio to my ear and my co-worker's ear is just off when compared to what we're used to. Also, a few times the remote control just stopped working for a while.

On the software side, I've personally found the Logitech Lync "Far End Control" PTZ software to be unreliable. Sometimes it works great all day, other days it won't run. I suspect it's having an isue communicating with the hardware. It's possible, given the weird light thing combined with this PTZ issue that I have a bad/sick review model. Now, here's the Far End Control Application's PDF Guide. It's supposed to "just work' of course. You and the person you're calling each run a piece of software that creates a tunnel over Lync and allows each of you to control the other's PTZ motor. This is a different solution than my PTZ system, as theirs uses Lync itself to transmit PTZ instructions while mine requires a cloud service.

Fortunately, my PTZ System *also* works with the ConferenceCam CC3300e. I just tested it, and you'll simply have to change the name of the device in your *.config file.

<appSettings>
<!-- <add key="DeviceName" value="BCC950 ConferenceCam"/> -->
<add key="DeviceName" value="ConferenceCam CC3000e Camera"/>
</appSettings>

To be clear, the folks at Logitech have told me that they can update the firmware and adjust and improve all aspects of the system. In fact, I flashed it with firmware from May 12th before I started using it. So, it's very possible that these are just first-version quirks that will get worked out with a software update. None of these issues have prevented my use of the system. I've also spoken with the developer on the Far End Control system and they are actively improving it, so I've got high hopes.

This is a truly killer system for a conference room or remote worker (or both, if I'm lucky and have budget.)

  • Absolutely amazing optical zoom
  • Top of the line optics
  • Excellent wide field of view
  • The PTZ camera turns a full 180 degrees
  • Programmable "home" location
  • Can act as a bluetooth speaker/speakerphone for your cell phone
  • The camera turns away from you when it's off. Nice reminder of your privacy.

The optics alone would make my experience as a remote worker much better. I am boxing it up and I am going to miss this camera. Aside from a few software quirks, the hardware is top notch and I'm going to be saving up for this camera.

You can buy the Logitech CC3000e from Logitech directly or from some shady folks at Amazon.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Working Remotely Considered Dystopian

November 18, '13 Comments [50] Posted in Remote Work
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At the time of this writing, I work remotely from Portland, Oregon for Microsoft and have for over 5 years. While I haven't written any books on Remote Work, I think it's fair to say that I am well-versed in successfully working remotely and I am certainly a remote work enthusiast. I have written about the experience extensively on this blog.

Recently DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails, co-wrote a book about remote work called Remote. Here's the digital "inside cover" from Amazon.

Today, the new paradigm is "move work to the workers, rather than workers to the workplace."

In Remote, inconoclastic (sic) authors Fried and Hansson will convince readers that letting all or part of work teams function remotely is a great idea--and they're going to show precisely how a remote work setup can be accomplished.

And from the Remote book site:

REMOTE, the new book by 37signals, shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any space, in any place, anytime, anywhere.

MicrosoftiPhoneAppsAwesome. Now we have tools that will move work to the workers like Google Apps, Office 365, and Base Camp. But it seems that workers are taking this too seriously and passing out in bed with their tablets on their faces.

DHH's most recent blog post is called Microsoft's dystopian pitch for remote work and it declares "For shame on Microsoft for cheerleading its [Remote Work's] most dystopian corruption." So, work anywhere, except where you apparently end up needing to work.

Two words that are guaranteed to get folks frothing: "Microsoft" and to a lesser extent, "Dystopian."

As a disclaimer, while I do work at Microsoft, I don't work on Office or know anyone over there. I don't work on any tools or apps that enable you to work remotely unless you count "The Internet." I am a remote worker. If my company disallows remote worker in the future, I will quit.

NOTE: As an related aside, if you want a another REALLY great book about working remotely, I highly recommend "The Year Without Pants" by Scott Berkun, a friendly acquaintance. It's a brilliant account of his time at WordPress.com, a company with only remote workers.

David's primary issue in his post is with this infographic, which is, at best, questionable. But David implies this is a celebration of bad behavior.

Microsoft is launching a new marketing campaign for Office 365 that celebrates working during your kid’s recitals, on vacation, and while enjoying the appetizer at a restaurant.

20% of parents said they have worked at a child's event or activity

Personally, don't really like this campaign either because it strikes at the behaviors that I sometimes do but I know are unhealthy in my heart. We need to ask, is this a behavior we want to enable? That's what's at issue here.

Have we uncovered a secret Microsoft plan to destroy work-life balance? No, but edgy ads like this make us uncomfortable because they catering to the fact that people do work remotely like this. Every time I go out to dinner I see couples sitting together in silence while they type away on their pocket supercomputers. No, it's not healthy nor should it be how remote work gets done.

But don't forget how the Microsoft ad opens.

Survey finds that more than half of U.S. office workers would be willing to work more hours — and one in five would even take a pay cut — to have more flexibility to get work done.

Again, you like that you can work remotely, but you don't like where people end up working remotely? Thing is, nearly every app and suite that enables to you work remotely has used the soccer game thing to the point that it's approaching trope status. Here's Google, with the same pitch.

Access your work from any device with a web browser – your computer, phone or tablet – and stay productive even when you’re away from the office. Need to attend a meeting from your kid’s soccer game? Edit a spreadsheet while at the airport waiting for a flight? Respond to an email from a hotel business center computer?

Need to attend a meeting from your kid’s soccer game?

Yes, it's bad (sub-optimal, whatever you want to call it) to work at your kids' soccer game. But it's sometimes necessary. Sometimes work-life balance means that work leaks into life and vice versa.

I think it's great if you can literally turn off all access to work at 5pm on Friday and turn it back on at 9am on Monday. Bravo and good for you. For me, it doesn't always work that neatly. I am happy that when needed I can chat someone at work, send a file, share a screen, or forward an email quickly without going into the office.

It's a odd ad campaign, I agree. It's inverted in its priorities. But, I like having the ability to put out a fire while I'm at a soccer game. It's clearly better than missing the soccer game completely. Having tools to get stuff done remotely means I am empowered. If I choose to use that power for evil, that's hardly Microsoft's fault (or iCloud or Google or Dropbox, etc) or the Internet for existing.

It's good that tools like this exist. But I agree with David that it's probably not a good idea to advertise or endorse admittedly unhealthy behavior.

DHH clearly doesn't like Microsoft, and that's fine. But rather than railing against the company that makes tools (and admittedly poor ads) about enabling remote work, why not direct that frustration at the companies with cultures that have workers up at 2am? Or even better, at the managers who demand this level of access?

For the record, when I'm not travelling I drop of my kids at school every day, pick them up at 3, go on fields trips (where I'm usually the only non-homemaker), and tuck them in every night after reading books.

Full Disclosure: I use Office 365 at work, Google Apps for Business at Home, access them all from my iPhone 5S and Surface 2 and store stuff in DropBox. I'm non-denominational.

I'll end with my unwavering agreement on what David said here:

It’s about spending the hours of work more productively, and then having more time free from its tentacles.

Sound off in the comments. How bright is the line between things work and things personal? Do you shut off and shut down, or are you working a little everywhere? How does this affect how you, and those around you feel about you and your work?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Chasing Wi-Fi as a Remote Worker: AT&T Unite LTE Mobile Hotspot Review

May 14, '13 Comments [24] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews
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AT&T Unite HotspotI've blogged about how being a remote worker sucks. Sometimes I just need to get out of the home office and wander around town just to be near people. There's all this unspoken etiquette when you're a "homeless" remote worker and you're squatting in a café. How much do coffee does one buy in order to justified downloading an 8gig ISO over a coffee shop's bandwidth? Will a croissant cover it? You mean you don't like me showing up at 9am, taking a seat and leaving at 5pm?

Finding a spot is one thing, but finding good reliable internet is the biggest issue when you're a remote working nomad. I used to collect coffee shops and rank them by bandwidth, but often they are too unreliable. I want to be able to use Skype/Lync in HD, have a clear conversation, share my screen, remote into machines, and download and upload large files without sipping through their bandwidth straw.

I've even stopped using hotel wireless when travelling. It's just useless. For the last four years I've been carrying a Clear Hotspot around. It runs on the Sprint Network and works in all major US cities. I've been generally very happy with it. It doesn't work well inside buildings, but at a hotel if I put it in the window sill I can easily watch Netflix. It's $50 a month for unlimited internet and it's faster than tethering my iPhone 4S (with its fake 4G). Why pay so much? Because Clear is effectively unlimited, unlike my capped 5 gig iPhone plan, even though Clear isn't super fast.

The local AT&T fellow loaned me an AT&T Unite Hotspot for a few months.

The Device

The hotspot is made by Sierra Wireless. It has LTE, a lovely 2.4" color touch screen and a large battery. It's a comfortable size with a decent heft, most of which is battery. The battery for this hotspot is 2500 mAh, in fact and lasts a long time. I've accidentally left it in my bag and found it still on hours later. It's rated for up to 10 hours of continuous use and I never had it stop on me even when using it a whole work day.

You can have up to 10 devices connected to the Unite over Wi-Fi. This is great on trips with a few laptops, phones and tablets. Multiply this by a few people and you'll be happy you can fit 10.

It even has two external antenna spots, which could be useful when using in a building or the home as backup internet for the whole house.

The AT&T Unite LTE Hotspot sitting on a Clear Hotspot. The Unite is much larger

The touch screen is very nice, responsive and totally obvious to use.

photo 1

I love that this Unite hotspot shows not only the amount of data you've used but the numbers of days left until your data plan resets. This is a killer feature I miss on other hotspots.

photo 2

The Pros - Speed

Here's the bandwidth at my local McDonald's, whose Wi-Fi is ironically provided by AT&T Wireless (but clearly capped). Wi-Fi like this is is best for email and small videos, and clearly won't work for anyone who tried to push it (Skype, RDP, etc). Looks like 1.76Mbps.

image

Here's my Clear 4G Hotspot. Now, this is holding it against a window and sitting smack in the middle of 4G territory. The Clear is one of those "works great until it totally doesn't work" things. I love it and take it everywhere, but there's no middle ground. It either has an awesome connection, or you might as well use your 3G phone. The Clear gets 8.94Mbps

image

Here's my iPhone 4S with Tethering (that I pay for) over Wi-Fi. This is with 5 bars on "4G" in the same location as the other devices. It's 3G+ as far as a I'm concerned as iPhone 4S 4G is a lie. I got lucky here with 3.43Mbps, but it's usually more like 1Mbps.

image

Here's the AT&T Unite Hotspot, pumping not only 14.5Mbps down but nearly 6.5Mbps up. This was with just 3 bars of LTE!

image

My conclusion after using this for a few months? LTE is no joke. I've seen it even faster but the net result is that this Hotspot is as fast as average folks' home internet. This extra upload headroom was totally noticeable for me when using Lync or Skype whilst sharing my screen. If you're pushing HD video as well as sharing your screen things start getting choppy with just a megabit.

The Cons

A small device with a large battery pushing 15Mbs nearly anywhere in the US? What's not to like? For me, the data plan.

It's US$50 for 5GB and $10 for each additional Gig. I really like the Clear device being unlimited, and while I used the Unite HARD for two billing cycles I bumped up against the 5GB twice and ended up around 6 to 7GB. Not enough to break the bank, but enough to wish for a 10GB or 20GB plan. If I went to 10GB it would be $100. That said, I'm not the typical user.

Alternatively you can add the Unite onto an existing Mobile Share Plan for $20 a month then add buckets of data to the plan to be shared across all devices.

Conclusion

If you've already got an LTE phone with tethering it's questionable if you would need an Unite, but the battery life is the kicker. My phone can only tether for a few hours when it's being worked hard. It's nice to have a separate device that's just a hotspot. Also, considering my phone isn't LTE and I have a Clear spot I'm paying for now, the Unite is an attractive alternative with almost double the speed and easily double the battery over Clear.

The Unite also has a bandwidth meter and shows the date your plan resets. This is such a nice touch. If you're in the market for a hotspot I can recommend the AT&T Unite. Even easier if you are already an AT&T customer and just want to add the line. The Unite hardware is really impressive. I'm sad to send this device back. The perfect price point for me would be 10GB for $75. At that point I'd switch off Clear in a second as a portable 15Mbps a second for 10 hours is almost too fabulous to resist.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Being a Remote Worker Sucks - Long Live the Remote Worker

February 27, '13 Comments [68] Posted in Musings | Remote Work
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My voice coming out of a Polycom phone. Is anyone there? It's me, Scott!I've been a 100% remote worker at Microsoft for just about 5 years now. My last two jobs were both 7 year long gigs, so this isn't the longest I've worked somewhere, but clocking in at a half-decade, it's the longest I've worked remotely. Given that I haven't yet been fired, it's fair to say that I'm a pretty good remote worker.

I've been writing about Being a Remote Worker on the blog here for a long time.

Being remote is wonderful and it sucks.

This week former Google Employee #20 and current Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer declared that all remote workers need to head into the office (and in some cases, move house) before June.

If I got this memo while working Remote at Yahoo I'd quit that moment. I would probably quit with some flair as well. Talk about completely demotivating.

I see this ban on Remote Work at Yahoo as one (or all) of these three things:

  • A veiled attempt to trim the workforce through effectively forced attrition by giving a Sophie's Choice to remote workers that management perceives as possibly not optimally contributing. It's easy to avoid calling it a layoff when you've just changed the remote work policy, right?
  • A complete and total misstep and misunderstanding of how remote workers see themselves and how they provide value.
  • Pretty clear evidence that Yahoo really has no decent way to measure of productivity and output of a worker.

Ultimately, though, this comes down to trust, and trust can be found or lost on every page of a company's policies. You were hired as a professional; are you trusted to be a professional? Working remotely requires your company to trust you can do the work not only without them seeing you, but also without constant physical interaction with your teammates.

I saw this tweet yesterday and I agree. Remote working isn't awesome. There are great aspects, but parts just sucks.

Here's why it sucks and what I do about it.

Why Working Remotely Sucks

There's a few reasons why being a remote worker sucks.

Guilt Sucks

Animated gif of a worker not workingAll this said, it's REALLY hard to be remote. I propose that most remote workers work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts. This is fueled in no small part by guilt and fear. We DO feel guilty working at home. We assume you all think we're just hanging out without pants on. We assume you think we're just at the mall tweeting. We fear that you think we aren't putting in a solid 40 hours (or 50, or 60).

Because of this, we tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends. We may take an afternoon off to see a kid's play, but then the guilt will send us right back in to make up the time. In my anecdotal experience, remote workers are more likely to feel they are "taking time from the company" and pay it back more than others.

You might poo-poo the guilt, but ask around to your remote brethren. It's there, they just don't talk about it.

Being Unseen Sucks - Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A few months back we had a standup meeting and a boss couldn't get the web cam to work (It's been 5 years but even now they usually spend about 10 minutes messing about with the webcam before giving up and just having me call in). All this while 20 workers who "showed up" stare daggers (I'm assuming) into the Klingon Phone and the guilt piles on.

Anyway, we were going around the table (remember I'm the invisible guy in the center of the table) and then the meeting ended. I was muted, and was like "Hey, guys? It's me...Scott...I'd like to get you up to date on what I'm working on..."

"Guys?"

VPN is a Second-Class Citizen

No matter what your IT says, no matter how fancy your Smart Card is, or even if you have "Direct Access" enabled at work (basically your machine is at home, but always internal) you're remote. Every week you'll hit a site that doesn't work unless you're inside. You'll be constantly prompted for passwords, you'll be told certain scripts or installers don't work as a remote worker.

I have to drive into the office at least quarterly JUST for the purpose of dealing with issues like this.

People Ask "When you are up next?"

This one is the worst. "When are you coming to campus next?"

I'm online all day, every day. I've got HD webcams, Lync, Skype, GChat, hell I got Chat Roulette, on every machine I own. You don't think to call me for 3 months, but when you see me, you're all like "let's get you plugged into the project..."

I'm absolutely available anytime to talk. We can do a call, a chat, or best yet, a hi-def video call. Trust me, I'm at your disposal if you'll only take a step forward.

Ways to make Remote Working work

They are watchingFirst, it DOES depend on the job. We have folks like Brian Harry who lives on a farm in the Carolinas, but he's also got a large team over there. They aren't on campus, but there are folks he works with closely. We have folks like Steve Sanderson who works in London for a team in Redmond, but his job is very focused and "the code don't lie." I suspect that directing a complete feature team while remote would be considerably harder than participating on a feature team. That's one of the reasons I moved jobs and gave up my team. I feel better as an individual contributor with a clear focus.

Before I started on the ASP.NET Product Team, I used to run a team of folks when I worked in MSDN. Every one of us was remote. In fact, we were in all four corners of the US - Oregon, San Diego, New England, Florida.

Our jobs were discrete, directed and clear. We were laser-focused and each worked well remotely. Here's some things that have worked for me and others.

Status, Status, Status

Remote workers need to make it easy for folks to answer the question "What is that person working on?" This is somewhat of a double standard, since they may have no idea what the person in the next office is working on, but that woman shows up every day, so she must be productive, right?

Regardless, when I ran the team, we'd send out a list of three things each Monday that we wanted to accomplish that week. We'd follow up on Friday with what happened to those three things - what worked and what didn't.

Do be seen

I used to come up every month, but since I travel to conferences and customers a lot (plus budget issues) I go to Microsoft about once a quarter. When I'm there it's a flurry of meetings as "relationship building." That's business-speak for talking, talking, talking so that they remember why they hired you. It's comforting to the locals when the remote shows up. Try to get to the office when you can.

We made a "virtual portal" from Portland to Seattle so that anyone could peek in an see either side. We just need to circle it in Orange and Blue.

Team Building

When you ARE in a group, take any opportunity to "team build." I used to think this was touchy-feely nonsense, but truly, shared experience in a non-work context can totally transform relationships. I try to hang out with the team whenever I'm in town, and just check in with them, their families, and other non-work stuff.

Find a Place to Be Productive

Often just being a home can drive you nuts. I try to get out a few times a week. I've worked from the mall, from Starbucks, from McDonald's (free wi-fi, sue me) and from a park bench. I find that just having people walking around makes me feel more productive. Their movement and energy keeps me focused.

Try different places, find your place, but don't be afraid to mix it up.

Get Feedback

During 1:1s with my boss I always come with lists and lists of what I'm working on and why it's useful. There's always this Spidey Sense that "well, it's been a good gig, but this remote thing isn't working out." He's very good and assuaging that concern, but it's still there.

Make sure you're getting feedback on your work and you know you're on track with you're working on. Ask for feedback. That means ASK. "Do you feel I'm on track with X? Are you happy with what you're seeing with Y?" It's hard but it's important.

Know Every Collaboration Tool

We use Lync at work, but I also use Skype, GChat, Join.me, straight VNC, Windows Remote Assistance, CoPilot and a dozen others. If one doesn't work for some reason, don't waste time, just move to the next one. If someone starts to associate you, the remote worker, as a symbol for technical difficulties it will slowly warp their perception of you. Make it easy.

I have a small shared office space with a camera I can turn on remotely. This means a boss can walk in and "meet" me without them having to think. That makes it easier for a boss to work. Bosses need to manage, not mess around with cameras.

Be Available

A caveat to this one: Be Available During Work Hours. Don't overcompensate and be the person who is online at 5am or answers emails on Sunday. Just make sure that from 9 to 5 you are 100% available via SOME way that your boss knows about.

How do you make remote working work?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.