Scott Hanselman

Is Daddy on a call? A BusyLight Presence indicator for Lync for my Home Office

July 19, '12 Comments [27] Posted in Lync | Remote Work
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Daddy is busyConsider this the first in a series of posts on using Lync effectively as a Remote Worker.

I've blogged about building and wiring my home office, working from home remotely, and even done a video with Chris Sells and Rory Blyth walking through the house ("Geek Developer Cribs"). Last week I put my Lync 2010 Super Simple Auto Answer Video Kiosk with Full Screen on GitHub. That software replaces the "Embodied Social Proxy" software I was running before. That solution was too complex.

I've got folks in Seattle who are interested in my "presence" and I've also got folks here at home who are interested. Specifically, it's a problem when my kids don't realize (or respect) that Daddy is on a conference call or that Daddy is recording a podcast. It's a problem even for my wife who has recently gotten in the habit of texting me from outside the door to see if I was busy.

I had an old radio On Air light that kind of worked but I never hooked it up to Lync, which is my primary source for presence and availability. Since Lync is also available on iPhone, iPad and Android, it really is the best way for anyone inside the company to know if I'm "available."

I'd consider building a system with LEDs and Netduino but the folks at BusyLight beat me to it. The BusyLight is a nice simple plug-it-in-and-forget-it light that integrates with Lync to provide a visual indicator of my presence. It installs itself as a USB HID (Human Interface Device) so it's likely possible to talk to it directly and make a presence system for other IM clients like GChat or Skype.

Lync availablity is broadcast to all clients

Any system I put in place needs to just work. I don't want to have to click anything more than I already do. I don't even bother to set Lync's status myself because it does a fine job of doing it on its own. It automatically marks me as busy when I'm in a meeting or presenting or on the phone. If I leave my computer for a while it turns yellow to indicate I'm away. When I do need to change it manually (for recording a podcast, for example) I can also just use my iPhone. Any change in my availability from my iPhone is automatically (and instantly...like 100ms instantly) broadcast to all my Lync devices including the BusyLight and my Polycom CX600 IP telephone.

I combined the USB BusyLight's already super-long USB cable with a 16-foot USB2 Active Repeater Cable in order to get all the way down the wall, over and up into the corner of my door. The BusyLight included a 3M adhesive and it's happily stuck up there and the door still closes easily.

The BusyLight changes color instantly as Lync presence changes Daddy is not busy

I will also be taking a BusyLight up to my remote office and hooking it up so that folks can see when I'm "in the office" or available for a call.

So far I'm thrilled with the results. I recorded a podcast today and I could hear the boys outside whispering to each other "ssh, it's red! Daddy's on the phone!" Ok, I could hear them, but at least they made an effort!

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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. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:40:40 PM UTC
This is awesome. I'm actually in the middle of switching jobs. After working remotely from home for 4 years, it's not working for me anymore.

The biggest issue is trying to prevent an embarrassing tantrum from a 2 y/o outside my office while on a call with a client or my boss. I also hated making the family feel like they needed to walk on eggshells if I knew a call was coming in sometime this afternoon.

There are definitely other issues with working from home (as you have mentioned in other posts on the subject.) Perhaps having an On-The-Phone light outside would have helped and prevented some embarrassing calls.

Thanks for posts like this. I paid close attention to this serious of posts to get tips on trying to make working remotely work for me. Unfortunately, it's time to get back into the trenches!

-Paul
Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:43:41 PM UTC
Why would you have a BusyLight in your remote office if most are already on Lync and would see the same status there. RAID5 presence notification?
Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:58:43 PM UTC
Tim - So that someone can walk by my office in Redmond and see that I'm IN my office at home so that they can literally "pop their head in" and chat with me as I'll be up on 42" screen.
Friday, July 20, 2012 12:42:39 AM UTC
That's awesome. My wife texts me as well, funny as that seems. For me, the value would be more in my 2-year-old learning when it's not OK to disturb daddy.
Friday, July 20, 2012 12:49:45 AM UTC
Nice, does it really works with other IMs OTB? Thanks
Friday, July 20, 2012 3:52:11 AM UTC
That is a great idea! The blink(1) kickstarter looks interesting as well. I need something like this for my home office closet ;)
Friday, July 20, 2012 5:59:12 AM UTC
Nice idea, Scott! Love the pic of your son here :)
Lisa Feigenbaum
Friday, July 20, 2012 10:14:32 AM UTC
Genius!!!

Friday, July 20, 2012 12:58:56 PM UTC
This would be awesome if I could teach two dogs to pay attention to the lights as well. :)
Friday, July 20, 2012 1:47:41 PM UTC
Totally going to set this up in my home office!

Having said that, though, I used to feel flustered on a phone call with a client when the doorbell rang or the dog barked or now when my toddler is making noise, but with so many people working remotely nowadays, I usually just point it out: "Heh, can you tell I'm working from home today?"

I don't feel like I have to pretend anymore that I'm working in a cubicle in an office building. Yeah, people are going to here kids and dogs when they talk to me, and that's OK because there's no shame in working at home.

Still going to implement the busy light though!


Friday, July 20, 2012 4:24:04 PM UTC
Scott can we get a tour of your office? I know you have posted about several things in your office like your desk (if I remember correct), and your kiosk, the paint when you moved into your new house (long time ago now). I would love to see a tour of it, like how you have your cable setup, what workstations do what, lighting choices, monitor configuration choices and mounting setups, etc.
Eric Malamisura
Friday, July 20, 2012 4:25:47 PM UTC
Woops, nevermind I just noticed your link at the top of the article!
Eric Malamisura
Friday, July 20, 2012 4:55:38 PM UTC
Thanks for this, Scott! Just purchased for my home office.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 4:16:35 PM UTC
We use a product called OfficeStatus, which is a kind of electronic in/out board. Similar to Lync but with a slightly different feature set.

It supports idle detection and telephony integration as well.

But a "busy light" module would rock! I imagine one of thee on my office door.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 5:04:31 PM UTC
You crack me up ;)

I always love how you use technology to lead a better life.

I like the red for busy, or red alert ... How about a disco light for when life is chaotic?
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 5:23:23 PM UTC
Lync is available on Windows Phone, too. ;)
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 2:16:02 PM UTC
I hope this works for people who are red/green color blind.
Ross
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 8:02:31 PM UTC
Heh, I needed something very similar to this -- at my coworking space, my officemates had no idea when I was on a conference call because I often would just sit there quietly with my headphones on. This would have been a perfect solution had I known about it!

Instead, I bought a DreamCheeky LED Message Board, downloaded this C# driver and wrote some software to detect when I am on a call. The message board spits out a bunch of canned messages like "ON PHONE" and "OMG WILL THIS MEETING EVER END". Here's a quick YouTube video of the thing in action.

If I ever find time again, I want to write a plugin to display in the video window the approximate cost of a meeting based on the titles of the attendees and its duration. :-)
Wednesday, July 25, 2012 8:10:03 PM UTC
I actually coded up a custom version of this a couple months ago, but for use in the office. I was sick of having to whisper to people wearing headphones "are you on a call?" or have the same done to me. I started with this, but with this hardware. I've upgraded it to the Lync 2013 sdk recently as well.

I also went a slightly different route on some of the status indicators. For one, I just turn off the light when 'away' in Lync. Also, I prefer to save red for when I'm actually on a call, and use yellow for 'busy'. This maps well what people know about traffic lights - green is go, yellow is slow down and think about whether you should approach, red is stop.

I also got extra clever and added a kind of 'half-busy' status for when I'm wearing headphones and just listening to something. I poll the global audio output level in windows and change the light to yellow-green if something is playing. That way people know I'm available but probably won't hear them, so they should get my attention visually.

After some testing, I would definitely recommend this system. Do you know if you can code to the BusyLight hardware?
Thursday, July 26, 2012 2:04:25 AM UTC
Ross - The RGB colors are configurable via an XML file.
Thursday, July 26, 2012 11:25:20 AM UTC
If you've got the space then I guess you can buffer the tantruming 2 year old with a second door/room. Or better yet, build your office at the foot of your garden!
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 10:58:19 AM UTC
The Busylight can be programmed directly. The API is a .NET4 application. Unfortunately it is not a public or open API (obfuscation aside, with .NET Reflector it is possible to get enough of a glimpse into how to use the existing API in order to make it mostly work - the sounds are the hard part).

An email exchange with the folks at Plenom (company behind it) indicate that they are willing to consider publishing an API/SDK, but they will "let me know" when they are ready (this is not to indicate it won't happen, the email appeared promising). If you want it sooner then write an email to support@busylight.com, and it may expedite the process.

@Scott - I used your post as reference link in my email.
Nick
Friday, August 10, 2012 8:22:39 PM UTC
Does this work with Lync 365 (Office 365)?
CodeGrue
Tuesday, September 04, 2012 3:55:12 AM UTC
Thanks for a great post about our Busylight, Scott!

@Nick: We'll keep you posted on an API:-)

@CodeGrue: Yes, the Busylight UC is compatible with Lync Online

Regards,
Morten
Plenom a/s
Monday, March 18, 2013 5:20:03 PM UTC
Costco is selling these "puck" lights (with remote!) for about 20ish dollars right now. They have been working out for me pretty good so far..

http://www.amazon.com/Lightmates-Wireless-Lights-Remote-Batteries/dp/B007SRJME8

since my office is in the basement, I have one over my door and another one upstairs for people to see. The same remote controls them both (The remote works for about 20 feet)
Kevin G
Monday, July 01, 2013 6:13:00 PM UTC
Plenom has released an SDK for the Busylight (www.busylight.com/develop). I published a nuget package for it to make things a little more convenient (nuget.org/packages/Busylight).
Jason Rotello
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 11:58:23 AM UTC
Nice Info!!!
Lync is available on Windows Phone, Laptop, Mobile Application and many more.
Thanks for this.

Will just purchased for my new office.

Thanks
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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.