Posts Tagged 'Working from Home'

Work expectations/behaviors of the ideal virtual employee

  • Image from the Morguefile
    Image from the Morguefile
  • Are you a self-starter, a life-long learner?
  • Do you find yourself researching and looking up answers to questions on your own?
  • Can you effectively connect and communicate via e-mail, chat and phone?
  • Do you have exceptional written communication skills?
  • Can you work with out tons of positive reinforcement or those ‘pats on the back?’
  • Can you set your own reasonable timetables for getting your work done and then meet them consistently?

If you’ve answered yes to all or most of these questions, you’d probably make an ideal virtual employee.

When I tell people I work from home 100%, I usually get one of two responses.

“That’s great! You get to work in your pajamas!”

or…

“Work must be a cakewalk for you.”

Of course, I try to explain to them that it’s not that simple. It still astounds me that people have those preconceptions that working from home means 1.) You get to do what you want and 2.)You don’t have to do much work. In my own experience, neither of these two notions is true of working from home.

To be honest, after the first six months of working from home I seriously questioned whether or not I was the right person for this job. There were things I horribly missed: making connections with workmates when you work in an office. Informal coffee break talks, lunches, impromptu meetings at the whiteboard to explain or get some validation on a concept.

Working from home and working alone, I found myself having regular conversations with my dogs. At least they were happy because they now had a human being in the house with them twenty-four-seven.  In the end, I found that I needed to join extracurricular social groups outside of work or make sure I pencilled in lunches with former coworkers and current friends into my schedule.

More, I don’t really get to “do only what I want” when I work from home.  I realized early on, that I had to set my own project schedule and milestone deadlines and meet them. With virtual employment gone are the days when the boss sits in an elevated place where they can see what all their employees are doing. The virtual boss needs to trust his or her employees to get the job done, and reciprocally, the virtual employee needs to constantly deliver the products and services that make his group and company successful.

Setting these self goals for success is not the only challenge I face as a virtual employee. As my work now takes place in my home environment, I have to discipline myself to separate both of these worlds. I set boundaries. Work takes place in the room that is my ‘office.’ I stop work at exactly 5:00. I must set up  rituals and practices that enforce the law of separation of work and home life… otherwise I face the danger of work enveloping it all.

Working from home 100% of the time is not the simple cake walk some people make it to be. And oh, I haven’t noted the challenge that those of us face who work from home with other family members including children at home.

Tech Tools for Working From Home

As promised I will briefly describe the tools we work with as a collaborative virtual team. I will also describe how we use these tools with some of our subject matter experts (SME’s) in the design process for our courses.

Aye, I have to say I work with very active and adventurous group. They’re really into trying all sorts of tools that help with virtual work and collaboration. I think it took us probably about 6 months before we found the combination that is working well for us right now:

  • Adobe Connect (Professional Version)
  • Skype
  • Google Docs

There are other tools that we use, but I think of the three above as our “Holy Trinity” of collaborative tools. They’re sort of like our Swiss army knife of virtual tech.  I’ll spend a little time here giving a summary or description of how we use each tool.

  • Adobe Connect (Professional Version) – helpful for sharing desktops and working out technical issues with each other. It allows us to be extremely productive during meetings because we can work with or on documentation and visuals as we talk. For example. I like using a visual like a  PowerPoint slide in a design meeting. I can always allow the other participants to manipulate the slide, including adding their own content or suggestions. The example below shows a visual outline I developed during a meeting with the help of a subject matter expert or SME. Adobe Connect allows you to visually share and grant control over items on your desk top. In this case, the SME could add or move any of the elements on the PowerPoint slide as long as I gave them control.
slide32

Example of a content map or visual used with a subject matter expert

Same image after learning objectives have been with content. Note, this was a course re-design project.

Same image after learning objectives have been aligned with content. Note, this was a course re-design project.

  • Skype – we use Skype for voice connection during meetings. The chat tool is also very user friendly as well.  Skype isn’t perfect. Sometimes the audio quality isn’t that great, especially when there are more than a handful of people using it for a conference call. For larger meetings we opt for using a conference call service where we can set up “bridge” calls.
  • Google Docs – Google offers a virtual office program that allows you to upload, create and share text or wordprocessing documents. You can also, develop simple PowerPoint-like slides and virtual spreadsheets using google docs. When we’re working on a document or want to share text content and sometimes images, we use Google docs to work on shared documents.  I really like the color coded commenting feature that’s available. It makes it possible to track changes, comments and contributions to any text file we’re working on together. Also, we’ve found that Google Docs is one of the most user friendly collaboration tools, and can be used when working on documents with SME’s who have even a limited experience with web technology. Also, I love the fact that they really don’t change the basic look and structure of the interface, so the user doesn’t get confused. In addition to the Skype Chat we teach SME’s to use the Google Talk as well. It’s an additional way to get a hold of us if they have a quick question or need to comment on work we have sent for review. For those who have never used web software like the Google tools, we send out a quick little guide (I whipped up) for using them.  It’s true that Google already develops fairly intuitively designed products, but some subject matter experts don’t feel facile enough with software or online tech to just dive in to experimenting and using the software, so we figured that we would give them a guide to help them learn the tools. I linked each page of the guide in the thumbnails below.

We’ve also used the simple survey tool available when you work with the Spreadsheets in Google docs to record data from usability tests.  Google makes it possible to create no-frills survey tools which are actually quite effective.

I did forget one more tool… we keep meeting and design minutes and notes in a Wiki Spaces website. The wiki is also used to document our business process and even complex sub processes. We’re currently using it right now to document our Learning Management System (LMS) conversion process.  Thank goodness for wikis! No one person is in charge of setting up the structure of the wiki, and for some reason, it works: we’re still able to find what we need.

Google Tools Guide:


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