Monthly Archives: January 2014

Your Home Office Away From Home

A couple of weeks ago, DRB Business Interiors in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., hosted a Saratoga Teleworkers meeting during which they pitched an idea they had for leasing out bits of their facility to remote workers. Called Space 2 Create, remote workers, entrepreneurs, and others can rent space by the month at various levels, ranging from $150 to $350 a month, which gives you access a few days a month or 24/7, again depending on which package you choose. The location has desks and chairs (they sell desks and chairs, so that’s a given), WiFi, a conference room, A/V equipment, and individual rooms for private phone calls or meetings. It’s designed to facilitate creative collaboration—or foster productive independent working.

More and more of these types of facilities are popping up. Down the Hudson River, in Beacon, N.Y. (fun fact: Beacon is the northernmost Metro North stop, making it easy to get to NYC) is the Beahive:

BEAHIVE is a new kind of collaborative space for work and community, the only of its kind in the Hudson Valley. At the most basic level, we provide a shared, creative work environment for entrepreneurs, the creative class, microbusinesses and consultants.

In 2012, they opened a third “hive” in Albany. (The second hive was in Kingston, N.Y., but has since been closed. Colony collapse disorder, perhaps?) The hives include WiFi, networked printers and other peripherals, kitchen facilities, and other amenities.

These types of facilities can be pricey and may be impractical as permanent, full-time office space, but can serve in a pinch if you do need an outside location—either to collaborate, have meetings, or just to be around other people. They can also be good for larger events. It’s hard to have an office party when you work from home, but if you need the ability to have client/colleague get-togethers, these types of facilities can provide a good alternative to having people in your house.

The Seven-Year Glitch

Richard here. It can be astounding how much we take reliable Internet access for granted. And it’s not only when we work from home; people who work in outside offices are just as dependent on it, and even in our non-working lives we rely just as heavily on connectivity to keep in touch with friends and family, as well as for basic entertainment. After all, how many of us stream video content rather than watch broadcast TV or DVDs? And Facebook appears to be the #1 leisure activity, at least for a lot of the people I know. So when something compromises Internet access, we can feel truly disconnected, in all senses of the word. And a certain panic sets in, especially if we have deadlines and project deliverables like articles need to be submitted electronically. (This is why, in the book, we recommend identifying outside locations—like a coffee shop or library—at which you can have emergency Internet access.)

Such was my case recently. A couple of weeks ago, while Skyping with my Home Office That Works! coauthor Dr. Joe, I noticed the connection would drop on occasion. I blamed Skype (falsely, it would turn out), and would redial. Over the next few days, Skype calls would drop with greater and greater (and more and more maddening) frequency. So we actually had to talk on the phone. (And then one day I was having cell phone connectivity issues, too, and was really disconnected!)

At the same time, I noticed that accessing Web pages in general had become very slow, and loading even Google would stall. My e-mail program would time out checking for mail, and Instant Messaging would abruptly disconnect. So this wasn’t just a Skype problem. So, remembering the old computer mantra—“when all else fails, reboot”—I restarted my cable modem, Airport Base Station, and computer. That seemed to solve the problem, at least for a little while. Then, the same problems would recur.

Then I remembered the mantra from the Battlestar Galactica reboot: “all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” Indeed, I recalled that seven years earlier, I had a similar problem. At the time, I had called my cable provider (which is also my high-speed Internet service provider) and after I made my usual joking references to “the coyote finally winning” and faulty Acme products, they dispatched a service technician. The problem was quickly sussed out: my cable modem was “worn out” and was on its last legs. Apparently, they don’t last forever, and that one had been about seven years old. (Seven years appears to be the lifespan for the average cable modem.) So they replaced it, and everything worked. Hi keeba!

Well, for a little while. A very little while. Shortly after the cable guy left, the same problems started happening again. So I began to ask myself, maybe it wasn’t the cable modem after all. Not really being an expert in networking technology (I know enough to be dangerous, and to answer the question, “What’s your IP address?” with “the bathroom is down the hall on the right”), I investigated the scant few possible problems that occurred to me, but was quickly stumped. So I called the cable company again, they dispatched another technician, and after about an hour or so, the problem was finally diagnosed: a “filthy” modem.

When you lease cable modems, you usually don’t get a brand-spankin’ new unit. You will typically get one that someone else had been using. It turns out, the “new” modem they gave me had last been owned, the guy said, by someone who had apparently downloaded every computer virus known to humanity. As a result, the modem’s IP address was blocked by virtually every Web site on the Internet. So they fixed me up with a new, detoxed  unit and everything was fine for the next seven years.

Until a few weeks ago.

This time, rather than call the cable company, I researched the possibility of simply buying my own cable modem (the cable company has recently started charging a monthly fee to lease the modem, so I figured if I was going to pay for one anyway, I’d get a new one of my own). A quick Web search turned up step-by-step instructions for buying and installing one’s own cable modem, and it seemed pretty simple. I investigated specific models (they range from about $70 to $100 or so), and one Sunday afternoon, went out and picked up a Motorola unit that had been highly recommended. (You can also get cable modems that have built-in WiFi capabilities, which precludes the need for a router. I use Apple’s Airport for my WiFi, and it has worked flawlessly for more than a decade, so I was not inclined to replace it.)

When you buy a new cable modem, you naturally have to connect it, but then it needs to be activated by the cable company. (They say you can activate it online but you can see how that would be a problem if, by dint of having bought a new cable modem, you don’t actually have Internet access. Which reminded me that, back in 1993 when I bought my first 14.4 Kbps dial-up modem—blazing fast speed!—the instruction manual literally said, “If you are having connection problems, visit our Web site.” Um…)

Anyway, all you need to locate is what is known as the MAC (media access control) address of the device (printed on the side of the unit and included in the documentation as well) and give that to the cable company. So I called the cable company, they were able to access the modem and configure it, and in less than 10 minutes, I was up and running. (Actually, the only question that flummoxed the otherwise extremely helpful tech support representative was “To what address do I return the old modem?”)

Web pages now opened more quickly than I was used to, YouTube videos would now play without interruption, my e-mail program didn’t time out checking for mail, and Dr. Joe and I had a glitch-free Skype conversation. The feeling of relief when everything was working again was really quite remarkable. Is this how drug addicts feel when they need a fix?

It’s a bit odd to think that a device that just sits on a shelf blinking could “wear out,” but it can. So I have made a note to remind myself that in 2021, I may need to replace it.

Today’s Home Office Links

What others are saying about working at home.

The virtual office becomes more virtual…or just disappears. (Or: The Internet ate my office!) (BizJournals)

The physical office becomes less physical. (Or: I’ve got the whole office in my hand!) (KDH News, syndicated from the Washington Post)

The physical office also becomes more physical. (Or: You’ve got to hide your files away!) (KDH News, syndicated from the Washington Post)

Poolsidepreneurs Go Off the Deep End

Richard here. This week in Upstate New York, thanks to the shifting “polar vortex” (I could have sworn I saw Polar Vortex at the Palladium in NYC in the 1980s, but I could be wrong), any temperature in the double digits is considered a heatwave (didn’t Polar Vortex cover Martha & the Vandellas’ “Heatwave”?). So it was with some amusement that I saw an article come over the transom that talked about so-called “Poolsidepreneurs.” Falling under the category of “Only in L.A.,” it is:

[a] recently launched exclusive, members-only service [that] offers entrepreneurs access to private hotel pools, lounges and meeting spaces as an alternative to working at home or in coffee shops.

Cost?

Currently, entrepreneurs can apply for the citywide membership in Los Angeles for a charter rate of $99/month. Additional markets and membership options will be added in 2014, including an all-inclusive access plan that will enable use at any U.S. location

So, look for it to cost more than $99 a month, methinks. You have to “request an invitation,” according to the official Web site, so as to—as they put it—“keep out the riff raff.” But it could be argued that I am the riff raff, and I’m with Groucho Marx: I don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.

I remain unsure that hotel pools are the most conducive environments to getting productive work done, and I say this as someone who can really get inspired to write by sitting on the deck of a beach house staring out at the ocean or a lake.

But, if you’re into that sort of thing, and have deep pockets in your bathing trunks, why not? Just make sure all your files are backed up before the pudgy 10-year-old demonstrates his cannonball.

Today’s Home Office Links

What others are saying about working from home:

A dental equipment sales rep bridges the gap between work and home. (Natchez Democrat)

More about the home office deduction. (Sierra Vista Herald)

Staples announces broad expansion of its Connect Home and Office Automation program. That was easy. (Market Wired)

Finding the best room in the house an be a case of trial and error. (Jamie Todd Rubin)

Worried about working alone? Here’s a new trend, at least in Seattle: co-working, or sharing workspace with a few others. (West Seattle Blog)

The Importance of a Smartphone

If you have a home office, you know how reliant you are on the Internet. This is the primary way you stay in touch with colleagues and clients, as well as do mundane “errands.” When was the last time you made any kind of travel arrangement by phone? Most of us even pay our bills online now. And if we need to send and receive files to and from coworkers—or write blog posts—well, the importance of a reliable connection is even more vital.

Most of us get our primary Internet through our cable company, sometimes our satellite company, and sometimes via DSL or some other service. But these services don’t always boast 100% uptime—especially in the winter, where a blizzard or ice storm (or, it seems sometimes, the changing phase of the moon) can take out the cable. Even when the cable is functioning (we can watch our college basketball  games just fine) the cable modem—the device that connects your computer or home office network to the Internet service provided by the cable company—doesn’t last forever. And when the cable modem starts to “go,” it can be very frustrating when we are trying to have Skype calls, download large files, or even try to get simple things done.

Although troublesome hardware can and should be replaced, it can take a while to get the cable company to respond. But what about those times when having a consistent reliable Internet connection is out of your control, as during a complete cable outage?

In the past, we would—and have—been out of luck, unless we could venture out to a coffee shop or library and use someone else’s working connection. Today, though, we have some respite—some backup—in the form of a smartphone, or even a tablet PC like an iPad. The key is being able to access the Internet over a non-cable-based network, like a 3G or 4G or the like. This can really save your home-office bacon when you absolutely need to be connected. There are limitations, of course; file exchange is not especially easy on mobile devices, and sometimes those data networks can go or slow down, especially during inclement weather. But you’ll find that they can provide a valuable backup system when you really need to be connected.