Monthly Archives: October 2015

Pros and Conferences

This month, we have been looking at communication options for the home office worker. Next week, we will focus on other communication options.  

Many people who work from home are relieved of the obligation to attend meetings, which are the bane of many traditional office workers. They are productivity killing at best and soul destroying at worst. However, in some cases (and the percentage is open to debate), they are a necessary conduit for collaboration. When we pick up new clients or projects, it’s often necessary to assemble the team that will be working on the project to outline objectives, identify deliverables, milestones, and due dates, and assign specific tasks. Meetings may also be needed sporadically throughout the life of a project to track progress, answer questions, and solve problems.

For work-at-home types, these types of meetings are often held via conference call. The term “conference call” implies that a number of participants are in on a group telephone call, but today there are a variety of different ways a “conference call” can be held.

On Tuesday, we’ll look at the traditional conference call in the context of the home office worker.

Twit to Twitter

This month, we have been looking at social media and how they apply to working from home. (We’ll be looking at them in more detail in future posts.) We’ve looked at Facebook and LinkedIn, and the last one we’ll consider is Twitter.

Perhaps the best way to think about Twitter is as being akin to the news crawls that scroll along the bottom of cable news channel screens. The writer has only 140 characters in which to convey a message, which will be little more than a headline. Typically, there is also a link to a longer comment or article. Twitter now supports pictures and even video. Many people use it for direct messaging, although conversations are visible to all your and your correspondents’ followers. This can be a little confusing if you only follow one side of the conversation.

Twitter has also become one of the chief customer relations tools used by businesses—or, we should say, by the customers of businesses—be they large or small. Customer inquiries and complaints are increasingly being funneled through Twitter. Also, businesses are being talked about, in the third person, on Twitter and elsewhere in the social media universe. As a result, you need to know what people may be saying about you.

There are other social media networks out there, and there is no shortage of resources to help you make the most of them. If you find that colleagues or clients are more interested in Instagram or Pinterest or, heck, SnapChat Vines, than go where your clients are.

Link to LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be described as “Facebook for business,” as it has many of the same features as Facebook, but it is intended for business connections and networking. We’ll look at LinkedIn in more detail in a future post, but for now, LinkedIn is where you go to talk business and not post pictures of your dinner (unless you are a professional chef, that is). One of the most important aspects of LinkedIn is the Groups, where you join specific discussions related to your business and industry.

Like Facebook, there is a general newsfeed, where you post status updates, projects you have worked on and completed, awards or acknowledgements you have received, and links to and comments on stories related to your field. There is also a feature called LinkedIn Pulse, which lets LinkedIn users publish articles that are longer than a status update. Pulse Posts are kind of a mix of blogposts and longer features. We have sporadically posted LinkedIn Pulse posts related to working at home.

LinkedIn also has an extensive job board, and has largely become the way that job seekers and potential employers connect. If you are running your own home business, that may not interest you, but you should be aware of that feature.

Face to Facebook

Facebook was not designed to be a business networking site or tool (the big applications for it seems to be playing games, posting “memes,” and taking and posting incredibly unappetizing pictures of food). It’s more for keeping in touch with friends and family, and in fact if you want to use Facebook for business purposes, you need to set up a page separate from your personal profile.

Whether you use Facebook for personal or business purposes—or both—depends on with whom you connect. If you only connect with colleagues and talk business, then it’s a business-oriented profile. If you only link to friends and family and share pictures of kids, pets, or meals (or all three at once), then it’s personal. Most of us use Facebook for some combination of business and personal, with an emphasis on the latter. And of course many people avoid it entirely, and they are not wrong to do so.

Remember, though, that managers and other colleagues can see what you are up to on Facebook—and many do in fact keep tabs on teleworkers that way—so be careful what you post. If you are supposed to be hard at work, and you post pictures of yourself at the beach (posts are time- and location-stamped), don’t be surprised if you get some sort of admonition.

Facebook is a good tool for basic interaction; it has different types of messaging, too, so you can use it as an e-mail or even instant messaging program, which is convenient if you like to keep everything self-contained in one site. Some people we know exclusively use Facebook Messenger for communication—which means if we don’t log on to Facebook regularly, we can miss a message. Again, we often need to be cognizant that different people have different communication preferences.

Networking—Or Not Working?

Unless you have been locked in an underwater pyramid for the past five years, you have probably encountered the term “social media,” or at the very least seen references to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and maybe one or two others (Instagram, Pinterest). It is a broad generalization to say that they are all basically different versions of the same thing—ways of networking with others via the Internet—but they have some important distinctions. Those distinctions will become more important in future posts when we discuss using these sites for promoting your business.

Now, it should be pointed out that not everyone is a fan of social media, just as some people not fans of the telephone, and some dislike e-mail. So be it. But social media does have its advantages, both as a tool for networking and as a means of marketing and promoting one’s business. However, a chainsaw is also a tool, and movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre show us how a tool can be misused. Likewise, it can be too easy to become addicted to social media and spend all one’s time on Facebook or Twitter doing little that is productive or useful. Of course, television, radio, music, books, and the Internet in general have long provided the same types of distractions and diversions. It sometimes takes a great deal of discipline to turn these things off when there is work to be done.

In the next series of posts, we’ll look at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in turn.

Instant Contact

The telephone is, for many, a great way to communicate, but it isn’t always efficient. Let’s say you need to know when a meeting is scheduled. You could call and ask, but that can involve the dreaded “phone tag” or balloon into a lengthy phone conversation. Sending text messages is a great way to efficiently ask simple questions and get simple responses. Still, there can be some lag in the response. Not everyone has texting capabilities, and some wireless customers still get charged high rates for text messages, so they often prefer to limit them. Sometimes we exceed our texting limits and have to put a hold on them until the next billing cycle.

A simple—and free—solution is instant messaging (IM). It works essentially like texting on a cellphone: you send short messages to people in your contacts list (some services call this a “Buddy List”). Instant messaging works either on a computer or on any mobile device, depending on the specific IM application you use.

There are many programs out there for instant messaging, and hardcore IM nerds can easily recommend their favorite highly obscure programs. On the Macintosh, iChat comes with the OS, and is the default messaging program. It works like—and closely resembles—the Messages app that is used for texting on an iPhone. In newer versions of the Mac, you can use iChat to send text messages from your computer to a mobile phone.

On Windows, there have been some changes over the years, but current versions of Windows encourage you to use the chat/texting feature in Skype for instant messaging. Indeed, even on the Mac, Skype is great for instant messaging, and we now IM virtually exclusively using Skype rather than a dedicated messaging program.

There is no shortage of third-party instant messaging applications, such as Adium, Pidgin, and many more that let you access one or more instant messaging networks. These networks—like AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google Messenger, and others—are important in order to connect with others. If you have an account on AIM, you may not be able to IM with someone who is on Google, or vice versa. Therefore, it is important that whatever IM program you use be compatible with whatever networks your contacts are on, otherwise you will just be talking to yourself.

If you are a teleworking employee, your parent company will likely tell you what program and network to use for messaging, and they may also have their own corporate network. It’s actually not uncommon for managers to randomly message teleworkers to make sure, Big Brother-like, that they are actually at their desks.

As we pointed out in previous posts, it can be useful—if not necessary—to turn off your instant messaging every once in a while, particularly if you are deeply immersed in a task that requires intense concentration, like writing a book about teleworking. Sometimes, whenever the incoming message chime sounds, one has a tendency to tell oneself, “There goes productivity.” Still, it may be important and even crucial to have that constant connectivity.

The Age of Missed Communication

Have you noticed that, in this day and age of myriad forms of communication, getting in touch with people has become nearly impossible a lot of the time? Not necessarily with friends and family (although…), or even close colleagues, but trying to get business done—which sometimes involves cold-calling people for various purposes—can sometimes be an exercise in multi-channel frustration. Everyone has voicemail, Caller ID, or at the very least officious receptionists/assistants, and no one returns (or very rarely returns) voicemails from people they don’t know, and e-mail has become a virtually useless communication tool (thanks, spammers, for ruining it for everyone).

In this age of myriad communication technologies, people have preferences for how they like to connect. Each of us prefers one particular medium over another. Your clients will each have their own preferences, and other colleagues will also have their chosen channels. Is it phone? Text? E-mail? Skype? Facebook Messenger? Twitter? LinkedIn Mail?

As a service provider, you will need to understand how each of your clients or other colleagues prefer to stay in touch and adapt accordingly. You may hate being called on the phone, but still realize that some people prefer it and thus never check e-mail. And vice versa. We need to be adaptable.

This months’ posts will look at all the various ways the home office worker can interact with colleagues, coworkers, and clients.

Insomnia is Nothing to Lose Sleep Over

All of us at some point or other have struggled with insomnia of some kind, whether it be a rare occurrence or a more persistent condition, or whether it simply extends bedtime a few hours longer or is a completely sleepless night. The next day is no fun, especially if we have things we need to get done. When you work for home, you may have one leg up over others (even if the leg is the only thing that is up) in that you may be able to set the alarm for a little later than normal. Even if we work at home, we don’t often have that flexibility, especially if there are others in the household, but sometimes we do.

Regardless of that the next day will be like, when you work from home, it’s easy to not let sleeplessness go to waste. While it’s certainly not desirable, and you shouldn’t make a habit out of it, the odd bout of insomnia can be put to reasonably productive use.

Some of us use insomnia to accomplish various tasks. Even without getting up and turning on the computer, sometimes we can strategize, conceptualize, and organize. It certainly beats obsessing about negative thoughts and other troubles (real or imagined), that will be there in the morning.

There is also the insomnia that is brought about by waking up abruptly with a great idea for a project you are working on. As we all know, sometimes the solutions to problems come to us when our minds are occupied elsewhere, which is why we occasionally wake up with those “Eureka!” moments. And experience has taught us to act on those moments, or, like dreams, will be scarcely remembered come dawn.

The flipside is also worth noting. If you had a “real” job you did not like, you may have figured out that insomnia was caused by worrying about that job. Insomnia may disappear once you start working at home because you can have a greater sense of control about your work life and your schedule. On the other hand, some people are more stressed working at home and fret about living the independent life. If you do find that being the cause of your insomnia, maybe you need to rethink the working at home concept.

Multitask Masters

Richard here. About 12 years ago or so, I was on a conference call with a group of clients, and one of them had gone on a tangent, as many people on conference calls can do, so I thought I would take that opportunity to get other things done. After all, it’s not uncommon to be on conference calls that function more like having the radio or TV on: a voice burbling in the background that you don’t need to pay too much attention to. So as I was getting some writing done, and checking e-mail, suddenly someone said. “Richard, what do you think?” Since I hadn’t really been paying attention, I had no idea what I was being asked about. I’m sure I extemporized something, but it was a lesson learned.

Some people think they have the ultimate solution to time management: do everything at the exact some time! This is called multitasking, and while doing everything at the same time is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. And the tendency to do several different things at once can actually complicate our attempts at time management, if not our basic productivity. While talking on the phone, we might be composing an e-mail, while at the same time instant messaging, while trying to write a press release and update our social media status. And while, as my object lesson earlier indicated, we can end up embarrassing ourselves, on the other hand, we can end up with messages are badly garbled, poorly worded, and/or ill-conceived.

Now, some people like multitasking, usually because they are quite good at it. Younger adults are especially proficient, probably because they grew up as all these communication technologies were emerging. Multitasking is second nature to them. It’s not for everyone, though, and one of the important aspects of finding our natural rhythm is finding out the extent to which we can multitask effectively. Once we determine how many balls we can have in the air at a time, we can apply filters to the others.