Working successful outside the cube, a redux

It’s been a few weeks since I was in Belgium for the excellent 2012 PHPBenelux Conference, which brought together beer, chocolates ( at least for the wife ) and PHP together for an excellent two days of fun and community. And I did a new talk, Working successfully outside the cube, which was a new talk for me that I got great feedback from.

But, from reading the comments, there’s two points I didn’t really hit on well during the talk, so I figured I take the time now and try to answer them here.

What is the cost to my employer to be remote?

There isn’t a hard and fast answer to this question, and it depends upon your organization’s structure and policies along with what technologies they already have in place. Generally speaking, you’ll need this:

  • A computer that is portable enough to take between home and work. This is a laptop for most people, but if you have one of those ultra-portable desktops that would work as well. But anymore, the cost between a desktop and laptop isn’t very much. Even if you don’t work remote having the convenience of being able to take your laptop to meetings, over to your boss’s or co-worker’s desk, or out to a customer site, far outweighs the minor additional costs.
  • Tools to communicate with co-workers. This usually means IM or IRC for quick messaging, Skype or a soft phone for talking directly with someone, and Gotomeeting or WebEx for doing screen sharing. Most organizations I know of have these sort of tools already in place for their marketing, sales, and/or support teams, and if not many of these are free or low cost to use.
  • A way to access servers and other resources in the office remotely. This is most likely a VPN or other secure connection, which chances are good already exist if you salespeople or other executives that are outside of the office working with any frequency.

It’s probably best to investigate this first with your boss to see if there are any hurdles you need to get past, but chances are good the infrastructure is already in place.

What are some best practices for collaboration tools for remote workers?

While everyone’s organization is different, here’s what I find that works best for me:

  • Got a quick question? Use IM or IRC for this, unless you don’t need an answer right now, then use email
  • Want to chat an issue over with someone? Use Skype, or perhaps Gotomeeting/WebEx if you need to show your screen to someone.
  • Need someones attention now? Direct IM, text message, or email works best here.

As for soft skills in effective communication, check out a blog post I did about respecting other’s time a while back for some good points on effectively planning meetings and learning how to make sure your interactions are productive with others. And next weekend I’ll be doing a talk at the virtual Day Camp 4 Developers conference around how to navigate the business world, which should also help you out in your quest to better plug into your organization and be productive while a remote worker.

Hope this answers everyone’s lingering questions from the talk. Thanks again for all the great feedback, I hope to do it again soon…

Written on February 24, 2012
old   career   speaking