Back in the saddle…

Let’s try this again, shall we?

Nobody intents to let their blog die, and neither did I. But it happened. I was too gung-ho and got burned out, my dog died, my boyfriend got into a motorcycle accident, and Chicago’s summer season ended. Excuses, excuses–I know. But now I’m back on the job hunt after a brief break during which my current job gave me extra hours, and Chicago’s winter holiday season is already kicking. I’m sure for the next two months, I’ll have plenty to write about.

In the meantime, I’m forcing myself (as of yesterday) to apply for one job every day. Statistically, somebody’s bound to hire me eventually, right? And if it’s just one a day, I won’t get too burned out on them (or that’s the theory, at least). I write a new (more or less) cover letter for every application I submit, and I DESPISE writing cover letters. Hopefully, this strategy will allow me to keep up steam until I’ve found something.

With some luck I’ll be able to keep the blog going this time. Thanks for sticking around!

The Disadvantages of Telecommuting

As much as I love telecommuting (here’s why), it does have its downsides. I have discovered these disadvantages during my tenure telecommuting for the ALMA project. I hope that by voicing these problems, people thinking about telecommuting full time will be able to consider both the cons and the pros. I also briefly discuss how I deal with these issues. Here are some difficulties I have encountered while telecommuting:

Motivation Issues

I’ve heard many work-at-home people say they’ve had problems with motivation. And, admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to get work done without the boss looming nearby. I’ll be working out on the porch and just get distracted looking at the flowers or the sky or the people on other porches. I find this happens much more often when the project I’m working on is less interesting than I’d like (shocking, I know).   Unfortunately, the hours won’t work themselves, and the work won’t finish itself, so telecommuters have to learn pretty quickly not to let the mind wander too far.

I also have the opposite problem, at times. Without some distractions, like other employees dropping in, I sometimes find I get sucked into a project too much. I tend to over focus, hunching uncomfortably over my laptop keyboard and not noticing the head, neck, or backache I’ve developed from overdoing it. Yes, the work gets done this way, but it’s not healthy.

In fact, recent studies have shown that frequent short mental breaks are required for optimal productivity. This New York Times article elaborates on this idea, suggesting options for “cognitive recharging” that even include short naps. However, the article does caution against taking too many breaks.

Telecommuters have to strike a balance when motivating themselves. Some days, I find that I can’t concentrate more than 20 minutes at a time, so I spread my workday over a longer period with many more breaks. Other days, I am very focused, and have to consciously force myself to take breaks. On these days, I cram more work into a shorter time period. It’s all about finding the right balance to fill the weekly work quota.

Disconnected from the Workplace

Sometimes it can be a little difficult to keep track of what’s going on at the office. For instance, my boss was out of town this week, and I didn’t even know it!

Things change at the office, and the telecommuter may be completely unaware of it. Maybe a policy change affecting the telecommuter occurs, but nobody informs them. Or perhaps somebody has left the company, but nobody thought to inform the telecommuter, who is wondering why their e-mails to the former employee are now going unanswered. People rarely intend to leave the telecommuting worker out of the loop; it’s just a simple case of out of sight, out of mind. Intentional or not, it can be very frustrating to find out things after the fact, especially when they affect my productivity.

Communication Problems

Communication with people back in the office presents a number of challenges. First of all, it is not always easy to get your point across through e-mail, or even via a phone call. This is doubly true when working with very technical documents. There have been times when I’ve asked somebody a question, but I didn’t understand the answer. So I had to ask for clarification. In some cases I’ve had to ask for clarification several times, which is frustrating for everyone involved. Dealing with these sorts of issues face to face would probably speed thing up and lower the frustration levels quite a bit.

Another problem is that e-mail and phone communications aren’t always timely. You’re always waiting for that return e-mail, and often left wondering if the recipient received it at all. Furthermore, and e-mail conversation takes much longer than the same conversation in person. You can always call, but it’s not guaranteed that the person you’re trying to reach will be available, or that they’ll even return the call.

Finally, it’s much easier to ignore e-mails and calls from somebody who is telecommuting. After all, they’re not in the office to bother you in person, and you can always say, “Oops, sorry I must have lost that e-mail.”

Hours Not Always in Sync with Others’

I love that I am able to work at 2 a.m. if I am so inclined. However, if I find an issue that I need somebody else to deal with, I have to remind myself that it will have to wait until the next day. The same goes for e-mails being sent to other time zones. If I e-mail Charlottesville at 4 p.m., I shouldn’t expect a response until the next day because it’s 5 p.m. there, and the person has probably already gone home. Finally, there could be problems if somebody sends you an urgent e-mail and you aren’t able to receive it because you’re not working at the same time they are.

Therefore, every week I make a point of working during normal work hours for Socorro, Charlottesville, and Chile, so that on those days at least, I can be reached and I can reach anyone with relative little delay. I also have my phone set to check my work e-mail address on a regular basis, so if an emergency does come up, I’ll at least know about it within a reasonable time frame.

I hope this article helps anyone facing this issues as a telecommuter or helps someone decide whether this life is right for them. I encourage any of my 3 readers to post in the comments with any similar experiences or tips for dealing with them. As always, thanks for reading!

The Joys of Telecommuting

I really love telecommuting. Why? Because this is my office:

My Back Porch "Office"

Bright and sunny in the morning, yet pleasantly shady in the afternoon. Best. Office. Ever.

As some of you already know, I have spent the last year working as Documentation Specialist (aka engineer herder and acronym wrangler) for the ALMA project. Well for the last month and a half (and until the project ends for our department), they very kindly permitted me to switch over to 100% telecommuting so I could go on this little odyssey of mine.

As I mentioned above, I really love telecommuting. Here are some more reasons why:

I can choose where I work.

Such as the lovely back porch. Or the breakfast nook (which is sunny and nice on chillier afternoons). Or the dining room table. Or even the park or the beach!

I can choose when I work.

I am a night owl; I have been my entire life. I am happiest when I can burn the midnight (or 2 a.m. or 4 a.m.) oil and sleep through the morning. I have no problem getting up in the morning–I got to those 8 a.m. classes somehow, after all–but given the choice, I’d really rather not.

I can work in my pajamas.

Or in a suit. Or in just jeans and a tee-shirt. I can send e-mails, and the recipients have no way of knowing that I may or may not be wearing any pants.

I can listen to any music I want.

While in the office, there were no rules forbidding music that I  knew of. I simply didn’t want to bother my officemates with my music–which is extremely varied, and probably isn’t for everyone. I also dislike wearing headphones because they’re uncomfortable and block out things I might need to hear. Working at home means problem solved.

There are fewer interruptions.

Because I choose to work either when household members are at work or asleep, my work is generally interruption free. In the office, I had chatting officemates, people popping in and out looking for things, the phone ringing, etc. Now the interruptions pretty much only happen when I want them to.

No commute.

No dealing with public transit or all the other crazy drivers on the road. Granted, the commute to my office in Socorro was about 90 seconds in “heavy” traffic. But in Chicago, the commute can be brutal, whether driving or taking the train/bus.

Despite all of these lovely perks, there are some downsides to telecommuting, as well. Those downsides, as well as some ways I deal with them, can be found in this post.

What is introversion?

The last couple of weeks have taught me quite a bit about successful networking, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned. To that end, I had planned a 2-part series on networking for people who are shy/introverted.  However, during my research, I realized that–despite the apparent shared stigma toward them–shyness and introversion are actually very different things, and people may want to know the difference. So I will set up the series with a couple of posts describing these concepts.

In short, introversion indicates a lack of interest in most socialization, while shyness (also called social anxiety by the psych types) is characterized by a fear of social interaction. I have both.

Introversion after the cut.

Continue reading

A Little Bit of Housekeeping

This blog is almost three weeks old, and I already have some followers, so I think it’s time for a housekeeping post. More interesting posts will resume very soon (see below for what you can expect to see from this blog in the future).

Thank Yous

First things first: a huge thank you to all my readers, commenters, and followers. I never expected to see any sort of reader action on this blog–I was doing it for myself to keep me motivated and writing–and I’m so pleased that other people are enjoying it. Thank you also to everyone who clicked on tweeted links to my post yesterday. Welcome Twitter people! A super special thank you goes out to anyone who retweeted or otherwise shared any of my blog posts. I wish I could thank you all personally, but I generally have no way to tell who is doing it.

Also, hello to my readers in Canada, South Africa, and Chile (although I suspect I know who is in Chile).

Some News

My H-A-R-D networking the other day paid off–I’m officially a blogger for the Chicago chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. I’m really excited for this opportunity, and I have some good ideas for articles. But don’t worry, shiny new readers, I won’t neglect this blog.

The Future

Here are some ideas for posts or articles that are in some form of being researched, outlined or hashed out…. or are simply still percolating in my brain meats. Note that some of these will end up over on the STC Chicago blog, but I’ll try to post links to those here on Second City Odyssey.

  • Multipart series on the evolution of my personal branding project (my logo, my business cards, and possibly my future Web site if/when I outgrow this one)
  • The benefits and pitfalls of only spending a single day at the STC Summit
  • A two-part series on networking for the shy and introverted
  • (Hopefully) a Q&A with one of the conference presenters
  • Some thoughts on Chicago’s vs. Albuquerque’s public transit systems
  • A reflection on “home”
  • A discussion of my experiences telecommuting across the country
  • Some thoughts on personal vs. professional social networking

An Entreaty

I am always trying to improve my writing, especially since blogging is such a new medium for me. Therefore, I am always open to feedback and constructive criticism. Are my posts too long? Are they funny? Are they interesting? Are they easy to read? Do they move you?

If you have anything to say about Second City Odyssey, I am an eager listener (reader?). Even if you just want to tell me I left in a potentially humiliating typo, drop me a line via comments, e-mail, or LinkedIn.

Thank you again for taking the time to follow along with me on my crazy journey.