Bringing this blog back

I have so many links and articles stuffed into my Pocket account it isn’t funny, and have so much to share. It is time to get this back on track. Bear with me!

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The hubbub about Yahoo!

There is a lot being written about the announcement from Yahoo! regarding the requirement of their remote staff to migrate back to company offices by June.

I am torn on this. It is quite obvious to me that the company requires dramatic and disruptive changes so that it can align itself with new and lasting objectives. The executive team likely knows what policy changes like this will do to its teams, and I would be surprised if they didn’t consider those in context of who and where the remote members are. They are making decisions on behalf of the entire organization as well as executing their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, and that process isn’t easy.

More over, we the outsiders don’t know what this really means. Maybe there are not so many people so removed from a company property that they cannot manage this. Perhaps, at Yahoo!, remote workers simply don’t work, and this is the first opportunity to reset an already problematic situation.

I hesitate to make broad-stroked generalizations about this based on a single public announcement from the company. They know what they are doing and the outcomes their changes can make. I, and many others know the value in putting high value and productive people wherever it makes sense; my stance on the benefits of a remote workforce have not changed.

All I’m saying: give Yahoo! the benefit to make decisions important to all their stakeholders.

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Sitting and Standing at Work

Via a coworker: Cornell University Ergonomics Web

The bottom line:

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

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OOTO this morning…

Sometimes, even if you work from home, you need to go out of the office.

20110721-090331.jpg

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First Day: Welcoming New Hires | AYE Conference

Welcoming New Hires | AYE Conference (via @johannarothman)

You’ve hired a candidate. She starts on Monday. What will she think at the end of her first day? Will she be in the “honeymoon” phase, or will she be disappointed with your organization?

Being a new hire is a little bit like installing a piece of software. The first thing you see when you buy software is the installation. The first thing a new hire sees is how your organization takes in people. Here are some suggestions for a smooth first day:

Sadly, this doesn’t happen for the members of a distributed team. If you’re working from home, it might be even worse – you’re in the same place you were yesterday. You’re lucky if they sent you a computer and phone and have all your accounts already set up!

I don’t know that there is a well-regarded process for a company to follow. Without something, however, the team had better hope that the person on the other end, the remote one, is more than a self-starter – they need to be able to thrive far past that first day.

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Speaking at Geekend 2011

I’ll be speaking at Savannah’s Geekend 2011, November 10-12.

My presentation will be a variation of the talk I presented along with Jack Harvey last year.

“Distributed Teams and the Modern Company: Matters of Trust”

Distributed teams and the modern company: is this the new way of getting a business off the ground? It this the new way to grow an organization when the local talent pool is isn‚Äôt sufficient? If not nearby, you can get what you need (talent, skill, experience, etc.) elsewhere and still reach success. But there’s a catch – how do you build trust among a team when they’re rarely together?

I’m going to focus primarily on the trust aspects with this talk, spending a smaller amount of time on the general aspects of distributed teams. I’ll be describing the strong connection between the two and how trust is a vital component of the team’s success.

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Things an engineer wants in an engineering job

A long while back, during a particularly difficult round of interviewing people for a software engineering position, the HR manager asked

What are the top 5 things engineers want in an engineering job? Equipment? Products that ship? ???????????

I gave my top five, in no particular order

Development projects:

Work on challenging projects that are successful in both development and in the marketplace, using great technologies and innovation to create such products. Well run, staffed, planned projects make the engineer’s life easier – and allowing the flexibility for the engineer to add more “value” to the project team beyond coding is wonderful – and give high job satisfaction.

Professional Development/Support:

Conference attendance (especially), professional magazines/journals, introductions. Support of continuing education (in any area). Support of management in architectural decisions the engineer may make, as long as they’re well founded. Regular, on-schedule performance reviews, goal setting and the like that reflect and support growth of the engineer professionally and personally.

Work Environment:

Great hardware that doesn’t limit or slow the development process. When better/best is needed, it is obtained without issue. Quiet work area, large enough to support multiple bits of hardware. Comfortable chair.

Salary/Benefits:

Competitive salary. Full benefits package (medical, dental, vision, retirement, etc.). PTO, holidays. Performance bonuses. Recognition of jobs well done.

Flexibility:

Work at home, flexible working hours, understanding/support of the former items.

I decided to expand upon those items a good deal more, because in comparing companies a job-hunter can generally only look at tangible benefits – pay, benefits, commute time, title – and make a side by side comparison. Often, a small company cannot compete on tangible benefits alone. What counts are the intangible benefits – things only gleaned from the workplace’s culture, flow and philosophy.

I think it is important for a small company to position what are traditionally the intangible benefits as tangible benefits when selling itself to the job seeker. By doing so, differentiating SmallCo from BigCo is easier – while there aren’t stock options there may be a great work-at-home policy.

The points below are specific to the company I work for but I think are safe to expand to most any small company, especially a software company. I’ll try to pull out some of them for further posts in the near future.

Now, some commentary on the above related to what we *offer* a potential or current employee. This has been going through my head a lot, especially since I’m not seeing people who are interested in our position because of *us* – I’ve even been told they’re interested because it is such an easy commute. We need to differentiate from other companies by more than just “we do cool Mac work” and “nice location” – what really differentiates THIS position more than all the others?

Trying to answer that has been hard, as we cannot describe the wonderful but *intangible* benefits that we as The Company employees have:

- Great camaraderie
- Varied and interesting personalities, experiences
- Respect in our market and of our customers
- Great connections with people in the Mac development industry (Apple and elsewhere)
- Honest goals with honest people behind them
- And so many other intangibles, which may only be seen by one person but are certainly important.

The intangible benefits are great, but they don’t make it through the comparisons of job postings and job offers, and they may not be realized until someone beings working and finds them out for themselves.

So how do we increase our exposure of *tangible* benefits, so that people are really interested in the position we offer and would choose to learn more about us rather than someone else? I think we need to offer more specific tangible benefits:

Re: professional development/support

- I’d be in favor of offering each engineer a stipend for professional development “stuff” – books, magazines, memberships, etc. It doesn’t have to be much, but it does show a defined commitment to supporting the engineer’s craft.
- I’d like to see The Company have a defined policy on continuing education. Some thoughts: contribution to fees or tuitions, flexibility in working hours, use of knowledge gained in the The Company growth path. We may already have something like this in practice, but I think it needs to be defined and listed as a tangible benefit.

Re: work environment

- Can I get an Aeron chair too? :)
- Each incoming employee is given a maximum of $X to configure the hardware system of their choice, no questions asked. This is the hardware stipend, and it can be created from the input of all the engineers and IT.
If the engineer wants a laptop, or a desktop, or three monitors – if you can do it within the stipend nobody cares. If you buy a laptop and desktop for your work, nobody cares. If you buy a desktop and three monitors, but then start complaining that you need a laptop (sans legitimate reason) too bad. I would see this as a definite plus for our job offering, as control and flexibility of one’s computer, especially for an engineer, is paramount.
- A lot has been written about work environments, and the evidence seems to point to space and privacy being important in the engineer’s success. We need to keep this in mind as we expand our office spaces.

Re: salary/benefits

- Are we competitive in the salary ranges?
- Is salary negotiable, based on experience and value?
- Is PTO negotiable? This one gets me, not only because I never have enough PTO but because I think someone moving jobs, even after years of experience, suffers greatly. For instance, when I started at The Company I lost 6 days of PTO (going from 18 to 12/year). PTO is a hugely tangible benefit to an employee, and taking a hit of any proportion on the PTO front is a quality of life hit. PTO is a directly-comparable value, alongside salary, that could differentiate between a candidate interviewing with us or someone else. It is also a tangible benefit that we can control more so than many others. My suggestion: offer more base PTO in our benefits package, and grow it accordingly.
- Continue to revise our other benefits and maybe offer something “unique” within the package – maybe someone in CA could get auto insurance for less because the company gets a group rate, etc. Something that differentiates our benefits from that of everyone else.
- Reward/support employees who use mass transit, hybrid cars, walk to work, etc. The “commuter benefit.” Make it policy, make it known. Pay for bus/train fare in support of that. Something positive to keep cars off the road.

Re: flexibility

- Working from home, or working remotely seems to have become the buzz-killer around the office. I think it is seriously impacting our abilities to attract top-notch candidates, especially given the costs associated with living within commuting distance of the office. We need to seriously weigh the benefits of requiring the employee to be a 9-5 office dweller.
- Especially with engineers, who are task based and generally work independently, consideration needs to be given to flexibility in working hours. Yes, there are “core” hours where everything goes better if everyone is working – we’re all able to do that now – but outside those “core” hours may not work well with the engineer’s talent, which may be most expressive in the middle of the night. This is a reality for some (fortunately, not me) and it may become a reality for The Company. We lost a solid engineering candidate because her idea of schedule did not align with ours, and that is unfortunate. Now, I’m not saying its a free for all, because some structure needs to be there in order to support the rest of the team (meetings, emails, working together, etc.) but flexibility is a great benefit.
- Working at home: I’d like to see The Company support a work at home program that benefits all employees. Making this a tangible benefit has a few good effects: its good for the environment, its good for the health of the employee, The Company is more socially/environmentally aware and responsive and it may alleviate some of the stresses to the office space we have now. For a potential employee, or a current one, or someone doing business with us, it is a sign of a “good thing” supported by the company.
- Remote engineers: Please consider it. There are a lot of talented people who *will not* or *can not* move to CA that we cannot attract, and I wonder if that is costing us. Yes, it is hard at times, especially since we’re sprinkled throughout the country, but the benefits to the employee and The Company are huge, and I think they outweigh the difficulties in scheduling meetings, having impromptu conversations, etc. that would happen if everyone sat together.

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Coding Horror: On Working Remotely

Coding Horror: On Working Remotely

Chat is the most essential and omnipresent form of communication you have when working remotely.

I’m *always* using iChat to communicate with my coworkers – not because it is the only way to “talk” to them, but because it is generally the most efficient way. Quick questions are answerable on their schedule; snippets of code or a URL (or even an image) can be sent in an instant.

All iChat sessions I have are saved; Spotlight makes them instantly searchable. That’ *cannot* be done with a voice call and the usefulness of the persistent record cannot be overstated. On more than one occasion the saved chat has provided the info needed to solve an immediate problem; once it even held the keys to removing doubt about a personnel issue we had.

Combine the text chat with audio and video, throw in a sprinkling of screen sharing and a distributed team (even a single remote member) will find that their “instant” communication needs are almost always covered by a single application.

I believe remote development represents the future of work. If we have to spend a little time figuring out how this stuff works, and maybe even make some mistakes along the way, it’s worth it. As far as I’m concerned, the future is now. Why wait?

A good followup to my post from last night. Jeff’s post is specifically about distributed software development, but the practices hold true for all sorts of teams.

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Ten Reasons to Assemble a Dispersed Team | Wide Teams

Ten Reasons to Assemble a Dispersed Team | Wide Teams:

You want experienced help. You can get a college fresh-out – unmarried and unfettered – to do just about anything. Move anywhere, work long hours, live in a tiny apartment with three roommates in order to afford big-city rent. But more experienced knowledge workers, who have been around the block a few times and proven their worth, often have more attachments. They may have kids, or strong ties to a community. They may have settled in a city they particularly like and want to put down roots in. If you are open to letting the work go to the workers, instead of having the workers come to to the work, you may be able to attract seasoned pros who are as particular about where they live as they are about where they work.

This Wide Teams site is great; I have a whole bunch of their podcasts queued up to listen to in the upcoming days.

My specific interest goes beyond working at home and is focused on the formation, support and process of distributed teams of technology workers. I am a part of such a team and while my own self-interest drives me to make my experience better I also believe that distributed teams are the future of work in the United States.

The general work at home movement is the supporting infrastructure and cultural change necessary to ensure that distributed teams become the new model of industry and economy.

The point called out above is one indication of how this model of employment changes the cultural dynamic of our economy. Since we are no longer a manufacturing-heavy nation, and as we move to services (especially in technology and finance) as our main economic driver, we cannot afford to exclude highly experienced and productive members of our economy because of where they live. Allowing the work to come to them – by the distributed nature of work – we maintain highly connected and strong communities as well as the balanced distribution of intellectual capital across the nation.

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How to become a remote employee?

Lifehacker is collecting comments and some of them are great. This could be a great source to mine for the best tips and trick.

How’d You Convince Your Boss to Let You Work Remotely?

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