Making It Work Remotely

Recently at home, I needed a contractor to fix something in my house I didn’t have the talent to attempt on my own. When the guy came to do the work, he realized I worked from home and started asking me all sorts of questions about what kind of work I did, where my company was located, etc. He said, “I could never work from home like you’re doing. I’d never get anything done.”

I found that comment a little odd, so I asked him what he meant and he said, “I’d probably just sit around and watch TV all day, or go outside and work in the yard.”

I told him, “Are you kidding? I love my job so much those things would seem boring in comparison.”

I consider it a privilege to work at Qumulo, to be trusted with important projects critical to the success of our company, and I truly enjoy the people I work with on a daily basis. Why would I sacrifice that just so I could watch a TV show? It’s inconceivable!

As sad as I personally felt this observation was, maybe it’s proof that working remotely isn’t for everyone.

I first worked as a remote employee in 2006 with a software company called Rosetta Stone. My team was truly distributed, with individuals working from home across several different cities. At the time, we didn’t think we were doing anything unique or special. It had its share of challenges, but our distributed team worked really well together. The reason it was so successful was because our formula for success included three key ingredients for any positive remote-work environment: 1) responsible people who love their jobs and are committed to quality work, 2) good technology, tools and workflow, and 3) remote-friendly corporate support.

Remote working is more common than ever before, as more than five percent of Americans (that’s eight million people) are now working from home. There can be challenges and perceived stigmas, but make no mistake that remote work is on the rise. Qumulo is on the forefront of that trend with the aforementioned key ingredients for success.

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How I Make It Work

We have a remarkable corporate culture here at Qumulo that supports remote work. We’re provided with modern technology tools to do our best work regardless of where we work. Our team is comprised of responsible individuals and we’re committed to the company’s success. Beyond those core elements, I’ve learned a few best practices to avoid the common pitfalls of remote work and to get the most out of this unique working setup.

PUT SOME CLOTHES ON
The stereotypical remote worker wears her pajamas all day and doesn’t brush her teeth until noon, right? A stereotype is all it is, and I recommend against it. Before I ever sit down at my desk and “log on” for the day, I make sure I take the time to get dressed, brush my teeth and even put my shoes on. That’s right, I wear shoes all day. Subconsciously, it helps reinforce that I’m in “work mode.”

DEVELOP A ROUTINE
My typical day usually looks something like this: Wake up, eat breakfast, get the kids off to school, shower, get dressed (don’t forget the shoes), fill my water bottle, kiss my wife goodbye and then head to work. But instead of getting in the car and sitting in traffic for an hour, I just walk downstairs to my desk. Just as important, I try to stop working around the same time each day. And when I’m done working, I put the laptop to sleep and I don’t open it again for the rest of the night. Keeping a routine with discreet working hours is critical to balancing that work/life harmony.

TAKE A BREAK
A couple of times each day, I make a point to get away from my desk. Occasionally, I’ll work through lunch, eating at my desk. But most of the time I try to go upstairs and eat lunch in the kitchen, or meet a friend somewhere for lunch outside of the house. A couple of times each week, I’ll go to the gym to get some exercise, either in the morning before work or during lunch. Taking a couple of smaller breaks throughout the day — to walk the dog, check the mail or chat with my wife — is also helpful. I find these periodic breaks help clear my mind and give me the opportunity to fight against an otherwise sedentary mode of work.

DON’T BE A STRANGER
One of the drawbacks of working remotely full-time is the potential to feel isolated from the rest of your team. To prevent this, it is important to be a proactive communicator. I make a point to check in with teammates daily and to be an active participant in group Slack chats. As often as possible, I turn a Slack text chat into a Slack video call instead. Hearing a coworker’s voice and seeing their face helps me feel like I’m in the same room. Also, don’t be afraid to have your video camera turned on – that’s one of the great benefits of the fast internet connections so many of us enjoy in today’s modern world, so take advantage of that “face time.”

Remote Leadership

As a remote leader, good communication is key whether the people you’re managing sit in the desk next to you, or on another floor, or in another time zone. I’ve been fortunate to work remotely in a variety of roles and location arrangements — as a sole contributor and as a manager. Managing remotely is not that much different than leading a team on-site, it just takes a bit more work, since more deliberate communication is required. As a people manager and leader in the Marketing organization, I make a point to talk directly to each person on my team “face-to-face” every single day. Slack calling makes this seamless.

Remote leadership requires a more concerted effort to make your voice heard across the company. Some periodic travel may be required to supplement the day-to-day efforts of making yourself known. In a remote working situation, there is no such thing as too much communication.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to working remotely, the formula for success can be pretty simple, to be honest. A supportive company culture that supports highly engaged employees with top-notch technology doing work that matters in a comfortable environment — that formula works no matter who you are, what you do, or where you work.

My New Gig

If you read my last post, then you know I've been looking for a new job over the past several weeks. I have really enjoyed this September Sabbatical. The extra time with my wife and kids has been a blessing in disguise. Alas, all good things come to an end, I suppose. I start a new job this Monday.

I'm happy to report that I've accepted an offer from SPS Commerce to be the new UX Design Manager. I'm really excited about it because I'll be taking on a position that allows me to wear multiple hats and it also presents some pretty significant, but fun challenges and some tough problems to solve. It seems like a fantastic company and I'm really looking forward to working with some bright people.

Thanks to everyone who has networked with me over the past month and a big thanks to anyone that passed along my information with a good word. I never really put much stock in LinkedIn, but through the past few weeks, I've realized how powerful that network can be for someone actively looking for a position.

I feel very humbled and very grateful for this gift.

How I Survived Bloody Wednesday

For the first time in my adult life, I find myself unemployed. Three weeks ago, I succumbed to the axe on August 28, 2013, which will forever be known as Bloody Wednesday in Sport Ngin folklore. Throughout the past several years, as the economy declined, I really never feared for my job. I always thought, naively, that I was safe. That if there were going to be cutbacks, they would cut the slackers and underperformers first.

I was living in a fool's paradise.

Bloody Wednesday was, without a doubt, the single worst day of my career and even one of the worst days of my life. The news of the layoff came from out of the blue and caught me completely off-guard. It was a gut-wrenching experience.

I absolutely loved working at Sport Ngin. In almost every way, it was my dream job. The perfect blend of two things I really love - design and sports. I had a tremendous amount of influence over the direction of the product. I built a team of user experience designers and we were doing some fantastically fun work, designing Sport Ngin's next generation of tools to manage sports leagues, teams and tournaments. I had a blast designing two iPhone apps while I was there. I worked with some really smart people, worked for a great boss and made some good friends. I thought it would last MUCH longer than two years. I had mentally ripped up my resume and would have been content to work there the rest of my career.

One day, you're having a blast designing a new sign in screen for the app, the next day you are sitting at home, locked out of your laptop and wondering, "why me?"

I dealt with a good measure of rejection and quite a few "no, I do NOT want this!" moments for a couple of days. Thanks to the unending support and encouragement from my awesome wife, I was able to get back on the proverbial horse and prepare for the next phase of my career. I still don't know what that looks like, or even when that next phase will start, but my LinkedIn network has proven to be pretty valuable and I have several leads I am following, some definitely pretty promising.

In the meantime, as I proactively wait for the process to play itself out, I am learning a few things about life and about myself.

  • As painful as this is/was for me, it is nothing compared to the hardship and turmoil many others have to face on a daily basis.
  • Being mindful of the previous point, I have tried counting my blessings, but they are too many.
  • Even when you think you are in control, you are not. So don't act like you are; instead give control to God and walk in His will.
  • Companies are in business for one reason and one reason only - to make money.
  • From now on, I will put much less stock in the "operating values" of any company.
  • I am thankful for the talents God has given me to earn a living and take care of my family doing something that I am not only good at, but something that I really love doing - not many people get to do that.

All the unexpected time I have now has really been a blessing in disguise. This all happened right before school started. So for the first three weeks of school, I've been able to say good-bye to the kids in the morning and be there when they get home, help them with homework and, in general, just spend more time with them. Being at home more during the day has also been a fun time for Cori and I to spend more time together. We've been able to eat lunch together almost every day, we have time to take walks together and have even gone on day dates while the kids are at school. And the weather has been perfect. A guy couldn't have asked for a better time to have days off.

If you know of any great user experience design opportunities, feel free to send them my way. I am confident that this period of my career/life will be over soon. Until then, I'm enjoying what I get. And if what I get is more time with my family, then I have been given a wonderful gift.

Peace. /cm

All in a Day's Work

Me: Now, for my next trick, I will attempt to open this 47MB PSD file with Fireworks. Should be no problem. Alert: An internal error occurred. [ok]

Me: Fireworks, I'm not in the mood today. You WILL open this file or die trying.

Screen Shot 2012-02-21 at 8.24.56 AM
Screen Shot 2012-02-21 at 8.24.56 AM

Alert:

It's not even 9:00am yet.

Rules

In her article for Inc., Margaret Heffernan speaks plainly about how flexible hours inspire productivity. I am totally on board with her take on this, but what struck me most was this bit on rules in general. Makes me wonder what the implications are for parenting, because she's right — monitoring and enforcing rules is no fun.

"...I have always resisted rules, for myself and for others. Why? Because once you have rules, you have to enforce them—and there's no more tedious task in life."Margaret Heffernan

Pursuing a New Opportunity

I hate the process of moving. Its one of the times in life where teleportation, transmogrification and The Force would really come in handy. But as much as I dislike it, I'm actually looking forward to doing it this time because of the exciting opportunities that lie ahead. Last week I accepted an offer to join The Nerdery in Bloomington, Minnesota. And about a month from now, I'll be moving there to start the new job — up there in the Land of [Frozen] Lakes.

Why Minnesota?

For several years now, we've been wanting to move out of Texas. Somewhere closer to family, maybe. Or maybe a place with lots of trees. Or maybe to a place with mountains - or the beach. Actually, we weren't sure where we wanted to go, but we've kept an open mind. We never really targeted Minnesota, but when the opportunity at The Nerdery came along, we took a long hard look at Minnesota and the more we thought about it, the more appealing it became. Yes, I know its cold there. Its cold in a lot of places. I have family in the area (I lived in Minnesota during my elementary school years before we moved to Texas) so its not a completely foreign place — to me, at least. In addition to being close to some family members, we are looking forward to lots of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, tubing, skiing and generally a slower pace of life. And yes, snow.

The Nerdery

Working at a place with outstanding company culture is huge for me. That was one of the "must have" items on my list and The Nerdery definitely embodies that. This is from the The Nerdery Profile Page on LinkedIn:

Based on staff surveys of nearly 200 web pros who blur the line between work and play, The Nerdery ranked #1 on Mpls-St. Paul Business Journal's 2010 Best Places to Work list. A popularity contest? You bet. We’re also #6 on Minneapolis Star Tribune’s 2010 Top Workplace list. Founded by three programmers in 2003, The Nerdery has made the Inc 5000 and Biz Journal’s Fast 50 list of fast-growing privately owned companies for the past three years. The Nerdery was honored in 2010 with The Quality of Life Award and The Jefferson Award for corporate philanthropy/nerdy-deeds-done-dirt-cheap through our Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge, at which volunteers have donated a million dollars worth of web development services to 39 nonprofits.

I'll be working as a UX Designer on the User Experience Team. I'm really looking forward to joining a talented band of professionals and working on exciting web projects and expanding my skills on projects like mobile and social media applications.

These are some pretty big changes, but we, as a family, are excited about the opportunities to grow, learn and experience new things. If you have any tips for living in arctic climates or any suggestions for exploring the greater Minneapolis-St.Paul metropolitan area, please do share.

Joining Ascendio

In just a few short days I'll be writing the end of one chapter of my career and starting a new one. I've been looking forward to the next chapter for some time now. Over the past year or more while contemplating the next step in my career, I made a mental list of characteristics that might comprise the "ideal" place to work for me. I've never written those things down until now. In addition to some basics that go without saying — good pay, location, nice people to work with, etc. — there were some more specific and harder to find aspects that I desired.

1. Smaller is Better

For most of my career, I've worked for large corporations. Despite the advantages (or perceived advantages) of working for a big company, I think my personality, perspectives and long-term goals are better suited to a small team.

2. Hats

I think most people like to have some variety in their day-to-day work routines. I'd like to think that I can contribute to the success of a team in more ways that one. Not only do I enjoy designing what a website looks like, I also like to be involved in (and have definite opinions on) how a site is built and how a user should interact with it and even contribute to the goals and strategy of a site. So, wearing multiple hats besides just the design hat really appeals to me.

3. Ownership & Impact

I've always thought it would be fun and rewarding to have my own company. However, for numerous reasons, I don't think I'm cut out for the reality of it. So in lieu of being a CEO, it would be great to work at a place (a small company lends itself better to this) where I can still have a direct impact on the goals, strategy and direction of the company and be responsible for a major portion of the business.

I am thankful that I have found a place that satisfies most, if not all, of the characteristics on my list and more. I'm excited to announce that on May 24th I'll be joining the super talented team of designers and developers at Ascendio in Irving, Texas. Not familiar with Ascendio? Here's a bit about them from the website:

Ascendio is an idea development studio. We are an energetic, friendly group with a knack for building long-term relationships with our clients. Our skills are in savvy design, tip-top programming, productive thinking and honest conversations. We believe in careful attention to detail, telling the truth and making the most of life.

This is a small group of smart people doing inspiring work for some really cool clients. I am humbled to be counted as one of them and I'm eager to wear all those different hats. I look forward to working with them, learning new things from them and hopefully sharing what I know to make the company even better.

Leaving Rosetta Stone

After 2 tours of duty over the past 4 years, I am leaving Rosetta Stone. Some of you may not be surprised, as I've been looking to make this move for some time now. I started working at Rosetta Stone on the web team in 2006. Since then, I've learned a lot about web development and I've learned a great deal about myself. The company produces an absolutely top-notch product and I'm sure they will continue to be successful. But for me, it is time to move on.

Some things I will miss about working at Rosetta Stone:

Working from home

This is the big one. For most of my tenure here, I've been fortunate enough to work from home every day. Its something for which I will always be thankful. I'll miss listening in on conversations as my wife homechools the kids. I'll miss the daily chats and occasional games with my wife over lunch each day. The opportunity to have the kids nearby and watch them grow and learn every day is something I will never forget. For this reason, I think one day we'll look back on these last 4 years as some of the best years of our lives.

The people

I've had the chance to work with some interesting characters and some genuinely nice people. Shared food, shared laughs and even some shared adventures will be etched in my mind forever.

Unfortunately, that's where the list stops. The rest, as they say, is history.

My last day will be May 19th and then I plan on taking a few relaxing days off before starting up again. I will follow up with a separate post later this week explaining the next step in my career.

Quotes from Rework

Last night I finished reading Rework, the new business book from the guys at 37signals. Every part of this book was excellent (great illustrations to go with great content). I've read quite a few business books - Good to Great, Primal Leadership, First, Break All the Rules, Built to Last, etc. Rework is easily the best business book I've ever read. Why? Because its all common sense. The messages are simple, clear and succinct - filled with ideas that take a minute to understand, but a lifetime to execute.

I'm usually not the type that likes to highlight and underline things in the books that I read, but I was able to make note of some of the ones I want to remember.

I strongly suggest you buy this book. Until your copy arrives in the mail, here are a few of the passages that struck a chord with me.

Its the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify and streamline. Be a curator.

When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes and argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.

Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand ... They know what to omit.

Interruption is the enemy of productivity. The worst interruptions of all are meetings. Meetings are toxic.

Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.

You don’t create a culture. It happens. Culture is the by-product of consistent behavior.

Rockstar environments develop out of trust, autonomy, and responsibility. They’re a result of giving people the privacy, workspace, and tools they deserve. Great environments show respect for the people who do the work and how they do it.

When everything needs constant approval, you create a culture of non-thinkers.

When people have something to do at home, they get down to business. They get their work done at the office because they have somewhere else to be. They find ways to be more efficient because they have to.

When you turn into one of those people who adds ASAP to the end of every request, you’re saying everything is high priority. And when everything is high priority, nothing is.

Now, go buy it.

Working Smarter

This morning I read a great article on A List Apart titled, The Four-Day Work Week Challenge, by Ryan Carson. The basic idea is that most people spread their work out over whatever time period they have to work with.  So if you have all week to get done your list of things, you'll take all week to do it.  But if you have only 4 days to get everything done, you'll be able to do it in 4 days because you'll be forced to work smarter and more efficiently.

Ryan admits:

I thought the idea was ridiculous. How in the sam hill would we be able to get everything done? We have way too much to do in five days a week, let alone four.

I would love to be able to do this. Not only do you get a 3 day weekend every week, you're forced to cut out unnecessary distractions like meetings.  In my book, meetings are poison for productivity.  I don't think Rosetta Stone would ever be kosher with only working 4 days, but one day I'd really like to do this.

However, you can take the challenge in many different ways. Instead of getting into work early and finishing late, tell yourself that you have exactly eight hours to finish all your work for the day. Set a mental barrier at the end of the day and know that you will shut down your computer and pack your bags exactly at five o’clock.

Even though I can't reduce the work week by a day, I can and do timebox my workdays.  I usually make a point to stop working by a certain time and plan my work around the end of my day rather than letting the work dictate when I stop.

Even if you love what you do - and I do - you should still be vigilant about keeping a good life-work balance.

Ryan echos one of my favorite sentiments:

Will we lie on our death bed and say “Damn, I wish I would’ve got more done at work?” I doubt it.

I know I won't be saying that.