3 things I’ve been struggling with as I adjust to working remote.

Files, files, and more files!

Files, files, and more files!

I mentioned a few posts back that after much time and consideration we decided to go remote. So far the results have been great. I haven’t noticed any change in productivity and while I don’t get to see people in person as often as we did previously I’ve gotten used to spending a lot of time on Google Hangout, GoToMeeting and Webinars. The one thing I have noticed is that by moving my office home I’ve ended up with a mountain of technology. In fact I had to open a second home office in my basement to hold all of it.

This has not been popular at home as their are other parties in this house (wife) that feel the basement should one day be re-claimed by our family as a place where people can play a little rougher (kids) and watch TV shows that are boring (me). While I have gotten used to my expansive new office I know that this is only going to last for so long and so I’ve begun to identify the services I can use to replace some of the items I’ve brought home and planted in the basement. Here are three problems I’ve had to deal with because of going virtual and one the jury is still out on.

1. Problem: The Fax Machine – Faxes are on the way out but not quite dead. My wife has recently introduced me to eFax which she has used for years and which seems to be an enormous improvement over the huge fax machine I brought home and perched on an end table.

Solution: eFax has a corporate edition that represents a significant upgrade in capability and very little added expenditure.

2. Servers – All of our client oriented servers have long been moved to the cloud or into the Salesforce Dev Environment we maintain, but I still have two racks and about 15 servers and assorted hardware appliances that are eating up electricity at an incredible rate and supporting little internal functions. In fact our electric bill jumped $400 in the first month we went virtual and that only covered two weeks of uptime.

Solution: Everything is going to the cloud in the next three months. We advise some of the largest organizations in the world on the benefits of moving to the cloud there is no reason we should continue to have legacy infrastructure eating away at the bottom line for convenience sake. We simply hadn’t put the resources necessary to the task of migrating these items. Now we will.

3. Files – This is the one I’m still struggling with – going virtual meant bringing home  a mountain of paper. Given the type of work we do – we generate a lot of paper in order to maintain compliance with various federal, state and local requirements. This is before you start talking about all of the other things we track on paper with regard to client engagements and otherwise.

Solution – The jury is out on this one. We could spend a lot of time and effort digitizing but right now I don’t see anyway around the wall full of filing cabinets I am maintaining. Some things simply have to stay on paper and we have a paper legacy that would probably take a staff of five all summer to digitize going full time. I’m open to suggestions.

After almost three months of going remote cold turkey I have to say I’m still glad we did. It represents a tremendous savings which eventually will make us more competitive in a very competitive market space. We still haven’t ruled out having some type of permanent facility with meeting rooms and some permanent offices though. The one thing I really miss is having that big room where a development or client team can gather and brainstorm. We have done some virtual sessions but it really isn’t the same. I’ve talked to some other companies facing this issue that have essentially taken on a small space for this purpose and have heard nothing but good things. It seems like a happy medium between the benefits of being completely virtual and completely on premise.

As always, I welcome your feedback and I know there are some folks on here that feel very strongly about remote work. Let me know what you have found that works and what hasn’t. I’m particularly interested in finding a way to limit the physical intrusion of our paper legacy (maybe its as simple as a storage facility?) and solutions around collaboration for large groups in a remote environment. I’ll share what I find out in a blog post soon.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Don’t wait for opportunity to knock

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I think one of the most important things you can do for yourself is take an active interest in your career and search out the best opportunities for you to succeed. It’s critical that you keep your eyes and ears open as you progress through your career. While it’s great to be comfortable it’s also important to keep in mind that the next best job or the next best opportunity isn’t necessarily going to be there when you need it to be there; it’s going to be there on it’s own time.  So maintaining a bit of a monitoring stance is something that can pay dividends.

I’m not saying that this approach is for everybody. There’s a lot ot be said for continuity, being able to grow within an organization, building up trust with other people, and getting the type of satisfaction that comes with achieving complex goals over many years with a tight knit group of people. That’s something that you dont see that often anymore for various reasons.

If you’re even remotely thinking that you might do something a little bit differfent from your current job, you want to do yourself the favor of being proactive about it rather than waiting for something to happen that forces you to. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to look outside your current organization. It could be that you’re not aware of what’s going on within your organization. Make sure that your peers, boss, or upper management are aware of the capabilities that you have to step into some role that you dont have now but you feel that you could succeed in. This is preferable to standing by passively and watching them fill that role and position with somebody from the outside.

It’s important in managing your career that you periodically step back and take a look at the big picture. Ask yourself where do you want to end up in twenty years in order to make sure that you aren’t falling into a comfortable rut. This way you’re able to progress yourself and I think that’s the part that a lot of people don’t get right.  People work to develop their skills and sometimes they forget to look for that great opportunity unitl something forces them to. At that point your stuck with the opportunities that are available at the time and great opportunities don’t always happen on your time; they hapen on their own time.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The therapeutic value of an unsent e-mail

Therapeutic value of an unsent email

I think the best ten minutes I spent this morning were ten minutes that were basically wasted.  I’ll never send the email I crafted in that time and it’s probably for the best but it certainly felt good writing it. So today’s unsent email happened because of a project we’ve been developing lately. We’ve been spending a lot of time working to develop an automated system with security and operational security capabilities for schools.  It’s something that I’m really passionate about and I believe there’s an opportunity to make a difference. I’ve got three kids and at the end of the day, job one to me for schools is getting my kids back home safely.  Of course I’d love it if they know their multiplication tables and their ABC’s but job one is just get them home safe.

One of the things that I’ve become a lot more aware of as my kids have gotten into school is I’ve become a lot more knowledgeable about what the statistics are around crime and safety in schools. It’s not the big incidences that you hear about on the news that should scare most parents because those are really unfortunate things that probably could have happened anywhere. Those are really difficult to prevent which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, it’s just that everyday there are lots of bad things happening that don’t make the news. Working to prevent those things is important too. So we’ve been trying to come up with a better way to have a conversation around the information in this space because there isn’t as much information as you would think.

We’re trying to help develop a mechanism to evaluate, across the board, the schools in this country for safety and security in a way that is economically feasible. If you know much about the schools in your community, you know that they’re probably facing some severe budgetary hurdles because the whole country is facing that issue. We saw this as an opportunity for the types of things that we’re good at in terms of being able to leverage the cloud to reduce costs, the development times, and to make things widely available rapidly. We saw this as a real opportunity for us to make a difference and we jumped into it. We basically jumped in and looked at many specific solutions. That’s part of what we do for a living whether it’s for large retail organizations, federal, or whatever it is, we bring our expertise in security, technology, information management, and performance management.

While we bring all our expertise in these areas we still look to other organizations to help make sure that we are looking at the problem all the way around. One of the things that I do not just with this school assessment but with every product that has been an outshoot of our services work, is reach out into that community and try to identify folks that may be able to help us ensure that what we are delivering is of the highest possible quality. So I’ve done some of that reaching out and you know at the outset of something like that, you’re going to get back some people who are going to take it as an attack on themselves. They will take it as attack on an area where they have their particular expertise. Essentially, you’re becoming competition.

So I’d sent a note to a gentleman and I’d spent a little bit of time trying to make sure that I emphasized the part explaining that what we’re trying to do is change the way that this space works in general. We want to make the economics work for schools and I got back a really nasty note. They basically said that they would never want to help a competitor and that we really didn’t know anything about the problem set. Like many other people, that type of response frustrates me.

So I spent about ten minutes putting together a response detailing all of the reasons why what we were doing is the right thing. I got to the end of it and realized that I would never send it. I didn’t send it because that response just adds fuel to the fire and it distracts from the mission at hand. So like I said that ten minutes was a waste of my time. I probably would have been better served to just say to myself, “You know what, this person is not interested in helping out, they don’t see the problem the way I see it, and they see what we’re doing as a threat to their livelihood.” It doesn’t help to get frustrated just because someone doesn’t see things your way. It’s probably a little bit childish. So it makes sense for me to not send that mail and that’s the bottom line but it was incredibly therapeutic for me to just put those thoughts down on paper. The simple act of getting those thoughts out of my head and into an email helped me to get over it even though I knew it would not be seen by anyone else.  I’m curious what other people think. Probably once every three or four days I write up a pretty good sized email and then don’t send it because I believe in the therapeutic value in authoring those emails. Word of caution to avoid unpleasant mishaps needs to be noted, make sure to delete them out of my draft folder to make sure they don’t get sent.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Upgraders beware: A tale of hidden costs and frustrations

Blog 3-19-13

So I recently I upgraded to Windows 8 and while I’m sure that the software is a big improvement over XP, which is what I had on this particular machine, it became a source of much frustration for me. It all started when I ran Microsoft’s compatibility utility to see where I stood with my upgrade.  It flagged Skype as having issues, and about ten other pieces of software as requiring an upgrade after installation. The computer that we were doing it on was for an admin and so we said ok we’ll go ahead and do the upgrade.  I stepped through the basic steps to install the operating system and once it was done our admin went to go work on a piece of correspondence. Microsoft Office didn’t work. In fact, Microsoft Office couldn’t be found, so clearly there must be a mistake.  So we took a look at it and couldn’t figure out how to get it work and decided to contact Microsoft. This was where the trouble really began.

When we got a hold of Microsoft they said that this has been known to happen and asked if we had the keys to our previous Microsoft Office install? Well as you can guess from the fact that it was an XP machine, it’s a pretty old installation. In fact, it was several years old and we’re a small business and we couldn’t find the licensing keys. We had moved offices since it had been installed and one of the things we lost was a book with a lot of the licensing keys and other things in it.  So I ask the Microsoft contact, with the assumption that it should be fairly simple to get a key, to get the problem worked out, or to roll back to the original configuration, what to do. The admin spent about three hours on the phone, got hung up on twice, and couldn’t get anything accomplished.

So I got on the chat and found out that there was no way to get back to XP and that I’d have to buy a new copy of Microsoft Office. I had to do this despite the fact that we have downloaded lots of other things from the Microsoft store. We should be listed as a pretty good customer and have been a Microsoft partner in the past. I guess at the end of the day my frustration stems out of all the software problems we could possibly have, this one is clearly by design. It would appear to be to drive revenue because otherwise why wouldn’t you mention the probability of losing your Office access in the installation somewhere. Putting something like, “Make sure if you do this upgrade you have your product keys available, otherwise you’re going to have to buy new software.” It just seems that given the fact that they take a lot of time to warn you about many other software issues you might experience, it seems disingenuous to not warn you about software problems that they know you’re going to have; like if you have Microsoft office it’s not going to work when you start Windows 8 back up. Also if you don’t have your license keys or access to the physical media that you installed from, you’re not going o be able to use it.

Now I understand that they have an interest in maintaining a hold over there software but on some level, I feel like we’re probably on the lower end of likely pirates given that we’re a software company and buy plenty of other things from Microsoft.  If we were pirating software we probably would have got a crack for all the accompanying software and taken care of the problem ourselves. The fact that they’re not willing to issue a new license key is ridiculous. Either warn us in advance if you know this problem is likely to happen or don’t make a big issue of it when you call in.  Basically, we had three separate support people tell us that there’s nothing else that we can do besides buy the license. It’s already cost us more in resource time then it would have been to buy the license in the first place. It’s just bad business and is leaving an extremely poor taste in my mouth.

A few years back, we had decided to standardize on Windows despite the fact that most of us had been Mac users for a long time. This standardization of Windows was really for the access to some business software. In fact, to this day I write and use almost solely my Mac, which makes this situation even more frustrating because I’ve never experienced this sort of problem with Mac. It makes me wonder if Microsoft, other than having the type of market dominance that it’s had, would they abuse their customers this way if they were in a less dominant position.  It makes me curious what other people think about this. Do you think that since I don’t have the license it means I don’t own it and was right to be made to rebuy it or you they feel that an accommodation should have been made for me?  I’d be very curious to hear what people’s feedback is.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to tackle the job search without the stress

Job search blog

Scouring the marketplace for a new job is stressful under the best of circumstances but you can also turn it into an opportunity. You can take this time to not only improve your job situation but also to improve other aspects of your life, if you can utilize this exciting time without getting overwhelmed by all the pressures that go into this change. I would like to go into some ways I’ve found that really seem to help in the pursuit of new employment. First of all, I think your best approach is to proactively approach organizations you have an interest in working in. Take it serious and research some of the people in the organizations you are looking to join. Make sure you use the successes you have behind you that are quantifiable and unique to give you the competitive edge in your quest. This should be a major selling point.

Even though job searching is a difficult task, it’s one of great importance and should be treated as such.  So resolve not to do this thing in a sprint.  You need to take your time in order to make the best decision. This is your life you’re talking about and not having a great work situation colors everything else in your life. Expect that this is going to take you around six weeks to resolve, so remember to do it at a pace intended to win the war not the opening battle. Start by making an initial plan that carries you through the next 7-10 days. Identify some key milestones.  Here’s a sample timeline:

  • Complete cover letter – Target (Monday by 9PM)
  • Complete resume – Target (Monday by 9PM)
  • Identify 10 target opportunities – (Wednesday by 9PM)
  • Identify 3 people who can help me expand my coverage (Thursday by 9PM)
  • Treat Myself and Relax (Saturday & Sunday, but still get 8 hours sleep)
  • Contact 15 people (The 13 above, plus three based on those conversations (Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
  • Make a New Plan (Thursday & Friday)

Note: Ask each of these people at the end of the conversation if they know someone else who can help or who you should talk to next. Put this down as a note when you are doing the call.  This not only impresses the people you talk to, it is a great way to move the process forward with the best results.

Identify times to rest and relax explicitly. Choose to do something that will take your mind off things but do as part of a schedule and keep it within the schedule. Remember that down time is as important as the time you spend on the go. If you don’t rest you won’t be effective when you are going and you need to be at the top of your game for the next few weeks.

Like I mentioned earlier, making big changes in your career might also be a good time to look into improving the other areas of your life as well. Make sure you get rest you need and eat well. This might be a good time to try the Paleo diet I recommended. Mark’s book is a great start on that and I think if you spend some six weeks on it, you will feel better both mentally and physically. One of the things I have really noticed as I’ve reduced my sugar intake is that I have more stable moods. The combination of job stressors and personal life can grind on you, and eating well and ensuring you get 8 hours of sleep is imperative.  Commit to it for the next six weeks while you are trying to transition to a new job.

I’ll finish with this piece of advice – keep the next few weeks as simple as possible. I know that when I have a bunch of moving parts in my life, I sometimes have to focus on just a few and address them so that I can be functional enough to address other issues. I’m sure this isn’t a good move in the longer term if it causes you to avoid dealing with un-healthy area of your life, but sometimes you have to survive before you thrive. I also think that focusing in on just a few things gives you a chance to get things moving in a positive direction by giving you enough resources to overcome that particular set of obstacles. I hope people find this helpful but I’d be curious to know what other people’s thoughts are on the job search process.  What advice would you give to someone who is beginning the process of looking for another job?

Photo By o5com

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Recruiting for company culture

Recruiting for company culture

One of the things that we’ve tried really hard to do over the last couple years as a company is to recruit for culture.  When I say that, I mean we’ve spent a lot more time recently talking to people about:

  • who they are
  • what they want to do long term
  • what kind of work environment do they prefer to work in

While this is something we are looking at now more than we ever have previously, we obviously still do a technical interview where we make sure the people can do the job.  The difference is that the technical interview is really considered just a gateway at this point.  We spend a lot more time on fit then we do anything else. The first interview which is to get the person through the technical gate is usually conducted by whoever on staff is going to have them working for them or going to be working closely with them. They conduct the preliminary interview which is probably 60%- 70% can you do the job and even there, there’s a part of it that is seeing how they respond to things and seeing if they send back a thank you afterwards. As I mentioned before we are looking to see if this person will fit into our organization, will they get along with current staff, and for someone who shows basic good people skills. We want people that are considerate, the people that do all of the things that you learned in kindergarten very well. We are also concerned with what you learned in college but if you missed those lessons in kindergarten, we may not hire you just because it’s too hard to work in an environment where it’s all about solely the technical part of things.

I can see maybe in some larger environments where the technical may trump other things because it’s the thing that’s most easily measureable.  Maybe once you hit a certain size of organization some of that corporate culture is diluted. I myself don’t tend to believe that though because I’ve worked in some very large organizations that have very strong corporate cultures but I could see how it could happen. I just know that for us and for ours, one of the most important things that we look for is that ability a person shows that they’re going to be able to fit in and work with us and show that they can be a true teammate. We’re not looking for individual star performers or somebody who is solely focused on their own achievements because that doesn’t work very well in team environments.  So we engage heavily to figure out what types of things are they interested in and what are they interested in most about the types of people that they work with because you can pick up clues there about how and if they value teamwork and collaboration.  I’m very curious to hear about what other people look for as they interview and how they go about maintaining corporate culture in their own organizations.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Is remote work, too remote?

moon-walk-60616_640

So it’s a little soggy out in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, VA decided to cancel school. The Federal government is also opening late and its flu season, which means a lot of people are out of the office today. I’m one of the lucky ones. My wife drew the short straw this morning which means that while she will be trying to work from her home office with three kids doing some serious stress testing of their toys, our walls, and her sanity, all less than 10 feet away. This got me thinking about working from home, the pressures of family and work life, and how an organization should deal with these issues. On the one hand we have never been as prepared as a society to enable working from anywhere, anytime and anyplace. I am living proof of that having held conference calls, webinars, etc from hospitals, on vacations, and from my home office.

The question then becomes how connected is too connected and how close a tether to the “real” office do you need to retain to be effective. Openly, I do not fall in the camp of those who believe the end of the communal office is near. I truly believe that working together physically improves collaboration and teamwork. I love video conferencing because it is closer to real physical meetings, but it still isn’t the same as being right next to someone. There is a certain element of teamwork and collaboration that I just don’t feel is possible from a remote location. It’s one of the reasons why I can’t ever foresee my company going towards a remote workforce in a big way, despite the huge advantages from a cost standpoint. I just don’t believe you can hang on to the esprit de corps and sense of community that comes from sharing a physical space. I don’t mind having people work from home in order to get projects that require uninterrupted concentration complete, or when the cable guy is coming to the house, etc. I just don’t see it as a sustainable everyday model.

Of course most of my view into this is shaped either by view of the work my company does, which is consultative, or the work of our clients, which varies from large private sector to large public sector. I can certainly see advantages for some of our clients, particularly those with small-scale presences in many locations to remote work. It makes sense in these types of cases to set up your teams to work primarily from their home office or to leverage shared space, etc. Obviously, for retail, manufacturing, etc the need to be onsite is different than in the knowledge work community. How does your organization manage remote work? Is this the right approach? What are the pitfalls/benefits you have found?

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.