Archive for the ‘work’ Category
I didn’t intend to work from home today.
The prediction for last night was that we’d have snow overnight, which woudl make for a “messy commute.” Two or three times a week, I try to get in a workout at our gym before work. This means getting up at 5:20, to get to the gym, do my thing, the back home to drop off my car and catch my bus around 7:30. Though I got my equipment ready for that last night, I suspected that the roads would be a bit of a mess, and it just wasn’t worth the risk and hassle. It was no surprise when my alarm went off that I reset it for another hour of sleep.
I went about setting up for a normal day, but putting on my boots rather than typical work shoes. While not necessarily the letter of the dress code, there is usually flexibility on snowy days, especially mine (which look pretty dressy). I set out to the bus stop, enjoying my feet sinking in two or three inches of powder. While I wouldnt want to start an arctic expedition in how I was attired, I was warm enough to wait ten minutes or so for the bus.
My bus stop is at the corner of US 50, just before it starts a great curve by Lunken airport. Westbound traffic, towards downtown, was creeping along. Eastbound, several cars had pulled to the side of the road. In addition to curving northward, the highway also climbs a pretty decent hill. The road was slick enough that rear-wheel drive wasn’t going to cut it. It made my decision to sleep in a bit see wise.
Fifteen minutes passed–I figured the slow traffic had the bus hung up.
At thirty minutes, I could feel my fingers and toes start to feel the effects of the cold. I stopped trying to pull out my phone to figure out what was going–it hadn’t told me much. My body shivered.
By the forty-five minute mark, I realized I probably stayed out longer than was truly safe. I hiked back up my hill, got inside, and ran water on my fingers until they felt normal. My wife wasn’t expecting me, and texted me. I went up and explained I’d be working from home today. I’m fortunate my job allows me that flexibility.
It turns out that US50, otherwise known as Columbia Parkway, was severely backed up, and cars were sliding everywhere. I saw mid-morning that it was closed to traffic.
I’ve been using the Cincinnati Metro for over thirteen years. On a few occasions, I got in when no one else did. This was the first time I was not able to get in to the office due to weather.
It’s been ten months since we officially went full-on hoteling at my office, and six since remodelling pretty much enforced it. As an upside, the company is a lot more tolerant of working from home. While I don’t do it everyday–work demands actually have made this infrequent–it is a nice perk to have.
The biggest impact has been the stuff I need to get through my day. Some creature comforts were lost a long time ago–we’re really not supposed to hang things on the walls of the cubes. So, any pictures I want to have to exist on my phone or in the cloud. It also meant I couldn’t have a calendar up. Aside from having a really awesome one this year, I use a calendar an awful lot when scheduling things with different groups. Sure, I can go to Outlook and find one, but it’s not as easy as just to glance behind me.
The really hard thing is office supplies and water bottles. By the letter of the law, we’re not supposed to keep anything at our desks. So, this means that every day, anything I need at the office is either has to be lugged to and from home with me, or I have to walk around the office to find what I need. The office-provided supplies are somewhat annoying. If I need Post-Its, paper clips, or a stapler, I have to go to one of the copier/printer areas where such supplies are kept. While I sincerely appreciate the exercise, it does break my rhythm a bit to have to make a special trip just to, say, grab a pair of scissors.
The stuff I take too and from the office has, in particular, been the most difficult. Some of it, I admit, is just me being fussy–I like a certain type of pad, or some of the other office supplies cum toys that I like to have. During the months I commute by bicycle, I’ve pared that down to a minimum. Other things are in support of the bike commuting, such as leaving my work shoes at the office. Either way, I’m traveling with a lot more than I used to, and have had to adapt.
Some things just seem silly, like having to take a mouse pad back and forth.
Ultimately, these things are creature comforts. I like to have a water bottle at my desk, which I fill several times through the day. That has to be taken back and forth. Is it that big a deal? Perhaps not. However, during the week, about a third of my life is at the office. Having designated space I see as a benefit–I don’t have to reset from a blank slate each day. Some of these things, such as the Post-Its, clearly impact productivity. Other things, like my water bottle, make this a more pleasant place to be. Surely that has it’s benefits as well?
In spite of how I would prefer to imagine myself, professionally, I am a corporate guy. I try to have a perspective (it’s just a job), but ultimately, I work in “business,” and sit in on meetings with other corporate types.
Like any culture, corporate America has its own language–a series of phrases, axioms, and allusions that are understood. Some are unique to a given company or industry, others are more broadly understood. I confess that I have been known to engage in some corporate speak, but there are a few phrases that should be expunged from our vocabulary.
- Open the Kimono This is a term generally meant to suggest full disclosure or access. If two companies are partnering, one may “open their kimono” to show their processes, financials, etc.
While both men and women wear kimonos in Japan, there is something sexist and creepy to my ear about the phrase–revealing one’s naked body. Not sure this is appropriate for business contexts.
- Drink the Kool-Aid In a business setting, I typically hear this to suggest how much one has bought into a set of ideas, corporate culture, etc. If someone is a proponent off a certain idea, or a real “company man,” they are said to have “drunk the Kool-Aid.” Trying to get skeptical individuals to support an idea is to “get them to drink the Kool-Aid.”
The speaker, however, may not realize he’s proposing killing someone. This is an allusion to the Jonestown Massacre. Short description: in 1978, at the direction of cult leaders, 918 people died in a mass suicide: Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. In short, the analogy is that someone should have cult-like devotion to whatever the speaker is referring to, to the point of being willing to kill themselves. I don’t think there is anything in business that should merit that.
- Pretend Time Off This is a play on “Paid Time Off” or “PTO.” PTO is what a lot of corporations do: instead of having so many days of paid vacation and so many sick days, you get a bank of PTO, which covers both–it’s the employee’s responsibility to manage. The advantage is that, if you don’t get sick, there is no shame in just using the time off. The joke, typically given by a senior executive, is that, while he was ostensibly taking a vacation, he was working.
I have several problems with this. First, it is a less-than-healthy work/life balance. Ignoring what it is doing to the individual, it creates a culture where trying to have work/life balance is frowned upon. Further, I believe that any time spent working needs to be logged, charged, etc., even if the individual does not get paid overtime. This allows companies to understand how much it truly costs to deliver their service or product, and can scale their resources properly. The notion of Pretend Time Off is, in my mind, a sign of a dysfunctional company.
- Night Job It may generally allude to duties outside of your core responsibilities. If it’s a spot situation (a couple of weeks) or accounted for in resource planning (either ensuring there is adequate coverage to allow the “day job” to be done, having a “night job” take place in a lull, or accepting that some activities just won’t get done), it’s understandable.
However, I’ve frequently heard people use the term “Night Job” to refer to an ongoing assignment that, because of one’s core responsibilities, require significant off-hour work to get it done. This is anything but work/life balance. Further, if there is no charging for the time, the true cost of a service not being captured.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to either find better phrases to convey the same idea, or, better still, decide if it is an idea that should be conveyed. Corporations are made up of people. The language we use is a key indicator of how we treat them.
I moved into my current desk at work in November, 2006. It happened to be roughly when I was moving a help desk, and pulled my daughter’s stroller out of my car to make room for some other material. Six years in the same desk is a fairly long time in my company.
By the letter of the law, it is no longer “my desk.” As part of a remodelling, we’re moving to a “hotelling” system. Each day we are in the office, we’ll need to check in to our desk. When the remodel is complete, there will be less space per cube.
(Ostensibly, we’ve been working this way for quite some time. However, given that there are a significant number of folks who are in the office each day, it was only mildly enforced.)
Either way, the expectation has been to keep our desk not just “neat,” but empty. No personal items. This can range from the useful, such as a binder of information or a calendar, to the personal, such as a bottle of ink or a family photo. It can make it hard to get some things done, and makes a place I spend a third of my life at a bit less plesant, and makes it a bit more like we are interchangeable cogs.
Objectively, I understand that, if there are a greater number of folks who are working from home or travelling, it makes sense to optimize the use of the space. Also, the work from home policy has been loosened, which is a perk that is significant.
I’m going to look at this as an opportunity to take advantage of the working from home, and going into the office a few days each week. Truthfully, there are a lot of benefits to that. In all likelihood, I’ll still be sitting in the same spot when I do (at least until they complete remodelling.
However, before leaving yesterday, I took one last photo from “my cube.”
Articles titled “Life Lessons from ” is something I always approach with a degree of skepticism. Ultimately, the author is simply using the character to demonstrate attributes he or she already believes in, so little new ground is gained. Quite often, the character will work against those attributes within the same work. Even so, those goals may be of interest, with the fictional character being the gimmick.
I had that in mind when I read an article titled “Management Lessons from Jack Donaghy,” the character on the TV show “30 Rock,” in the Washington Post. However, I found that the management attributes Neil Irwin, the author, chose to highlight ones I have found in some of the better leaders I’ve worked with possess, and ones I try to demonstrate myself. I’ve called out these attributes below, but the whole article is worth a read.
For all of Jack Donaghy’s nutty hijinks and pithy one-liners, there is a surprising set of lessons hiding under the surface of the show, which premiered its seventh and final season Thursday night. The simple fact is that Jack, as portrayed by Alec Baldwin, is a superb executive.
- Have a career plan, but don’t let it stifle you.
- Innovate whether they like it or not
- Take mentorship seriously
- Tolerate idiosyncracy
- Personal touches matter
- Learn from everyone around you
From the Washington Post
Within IT, it ultimately comes down to the data center. Regardless of the cool Web 2.0 service, on-line banking site, or MMORPG, ultimately, it comes down to a server (computer) in a rack, receiving power and cooling from the specialized building in which it sits. Professionally, I am a data center manager (strictly speaking, managing the operational relationship between my company and our data center providers), so I go into such places, and see the servers. Regardless of what’s hosted on it, they all look the same.
Among data center professionals, no site is seen as the big leagues more than Google’s data centers. They really are innovators in how they manage their systems to achieve greater efficiency and reliability. They do so by both implementing best practice to the extreme, as well as throwing out the rulebook in other cases. They are, however, notoriously secretive.
Today, however, one of my favorite tech writers, Steven Levy, wrote a piece about how he became one of the few journalists to get to view inside. Some interesting excerpts are below, but the whole article is more than worth your time to read.
If you’re looking for the beating heart of the digital age — a physical location where the scope, grandeur, and geekiness of the kingdom of bits become manifest—you could do a lot worse than Lenoir, North Carolina. This rural city of 18,000 was once rife with furniture factories. Now it’s the home of a Google data center.
Here I am, in a huge white building in Lenoir, standing near a reinforced door with a party of Googlers, ready to become that rarest of species: an outsider who has been inside one of the company’s data centers and seen the legendary server floor, referred to simply as “the floor.” My visit is the latest evidence that Google is relaxing its black-box policy. My hosts include Joe Kava, who’s in charge of building and maintaining Google’s data centers, and his colleague Vitaly Gudanets, who populates the facilities with computers and makes sure they run smoothly.
That requires massive amounts of energy; data centers consume up to 1.5 percent of all the electricity in the world.
All of these innovations helped Google achieve unprecedented energy savings. The standard measurement of data center efficiency is called power usage effectiveness, or PUE. A perfect number is 1.0, meaning all the power drawn by the facility is put to use. Experts considered 2.0—indicating half the power is wasted—to be a reasonable number for a data center. Google was getting an unprecedented 1.2.
Make no mistake, though: The green that motivates Google involves presidential portraiture. “Of course we love to save energy,” Hölzle says. “But take something like Gmail. We would lose a fair amount of money on Gmail if we did our data centers and servers the conventional way. Because of our efficiency, we can make the cost small enough that we can give it away for free
Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center
I’ve had a pager on my hip almost my entire professional life. At first, it was simply a cheaper option than cell phones for the company I was working for. At this point, cell phones were not ubiquitous, and had all sorts of limitations. When they needed to get in touch with their technicians, they would send a page, and we’d call the shop. We’d also use it as our business number–customers would call, and could leave messages. Since the job was primarily business hours, the pager came off as soon as I walked into my apartment.
When I moved to my current company, the pager was part of being in an on-call position. I could be called upon to react on a 24×7 basis. Systems could automatically generate a ticket, the system we set up ensured we could track the alert from the ticket to the pager. As cell phones started to become increasingly common, to the point I even owned one, I still preferred, for business reasons, having a pager. I had the option of controlling how I responded. Sure, I could choose not to answer, but the non-answer would create confusion. People would escalate to my lead. I also paid for my cell phone out of pocket. While my number is an open secret in my office, it at least prevented random calls from people I didn’t know. More than once, I saw people called off hours for issues that could wait. If the pager could be a firewall against that, I was all for it.
I recently learned that my company is discontinuing pagers. From a business perspective, it makes sense. By using the existing corporate plans with cell phone carriers, they could lower costs and aggregate the expense. Most people already are getting their “pages” as SMS messages. As I’m the last hold-out, I had to decide what my approach would be. I decided my best move was to get a cheap phone on a company plan to treat as a pager. We’ll see how that works out. However, I’ll miss the simplicity of the pager.
One of the first things I had to learn about when I took responsibility for the data centers at my job was the different sort of power connectors we use. It became even more important as we started to leverage “colocation” spaces. I grabbed a collection of these connectors that I kept at my desk, to explain the different connectors to my coworkers.
The plug is an “L6-30,” which supports 30 amps of power at 250v. It would fit into two of the three outlets. The other one is for an “L5-30,” for 30 amp circuits at 120v.
My office announced we would be moving to a “hotelling” model, and we needed to remove personal objects from our workspace. I wasn’t sure what I would do with these–taking them home didn’t make much sense. I decided to dispose of them, taking one photo before doing so.
My frustration with e-mail is well documented. It’s a great way to quickly convey information, but people just aren’t great about how they use it. The challenge many have is that, at work, they get literally hundreds of e-mails a day, only a fraction of which are actionable. I’ve gone on a improve-my-email binge the last few months. A few things I’ve done:
Only Include People Who Have Actionable Tasks I try to limit the size of a distribution where possible. If a recipient does not have an actionable task in an e-mail, I don’t put them in. There are cases where I know someone needs to have something for informational purposes. I use the CC line for this–sparingly.
The SmartPhone Screen Rule E-Mail is increasingly consumed on devices other than computers. This, in turn, has driven people’s behaviors. One suggestion that was made to me in this vein is the “SmartPhone Screen Rule.” When mailing someone at the top of the org chart, assume they may only read one or two SmartPhone screens worth of information. So, in the first five or six sentences, I try to explain what I need and why. I may put further detail after this, but the first paragraph should capture the key action required. I think of it like an executive summary on steroids. This has had the beneficial effect of forcing me to focus my writing.
Avoid Attachments Where Possible This is another case where the use of SmartPhones drives behavior. While sometimes, due to the size of the document or the nature of the file, it’s not possible, I try to not put an attachment. Instead, I’ll paste in the relevant excerpt. This makes it simpler to read. Even if I’m on my laptop, I’d prefer not to have to pick through a document.
Avoid Forwarding Threads Often, someone will forward me a thread, with a request at the top of it. I’ll reply back, asking for key information to execute the task. The response is “it’s in the thread.” Rather than make someone pick through several iterations of back-and-forth, I’ll format the information in either a new e-mail, or, if I think the context may be useful, at the top of whatever I forward. In addition to not forcing the recipient to pick through all the details, I know my intent is captured.
Optimize the Subject Line As the day goes on and I get busier, the subject line is what I look to to tell me if it is worth opening an e-mail at that time (or at all). It is important that this one line captures the content of the e-mail.
Ensure the Subject Line is Distinctly Meaningful I manage a data center. An e-mail titled “Data Center Question” might be meaningful to a project (which has only one data center work stream), it does not stand out to me (who has many projects asking about data centers). Avoiding a subject that, to the recipient, is generic.
Use Action Words I was a bit put off the first time I saw an e-mails titled “RESPONSE REQUESTED: Blah blah blah.” However, I’ve come to like that technique. It helps with prioritization. So, I put in phrases such as “INFORMATION REQUESTED,” “ACTION REQUIRED,” and “FYI” at the front of the subject.
Evolve the Subject Line If the e-mail starts talking about Site One, and the subject says “Parts for Site One,” you’re doing good. But, over the course of the discussion, it may spin into a discussion of Site Two. In that case, update the subject line. This way, folks involved only in Site Two know to pay attention.
Separate Thread If multiple actions are spread among distinct audiences, create separate e-mail threads. This helps limit what a given individual may have to read to understand what is required.
Know When Not to Use E-Mail Sometimes, the discussion becomes too complicated for an e-mail. By providing instant feedback, quick conversation, in person or on the phone, can accomplish things more quickly.
Any other suggestions for using e-mail more effectively?
As I mentioned previously, I was taking training to update my ITIL Foundations Certification to the 2011 Edition. At the end of the course, there was the official certification exam–I needed 65% (26 out of 40 questions) correct.
I passed! 88%, which is not too shabby, if I do say so myself!
…now, off to update my resume!