While the prospects of working remotely were intriguing to me, I’ll admit to some initial fears of how it might present its share of challenges as well.  As the Head of Marketing for turnstone, most of my team and colleagues are based in Grand Rapids, MI, while I live with my wife and two young sons in the metro Atlanta area.  Although I travel north somewhat regularly for face time, most of my work is done out of the house, in a regional showroom, or from a local co-working space in my hometown.  More than ninety days into this grand experiment, I’ve learned a few things about what has been a very positive experience thus far.

Co-working facilities, like The Work Spot in Duluth, GA, have become a haven for displaced corporate workers, startups, and freelancers alike.

Living on Audio

It’s not just all about video; from the day I started I’ve been living on audio.  At turnstone we walk in the shoes of the small and emerging business customers we serve wherever we can, which in this case means eschewing corporate telepresence units as much as possible, and staying connected to my colleagues in more low tech ways.  For me, that has meant countless hours spent on the phone, and I could write volumes on the different technology options that I’ve sampled alone.  Starting with the speaker feature on my smartphone (now used only as a last resort), I quickly scaled up to a Jawbone ear unit.  While the fidelity was obviously better and I was no longer tied to my desk, I still found it difficult to hear voices in a larger conference room from just one earpiece.  Before eventually making an upgrade to the Kinivo BTH220 headset, I actually found myself gravitating to conventional ear buds plugged directly into the phone, which offered sound quality on par with the headset, minus the flexibility to move around the room.  While the anonymity of being the invisible voice on the phone can be isolating, these tools (along with supportive co-workers) have made it highly productive.

Tips for living on audio:

  • Determine what types of calls you’ll likely be involved in remotely before evaluating technology tools; will most be with one other person, or large groups?
  • Don’t be afraid to try a combination of tools until you find the best fit.
  • More expensive doesn’t always equal better in terms of headsets, earpieces, etc.
Relationship Context is Critical

My time spent in our actual offices is fairly predictable – long days of stacked meetings, followed by catching up on email back at the hotel.  Most trips I return home with more work than when I left, despite the longer hours!  But the payoff is often a greater context for meetings when I’m not physically present in the room.  In addition to the obvious advantages of time spent face-to-face, it also helps my colleagues and I communicate later when the added challenge of invisibility is present.  Little things like verbal cues, sensing when I might chime in with a comment, etc. make the phone much more productive for everyone when there is that familiarity.  I also find the challenges of the phone return when conferencing with someone I’ve had little to no face-to-face contact with.  Since they cannot visualize me or what I might say, I am more likely to feel ignored or have a difficult time connecting with them.

Tips for building relationship context:

  • Use in-office time for face-to-face meetings; clear your calendar of anything else that can be done just as easily from home later.
  • Make a point to schedule face-to-face meetings with people in your organization with whom you are likely to interact with by phone, even if only occasionally.
Screen Sharing

In the absence of robust, enterprise technology tools (like Steelcase’s media:scape product), free, or almost-free screen sharing technologies like WebEx, join.me, and iMeet have been a godsend.  Each bring to the table their own advantages and disadvantages.  I’ve used join.me for quick, impromptu meetings where getting something going very quickly is of utmost importance (they also have a handy iPad app).  Our team has been recently testing iMeet, a newer online conferencing tool, and the results thus far have been encouraging.  The clarity of the screen sharing tool is excellent, and it combines connection tools with the concept of a virtual meeting room.  WebEx remains the most mainstream and well known of online conferencing tools, and the Cisco-owned service is also very reliable.

Tips for using screen sharing tools:

  • Test a variety of screen sharing tools, and don’t be afraid to consider new ones as they hit the market; with more remote workers in the workplace every day, it’s a competitive field!
  • Spend a few minutes ahead of your meetings to make sure you have agreed on a way to share screens with a meeting group or other party; this will save valuable time once the meeting has started.
  • In a time crunch, just have your meeting group send you a copy of a presentation or document where possible; low-tech solutions can work, too!

In my next entry I’ll tackle other elements of working remote, such as work/life balance, organization, and a deeper dive into video.  In the meantime, I’ll be somewhere working, probably with my phone in hand. 

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