Jan 25, 2012

Out of Office with Chris & Gihan

Now we've done our pretend New Year Resolutions (like I will lose weight and travel to Egypt) it's time to get started on what we really are going to do this year. Do you feel like 2012 is the time to change things in your life? I'm feeling that way. But enough about me- what about you? Maybe this is the year you want to work for yourself. Or maybe this is the year you want to convince  your boss that you would be more productive working at home or at the library. Thanks to Gihan Perera and Chris Pudney  - you will have all the tools you need to do just that!
Imagine being in charge of your own productivity; being able to choose when you work;  being able to work suitable times to contact clients in different time zones; managing your time flexibly around other commitments; saving time and money by eliminating or minimising the daily commute; and (let's face it) avoiding that work colleague who seems to monopolise your office hours.
I was kindly given a review copy of Out of Office and Chris Pudney agreed to do an interview. Check after the interview to get a fantastic discount when you purchase your own copy of Out of Office.
Make sure you check out their website which is full of lots of tips and handy advice. What I enjoyed most about this book was the depth of information. Chris and Gihan bring their combined years of experience together to share those insider tips that are so often inaccessible to people not in the know. It answers those questions about how you access the expertise in your industry.  The rest is up to you - it's time to shine and show what you can do.

I hope you enjoy the interview and remember to check for the discount. You can read more about Gihan Perera & Chris Pudney here.

Welcome to my blog.

Thanks Kat and a belated Happy New Year.

1.Perhaps some people have heard about this style of working but are dubious. But you have been successfully working this way for many years. Can you give us a little bit of background about your own experiences working "Out Of Office"?

In 1999 my wife and I travelled to the U.K. for an 18-month working holiday. I got a job developing visualisation software for a R&D organisation near Bracknell, west of London. Towards the end of our time in the U.K., I told my boss I would soon be returning to Australia and I was keen to take my job with me. Fortunately, my boss thought it worthwhile, and although senior management took a little more convincing, they eventually agreed to it on a trial basis.
More than a decade later, I’m still working remotely for the same company. In fact, another of my colleagues has followed in my footsteps, moving to Queensland from the U.K. whilst keeping his job.
I work remotely full-time - what we call an “E-worker” in Out Of Office - I occasionally travel to the UK to meet my colleagues but for all intents and purposes I telecommute full-time.  I have a dedicated home office. I rely on the Internet to connect me with my colleagues and work resources. It also provides me with tools such as Web forums, blogs and other on-line services.
I work regular hours each day but have the flexibility to tailor these according to fit my lifestyle.  So, for example, I take one afternoon off each week to take my daughter to her gym class.  My wife has recently returned to work part-time so a couple of mornings each week I do the school run and so start work a bit later than usual.  I often take a couple of hours off each week to run errands or catch up with friends.

2. When we were homeschooling my kids would say that if it was hot we could do school at the beach or the pool if we chose. That's the philosophy you are endorsing in this book, isn't it? That working "Out Of Office" doesn't have to mean always working from home. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yes, one of the main benefits of an Out Of Office style of working is that it affords you flexibility in when and where you work, that is typically unavailable when working 9-to-5 in an office.  Earlier I mentioned some of the benefits I enjoy as a consequence of having flexibile working hours.

As you mentioned, an Out Of Office work style also means you can choose where you work.  If you want a change of scene from your home office then you can work from, say, your favourite café or park.  Or, you can even hit the road and work from an exotic location.  We devote an entire section of the book to describing this work style, where you work for extended periods away from your home office.  This is whimsically referred to as being a “Digital Nomad”.

3. I have seen many business blogs suggesting that the push in the last few years is towards building business relationships and connecting with each other rather than aggressive marketing. Considering your long term business experience, what are your thoughts on that?

Yes, connecting with people is an important part of business strategy.  The rise of the Internet has made connecting with people on-line particularly easy; there are great tools for on-line communication, collaboration and building communities.

My friend and co-author, Gihan Perera, has devoted the past 15 years to helping businesses develop their on-line strategies.  He sums up the three key elements of such a strategy in the promotional video (below) he created for another of his recent books Fast, Flat and Free.

4. What role do you see the Internet playing in the flexibility of working "Out Of Office"?

The Internet is crucial to providing flexibility when working Out Of Office because it allows us to work anywhere, anytime we have Internet access.  The Internet connects us with the people we work with and provides access to resources we need for work.

Because the Internet has become so prevalent in modern life, it is now easier than ever to work Out Of Office.  The advent of Cloud Computing, in particular, has made this possible.  Cloud Computing is a technology that provides access to computer software and data via the Internet rather than from your own computer.  A few useful examples include:
  • Dropbox: gives you disk space on the Internet: you create a Dropbox account (free for up to 2GB of storage) and it gives you a folder for storing files.  It looks just like a folder on your computer, except that when you drag files into it, they are automatically uploaded to the Internet, where they can be shared with others.  
  • Gmail: is Google’s free e-mail service.  Its biggest advantage for Out Of Office work is that all your e-mail is hosted on-line, so you can access it from anywhere that has Internet access.
  • Google Docs: another free service from Google, is an on-line productivity suite (like Microsoft Office) that allows you to work collaboratively on documents.  It includes tools for creating text documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings that you can share and work on with others.
  • Skype: is free software for making phone calls between computers.  It includes tools for voice and video calls, chat and file sharing.  Calls to other Skype accounts are free but you can also call ordinary phone numbers for very cheap rates.

5. Even though we have the Internet at our disposal - it's not always as easy as just signing up to networks and waiting for things to happen. In your book you give people the tools they need to navigate this daunting task. Which networks have you found to be most beneficial?

The social network I’ve found most beneficial when working Out Of Office is probably the blogosphere.  It’s a source of invaluable technical information.  I subscribe to the Web feeds of several bloggers who are experts in my field of work (data visualization), blogs related to tools that I work with, and the internal blog of the organisation I work for.  I also have my own blog, VisLives!, where I post my own data visualization opinions and work.

Web forums are also a useful technical resource and wikis are a good way to collaboratively document a project.

I use Facebook and Google+ almost exclusively for socialising with family and friends.  I don’t use either network for Out Of Office work but because I’m a full-time telecommuter; rather I use them to help relieve some of social isolation that results from not getting out of the house as much as an office worker.  It’s a great way to unwind and connect with people I might not see that often.

I use Twitter for a mixture of business and personal use.  I follow people who are data visualization experts as well as other entertaining and interesting “tweeple”.  I tweet occasionally when I want to share an interesting data visualization item.  I avoid using Twitter when I’m working - if a tweet leads me to an interesting work-related article then I save it for when I am working.

6. How important do you think personal discipline and organisation are to working successfully at home or in another environment?

They’re vital.  You don’t have your boss keeping an eye on you so you need to be able to work independently.  Out Of Office is full of advice on how to manage your time productively, use technology effectively, and interact with your colleagues, clients and the rest of the world.  Much of the guidance we offer requires a fair degree of discipline and organisation.

A concrete example is dealing with e-mail.  Many people are slaves to their in-boxes, so in Out Of Office we explain how to take control of your in-box and use e-mail productively.  Many of the tips we provide require you to be disciplined and organised; if your in-box is bursting at the seams with hundreds or even thousands of messages then at first the task seems daunting.  But by diligently applying our techniques, handling e-mail soon becomes a breeze, even a pleasure.  Gihan and I published a podcast on e-mail productivity last year that discusses some of these techniques.

7. I felt when I was homeschooling and studying flexibly myself, that I had to change my mindset. Do you think this is true when changing your working conditions in the way you describe in your book?

For people of our generation (Gen-X) and older, switching to working Out Of Office might require changing your mindset.  We grew up in a world where working in an office, 9-to-5, five days a week was the norm.  So, there’s a lot of historical and cultural momentum behind that style of working but technology has made it an anachronism.

Younger generations - Gen-Ys and Millennials - are different; they’ve grown up with the Internet, the Web and social networks, smart phones and tablet computers.  It’s second-nature for them to socialize and interact remotely with their friends, and to study and learn on-line.  Gen-Xers are demanding flexible jobs; they don’t want to work in the rigid, structured environments their parent work in.  So, I think its unlikely that as our kids enter the workforce that they’re going need to change their mindsets.  They already seeking the kinds of jobs that allow them to work Out Of Office and I hope that’s what they find.

Thanks to Chris for sharing his book and experience with us.
You can buy a hard copy of Out of Office from the website here.

My readers can get 20% off the price of the print edition by visiting OutOfOfficeBook.com and entering the password "freedom".

If you prefer e-book format check out this page for stockists or click the link below. 

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