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Thinking Remotely

Jay Cuthrell
September 21st, 2020 · 5 min read

THIS IS A WORKING DRAFT

I’ve had a chance to think more about the past few months that for many might seem as though it has lasted for years not just months. This post is about thinking remotely.

First, I want to be clear that I’m incredibly fortunate and privileged to be able to even had the spare time to think let alone write this post. See also: It’s easy for me to say this as a long time technology consultant that has spent the majority of my career in telecommunications as well as information and communications technology (ICT) being a “road warrior” operating far outside of traditional office settings.

Second, if you work with your hands making things or various service industries outside traditional office setting, I may not have much to share other than my respect and profound sympathy. So, if that sounds like you reading this — thank you in advance.

Third, if you are reading this and fortunate enough to still have a job that was in an office setting doing knowledge work, the sudden shift to working away from the office is probably jarring. Patterns have changed and I’d like to share a few words about thinking remotely.

Pattern Before

An incredibly simplified view of the pattern before might look like this:

  • waking
  • regular life
  • commuting
  • arrival at the office
  • contributing in a formal office setting with cubicals, open seating, collaboration spaces, meeting rooms, break rooms, etc.
  • departure from the office
  • commuting
  • regular life
  • sleeping

In prior years, there were seemingly endless posts and articles describing how to live your best regular life. Those quality of life pieces might seem quaint or illogical at this present time.

Pattern After

Likewise, an incredibly simplified view of the pattern after might look like this:

  • waking
  • irregular life
  • contributing remotely most likely from a dedicated home office, spare room, spare table, couch, back seat of a vehicle, or other ad hoc setups never intended to be permanent, etc.
  • irregular life
  • sleeping

Once regular life went away it was replaced with irregular life. Even then, fitting some quality of life into the pattern is probably harder to fit in regardless.

Thoughts for Today

In late March 2020, a post from Sarah Emerson became the first of almost four dozen headlines to follow on the topic of “remote work” on Techmeme.

Techmeme headline in 2020

Contrast this post to March 2017 coverage of how IBM viewed remote work and pushed in a very different direction.

Techmeme headline in 2017

So here we are in Semtember 2020.

Typical company reactions might range from forming a team, panel, or formally assigning a leader to come up with a plan for getting remote work to, well, work. Or, if recent coverage provides an example, companies might look to established pioneers such like GitLab as a type of management consultant for remote work.

While I’m not advocating a dedicated Head of Remote Work needs to exist within the job family definitions of an human resources there will be a need to generalize the culture of remote work even more in the future. So, I’ll focus on four key areas of thinking remotely: spaces, networks, sensing, and sustainability

Adaptation and Improvisation

  • Waking moments
  • Commute times
  • Lunch breaks
  • Watercoolers
  • Sponsored conference lunches

The notion of a packed conference or trade event is shifting to digital approximations. The human to human networking was always the draw in most cases where a keynote or the highly over packed agendas and talk tracks prevented consuming all the sessions.

Just ask Keith Townsend aka @CTOAdvisor about the digital approximations of virtual conferences. He would know.

One of my favorite parts of any event is the obligatory sponsored vendor lunch where you give up a badge scan for a free meal and are seated next to people you may not already know. Thankfully, there is Lunchclub AI which facilitates one to one video meetings in a lunch style format.

While it might seem odd to seek out yet another video meeting these days, here is the draw of Lunchclub AI in a nutshell:

  • Simulation of sponsored lunch tables at a conference
  • Self-select “birds of a feather / special interests group”
  • Easy G Suite Meet integration (but you can use Zoom as well)

Using Lunchclub AI, I was able to have virtual lunch meetings with people from ViaSat, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft Azure, Sealed Air, KPMG, Jungle Disk, RelativityHQ, and WP Engine. The meetings took place over the course of a few weeks because eating 8 lunches back to back would be gluttonous. 😉

If this sounds interesting, I’ve got a referral link you can use: https://lunchclub.com/?invite_code=jayc11

Referrals earn what are called Clubpoints. Yes yes yes. It’s a points system or currency system of sorts.

So far, I think the current (growth gaming design pattern) points system for Lunchclub AI works out as follows:

  • Earn points for various actions that grow the platform userbase
  • Spend points to
    • essentially decline the wider AI in Lunchclub AI for narrower model
      • you are allowed to pick a specialty you want to have lunch with
      • Again, sort of like picking up the tab for an exclusive lunch meeting)
    • get more meetings each week than your normal allowance

Oh. I just reached 30 points which is enough to pick up the tab for lunch with a speciality selection. 😄

So, if you already have 30 Clubpoints perhaps you can take me out for lunch by gaming the specialty selections to conform to my profile attributes?

Connectivity and Community

  • VPN Use for Home and Mobile Broadband
  • Virtual Resource Groups

Presence and Partitions

The notion of presence in an office has recently shifted from sound of someone in a nearby cubical to the silence or invisibility of a geographically vague approximation. The familiar partitions of work and non-work as a balance can all too easily shift to unsustainable levels. So, let’s explore a few concepts around the notion of status indicators.

Status indicators

Status indicators are the best example of human driven edge computing. Wait. What?

Yes.

I started thinking about this when @CTOAdvisor aka Keith Townsend posted the following question on Twitter:

Keith's question

Let me explain…

Edge computing is a marketing term used to describe doing your computing at the place closest to where the data is being generated.

I like using a backronym at this point because edge computing is older than the marketing term seeking to describe what it is.

EDGE:

  • Endpoint
  • Deployable
  • Generally
  • Event-driven

Confluence of hardware with just enough stack for remote sensing / telemetry / in-situ machine learning / AI feedback loops, etc. will push many Edge standards for use cases in Enterprise, service provider, and consumer segments. For example, you can set up a simple at home event trigger that updates your status or you elect to set your own boundaries.

In the earliest days on the Interwebs, it was not uncommon to set up a webcam that pushed a JPG to a remote FTP site that was then embedded on a simple website as a type of virtual fish bowl. This was the ultimate real time presence indicator because you could see someone seated at their desk with a (typically) Connectix webcam displaying a grayscale 160x120 pixel or 320x240 pixel representation of their physical proximity to a large CRT monitor, keyboard, mouse… and probably a lot of empty soda cans.

Webcam days

So, for a modern twist why not consider a similar edge computing platform like that now? It’s relatively simple to to set up a low cost IP camera with a PTZ control, upgrade the firmware with a hacks style firmware, and livestream to Twitch or similar streaming platforms.

Twitch example

Out of Office automation

Example of throttling email OOO greeetings.

Delayed delivery

Example of using delayed delivery in Office 365 and G Suite Gmail.

Productivity and Balance

Now let’s explore what it means to be productive and to achieve balance in a world that feels unbalanced.

Tracking and taking vacation days

Know your state of residence laws and the studies that prove the point of time away from everything work related.

Hard stops

Respect begins when the time investment of a meeting has a start and stop. Follow up items can literally be an extension to honor a stop.

Owning your calendar

Discuss how advanced managing leaders maintain their calendars with examples like Pat from VMware.

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