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Thoughts From the President: Working Remotely 1,400 Miles Away

Karl Springer on Nov 04, 2016

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I tried a little experiment this year.  My wife Robin and I moved to Toronto for a month. We left in August and returned at the end of September.  We rented a furnished condo, joined a workout facility and adopted Toronto as home for a month.

Why did we do it?  The initial reason was because of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).  Robin is a huge movie fan.  She would watch two movies every day if she could get away with it.  Last year, we went for four days, but this year we decided to go for all ten.  Ten days is really 13 or 14 when you count travel and getting organized.

The cost of a hotel for that period of time is about the same as renting something for a month.  That led to a discussion about living there for the same amount of time.  Could I really be away from the office for a month and get my work done remotely?

By the way, did I mention that I am not a movie fan?  Robin takes (more like drags) me to one movie a year.  I left in the middle of the one movie she took me to at the TIFF.  I am not going to mention the name, but–IT WAS SO BAD!

 

Planning Out A Workspace

I started planning for the trip and working through some of the logistics.  We have a strong group of managers and they run the day to day operations, so there was no concern with physically being out of the office for an extended period of time.  My main concern was making sure I had the proper equipment.  I work with three monitors at the office and at home, so I had to have multiple monitors.  I also needed a printer and a calculator.  Accountants without a calculator are lost (souls).

I also needed a good Internet connection and video conferencing.  My desktop for the last 10 years has used a remote desktop session on Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services (RDS) so I was not concerned about my applications working properly as long as I had good Internet access.  I have Skype and Skype for Business (yes, they are different) installed locally on my laptop.  I also have an instance of Office 365 Word and Excel loaded on my local machine that I rarely use.  Otherwise, everything else is accessed on my RDS session.

By the way, if you are not using RDS, it’s time to get with the program.  But that’s a different blog post for a different day.

The computer I use for work is a 6-year-old HP Revolve 810 with:

  • i3 1.90GHz Processor
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
  • Camera/Mic

It isn’t anything special, but I don’t need much since I use RDS.  I attach it to my docking station in the office and carry it in my backpack when I am out of the office.  And I am not planning on replacing it anytime soon.

 

Setting Up The Equipment

I brought the dock and power supply with me.  I thought about buying a couple of monitors in Toronto and just leaving them, but I found the AOC 17” USB powered LED portable monitors.  What a find!

The monitors are light weight. One USB 3.0 cable provides signal and power and they auto pivot for landscape/portrait modes.  The foldable, flexible stand is built into the unit.  Aspect ratio is 16:9 with a max resolution of 1366 X768 @ 60 Hz.  The monitor drivers are easy to install and the display auto spans in the RDS session.  They’re easy, elegant and I highly recommend them—they just work.

I had planned on buying an inexpensive HP all-in-one printer in Toronto, but I ended up not buying anything at all.  It would have been a waste of money.  I used the TicketMaster app for my Blue Jay tickets and the Via Rail app for my train tickets.  Otherwise, documents were available using the scanner in our Irving office, email, or downloaded from various sites.

I also had my LG Bluetooth (around the neck) wireless headset.  I have an older model, but it did the job.  I plan on updating to the newer model with the earbud wires that retract into the unit.

My work space (desk) was about 18” X 40”.  It may not seem like much but once I got setup, it was plenty.  Remember, I had no paper other than the Moleskine book I carry with me.  I got very use to having a clean, paperless workspace to start each morning.

Once everything was up and running, I focused on how I wanted to plan my day.

 

Organizing My Thoughts

I quickly realized the importance of being flexible.  The workspace is different and it took a day of adjustments to make it comfortable.  Once I made the adjustments, I settled into my daily routine.

The second realization was to treat this as a “move,” not a vacation or trip.  Get into a workday routine and stick with it.  Schedule PTO for the excursions and enjoy the surrounding area in the evenings and weekends.  When people found out I was in Toronto, they apologized for bothering me.  I just quit telling them where I was. 

I also found that I started utilizing technology more efficiently.  Since I am in the office on a regular basis, it is easy to ignore technology available in the remote access landscape.  When you are truly remote for an extended period, the overlooked technology is utilized. 

So what were some of the things I started doing?

 

Putting My Thoughts To Action

In the past, when I needed information about a service issue, I would just get up and ask one of the managers or a service tech.  Being remote caused me to start looking up the service ticket and reviewing the information in the application.  This had an additional benefit since we are undergoing an operational controls engagement (SOC 1, Type 2 report) and I was now looking at the same information our auditors look at.

I also started using Skype and Skype for Business on a regular basis.  Once it was set up, it was easy to use.  I used it for our scheduled Monday and Tuesday morning meetings.  I also used it to meet with vendors and customers

I discovered that our conference room Polycom works pretty well, but we probably need to add some additional expansion mics to clearly pick up all the conversations.  I had to ask people to speak up on numerous occasions.  I suspect critical information gets missed because the person talking is speaking softly or is just too far away from the mic.

 

Adapting With My Surroundings

Surprisingly, the change in time zone took a little getting used to.  It's just one hour, but the work routine does change.  I usually start working at home or the office around 7:00 a.m. CDT.  By the time people are getting to the office, and with the time zone change to EST, I have already been working for two hours.  The end of the day is also longer because our staff works until 6:00 p.m. CDT.  Usually stuff requiring my attention is wrapped up by 4:00 p.m., but it’s extended an hour here.  Lunch is also a little off.

The time zone change allowed me to learn a little more about some of the time zone features in RDS and the Microsoft Outlook Calendar.  We enabled the time zone redirection feature on the RDS server.  This setting displays time in the local time zone.  Just change the time zone on the laptop and the RDS session will adjust accordingly.

The other time zone feature was in the Outlook Calendar.  A second time zone can be displayed.  This allowed me to see the Toronto and Irving time zones simultaneously, which made it a little easier when scheduling appointments.

I was also surprised that I did not use Uber at all during my time in Toronto.  I am an Uber user and planned/expected to use it regularly in Toronto.  Didn’t use it once.  It is very easy to walk and use public transportation to get around.

I also observed a lot of distracted walking.  Toronto is a walking city and people are listening to music, talking on the phone or just talking to a companion.  We all know about distracted driving and the dangers of driving while talking on a phone.  It turns out that distracted walking has similar dangers.  I had to stop walking when I took a phone call, otherwise I might just walk into a busy street.

My experiment was successful and I plan on doing this at least once a year.  I am also encouraging my partner to plan a one month “move” in the next 12 months.

 

Have any experiences working remote like this?

I invite you to share them in the comments section. 



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