Smelly T-Shirts and Shaving… Teleworking at it’s best

In Career Development, Home Life on November 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm

As some of you read in my last blog post, I just switched jobs. One thing I might not have brought up is the fact that I’m giving up teleworking. I was allowed to work from home from August last year until I left at the end of October, so I’ve now got a solid 14 months of working from home under my belt. I’ve learned some lessons along the way.

My telework has been by choice – I wasn’t assigned to work out in California. So this means I didn’t get any financial support to have a home office – like my employer paying for part of my internet service provider bill, or printing, etc. My employer did pay for my mobile bill the whole year, although I had to reimburse for some personal use fees when I was traveling, that’s another story… But some people who are assigned to work from home might have some benefits that I couldn’t take advantage of, including writing off some costs on your tax return.

Working from home has been amazing, but it’s not without its tradeoffs. I’ve loved not having to iron my clothes, or shave that often. I had to make sure that I at least looked relatively neat in case someone wanted to do the Skype video. Mid-day walks/runs/whatever with my wife while the kids are at school were really nice. Being able to control when I worked was great, I was able to be there for my kids more than when I have to work a solid 8-hour day at an office I have to commute to. I could step out and pick up my kids from school, drop them off, go to those random mid-day events. I chaperoned a couple of field trips. I could go work from my daughter’s Gymnastics class, where I could clear my inbox and do some weekly organizational tasks that didn’t require as much attention. I could work from the library while my oldest daughter devoured library books. In theory, we could travel the world as long as I was getting my stuff done on time and being responsive. Modern technology is amazing.

The total blending of work and home has its drawbacks, though. While it’s great to have control over when I work, I had to constantly police myself. My wife learned to stop being mad at me (at least outwardly) when I had my phone out all the time, because she knew I had to be responsive, this was part of the deal. “Is it a work email?” she would say. I still would feel bad about it – there’s a level of constant stress to be responsive. My colleagues were all over the world, and I was also acutely aware that teleworking was a privilege; I never wanted it to be a hindrance or to attract negative attention because my time zone or responsiveness was the problem. So, I never grumbled when I had to hop on Skype conference calls before dawn or late at night. I would wake up to Skype messages piled up on my phone, I’d lay there and try to get back to people, mostly on their time. I’m sure that’s a nice image for my former colleagues to try to get out of their heads…

Because my work was paying for my mobile phone, I felt like my work was with me all the time. In some ways, it’s great – if you allow yourself the confidence to think you’re spreading your work out all day – that you’re genuinely putting in the full time work that you would if you were commuting to an office. But sometimes that confidence is hard to find. The more efficient you are, the more will be expected of you. Creating some ground rules in the beginning, and discussing the expectation of your work output with your supervisor is essential. You have to feel like someone has your back, and that it’s OK to respond on your time. At least you need to define what is urgent and what can wait. In reality I think we all believe we’re way more important and critical to our organizations than we really are.

The other thing that a lot of people discuss about teleworking is the lack of physical face time with people – the chance meetings in the hall, the spontaneous collaboration, or missing snap meetings. I was fortunate in that almost all of my colleagues also teleworked or were located in field offices where I would have worked with them in the same way. I wouldn’t have collaborated much with my colleagues in person at HQ anyway – other than being social. I found that being logged into Skype could be a great way to poke my head into the hallway to ask a question. I found in my last office job – that I would waste a lot of time chatting about random personal stuff, not necessarily coming up with groundbreaking new initiatives. Not that I didn’t really like my colleagues, but I felt like there was room for more productivity and less social drama.

I did learn a more valuable skill, especially for this day and age – being able to answer most questions myself. When I’m in an office with colleagues, in a cubicle or shared space – you can kind of blurt out a question or pop up and ask someone something – and chances are you could have Googled it or dug a little deeper through your intranet to find the answer. Of course there are always deeper or confidential verbal-only talks that need to happen, especially for me since I was into some occasionally sensitive Human Resources issues. I never felt like I was unable to engage in those when I needed to.

Now that I’ve been in my office job for the last week, I’ve noticed that I am slow to re-engage in the office-style workflow. I haven’t had to greet everyone (other than my family) for a long time. I struggle to not spend money on food again – when I was home all the time I could pop in for a snack, I seem to need constant food.  I am holed up in an office but I need to take advantage of being around some very interesting and experienced people. We’re all busy so it’s not like I look stand-offish, but this is a level of outgoing-ness that I hadn’t fully considered.

The best part of this new configuration, especially since I live in a beautiful place and my work is really less than 3 miles away from my home – is being able to incorporate exercise into my commute. When it’s not raining, I ride my bike to and from work. I plan on walking it from time to time. That should make up for any excess sugar I’m consuming, hopefully. At least I am generally cleaner, I shave more often, and am remembering to use deodorant more.

Transitions, 2015 Version

In Career Development, Growing Up, Home Life, Humanitarian Response, International Development on October 20, 2015 at 9:57 am

It’s time for another career transition. I’m leaving my job with Catholic Relief Services. I know many will think I’m crazy. And maybe I am a little bit – but this is a decision with two very great reasons justifying it: family and timing. I want to share my reasoning because this is illustrative of a lot of people around my age, where we’ve got a young family and are still trying to develop our careers and figure out what we want to do.

On Family…

My CRS job has had me traveling at just over 30 percent. This is actually less than the JD had required, and not nearly as much as some of my other colleagues on the Humanitarian Response Department, who are up in the 50-60 percent range. I thought being able to work from home, being much more available when I’m home, and relocating my family to our forever home in California to be near extended family would help mitigate the effects of me traveling a lot. Maybe if my travel were more predicable, but my trips have come with at most three to four-weeks’ notice. The Nepal trip had me on a plane within three days, and I was gone for four weeks. Almost all my trips are at least two weeks, if not three or more.

To do this job right, I should be willing to go whenever and wherever I’m needed. I feel like I’ve cut a few trips short when I probably should have stayed longer… it felt like doing a better job would have required more from me, and consequently more from my family. As time went on, trips were getting harder and harder for me. I’ve written about this in previous blog posts. Each departure would hurt just a little more, the homesickness would nag at me – right around the two-week mark as I would reach the home stretch I would start to feel worse – more homesick and less productive. It wasn’t good for me, my family, or my employer and colleagues.

In the end – CRS and my position deserved more. The coolest aspects of travel and the work itself were not making up for the negatives. I was tired of missing my kids’ events at home, being the dad who’s almost never around, and having adventures without my family with me to share.  I was also risking my professional reputation by not giving my all. Maybe I’m hard on myself with my self-assessment, but this is my perception. So overall: I loved the job, loved to work for CRS, but the travel was going to push me and my family to a breaking point, probably in the near term. And, even if I wanted to remain with CRS and continue to develop my career there, the options would have almost certainly involved either more travel or moving, two things we’re not prepared to do any longer. My last day with CRS is this Friday 23 October.

On Timing…

I was offered a job with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (aka “MIIS” – www.miis.edu) as a Career and Academic Advisor. I’ll be advising about 180+ students in the Development Policy and Practice Degree program. This is the degree program I completed in 2007, with a Masters in Public Administration. I know the MIIS team pretty well, and have collaborated with them for years. They very generously gave me the Alumni Volunteer Service Award in 2012 – one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. They proactively recruited me over several months and showed sincere interest in having me come be a part of the team. I demurred when I hadn’t been with CRS for a year, but I was swayed after two long trips to Nepal.

Maybe I could have played coy for another year or two and tried to hold on to my operational Global Development -Humanitarian Response career a little longer – but see above on family concerns… and I would much rather take a job where I’m recruited and they’re psyched to have me, rather than me sticking it out a little longer, my family hitting a wall and I go begging for a new job… I just couldn’t delude myself any longer. Plus there are other pretty decent benefits that made working for MIIS an attractive option. Besides decent benefits (health plan, retirement, annual leave, etc), it’s a super close commute to my home, and I am happy I’ll be able to leave my work at work. I loved working from home but it will be nice to be more turned off from work after hours. Overall I’m excited for the change and I’m surprised how happy I feel about being more anchored into my community. This will be like a real homecoming for me in many ways.

So – while I have absolutely loved working for CRS, it was time for me and my family to make this change. I’m hoping to dig into the academic side of poverty alleviation, program management, and humanitarian response, and to parlay my experience into trainings and ultimately teaching. My pipe-dream is to somehow get a PhD before I’m 50, but I’ve probably already punished my family enough, that’ll go in my parking lot for a while. I start at MIIS on 26 October.

Gratitude and Growth…

CRS has been everything I hoped it would be, and I’m so grateful they approached me for this position last year. I consider my supervisors to be good friends now – they’ve always been supportive and helpful, among the best supervisors I’ve ever had. My recruitment colleagues have been great – they all really care about CRS, the mission and values, and projecting them from a candidate’s first impression of CRS all the way to on-boarding. I think this translates into recruiting the people that CRS has in abundance – dedicated to improving the human condition, committed team players, nice people, super smart and fun to work with – the kind of team you don’t mind working with for 10 years or more. CRS’ retention rates confirm this. It’s an awesome place to work.

And working within the Humanitarian Response team has been a truly humbling experience. It’s been an honor to work with this team, I’ve learned more in the last 15 months about real humanitarian programing than I did in my previous six years with IRD and RI. They’ve got strong leadership, some very smart people, the kind of high-caliber, good humored, and dedicated humanitarian professionals anyone would want to have as colleagues. CRS has the resources at their disposal to do what they feel needs to be done, rather than looking for what a donor will fund – and they can support a robust monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning (aka, MEAL) system that helps contribute to the state of the art of humanitarian response. I feel better about walking away from the humanitarian sector after having worked for one of the most effective humanitarian NGO’s in the world. They’ve shown me what a thorough, well-done job looks like.

My blog, twitter feed, and public Facebook page has been pretty quiet since I’ve worked at CRS, in fact this is probably the first time I’ve even referenced them in my blog other than linking my LinkedIn profile in my “about me” page. I’m hoping to be more active on my blog and through social media as I ease into my new job and start learning about and sharing new things. I’m genuinely excited for this change and I look forward to what’s to come!

…Not Stirred – Second Nepal Earthquake 7.4

In Humanitarian Response, Nepal, Travel on May 12, 2015 at 2:37 am

5/12/15 3:06pm Kathmandu, Nepal.
Wow, eventful afternoon. There was a 7.4 aftershock, if you can call it that, around 12:30pm. I had just finished lunch. It started slow, then grew until it was just like when I went through the ’89 quake, the ground felt like you’re standing in an unstable boat. We ran outside to the street, where everyone had gathered. This city had just gotten mostly back to normal, now everyone is spooked again and everything will be on hold until people can get their nerves back.

There is a rush of energy right now as everyone is still trying to get home, it’s a sudden unexpected rush-hour.

I was just thinking that I hadn’t blogged much, I Was annoyed with myself for not having that much to say, as I was in a pretty busy work rhythm and my days were moving fast. I was sprinting to the finish, so to speak. Now things feel on hold.


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