Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Two Minute Commute

At some point in the next couple of months, I will begin working from my home on a regular basis. That means that I'll be moving from a very spacious 15 by 15 (feet) office at work to my home office, which is in the process of being constructed and will measure about 8 by 10 (feet). One benefit of the new office is that it will have an attached powder room, so I can now feel like an executive, with a bathroom right adjacent to my office. So I am in the process of selecting furnishings for the office since this will be where I am expected to work most days, coming to the real office when I need to have face to face meetings or meet with a vendor. On the plus side, my commute will be a matter of seconds instead of the 45 minutes or so that I have allotted (each way) now. On the negative side, I recognize that I am a social animal and will need to work harder to maintain relationships in the office.

My new space will be a dedicated office. In the past, my working space has been part of our kitchen or in the basement. Right now, my desk has been relocated to the basement along with all my "stuff" and I'm finding that while isolated, it is not the most conducive spot for working. As winter comes on, it is also a tad chilly. The new office will be fitted out with bookshelves, a proper (and matching) work surface, a decent amount of storage, plenty of electrical, data and telecom outlets, and a door. That door will be useful. It will help me feel like I've "gone to work" and will indicate to the family when I really need to be head's down on a project.

My employer is looking to reduce the second largest line item on the corporate budget -- real estate. Those of us who are knowledge workers and who generally spend most of the day locked in offices staring at a computer screen or on conference calls will be able to do this from home -- greatly reducing the daily requirement for square footage and reducing the cost of real estate for the company. It's sold as a "win-win" -- good for the bottom line and good for work / life balance. Since many of us travel frequently as well, it will also utilize space that can sit empty many days a year when we're on the road.

I've dabbled in working from home for some time now. I've had a home computer since CP/M days and I've been online in a meaningful way since 1993. DSL showed up in 2001 and I've been able to be much more effective working from home since then. Add in my new Motorola Q9h and Bill Gates' profit margins are seldom more than a few feet away from me. Prior jobs allowed me the flexibility of working from home in between road trips or on days where weather or family circumstances allowed me greater productivity if I avoided the highways. If my younger daughter is home ill (or has a day off), I should be able to be home now without any feelings of guilt.

But, there are drawbacks. I like that office. I tend to nest at work. I have a fair number of things that I have picked up over time that I like to display. I also have a fairly large reference library. And I've been gifted with a about ten linear feet of files from my predecessor that I will need to send offsite or find space for in my shared digs at the office. That's the stuff that will be hard to part with.

As a new employee, I'm still building a network and relationships in the new company. Being in the office allows people to drop by and say hello or allows you to run into someone in the cafeteria. It also allows the happenstance "drive bys" that come with seeing someone in the hallway or in their office. Moreso, as a records manager, I'm worried about what will happen to records when knowledge workers are primarily doing their work at home. And that, after all this lead in, is the focus of today's post.

The reason that I'm moving to "iWork" -- as we call it -- is that I'm moving from the company's Law Department to the IT department. I'll be working for the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) in our Information Protection department. It makes sense. My new boss interviewed me before I was hired and working for him was a possibility from day one. His team includes people who are responsible for Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery as well as Data Privacy. So it is a natural fit and we're all focused on risk mitigation when it comes to the company's information assets. The team is also global in nature, so the iWork program will also benefit us when we have those late night / early morning conference calls with one end of the world or another.

Over the past couple of weeks, however, the drumbeat of interest in iWork has been ramping up. This has led to a number of calls and emails from people wondering what they should be doing with their records as they move out of fixed office space and what they should be doing with records when they are at home. So we're working up some direction for employees, while trying to ensure that we're not stepping on any toes.

Things that we're trying to address:

  • Shredders. Yes. Internal and confidential documents are required to be shredded before being discarded. iWork employees get an allowance for equipment and a shredder is expected to be purchased.
  • Secure storage space. Yes. Part of the allowance is to be used to purchase secure filing equipment that will allow internal and confidential documents to be secured, along with laptops and other company property.
  • Offsite storage. No and yes. We're not going to allow our offsite storage vendor to make house calls. We are encouraging employees to make certain that they are backing up electronic documents on company servers.
  • Use of personal computer equipment. No. I'm making a strong pitch that we always provide company-owned or leased computer equipment and mandate the use of this equipment. Some bean counters are looking at this as an exercise in numbers and the battle is on. The problem with allowing company information to be maintained on personally-owned equipment is that litigation makes this very interesting. John Montana's excellent study, "Access Rights to Business Data on Personally-Owned Computers" (from the ARMA International Educational Foundation), is the document that I most reference when discussing this issue. I have support from our litigation attorneys as they have seen some really messy situations in the past when they had to get an employee's personal computer because of litigation.
  • Termination of employment. We have a policy that requires managers to ensure that all records maintained by a terminated employee have been transferred to another employee or otherwise retained properly. This becomes more difficult when the employee's work place is not within the four walls of the office.
This process also demands that we put in place excellent repositories for information. That we have to work on. My fear is that people will do things that make life easier, like sending documents to personal email accounts or using online storage repositories to hold company information so that they can access it at home (the issue exists regardless of where people normally work, but gets exacerbated when the secure VPN connection for company work prevents the employee from printing a document on the home network).

What this also means is that you're never really away from work. In today's world, I guess being available, in effect, 24 by 7 is a necessary evil. However, it also allows you to be a parent 24 by 7 when necessary. So when my daughter needs a ride to Girl Scouts or someone to help her with homework, I'll be able to set aside my "day job" for a few minutes -- and that, especially, is not a bad thing.

As I was writing this, I was thinking about the evolution of work as I have experienced it in my life. Both of my parents worked when I was growing up. My mother was an executive assistant and was able to walk to work. We could stop by her office on the way home from school and check in. She worked typical office hours, but as an assistant to a sales executive, was on call at all hours. But by and large, her work was confined to the office or what she could accomplish on the telephone from home.

My Dad was in the trucking industry as an operations and sales manager. His hours and travel varied. Many of his "days" lasted into the wee hours when he was entertaining a customer. I'd hear him come in after midnight and head out at 7am the next morning. He was an early adopter of communications technology to stay in touch with the office. For many years, the family car had a two-way radio -- the iconic "Adam 12" radio, as we used to call it. Even back in the 70's my Dad was always connected -- and Mom had a way to find out if he was coming home for dinner. When cell phones came out, my Dad had one of those installed in the car as well. My Dad was big on "going for a ride" with us and many excursions were interrupted by a voice from the radio calling, "Base to 2-9-9" -- which meant that something had happened and he needed to drop by the office or go look at an accident scene.

But I learned from my parents that work oftentimes demands that you are available at odd hours or inconvenient times. In their cases, getting serious work done usually meant a trip to the office. In my case, I can often get it done from home. I do know that with an actual office in my house, I'll also close the door from time to time and call it a day.

1 comment:

Larry Medina, RIM Professional said...

One thing I know you're aware of, but I didn't see mentioned here, was the use of multi-function devices or other peripherals that actually store information and then print/portray it from that stored "image".

While I realize in this scenario you're describing, there is no involvement with "classified" information, there is potentially involvement with "Company Sensitive" or other information that may include PII or financially (or otherwise) sensitive data.

Policies should be developed to address how/if this is allowed or how it is dealt with if it is allowed. Information in many cases on printers, copiers, fax machines and other peripherals is stored in the machine's memory... and some of these machines have a substantial volume of memory.

There should be guidance given with respect to periodic purging of this memory, or ensuring machines that have an option to not use it don't use it.