The Life of a Remote Worker.

I am a proud and happy remote worker. I am also really productive. People often think that these two statements are mutually exclusive. But myself – and all my colleagues – are evidence that they are not.
Currently I am based in Melbourne, my work is predominantly associated with organisations across Latin America, and my manager is in San Francisco. This means I am living and breathing in one country and time zone, working in another, and reporting into a third. People often ask me if I feel lost, confused, unaccountable or disconnected. But to be honest I feel empowered, efficient and productive.

I regularly work at home, at cafes, co-working spaces or – now it is warming up – in parks. This way of working allows me to be get inspiration from different environments, get silence when I want it, work with people when I need it and also make it to the bank when it is actually open.  Last week I also found productivity in a Melbourne laneway (True. Hub Melbourne shifted all their furniture outside for the day and it was superb).

This style of working regularly comes with small agile start-ups. Groups of people who are forming around a shared vision and passion, not a shared office space. And traditionally as you look at larger, older organisations the structure, cubicles and stacks of paper on desks increases.
Originally I was part a small start-up like this, Yammer. Then we were acquired by Microsoft and we thought that perhaps our days of being empowered to work where and how we were most productive would near an end. Pleasantly, we were so wrong. Microsoft is one of the few large global organisations empowering employees to do just this.
The Microsoft Australia head office, for example, is all activity based working (no-one, even the Managing Director, has a set desk or office), and employees are actually encouraged to work in locations other than the office. Earlier this year we had Summer’s Day Out and tomorrow, this is really being highlighted again. This time around though, Microsoft is calling it Spring Day Out, and it is global. A day where the whole of Microsoft is being encouraged to work anywhere but the office and still get things done.
I understand that this is not possible for all types of work and I am part of a tech company which provides the tools and devices to make this happen. But when most people have a smart phone, a lap top and a tablet is there really a need to be in the same place, all day, everyday to do a job that is rapidly changing and evolving? As Pip Marlow, MD Microsoft Australia, eloquently sums up ‘for some reason, so many Australian managers just don’t get the basic fact that work is something you do, not a place you go; people need to be accountable for outcomes, not for time served; 9 to 5 is a song, not a lifestyle’. Hear, hear Pip!
So tomorrow, as part of Spring Day Out, I am planning  on starting the day early (while Mexico is still online) at Little Mule with good coffee & wifi, then head to an Australian customers office, get in a few hours at The Hub Melbourne coworking space, then finish up at my stand up desk at home so I can take some business calls while I stretch. Honestly – I find it makes me so much more productive 🙂
Where are you working from tomorrow?

Use childish logic to solve adult problems.

My partner is a grade 2 public primary school teacher. He regularly comes home with fascinating stories of what kids have done and said. The unique ideas that they come up with and the logical answers that they have to problems. But then in contrast, we also discuss the set curriculum delivered in schools  and the way children are taught to solve problems and to address challenges with process and structure. I recently re-watched the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on how schools and organisations are killing creativity. He talks about how no where in the world is there a public education system that teaches more art or dance than maths and sciences.
In my current role I am working with organisations to help them adapt to the changing marketplace around them. As the technology and environment around us changes we need to also shift not only the way we work but also our mindset. We are still using the same learned logic and approach to working and solving problems that we have been using for decades.
Ford assembly line
When I was a kid my parents use to often say I had a fascinating logic and view of the world. I use to stand in the middle of the room and spin around. I would then stop and ask, ‘Mum, do you get dizzy when I turn the house around’. From my perspective, as a 7 year old with endless possibilities and at the centre of the world, this was completely logical.

But holding onto this unstructured logical view of the world is difficult when we are educated to look at our surroundings through a lens compiled of rules, processes and formulas that give you the correct answer.

As I sit here writing this post, looking out the window of my flight from Melbourne to Sydney I am reminded of a time when I was scared to get in a plane. I had watched all these plane take off and fly into the distance. At the age of 4, the night before my first memorable plane trip, I was in tears. All I knew about planes was they fly through the sky and get smaller and smaller until they are no more.

I wasn’t sobbing because of a fear of flying or safety but because ‘I didn’t want to get small and disappear’.

This was the answer to my parents question when they couldn’t understand my anxiety for getting on the plane. When your view of the world is not founded on previous conceptions the possibilities are endless… but still logical.
plane in the sky
Imagine our approach to problem solving if we could hold onto this fresh, untarnished logic. We need to add fluidity to the learning model that we have previously experienced.  After primary school, senior school, two bachelor degrees and a Masters – I have a good 20 years of formal education. My logic is now largely confined by the structure and processes that have been ingrained in me over those years of schooling. I have to work really hard to not let this be a limitation. To continue to let my childish logic be accessible to help me solve adult problems.

Watch Sir Ken’s TED talk and when your next challenge appears try to throw away what you know and instead look at the world like your six year old self did. When was the last time you did that?

Remember: A good chef always tastes his cooking.

For most things in life, when we have somewhere we want to go or something we want to achieve we regularly check that we are on track. We look up, see which direction we are heading in, and readjust accordingly. We want to be efficient and make sure we are on the way to where we need to be. We taste the cake mix, feel the temperature of the bath, and check google maps.

When we forget to regularly check-in we end up lost, with a bland cake and scolded toes. I hate it when that happens.

When we look up out of our narrow hole of concentration we realise we have gone way off course.

So why has software development traditionally been different?

Long product release cycles, no check-ins, few iterative changes and rarely developed with the end user in mind. Then they wonder why people don’t use the product.

Last week I was chatting to a man at the Connected Enterprise conference in Melbourne. He was telling me how in software development 18 months is a short time between production versions. He nearly fell over backwards when I told him that Yammer releases a new version every week. That at Yammer we roll out small iterative changes to make sure the platform is always relevant and fits the needs of the end user.

To stay relevant you need to be agile. You need to adapt to the evolving environment. A few whispers on the street last week about how Yammer’s development model is being leveraged. Exciting.

On another not-so-agile note, I did a triathlon the other weekend. Like in everything, one of the key things to remember is to look up every five to ten strokes to check your line. I got carried away, relaxed into a rhythm, felt the water between my fingers, steadied my breathing and felt like I was moving fast. When I looked up I was no longer swimming towards the buoy. It was almost as bad as when I forgot to add the sugar to my chocolate cake. Lessons learned. Agile is awesome.


100% Adoption = Invisibility

Adoption is something that we do with purpose and acknowledgement. We adopt a new technology, device, way of being. As something sweeps through the adoption curve there are the innovators, the early adopters, the majority and the laggards. Initially you notice the physical signs of adoption – the iPads, the bikram yoga studios, the free wifi signs, the quinoa on the menu. But as these trends gain momentum we not only adopt but also adapt. We become less aware of these physical signs of disruption as they become part of our norm.

As something increasingly becomes more visible in our lives it simultaneously becomes invisible.

Take the internet for example. With smart phones, the accessibility of wifi networks and advertising calls to action we are constantly surrounded by and reminded of the internet hundreds of times a day. The connection to the internet itself however, is almost invisible. Previously we accessed a dial up connection from the home or office by a desk top computer. Now you turn on your phone, iPad, or laptop and are immediately online without even being made aware of the necessity to connect. The internet is just there. Invisible.

Everyday I work with people that are rolling out Yammer across their organisation. They are building it’s visibility across departments as the place for communication and collaboration. The concept of an enterprise social network is powering through the adoption curve. It is currently disruptive and visible. But once it reaches the point of full adoption and it becomes the place of familiarity that people go to get work done, like other things that reach saturation, it will become invisible. The platform itself dissolves into the background and it is the conversations, the content and the people that are the central focal point and become visible. People forget they are using an enterprise social network, they are just working in a collaborative space and better connected to their colleagues than ever before.

If full adoption equals invisibility how does a technology or product continue to be disruptive once it has reached 100% adoption?

They continue to innovate and evolve. Yammer for example, releases on a weekly development schedule. They push people to adopt and adapt. They don’t sit back, relax and bask in the invisibility.They keep pushing the boundaries. You remain invisible for too long and you become irrelevant.


A man at a pink ribbon breakfast is a valuable commodity.

Yesterday morning I went to a pink ribbon breakfast. A great event for a great cause.

Many intelligent, inspiring and strong women in the room and on the panel. The discussion was around what we can do to improve the lives of women. The conversation flowed across broad aspects of various women’s lives. From in the Australian boardroom to in a primary school in Afghanistan. Having just handed in an essay on the gendered dimension of development for my Masters they were conversation points that really resonated with me. But for some reason I found myself looking around at the handful of men in the room.

As these amazing women talked about education and empowerment of females I wondered what the men where thinking.

As the conversation moved to the need for boys and men to grow up on a foundation of respect for women and an understanding for shared home responsibilities I was trying to picture how the men in the room felt listening to this. I watched a man fiddle with a pen, another check his phone and one massage a sore knee. I don’t know why but I felt uncomfortable for these husbands, sons and fathers.

I wholeheartedly agreed with all the points that the women said. But I really wanted to know what the men thought too. And I didn’t. Having an all women discussion about the plight of women felt one sided.

I found myself walking away wanting to hear the male opinion.

Knowledge and education does enable empowerment. But equality is not one sided. To attain equality and improve the lives of women we need to hear the voices of both genders. The men who show their support for attending a pink ribbon breakfast dedicated to improving the lives of women are the ones we  should also be hearing from. They have the potential to influence and encourage their male counterparts to promote a respectful, empowering and equitable society. These men are half the solution to improving the lives of women. They are valuable commodities.

If you are a man who went to a pink ribbon breakfast you are awesome and I would love to hear your thoughts and experience.

Building relationships: You can’t high five in the cloud.

Last week I was over in San Francisco for work. My brother commented that it was interesting that a company which is all about enabling online connections and collaboration still flies us across the world for real in-person trainings with our US based colleagues.

He thought that we should be able to gain the same experience using online tools as we would receive face-to-face. In a way, I guess he was right. We should be able to. But even with all the awesome tools now available we can’t.

There is an honest freedom in the connection associated with invaluable face-to-face communication.

The subtleties of body language and the recognition and understanding that can not occur through Skype, Go To Meeting, or email are imperative to building a relationship. Sure there are lots of ways that technology has enabled these new communication mediums to replace excess meetings and create efficiencies of collaboratively working across time zones.

But to build actual relationships we still need some real-life human connections which can only occur the old fashioned way.

And we need these both at work and in our personal life.

A good friend of mine recently moved across the world. We try to Skype regularly, comment on Facebook photos and follow each other on twitter. But it aint the same.

She wrote a great blog post recently about relationships and how they are an essential part of staying healthy – for both our mental and our physical well-being. That these real life interactions have a direct effect on our overall health. Something that does not occur via the typed or projected kind of communication.

Healthy people make better friends and better employees.

To be healthy in both your professional and your personal life you need strong, honest, and real relationships. These can then be reinforced and developed through online communication, but without the real-life interactions they become stale and hollow.

As an organisation that lives in the cloud I think it is fantastic that my work still values the true importance of building these real relationships. Because of this I can communicate online with ease and familiarity building on the foundations established face-to-face.

Technology and the cloud is changing the way we interact and communicate. But you can’t shake hands, drink a beer or high five up there. That’s what keeps you healthy and is how all the best relationships are solidified right…?

I value the knowledgeable community at my fingertips.

Earlier in the week I wrote about the power of community and how it had the impact to change a girl’s life. The strength of an active and engaged community is invaluable. Whether it is for serious life changing impact, or small trivial problem solving.  The other day I was once again reminded of how much I have come to rely on the advice and opinions of my twitter pals.

I had a problem. I needed to find a marathon friendly school dress. After a fruitless weekend searching Dimmies, Target and numerous op-shops I felt deflated.

So I posted it on twitter.

Within about 5 minutes this is what I got…

So many genuine offers of advice and assistance. It was amazing.

An engaged community, ready and willing to share their knowledge. So why doesn’t everyone see this value?

Everyday I still have the same conversation with people about the value of social media and in particular twitter. Why would I want to know what everyone had for lunch? As many of us know, this does not define twitter or the reason that the majority of people on there now use it as their number one news, information and knowledge source. You have direct access to politicians, journalists, athletes, chefs, specialists of all and any fields. It is real and real-time. And as I experience every day it is a valuable and wise community. One that is even willing to help me locate my perfect marathon dress. Awesome.

Without twitter to connect us this level of open communication and knowledge sharing would not be possible. Many minds are always better than one.

I did end up finding my school dress. The lovely guys over at One Girl actually sell Action Kits this year – which Chantelle shared with me… on twitter.

The dress still needs to go through my sewing machine and hopefully come out the other side fitting perfectly with no ability to chafe. But I am almost all set. Thanks to the responsiveness of my valuable online community.

My Do It In A Dress Action Kit arrived in the mail today too. Woohoo! Check it out…

Commitment, community & generosity change a girl’s life. And all in one week.

On Monday this week I handed in an essay for my Masters. The topic was on the importance of gender and the education of women in development. On Tuesday a friend of mine asked me to participate in One Girl’s campaign, Do It In A Dress. On Wednesday I committed to running the Sydney Marathon in a school dress (on my 30th Birthday).  On Thursday my lovely family and friends had donated enough money to send one girl to school in Sierra Leone. Today is Friday, and I am feeling rather overwhelmed about how much can be achieved in one week. Commitment, community and generosity is amazing.

So this is what I say about me and my commitment…

I love to read books. I love to write blogs. I love to run. I love being empowered to make the decisions that affect my life. And I am about to turn 30.

For my birthday I don’t want presents or champagne. Instead, I am running a marathon in a school dress and asking all my mates to give $10 to help send girls to school in Sierra Leone.

I am running the Sydney Marathon on September 16th – which happens to also be my 30th Birthday. I want to turn 30, being fit, healthy and in control of my life. Things which would not have been possible without a good education.

Knowledge and education change the world and no-one should miss out on this. By wearing a school dress for the Sydney Marathon I am going to help give girls in Sierra Leone an education. The school days are never over, and for girls in Africa it has only just begun.

I am going to turn 30, being hot, sweaty, red-faced and thanks to an awesome community, being proud to have helped share the joy of education with deserving girls.

If a woman is educated, she is empowered to participate in political discussion, family decision making and be an active citizen in society. In Sierra Leone a girl is more likely to be sexually assaulted than go to school. Education can break the cycle of poverty and give a young girl the opportunity to take control of her life. I figure that is worth wearing a school dress for and if I need to run a marathon in it so that people take notice of me, then I can do that to. It’s a challenge but one that I am up for.

You can check out my profile page and if you have to feel like supporting me you can do that over  here too. Thanks!

Support Sarah‘s Do It In A Dress Marathon

Has our accessibility made just ‘dropping in’ unacceptable?

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day and we were talking about community spirit and friendship. Not the online community type but the real life, borrow a cup of sugar, walk straight through the front door type. He said that real community comes when people just drop in unannounced. I think it’s true. And these days it is rare.

It’s so easy to find out if someone is home that you don’t need to go and knock on the door.

People, and their locations are so accessible. You can see their foursquare, their path or even just call their mobile. You don’t need to waste time going over to someones house with the risk that they might not be there.

At the same time, I find myself not just ‘popping in’ if I happen to be going by. This whole accessibility thing has made me feel like I should always check first… because I always can.

That the unannounced drop-in is almost no longer acceptable. 

This is sad. There is something unique in the sincere friendship of the unannounced drop in. That you know the person on the other side of the door will welcome you – even if you have caught them in the middle of cleaning the shower, watching a movie, or drinking alone. You get people as they were. Going about their daily activities behind closed doors. That’s community spirit. Being able to trust the unpredictability of friendship. The online version is much more predictable and measured.

I like unpredictability and so I am going to work to add the unannounced drop-in back into my life and not left it fall off the IRL radar.

What do you think? Is the unannounced drop-in still acceptable?