April 2009


Written by Lori Thiessen

Some of the best known pitfalls of working from home are: social isolation (potentially leading to depression), weight gain, and overwork.

Making Social Isolation Go Away

Get out of the house everyday! I mean it. Cabin fever doesn’t only happen to goldminers in the far north. Get out and join the real reality.

Part of the social isolation problem can be solved by finding your coffee shop office. If you work out of a coffee shop, you will be among people, the hubbub of everyday life. Humans are social animals and we need social contact to maintain our well-being.

You may want to invite friends or clients for coffee at your coffee shop office on a regular basis. This will get you out to your office on days when you may not feel like going.

Make sure that you keep up with your networks of people. I’ve taken to writing into my daytimer to call or email my friends, family and clients so that I don’t come to the end of the month only to realize that I’ve not really communicated with anyone.

Glance at your local newspapers and find something interesting to do every week. Invite people who share this interest or if scheduling conflicts make it impossible, go by yourself. You never know who you might meet when you are out.

Preventing Weight Gain

Okay, I’m not the best person to be talking about preventing weight gain because I’m well, … a well-rounded individual.  Perhaps that’s makes me an expert — I’m an expert at gaining weight so if I suggest that you avoid everything I do this might work. Here goes nothing!

People who work from home often report weight gain. It’s easy to figure out why–you are sitting all day and the fridge is far too close. You don’t even have a vending machine to feed coins to to get a bag of something.

Going to the coffee shop will help initially with weight gain. First, you have to walk to your coffee shop (or you should walk to your coffee shop). Then you have to pay for whatever it is. Handing over some dough for your doughnut may help you to stop overeating. And when you are contemplating that doughnut you may want to cast a glance at the yoghurt cup.  Making better eating choices will help not only with your physical well-being, but your emotional well-being.

Drinking no more than 2 cups of black coffee a day, no milk or sugar, has been shown to help elevate moods. Hurray for caffeine! But did you know that plain black coffee is also full of antioxidants? Apparently, even just breathing in the heady aroma of a well-brewed cup of coffee contains as many antioxidants as 3 oranges.

As journalist Caitlin Crawshaw of the Edmonton Journal so eloquently put it: “…your health is your number one priority. Without it, you can’t run a business for the long term”.

The Pitfall of Overwork

When you are running your own business, overwork seems to be the least of your problems. Everything is riding on your shoulders. You have to keep working, right? Wrong. Overwork will lead to burn out and other health issues. Set your schedule and don’t let time-hogs, like the friends who think because you work out of a coffee shop you aren’t really working, steal your day away from you.

And don’t let distractions fritter away your day either. If I’m working from home, I’ll sit down in front of the tv to eat my lunch and before I know it 2 hours have passed. Not keeping to a schedule eats up precious time.

It’s also important to have a time for the end of your day. A colleague of mine says that she doesn’t do any work at all after 9 pm, whether it’s work-related or household work. At 9 pm, her cell phone, computer and dishwasher are all switched off.

If you are having trouble managing your time well, you may want to try something simple like tackling a task for 20 minutes at a time. Set your alarm and go to it. I also try to set myself a task list the night before and I try to list no more than 5 things if possible. If the task turns out to be too big to accomplish in a few hours then I break it down into smaller tasks.  Write out what you need to do, step by step if necessary. As a business coach said once, if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count. Ticking stuff off the list gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure.

Make sure that your time is spent wisely and well. After all, didn’t you decide to become your own boss because you wanted to have more control over your time, your life? Well, now is your chance to do it, so don’t mess it up.

Q: How has working out of a coffee shop affected your working life?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

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Written by Lori Thiessen

In this age of gizmos and the drive to go green, are business cards still useful or relevant? After a quick search, the answer is a resounding yes!

The humble business card is still the best way to give your information to people in a face-to-face situation. There are those who may want to go completely techie and rely on transferring their digits electronically — zap! But then your entry is just one of so many in your potential client’s PDA.

Despite Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media that now bombard us with information, wanted or otherwise, about the contacts in our business and social network, the business card remains one of the main tools in a business person’s branding package.

This is especially true for the consultant. If you don’t have a permanent office other than your home office or a coffee shop office, then your business card is your storefront. It needs to reflect what you want people to know and to feel about your business.

But as I mentioned in the previous post, the coffee shop is a curious place  — not quite social, not quite business so you need to gauge whether or not it is appropriate to whip out your business card. Most coffee shops have a community board and it is perfectly reasonable to leave your business card on the message board. Check with the management before you do this, though.

So if you are unsure about whether or not to have business cards — say yes to the business card. It is still among the best marketing/networking tools out there.

Here’s a youtube video from an overbearing man passionate about business cards. Enjoy and take with a grain of salt.

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Q: What is the most impressive business card you have ever seen? Did it make you hire that person?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

Since I’ve moved, I’ve had to recite my new ‘digits’ ad nauseum to all and sundry.  How much better it would be if I had a card with all my information to leave with people.  Being an English literature fan, I remember reading about ladies and gentlemen leaving their ‘card’ for the master or mistress of the house on a fine silver salver presented to her or him by the butler.  What an elegant way of communicating with someone!

The basic calling card is generally about the size of a playing card. It can be a little larger or a little smaller. The history, design and use of the calling card is charming but complex. For more information, please consult these excellent articles on the topic: “The Art of Manliness” and “The Gentleman’s Page”.

But it seems that the calling card is making something of a comeback in our era. Time Magazine featured an article on its resurgence, “May I Offer You My Calling Card”.  Many people feel awkward about offering their business card in a social setting and so we scramble for pens and scraps of paper to scrawl down names and numbers. The calling card is an effective, creative and easy way to swap information.

This is particularly true for parents wanting to connect with other parents for playdates and other social occasions for their children. Elaine Milnes, a stay-at-home-mom, decided to create a calling card. Her revival of this quaint method of social connection caught on so well that she created an online business, MommyBiz.net.

For the cafe commuter, the calling card initializes a potential coffee shop office friendship in a more subtle fashion than a business card.  Because the coffee shop office is a mercurial place, neither strictly business nor strictly social, the relationships formed there reflect the character of this “third space”.

Cafe commuters by their very nature cover the gambit of enterprise (from student to upper level management) the traditional business card doesn’t suit communication needs of everyone.  The calling card, revamped for the social media needs of today, fills the gap.

So what should be included on the calling card of a cafe commuter? I would suggest the following:

  • Your name
  • Facebook name or Twitter name and/or website
  • Email and/or cell phone

You may even want to put in the name and address of the coffee shop that you use most frequently, somewhat like a Victorian gentleman including the name of his club on his card.

You can order business cards for free from websites like VistaPrint.ca, or pick up some business card stock from a stationery supplier to create them on your own printer, or talk to your local printer.

In this age of overwhelming technological gadgetry, something as simple as a well-designed, attractive social card stands out a mile, and so will you in the mind of your card’s recipient.

Q: What do you think of calling cards?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

written by Lori Thiessen

We are currently living in tough times. Everyone says so, even President Obama. According to a recent news report 69,000 jobs were lost in my province of British Columbia over the last few months. I’m sure there are similar terrifying reports where you live. Perhaps you have become one of the unemployed, or your business revenue is dropping at an alarming rate.

What can we do to cope with these tough times?  While I openly admit I’m not a counsellor, I do have a few suggestions.

1. Cry

Life sucks right now and I think it’s a good thing to just admit that. If you’ve lost your job, then I think it is important to grieve that loss and everything that goes with it. Once you’ve acknowledged the reality of your life then you can go about changing it. Be prepared that the change might be slow, but don’t let yourself get stuck at the grieving stage.

2. Get Emotional Support

Check your local community resources for free or low cost counselling services. If you live in a university town, see if there are any free, public counselling services provided. The University of British Columbia offers free counselling services as a way for their psychology graduate students to practice what they’ve learned.

Also, call friends and family. They love you and want to help you through your bad patches. But just be aware that you can wear these good folks out. They aren’t trained counselling professionals usually, and there comes a point when, as much as they want to, they just can’t help you anymore. Even if some of your friends and family are trained professional counsellors, there should be a clear boundary between your friendship and their professional activities.

3. Get Career Support

Check out the programs offered through your government’s unemployment agency. In the Vancouver area, there are career support programs like Transitions Career Explorations Program which will guide you through a planning process to either change your career path or help you to make your current career path more successful.

4. Keep Regular Hours

In my experience, if you start sleeping in and staying up all night your life really does go out of wack. I would highly recommend setting regular hours for yourself. Get up and go to bed everyday at the same time, including weekends. Get yourself properly dressed everyday. No jogging pants unless you are jogging!

5. Reflect

It sounds rather cliche, but a period (God willing, a short period) of unemployment can be a great time to take a moment to do a ‘life review’. Here are some questions to help you with your life review.

  • Is what you have been doing up to this point really what you want to do?
  • Have you been wanting to go back to school?
  • Are you really interested in another career path?
  • Are the goals that you have been working for still current?
  • What are the things that you really value now?

This is an activity you may want to do on your own or perhaps with a close friend who is going through something similar.  Having someone to work with on getting through this tough time can make it less tough.

And remember, tough times don’t last forever, it just seems like they will.

Q: What suggestions do you have for coping with tough times?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Dear Readers,

I received a very informative comment from AA about the issue of security and remote working. AA gets into the more technical aspects of securing your data than I could so I thought I’d post his comment in a more prominent place for everyone’s benefit. Thanks so much, AA! Check out his blog at http://www.kalifasi.blogspot.com. FYI, the blog is in Greek but there is a translator button.

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When accessing services of your business intranet remotely, the primary problem might be the “eavesdroppers”.

This means either someone who can pick the conversation between your laptop’s wireless card and the cafe’s Access Point off the air (and this can be done fairly easily today), or someone who can tap the communications, between your laptop and the computer it is connected at the workplace, on some point further down the line.(A bit more difficult but still possible)

These links can be made more secure either through a so called Virtual Private Network or for individual services via the so called SSH Tunneling.

In either solution, you create an encrypted link between the two communicating computers. The eavesdropper can still intercept your traffic but they would not make any sense out of it. On top of this you can use the so called “Certificates” to ensure that either end is indeed who it claims to be. (”The person connecting to my server right now is indeed my worker” and “The server i am connecting to right now is indeed the server of my company”)

The VPN requires a bit more work to be set-up but usually this is already available in businesses that require remote access for their workers. It is also less difficult to set it up at the client’s end (that is your laptop sitting at the cafe :-D )

If VPN is not available and all you want to do is (for example) check your email securely, then you can set-up a secure tunnel with SSH. This might be a bit counter-intuitive to get, at first, because you will be setting up a connection to your local computer which is then forwarded (by SSH) to the other communicating computer. But once you get this concept, setting up tunnels towards any service will be easy.
(A short tutorial available from here:
http://www.no-junkmail.com/Secure-Tunnel.html)…If your laptop is a linux machine then SSH is (most probably) built in and you can use it right away.

Apart from these actual dangers, remote users are always exposed to the common dangers of everyday browsing…like spoofing sites trying to get your credentials, scam emails, etc.
In this case, a good idea is to have a well written informative document (no more than 3-5 pages maximum, otherwise no one is going to read it :-/ ) to pass it to your workers letting them know what it is they are doing and what are the dangers they might be facing. This can be part of an overall security policy of the company

On the other hand, servers at the company’s end will also be exposed to a number of dangers and threats from the outside world. A well thought security policy can also help there.

Written by Lori Thiessen

If you needed another reason for why remote working is a benefit, look no further than an article written by Raj Samani in computerweekly.com. In “Remote Working Is Not All or Nothing“, Samani points out that when there is a natural or unnatural occurrence which causes a traditional office to close, there is whole day of work lost. He used the example of a heavy snowfall.

If people are able to work remotely, then something like a heavy snowfall may not necessarily mean a day of lost productivity.  Employees or contract workers are able to access email, reports, and other essential data from home if a remote working program for the company is in place.  Even a planning meeting need not be put off if the company has access to a conference calling service. Fire up your cell phone, sweeties! You won’t be able to deek out of the meeting after all.

Of course, there remains the question of security. It’s all very well if people can access files remotely, but what if other people, non-authorized people, can too.

Samani suggests that small business owners who are looking at extending their company’s perimeter (just look at me using fancy tech jargon!) may want to consult web networking systems experts. Apparently, there are now computer companies that provide the technical know-how and support that every small business needs when taking those first precarious steps into the risky world of remote working.

So if you need another item to add to the ‘pro’ side of remote working, this is it: you can keep working even if the world has stopped around you. Or may be this is actually a ‘con’? Hmmmm.

Q: What kinds of security issues have you encountered in your remote working experience? How have you solved them?

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

Written by Lori Thiessen

In the Metro News today (April 6th) , there is an article about a study done about the effects of web browsing on productivity. The University of Melbourne’s Brent Coker examined the perceived menance of WILB or “workplace Internet leisure browsing”.

You know all that money corporations have spent on keeping their employees on task and out of non-work related googling? Well, it turns out it was money wasted. Mr. Coker’s study discovered that Internet browsing actually increases productivity by 9 percent.

The good ol’ coffee break or water cooler chat has been replaced by Internet browsing to a degree.

Most workplace management experts agree that taking short breaks away from work can increase overall productivity.  But I think it is important for people who work on computers most of the day get away from them from time to time. Browsing on the Internet for the Muppets singing Death Metal songs might be good for a giggle, but from an eye strain and posture point of view it’s not that great.

I think it is important to away from the glowing square from time to time. Get out and breathe some air. Stretch those legs. Talk to a real human being for a moment or two.

Then go to youtube.com to find Beaker blasting out the lyrics to Burning the Masses and laugh your ass off.

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Q: What do you think of leisure web browsing at work?

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll save your seat until next time!

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