Written by Lori Thiessen

As we Vancouverites are now just 100 days away from the 2010 Winter Olympics, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve been witnessing.

Since about March or April 2009, I’ve been hearing people talking about prepping for the huge influx of people and activity in our relatively small, sea-side city. From what I’ve heard, I have a feeling that there will be very few Vancouverites left to welcome the world when they come and very few people to tend to the needs of the world — at least in the downtown core.

Apparently, there has been a huge scramble over people booking holidays in January.  I overheard a couple of Vancouver Public Library workers who were discussing the ‘challenge’ of trying to accommodate the above-average number of vacation requests for January.

The other conversation I’ve been hearing with great frequency is working from home. Remote working has suddenly become an intense topic of conversation for both workers and managers alike in Vancouver.

For those of you who don’t know the geography of Vancouver, please allow me to draw you a brief picture. It’s a beautiful city bounded on one side by the sea and by three sides by mountains. The downtown core (the financial district) is made up of relatively narrow streets with every available square inch dedicated to either skyscrapers or pay parking.

Driving into Vancouver is a nightmare at the best of times and the price to park in downtown Vancouver verges on daylight robbery. Taking transit can be fraught with frustration even if you know the buses/trains/sea bus you need to take because they run late, or break down constantly or not at all if the bus driver calls in sick.  The buses and trains are generally packed beyond a safe capacity at peak commuter hours. Add in the grey rain tiddling down at a steady, depressing rate and you have a situation irritating enough to make a saint swear.

So it only makes sense to stay at home with a hot cup of tea, hovering over a nice toasty warm computer. It seems to me that a lot of companies who have offices in the downtown core or nearby will be scrambling in November and December to put remote working plans in place.

However, not everybody’s work will allow for this. A friend of mine has quite a successful counselling practice located in uptown Vancouver.  She received a notice from either the building management company where her office is located or the local business association advising people to bug out during the Olympics or at least be nice to the Olympic tourists if they have to be in the downtown core to conduct business.

All this panic about being anywhere else but the office, especially an office downtown, has me thinking.

Will the Olympics serve as the catalyst to change how business is done in Vancouver? Will Vancouver be in the vanguard of business centres to make remote working the normal way to conduct business rather than just a novelty? Or will the Olympics give the Vancouver business community the boost it needs to catch up to places like San Francisco where the trend started in the first place or London, UK where remote working seems to have caught on like wildfire?

What are your thoughts on this?

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

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Written by Lori Thiessen

Why, hello there! I know it’s been months since I’ve posted anything here and before I unveil the continuing plans for this project, I just want to say thank you to all of my dear readers who have continued to drop by this space for a sip of virtual coffee and a chance to add to the conversation about working out of coffee shops. I always learn so much from my fellow coffee shop office colleagues!

To sum up what has been happening with me in the last few months, I’ve had to handle the three big D’s of life: divorce, death and disease. Sound dramatic? Well, it has been kinda dramatic. Oh, and add in a move plus renovations. I’m really surprised that I can even remember my name. Thankfully, my coffee mug has my name printed on it in big, friendly letters. That’s a clip ‘n save tip for all those going through afge moments, and quite frankly who among us isn’t. (By the way, afge stands for “another frigging growth experience”)

Anyway, enough about me. Onto the project.

The main points of the project haven’t changed.

  • investigating and reporting on the trend of people using coffee shop offices as their alternative or preferred office.
  • creating a space for coffee shop office workers to talk about their experiences.
  • producing a book on the findings.

I’m looking to have a proper website build for the project so that everything (blogs, the survey, discussion space, etc.) can be in one place. The website the project currently has is pretty amateurish because it was built by an amateur web designer — me! The book continues to be in process, a slow process, but continuing.

The survey will be re-designed and shrunk considerably for greater ease of participation and less risk of carpul tunnel syndrome setting in for those brave enough to answer all 38 multi-part questions of the current survey.

In the meantime, I’m back. I’m blogging. I’m working on the rim — of my coffee shop office mug, that is!

Thanks for your continuing support — and drop by for a fresh cup of virtual coffee and conversation anytime!

Written by Lori Thiessen

These days I sometimes wonder if I exist in the ‘real’ world because so much of my life and the lives of those with whom I am in contact take place online, in virtual reality. So it is a no-brainer to look seriously at personal branding in the online world.

Step 1 – Google Your Name

Sometimes your personal branding has already been done and maybe not by you. Check and see what’s out there about you. If there is anything that you are not entirely proud of, see about getting the info removed. If you’ve been tagged in a Facebook photo album and it’s not something you want a client to see, then untag yourself. There are software programs available to remove anything you don’t want online anymore.  Check out this Consumers Report on 5 of these programs.

Step 2 – Choose Your Social Media

With the oodles of different sites out there, it can be difficult to choose. I would urge you to be selective. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Time management – how many sites can you realistically update on a regular basis? There is a site called krunchd.com which will help you manage your online life, social media included.
  • Work vs. Personal – are you using the social media sites mostly for business or pleasure? Whatever the answer, err on the side of caution and keep all of your online communications g-rated and THINK before you hit that send button.
  • Specialization – the world of social media is so big now that it is important to choose your niche and stick to it. This is the best way to become an expert in your industry and to network well within your industry.
  • Security and Privacy – how secure is your information on any given site? This is a particularly thorny issue at the moment given the recent hacker attacks on Facebook, though given the low level of public response  most people seem to be largely unconcerned.

I would suggest that LinkedIn.com and Facebook are good ‘foundation’ sites for your online presence. Personally, I’m not that keen about Twitter, though I realize that many people feel that life without Twitter is akin to life without breathing. If you use Twitter, make sure that you keep your tweets professional and g-rated.  People are rapidly becoming re-acquainted with the phrase “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Just because you can say something to the entire world, doesn’t mean you should.

Step 3 – Words and Images

The key here is, you guessed it, professionalism. The photo you have up on any social media site should reflect the image you want to create. After all, clients or potential employers will likely be Googling you to get a first impression of you. Make it count.

Now I haven’t followed this advice for my own Facebook page. I rarely have a picture of myself up there. I use ‘masks’ of various sorts.  Frankly, I don’t like any photos of me taken in the last few years, and to be truthful, I have this paranoid notion that someone will download my image and steal my identity.  After having taking my paranoia in hand, I will have a decent photo of me taken and put up on my Facebook page in the near future.

As for words, well, I think your profile should reflect the best of who you are. You may want to put in your mission statement, your interests and perhaps even state what your values are. But most of all sound like yourself.

I’ve broken, oh, I don’t know how many blogging rules by using large words, using archaic words, writing longish posts and incorporating some esoteric references in them. BUT it is a reflection of who I am and my wide-ranging interests. If we all write alike, then we all sound alike.

First and foremost, personal branding is about self-awareness. Resist the temptation to brand yourself into a clone of someone else. I know a lot of secrets of success books would like us to think that success is simply a formula and if you follow that formula, ergo you will be successful. At the end of the day, you need to be fully and wholly yourself for success to have meaning.

Step 4 – Monitor Your Brand

Set up Google alerts with your name to keep track of how your name is being bandied about in cyberspace. If you don’t control your brand, someone else will.

So there you have it, folks; a quick look at the world of personal branding online. The main things to keep in mind are: keep it manageable, keep it professional and above all keep your brand yours.

Below are a few other resources to help you with managing your personal branding online.

  • plaxo.com – much like LinkedIn, it is a site geared towards career, work and networking.
  • zoominfo.com – a directory of people and businesses. Check your listing.
  • Google.com – a site to get a free email account and tools to help you manage your online life.

Q: What tools have you found useful in managing your online life?

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

written by Lori Thiessen

As cafe commuters, our lives tend to rest solidly on technology and our ability to get information to clients at the agreed upon time.

The Mac or PC debate has been raging since the two systems were invented and developed. Which is the better system?

Just as people will defend (almost) to the death the superiority of say, their dentist over another person’s dentist, so will MAC and PC users vociferously advocate for their system of choice.

I must come clean on where I stand in this debate. I’ve been a PC user since I succumbed to the fact that computers were here to stay and I had to learn how to use ’em. My pathetic reason for being a PC user is that I learned on one and I’m used to it.  Over the years, I’ve not only learned how to use a PC but I’ve even become enamored of and far too reliant on its usefulness in carrying on my business and social life.

While MAC’s have cornered the market on sheer eye-appeal (you have to admit that MAC’s are pretty sexy looking) and their North American ads are clever as can be,  the anti-MAC brigade seems to score a few solid points.

The points being:

*program compatibility. As Adam McNutt pointed out in his critique of QuickBooks (see comments), he can’t send QB info from his MAC to his account who uses a PC.  I’ve run into other similar problems when trying to cross the MAC/PC divide when it comes to programs. Although, I understand it’s getting better now.

*not able to modify MAC OS easily.

*MAC is good at graphic design stuff but not other apps.

*according to a rather rude column by Charlie Brookner of the Guardian newspaper, MAC is ‘a Fisher-Price activity centre for grown-ups’. Which roughly translated, means that MAC is for fun and PC is for serious people who want to do business.

*MAC’s one-button mouse sucks.

*MAC’s are not easy to upgrade.

If you want to know where I, a computer illiterate, got my MAC info, look no further than an editorial by CBC’s own Paul Jay and his article entitled, “Mac vs. PC, the editorial smackdow“, as well as the many, many comments from his readers.

PC’s do have their flaws, I grant you. They are prone to viruses. The security is lax or non-existent sometimes.  And they do crash or hang from time to time — ah save me from the blitzkrieg of the blue screen of death! But in my experience it isn’t that often.

Basically, the debate boils down to people’s preferences. MAC is good for the click-‘n-go crowd and PC is the choice for those who like to tinker and customize.  That’s a very simplistic summary but apt, I believe.

As I commented earlier in this post, I’m no computer guru so if you are please feel free to comment. A couple of guidelines though, please don’t go on at great length and please don’t be rude.

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

Hello, I’m Marieke Guy and I work for a digital information research group called (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/) UKOLN. I’ve been there for 9 years now and have worked on a variety of different ‘information management’ projects in the community and outreach team, there’s more about what I do on my staff page (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/ukoln/staff/m.guy/).

UKOLN is based at the University of Bath (http://www.bath.ac.uk/). For those of you who haven’t heard of Bath it’s a small but very beautiful city in the south west of England and a top tourist haunt because of its Roman connections. The most famous landmark is the Roman Baths but there is lots of other amazing architecture including the Royal Crescent, the Circus, the Weir and Pulteney Bridge. Being such a great city Bath is an expensive place to live and soon as we’d started a family it made sense to move out of the city to somewhere we could get more for our money. We now live about 40 minutes out of Bath in a small town called Melksham.

After I started back to work following my third lot of maternity leave (poor old UKOLN!) commuting to work no longer made sense. Getting to Bath usually involves sitting in a long traffic jam twiddling your thumbs, and doing the school run now meant that I was permanently late. UKOLN has a great attitude towards flexible working and was happy to let me work from home. As time moved on and I got into the swing of things (the technologies to use, keeping yourself motivated, how to work on the move, what to eat for lunch!) I was given the role of ‘Remote Worker Champion’ and became the main representative for the remote workers (there are currently 7 UKOLN remote workers). I really wanted to take a proactive approach to remote worker support so have written a number of articles on related issues and set up a blog (Ramblings of a Remote Worker http://remoteworker.wordpress.com ) to share my thoughts.

My experiences of remote working have been highly positive but it’s not quite the same story everywhere else…

The Lows and Highs

In the UK the right to request flexible working was recently extended to include parents of children under the age of 17 (previously it was only children under the age of 5). This now means that most parents can ‘ask’ if they can work from home (or somewhere outside of their office) and achieve a better work/life balance. This sounds like a great opportunity for many people but the reality is that there is no pressure on organisations to agree to any requests. Recent statistics from the National Centre for Social Research Omnibus Survey and the National Travel Survey show that in 2008 around 3 per cent of workers always worked from home, 7 per cent did so at least once a week and 5 per cent at least once a month. The report also found that the extent of home working has remained relatively stable since 2002 despite an increasing number of people saying they could do some of their work at home (http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221513/438774/homeinternetreport.pdf).

It seems people do want to work from home but there are often cultural and occasionally technological reasons why they can’t. Management attitudes to home/remote workers remain outdated and issues like blurred boundaries, corporate identity, poor broadband, lack of communication with colleagues and low morale don’t help. The recession has had a negative effect too. In the UK, as is I’m sure the case in North America, people are clinging onto their jobs and now doesn’t seem to be a good time to complain about working practices. Even for those who are lucky enough to been given home working rights there are worries that as employees they will end up at the back of the queue when it comes to many things (promotion, work opportunities) and at the front when it comes to others (redundancy). My own personal research into the matter has shown me that at the moment the public sector (e.g. Universities and some government institutions) and forward-thinking commercial companies (especially those working in technology areas) lead the way. The rest of the working country is really dragging its heels.

That said the benefits of home/remote working are becoming clearer. Remote workers are often more productive, more loyal, absent from work less and given the rise in office space have lower overheads to account for. There are also environmental benefits to add to the mix. I know the Coffee Shop Office has posted at length about the many advantages home/remote/teleworking offers.

It’s proving to be a slow journey and the coffee shop culture that Lori and Gregg blog about is still but a pipe dream here in the UK, but we are making some progress. The recent National Work from Home Day, which encourages people to work from home, instead of commuting to their usual place of work, organised by Workwise UK (http://www.workwiseuk.org/index.html) got quite a lot of media coverage, especially the Twitter/Google mash up that it generated (http://www.speedcommunications.com/NWFHD/). People could Tweet in their postcode (zipcode) and any comments about how their home working day was going. Also recent events like the heavy UK snow fall in February and the Swine Flu threat have made employers realise that remote working solutions need to be in place.

So we are lagging a little bit behind you North American folk. As Mark Twain famously said “An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.” Maybe there is a small fear of the unknown, but working practices will change, primarily because people want them to.

Thanks

Marieke

Marieke Guy

Marieke Guy

Written by Lori Thiessen

For a cafe commuter, the communication devices that you use need to support your business activities. Period.

In a curious way, though, communication devices are also wardrobe accessories and image makers or breakers because you carry them around with you and you are seen with devices in public.

Choosing between a Blackberry or an iPhone becomes more than just decision about which device will give  you the communication connection that you need. It becomes a decision between practicality and pizazz.

Now I’m not speaking from experience on this comparison. I must admit that I just bought my first cellphone last September.  I had a cellphone before  which a friend had given  me, but she warned me that “it was so old and unfashionable that you should avoid using it in public.” Basically, I’m just one step beyond using two tin cans and a piece of string.

My co-author, Gregg,  bought an iPhone mostly because it is incredibly cool and sexy. The bonus was that it could support his business activities as well.  All of us in the office were ooh-ing and awe-ing over the way you could move things (words, pictures) around with a simple touch of a finger.  It was hard to resist the urge to run right out and get an iPhone for yourself after that.

After all, who doesn’t want to be seen as cool and sexy?

Frankly, I think it would take a lot more than just a communication device to make me look cool and sexy.  It’s a depressing thought being upstaged by my cellphone. But I digress.

Even though I’m not very familiar with either of these devices, fortunately, there are scads of bright sparks out there who do. And here’s some of the conclusions they’ve drawn.

The short answer is: Blackberry beats iPhone.  For now, at least.

Here are some of the reasons:

  • proprietary network
  • push messaging is instant
  • can do several things at once without having a lag or interruption from other apps
  • excellent security
  • ability to integrate businesses’ in-house apps
  • available on several major wireless carriers
  • a real keyboard, not a virtual one, so typing lengthy messages is easier

Check out http://itbusiness.ca for the complete low-down (or down-low) comparison between these two.

Which will win? Well, if the tale of the tortoise and the hare is anything to go by, my money’s on the Blackberry; maybe not flashy but plenty functional and built to go the distance.

Q: Which communication device do you use and why?

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!