I do not work in the nude and other issues with working (and learning) online

August 2, 2007

There are many similarities between working at home and ‘e-learning’ at the office. Nudity is a myth for both situations although several people who know that I work at home have suggested otherwise…so do you work in pajamas they ask? Have you ever worked naked? Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. I told them I would (to the latter) but the FedEx guy just doesn’t seem that into me. Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.

What are the similarities between an at-home Web worker and e-learning at the office?

1) It’s not real ‘work.’ Neighbors have been known to call me and ask me to keep an eye on their kids while they step out for ‘a little while.’ There’s nothing I like more than watching 8-10 kids while I’m working. Many people  assume since I am home I’m not really ‘working.’ They wouldn’t think of dropping the kids off at my office workplace. At the office, well intentioned cube mates can also feel they can just stop by and ask if you can answer their phone while they ‘step out.’ Heck, you’re only attending a live online learning event why not answer 8-10 phones?

Solution: Say ‘no.’ (this may be viewed as being ‘too blunt’ when you’re performance evaluation comes around or when you’re neighbors host a block party and you’re not invited). Make up your own warm and fuzzy version of ‘no’ if you’re not the blunt-type.

2) People don’t undertand Internet work. I hate it when people look over my shoulder when I’m on the Internet working. “What are you doing?” they’ll ask. As if –  because I’m working on the Internet – I’m buying crap on eBay, playing Solitaire, viewing porn, or creating stupid emails with music and fancy backgrounds to forward to 10 people I know (and those are all OK if that is your intent but that sort of activity might be viewed as abusive while working). Many people just don’t understand Internet work. In the office, many people don’t understand learning on the Internet either. They look over your cube wall and ask “What are you doing?”

Solution: You could be sarcastic at a time like this and tell the person that you’re buying crap on eBay. However, it would be better to  use this  interruption to educate them on   your Internet use and and let them know that you’re taking a class, course, attending an event, doing research, etc. Let them know what you can really do on the Internet. Next time they might stick their big, fat head over the cube wall and say “What are you doing, taking a course?”

3) The phone problem. I’ve got three kids. That’s all I have to say about my home office situation. You’ve got co-workers and outside contacts that don’t know you’re e-learning while at your desk. It’s up to you to not answer the phone. (Note: If anyone has figured out how the mute button works on their kids, let me know. I’d love it if they could hear me but I couldn’t hear them.).

Solution: In the home office when you’ve got to make/take calls, banish the kids and close the door (because we all know that banishing doesn’t always work). In the office-office, don’t answer the phone. Simple, no?

4) The IM & email problem. Who has not checked email or IM’d during a Web conference? Who has turned email & IMs off during a Web conference? Big, big difference. If you have found and taken the time to participate in online learning (especially live), you owe it to yourself to actively engage in it. If it’s boring, best you just “X” out of it and get on with some “real work.” Otherwise, you’re just reinforcing the view that you’re screwing around on the Internet.

Solution: Turn off email & IM. You may even want to send an email to your co-workers that you are unavailable during the time of the event and why. “I will be attending an online training event on <this date, this time>. I will be unavailable during that time. Feel free to send me an email or leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can after the event.”

5) Isolation. There has been quite a bit of information written about the isolation factor of working at home. Advice on avoiding isolation (assuming you don’t want it) is to work elsewhere on some days (I’m working at Panera Bread today, for example),  attend outside events, stay in touch with friends, etc. However, both in the home office and the office-office, isolation can be a good thing. It’s easier to concentrate when you purposely isolate yourself from distractions and interruptions.

Solution: See if there is a location available where you can isolate yourself from distractions while participating in planned learning situations. Many offices have training labs, empty offices, or other locations that you can ask to use. In the home office, a ‘space’ for work that is separate from the home is a good idea. Also for home workers, stay in touch with real people and real events to avoid the type of isolation you don’t want.

6) Planning. Working at home often means you work more hours than you would in an office. You can’t just leave the office and go home. You’re always home and at the office. Office workers are increasingly working more hours too – both at the office and at home. Being constantly connected has it’s pros and cons. A plan for when you work  and where you work (including when you  participate in online learning) is necessary if you want to avoid burn out.

Solution
: Plan for e-learning. Set time aside. Schedule it just as you would ILT. For all Web Workers, there are some great organizational tips at Web Worker Daily. This is good information for anyone who works on the Web.

7) Support. E-learners need technical support in the form of computer usage (training), IT systems support, and organizational support.  Those that work at home also need technical support and organizational support. If self-employed, they also need  the support of  others- family, friends, and even clients.

Solution: Make e-learning support the job of all stakeholders- the training department, the IT department, and the organization’s managers and supervisors. Working at home doesn’t mean you have to become your own training or IT department. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. There are numerous online forums geared for at-home workers.

© Photographer: Tadija Savic | Agency: Dreamstime.com

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    Re: number 2

    So what is ‘internet work’?

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    Re: number 2

    So what is ‘internet work’?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    To me, ‘work’ is my place (location) of employment. So the place I work is the Internet. The toll booth operator works at the toll booth. People tend to understand toll booth work but I don’t think they understand the work that is being do on (at?) the Internet. Does that make any sense?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    To me, ‘work’ is my place (location) of employment. So the place I work is the Internet. The toll booth operator works at the toll booth. People tend to understand toll booth work but I don’t think they understand the work that is being do on (at?) the Internet. Does that make any sense?

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/ Karyn Romeis

    When I work at home, I do work in my pyjamas – until about lunch time. The nude? Not so much!

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com Karyn Romeis

    When I work at home, I do work in my pyjamas – until about lunch time. The nude? Not so much!

  • http://christytucker.wordpress.com/ Christy Tucker

    I’ve tried working in my pajamas a few times, especially when I first started telecommuting. It just doesn’t work for me; I found it really hard to be productive. I wear pretty casual clothes (jeans and a t-shirt), but I do feel that I need that to be dressed to be really working. I have heard of some people who get dressed in their regular office clothes to work from home. That would drive me nuts, but I do understand the idea of the clothes helping psychologically separate work and home.

    The point about isolation is very real too. I find that I have to be deliberate about making sure I get out to interact with people to get the right balance. As a whole, working from home is really a much better balance for me than spending all my days in meetings or leading f2f training. I used to need to be deliberate about getting alone time to find balance; now I need the time in the coffeeshop or singing in my church choir.

  • http://christytucker.wordpress.com Christy Tucker

    I’ve tried working in my pajamas a few times, especially when I first started telecommuting. It just doesn’t work for me; I found it really hard to be productive. I wear pretty casual clothes (jeans and a t-shirt), but I do feel that I need that to be dressed to be really working. I have heard of some people who get dressed in their regular office clothes to work from home. That would drive me nuts, but I do understand the idea of the clothes helping psychologically separate work and home.

    The point about isolation is very real too. I find that I have to be deliberate about making sure I get out to interact with people to get the right balance. As a whole, working from home is really a much better balance for me than spending all my days in meetings or leading f2f training. I used to need to be deliberate about getting alone time to find balance; now I need the time in the coffeeshop or singing in my church choir.

  • http://www.designedtoinspire.com/drupal Jennifer Maddrell

    To your point #5. Isolation, I contemplated the same in a couple of posts last year … http://designedtoinspire.com/drupal/node/234 and http://designedtoinspire.com/drupal/node/236

  • http://www.designedtoinspire.com/drupal Jennifer Maddrell

    To your point #5. Isolation, I contemplated the same in a couple of posts last year … http://designedtoinspire.com/drupal/node/234 and http://designedtoinspire.com/drupal/node/236

  • http://www.designedtoinspire.com/drupal Jennifer Maddrell

    … oh, yes … and this concept, too http://wiki.coworking.info/

  • http://www.designedtoinspire.com/drupal Jennifer Maddrell

    … oh, yes … and this concept, too http://wiki.coworking.info/

  • http://www.designedtoinspire.com/drupal Jennifer Maddrell

    and of course … http://wiki.coworking.info/

  • http://www.designedtoinspire.com/drupal Jennifer Maddrell

    and of course … http://wiki.coworking.info/

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  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    Janet, I’d say another potential barrier to online learning in a corporate office setting is that often the organization doesn’t value or permit blocks of uninterrupted time. This is similar to your items 1 (not real work) and 7 (no support), but more focused on whether the organization (or your manager or your peers) makes it possible for you to devote time during whatever your workday is for some specific, developmental activity.

    If you were away from your office attending the CEO’s quarterly update or the Yoga for Green Belts session, most potential interruptions wouldn’t have the ability to spring you loose. The same should apply to other activity that you and the organization value. So, yes, you need to say no, but the environment needs to encourage the saying (and the hearing) of no as well.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    Janet, I’d say another potential barrier to online learning in a corporate office setting is that often the organization doesn’t value or permit blocks of uninterrupted time. This is similar to your items 1 (not real work) and 7 (no support), but more focused on whether the organization (or your manager or your peers) makes it possible for you to devote time during whatever your workday is for some specific, developmental activity.

    If you were away from your office attending the CEO’s quarterly update or the Yoga for Green Belts session, most potential interruptions wouldn’t have the ability to spring you loose. The same should apply to other activity that you and the organization value. So, yes, you need to say no, but the environment needs to encourage the saying (and the hearing) of no as well.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Dave-
    “Possible” is interesting to contemplate. It asks the question: is the organization capable of permitting blocks of uninterrupted time? It reminds me of the whole ‘you can’t control what someone says only your reaction to it’ mindset. The student ultimately must react to the possibility by demonstrating behavior that makes it possible. If enough people say ‘no’ (or whatever) eventually, a company will show support (and probably take credit for it later). Re: value (in the corporate environment). One must ask ‘what’s it (online learning) worth?’ Do we do enough to show its value?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Dave-
    “Possible” is interesting to contemplate. It asks the question: is the organization capable of permitting blocks of uninterrupted time? It reminds me of the whole ‘you can’t control what someone says only your reaction to it’ mindset. The student ultimately must react to the possibility by demonstrating behavior that makes it possible. If enough people say ‘no’ (or whatever) eventually, a company will show support (and probably take credit for it later). Re: value (in the corporate environment). One must ask ‘what’s it (online learning) worth?’ Do we do enough to show its value?

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    Janet:

    I agree that ultimately it’s the individual’s responsibility. Even so, those whose job includes helping the group/organization get stuff done (manager (noun): someone who gets other people to do the work) can help bridge the gap (chasm?) between theory and practice.

    Not something that’ll happen because the CEO says so, in most places; it’s more that the immediate supervisor / manager / director / AVP shows through actions that Acme Widgets sees learning as part of each person’s job.

    I suppose it’s part of organization culture, which I think has to be cultivated in small areas as wel as large. When I worked for GE, the people at many meetings I attended arrived on time, stuck to the agenda, agreed to pursue side issues offline. Not every person, not every meeting, but there tended to be a supportive expectation (if you will) that this was how we worked in meetings.

    On an individual level, I did find it helpful to listen to CDs via headphones. Over time, my most interruption-prone coworker came to see the headphones as meaning “sorry, I’m busy.” Sort of a combination headband and cone of silence…

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    Janet:

    I agree that ultimately it’s the individual’s responsibility. Even so, those whose job includes helping the group/organization get stuff done (manager (noun): someone who gets other people to do the work) can help bridge the gap (chasm?) between theory and practice.

    Not something that’ll happen because the CEO says so, in most places; it’s more that the immediate supervisor / manager / director / AVP shows through actions that Acme Widgets sees learning as part of each person’s job.

    I suppose it’s part of organization culture, which I think has to be cultivated in small areas as wel as large. When I worked for GE, the people at many meetings I attended arrived on time, stuck to the agenda, agreed to pursue side issues offline. Not every person, not every meeting, but there tended to be a supportive expectation (if you will) that this was how we worked in meetings.

    On an individual level, I did find it helpful to listen to CDs via headphones. Over time, my most interruption-prone coworker came to see the headphones as meaning “sorry, I’m busy.” Sort of a combination headband and cone of silence…

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