Sunday, July 17, 2011

third world networkers guide to a mobile workforce

The Monster 696 - 'my dream-mobil'
For a couple of months now I have depended on a neighbor /workmate for my daily commute to work - being without a car and all. One of the advantages/disadvantages is inadvertently work makes it into our 'in car' conversation.

I worked the last project with him, his expertise being in transmission. I learnt a lot from this guy. He ran circles around most of us when it came to DWDM and was highly instrumental in our CRS-1/7609-s DWDM 10G core transmission strategy and its success. Some of our sites have well over 50G(bps) in capacity.

So anyway, the guy goes like - hey after all this work we have done, how come we still can't work from home. Being one not to lie about stuff like that, I outright mentioned that I do at least 30% of my work at home.

While I was indisciplined before, working on the CCIE ensured that I have a comfortable office at home, and a very well set routine. Infact were it not for meetings and factors that I outline next, I can easilly do 90% from home, probably deliver more while at it.

Now my work requires bursts of concentration, just 2 hrs a day is enough to come up with draft technical documents, another 2 hours to read through team submissions if any and the rest of the time is ideally spent critiquing design points with the team or alone. (white boarding and discussing various points is the best part and it ensures we're on the same page). This by the way can and should be offsite. It should also be done often and probably be mandatory for a design team to meet at least once a week to brainstorm ideas.

Good planning includes setting commitments, responsibilities, measurable goals, objective metrics for tracking, and following up on all of this with an actual review. Tracking and reviewing measurable performance factors leads to accountability. With clear guidelines and expectations documented (probably signed off too), and the right technologies, anyone in a technical field especially the creative end of things - programming/design can pretty much work from anywhere.

So in conclusion that conversation had us come up with draft task lists, proper deliverables and ways of dealing with requests as they come to the team for instance someone has to take ownership of all meeting requests, email requests support escalations etc. There might also be need to have a 'weekly mandatory must be in office person'.

Most of this is still an ongoing process and we have also realized how much actually goes un-done even when guys come to 'work'.

In summary -
  1. Set very clear goals and tasks. (run everything like a project no matter how minute).
  2. Measure them with clear deadlines - throw in a a line like, if you miss any deadline, YOU HAVE to WORK from the OFFICE daily for a month.
  3. Set up a team mailing list or portal (preferred), you need a tool to track things.
  4. Ensure someone is responsible for adhoc requests. 
  5. All meeting requests should go to the team not individuals, The team should have a way of ensuring attendance and post meeting sharing. Some meetings should really go unattended, having an evaluation criteria shared with everyone would help ensure you're only invited to meetings relevant to your team.
  6. Let everyone know that 'the team' works together and share your plans.
  7. Set up a collaborative portal or method of remote sharing stuff. We for instance have or are in the process of launching some serious teleworking solutions designed by us, I say we eat our own dog food on this one.
Refine the plan as you move along....either way I hope in the end to have the culture that I must be at my desk slowly change.

In planning, the annoying bit is our processes always have an 'input', that which triggers a design change, it is on a rare day that we get accurate inputs. With that in mind, our/your planning is about the interdependencies,linkages and coordination of the different parts of the network/business such that having a plan makes dealing with the unexpected much easier, not harder.

Good planning reviews results - a stable easy to manage network and assumptions regularly, If you feel like things are too quiet, maybe ask to see customer's every once in a while. Their crappy networks should keep your juices flowing. (please note doing a good job here can get you fired since at some point people start wondering what the heck you do, tell them the networks stability is your KPI:-), tell them they owe you.

Trust me! reacting to the unexpected when there is no planning for each and every command run on the network, documentation and anything that goes hand in hand with a well designed network is harder than doing it right the first time. That and an idiot can reverse all your work in a second - literally (for instance lock all Route reflector configs change control should be much stricter there).

If you succeed to even get 50% time approved to work remotely, please share with me how you went about it.

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