Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tools for the remote worker

Working remotely and discovering myself somewhat disconnected from those at my office I've embarked on a quest to fill a toolbox with things that will help me stay connected. I'll try to illiterate some of the best that I've found over the next few posts.

The first category is telephony. Most at home workers already enjoy the benefits of voice over IP. I, for example have the same telephone on my desk 2k miles from the office that I had on my desk before I left. Very nice. The problem enters with what to do when I'm not at my desk.

At the office I'm there for long stints during pretty much the same workday as everyone else. Living two timezones away and being a single father has thrown a hitch or two in the way of being available. For example my kids get home from school at 3:30 so I'm often called upon to help with homework. Then it's time to start dinner around 4:30 and then off to various kid related activities like basketball and guitar lessons etc. Oh, and don't forget walking the dogs while it's still light out...

Because of the time difference my long stints at the desk mostly take place in the morning before anyone is even at the office back home and then a shorter period again in the late evening (for me). All this kid related stuff takes place from about 1:30 to about 6:30 pm for the folks back at the office. If I had to run for the phone every time it rang, I'd go nuts and no one would be able to catch me during those hours.

Luckily my employer has an Avaya telephone switch. The Avaya system has a feature called "Extend to Cellular" or ec500. What this does is treat my cell phone like it was hooked to the same wire as my desk phone. Just like an extension at home.

Someone at the home office dials my 4 digit extension and immediately my desk phone and my cell ring. I answer my cell in the kitchen - get the water on the stove, walk to my office and pick up my desk phone in mid sentence. No codes to enter. Just pick up the handset, and hang up my cell.

It works the other way too - even if I answered on the desk phone. Say I need to go pick up the kids but I need to continue my call too. I press a button on my desk phone that says "extend". My cell rings, I answer and hang up my desk phone. Simple.

All this can be turned on or off at will from either phone. So if I'm "off the clock" I punch one button and calls stop ringing on my cell.

If you work remotely and have an IP phone from your employer chances are good the system you have has similar features. I'd highly recommend talking to the person that manages your phone system about it.

If you are a freelancer (or your office system doesn't have this functionality), I highly recommend Grand Central. You get a local number wherever you choose - it rings the numbers you choose on the schedule you choose and even lets you have custom voice mail and ring back sounds based on your own personal phone book. Very cool.

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