Working from home – what works (for me)

With all the kerfuffle over the now-abolished Yahoo! Work at home policy, I’ve been thinking about working from home – and what makes it work for me.


I’ve worked from home, on and off, since 2000.  The total is something like 7 years over the last 13, and I think I can safely say that working at home works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone, though, and I think one of the reasons why is that working from home is something many need to learn to do successfully rather than something that comes naturally. For me, its the following:

  1. Having set office hours – While I work part time, for the most part, I have a set time I’m either working or take meetings. “Winging it” does not work.
  2. Having childcare – Working at home is not a substitute for childcare, especially when they are mouthy and under 5.  A report written whilst Thomas the Tank Engine plays in the background is a crappy report.
  3. Making it like a regular workday – Getting dressed, scheduling breaks, and making sure I eat on a normal schedule.
  4. Have goals & reporting set – Set your goals (report due by X day, weekly updates, ongoing project deadlines) so that you keep yourself on track.
  5. Getting out – occasionally getting out of the office to go to meetings, educational events, or lunch with clients.
  6. Turning off – Making sure I delineate between “Work” and “Not work” by turning off my email, social networks and other stuff for family time. (This is the one I struggle with because checking email is SO EASY.)

While there are differences between working for yourself from home and working from an employer from home, I honestly think back on the past decade plus and realize that all the best practices I use now are things that formed while I was working for an organization. Has anyone else done both? (And what works for you?)



Dealing w/sensitive issues? Monitoring is a must.

I recently had a question posed to me by someone who works in mental health: “We’d like to use social media to communicate what we do with the public, but we’re concerned about the privacy of our clients and our staff.”

This isn’t the first time someone has asked me about how organizations that deal with sensitive issues (for example: at-risk youth or individuals in crisis situations) can use social media without risking client information being shared (either by staff or the clients themselves).  Since this was the third or fourth time I’d been asked something similar in the last few months, I decided to pick up the phone and call an old friend.  Shari Allwood is the Director of SMART Recovery, an organization that helps individuals’ recovery from addictive behaviors.  SMART was a client of mine when I first started consulting back in the dark ages, and over the past four years, they’ve incorporated Facebook, Twitter, and a blog (with comments) into their communication strategy.  Because SMART works with individuals at all stages of recovery, I figured Shari would be able to give me the skinny on what they do to ensure that the information of individuals who participate in the program stays off their social channels.

Our solution to the issue is to monitor our channels heavily – we have a team of individuals dedicated to not only running our social media accounts, but also to monitoring them for problems,” Shari says.  “While we haven’t had too many problems over the years, we have had instances where monitoring our channels has helped prevent participants from oversharing in a public space. Monitoring Facebook is particularly important, because most people connect with their real names, rather than on Twitter or on a blog, where individuals are likely to use pseudonyms.”

If you are an organization that deals with sensitive issues, and are considering starting a social media channel for communication, here is what we recommend:

1 – Have a social media usage policy for staff & volunteers ­ ­– While I’ve talked before about social media policies, it is very important for organizations that deal with sensitive issues to have one in place.  This includes outlining specifically what can and cannot be said about clients, and, in some instances, providing guidance whether or not staff, volunteers & clients can (or should) connect on social media sites.

2 – Before you start, clearly outline what types of content you will share – For example, if you do share success stories in your offline communications, how will you share them online? Do you share pictures of events? Do you only provide “need to know” information or do you want to share the organization’s viewpoint on key issues in your industry? Identifying the types of content that will be posted on your social media sites can help you overcome some of the risk associated with using social media.

3 – If possible, educate participants – In the case of SMART, there is a message board for participants to join, and SMART educates individuals signing up to not use their real names and recommends against sharing identifying information.  Your organization could include some standard disclaimers against posting specific information for individuals.

4 – Have a monitoring plan –Have a team in place to monitor your channels.  If you use volunteers, it may be easier to have more than one person keeping their eye on each channel.  If you just have staff, try to have more than one individual in charge of monitoring – asking one person to keep their eye on multiple channels all day, every day, is setting them up for missing something when life steps in.

Do you run a social media channel that deals with sensitive issues? How does your organization approach it?

Well played, Oreo, well played

So. The Superbowl. Aside from the fact that this happened, my favorite thing about the game may have been this:


Really great, timely messaging from Oreo.  For a great look at how they did it, take a look at this CNET article. Note the key takeaways here: everyone was on board, the people manning the account had agency, and they seized an opportunity.

…and I think my feelings on the rest of the ads is left unsaid, because I am a horrible old grump.



Social Media Policies @ Work

One of the things I’m frequently asked by business owners is what they can and can’t do in regards to regulating what their team members say online about their organization.  Typically my answer boils down to:

1) You can’t.

2) Ok, you kind of can, but you need to be really, really specific. Things like “Don’t talk about work” don’t really fly. Things like “Don’t release confidential data like client records, account numbers, or the recipe for the secret sauce.” There are changing standards every single day.

3) Then I provide them with some great examples of social media policies, many of which come from here.  I also look to see if there are other organizations in their industry with policies available to view.

4) And then I remind them that I’m not a lawyer, never have been lawyer, don’t ever want to be a lawyer, and that if they institute a policy they really, really, really need to clear it with legal just like they would any other policy.

As lines between “home” and “work” and “public” and “private” blur, we are already all butting up against navigating work & home in public. The recent article in the New York Times highlighted some changes that have emerged as the National Labor Relations Board has made some rulings on cases in which individuals have been fired for talking about work online. The gist of their decisions is that employees have a right to discuss working conditions both on and off line.

For anyone interested in this subject, I highly recommend reading the NYT article. I’m also trying to dig into the NLRB reports, but I haven’t had time yet to read them in depth. It is SUCH a fascinating topic, and one I think we’ll see major changes with over the next year or so.