Monday, February 6, 2017

Working from home

I started my educational consulting business almost 20 years ago, and between those Webbed Feat contracts, a faculty position at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (50 km commute) and a management/teaching/stewardship "telecommuting" job at BCcampus, I've been mostly working from my home office.
Telecommuting :: to work at home by the use of an electronic linkup with a central office
Merriam Webster 
This definition doesn't really fit how I work. My BCcampus colleagues work primarily from an office in Victoria. There is another office is in Vancouver, but when people talk about "the office" you can bet they mean Victoria. And then there's me. I think I'm the only BCcampus employee left working completely from a home office -- very different from the early days -- and what I do day to day certainly doesn't involve some big pipe into the main (real) place of work. Rather, my communication channels go in all directions, across the post secondary education system.

I've been working at BCcampus for 9 years, surpassing my 5-yr limit in any one job. However, my job titles have changed enough that I think I can cheat on that rule. In any case, I decided to jot down my observations and reflections on working from home, with some hints on how it has changed over time.

My office door is always open. Some people complain that mobile devices mean they can never separate work from home life. I say it allows me to be way more responsive and flexible than ever. And if I get pinged for a quick meeting, I can just turn down the burner under the pot of soup and go back to work.

Speaking of soup, I can make my husband lunch every day. He'll tell you that I don't, but I could!

I live in the mountains, on a lake, in a house I designed, with lots of natural light and spectacular views, surrounded by art work done by my family. In office buildings it's hard to find a window that even opens. But the restaurants. Yeah, I miss going out for lunch.

The mute button is my friend. When we built our house I planned for my office to be in a loft. Sound travels up. That includes burping, coffee grinding, dogs barking, TV... I'm now on the main floor in a room with a door, but I still have to use my mute button all the time.

Neighbours don't usually get what I'm doing inside my house. You're at home, how can you be working?

I can access wireless internet from many outdoor locations. It cuts out just short of the dock, unfortunately.

The idea of setting 9-5 hours is very foreign to me. If someone asks 'what time to you start work?' I immediately know we view the world very differently.

I get my best ideas while floating on the lake in the summer. I should be tracking those hours :)

I can start my work day at 5a.m., or whenever. But usually it is way before the sun rises.

It's 6 kilometres round trip to my mailbox. Courier packages are delivered to depots about 30 kilometres away. We have no garbage/recycle collection. I really do prefer electronic communication.

I cut my work at BCcampus back to half time, and needed to keep better track of my hours. This is when I realized that I used to work A LOT. But that doesn't bother me. I worked hard and enjoyed myself. But to get a half time salary and work more than that? That bothers me. Weird how that works, and it strikes me this is very related to working at home. If I showed up for 4 hours to an office every morning I think expectations (self-imposed of course) would be different. But set hours ain't gonna happen at home. If I need to go full tilt for 8 hours on Monday into the night, I'll adjust on Tuesday, and so on... Convince me this is a bad work habit.

Hours working at work are spent working. When I sit down at my desk I hit the Toggl timer. When my sister calls I turn it off. When I go outside to get some fresh air and stretch I turn it off. When I write blog posts like this on a Sunday evening that aren't directly related to my work, my timer isn't running. Those emails I deal with on mobile? Much of it is on my own time but hey, I'm wandering along a creek with my dogs. In contrast, many hours at a workplace are spent paying attention to a lot of things that have nothing to do with you, and socializing.

I'm sometimes envious of my retired husband who watches movies in the middle of the day.

People have asked me how I get any work done trying to work from a home office: "There are so many distractions!" My struggle is more about getting away from the work. I barely notice that I'm surrounded by a household 'to do' list as well. Just look at the pile of laundry half way down the stairs to the basement.

I've fallen asleep with my head on the desk and nobody knew about it. Until now.

My dress code is pretty relaxed. I usually bust outside early morning, again at some point during the daylight hours, and I live almost 1300 metres above sea level so it's always chilly. This means I suffer from perpetual hat head. I also keep a wood stove going and entertain my dogs frequently, so my clothes tend to be covered with debris and paw marks. During my virtual meetings people mostly see my head and shoulders. So my go-to attire is a hat to cover my hat head, and something that doesn't look like a lumberjack shirt.

I probably get more vitamin D than many of my colleagues.

In the past year I actually took some sick days. I don't think I've ever done that before, but it was pointed out to me that when I'm sick, I should just be sick. Not surprisingly, I still worked a bit on those sick days.

I work on snow days. As I watch the news about university closures around the province, I wonder if I should take a few steps over to my recliner chair and read a good book. Actually, I can just turn off the Toggl timer and go read a book any time. So why am I even wondering about this?

My yoga mat is just a few steps away. There's no need to ever roll it up. My anti-gravity napping chair serves its purpose well.

I'm often not considered in plans about what goes on in "the office". My co-workers talk about connecting the Victoria board room to the Vancouver office. Meanwhile, I'm a dot on the map a few hundred miles wondering how I fit in. I find emphasis on place in conversations about connecting people odd. This got me thinking about blended learning models, and how individuals participating online often feel like an add-on to what's really happening.

As much as I would love to hang out more with my colleagues, I wouldn't trade my home office for anything. I could make more of an effort to connect with everyone, but I don't. I used to. Hmmm.

Working at home is ideal for introverts.

I miss out on conversations in the hallways. I used to love that aspect of working at NVIT. These conversations, often around a fireplace in the centre of the building, were how we came to know what our work was -- what was important, what needed our attention that day. It's hard to replicate that, although we've come pretty close.

Having said that, since we started using Rocket Chat in the past year at BCcampus I do have a better sense of what's going on in "the office". Like what people ate at the Christmas party.

This year it reminded me that I should have my own Christmas party, and I did!

At home I have access to an endless supply of excellent tea made with actual boiling water, and coffee without those disposable what's-its.

My stand up work desk is a kitchen counter. Complete with snacks!

I can take my dogs to work with me every day.

What are your days like working from home? Like this? :)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Introducing FLO-Synchronous

*Register for the next FLO - Synchronous February 27 - March 17*

In December, 2016 we ran a workshop pilot at BCcampus called Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) - Synchronous. The outcome is a fine-tuned, brand new workshop to include in the Facilitating Learning Online family of offerings.

The idea for this workshop emerged through participation in the FLO - Fundamentals, an intensive 5-week workshop which engages faculty and staff in both participant and facilitator roles and they learn about key themes related to effective planning and online facilitation. There is a synchronous component in that workshop, but it's not enough to dig into the best practice strategies to plan and facilitate learning in real time. The FLO Stewardship Group identified a need for a 'going deeper' workshop to help prepare education practitioners.

FLO - Synchronous  was designed and developed by Beth Cougler Blom, a facilitator and learning designer who has been involved in FLO from early days. Beth used a very innovative approach for this design -- participants choose how they want to engage.
  1. Reviewing Participants review and provide feedback to Practicing Facilitators
  2. Practicing Facilitators complete a facilitation of a synchronous online session, and benefit from the feedback of Reviewing Participants
By setting up these tracks, individuals begin the workshop knowing they will be within their comfort level based on prior experience, expertise, and willingness to jump in to practice. Everyone leaves knowing what their next steps will be, which, for Reviewing Participants, might include returning to the workshop to try their hand at facilitating a session and being reviewed by their peers. And so on.

For this pilot we introduced yet another new role: Observer. As with the first run of any workshop, there is a lot to notice and keep track of. For the designer/facilitator, it's difficult to stand back far enough to really get a feel for how others are experiencing the course. And feedback from participants may not be thorough enough. The Observers in this pilot, Rachel Logenberg, Sylvia Riessner, and Sylvia Currie, watched from the sidelines and provided recommendations on any tweaks to the content and design. (We're repeating this Observer process with another new pilot -- FLO - Design)

In addition to ongoing Observer feedback, the pilot evaluation included a post workshop anonymous questionnaire, and two synchronous reflections/debriefs, one with all participants and the next with Beth and the 'observer' team.

Survey results (7 respondents - Faculty, learning designers, instructional designers, instructors):

How would you rate the quality of this learning/professional development experience?
-  High quality:
  6 (85.71 %)
-  Fair:
  1 (14.29 %)
-  Low quality:

 How much time did you spend on the course activities?
-  Less than 6 hours per week:

-  6-8 hours per week:

-  More than 8 hours per week:

Overall, how satisfied were you with the FLO-Synchronous workshop?
-  Very satisfied:
  6 (85.71 %)
-  Satisfied:
  1 (14.29 %)
-  Not Satisfied:
2  0

Selected comments

The feedback comments provided by participants were very thorough and helpful. There are too many to list, so here is a fairly random selection.
  • Awesome, I challenged myself to use the different tools in different ways so that I could learn different aspects. 
  • Make it longer than three weeks. It seems a bit rush with different activities each week.
  • Allowing students to host and facilitate sessions was good idea. Also giving students the choice of facilitation or reviewing was a good idea. 
  • Although I believe the course was designed for people with at least some asynchro online experience, it was very informative for a complete newbie, without any online experience.
  • My objective was to learn about synchronous facilitation in order to put some of our own courses online. It was a perfect experience for that.
  • Course was well laid out and easy to follow. 
  • I wonder if instead of looking for co-facilitators, would it be more effective to pair the reviewing participant with the participating facilitator. 
  • I missed not having the reflective journal at the end of each week as in FLO Fundamentals.
  • ...need a bit more on "how to", not just "what to do". 
  • The learning outcomes were valid and workable, I wouldn't change them. 
  • Excellent experience, even if you are new to online facilitation!

The participant reflection/debrief

These screen shots are from the final synchronous session. Beth used 3 main methods to gather feedback:

  1. A dotmocracy where participants were asked to circle the topics and activities they thought were key, and X where they could have used more of;
  2. Six adjectives to describe their experience;
  3. Open Mic to offer further feedback and ideas. 

What's next?

The newly revised FLO - Synchronous workshop has already been scheduled! Beth Cougler Blom will again be facilitating along with Myra Rhodes who is using this opportunity to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes as a FLO - Synchronous facilitator.

Register soon and spread the word to your colleagues!