Category Archives: career

Careful What You Wish For… (Working From Home)

I’m very thankful to work remotely for a great company, and there are definite advantages in working from home.  But, it’s just like any relationship.  The advantages can eventually become the disadvantages.

It’s the little things that drive you crazy… like the fact that you can’t control when people mow their lawn, or when a loud truck drives by your house.  It can be disastrous if someone knocks when you are on the phone, so my dogs go in a closed room faaaar from the desk and a sign goes on the door when I have important conference calls.

Working over telephones, it’s hard to tell when the speaker is finished or someone new is going to pipe up, so there is the frequent unintended interruption of your colleagues.  You also have to work a little harder at interpreting meaning since you can’t see facial expressions.

You learn to not have overnight guests during the week since most people don’t really get what it means to ‘work from home’.  They bang kitchen cabinets, get ice from the dispenser, and walk into the room talking all the while risking your professionalism.  They don’t mean to cause trouble; they just haven’t experienced working for a paycheck from home.

The obvious differences are not having to dress professionally and the lack of office socialization.  Working in an office brought some of the best relationships I’ll ever have.  My girlfriends from work have shared many tear-producing laughing spells and gotten me through many crises.  I miss them.  I have to try a little harder to get my regular dose of friends.

It is true that I don’t spend as much money on clothes, shoes, and jewelry as I did when I worked in an office.  The result is that now I never have the right clothes to wear, anywhere.  You see, I hate to shop.  Needing to shop for work clothes got me in the stores, and then I bought all kinds of clothes and shoes.  Now, I just keep putting it off and will eventually be that oddly-dressed lady who generates chuckles.

Wearing comfortable clothes while working brought its own harsh reality when I put on ‘real’ clothes a few weeks after starting the remote job.  It’s harder to notice that you are gaining weight.  I couldn’t believe it until I started realizing that I didn’t walk from the parking garage to the office anymore, from my desk to lunch, to meeting rooms, to the kitchen,…

It’ is great to avoid commuting in rush hour.  But that evening-hour commute gave me opportunities to stop by the grocery store or the drug store.  Now, it seems I’m perpetually out of the basics.  In the old days, I would not venture out of the house without makeup applied and hair done at least a little.  I no longer consider it worth the time to ‘get ready’ just to run to the store.  So, I tend to put off going altogether or pretend I’m invisible and run into the store looking like an embarrassment to my younger self.

In the end, the biggest difference is freedom in where you live.  I’m thankful to the now-friend who offered the original position to me.  It allowed me to move back to the southeast.  Now, I can have a casual weekend dinner with my Mother and Grandmother, and that’s the best advantage.  Now, if I can just figure out what to wear…….



Peak offsite season

It is the new year, which means it is high season for the corporate offsite. Be they sales or strategy related, it’s the time of year when corporate employees across the world find themselves gathering in exotic locations, but in basically the exact the same hotel conference center in each of those exotic locations. So far this year –and yes it is only end of January – I’ve been to Buenos Aires and Paris… Glamorous travel it is not.. I’ve literally experienced almost 4 hours at most outside of the hotel in each location.

In Buenos Aires it was to see a historical show that featured singing, horses and some dancing and tonight in Paris we board a boat for a river Seine tour (Never mind that the forecast is for –17 tomorrow).

While I feel strongly that corporations are the biggest abuser and offender of ignoring the carbon footprint by sending loads of suited corporate droids on planes across the world at the drop of the hat, I do have to admit that there is no better way to improve working relationships… BUT…it has nothing to do with the actual offsite, typically, and everything to do with who you sit next to at any meal, on the plane, in the cab or while taking a break.

So let’s try something different – what about reconceptualizing the offsite as a planned series of global meeting that don’t have to be product/group or solution specific, but more of an all call for various levels with people being randomly selected for locations. I imagine our productivity would increase greatly by being able to know (with more than 2–3 weeks advance notice) where you were going to go and actually having much more planned interaction vs set agenda.

Probably won’t work… but I have to say that 16 hour and 10 hour flights for 2 days of meetings just doesn’t allow me to feel like I’m doing my best work. In fact, I am mostly just jet lagged with a tinge of regret as to the red wine I drank last night. But c’est la vie.. Hope the coffee break comes soon.


Say WHAT???

I am repeatedly struck by the impact tone of voice has on any one remark. Whether from a spouse, friend, family member or co-worker, the same sentence or phrase said with an ounce of care will carry your message much further and it really isn’t all that hard. Seems that all it takes is a little bit of awareness and keeping kindness and/or that person at the center of your mind, vs the specific desire to be right and/or make your point.

This seems to ring true especially with spouses or other close one who you spend a lot of time with, somehow concentrated in times of stress or over holidays! Take the common situation where you and said person are in a conversation either which each other or another third party and one of you says something incorrectly. Possible responses are (bold used for emphasis of tone):

No, that isn’t right, it was…
..that isn’t right, it was …
..that isn’t right, it was…
Actually, what I remember is

Amazing what a good choice of words and a kind tone will do for you.

My husband and I have agreed to call each other on these kinds of things when we see them and this is one area we are actively working on. The way I see it, I aspire for our dialog (and relationship) to be one couched in mutual respect and kindness that shines through… and therefore I am working on making that last option more of a default reaction.

I’ve also found this whole tone thing to be key when talking to our lil puppy Zuger (who is topping the scales at 100lbs now). It is too easy to be angry/impatient with a puppy when they have no idea what they are doing… for example, when you want them to come,  are you basically yelling their name or are you saying it in a very excited tone that indicates that if they do come, there will be so much fun in your current location that they shouldn’t miss it? I continue to work on that one.

So in a world where voice to voice conversations are diminishing in favor of the typed message… how do you work on this? Can you get do-overs? The best advice I’ve seen lately is as follows:

How can we guard against that tone?  If you feel it creeping into your voice, slow down or stop, take a deep breath, and start again.  Or, if you realize ,after the fact, that your tone may have garbled your message, make amends by apologizing for sending out a mixed message, clarify it, and then move forward.

… And I have to say, in a conversation with an employee recently, I stopped mid-sentence and apologized for the tone that was coming out of my mouth and said I wanted to start again. Repeating my words in a different tone changed the conversation.

I can’t say I’m advanced in this area.. But I am aware at least and isn’t that the first step to sustained change?

A very happy new year to you and your family!


Capturing sweetness

Recently my father in law passed away. At too young an age… unexpected, sad.

Events like this somehow tweak your perspective and I’ve had flashes of great insight during these trying times. When I can get there, it is so sweet and savory that I’ve been trying to capture it.

The best I can explain is that the goodness is to remember that nothing lasts forever. For me, this small simple key seems to unlock my ability to enjoy true happiness and more importantly, contentment.

That is to say, life is sad, happy, angry, frustrating and joyful – all at once and all at different times, for different lengths of time. But right now, embody….down to your tippy toes… that this moment, this night, this job, this weather, this health, this relationship, this pet, this situation WILL CHANGE.

If you can truly feel it and appreciate the feelings that you are having, good or bad – the challenge of your colleagues, the stress of your job, the joy in your dog, the battle with fitness, the achievement of your day – you are truly living and that is all we have.  Because it will change, just as it has always changed….Then one day we are gone.

If you waste all your time being so stuck in the actual emotion at the second, really stuck, and not just watching it all flow by and experiencing it, you have truly missed out.

Life is unbearably sweet and precious! Step back, smile and marvel at the wonder of it all.

~ Michaela

Just do it !

I always say life is short and we need to take opportunities to do the things we want to do now but I haven’t always followed that approach to life.  It’s easy to start thinking that I’ll do this or that when I retire and have more time.  My husband has no problem jumping on any opportunity to go on a trip, meet up with friends and grandkids.  For me it’s been a bit harder because of last minute work travel.  I hate committing to something then having to back out.   That’s resulted in skipping some things I would really like to do.  Not anymore.  I am ready to start committing!  Over the past few weeks I’ve committed to a girls’ weekend at the Ozarks and a cooking class with my friend Karen.

Karen and I have been talking about signing up for a class for years.  You have to sign up weeks in advance or the classes sell out.  A few weeks ago she said, “We really need to do this,” and I committed.   There were lots of options but we signed up for a “How to make pasta 101.”

I love to cook and I love trying new things.   I blogged recently about all the gadgets I have and I have a brand spanking new pasta maker (Okay, 10 years old but never out of the box – which makes it new to me) and while I wanted to make fresh pasta, was a bit leery of the process.  It turns out that pasta making, just like about everything else in the kitchen, is easy.  But it sure was nice having a culinary instructor standing at my shoulder while painstakingly mixing my flour and eggs to make my first batch then coaching me as I was putting it thru the pasta roller several times until it was just right.  Now I’m set.  

Me with my flour covered wine glass in the prep area (class no-no).

It also turns out they serve wine at these things and I think Karen and I got our money’s worth on the class in wine consumption. 

 I’m starting to make plans.  If I have a personal commitment on my calendar, I’m going to do my best to push a last minute trip a day or two so I can make it. 

While I am planning on a great retirement and we have been committed to planning financially for a long and enjoyable one, retirement isn’t a given.  I’m now taking action to make sure I am making my life more enjoyable and letting work be work.  A cooking class may seem trivial but after talking about doing it for more than 2 years it came at a time when I really needed to be reminded that all we may have is now and we better be enjoying it.  And GO STL CARDINALS !!!


Promoting the Promotion of Women…. Really?

My company currently is promoting the promotion of women in a big way. I find it a bit pointless to constantly receive emails that laud our goal to continue to promote gender diversity and get more women in management positions. Why odd? Because I don’t believe having a “management initiative” that sends out emails, hosts networking and institutes mentoring programs is any way to get this done.

I’ve been at over 10 leading Silicon Valley companies (OK two were not exactly leading) and the biggest difference I’ve seen is that companies who truly promote gender diversity don’t need campaigns to instigate action. That is, they have women embedded in the organization at all levels – from the board, through the executive team all the way down to first line managers.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about this. I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for almost 20 years and was once told to stop asking about women in leadership positions because I was “becoming known for asking that kind of question.” So over the years, I’ve learned not to ask or worry about the promotion of women, but the problem seems odd and I think, is somewhat unique as it occurs in high tech companies.

So what’s the deal? My 2cent theory is that the valley was born as a big old-boys, chip-based network and ultimately hasn’t really grown up or lost that DNA. The thunder and bravado of high tech CEOs such as Larry Ellison, Mark Benioff is a direct descendent of this gene pool as is the fact that you rarely see women leading, or in high levels, of high tech companies (at least for long – sorry Carly).

But here is the twist, I work for a German company and lo and behold, same problem. A 2009 Germany ministry of family study found 3 mindsets among male bosses about women (see article):

  • Those who simply don’t think women are cut out for it
  • Those who think they are, but fear their colleagues don’t and worry about cohesion
  • Those who say that in theory gender does not matter but in practice women who make it “overcompensate” and are not “authentic.”

Yikes! Who would have thunk another culture could be more messed up about the view of women in management?  (BTW, since that article was written, Angelika Dammann has left SAP after only 1 year.)

Given Oracle, Salesforce, and other valley company’s competitive spirit, I wonder if they would be upset that they’ve been out prejudiced by their German rivals? It is clear that none of these mindsets are good… at all. What is a  woman to do?

A colleague from Switzerland and I were talking about what it takes to manage women vs. manage men. She pointed out that women need better, softer management such as encouragement and personable colleagues. Her simplified take gave me pause.

In a funny way, what if it was just that simple, that cultures – both country and company – that encourage encouragement and getting along are able to retain women at all levels? Yes they are “soft” skills and environmental factors, but I certainly don’t need more emails and programs to encourage me and my colleagues to promote women.

Listen up Larry, Mark & my German management…. ultimately, my best jobs were made by having colleagues I enjoy working with and a culture that values enjoying what you do and who you do it with — please don’t forget the good paycheck —  with a little encouragement sprinkled on top.

– Michaela