Friday, 9 February 2001

Newsletter Issue 19, February 2001


Sam Young Newsletter

Issue 19, February 2001

Hi guys,

Well. February. Month of the Valentine. Short change on days. Back to School. Terminal Tax (hey - don't you think that name is just fantastic? How could you ever guess that the IRD have such a finely honed sense of irony?). 

The main article this time is on remote working... the way of the future, I think. We have worked away from our home for a century, and now we return to our homes once more. But with a difference. Check out Remote Working and Virus Hoaxes below.

In addition we have another warning as Melissa re-emerges, and a reminder to prove virus warnings before passing them on in Virus Warning - Melissa Rides Again.

And if any of you are wanting to provide yourselves with some R&R, get out there and support Stickmen at the movies. It's a great slice of Kiwiana. And I paid to go twice.

 TLAs for SMEs        Short & Hot Keys        Hot Linx

Don't forget, if you want to be taken off my mailing list, click here to send me a reply e-mail and I will remove your name.

Remote Working

As you all know, remote working is not a new development. Charles Handy wrote about this in some great books last century!  OK, so it was only a couple of years ago, but it sounds good.

A wide variety of tasks have been traditionally performed outside the office - including sales, telemarketing, piecework, accounting, bookkeeping, research, designing, architecture and consulting. With recent information and communication technology change, the trend to remote working is accelerating as the tools are becoming more affordable and accessible. Communication links with the company, customers, and your peers is facilitated by telephone, computer, palm pilots, satellite and cellphone. 

We tend to think of remote working being from home, but that is a pretty limited view. Remote working can also take place from cars, telecentres, clients' offices or almost anywhere else. Think the public library. Think Okiwi Bay while your friends and family scuba dive. Think moored on a yacht off d'Urville Island.

For some people, much of their working day is spent out of a traditional office. And increasingly, organisations are encouraging employees to work remotely, because of the many perceived benefits to both parties... including:

  • 24 hour business response
  • improving productivity
  • facilitating extra personnel at peak times 
  • globalising the business focus
  • keep valuable personnel whose personal circumstances change
  • expand the key personnel base through job-sharing
  • save on office space
  • save on office rents
  • desire to decrease politicking

Companies who successfully make the transition to remote working tend to emphasise business objectives, benefit from increased productivity, enhance customer service, improve staff motivation and retention, increase organisational agility, create a more flexible work-force, have enhanced resilience to disruption, increase loyalty, reduce absenteeism, and improve morale.

Remote workers themselves claim benefits from reduced travel time and costs, improved access to employment, better balance of work and family life, more opportunities for participation in the local community, flexible hours, greater freedom and autonomy. In the non-profit sector, where salaries are often not competitive, remote working is likely to improve employee retention. 

However, it is becoming more obvious that successful remote working requires major changes to how EVERYONE in the organisation does their work. IT is only one component - and NOT the most important - of a complex change process. 

Many factors need to be considered for remote working to be successful. 

Most successful "virtual office" projects suggest that managing the process is critical to the outcome. The key factors that must be managed well include:

  • Supporting the IT and HR change processes, with each function assigned clearly defined responsibilities. HR can assume responsibility for cost tracking, rollout of remote working, coordination of training, public relations and communication planning, evaluation and monitoring, data entry in remote working database, web site content consulting, and dispute resolution. IT would provide helpdesk support, configure hardware/software, deliver technical training, conduct technical interviews, coordinate equipment delivery, track hardware/software inventory and provide technical documentation. 
  • Realistically assessing the organisation's readiness for change is critical, including establishing process monitoring and evaluation. 
  • Developing a new identity within the organisation, with people taking personal responsibility and managing others' perception of who they are, what they contribute and how they do their work. The virtual experience SHOULD encourage people to care more about substance than appearance, and deal less with politics. You need to think clearly about how the Organisation actually works and what will really be affected by remote working.
  • Client perceptions must also be aligned with those of the Organisation. It is essential to be clear and honest about issues with customers. If going virtual erodes people's confidence in the organisation's ability to deliver, that uncertainty will spread. 
  • Technology is a means, not an end; playing a major role in creating the conditions for change and enhancing the business. Don't go for technology for its own sake. Often, unnecessary new technology is introduced along with the change to remote working... and rather than assisting the process, attempting to simultaneously manage the change on both the organisational and technological fronts will create immense dissatisfaction with remote working - not the technology. 
  • Accurately measuring the outputs, including the amount and quality of work, is critical. Outcomes must be well defined, as must individual responsibilities, team responsibilities, workflows, dependent tasks and formal and informal communication channels within and without the organisation. 
  • Politics are likely to increase during the change process, and will need to be recognised and managed. Different interest groups will be competing for organisational resources producing individual and group friction. Think of IT - they who complain most loudly and noisily get the most attention... it is useful to map the political terrain, ascertaining the extent of power different parties exercise during the change process. Sometimes blockages can arise from groups who wield considerable influence who were not initially identified as significant stakeholders in the changes. 
  • The cultural impacts of change to remote working needs to be ascertained. When some - or all - employees work remotely, people will not meet face-to-face as frequently as before, performance management and measures will change, and celebrating success will have to occur differently. 
  • Management will require new measures to assess progress, give performance feedback, and set timetables through project scheduling, milestoning, regular status reporting, peer and/or project team quality reviews, team decision-making, trust and remote worker agreements. Managers of remote workers will need to focus on outputs and may need retraining in a results-oriented management approach. 
  • Task Management is the first consideration in remote working. Not all tasks are best performed in a distributed, self-managing environment, so chose the remote tasks wisely. Tasks that gain considerably from the very close interactions and synergy of a team working closely together in one room are obviously not the best choice here. 
  • Personnel need drive, initiative, discipline and self-direction to take advantage of the freedom remote working offers. It is recommended that remote working be restricted to people meeting performance standards, as remote working is often inappropriate for people who need the discipline of set hours and a managed environment. 
  • Overwork is a major problem among many remote workers. Some Managers may lack faith in staff commitment and so feel that home-based workers would be inclined to under perform. This is not borne out by research conducted among home-based workers. Controls need to be in place to prevent this.
  • Guidelines, policies, processes and procedures will have to be re-engineered to suit remote working, including access to organisational resources (ie stationery, online forms and other supplies), deciding on core work hours or piece-work, managing virtual meetings, who deals with logistics (ie sick leave or reimbursement of expenses), when and who to call for help, who supplies and owns the "office" equipment, protocols for dealing with customers,  visits to the real office and dealing with home environmental issues.
  • Appropriate training needs to available to managers, remote workers and others staying in the traditional organisation.  People need to not only learn new ways of both doing their jobs and relating to one another, but to handle the inherent technology. One could also argue that the remote worker's household members would benefit from some training in how to support and/or tolerate remote working. 

Successfully implementing remote working involves far more than just providing appropriate technology and services and expecting remote workers to cope. The organisation will also change in culture, management styles, how employees relate to each other, policies, procedures, measurements, training and customer perceptions. 

Organisations making successful transitions to remote working find that the process needs to be carefully managed, with close attention to detail, going way beyond technology. Like nearly everything to do with an organisation, the people involved will make the concept sink or swim.

Virus Hoaxes

A bit of a refresher for you guys who have been forgetting to check if virus scares are for real before forwarding on hoaxes to heaps of people. Just remember that by adding load on network servers from spreading the word, and causing the less-computer literate amongst us to panic, we are part of the problem, not the solution!

So. Which of these things is not like the others? 

  • Win a Holiday computer virus alert 
  • Bud Frogs virus alert
  • Microsoft/AOL email bonus payment
  • Returned/Unable To Deliver computer virus alert 
  • Join the Crew computer virus alert 
  • Word.Concept computer virus alert 
  • Penpal Greetings computer virus alert 

Answer: The Word.Concept. This virus is real. The rest are hoaxes designed to frighten and/or cause your Network to go into email overload.

Don't panic about a virus alert - especially if you receive it on April Fool's Day! Visit one of the following hoaxbusters to get the real gen on what really is an issue;


Virus Warning - Melissa Rides Again

Remember all the Melissa virus hype from a year or so ago? Well, if you missed out last time and didn't do anything about upgrading your antivirus, the re-emergence of W97M.Melissa.W might convince you to get around to it in a hurry.

"W97M.Melissa.W" is a pretty typical macro virus with a slightly unusual payload. 

Although there is nothing unique in the infection routine of this macro virus, its payload utilises Outlook, sending the infected document as an attachment. 

When a user opens the infected Word doc attachment from their email inbox, the macro will disable the Tools/Macro menu entry in Word. It then infects Word (97 and 2000) docs by adding a new VBA5 (macro) module named Melissa. The virus will then email the infected doc to up to 50 random contacts from your Outlook contacts list as follows;

  • Opens MS Outlook
  • Using MAPI calls, gets your user profile so it can use MS Outlook
  • Creates a new email message to 50 addresses listed in your Outlook address book
  • Gives the email message a subject line: "Important Message From [Your User Name]"
  • Puts "Here is that document you asked for ... don't show anyone else ;-)" as message text in the email body 
  • Attaches the Word doc to the email message (the infected document can be either open or closed) 
  • Sends the email. 

W97M.Melissa.W is also known as: Melissa-X (Anniv.DOC) 

Melissa.W Virus definitions dated January 18, 2001, or later will protect against the W97M.Melissa.W. (Virus definitions dated before January 18, 2001 would detect this as W97M.Melissa.Variant.) 

Complete information about W97M.Melissa.W is available from Symantec at  http://www.symantec.com/techsupp/vURL.cgi/nav82 

Microsoft Office - The Next Generation

All of you who were holding their breath on what Office was going to call the new version... (who will ever recover from the dizzying heights attained by the simpatico naming of "Office 2000") can now breathe out. Here it comes. And it's not "OX". It's Office XP.

Hmm. Woody's suggest that this is something to do with EXPerience. Might I suggest that it will have much more to do with X-pletive?

TLAs for SMEs

Here are this newsletter's TLAs for you;

  • AMIS, Audio Messaging Interchange Specification. This specification is used for enhanced messaging systems like voicemail
  • BIIF, Basic Image Interchange Format - superceded by Gifs, Tifs and Jpgs. Haven't seen this for ages
  • CALS EDI, Commerce At Light Speed Electronic Data Interchange. Not sure how this works, but it was hailed as the great new thing. Have heard more about blue tooth than this since, so has probably been superceded too!
  • DIF, Take your pick between "Document Interchange Format", "Data Interchange Format", "Digital Interchange Format" and "Directory Interchange Format". Another COP for exchange
  • COP, Code of Practice

Please feel free to email me with any TLAs that you want to get the bottom (meaning!) of.

Short+Hot Keys... and now tips
Looking for something? Lost for Word(s)? How about some easy search tips in Word using a kind of sneaky wildcard? Wildcards are special characters that stand for a group of normal characters. If you remember the old DOS days you'll remember using wildcards like DIR *.DOC to show only files with the document extension, and the * is the wildcard. 

Ensure that the box on the Edit | Find dialog that says "Use wildcards" is UNticked. 

If you search with wildcards UNticked, Word looks for text that EXACTLY matches, whatever you type in the "Find what" box. For example, if you type b*t in the Find what box, Word will search the entire document for the characters "b", "*" and "t" in that order, with no spaces. 

Wildcards are usually the following characters: ?, *,  #, []

Except when you use a caret (^) with another character, you'll get the following wildcard-like search results: 

  • ^?    =    Any character 
  • ^#    =    Any digit 
  • ^$    =    Any letter 
  • ^p    =    Paragraph mark 
  • ^t    =    Tab 
  • ^d    =    Field 
  • ^w    =    White space (spaces, non-breaking spaces, and tabs in any order) 
  • ^f    =    Footnote mark 
  • ^e    =    Endnote mark 
  • ^b    =    Section break 

So, for example, searching for ^$ar^$^? will match Car54. Oh, and if you check the box marked Use wildcards, and try to use any of those caret-combinations listed above, they simply won't work. Kinda caret & stick, isn't it.... <groan>

Hot Linx
Check out the New Zealand Earthquake Commission's official site, providing information on insurance, claim forms and tips on simple preparations that may help you survive the big one hit at http://www.eqc.govt.nz/ 

This site has great tutorials for users wanting to design their own Web sites. The left-hand side navigation bar has links to Java script tutorials, Web resources for graphics and a barebones guide to HTML as well as the intriguing headline 'How to keep an idiot busy' at http://www.pagetutor.com/ 

Like me with a major birthday party looming? I have decided on a theme for mine (which will remain secret for a while longer), but if you are lacking inspiration, check out http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Plains/5631/party_themes.htm 

Avoid unscheduled trips to Oz - and no, that's not Oz-tralia, but The Land Of- with Tracking the Eye 2000, which gets storm coordinates from the Internet in real-time. Track up to 40 storms and current weather conditions at one time with this trialware at http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file_description.asp?fid=5219 



                                Catch you again soon!! E-mail your suggestions to me here