“I challenge NASA leaders at all levels to create an environment
that embraces and supports telework
for employees who are eligible and interested.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
I love teleworking.With members across four time zones, the freedom and resources to work from wherever (and whenever) we are has been vital to the success of our small, distributed team. Instead of a cubicle, a workstation, and a desk phone, members of our team have a laptop, a cell phone, and permission to go and create the work environment that best suits them. Work becomes what we do – not a place where we go.We all started as ‘digital natives,’ bringing hardware and technological experience to the work before us. Familiar with what works and how it works, the challenge became finding the best ways to apply that experience to our professional assignments. There were all kinds of great software and hardware out there, and we wanted to take full advantage of them.

Here are a few of the tools we use to make effective teleworking possible. Some of them we use on our team; some of them we are working to use in the future. Every app has ‘competitors’ that serve similar functions.

  • Skype: a web application that allows chat as well as voice and video calls. Skype allows distributed teams instant access to each other to ask questions and share updates.
  • Adobe Connect: a web application that creates an integrated virtual environment where participants can share audio, video, chat, references, and screens. The platform provides workers everything needed to host or support a regular meeting from anywhere that you are.
  • Asana: a web task-management application that supports efficiency among distributed teams. Tools like Asana allow teams to keep track of who is doing what and where they are investing our time and efforts.
  • Google Docs: a web application that allows for real-time collaboration to write, edit and store documents online. Workers can use Google Docs on a daily basis to write and edit together, saving multiple emails with updates and version control. (We’ve recently joined one of the agency’s pilot efforts with Google Apps and are enjoying trying out many of its capabilities!)
  • Dropbox: a web-based file-hosting service that syncs across machines and operating systems. Dropbox and other similar products allow distributed teams to host a library of documents and presentations in the cloud so that they can all have real-time access to the latest versions of anything they might need.
Teleworking adds value and efficiency to our work as well as quality to our lives.Teleworking allows me to choose the environment most suitable to my work that day. I will often head to our collaborative space for meetings, a comfortable option where a group can diagram out ideas on white boards. If I need to write, I will often stay home and sit on the porch where it’s quiet, and I have easy access to my own kitchen. On days where I have numerous tasks and administrative work, I tend to engage the best at a coffee shop with a little music and other people.While my teammates and I are rarely located in the same city, I think I engage better with them – more frequently and more efficiently – than I did with coworkers who were co-located in a traditional office. The tools make it easy to access them and their expertise while making the best use of their time and resources as well.

Teleworking flexibility is a huge investment in work-life balance, allowing employees the opportunity to work around their unique needs and situations, whether it means avoiding the worst commute times, being available for their children as needed, or collaborating across timezones.

The opportunity to work remotely also brings NASA out into the community, making us visible and available to many more people in the neighborhood. People frequently see my computer (covered with NASA stickers), see my NASA fleece or overhear my obviously NASA-related conversation and come up and talk to me about space. This is an opportunity to be accessible and be an ambassador.

Telecommuting
Tips for new teleworkers:
  • Be available. You can’t disappear; the trade-off for being remote is being responsive.
  • Overcommunicate what you are doing to your team, at least at the beginning. Relationships shift when you don’t see each other; be sure that you are providing the connection and the content everyone needs to keep working together, as well as being accountable to your manager.
  • Figure out what you need to stay focused and stay organized. If you tend to slack off and sleep late, find a coffee shop or coworking space. If you are easily distracted, define a home office space. It’s different for everyone. Let your colleagues find their space and routine, and you find yours.
  • Learn what technology can do! Become an educated user. Get familiar with the capabilities of your laptop, smartphone, tablet. Explore your options. There is very little that can’t be accomplished remotely.
  • Be sure that you have whatever tools you need to access your data and your systems, whether it’s an RSA token or something else.
  • Appear in the office regularly, and if your team is distributed, schedule times to work together in person. Our team tries to cowork together at least once a quarter, and it becomes incredibly fruitful time for us professionally and relationally.
  • Enjoy it! Teleworking is a privilege that allows you to do your job better. Your management is telling you that they trust you and believe in the work you do. Take advantage, and let that show in your passion, your commitment and your productivity.
Go here to learn more about NASA’s official teleworking policy.
The Telework Exchange is an interesting resource on the status of federal teleworking, and includes GRC/Tony Facca’s great presentation on teleworking at NASA. He also wrote a nice article on teleworking in this past spring’s IT Talk magazine.
What has your teleworking experience been like? What have you learned that you can share?
(And thanks to NASA’s amazing Jim Hull for the use of his cartoon and his inspiration. After all, the astronauts telework every day from the space station – so let’s follow their lead!)

About Ali

Community Advocate

NASA Headquarters

alicia.llewellyn-1@nasa.gov