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The Need for the Work From Home Traffic Light System

5 May 2020 by Greg Jones

WFH traffic lights

I began working from home in 2006.  Early on, there wasn’t the greatest technology for remote workers. I relied on VPN, email, instant messaging, an actual house phone with a “bridge number”, and what at the time was probably MS Live Communications Server.

During the “early days” there was a lot of travel to get things done simply because the technology of remote work was in its infancy.

As the years rolled by, Cisco acquired WebEx, LCS became OCS, and then became Lync, and then became Skype for Business, which is now being replaced by Teams. (I think that is the progression there.) Other services popped up to fill the need for remote working, such as Zoom, BlueJeans, Slack, GoToMeeting, and others. VDI matured as did other virtualization technologies. Somehow, VPN is still sticking around but that is a post for some other time.

Between 2006 and 2020 a lot has changed in remote technologies. It has allowed me to completely reverse a heavy travel schedule to losing all my status on the airlines. To me, this is a good thing. During these years my circumstances changed personally; I now have a 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter that didn’t exist when I started this journey. I should also mention that my wife is a teacher, which means that for three months every summer there are three additional people in my “office” during my business day.

I have tried a lot of things over the years to identify when I’m available during the day and when I’m not. I naively tried to just say that if my office door is closed don’t knock or come in unless there is an emergency. It became clear that my understanding of an emergency and a child’s understanding of an emergency differed drastically. For example, not being able to open an Applesauce packet is truly an emergency when you really, really, really want Applesauce.

As my kids got a bit older, and since I’m a true techie, a couple of years back, I was trying to find a solution that would help them identify when I am busy. Sure, I could have stuck a sock on the doorknob or put up some different color post-it notes, but that requires me to both remember to do that and actually do that.

How to Build the Work From Home traffic light system

What I found was the Blynclight from a company named Embrava. This little wireless device made it very easy to show my status, or presence, to my “coworkers”. At the time I bought it, it integrated with my Skype for Business status and now fully supports Teams.

When I’m not on a call and available there is a green light that tells the kids, feel free to bust in on dad for anything you need. There is a red light for when you are busy and a purple for when you are set to Do Not Disturb. All of this is totally automated and the Blynclight sits outside my office and the kids get it. It has been a game-changer.

With their Embrava Connect software, it also allows you to manually set the light. During this “extended summer” with the kids home it may have provided me an opportunity to get an hour or two away as well to do important things like watch Tiger King or Ozark. I can’t say too many good things about this little device and how it has helped my home working over the past couple of years.

My top tips for working from home

To finish this, I would like to provide a list of things I have learned from working from home for 14 years. Hopefully one or two of these can help as well.

  1. Find a room with a door to work.
  2. Close the door when you need privacy.
  3. Open that door when you can talk to your “coworkers”.
  4. Find a way to visually identify your status to your “coworkers”.
  5. Have a specific start time.
  6. More importantly, have a specific stop time. (Cue the Flintstones whistle.)
  7. Interrupt your “coworkers’” calls occasionally so they understand how it feels. Make sure you do this in your PJs with a bedhead.
  8. Take a break for lunch. There is no need to eat and work at the same time.
  9. Put down your phone after work. 99% of the time it can wait until the next day.

While working from home, Greg has played a pivotal role in the development of our Office 365 management software.