Of Cubes, Offices and Remote Access Via VPN
A system administrator's take on getting the most from the work day.
Last month I looked at reasons why a VPN is a great idea for accessing your network when you are not in the office. This article examines issues I've encountered when working in a cube farm, and different methods I like to use when trying to get continuing education while training budgets continue to get squeezed.
When your cell phone goes off in the middle of the night and you find that a system is down and requires your attention, does your employer require you to get dressed and drive to your workplace to take care of the situation? In some environments, that answer is yes. For whatever reason, a VPN may not be allowed into the network and you must drive on site to resolve the issue. In other cases, you may have a hardware failure and no tools are available to remotely power machines on and off. Maybe you are having issues bringing up a console session remotely, and you have to drive on site. Generally, however, in most situations we are able to log in and resolve the issue without leaving the comfort of our homes.
Many companies encourage their employees to resolve issues from home as the response time is much quicker, and they hope the employee can quickly resolve the issue, get some sleep, and still be able to make it into the office for their regular hours during the day. However, the flexibility that these companies show during off hours often is not extended during daylight hours; the belief apparently being that an employee who they can't see in the office must not actually be working.
I have worked in environments where you needed to be on site to mount tapes and to go to the users' workstations to help them resolve computing issues they might be experiencing. There are also times that you need to be on a raised floor to actually access hardware, or you might be asked to attend a meeting in person. For the most part, much of the day-to-day work of a system administrator can be handled remotely.
When tasks are assigned to team members via a work queue, and when you are able to communicate with coworkers via e-mail and instant messaging (and a quick phone call to clarify things once in a while) there is no reason, in my opinion, to come on site every day. Some shops, however, want everyone to work in cubicles, and have everyone available during the same hours. They feel this will lead to more teaming and quicker responses from co-workers. What I've found in these situations is the opposite.
The Cacophony of the Cube Farm
It gets very noisy in a cube farm, and there is a great deal of socializing that takes place throughout the day. Some people try to solve the issue by isolating themselves with noise canceling headphones and hope that they can get some "heads down" time to work on issues. Instead of being part of the environment, they're isolated and can't hear what's happening around them. People can still interrupt them by tapping them on the shoulder, but I find that it's more efficient to contact them electronically instead of in person.
Cube farms easily lend themselves to walk-up requests from other employees who sit in the same building. Most organizations do their best to have change control and problem reporting tools to manage their environments. When coworkers try to short circuit the process and walk up to ask for a quick password reset or a failed login count reset, or to quickly take a look at something, it can cause problems.
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