Behind the scenes at InfoStream: a very remote story.

Author: Toffi de Havillande
I have often read about how technology today allows people to work effectively from anywhere in the world, be it from home, branch office, hotel or even on the move. I had thought ‘how brilliant’ but assumed this was reserved for the world of the very well equipped, tech savvy elite. How wrong I was.

For reasons I’ll spare the reader of this blog, it became necessary for me to spend what has proved to be a prolonged period of time, many thousands of miles from ‘my desk’ and this, less than a year after starting work in a very computer intense environment which was so new and alien to me.

Having acquired my first computer in my late thirties, I had become moderately computer literate though self- taught. My relationship with computers began in the MS DOS and 5 ¼ floppy disk era, when windows had not acquired a capital letter and still, merely let in the light and kept the weather out!

My first few weeks as a fairly mature, and to remain politically correct I’ll not refer to myself as a senior worker, in an IT environment, left me feeling as if I was completely out of my depth; literally drowning in unintelligible techno-speak. Well outside my comfort zone and thinking that I had made an enormous mistake by joining Infostream.

However, I really liked the working atmosphere and with a voracious appetite for acquiring new skills, and with a natural fascination for all things hi-tech, I persevered, reluctant to allow myself to admit defeat. After all, hadn’t I warned Alan that I didn’t think my computer skills, if I could dare to call them skills, were up to the task?

But as with anyone to whom their particular specialty is second nature, he had convinced me I could cope and assured me that it really wasn’t as complex as it all sounded. Needless to say, I didn’t really believe him but had jumped at the opportunity of joining InfoStream.

Sure enough, like an unsteady toddler taking its very first wobbly steps, with Alan’s immeasurable support and unbelievably patient coaching, I gradually came to actually understand the work and what I was doing. In my book, Alan qualifies as the greatest boss ever.

He is so very busy, yet he always has time to explain the how, the what and the where and never gets impatient when asked the same question twice, three or even four times, when the information he has just imparted, did not sink in, first time around.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, I was actually remoting-in to clients’ servers, monitoring the performance of their machines, and producing a monthly report.. such ‘visit’ was without its anxiety as after exiting their servers, I waited with bated breath for the office phone to ring with calls from a line of aggrieved clients reporting their servers were ‘down’. But amazingly, it didn’t happen. Over time I gradually learned the functions of each of the different software licenses, the subtle difference between the versions, how to renew and update them and I’m learning more every day.

Then came the crunch point where due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, I had to physically be away for what at first I thought was going to be five months but has since turned out to be a very protracted absence, and after having worked for just four short months in this brand new world, I dared to have the confidence to suggest that I could still continue the same work remotely, from afar.

I didn’t have a clue ‘how’ but I just knew Alan could set it up so we could make this work.

He did set it up in an instant. We brainstormed. We produced check lists of my tasks. We then drew up check lists for our check lists, frantic to be sure we had everything covered. Absolutely everything had to be covered, we could leave nothing to chance or in doubt.

We had a series of dry runs well before I left, to iron out the bugs but there just weren’t any. Everything worked. It worked really well.

I have now been working this way, for well over a year, from a location not just in another city, not just in another country, but on another continent and in another time zone.

My location is in Southern Europe, France to be exact, and 6 hours ahead of EST. Every day, I not only go about the same tasks as before, but even from almost 5000 miles away, new things are constantly being passed over to me.

My day begins at normal French time (not all of France works short hours) and I am well into my tasks by the time Florida even wakes up. I keep my computer set to Florida time thereby saving me having to deduct 6 hours to find out if I can call a particular client or supplier.

There is no specialist equipment involved. I work from my own humble 4 year old laptop but I also have my netbook for back up, just in case my trusted laptop decides it has had enough of this world and takes early retirement. I have a USB phone I plug in to my laptop, with a Florida phone number. In this way, I can make and receive calls, and when I do speak to clients or suppliers, unless I have chosen to share my location with them, they all assume I am sitting at a desk at InfoStream in West Palm Beach!

The office computer is accessed in a matter of seconds and despite the great distance involved, the reduction in speed is imperceptible. I can work in exactly the same way, access all the same information, and do everything I did from the office, only from my current location.

When Javier joined InfoStream in the summer of 2011, it was even possible for me to get his business cards organized remotely as well: proofs, changes and ultimate delivery, all from afar. It was also possible to keep stationery stocks up by ordering printed letter heads and envelopes online, and postage stamps were ordered in the same way and delivered to the office by the mailman.

In the early days, the only thing I could not do remotely was print and mail out invoices to our clients but this obstacle was overcome by me emailing printable invoices back to Florida, for physical printing and mailing.

Now, even this last physical link has recently been broken and we have eliminated printing and mailing of invoices altogether. Implementing paperless billing has a multitude of advantages. Invoices are not held up in the mail and never get lost. We no longer have a need for stationery and stamps. Invoices are dispatched and delivered the moment they are prepared.

The entire billing process is now not only smoother and easier to monitor, it has the added advantage of being environmentally friendly too, thereby reducing our carbon footprint. No more envelopes/paper/trips by car to the post, so our consciences are clear that we are not contributing to the deforestation of the world. This is quite apart from the time saving and is after all, more cutting edge for an IT company.

In fact the only invoicing ‘issue’ has been the result of my having emailed an invoice to the wrong client. Bad, but in defense of the system and not to justify the error, I could just as easily have put one client’s invoice in another client’s envelope so it would be unfair to put the blame on paperless billing. The mistake was human, and mine alone.

Apart from running any errands which might be required, there really isn’t anything that I haven’t been able to do remotely.
I maintain not just daily but constant contact with everyone at InfoStream and frequently discuss projects with Alan. I am not in the least bit cut off, as in out of sight out of mind. I am very much ‘there’, only not.

I am still amazed on a daily basis, at just how incredible all this is and how the ability to work in this way could change the lives of a lot of people and probably a lot of businesses too. I still don’t profess to understand how it all works, and no matter how patient Alan is, I am sure that it would take a month of Sundays for him to explain the process and I still wouldn’t understand. I am just glad that today’s technology has enabled me to continue doing what I really enjoy doing and what I hope I do to everyone’s satisfaction, though probably this would not include the client who got the wrong bill.

Having said all that, I still can’t wait to get back to the office.

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