I was abruptly reminded of one of the biggest hazards of being a work-at-home employee when the power went out on my street. For an hour, we had nothing -- no electricity for keeping our devices charged, no modem and router working in concert to supply our wireless network, and -- thanks to so much of our workflow in the cloud -- very little work I could do on what was essentially a dumb terminal.
Although we have some tech in our earthquake kit, like a solar recharger, it's not like I had the panel out soaking up rays. Besides, it's been rainy here. I was irritated with myself with being underprepared. And so I want to share what I did right and what I did wrong in the 60 minutes until the power went on.
WHAT I DID RIGHT: I HAD SOME OF MY WORK APPS PRE-LOADED ON MY MOBILE PHONE
Because we use Slack to communicate, it was a few moments' work to check in and let folks know I'd be a little slow on the turnaround until I was someplace with both sufficient power and Internet access. Having a quick way to contact people and give them a heads-up is a good way to maintain good relations with your colleagues if you're a remote worker.
WHAT I DID RIGHT: I KNEW HOW TO TETHER MY PHONE TO MY LAPTOP FOR INTERNET ACCESS
Sure, it's murder on your data plan, but when your smartphone is capable of connecting to the Internet, it's a quick way to hop online for mission-critical tasks. Do you know how to tether your phone to your laptop? It's quick and easy for iPhones, and here's a primer on what you'll need if you have an Android smartphone.
WHAT I DID RIGHT: I KNEW HOW TO CONTACT MY UTILITY COMPANY AND ISP
It's just common sense to have your ISP's customer contact number programmed in your phone -- sure, you've got your phone carrier, but why waste the time and data looking up a number? -- and same goes for your utility company. When I called my electric company yesterday, the lines were busy, so I checked their Twitter account and sure enough, they were reporting both the site of the outage and its scope. And that helped because ...
WHAT I DID RIGHT: I KNEW WHERE TO FIND FREE(ISH) INTERNET ACCESS NEARBY
Just as parents of very small children know where every clean(ish) public bathroom is, so do I know where all the places for free Internet are within a five-mile radius. And so it was easy enough to just hop in the car and drive to a nearby location.
Okay -- enough backpatting. Let's focus on all the ways I was completely unprepared for the grid to go down.
WHAT I DID WRONG: I DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH WAYS TO RECHARGE MY DEVICES
It has been years since I've used a laptop computer where I could easily swap in a new battery when the old one was done. And I thought very fondly of all those heavy monstrosities yesterday as I thought about how I had not charged my Jackery Pop Portable Charger in forever, and how I don't use a Dell, so I can't avail myself of the Dell Power Companion.
Once I was back on the grid, I programmed my calendar to remind me to charge my Jackery regularly, and then I went hunting for the best battery pack for my laptop.
WHAT I DID WRONG: I DID NOT KNOW HOW TO WORK OUTSIDE THE CLOUD
This sounds like a gold-plated problem, but when the bulk of your work takes place within services hosted by someone else, your workflow depends on steady access to those services. And if you don't have that access, how do you spend your time productively?
It took me about thirty seconds to think of several maintenance and clean-up tasks I could do to my machine and my local email inbox. But the lack of easy access to the services I use to do my job reminded me how little attention I've paid to offline workflows for everything. I've now got "figure out to work offline" for all my regular tasks.
WHAT I DID WRONG: I ASSUMED MY UTILITIES AND INTERNET ACCESS WOULD BE 24/7
Perhaps this is a side effect of living someplace with neither hurricanes nor blizzards, but it's been a while since I remembered that oh yeah, electricity and Internet access are dependent on working infrastructure. I haven't been keeping up with small steps that would allow me to keep going with minimal disruption.
So what will I be doing to keep from losing an hour (or more) of productivity during prime working hours if another mylar balloon flies into another power line? Here's my to-do list:
- Make sure I have dedicated battery packs for my laptop and my mobile devices; make sure they're charged daily.
- Dig around every cloud-based service I use to see how easily I can work offline. Write down any directions and keep them saved to my local drive.
- Keep work phone numbers and at least one other form of communication on my mobile phone.
- Keep all the contact information for my ISP and my utilities on my mobile phone; keep following them on Twitter so I can stay abreast of service outages.
- Check my data plan regularly to see exactly how much I can get done before I blow past our monthly limits.
- Have a few backup locations for working so I am not wholly dependent on one location.
I hope you all find something useful there. And if you have other tips for weathering power outages in the face of looming work deadlines, share them below.