Inspiration Friday: NASA's very own Beth Beck

We caught up with Beth Beck(@bethbeck) while she was working from home as a part of contingency plan operation in case of a major flu outbreak.  She's a regular blogger in addition to being a huge asset to outreach for the US Space program at bethbeck.wordpress.com

What's your role within NASA?

I work in the Office of Space Operations. My job is to share NASA’s coolness factor with those outside NASA — to infuse space into the pop culture. We appear inaccessible to the outside world. I try to give NASA a “face” and help create a two-way conversations about human spaceflight through exhibits, partnerships, and social media tools.

What does a typical day look like for you?

When I’m in the office: meetings, email interaction, creating and managing projects, writing/editing, and tweeting about what I’m doing. We try to update the www.facebook.com/NASA.gov page a couple of times a day.  I’m out of the office staffing NASA exhibits around the country and taking guests to our Space Shuttle launches. I love taking iPhone pics and tweeting virtual space experiences out to the Twitterverse.

What sorts of things are you working on?

We partner with an exhibit company to create compelling exhibit experiences that allow ground-based Earthlings to “touch” space from here at home. Our Galactic Explorer Module (GEM) allows visitors to select one of six space destinations (inside a green screen kiosk), film a 15-second video, and email it to friends and family. Along with the video email, each visitor walks away with a printed photo “from space.”

StoneSoulPicnic

GEMPublicSErvicesGeicoMoon

We’re also working on a top-level "participatory" exhibit experience called “SpaceSmart” that combines the newest technology, techniques and social media tools to measure, for the first time, shifts in “attitudes and opinions” as visitors engage with us about space. For example: through a game format, we inform visitors about how NASA leads the world in green living within the most hostile, unforgiving environment: space.

space_smart_image

Think about it: our six-member international crew onboard Space Station survives each day on solar energy (captured and stored), 100% recycled condensation and waste-water (collected from crewmates), and purified air scrubbed and generated onboard. Energy, water, air: three of our biggest sustainability challenges for life on Earth. And we use less water and energy on-orbit than the average American on Earth.

Our discoveries for sustaining human life in space will influence how we live here on our home planet. Oh, don’t get me started...

What is the purpose for the contingency plan you're currently staying at home for?

We’re testing telework procedures, systems, and equipment in preparation for an emergency threat to the area that may keep us out of the office, such as a pandemic spread of influenza. We’re one of many agencies participating in a federal campaign, I believe.

What technologies are helping you to continue to be productive while not in the office?

We have an entire checklist to test:

  • Internet connection from home using either our office or home computer. Not everyone uses the same providers, whether cable modem, DSL, FiOS or the dreaded Dial-up.
  • Secure-Token web-based access to 1) FedTraveler for travel plans, 2) payroll, 3) email, 4) shared files, 5) network folders, and 6) core business applications.
  • Office teleconference call-in numbers for conducting business in groups.
  • Access to work phones for call-forwarding or getting messages.

Some of us work remotely, from home or on travel, and know how the different systems work. For others, this is new. We  need to ensure everyone has the proper equipment and the understanding to use it. Our IT folks needed to ensure the system could handle a spike in users. We’re on a rolling schedule — office by office, one day at a time.

Have you found any tasks to be particularly hard while working out of the office?

No way, no how. Teleconference replaces face-to-face meetings, but we have NASA Centers across the US and international partners around the world. We regularly meet over the telephone or in video conferences. No different using a phone at home.

Personally, I work better from home — especially when I need to write. The noise and distractions in the office can make it exTREMEly hard to concentrate. Plus, the bliss of comfy clothes and a comfy chair boosts my efficiency. Try sitting up straight in business clothes and heels all day. I know it’s totally bad for posture, but I much more comfy sitting on one leg — which is rude in an office. (I’m SO glad I wasn’t born in the hoop-skirt era!)

What can organizations do from a culture point of view to be better prepared if many of us need to stay home for a week or two?

Culture. Now that’s a totally different question.

Technology is easy. Laptop. Aircard. iPhone. You’re good. (Other than payroll processing, I rarely use the secure network. I just keep working files on my laptop so they go with me.)

Culture for an effective telework environment boils down to 1) trust and 2) outcome-based management.

Let’s consider outcome-based management: If I give Jane a job to do with products and deadlines clearly established, it shouldn’t matter where the work is accomplished. Jane could work from her sailboat, as long as the product comes in on time within spec. Right? If Jane talks to the folks she needs to, puts together the project required, and turns in a product that meets my satisfaction, then she’s met the requirement. Who cares whether Jane sat in a cubicle, office, or lawn chair.

Now, if the organizational culture is based on activity, rather than outcome, management may need to “see” that the workers are busy. If busy = productive, then telework may be hard to manage. How can I know Jane is productive if I can’t “see” her working at her desk. How do I know she’s doing anything? Painting her fingernails. Watching TV. How do I verify her work if her desk is empty?

In order to prepare for prolonged telework, organizations may need to look at what products are expected on a weekly basis and determine how to measure acceptable progress toward stated goals. Once this is outlined and clearly understood by each employee and manager, then go forth and prosper. IF the progress is not up to snuff, the employee and manager can reassess and determine if the expectations are realistic and need to be readjusted — or if the worker can make improvements.

Trust is a tricky issue. I don’t know how to teach someone trust. Yet organizational trust may determine whether or not extended telework succeeds in the end. Do we trust our employees to perform the work we ask of them when we’re not looking. If not, is it because they’re NOT trustworthy, or we’re not capable of trusting them? Hmmm.

Final word on NASA and telework: Our astronauts telework from space every day on Station. I’d say we lead the world on that too!