Dangers of working from home – and how to fix it

A short and sweet article about the “dangers” of working from home and how to fix them. (h/t to… I forget *blush*)

Speaking as someone that’s worked from home for 11+ years, I’ve gained some perspective into the matter. I’d like to add my own input to the author’s 5 points:

1. You don’t feel you are working

The author’s point here is how work life and personal life can blend. True that. To an extent, this is a good thing. You can have a greater flexibility in life, within the constraints the job allows you. For instance, I spent many years working with folks in California, 2 hours behind me. I’m a morning person. These two things together didn’t always allow our schedules to mesh because as I’m winding up my day they’d just be digging into theirs. But I didn’t let THEIR constraints control my life. Instead, I just had to make some accommodations, such as accepting that sometimes I’ll have a meeting that’s very late in the day for me. I also made a point to check my work email in the evenings.

But that said, you really do have to work at keeping work work and personal personal. You cannot let your life become one giant smear of workandpersonallifetogether. It takes discipline and learning to draw lines AND sticking to them. Plus, you have to ensure people at work come to respect those lines. As well, the folks at home also have to respect those lines.

Which brings us to…

2. Your family members won’t understand that you are working

This is simple (but not easy). Draw lines and enforce them. Make sure the lines and rules are clear to everyone, and stick to them. For example, if my door is shut, you don’t come in. If you need me, you knock. Do not expect an answer if I’m in a meeting or perhaps deeply ensconced in a debug session. You must respect it, unless it’s an emergency. Yes, kids will have to be punished if they violate the rules. Spouses too.

But that said, remember that part of the joy of working at home with the family around is that you can be around them. I’ve found that if I’m not truly deeply into something, just flow with the interruptions sometimes. Sometimes the kiddo just wants to show you what they did. It takes 30 seconds of my time (which I probably would have wasted on Facebook or something else), kiddo is happy, I am happy, it’s a win. Don’t shun your family. Just work to manage things. And yes, it will take time, failure, revision, and experimentation to find what works for you.

3. You are slacking off, because your boss is not watching

It’s very easy to slack because you’ll be surrounded by all your favorite things. You have to develop the self-discipline to keep working, because if you don’t, you’re out of a job. Bosses will eventually detect your level of productivity.

Take a little time to blow off steam, break up the day, all that stuff. But you still have to produce. In fact, it’s generally better to work to produce more, because really… you will have fewer distractions than being in the office. You can focus better. You won’t have everyone dropping by your cube. You don’t have a commute. You can be more productive.

And oh, get dressed every day. Just because no one has to look at your or smell you, you should still carry on as if people did. It will affect your psyche.

4. You alienate yourself from work community

This is true. You must work to overcome it. The author goes into the office now and again, but my office is thousands of miles away, so that’s not possible. You must make the extra effort to communicate with folks. IM is good, or maybe set up an IRC channel. Have ways to chat with people. Do pick up the phone now and again, because to hear voices is very warming and personalizing. If you can video chat, even better. Don’t be afraid to start the day with some quick pings to people to just say “hi”. You do have to have some sort of social setup with everyone, else well… you will be overlooked, you will be forgotten, and folks just won’t know much about you. Not always good for the long haul.

5. You work too much

Yup. This goes back to #1. You just have to draw lines and stick to them. Be flexible, but be firm. Don’t check work email in your non-work times. Don’t check messages. Work is work and should be put into that box and kept there. If you do not, everything will smear and work will take over your life. You can’t let it.

It isn’t easy to start working at home. It requires commitment and self-discipline. But I think the benefits are huge, both to myself and to whomever I’m working for. It’s a situation that’s worked well for over a decade for me, and I really can’t see any other way to work.

Working at home isn’t possible for every job. If your job can be done from home, consider it. But as well, know yourself. You just may need the constraints and environment “going to the office” puts on you. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better to know yourself, know your limits, and know your capabilities.

Austin’s Tech Talent Shortage – Try Telecommuting

Over at my company’s blog, I wrote about Austin’s tech talent shortage and how telecommuting could be the better solution (Austin, or anywhere).

Telecommuting visibility

IT World has a pretty good article addressing the question “Does telecommuting make you invisible?”

My answer? It can, but you can do something about it.

Some background on me. I’ve been at my day job for over 11 years and have worked it as a telecommuter the entire time. I’ve had different bosses, different projects, different teams, but it was always me that was out of the office. At my prior job, while I worked at the company HQ, the project I worked on was hosted out of Toronto, Ontario; that ended up being an interesting hybrid of “in the office” but yet I was still a “remote” that was for all intents and purposes, telecommuting. At the job prior to that, I worked in the office but most of the people I worked directly with were all full-time telecommuters located elsewhere in the world. I got to see and deal with a lot from “that side’ of the fence. So for quite a number of years throughout my entire career I’ve dealt with telecommuting, so I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about it.

On the whole, I’d say the IT World article was spot on.

  • Your company’s culture and norms regarding telecommuting
  • The percentage of people at your company that work remotely
  • How visible you can be on a day-to-day basis to your boss and others
  • How effectively you can perform your job remotely

Those are things that will matter and affect how well it works. I’ll add a few things.

Regarding company culture, true that culture around telecommuting matters. If you look at what the article lists on this point, it talks about the company being set up for conference calls, remote access, and other “outside the office” work. Consider this. Is your company large enough that it has more than one physical office? If so, then it’s effectively dealing with telecommuting and other issues of being “virtual” or “remote”. It doesn’t even have to be a true office, maybe it’s a contract shop out in India or Russia. Either way, once the company is forced to go outside its 4 walls, it’s effectively dealing with the very same issues. If your company can be successful with multiple offices, it can be successful with telecommuting. I say this because often companies have multiple offices but are down on telecommuting because they view them differently. Sure they aren’t 100% the same, but for the most part in terms of day-to-day operations, they are. But of course, it can vary and depend on numerous factors, including if it’s a job that can be done outside of the office without incurring much problem and expensive.

Percentage of people can matter, especially because I know some people who may not get to work remotely may come to resent you and your ability to work remotely while they’re stuck in the office, dreaming of working from home. But if you have a larger number of people, or if it’s an option available to everyone, it’s not as much of an issue. This issue then blends into the next issue….

… visibility. This matters, and this is where YOU can make the most direct impact. Sure, if the whole team is geographically spread, that will affect process. If not, or even if still, you can and SHOULD make effort to make yourself visible. Call your boss every day or two just to chat. Call co-workers. You don’t have hallways, a photocopy machine, vending machine, water cooler, etc. around which to just congregate and talk, so you have to find ways to have social chatter as well as business chatter. Don’t be annoying, don’t cross norms or cause a problem, but just work to keep yourself in on the loop with things. Don’t be afraid to CC people on emails because you do have to force the communication. Every Friday send a “weekly progress report” to your boss and maybe even the boss’s boss (and the whole team, if appropriate) so people can be aware of what you’ve been doing all week long. Can you use Instant Messaging? If so, get the whole team on IM and use it as another means of chatter and communication during the day. Plus, IM provides a sort of visibility because, so long as you properly manage your IM, they can see if you’re online or not, at your desk, or not, in a meeting, on the phone, do not disturb, or whatever other status that may come along. It’s useful for visibility.

But be aware to not violate company policies or, most of all, lie. Don’t make things up because you will get flushed out sooner or later if you do. So much of telecommuting is based on trust, so everything you can do to foster and build trust in you, that you are responsible, that you can get the job done? That’s key.

And that brings us to the last point about how effective you are at doing your job. You do have to prove yourself. Well first, you do have to see if it is a job that can be worked remotely: someone on an assembly line just has to be there on the line, no avoiding it. As a software developer, so long as I have electricity and an Internet connection, I’m pretty good to go from anywhere in the world. Or you may find that your job can be done sometimes from home, but from time to time you have to go into the office. Whatever you do, you have to do it and find the balance to make that possible. You have to prove that you can do it, that you can have the discipline required to get the job done. A lot of people tell me they could never work from home — perhaps that is good because they know themselves and what they need to be properly motivated. I would also say, don’t sell yourself short. When you know you HAVE to get a job done else you won’t have that job and the income it provides, it tends to be a good motivator. 🙂  Yes it’s hard at first to get into the swing, find your discipline, find your groove, but you can get there. Heck, these days if I went back into an office I’m not sure I could be as productive — too many distractions!

Telecommuting isn’t for everyone, but I’m happy to see more of it. There’s many good things about it, if it can be done. The lack of commute has multiple benefits from less time wasted in a day to less impacts on our roads, our environment, vehicle wear and tear. All good things. Less costs. And ultimately, a higher quality of life.

It reminds me how good life is.

I’ve been working as a full-time telecommuter for at least a decade.

I enjoy it. It’s my preferred mode of working.

The company I work for finally opened an office in Austin. They opened it due to other projects in the company (all the people and projects I work on are in California), but hey… it’s here, I can work in it. I figured if nothing else, I should establish a presence there. Meet the folks in the office, stake out a claim on a desk, stuff like that. So that’s kinda cool. The office is still being brought online 100%, but today I spent my first day there.

I don’t like it.. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong. The office itself is alright. The people are good (especially the lady that’s managing the office). Yes there are some hiccups as the office is coming online. But hey, all in all things aren’t bad. Plus I have a proper office, with a door, a window, a nice view.

What do I not like? I can’t listen to loud music while I work. I don’t have the smell of Wife’s wonderful cooking filling the air. I don’t hear my children playing. I have to wear shoes all day. I can’t just wander out of my office and go poke at my best friend (Wife) or play with my kids or see what they’re up to. No cats to sit in my lap.

I know. Cry me a river.

I know my life is good. I know that I’m blessed and fortunate. I have a life that many people would love to have. I worked hard to get here. I wouldn’t settle for anything less than the life I have, and through hard work, dedication, and sacrifice I’ve gotten where I am. So days like today? They’re just reminders of how fortunate I am and how good life can be. That whole “count your blessings” thing.

Every morning when I wake up I say to myself, “Daub, don’t fuck this up.”

Still, I’ll probably come to the office now and again. It’s not all bad.

Potential lightening of my wallet.

The company I work for, they’re opening a proper office in Austin. I’m still going to work from home. Been doing it over 10 years, I see no reason to stop, especially since my home office is better set up and equiped for the requirements of my job.

However, I did discover the new office isn’t too far from GT Distributors.

“Honey…. I need to uh… go to the office (yeah, that’s it).” 🙂

Telecommuter advice – you must seek

If you choose to take a telecommuting job, especially if it’s full-time telecommuting, you also take upon yourself some communication responsibilities you may not be aware of. If you don’t, you risk isolating yourself which doesn’t bode well for you or the company over the long-term.

Continue reading

Sick day?

It’s the day before a 3-day weekend, and I see the emails going about the office saying “so and so is out sick.”


4 day weekend? 🙂

Now I don’t actually doubt they’re sick. It is the start of the school year and thus begins the giant petri dish of illness. In fact, both Wife and Daughter have visited the new “urgent care” clinic down the road from us just this past week and are currently working their way through their antibiotics.

But it got me to thinking, like it does every year.

Sick days are a disadvantage to working from home.

When you’ve got something that’s bad enough you wouldn’t want to go into the office to spread germs about, but it’s not incapacitating sick, well…. you can still work. Is there expectation that you’d work? Maybe. I know I at least put that upon myself, and maybe because I’m home, I’ve nothing else to do, I’d likely sit in front of the computer anyways, so might as well be productive.

But it also means I rarely use my sick days in a day. I may still get sick, but no one’s going to get my germs anyways, so I continue to slog away.

Oh well. A minor disadvantage really. The fact that some days I’ve been able to program in my underwear, that works just fine. 🙂

Working elsewhere

I am fortunate that my job allows me to telecommute. I work from home full-time and enjoy it. I have everything I need, all the comforts such as listening to whatever music I so feel like and as loud as I wish. I have access to my wife’s awesome cooking. I get to be around my kids. Life is good.

That said, sometimes I need to get out. 🙂

I used to be able to go to my buddy W’s house. It was perfect. Interet access, comfortable digs, good food, and someone to talk to about work things which made it like a mini office setting. But W recently moved, so I no longer have access. Consequently, I’ve been wondering what I can do and where I can go when I need a change of work surroundings.

The key thing I need is Internet access, given the nature of my job. What’s cool is Austin has a great many places with free WiFi. I found a couple nice lists here and here. Trouble is, none of the spots are really ideal.

Some places are just right out. For instance, I will not go to the airport just to get WiFi access. Or some hotels may have free WiFi but you have to be a guest and get their passcode. So those places are out.

What does that leave?

The Austin Public Library, or restaurants and bars (including coffee shops).

None of this is ideal.

The library actually seems like the best bet. There should be electrical outlets to plug into. The place will be fairly quiet and conducive to learning, and some ability to be private. The downside is no food or drink. Plus if I had to take a phone call, I can’t easily do that.

Restaurants have pretty much the opposite problem. No problem with food or drink; in fact, I’d argue if I was taking up a table for a long time that I better buy some food and drink. If I need to take a call, no problem. Electrical outlets can vary (one nice restaurant near my house apparently has only one open outlet, up by the front south-facing windows… heat, glare, no workie). But it’s going to be noisy, especially at meal times.

Bottom line is, it’s good to see Austin is quite friendly and accessible. While much of this free WiFi may be limited for circumstances like mine, what it really shows is you can whip out your Internet-enabled phone (iPhone or otherwise) and do things. So while you’re having dinner, you could look up where to go afterwards. Or maybe you just want to see what traffic is like, or what the next showtime is, or when the next train/bus is coming. Having free WiFi “everywhere” is quite a boon.

Now I just need to find a place that can work for me.

WWDC 2009 Keynote Thoughts

Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference starts today, and of course the keynote is the big deal the world watches.

I’ve attended WWDC many times in the past, but I intentionally skipped it this year. Saving the company a little money, WWDC has turned into an iPhone luv-fest, the quality of the conference has gone down over the years (yes, I’m an old-timer), it’s packed, the fan-boys are in way too much effect here… it’s just not worth it. I mean, people were lining up outside the convention center at 4:30 AM to be “first in line” for the keynote. Sheesh! I’d rather spend the week being productive and working. Any of the few sessions that’d be worth attending I can catch videos of later.

Oh well, so what came out of the keynote.

  • Updated the entire portable/notebook line. That’s good stuff and looks like they’re moving the whole line towards their new form factor. Good deal. I’d love to buy a new one to get that sort of new battery life.
  • Simple Snow Leopard improvements, like Exposé in the Dock, faster install and recovery of disk space is good. Enhanced “previewing” support directly in the Finder. They are small things, but the devil is always in the details.
  • Chinese input via drawing on the trackpad? That’s interesting. I need to check on how that works and if it works for other “symbolic” languages such as Japanese, Korean, etc..
  • I like Safari 4’s “crash resistance” setup, because without question the highest crashing thing on my Mac is the Flash plugin.
  • That QuickTime has finally become “X” and gotten the much overdue overhaul is great.
  • Grand Central, OpenCL, 64-bit hardware and the OS fully committed to 64-bit, multiple core CPU’s and wicked powerful GPUs, just awesome stuff for a geek like me.
  • While I think MS Exchange is a huge steaming turd, I do know how many organizations are based upon it for all of their electronic communication and organizational needs. So that Apple is embracing this and putting Exchange support directly into the OS is good, both for Apple and for Microsoft.
  • Overall I’m liking that Snow Leopard is going to be what they said it was going to be: refinement. Leopard really brings about a maturing Mac OS X in terms of features and user experience, so now you need to stop adding on features and making the features that you have really solid and stable and refined. Snow Leopard is doing that in a big way. Thing is, as a geek I know it’s good and will move to it. But from the early days of Snow Leopard (as a developer, I’ve had access) I was always curious how Apple was going to make this appeal and be marketed towards consumers because the non-geeks well… I don’t know how it will appeal to them to plunk down the money for the OS upgrade that does a lot of awesome stuff under the hood which then enables us developers to do awesome stuff…. but that doesn’t equate to simple whiz-bang features that you can list on a box or in an advertisement. What’s there to really entice the consumer? 
    • Now I know. Pricing it at $29, or $49 for a family pack. Smart move on Apple’s part. They know there aren’t any whiz-bang flashy features to really sell to consumers, but make it a cheap upgrade that gets you lots of things towards the future. It mainly helps developers out, so now we can write software that use the new technology, the $29 OS upgrade price is a negligent barrier then for people to upgrade the OS to use our softwares. This is all good stuff. Glad Apple did this.
  • Snow Leopard will be available in September.
  • iPhone. Cut/Copy/Paste/Undo. Gosh, such essential parts… about time they’re here. Landscape mode all around, good. Spotlight, neat. Of course more iTunes/Store integration, which is great for them and AT&T.
  • “Tethering”. Nice. But AT&T won’t support it and who is the iPhone carrier? Sheesh. 
  • “Find My iPhone”, only through MobileMe. Way to drum up business! 🙂  I actually think this is pretty cool, but on the surface appears ripe for abuse or other evil things, so hopefully they thought about that (likely so) and it’s a fairly controlled and unabusable experience. But yeah, this is cool.
  • P2P support is good, gamers will like that. They’ll also like the in-app purchasing ability. Hardware accessory support is very good.
  • Push notification. ’bout time.
  • Other little iPhone OS 3.0 things that are good, especially the expanded language support. It’s nice to see the OS coming along, maturing, catching-up.
    • Available June 17.
  • OO… TomTom for iPhone.
  • But 8 iPhone demos. Ugh. I know Apple wants to trot out a lot of people and cool things, but when you’re at the show, sitting in cramped quarters (the chairs are all clamped together, they’re barely wide enough for a child to sit in, then consider most geeks aren’t exactly svelte and it makes for a very uncomfortable 2 hours), man… this is painful. And I’m not there and it’s painful, but from dealing with it in the past I know the pain.
  • iPhone 3GS. Faster, better camera, video, digital compass, voice control, encryption and data wiping. Awesome.
    • $299 for the biggest (32GB) version. Nice.
    • Also, the existing 3G iPhone (8GB) for $99.
    • Available when? Depends: 3G today, 3GS June 19. 
  • There was no “one more thing”, and for that I’m glad. While it was a cute thing in its day, I’m glad it went away. People got way too hyped up and it got ridiculous. Fanboys get all excited prior to the show and work up expectations that there’s no way Apple can live up to, then people moan and grow because their unrealistic expectations weren’t exceeded. So I’m glad they’re doing away with it. In the end, I think the keynote offered some great stuff and really showed where Apple is going. They are focusing on making the OS very solid towards the future. They are making their hardware platforms grow and improve, and working to make both the hardware and the OS work very well together (one of Apple’s strengths since they sell them both… it’s part of what makes a Mac a Mac, vs. using Windows atop any old hardware or using any old hardware with whatever OS). Plus it’s evident iPhone is #1 at Apple, because you know the revenue streams are ridiculous here. Many of the new things demoed during the keynote rang of $$$ for them, carriers, and developers.

While I was watching various live webcast coverages, when Bertrand Serlet was up I found myself reciting all of his quotes with his accent.  Then Scott Forstall came up for iPhone stuff and gosh, I remember when Scott was just a low-level guy at Apple; it’s really neat to see how every year or two he’s climbed further up the ladder there at Apple. That’s quite awesome for him. Then while watching the keynote, near the end, Wife IM’d me and said “one more thing”… Wife doesn’t understand what “one more thing” means in the context of an Apple keynote, it was just a funny coincidence. All this stuff? It was just like I was there, but with a better seat. 🙂

I will say, this is one thing tough about my current job. I have to ship product that works for the existing users, so I often end up being behind the curve. All these new things are great, but I still have to support Tiger users (Mac OS X 10.4). I don’t get to really take advantage of new things for quite some time. Frustrating, but I can see what I can look forward to.

That said, one thing people find hard to believe about me is that while I’ve been an Apple user since I was a kid and have spent a good portion of my life developing software for the Mac, I don’t own an iPod or an iPhone and never have. Main reason? I don’t have a need. But the iPhone has been full of want, and that iPhone 3GS seems like maybe a good time and place to start. In fact, maybe a 3G for Wife and a 3GS for me (Wife isn’t as techno geek).

Ways to improve your home office

Web Worker Daily has 7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Home Office.

The suggestions are fairly simple: you spend a lot of time and energy in this place, so you might as well make it pleasant and comfortable. 

One advantage that we often have at home that officer workers may not have is natural lighting. If you’ve got windows, take advantage of them. They make a big difference in your mood. Of course, I do know some that prefer to work in the dim and dark, so I guess brick up your windows in that case. 😉  Either way, lighting makes a difference in your mood and productivity.

Another thing that helps me is being able to keep my office’s air comfortable. Now, I do have a lot of computers in here which generates a lot of heat. Consequently I have a portable A/C unit in my office because otherwise it’s a sweatshop, especially in the heat of the summer. But having your own A/C unit, fans, heaters, or whatever you need is useful so you can keep things where you like it. Wife likes it a bit warmer, loves to open up the windows (which often leads to higher humidity levels). I prefer it a bit cooler and drier. 

It’s your office and being your home office you’ve got free reign over it. Take advantage of that to make your best workspace.