Working From Home

It's great, but requires a lot of discipline.

Today ended my sixth week working for Telligent. Like most of the other members of the product development team, I’m working remotely from home. It’s been a very interesting adjustment, and I figured I’d share my experiences.

First, the good stuff:

  1. You can control your working environment. For the first three weeks, I sat in an old cheapo Staples desk chair at my old uncomfortable desk, until I was able to barter with my wife to let me re-organize the office. I’m now sitting in a Herman Miller Mirra chair at a much more ergonomic desk from Ikea. I have a comfortable (cushioned) chair in my office where I can sit, relax, and think. I can play music through speakers without needing to worry about coworkers, and I can close my office door to talk on the phone, video-conference, or if it just gets too noisy. I’m a natural control freak when it comes to environment while I work, and after working in a “bullpen” environment (one big room without cubes), this is a huge improvement. Incidentally, if you’re wondering, yes, the Mirra is expensive, and I was skeptical too, but it’s worth every penny. It’s so comfortable that I actually look forward to sitting in it.
  2. You can’t beat the commute. I’ve been fortunate not to have to drive more than 35 minutes or so to work for any job I’ve held, but just knowing that I don’t have to get in the car and drive across town is a nice feeling. Not to mention the savings on gas is great, and I suspect that once the Ohio winter strikes, I’ll like the fact that I don’t have to leave the house even more! I’ve also found that my days seem longer, and once I get through the transition period I’m hoping to devote my newfound spare time to side projects like Ninject and Ideavine, as well as a couple of other things I have up my sleeve. Who knows, I might even blog more than once a month! :)
  3. You get to spend more time with your family. My wife is a graduate student, and she’s able to work from home most of the time. It’s nice to be able to spend additional time with her, even if it’s just having lunch or taking a break to talk with her for a few minutes every couple of hours. For others, being able to spending time with children is great. My wife and I don’t have any children, but we do have a couple of dogs, and it’s nice to be able to have them around while I work. They tend to cry sometimes, but they’re starting to learn that when I’m sitting at my desk, they need to relax and wait for me to pay attention to them.
  4. Working without pants is finally a reality. Just kidding. :)

Of course, working at home isn’t without some challenges:

  1. It’s easy to get distracted. Being at home brings with it a certain mindset. It’s important to keep in mind that when you’re working, you’re working, and while you can take short breaks, you need to stay on task or it’s easy to meander off. It’s easier to get off-task when you’re in the “at home” mindset. I think this is largely because of the transition — although I’m used to working on side projects and moonlighting consulting from home, I’m not used to doing it for my “day job”. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten more accustomed to it, I’ve become more effective at remaining on task.
  2. It’s even easier to work too much. Since your office is your home, your home is also your office, and so you never really “punch out”. I’m also a natural workaholic — programming is more “fun” to me than “work” a lot of the time — so it’s easy for me to come back into the office after dinner and continue to work, even though I really should be done for the day. As part of my transition into telecommuting, I’m trying to draw stronger lines between work-time and off-time.
  3. Communication with the rest of the team is more difficult. Fortunately, Telligent has a pretty firm grasp on how to manage remote workers. Video conferencing makes a huge difference in terms of ease of communication — for whatever reason, seeing the other person’s face as they speak makes a dramatic difference both in the efficiency and quality of the conversation. We use a pretty lightweight Agile practice, and instead of daily stand-ups, we have daily video conferences via Tokbox. (The tool isn’t the best, but so far it’s better than any others that I’ve tried for multi-party video chat.) In terms of communication, the continuum is (with increasing efficiency): Twitter, email, IM, IRC, voice, video, then real-life.
  4. You become even more reliant on technology. Our cable internet was knocked out by the remnants of Hurricane Ike a few weeks ago, and was out for 3 days. We were fortunate enough not to lose power for more than a few minutes, but I was forced to go to my wife’s office at the University in order to work. When you telecommute, losing your internet connection is kind of like having your car break down — except you can’t get a rental or bum a ride to work. We’ve since invested in business-class cable, and while it doesn’t help with widespread outages, I at least get a guarantee of same-day or next-day service. At least I have my wife’s office to fall back on if need be — although I suppose I could always be a wifi leech at Panera. :)

All in all, I have to say that so far the benefits vastly outweigh the detriments. Maybe I’m biased, though, since I’m really interested in the products that Telligent makes, and am jazzed by the stuff I get to work on. (They actually pay me to do this stuff! Suckers. :D)