Since 1999, I have been working from home. This was a necessity since there is no nearby office for Citrix. There was the option to move to Sydney but it just didn’t make sense for us.
Working from home can be a complicated. Mostly this is true because there are no clear lines drawn between home and work. Either world can interfere with the other.
The good news is that it does give you a better balance than typically found with most people working. Kids grow up around you and they can share their special moments almost as quickly as they have happened. Or, perhaps there is some big spider in the house that only Dad catches. I’m on some kind of bug duty here. Some of the spiders can get quite large in Queensland.
These kind of spiders don’t show up very often but it is pretty exciting when they do. I can always tell by how much the kids scream.
The kids have grown up enough that two of them are in school full time. Only one child is still at home. Once everyone is at school, it will most likely be true that I will be home the most of the family. And also strangely it will also seem a bit too quiet.
One of the best aspects of being a remote worker is that lack of any driving time. My office was designed for its role when the house was built in 2003. It is not particularly big and could be converted back into a bedroom without too much modification. So that puts the commute to less time than it takes to reach the kitchen.
The telecomputing is key to being able to do this work. Many people assume that it would be difficult to development work remotely only because of assumptions about the current model. Perhaps people assume that the bandwidth would not be good enough or that the equipment not up to par. It does seem that when I tell someone new, they reach certain conclusions very quickly about what it must be like. Honestly, they are often wrong.
The Internet has changed the cost of working remotely to be very low. This trend will continue to the point that it could be possible to do computer work almost anywhere in the world for a software company. Many people already do it but it just has not been widely accepted within Citrix.
Before 1999, it was impossible for software engineers to work remotely within Citrix. The previous CEO, Roger Roberts forbid it. His philosophy was “if they aren’t seen, they aren’t working”. He really did believe this. The irony was that our technology going back to the very beginnings made it possible for Citrix employees to do work from home. As programmers, we often joked about how silly this rule was given that we specialized in making it work for other companies.
When Roger left, a door opened to the possibility of working remotely. Given that I was in Australia, this possibility was very exciting. I started asking around the people I had worked with just two years before (in 1997). No one was quite sure how it would work out. The turning point is when Mark authorized working from home and Sydney was interested in hiring me. This was about June 1999 when I had decided that the reseller business was not for me.
I interviewed and got the job in September 1999. The contract stated that I needed to come down two days a month and that I would work as if I was in the office. There was a special two week period that I stayed in Sydney at the beginning. This was when Sydney office was located in Pennant Hills. The two weeks went fine and when I got back the machines were shipped to me.
Initially it was a bit of an adjustment. In those first couple of weeks it was very hard to get motivated. When you know no one is watching, your first impulse is to be distracted by whatever you can find. However, something interesting happens. You get bored. You get so bored that work actually seems like a great thing. It’s hard to explain this transition and I certainly don’t want to give anyone a wrong impression. The point is that it is possible that you will goof off at first. In fact, expect this. After a career of constantly being monitored (in one way or another) the freedom is bound to trigger some kind of quiet rebellion. The best analogy is when you are a teenager and your parents leave you in charge of the house for the first time. Anyways, this phase wears out pretty quickly. In my case I was extremely bored. Others might be inspired by the lack of productive results which might lead to a negative review.
This brings on the other view of how this works. A boss is going to assume that the employee is goofing off. However, if the employee is doing all the work and do it consistently, the real question is whether or not it matters. Said another way, if you get the results you want, does it really matter how they spend their time? I can sense the clash with the industrial world wanting it to be fully under control and visible. The truth is that this kind of lack of trust is very limiting and does not bring out the full potential of the employee.
Because I am at home, the distractions are far less. Some of my co-workers have expressed mild jealously about being able to focus on one thing for long periods of time. I’m less likely to be in meetings or to have conversations distract me. As a result, my productivity can benefit.
One area that is definitely lacking is human contact. It is sometimes way too quiet with work and I’ll have to start calling people just to catch up. I feel bad about this sometimes because I know that I’m distracting them and that I tend to talk more since I don’t talk enough about work from home. I tend to do it in bursts.
In the early years it always felt like I was being tested. Kind of like people were just waiting for me to prove that working from home wouldn’t work.
But this is not true. Working from home has been great for me and Citrix. What I have never understood is why it is not more common in the current time. It is almost like it is only done based on the exception rule. For a company that still makes this possible, it is hard to understand why it has not become more main stream within the company.
I figure that it comes down to trust and what Roger said all those years ago. I would still put “Working From Home” in the trial stage for anyone doing programming/engineering work.
I’ll end this by saying that there are many Citrix employees that work from home that are not software engineers. It is common for Sales, Marketing, and Systems Engineers to be located in different regions and also often with no regional office. The Sales and SEs have been doing this since pretty much the beginning of Citrix. And yes, they use our technology to access all of the corporate information. This was true all the way back to Multiuser around 1991-2.
To the people that would like to try it, I would highly recommend doing it. To the bosses that authorize it, I would encourage you to trust more and let the results speak for themselves. There really isn’t much to lose at all.