Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work from home? Do images of stuffing envelopes or selling catalog items on the party plan come to mind?
Ten years ago I signed a contract to work for Citrix. Unlike any previous work experience, this contract was based on me working from home. Given that I work on code, it was entirely possible to do this remotely. Also, Citrix is one of the key enablers of this kind of work.
When this first started, it all seemed like a big experiment. As far as I knew, this was one of the first times Citrix had allowed remote work for a developer. In the early days it was made clear that it was on a probational six month duration. Management was not yet convinced it would work. The six months passed without incident but somehow it never felt like the ‘trial’ ever ended. Very few developers switched to full time home employment.
Trust is perhaps the toughest nut to crack. It seems that people tend to project what they think they would do in this situation. Regardless, it never really feels like you are a peer in the team due to the distance and lack of personal interaction. Let me rephrase that. There is always a division and truthfully this is only human nature. We tend to see people based on where they are. It is rare to associate with people in deeper trust without ever seeing them.
Working from home or on the road is becoming the trend. People, due to technology, are no longer bound to a location to accomplish work. That is the whole point of the new term workshifting. We are no longer tied to our typical roots. We are becoming nomads once again. Hunter/gatherers have become a real high technology advantage. New ideas and products are exchanged at break neck speed. Mobility puts us in the center regardless of where we are. The knowledge of the world is only a small distance away and continues to shrink with the advances in mobile computing and telephony. There is nothing to stop this trend and in fact it will accelerate as the century proceeds. We are experiencing a boom similar to the beginning of the 20th century. Many of these new ideas and products are already here. It just takes a few years to become mainstream.
The key elements to allow working from home is well established. Let’s briefly list what is needed:
- A fast Internet connection (it does not have to be the fastest but it helps)
- A decent workstation (mid range is okay but high end will last longer)
- A phone line dedicated to work
- Cordless phone with answering machine
- A room to isolate the work with a door that locks (from kids)
- Software to support the work you need to do
- VPN connection to work
- Lots of patience to deal with things that are going to interrupt at bad times
- A plan to spend time out of the house sometimes after work
- Knowledge of the various forms of conferencing and virtual meetings
- Lots of self support related to solving computer/network problems
There is plenty of practical advice about being successful about working from home. The more interesting bits are not on anyone else’s list of expectations. This makes sense because they only come from experience.
One of the more challenging items is finding balance between work and home. Because work IS home, the lines immediately get blurred. It helps to treat work as only happening when you are in your work room. If the phone rings after work and you did not expect a call, it is fair to ignore it. It is a psychological idea to have the room since it makes it clear. If the room has other uses, it really makes it hard to split roles.
However, the truth is that work always stays near. It is tempting to check email even if it happens to be midnight. If something needs attention, it is likely that this will happen even if it is not work hours.
Likewise, home life is not far away either. If a young child wanders into your office looking to have a small chat or help with some toy, it does not make sense to be too strict. As long as it does not interfere too much, it is far better to give them some time. It can be a difficult judgment call sometimes but it is all about finding that balance that works.
Of course there are times when you will need to be isolated. This can happen for conference calls or perhaps some serious deadline. This is where it is important to have a door that locks. The message is that you cannot be interrupted and it better be pretty important to go knocking on the door. Young kids have trouble with this idea and it seems that it lasts well after when they first go to school. There have been many times that I needed to apologize to people on the phone for perceived “emergencies”. Some of these crises were simply to ask if it was okay to get something special to eat. Kids are kids. That is where some of the patience comes in.
An unexpected twist came when all the kids went to school. All of the sudden, it was too quiet during the day. After years of having quick visits, there was nothing. Soon after, my wife starting volunteering at school. Before long, it was me that spent the most time at home. This is great news for having work done but not always a good feeling. Sometimes it seems like the house is a bit confining. Many years ago, I needed to make sure I got out of the house at least once a week. Thursday night shopping was sometimes my only excursion during the week.
At one point, we decided to only have one car. This turned out to be a mistake. Even though we do not need a second car most of the time (due to lack of commute), it was still necessary from time to time and it was very inconvenient to schedule the one car successfully. It translated into feeling more trapped at home. So, the point is that even though will not need the second car very much, you will probably need it for your own sanity.