I listened to The Conversation over the weekend and Dan, Garrett Dimon and Jane Quigley were talking about running your own business and working from home.
I can’t think of any other profession where working from home would be possible or practical but if you’re a software developer then it really is a no brainer. You’re someone who just needs a laptop, an internet connection of some kind and a phone. In fact if it could be done over a paid Skype connection then you don’t even need a phone for calls.
With my previous job I don’t think that working remotely would have been possible. I was a software developer but most of my time was spent supporting PC users, running batches of reports, distributing print-outs and taking phone calls. The software development side of the job became smaller and smaller over time which ultimately lead to me leaving the company. I did work a few odd hours over the weekend, dialled (yes, dialled) into the main machine using a DEC VT210 dumb terminal and a 14,400 baud modem. I disliked it so much that the terminal was on a table in the loft and I had to drop down a telephone cable to plug it in. But I was paid overtime so that was a good thing.
Nowadays working from home is the norm. I’ve been doing this for the last 3 or 4 years. This was more or less out of necessity as the company I work for moved the office further away. What was a pleasant half hour drive would have become a 2 train 2 hour trek. I’ve never even tried to drive to the office, I just presume that it would take a similar time, but with the added hassle of parking.
I had worked the odd day from home before the company moved so I did have some idea of what it was going to be like. We already had company cell phones, we had laptops, so logistically we were set. But it was just a shock not seeing anyone across the desk that you could just chat to. As time went on I just became used to it. It must be harder if you are just a one person company, at least I can Skype or phone my colleagues, but if you are on your own that’s it. You only have immediate family or friends to talk to.
The location of my desk in the last office that I worked was in the centre of the room, immediately in front of the only working door. So anyone coming in or going out disturbed me, my desk became a dumping ground for anything coming into the office, I heard practically every conversation that anyone had. But thankfully, once the blinds were put up, at least the sun didn’t reflect on my screen. At home things couldn’t be more different. I have the minimum amount of equipment, my desk is clear and I only have Skype IMs, emails and phone calls to disrupt my concentration. All of those can be turned off or muted, something which I need to do more often.
From seeing people every day to see nobody wasn’t really such a culture shock. When I’m working I talk to my colleague at least once a day just to touch base, gripe about management and on occasion talk about work. Weekends were mostly spent in front of my iMac at my desk so during the week I just sit on the other side. Having a permanent place to put your work stuff is important even if, like me, you pack it all up after work on Friday so you don’t have to see it when you aren’t working.
Getting out is important. I think my personal best is about 4 days without leaving the building and without seeing anyone. After that amount of time just walking seems strange. Seeing the world from ground level instead of looking down on it from a second floor flat gives everything a strange new perspective. But oddly I don’t miss seeing real people, as was talked about in the show. I wouldn’t go to a coffee shop and try and work for an hour. The phone would keep ringing which I think would just annoy me more than anyone else in earshot.
It doesn’t suit everyone I guess. Trying to work from a different location is difficult for me now. I’m used to having everything set-up the way I like it.