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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Working From Home Experiment

Posted by Tim Stobbs on February 20, 2014

My workplace is currently undergoing a bit of a shift since for years the entire department was centralized into one building, but that has recently changed and now there is staff across the entire province.  So being the sucker for punishment that I am, I volunteered to do a presentation on working remotely for our next full department meeting in March.

Yet to make a good presentation I obviously needed to work from home myself to find out the pit falls and other issues that could come up.  So my boss approved a half day experiment to give it a try.  I choose last Friday for a very good reason, I had already planned to be off that afternoon and I also wanted to attend an school event from about 8am to 9am.  Since I start normally at 7:30am, this obviously would normally been a bit of commuting nightmare, and hence my proposal of an half day experiment.

So overall I have to say I now fully get why people rave about working from home (or frankly anywhere but the office), you are WAY more productive when you aren’t in the office.  Why? No interruptions with people asking you questions or stopping you mid sentence to discuss a completely unrelated issue.  Despite my hour off at the school during my experiment I still managed to get the same half day amount of work done.

Yet of course there are downsides to doing this.  The first thing I realized was that despite all this great technology to do this, our company still doesn’t have everything setup to be as productive as we could be when not in the office.  The issue was certain programs were missing from our company VPN setup so there are limits on what you can work on when not in the office.  It didn’t impact me much, but it could depending on the work someone needed to do.

Another fact that could come up for some people is you trade one set of distractions for another set.  For example, my wife had kids at the daycare for that morning so I had a fair bit of giggling and the odd scream from small kids.  I personally didn’t find it that hard to ignore, but I could see that being an issue if I had spent more time on the phone.

The last issue that came up was it happened to be literally the only time I can recall my Director asking me if I was in the office.  She was off herself and needed something to be done by someone physically at the office and I couldn’t help.  It wasn’t a huge deal as I suggested a few other individuals that could help, but it was ironic.

So overall I felt the entire experiment was a bit of success as it did make me more aware of what people who work remotely have to put up with and what they gain.  I would work remotely again in a heartbeat as it is a great way to get some uninterrupted time in on a project.

What’s your experience with remote work?  Have you done it yourself?  If so, any other tips or observations?  Obviously I never got to do this for a long period of time so I’m not sure what other  impacts that come up.

Comments

10 Responses to “Working From Home Experiment”
  1. Jenna says:

    I find the one disadvantage of working from home or having people work from home is if you do it too often.

    Some collaborations work better in person, especially if there’s a lot of back and forth. If we had the proper video/online document sharing, this could alleviate the problem, but right now we don’t.

    You can hold these conversations off by a day, but more than that gets tough.

  2. saverspender says:

    I love.. love.. LOVE working from home.

    The only problem with doing that, is the following:

    1. I can’t really work from home. My job means I have to be on site to work :(

    2. You feel lonely after a while. (You have to do this for a while before you feel lonely)

    3. Going to work is a bit of an activity of sorts. You go out, you interact with other human adults… It’s a good change from being stuck in the house all the time with or without kids

    4. The technology does tend to suck, especially if you have to do it over VPN and you need everything to be super secure. *sigh* I’ve had so many frustrating problems with this

    Otherwise, I love it. I get WAY more done without people distracting me and useless meetings to attend.

  3. Trevor Bar says:

    I am about 2/3 of the way through 4-Hour Work Week and Tim Ferriss covers this topic pretty heavily.

    I have a similar problem revolving around certain programs not yet being on our VPN. But I also think, like with finances, we create mental barriers saying “I cant work from home because…”

    In reality, if you don’t need to be on site like saverspender, and your IT dept. can work with you to get the VPN working better for you, you can be a more productive worker at home, with less interruptions and kill your commuting time.

    Also, once you work from home, who is to say you cant work from a hotel, or a vacation home. Just don’t look at it as “interrupting your vacation”, look at is as enabling you to travel more frequently than just the long weekends.

  4. Michelle says:

    I work at home everyday for my online business, but when I had my day job I also had to occasionally work from home (such as when there was ice on the roads). I wasn’t as productive as when I was in the office since I needed my work computer and the actual physical files in order to get things done. I could have brought files home but on some days I would literally go through at least 20 files (with around 1,000 pieces of paper in each), so it would be impossible for me to bring all of those home.

  5. Katie says:

    The only real pitfall for me, is that I don’t have the same technology setup at home as I do at work. So I go reach for the mouse…oh I don’t have a mouse, it’s a touchpad. I reach for my calculator…oh I don’t have one at home.

    If I was going to work at home more frequently, I’d bite the bullet and get a proper setup with a desktop computer, but since I only have to remote in once in a blue moon, it’s not a big deal.

    But the commute – it’s great! :-)

  6. James Brown says:

    I’ve been working based out of my home for several years now; I’m in a remote location compared to the rest of my company.

    I love the heck out of it. Many work-related expenses go down or disappear entirely. Getting up at 7:55 and being “at work” for 8 will always trump getting up an hour earlier to allow time to dress/shower/drive and all the rest of that jazz.

    Another upside is that I can take a break and do things around the house. A 15 minute break can mean running some laundry, or walking to the store for a jug of milk, instead of being stuck in an office.

    Downsides are that there’s little for external motivation. Nobody is looking over your shoulder and making sure you’re doing your job, so the temptation to slack off is there, and always harder to avoid.

    The aformentioned IT support issues. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to explain to an IT person “No, I’m not logged into the domain.” or “I connect through a VPN, and can’t access Sharepoint” or various similar things.

    And meetings. Oh wow, is calling in to a meeting even worse that being there in person. You can sometimes hear the person who is sitting closest to the phone, but everyone else just sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

    But overall, it’s a huge win, in my experience.

  7. Edward says:

    We’ve had work from home programs in my organization for more than a year now. Most of our teams are spread out throughout the province so the groups weren’t working out of the same building anyhow. Those who choose to do it are generally great. (they work at home generally 3 of 5 days a week.) Oddly, I find them easier to get a hold of on the phone or through Messenger than when they worked in the office.

    That said, I live a 12-minute walk to work. I also live in a one-bedroom apartment. So, I would go completely cabin-fever insane if I stayed at home most days. (I mean it, I’d be coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.) So, I go into the office every day. Not because I particularly enjoy the environment, but to keep a level of personal mental health. It is nice to leisurely work from home for an hour or two in the morning enjoying the quiet and coffee–nice that there’s no longer a need to rush and punch a time clock at 8:30 AM.

  8. Hilary says:

    I worked from home for the last two years of my contract. I got a new boss and he didn’t think I deserved the high status office I had and he wanted it for the accountant. At first I was annoyed because I knew he was shunting me out of the office to get me to resign. But I knew he didn’t want me and it was only a matter of time so I thought that I mustn’t cut my nose off to spite my face. I was not going to be with them for much longer so why not avoid the 50 minute commute in traffic each way each day? So I got them to pay for a desk, a bookcase and filing cabinet for my home office. I brought home my laptop and additional screen and diligently worked the proper hours at home. I did allow myself some glide time, but I also made sure I answered all emails within the same amount of time I would if in the office. When the boss would ask me what I was doing I was always able to tell him in some detail about the work. He was always dissatisfied but as I was producing there was little he could do, given my contract.

    Psychologically I found I needed to always put on work clothes. We had work shirts which indicated to me that I was working that day. So in addition to the advantage of not having to commute was the advantage of not having someone looking over my shoulder. I was much more productive than in the office which allowed me to do additional work related activity which was of greater interest to me, and of use to the company.

    On the minus side I missed collegial interaction and the socialising. However looking back on it apart from work I had very little in common with them and the values of the company sucked with that new boss.

  9. deegee says:

    I worked mostly from home for 27 months back in 2001-2003. It took it took 2 months of negotiations to work out the deal, one which followed my serious threat to leave the company following its move from lower Manhattan to Jersey City, New Jersey, a move whichmade an already barely tolerable commute into an even worse one.

    My telecommute deal included a switch from working full-time to part time, from working 37.5 hours per week to 20 hours per week. My new, 20-hour work schedule was split into 3 parts: (1) about 1/3 of my hours were done in one day per week at the office, a day I could arrive an hour later than usual; (2) about 40% of my hours were done during known, daytime, “required” hours when the staff knew I would be available; (3) the rest of my hours were “anytime” hours I could work, they could be on evenings, weekends, on days I was not scheduled to work any hours. I kept a careful log of all of my hours worked.

    I did not have DSL at the time, only dial-up which was often slow. My company did not have VPN until 2002 which improved things a bit. I did not have Excel on my PC, only Lotus 2000 which was compatible with Excel. I did have Word but mine was a later version than what everyone at the office had, so I had to be careful to save any files in the earlier version. I had a second phone line so I would be available to speak with others at the office. In 2003, I got a Key FOB which enabled me to access my office email (not the mainframe) from any PC with internet access, something which was handy when I had some PC problems in 2003.

    I had access to the company’s mainframe and email systems, tehe most impoarant systems., but not with the LAN which contained some items I could access unless I was at he office. That was a minor nuisance.

    But being able to maintain my division’s programs by taking them down in the evening to work on them was a big plus. That and being able to run large programs at night when system usage was low was another plus.

    Of course, being rid of most of the awful commute was the best part. I still hated those “Jersey days” but at least I knew I did not have to go back there for a week once I got home.

    I went out of my way not to take advantage of this good deal. If things were slow, I’d use vacation time to fill in hours I had nothing going on to get me up to 20 hours. It did not happen often. My bosses and staff were happy with the deal.

    I live alone so there were no distractions, and being a loner this was ideal. It was always nice and quiet. I could get out of bed at 9:15 AM, eat a nice, leisurely breakfast, and sign on in time at 10 AM for some of my “required” hours on 2 days a week. I avoided most of the bad weather but not all of it, especially in the tough 2002-2003 winter.

    I did not mind working for half my pay. I had paid off my mortgage in 1998 so my monthly expenses were quite low. I ahd to pay for 50% of my group health insurance premiums bu t in return I saved a lot of my commuting costs. My income tax bill dropped, too, so I was netting about 60% of my pay even though I reduced my gross pay by about 50%. And I was still saving money toward my eventual ER, just not as much.

    But this gravy train ended in 2003 when the company ended all open-ended telecommuting deals. I could keep working part-time, as that was not affected by the policy change. But I had to fulfill all of my hours at the office, returning to me many of the horrors of commuting even 3 days a week. Five years later, to the day (in 2008), I ERed. The commute was the #1, #2, and #3 reasons, I told the HR flunkie in my exit interview.

  10. Tim Stobbs says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. I appreciate the input on what else everyone has to put up with and reminding me that five second commute is fairly damn great.

    Have a good weekend,
    Tim

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