By far the most common reaction I get from people when I tell them that I work from my home office is some variation of "how awesome". I was thinking about it today and, like most things in life, there are good things and bad things about it, so, in the interest of science, I decided to capture some of the upside and downside of it for the curious amongst you. I'm going to leave some details out - the interwebz being what they are I have to protect what little bit of privacy one can have in this day and age. I know, I know, you're thinking, "But, Rhino, you are a literary action hero, you belong to an adoring public, we must know all about you to make us feel complete." Sorry. (However, my next post will give you some insight into the life of said literary action star).
My current job is the very model of the internet age:
- I am employed by an Irish technology company.
- I work from my home office.
- My boss lives in England.
- I "project manage" (read no direct line of authority) a distributed, multi-national group of people in Sri Lanka, Ireland and the U.S.
- The client is a very large U.S.-based corp that also works on a distributed basis - with tech resources in India.
So, to start with the upside or the downside? Let's go with the upside as most of them are what you probably already suspect:
The Upside of Working from Home
- No commute. Unless you count walking down the stairs from the bedroom to my office as being a commute. Yes, I have rolled-out of bed at 7:45 am for an 8:00 am meeting. I do not recommend making a habit of doing so.
- No annoying co-workers mucking about bothering me when I'm in the middle of something, or selling me Girl Scout cookies or raffle tickets, etc.
- Also with regard to said lack of co-workers - no loud talkers, annoyingly over-sprayed with perfume ladies, no sociopathic mumblers.
- The dress code is optional. And I mean just that - it is completely optional as to whether or not I wear clothes. I'm kidding - the HLDW insists that, at the very least, I wear a loincloth. If I don't then I'm not allowed to sit on the furniture.
- I can take the laptop out to the deck and work from there while taking a tea & cigar break whenever I feel the need.
- I can work from anywhere that has a dependable WiFi connection - so, on days that I don't have a lot of calls scheduled I can work from the cigar shop.
- The freedom. I don't have to worry about sticking to someone else's arbitrary scheduling of lunches, etc. No one is looking over my shoulder making sure that I get things done.
- The little day to day cultural stuff ... like I now know to ask "what's the craic?" when I talk to the Irish guys. That's just one example.
Now, for the downside. You would be surprised - there are some downsides to this.
The Downside to Working at Home
- Working with a multinational team means doing the time zone shuffle. 2 days a week I have a 6:30 am ET team status call. So much for sleeping in.
- Also, due to time zone differentials, I often check in around midnight ET with the team as they are starting their day. That's a really, really bad habit.
- Point number 2 leads into this one - the bleeding of personal and professional time. In an office, I could walk out and leave it until the next morning. For some reason, that changes when you work at home. Calls can come at any hour of the day or night. Don't get me wrong, there are boundaries that need to be kept, but it is so, so easy to be pulled into the office to "check on things".
- Remember that lack of co-workers upside? Yeah, there's a downside to that too. Maybe the biggest downside. No bodies means not seeing body language during conversations. I live on the phone, email and intant messaging/VOIP via Skype. Great tools, but, sometimes you just need to be able to sit down across from someone and look them in the eye. Also, people will say things in email that would never leave their mouths in a face-to-face meeting. Or, better yet, they tend to go to DefCon 1 in a heartbeat and at the slightest provocation. Worst of all, I believe that 60% of conference call time is spent in clarifications and/or asking people to repeat themselves or go on mute because there is noise on the line. And, sometimes, I just get lonely.
- The freedom. Yeah, because no one is looking over my shoulder I have to be a real adult and get stuff done. I don't know if this is really a downside or not. For some people it might be.
- You think the office environment is a cultural, political correctness minefield? Now take that and multiply by 100. It takes a little while to understand the subtle cultural quirks - especially hard if you never see people in person. Did you know that Sri Lankans get the day of the full moon off every 28 days? Yeah, neither did I. Now I do. And I can tell you all about a whole bunch of other holidays too.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't go into this as a completely typically naive ugly american. This experience just takes all of the stuff to another level.
I guess the thing that you learn in all of this is that people are just people no matter where they hang their hat. They pretty much want the same thing - respect, a few bucks in their pocket to take care of their families, to have a laugh or two, and, particularly for the Irish, to have another pint.
The weirdest quirk that I've picked up is hearing myself say "cheers" whenever I hang up the phone. Sounds pretentious as hell for a hardscrabble Rhino such as yours truly.
If you are ever in Columbo, Sri Lanka and you see a group of nerdy engineering types drinking beers and overhear them saying "You don't get these from pettin' kitty cats." and laughing their asses off - well, you can blame that on me.