Working Remotely – Is it for you?

Duane OdumI read a blog post a while back from Scott Hanselman titled Being a Remote Worker Sucks – Long Live the Remote Worker and as a remote worker myself I found it to be a pretty good synopsis of the benefits and drawbacks of remote work. I have been working remotely for the better part of 4 years now and can definitely relate to some his points.

His article seems to have come about because of Yahoo’s decision to eliminate remote work as an option in February of 2013 but the main points of the article are really about overcoming some of the challenges when working remotely. Below are some of the things that I have “experimented” with to improve the remote work experience over time.

1. Over-Communicate

Cannot stress this enough…the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” is definitely true. At IBS we have daily standup meetings which is a great way for me to get an idea of what everyone else is doing as well as let everyone else know what I am up to.  Stand ups also provide the opportunity to ask for help if necessary.

We also use different tools to collaborate on tasks such as SharePoint, Trello, Skype,, LiveMeeting, Lync and many others.  I am consistently updating my tasks, documentation and other aspects of a project to ensure that everything is up to date, which lets everyone know I am actually doing something other than taking my kids to doctor’s appointments or playing video games.

Of course the one thing that Scott mentions in his blog that I cannot agree with more is, “STATUS, STATUS, STATUS”. Sending a daily status lets everyone know exactly what your plan is for the day and what you expect to accomplish.

2. Overcoming the guilt

The “guilt” of being a remote developer is definitely a factor, especially when you are one of only a few of the “privileged” remote workers.  I do not necessarily feel guilty about working remotely as I realize that I put in more hours and more importantly I put in more productive hours in while I am working from home.

In order to work remotely you should have a “sanctuary” away from the everyday madness whether it be your basement, home office or even working from a library (wouldn’t suggest that option if you have meetings throughout the day).  I am a foster parent and have anywhere from 3 to 6 kids in my house at any given time.  Ages range from 3 years old to 12 years old so it can be quite a madhouse at times.  One of the first rules a child in my house learns is that when my office door is shut they are not to bother me and so far so good.

Much like we set the rules for the children I set rules for myself.  I start work at 8:30 and stop at 4:30 regardless of the situation.  If I have anything that requires additional hours I do it in the evening after 9:30 pm.

3. When possible, be present

As part of my position at IBS I am often tasked with doing Technical Sales Support which affords me the opportunity to travel to client locations and if one of those locations is close to one of our offices I will work from the office.  Part of the challenge with being remote is building chemistry with the other members of your team and a good way to deal with that problem is to “team build”.

Many of us in the development profession downplay the relationships we have in our work, but it is human nature to work more efficiently with someone you actually know rather than a random person off the street.

4. Every position is different

Be realistic if you want to do remote work.  Software development can lend itself very well to remote work but not so much with a business analysis role.  Understanding your role and the culture within the organization will play a major part in determining if remote work will be a feasible option for you moving forward.  Also make sure that the technical aspects are covered ahead of time. One of the things that Scott mentions is that a VPN is a second class citizen, which is entirely true.  I am fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough…just depends on how you look at it) to have a background in networking and hardware, so I am the person handling those pieces at IBS.

5. Be prepared

As the Boy Scout motto tells us…Be Prepared.  One of my daily rituals is asking my wife what is going on the next day for the kids so we can coordinate where I am going to be for my meetings.
There is a reason that having the kids in my house hasn’t caused issues to this point…I plan for issues to happen and how to avoid them.  I am sure there will come a time when I am on the phone with a client and a 4 year old will be heard in the background screaming, but it hasn’t happened yet and when it does I have a plan for that too, tell the client the truth “I am sorry about that, I work from home and one of my foster kids is having a meltdown.”.  After all honesty is the best policy.

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