I’ve been working from home full time for about five months now. At times it’s been relaxing, other times it’s been stressful; sometimes convenient, sometimes less so. Here are some things I like and some I don’t.
- No commute. This is huge. My stress level dropped through the floor when I stopped having to deal with 45 minutes or more of California drivers twice a day. The extra time at the beginning and end of my workday can now be used for other things, like sleeping in or cooking dinner. I also save on gas by never having to drive anywhere.
- More time in the “zone”. Without anyone dropping by my cubicle to chat or distracting me by chatting with other coworkers nearby, I find it much easier to concentrate. Email and IM are my biggest distractions now, but they’re easier to deal with than a chatty coworker. This really adds up; I’m a lot more productive working from home than I ever was in the office.
- I eat better. I’ve lost weight over the last few months just by cutting the Yahoo! cafeteria out of my diet and eating fewer lazy microwave dinners.
- More freedom. If I want to take a break in the middle of the day to exercise, cook a meal, play with the cat, or just relax, it’s much easier than when I’m at the office. I definitely don’t take advantage of this as often as I should, but at least I know I can if I need to.
- Harder to connect with coworkers. I knew most of my coworkers pretty well before I started working remotely, but it’s hard to establish a rapport with newer team members who joined after I moved. One project manager even asked me who I was when I started to explain something in a meeting during one of my trips to the office. She had never seen me before, so to her I was some random guy who just showed up and started acting like he knew stuff.
- Close collaboration is harder. IM and IRC are okay for loose collaboration, such as when several developers are working on different parts of an application or are acting as individual contributors to various projects. But for close collaboration in which multiple developers need to work on or review the same piece of code, or when a cross-functional team needs to collaborate on hashing out a design change or a feature spec, the inability to be in the same room is frustrating.
- Meetings suck more. I attend roughly the same number of meetings now as I did before, only now I do so by phone, using Adobe Connect for screen sharing when necessary. In addition to all the usual reasons why meetings suck, remote meetings add crappy sound quality and an inability to see or hear the reactions of the people on the other end of the line when you’re speaking.
The Blurry Line Between Work and Play
I write code for a living. I also write code as a hobby. This means I often spend all day sitting at a computer writing code; the first part of the day for work, the second part for fun. It’s easy to let the work part of my day extend into what should be the fun part of my day, so I have to set certain boundaries. I’ve evolved a few life hacks that help.
First, I have two laptops: one is my work laptop, one is my personal laptop. I only use the work laptop for work, and I only use the personal laptop for non-work. When I’m done with work for the day, I turn off my work laptop and put it away to avoid the temptation to check my work email or something silly like that, which would likely result in me getting sucked back into work when I should be relaxing.
Second, when I’m working, I work in my home office with the door closed. When I’m not working but am still doing computery things, I either open the door to my office or go sit on the couch with my personal laptop. The open/closed status of my office door helps change the feel of the room from a place of business to a part of my house, and when even that’s not enough, relaxing on the couch usually does the trick. I’m pretty sure the cat has picked up on this too; she rarely bothers me when I’m working, but she seems to know she’s more likely to get attention when I’m not working.
Finally, I don’t work on weekends or holidays, period. No matter what. Even if I’m bored out of my skull and would rather be working. I’ve been tempted, but so far I’ve always managed to resist. I know that as soon as I start letting work intrude on my days off, I’ll launch myself down a slippery slope.
All things considered, I do prefer working remotely, and I’ve found that flying to California every six weeks to spend five days working in the office helps mitigate the drawbacks.