Working from home, what it’s really like.

Getting up and going to work

For the majority of my career I have gotten up every day and driven into an office somewhere.

I have also been fortunate to work for good companies that worked hard to keep employee morale up and endeavored to provide good working conditions. I’ve lived in my fair share of cubes but I’ve been fortunate. Digineer prided themselves on a great working environment with good 10×10 cubes with high walls and large desks with great chairs. Seapine as well, while the cubes weren’t as large, they at least had tall enough walls to provide some privacy. I was also fortunate to have a closed office for a good portion of my time, though it was rare the door was ever closed. It was invaluable when it was, either for time to focus or time to collaborate in private, without searching out a huddle room or some other hard to schedule resource. Open offices vs cubicles vs closed offices is a debate that will never end. I’ll tee that up for another day.

During this time I’ve always had the ability to work from home occasionally but not as a primary work method. Being on call 24/7 sets you up for that. I’ve always had a virtual office at home, with a full VPN tunnel to HQ, VOIP phone for calls, etc. But the times I used it were rare and more for off-hours coverage working with folks over seas in different time zones.

Bottom line, my go to the office life has been a good one, with manageable commutes, and for the most part great working environments.

The grass is always greener

Throughout my career I’ve interfaced with a lot of users, mostly vendors and consultants who “Worked Remotely” and I’ve supported my fair share too. This usually meant; working from home, car, hotel, someone else’s office, starbucks, or gate B-17 at their local airport.

I admit at times I was envious. Usually when I was heating up my lunch in the cafeteria/lunch room in the microwave, or when the weather was especially nice.

In 2016, I made a career change to the other side of the table. After spending nearly 30 years running an organization or infrastructure, I’m now the guy working from home, traveling, creating solutions, and supporting sales. I’m now that guy who works from “where ever”, but mostly from home.

It’s awesome right?

Yes, it mostly is, and I’ll likely never go back to a 9-5 office but there are some drawbacks and if you’re considering a change like this there are some things you need to know.

Pros to working from home

  • Your office is what you make it. Nobody gets to tell you what your office will look like, how tall the walls are and if you have to share a desk or cube cluster with that person who’s perpetually sick, or is, well, just gross.
  • While you might be given a laptop, your choice in monitor, keyboard, peripherals is usually up to you. Of course you might get to pay for that, but you get to choose for the most part.
  • You have access to the coffee you want to drink, not what’s provided which usually sucks. Speaking of coffee, if you make it, you get to drink it. No more making a pot, walking away to let it brew, come back to find an empty pot.
  • You get better toilet paper 🙂
  • If there is rotten stuff in the fridge, it’s your stuff, for sure, and nobody’s stealing your lunch.
  • If there’s a mess in the kitchen it’s yours. You pretty much know if the dishwasher is clean or dirty, and you don’t have to scowl when you’re the only one that cleans up the kitchen.
  • Work attire, while I mostly worked in a t-shirt and flip-flop software environment, most people don’t and now they get to work in comfy clothes if they want.
  • It’s quiet (usually).
  • I get to move about the house, work from the porch or pool area and get to hang out with these co-workers:
  • Travel, can be nice, it is what you make it. Getting out of the home, out of the office, visiting customers is where it’s at for most of these jobs. (Requires a wardrobe change though). I probably could not work from home all day every day.
  • I’m fortunate that my travel is mostly local, within a 150 mile radius for the most part with limited air travel. That does mean overnights in Toledo, Findlay, Columbus, Louisville and Lexington. Those can be good and welcome from time to time just for the change of scenery.
  • When you’re traveling you normally get to eat pretty good too.
  • You are pretty much immune to office gossip and when it does circle around it’s easier to stay out of it, and/or not perpetuate it.

The Cons to working from home

  • Your at home, a lot.
  • There are no lines of demarcation. This is fundamentally the biggest issue, especially if you’re prone to be a work-o-holic. Work doesn’t start when you get there, and it doesn’t end when you leave. I’m not saying that people who go to the office every day don’t work outside the office, they do, and I did, a lot. But there is a mental switch that happens when you show up and when you leave. Your world changes, and your attitude can change just by changing your environment. When you have a bad day at work, it’s a lot easier to leave most of that behind when you when you walk out the door. It’s a lot easier to “Not take work, home with you”, and likewise to “Not take home into work”. When you work at home, and wake up at 5:30am, you are at work. 8pm at night, you’re still at work especially when the company you work for is headquartered on the left coast. You have to consciously make the decision to turn off work and it’s harder than it sounds, at least for me.
  • The amount of impromptu conversation and collaboration is minimal. Sure you can pick up the phone can call someone, or skype them, or slack them, but it’s not the same. Not even close. It is really hard to keep your pulse on the office vibe. This is a double edged sword, when the vibe is negative you’re not subject to it and that’s generally good. But you’re also out of the loop, a lot more than in an office environment. There is no water cooler to hang out near and just have casual conversations with peers or others in the organization. From a management perspective, those candid discussions with people are invaluable.
  • The phone, you live on the phone. Conference calls, video calls, webinars, Skype, WebEX, zoom, etc. Good thing cellular is pretty much unlimited these days. I used to have a phone plan that provided 500 minutes a month and never used them all. Now my phone usage is counted in days, not minutes. 79 days and 1 hour of phone calls at the time of writing since July of 2017. That’s, 113,820 minutes over a 24 month period, or about 215 minutes a day (22 working days per month) puts that at 3.59 hours on average. Keep in mind there are days when I’m on-site with a customer all day, days where I’m in meetings most of the day. So there are days when 7 of 8 working hours is on the phone. (There’s also no such thing as an 8 hour day, never has been, even when I worked in an office). But that’s a lot of phone time and I am on the phone less than a lot of guys in sales or sales management. Bottom line, I’m on the phone more in 2.5 days (on average) than I used to be for a whole month. (Oh, and regardless of the products ability to use computer audio, I always dial into conference with my phone when possible. It allows me to not be tethered to my desk).

Video/Conference call realities:

  • Collaboration, despite all the tools, just isn’t the same as getting in a room with a whiteboard and working through it.
  • Nobody sees how hard you work. Nobody sees how hard some people don’t work either.

All joking aside. Working from home, or remotely has its challenges. It’s good way more than it’s bad that’s for sure. But it’s not for everyone. It is unlikely that I will ever go back to a daily office job.

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