I’ve been working out of home for 4+ years now. When I tell this to people I get mixed responses; some say “wow that must be nice” while other says “wow I bet that’s tough”.
When they say “nice” they are referring to:
- Not having to commute
- Simply walking upstairs to make lunch
- Within reason, being available for the unexpected
When they say “tough” they are referring to:
- Not having a separation between work and home.
- Potentially distracted from work during the day
- Never leaving the house
Personally, I love it. I find that distractions are usually minimized a great deal (at least far more than sitting in an office). Think of how many times in a day you get someone peering over your shoulder to ask you a question, or how often you walk to the bathroom and get side-tracked on the way there. I suppose it also makes a big difference that I enjoy what I do, though.
I bet it saves the company a ton of money having me work from home. At least 50% of the travel I do is generally for a client so the travels costs aren’t even incurred by the company, but by the client. I pay for internet even though I use it for work because I would pay for it all the same even if I didn’t use it for work.
Getting a bit off topic though… My real purpose in writing about this subject, is that I find there are some tricks (of course involving some tools) that help me efficiently work from home and have a separation of work and personal time. Read below the break for more.
The phone… You gotta love Skype. For $2.99 I have a monthly subscription with Skype that gets me unlimited calls within the U.S. For $30/year I get a phone number that regular phones can call. There is call forwarding for when I’m not at my desk. Heck, there’s even an answering machine option if I chose.
Planning… The one thing that really gets me though is my calendar. Anyone who works for a company in an IT-related business probably has some sort of corporate email/calendar/task system like Exchange or Google Apps. Finally though, in the past two years, I figured out a system that works pretty well. Through work, I have an Exchange account (which of course has a calendar) and for my own personal seanmcilvenna.com I have a Google Apps account (which also, of course, has email and calendar). In the past I have not wanted to post personal calendar items on my work calendar. Well, finally I discovered this handy-dandy synch tool called gSyncIt, which synchronizes my outlook calendar (data-file) with my google apps calendar. Now, I can post my personal calendar items on my outlook’s data-file calendar and my work-related calendar events on the exchange calendar and they will both show up separately (my co-workers won’t have to see the ever-hectic events of my personal life).
On the go… Of course, I have an Android. What a wonderful thing it is… I am able to setup my droid2 with both my exchange calendar and my google apps account and can see both calendars in a single color-coded display. Droid is even smart enough to let me choose which calendar to create new items for so that when I’m on the go and remembered I need to make an appointment for work, I can post it to my exchange calendar, or when I remember I need to change tires at lunch, I can post it on my personal calendar.
The only thing that could make this any better, would be if my exchange calendar would automatically show my personal calendar’s events as blocked off… Perhaps via some synchronization method. The only way I see that happening though, is if there were some sort of Exchange Server add-on that allowed you to subscribe exchange mailboxes to google calendars. That’s not gonna happen any time soon though.
Communication… is key. I am already hundreds of miles away from my co-workers. It is important to be able to efficiently communicate. Generally, Skype is the means of communication. It provides voice when needed and is relatively easy to do a screenshare. However, when the other user isn’t using Skype as their means for talk, screensharing becomes very difficult. They will call me on their land-line to my skype-phone-number and then we will decide we need to screen-share, so they load up Skype and I suddenly realize that they have to call me from Skype in order to do a screen-share. Big pain in the butt because then we have to hang up and I have to use my cell-phone to call their land-line and then initiate another Skype call to do the screen-share. A little irritating when it comes up, but that’s the way it is for now.
The best alternative is to avoid having to Skype-screen-share. Personally, I do this by using screenshots. One of the best tools in the world is called SnagIt. With SnagIt you can hit “Print Screen” on your keyboard and SnagIt will let you select which parts of the screen you want to copy. It will also let you indicate where you want the screenshot stored (on file, to a printer, in your clipboard, in an email attachment, etc). There is even a plugin for SnagIt that lets you transfer your screenshare toscreencast.com. So, whenever possible, I just tell SnagIt to send my screenshot to screencast, then I take my screenshot, snagit gives me the URL where the screenshot is and I send the URL over to the person I’m talking to; hopefully avoiding having to share screens beyond the screenshot.
I could go on… They say a developer is only as good as their tools. I agree. It’s not that I’m super good or anything (even though I am), it’s that I know how to use the tools that help me get things done as quickly as possible. One of my colleagues told me the other day that they want to setup a weekly meeting with me to learn about some of the tools I use because every time he watches my screen he sees me doing something super-cool that he wants to know more about. I must say, I’m proud of that.