Let me offer a counter-example, for what it's worth, which perhaps isn't a whole lot. I've been working at home for almost a year, after being in the office for six. It's very simple. In the morning, I start working, sitting on my couch, using my laptop. Eight hours later, I sign out. Obviously eating some time in the middle there. That's it. Nothing to it, really.
I need some structure on my day otherwise I procrastinate too much.
That means, waking up early, working from x till y, stopping in the middle for a quick lunch – so basically, just like working on an office.
Different people, different tastes.
How does that work out financially? I imagine they aren't too pleased if you just buy a coffee and then occupy space for 5 hours.
But I don't really want to spend a fortune on excessive caffeine consumption and $5 bagels.
It's by far my favorite "coffee shop." Your tax dollars at work.
Most businesses did't seem to mind people hanging out, makes the place look busier I guess. I figure as long as there are other empty seats I'm not in anyone's way. That said, if I did it again I'd probably tip a lot more than I had been tipping.
As for getting stuff done, if you find a coffee shop where people are working / studying, its great.
I have worked remotely from SE Asia for the past 8 years; Id go to visit clients in the USA two times a year and they would give me a cubicle in Palo Alto. I really enjoyed the company of my co workers, all great folks and it was great to see them face to face after IM ing them for 6 months. But to get actual work done, Id go outside and sit in a Coffee Shop...
The article is spot on about the downsides of working remotely - the biggest issues are routine, discipline, and communication.
What it does not mention are the downsides of working in the office:
- Distractions by chatting with friends
- Distractions by meetings
- Lack of discipline because they pay you to warm your chair for 8 hours. If i am in the office, its work time - obviously. When I work remotely the only way to prove I was actually working is getting shit done.
The biggest thing is to remember that you're in a place of business. If you're going to take their space, buy something, tip well, and be courteous to the people around you.
A netiquette for coffee shops, I wholeheartedly agree.
I work at coffee shops a lot; I keep sitting there when I can see there are plenty of empty tables - that means my sitting there is a net positive for the Cafe: I might consume more, and often do. And having customers is better than having none, it attracts other people.
If I see that many customers are coming and that I might actually block people from getting a table, I leave.
Only exceptions is Starbucks because its a huge chain and they have always had an official sit as long as you want policy which has worked out very well for them. I am not sure about the actual business trade off but I often end up at Starbucks because I know I can sit there as long as I want - this business might otherwise have gone to independents. I realize though that what works for a large chain might not work for the coffee shop on the corner.
On the other hand I can relate to the concept of doing good by those whom you rely on, a symbiotic relationship and what not. That's a very pro-society thing and I suppose that's respectable.
If you act considerately and don't cause problems (like occupying space when you are not spending) then this is less likely to happen, so there is certainly a degree of self interest.
In turn, they _like_ having me around. I've sold old hardware to one, gotten novel draft feedback from another, and have plans for a weekly anime get-together with another. That, and I even get plenty of free drinks!
I much prefer working from a quiet corner of the public library. The tables are larger (or you can get a private study carrel if you really need to focus), it's quiet, and I can browse the shelves when I need a break. As an added bonus, the wifi connection is often better (fewer people sharing)
But what if there's plenty of seating, and they're working off of their own internet? Are they still jerks?
If you buy a cup of coffee, no one bats an eye if you stay all morning. If you head out to get lunch and then come back without buying another cup obviously that's pretty tacky, but all AM or all afternoon is normal.
In Australia coffee shops rarely provide wifi. We've never been moved on but there's only so much you can do without a net connection.
In most of south east Asia in particular they're generally not phased by you sitting there for hours and hours. We avoid anywhere super busy which probably helps.
My wife and I will buy something periodically because we get hungry but the cost is usually minimal. A breakfast each, two fruit shakes mid morning, 2 lunches. Total cost usually less than $15.
As we're quite smiley friendly people and my wife is a woman, duh, and people often feel more comfortable talking to a woman we've wound up forming a bit of a relationship with the staff at some places. We've had the occasional free drink or snack, had staff worried about our welfare because we didn't show up one day, had staff taking it upon themselves to provide us with an extension cord so we could recharge our stuff while sitting at a table with a nice view, hugs all round when we drop in to say that we're leaving town. We've had masses of positive experiences and I can't really think of when we've encountered anything more negative than an unreliable net connection.
My commute is still short (I often do it on a Segway), and our company is still virtual (with both staff and contractors working from their own spaces -- which we don't plan to change), but don't underestimate the value of a separate, outside, workspace.
Such a time sink.
Commuting on a Segway... doesn't qualify.
Be careful who you do it for. When he talks about all the communication tools you need to use in order to be successful at it, make sure they already have a bunch of those already set up, unless you're in a position to make sure they set them up and use them.
In particular, the company I was working for had no company-wide chat system at all, and clearly didn't feel they needed it since most of their employees were in-office or only temporarily remote. Various attempts at getting one going were hampered by lack of support from above. They'd get maybe 5 random people using them off the bat and it'd dwindle from there. At various times there were competing solutions active.
In the end I gave up, they gave up, and it just didn't work out and was frustrating for everyone involved.
Sometimes its faster to come up with a solution without setting hard time limits, and just let your mind churn passively on a concept. I've always found a certain amount of anxiety associated with feeling like I have to complete a task in a predetermined amount of time.
You should always have (and try to meet) deadlines, but the micromanagement of 25 mins per hour (example from the article) is just stressful.
When I timebox, I use Vitamin-R which let's me extend the time slice to finish a task. Probably the hardest part is breaking tasks down into 25min chunks
The thought of using a program to timebox, then asking that program to extend your time just seems bizarre to me.
No judgments on your end here, I just do what works for me, and you do what works for you. I think that people should try to feel it out first, and if that fails, move to a structured technique.
edit: just read my typo. mean 25mins/block perviously.
edit: woops, I meant 25 minutes per block!
My current job is a lot more flexible for remote working than any other I've had before. I don't work remotely all of the time, but at least 33%. For me, I found a bit of self-discipline is essential, as is being able to "train" others. I'm living with my parents at the moment and had to get my mum to realise she couldn't just pop into the room at any moment to chat - I could be in a call with my boss/a client, or trying to focus on a task... anything really.
Another anecdotal observation I've had - once you've trained yourself to work from home, you'll often find you're at your most productive there. I know I do. Partly it's the more comfortable/relaxed setting, and partly it's guilt of being caught "goofing off". Scott Hanselman mentions the guilt aspect in his reaction to the Yahoo! ban on remote working.
If I ever lost the ability to work remotely I don't know what I'd do. Nowadays I can't go more than a few days at the office without feeling completely drained, demotivated and demoralised. The flip-side is working from home for an extended period can leave you wanting to go into the office to see real people again, not just a Office Communicator window.
"From the employer’s perspective, you’re risking burning yourself out if you work 50-60 hours a week"
mmm... 50 hours is pretty common in the software industry, and being remote makes it easier not to burn out in fact because you're not losing time in commutes and in loud open spaces where you can't hear yourself coding.
In any case it's quite hard to define a number of hours per weeks. Building software is done by waves. You can spend a 70h week because of a production push that goes wrong, then a very calm week. So don't take those numbers/week too seriously imo.
Not all of the advice applies, of course, but there's a lot of good advice on making a good workspace and keeping yourself motivated. I've certainly noticed after working alone that there's a lot of implicit encouragement merely from working near other people, and this makes working at home harder than the same work might otherwise be. That's part of the reason why many prefer to work from cafes or worker/hacker-spaces, I think. Motivation is contagious.
(The positive flip side is that working from home removes a certain set of distractions that might otherwise be bothersome, and gives you more fine-grained control over the distractions you have in general).
Lots of authors use funny setups to transition from home-mode to work-mode. Some people build extra doors in their house so they can "leave" their house and "enter" an office that is sealed off from their house, but is otherwise the same building. One author (Roald Dahl?) worked from a bunker.
That being said, its probably a bad idea to get hung up on the idea of perfect working-from-home conditions. Per E. B. White:
"A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."
Some similar important words from Tchaikovsky, which I found especially relevant to working from home:
Do not believe those who try to persuade you that composition is only a cold exercise of the intellect. The only music capable of moving and touching us is that which flows from the depths of a composer’s soul when he is stirred by inspiration. There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.
I think motivation is under-stated in its importance when it comes to working from home. Even if our work demands little distraction, we're social creatures, and we've probably all had days where its hard to even open up the editor.
It's important to stay positive and stay at it. As Joel said, "We just have to come in every morning and somehow, launch the editor."
Of course, the problem wasn't really abandoned -- I was thinking about how to solve it the whole time. But I wasn't writing any code.
Forcing yourself to write isn't necessarily best.
I don't smoke (never have) but I am trying to emulate that; the most effective way to solve a problem is to step out and do nothing for about 5 minutes. Take a walk. Look at the trees. Anything. Then when I come back I have either solved the problem or decided to leave it with a hacked together patch and work on something else; Ill probably still resolve the hack sometime later.
The opposite is to seek out some distraction, click around on facebook or HN or something - you solve nothing but spend lots of time....
Writing is apparently different in this regard.
Programming isn't just about generating more lines of code. It's about understanding the problem you're working on. Sometimes writing code is a good way to understand the problem.
Elizabeth Gilbert gave a great talk at TED on these topics:
http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html (warning: auto-play video)
Don't be put off that she's the "Eat Pray Love" author if that's not your style (it's definitely not mine). She speaks very well to the creation process - and even touches on topics like depression and suicide among creators. It's well worth the watch.
Another great talk (that isn't quite as directly relevant) is JK Rowling's Harvard Commencement speech:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c (also auto-play)
My favorite part of that one is her speaking against not creating and thereby failing by default.
I absolutely need some kind of human voice in the background for at least a few hours per day. If I don't get it then my mind just shuts down and refuses to work on anything.
My favourite radio presenter went off the air about 8 months ago and I've not really found anything I really liked since. But since then my ability to actually get anything done has gone down drastically.
Anyway on a whim I re-listened to one of his old episodes for a few hours while working, suddenly I'm tearing through my work again.
I can't explain it but it makes all the difference in the world.
I think the best way to explain it, is there's part of my mind, perhaps the really creative bit that needs to be distracted in order to actually get anything done. As in, if I've got a problem I need to solve and actually it's just a case of iterating/implementing to get it done, if that bit of my mind isn't being occupied by something I'll immediately try to "think the problem to death" which ends in procrastination and getting nothing done.
But If I have some kind of conversation going on in the background then that part of my brain is occupied and I seem quite capable of getting on with things.
I wish I could describe it better but it has really made a noticeable difference in the past few weeks.
The one thing I'd add is that working remotely means working away from machines as well as people - test machines, internal websites, etc. Even companies that are generally supportive of remote workers (like mine) often scatter essential information and resources across an annoying variety of machines that are not accessible from outside. Then they give you a VPN that's utter crap (usually because it's overloaded) or ssh to a bastion host so you have to tunnel/forward anywhere else. It's really worth the effort to make sure you use every trick in the book to get networking on your home machines and/or laptops set up in a way that actually allows you to get work done. I'm pretty darn good at that kind of stuff, but even so it took me several experiments over a period of weeks to get something I was happy with - and BTW it bears no resemblance at all to what the IT group thought would suffice. Similarly, it pays to make sure that using test machines is as friction-free as possible, and that common tasks are automated as much as possible so that you don't have to keep watching/tweaking things from afar. All good sense even if you're not remote, but even more important when you are.
I would add that it is really really important to occasionally do something different. If you you usually work from home, go to a coffee shop, sit in a restaurant for a few hours on a laptop.
You will be amazed how much of a difference that one day outside your office will make you excited about the same work that the day before seemed like a boring slog.
As far as coffee shops go, I think the criteria for a good place to work from are as follow:
- how is the coffee, and do they have refills
- how good is the wifi: speed, quality of signal, ... also whether they use tickets. I find tickets irritating, I keep forgetting about the limit and having remote shells disconnecting and whatnot.
- how good are the seats: comfortable as well as good for your back
- how good are the tables: I tend to prefer individual tables to large, collective tables, possibly because it feels more like a desk. You also want the height of the table to be good in relation to your seat
- do they have a lot of power outlets throughout the place
- what's the atmosphere like: I've been to places that turn into pubs half-way through the afternoon, even with headphones it's really not conducive to work, particularly when lots of people walk right around you.
- how good is their food: if I find a good coffee shop with bad food, that's not a deal-breaker and I just won't eat there, but good food does help
Surprisingly, I haven't found that many places ticking all the boxes. I actually wonder why there aren't more places dedicating themselves to providing this sort of environment (at least in SF and Vancouver).
Have you considered co-working spaces?
I've been using Mosh to mitigate this. The drawback is Mosh relied on specific udp port which might be blocked on some public wifi. But this is not an issue to me since I always vpn to my vps (a cheap $5 digital ocean vps) on public wifi, thus allowing me to use udp in any port as long as the wifi network allows vpn connection.
Time Zone issues: If you work in a different time zone, then adjust to it to lessen the difference. This only works if you are from 1-4 hours away. Your team will appreciate the effort.
Try splitting the work day into shifts. One of the issues I had was working non-stop (as in an office job) for 8 hours. Reason was that I felt jailed into my house. So I splitastwer my work day into two shifts. One during the daylight, and one during the night (once my family has gone to sleep). I work better, and faster.
Get a hobby. When you work in an office, you have little hobbies that you do without ever noticing. Maybe its talking with another employee, or cleaning your desk, or anything. When you are home, you feel like you are in the office 24 hours a day. So get a hobby (preferably outside the house), so you feel like your life is not all about work.
Joking aside, I've reached burnout by driving myself hard to get 8 billable hours each day (plus communication, writing proposals etc on top), and apart from lunch don't step away from the computer even when tired and procrastinating. Because if I'm sat there working on a problem I can bill the client, if I step away (even though I'll be more productive when I come back) I can't.
I know it's a matter of perspective on how I define 'honest' and 'billable', but I cannot make the mental leap needed!
On a side note, there has been a lot of talk on HN about billing clients in half-day and full-day increments. You should probably look into that. At the consulting job, I basically took the total number of hours a day that I was working, and roughly divided it by the percent of time I spent on each project, which also worked for me (we were required to bill hourly). In the long run, it all tends to even out, and as long as your client is happy with the work, and the costs are in line with their expectations, they will not complain.
I know that, by in large, I can bill a 30 hour week, assuming I have a full time project. Between not billing for restroom or mental health breaks, random trips to Fry's for a new hard drive, etc... those tasks can eat up your calendar.
When I have little client work on the radar I assume I'll be able to get 20 billable hours a week in- the rest of the week is eaten up with Buisness development, meeting with new clients, estimating projects etc.
You're right though about the hours; 30 seems sensible to aim for, especially being newly-married where working late every evening isn't a Good Idea (TM).
How do you work without common everyday routine in the team etc.?
Does anyone have any links to articles that talk more about the tool for collaborating and developing remotely? With existing tools I find it pretty easy to get code written and coordinate remotely, but it it still seems very difficult to actively collaborate in real time remotely. I'm a little surprised at how hard it is still to do some white boarding with someone else remotely or just share my desktop with them so they can see a prototype easily. Gotomeeting and Webex are ok but cost money and are more geared to showing presentations than anything else.
I have a little open source project that lets two Linux users share a console session remotely. It is much like sharing a screen or tmux session but without all the setup. If you're interested you can check it out at termbeamer.com
I'm actively improving it and hope to release a version soon that will let the "client" connect using an SSH client and not need Termbeamer installed at all.
Me too: https://syme.herokuapp.com
SSH is really handy for this kind of thing as long as you don't need a browser.
In 6 months, I have been using IM mainly first half, email mainly the second.
While using IM, I tended to talk more about doing than rather doing. It used to take hours to discuss things and chats which were supposed to be 15mins long happened to be an hour or more.
When switched to email, I became way more efficient. I spent more time on thinking about questions I'm asking, and questions to potential answers. This lead to 1) well thought designs 2) efficient communication 3) no distracting IM.
IM is still good for the times when you need to discuss something quickly. And I mean really quickly.
I guess it largely depends on the stakeholders/managers communication habits.
P.S. I am working solo with my boss
I believe that not having a place would help in keeping the blood pumping and staying proactive, yet it would probably be hard during crunch times if the correct workspace cannot be found. Would it be worth giving a shot?
My working space is pretty much always just wherever I'm living at the time. Which means that checking ahead to make sure I'll have a decent internet connection is part of picking a place to live. I especially like when I can find a place that has at least a separate office nook.
Also, as someone mentioned, it's better if you stay longer in one place. That way, you have time to see stuff and also to work.
The most important aspect is being ready to work and actually doing the work when the time comes.
In fact, if you're remote, then I would be hesitant to tell them that you're travelling (unless you need to be on-call).
If you already are strong in these areas and continue your current behavioral patterns you should be fine.
If you live somewhere outside a densely populated area, or if your eating-exercise-social patterns revolve around work you can be in for a very difficult time. The first weeks, months, may be fun, years in you can end up with real medical problems.
Figure those three things out, and then wrap your work patterns around that. It is much more sustainable.
The best line in this post for me. If only we could all print this and stick on on our walls!!
Also, I pretty much have my headphones on all the time, which is not so different from when I worked in a real office.
I have met some of the smartest and most amazing people in these places. It's also nice because doesn't make you such a loner :-)
I'm searching for a part-time job somewhen in the future.
I was wondering: are there any firms that don't set strict number of hours one have to work? How many of them is like that?