On working from home and remote teams

As some of you may know I have been working from my home office for the past couple of years. I am often asked what is it like, or whether I am productive, and so I decided to put my thoughts down in this blog post.

Exactly two years ago I decided to take on an exciting opportunity at a startup. Having spent a vast chunk of my career on Wall St. I was ready for a change. This opportunity came with an important perk – I could work from my home office full time. After consulting with my family I decided to accept this gig.

Working from home most certainly fits in with my family’s schedule. I am better able to shoulder parenting responsibilities. If there is an event at one of our kids schools in the middle of the day I am able to attend. If there is an emergency I can coordinate with my wife and get the kids sooner.

The fact that I am not spending two hours a day community is a major bonus. I did the math once that a one hour commute each way adds up to a full eight hour work day every four days. At roughly 220 working days per year it adds up to 55 days of commute per year, or one year of nothing but commuting for every four years worked. Spend twelve years doing that and three years out of your life are consumed by commuting. Ponder that.

While it may seem that my work-life balance should be better it is not always the case. With BYOD policy I am always connected to work. This is not necessarily a function of working from home, but it is often difficult to completely unwind since everything around me reminds me of work and of tasks I have yet to get to. It is important to set up a workspace that is logically separated from your living space – a spare bedroom, a basement office, etc. – something you can close the door on at the end of a work day.

As far as team collaboration goes I observe no difference from working in an office, other than relying on electronic conferencing tools as opposed to face-to-face collaboration. Remote teams are possible with the right approach to management and with the right people on the team. Expert level employees that can work independently with minimal supervision can easily work remotely and be productive.

Now, the support system is still important even if you have noone but experts on your distributed team. In an actual office people form cliques and have lunch break conversations. That allows an outlet for venting frustration, and helps people stay in the loop. For a remote team an equivalent of this would be a chat room where developers can communicate informally without management snooping.

Part of the support system is also management feedback cycle. It is important to maintain regular communication with your supervisor. Just because the team is remote and comprised of experts in the field it does not mean that they don’t require reviews, evaluations and course corrections.

With the right approach remote teams are not only possible but they also serve and essential role in some situations. They allow smaller companies attract and retain talented employees wherever they may be located. Larger companies can benefit from a workforce that is empowered to manage their schedules and balance their work and lives. Anything involving knowledge can be done outside of geographical boundaries. As for me, working from home is an important benefit at this stage of my life.