As many of you know, I work remotely for a company in Wisconsin. I’ve been working for them offsite on a part-time basis since August 2009, and started full-time in June 2010. 2014 Update: The post has been updated to reflect some changes over the past few years.
I’ve had many people question the “at-home” line of work, and what it really means. A lot of good questions, and more often, misconceptions, about working at home have come up, so I’d like to address those.
Do you work in your boxers/underwear/naked?
No; I get fully dressed every day. I try to keep a daily routine. I wake up at the same time I would normally, I shower, I get dressed, I make coffee, and I try to get to my desk by 8:00 AM. The only exception is that I don’t wear “work” clothes; generally just a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
2014 Update: I try to keep it business casual now that video conferencing has become more accessible and frequent.
Can’t you choose your own hours and work whenever you want?
No, I don’t work whenever I want. Similar to the above, I try to work a consistent, normal schedule. Generally I work Monday — Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:00 or 5:00 PM (depending on if I take a lunch or not). Granted, I do have a little bit more flexibility with my schedule, but my employer tends to be really flexible to begin with.
Further more, just because I work at home doesn’t mean I get to slack off. Actually, I tend to work more hours at home than I did when I was onsite (I work approximately 45 hours a week, compared to the 41 or 42 on site).
2014 Update: This is still relatively true, though my current employer is more flexible than any I’ve had. Love it!
How do they really know you’re working?
I guess honestly, they don’t. Besides the fact that the work gets done on time, I get constant phone calls, emails, and instant messages. There have been some
circumstances where I’ve had to flex my schedule a bit and work from my phone (e.g. when we were in the moving process), but I try to be as honest as possible on my timesheet.
2014 Update: Not that they have to keep tabs on me, but things like IM, audio and video calls, and more help my coworkers and teammates know when I’m around and what I’m up to.
Can’t you work wherever you want?
The short answer to this would be: yes. There have been a few occasions where I’ve had to work in non-traditional places.
I recall one time in particular where I was sitting out in the grass on a nice sunny day and a plane flew overhead while I was in a phone conference (with coworkers, thankfully); they asked what that was, and I had to explain that I was enjoying then nice sunny weather. Honestly, though, the only reason I was doing this was because we were in the process of moving, and didn’t have a real desk to sit at.
I have a desk and an office in my house, and I make full use of them.
2014 Update: with upgrades in my life, I have a true, dedicated office at the end of our house. While I could work just about anywhere, I definitely prefer the comfort of my own office.
What about communication? Do you find it hard working with people without actually being in the office?
I think I’ve managed well. I know how to effectively communicate (for the most part) through any medium. Under most circumstances, I find that I’m more productive out of the office than in, mainly because it’s not as easy for people to come and ask me a question, interrupting whatever I’m working on. However, if there is an emergency, I’m very easy to get a hold of via phone.
Also, I like the “queue-like” nature of my current primary communication: email. A request comes in, and I can prioritize it without having to totally disrupt my workflow.
Funny story to go with this: I still get the occasional person that doesn’t realize I work remotely. They’ll call me asking if I can come and take a look at their problem, then I have to explain that I’m not actually there. Apparently, people must think I sneak-in in the morning, hide in back all day, and sneak-out when it’s time to head home.
2014 Update: this has changed a lot. Communication has gotten much better, and we now have tons of options: email, IM, audio and video calls, screen sharing, whiteboarding, and more (thanks Lync!). The only limiting factor is the bandwidth that we’re communicating on (which in most cases is okay, though it could be better).
How do your coworkers know when you’re done working?
Like I said, I tend to follow a fairly normal schedule. However, I do find that working remotely makes me a little more “on-call”. There have been times where I’ve taken a work phone call as late as 8:00 PM. Also, I’ve worked as late as midnight before (not straight, but a 12-hour day is tough) due to a late-night emergency.
2014 Update: with getting better at remote work, and communicating with my teammates, it’s pretty well known when I’m actually working. Outside of those hours, unless there is an urgent matter, email fills the gap for off hours.
There are a lot of things that I enjoy about working remotely. Here are a few in no particular order:
- Easier breaks: it’s a lot easier to walk away from a brain-block, then come back to it. I can also do things for my breaks that I wouldn’t be able to at the office, like pick-up my guitar and play a few notes. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, it makes all the difference.
- Less stress: I feel like my stress is down compared to working on site. A lot of this has to do with me not being submerged into the atmosphere that is having the problem, but rather I get to look at it from the outside.
- Home office: I didn’t mind working in the cube environment, but I love having a home office. I can have my music going, I can decorate it as I choose, set it up as I choose, and make my work day more comfortable overall.
- Location, location, location: as I said, the company I work for is located in Wisconsin, which is quite a distance away from home. I love being in my home town, close to family and old friends.
- The commute: a whole 15 feet.
Even with working at home being as awesome as it is, there are still a few things I don’t like:
- At home interruptions: if a problem comes up at home, sometimes I get sucked into it. I normally try to avoid dealing with it until I’m done working, but sometimes you just can’t. 2014 Update: this has been greatly reduced over the years now that my family has gotten used to it.
- Communication: even though I said I make the best of the communication situation, there are a few times where it would just be better if I was there. Thankfully, I’m resourceful enough to get around that problem, and generally find a solution. 2014 Update: as I mentioned above, this has been mostly remedied.
- Environment: I do miss out on a lot of coworker-related activities and being around my coworkers in general. I have a lot of friends that work there, and it would be nice to see them more often. Thankfully, I do get to visit onsite every once-and-again.
If you have any other unanswered questions about my day-to-day of working at home, leave a comment.