Monday, August 14, 2017

On Working From Home

I've worked from home the whole time I've had my current job--a pretty long time now.

It's not so much that I intended to work from home. But when I got this job offer, I had just moved to a new city, and wasn't able to just pack up again and move a second time. The person hiring me was also based in another city and knew that it was possible to be a productive member of a team and organization even if you're not based in the same city or office as your coworkers.

Since then, I've had family issues that tied me to one city, my wife has had a job opportunity that tied us to another city, and she's likely to have another one of those in the future. Relocating to the city where the office is located really just isn't in the cards. And besides, if I later switch companies, it would mean that I'd have to be moving again. This isn't like working in a restaurant, where I can just go down the road and apply at the next place in town. I work in a very specialized area inside of a technology company.

My intent wasn't to avoid the office. It wasn't to avoid meeting people in person. I understand the value of water cooler knowledge transfer. But I've been working remotely for a long time, and I know that it can work. I know that I can set a schedule, get up, and be productive. I interact with clients every day. Via phone calls, online meetings, and email messages. I help them solve problems, and I answer their questions.

I manage my team remotely. Most of them are based in one city, but that doesn't really help me any, because I'm not in that city. The vast majority of my team management interactions are via phone, email, online meeting, or online chat. I make a point of connecting with each team member at least once every day or two (notwithstanding the organic interactions that usually bring us together daily). I make sure that I reach out to them with positive feedback and good things to say. Not just complaints. Nothing's worse than a boss who only calls you when something bad has happened. It would make anyone afraid to answer the phone. So I try to be aware of it and try not to be like that.

Dealing with management has been pretty good overall. Most managers have understood that it's about the work, not which desk you sit at. Sometimes that has been a bit of a challenge, but those who talk most about team collaboration having to be "in person" might not understand exactly what my team does or what we're working on. Or that the team we collaborate with most often is actually located in another country.

I'm lucky that my employer offers this as an option and sees the value in it. Compared to say, Marissa Mayer's tenure at Yahoo, during which she made headlines by banning remote work. This article pointed out that operational teams don't necessarily benefit from in-person collaboration (which might be more necessary for development): "But there are other kinds of jobs that are operational -- rather than creative. For example, a person who helps solve a technical problem with Yahoo! Mail does not come up with new business ideas -- whether he works at home or in an office with other customer service people."

She even went on to say that "working from home" itself wasn't the problem -- and it sounded to me like there seemed to be a broader cultural issue relating to employee interaction.

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