Ode to Telecommuting

Photo credit: Gustav´s.

At MoveinBlue we love telecommuting. And it is not just that we don’t like offices: we have an office, and we invite you to a coffee if you want to come visit us. But coffee brewed at home is much better than office coffee.

The Pros

Basically, you get your life back. No longer do you have to spend an hour or more going to and from the office; no more run to unproductive meetings all day long.

Flexible hours is good; truly flexible hours is the best invention since fire. Are you more productive at night, so you prefer to wake up at 12:00? Your choice. Do you want to take the kids to school and to the park, but will work nicely while they are at school and at night? Perfect!

Working at MoveinBlue (and in most tech jobs) only requires a computer and a comfy chair; most people can have that at home (and probably already have). Other lines of work may require more personal contact, but ours is just perfect. Oh, and the company doesn’t have to provide computer and office space too, so everyone wins.

Meetings are harder to do when some people are off-site, but there is a lesson in there too: do not meet with people unless it is really necessary. Often a phone call will do; and most of the time email is good enough.

The Cons

One of the most serious drawbacks of telecommuting is that it requires a special kind of discipline. Not just developer discipline, but the kind that you need to do your domestic chores or any unpleasant tasks. Specially if you come from a corporate setting where bosses used to mark your stride for you. Oh, and loving your work helps a lot.

The day with complete freedom ahead of you can be very long; you have to be centered in your tasks to get anything done. Be careful not to spend a whole day watching episodes of your favorite TV show, for example. Work time must be taken seriously even if you are not in an office.

Your family and friends also need to learn to respect work hours. “I’m working” can be used as a formula just as magical as “I’m in the office”. Drawing clear lines around your work can lead to some tensions with the family, but the situation will tend to be much better than commuting to work, so they will probably understand.

Some workers need extensive mentoring for their jobs, and it is hard to do that remotely. In those cases a week or even a day on-site can do wonders.

How do you deal with the complete disconnect from office life? If you are anything like me, mostly with relief. There may be a problem getting to know what to do, but this point can also turn to our advantage: having a written spec now cannot be avoided. For those unavoidable rounds of improvement then it is better to have direct contact between the person specifying the requirements and the one doing the work. In these cases just connect the two for a face-to-face session.

Can It Be Done?

Sure! If Stephen Wolfram has been a remote CEO for 20 years, then we can be remote developers too! 40% of github’s workforce is remote. 37 signals does not provide exact numbers but apparently most of its workers are remote.

Evaluating remote employees is not very different than on-site reviews: just review their work and see if it progresses. It can even be more objective: it is harder to suck up remotely. Technical merits tend to shine better from afar.

So just lose your fear and start working remotely! Oh and by the way, we are always looking for talented people. [Editor’s note: MoveinBlue ceased operations in 2013.]

Posted originally at Tumblr on 2012-05-24.

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