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Working from home

Hi, does anyone have experience in an environment where people in a team regularly work from home?  I don't mean the extreme of telecommuting, but more just coming into the office once or twice a week, and programming at home for the remainder.

I personally desire this since my workplace is hard to concentrate in.  But I expect it requires a team that's good at communicating through text, and discipline with specs is also needed.  I would like to know if anyone has seen the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.  Thanks.

Michel
Thursday, April 11, 2002

board et my post - we have a few people who telecommute in exactly the fashion you describe, and even one guy who lives hundreds of miles away who only comes in once a month.

I don't know if he could do it if his job required lots of interaction either with other developers, or 'the business.'

I work closely with him on some projects and we set up a shared repository and we both check files in and out. We don't check in unless it's completely functional, and we let each other know what's going on if our work will affect the other's.

Mark W
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Yes I've done it before, the only issue was source code control. I worked with smart people and we could always work it out, on a larger team source code control could become a problem unles you have web enabled version control software.

Otherwise, put on the coffee, turn the music down just a little bit, and get to work!

Tony
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Having worked at an unfunded startup, I have spent many days working from home (because there was no office yet). I must say that (except for the commute) I did not like working at home. I missed interacting with and learning from other engineers.

When I was at "work", I was easily distracted because I was still at home. When I was at "home", I couldn't relax because my work was literally there with me.

Banana Fred
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Two Words: Instant Messenging.  At our company, engineers often work from home, some more than others.  But everyone on the team has an AOL Instant Messenger account, which gets used constantly, even between people in the office.  It's an easy way of communicating that usually doesn't interrupt "The Zone".

I used to occasionally work from home, but now I'm a full-on telecommuter - I moved from New York back to the Bay Area and I work out of my home office every day.  I also really miss the contact with others on the team; in fact, I'd really like to know what others do to meet other geeks and have intelligent conversation with others when you don't work in an office environment.  Suggestions?

Kevin Tieskoetter
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Surf Joel on Software forums? If you're young enough & love Linux, attend 2600 meetings? I'm trying out thewell.com. Okay so it lacks in the actual face-to-face component, but then, I work in an office so that's not much of a problem.

So it sounds like working from home is doable, but more difficult on large integrated teams.

Mark W
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Agree with Kevin. Instant Messaging is the thing that will finally make working out of the office an option. For most jobs, there's no substitute for quick, immediate exchanges. My personal opinion is that you shouldn't be out of the office more than 1 or 2 days a week. It's cliche, but 90% of success is showing up.

pb
Friday, April 12, 2002

If anyone's interested, next week I'll start coming in 3 days/wk.  The main concern people had is that they want to be able to run to me immediately.

Important things I'm anticipating:
* My computer at home needs to be pretty secure.  So no Internet Explorer, and I'll need to keep the machine clean.
* I'll have to see if my work's ICQ corp interops with normal ICQ
* Maybe a laptop is vital, because the admins will take forever getting a web interface for CVS.  Especially a secure one.

Michel
Friday, April 12, 2002

> because the admins will take forever getting a web interface for CVS

Broadband internet at home, a DUN VPN connection from home to/through the company's firewall, pcAnywhere host running on my machine at work, and pcAnywhere client on machine at home: to access the version control database at work from home... IT just need to give you the VPN.

Christopher Wells
Friday, April 12, 2002

I've used Netmeeting too for seeing someone's desktop with simultaneous voice, but trouble using it with more than one person plus me (ie more than two people). I'd think it difficult to work without an ability to do voice conference calls.

Christopher Wells
Friday, April 12, 2002

A hands-free attachment for your cell-phone leaves you handy when you're at a computer. (I've been talking about tools rather than [dis]advantages, in reply to your "expect it requires a team that's good at communicating through text").

Christopher Wells
Friday, April 12, 2002

My team of four has two programmers who work from home two days a week each (not necessarily the same two days).  We end up having conversations in e-mail because our company's net nanny software blocks IM.  Sigh.

Rob
Friday, April 12, 2002

Christopher, thanks, my admin and I just talked about the VPN and Netmeeting.  We plan to install a 2nd (encrypted) company-adminned HD that only certain accounts can access, to make it a little harder for weekend hackers to mess with.  Though I guess the main security lies in me being sane.

Our phone system seems pretty nice in that normal company calls can be routed to me through the VPN and Netmeeting, and I can call out to anywhere I want.  If I'm offline, the caller will know.  No worries about cell-phone radiation.

Thanks again!

Michel
Friday, April 12, 2002

Kevin, I find a good way to keep in touch with nerds is to talk about writing open source projects... doing them is a different matter. 

One telecommuter I know works at Dancing Rabbit consulting, which is located in a commune.  Definitely not a lonely place.
[ http://www.dancingrabbit.org/skyhouse/consulting/ ]

There is some intelligent conversation on sites like Kuro5hin.org, but I no longer visit much.

Oh, and maybe keeping a weblog of sorts is a good thing.  My commune friend is interested in all sorts of things like Userland Radio, and I think having a web page is good when you're telecommuting so people know what you're up to, without actually having to interrupt you.

Michel
Friday, April 12, 2002

> No worries about cell-phone radiation.

That's the other reason for a hands-free attachment (earpiece and mike): radiation has an inverse square law, so there's a big difference between having next to your head versus having it a foot or three away.

Christopher Wells
Friday, April 12, 2002

When I read about studies of cell-phone radiation, some said that hands-free attachments were healthy; others said some cables actually magnified the effects.
[ http://www.salon.com/health/feature/2000/08/10/cellphone/index1.html ]

I don't know materials eng, and the whole idea disturbs me, so I dislike using the phones.  But if I had to choose by intuition, I think I'd go for the hands-free sets.

Michel
Friday, April 12, 2002

Here's my experience:

I've been a 100% telecommuter for almost 3 years now - I live in Northern Arizona and my co-workers are in Greenbelt, MD.  I worked in the office for one year before moving out here. One note: our team is small (6 people), committed and has little turn-over.  We build and support our companies' backbone application, used by over 200 people to generate close to 1 billion in sales each year. I do project management, support, development (Powerbuilder, Perl, Python) and database administration tasks.

I am coming into the company via a dial-up 56K line with VPN access from a Dell laptop.  All my work is done via either XEmacs and telnet (for Perl/Python development and database support) or Terminal Services Client to three separate Win2K Server boxes. I tried PCAnywhere and the open-source solution from ATT but they were both way too slow. 

I've been back to MD twice in three years - both visits were more for meeting new employees and receiving training than related to day-to-day ops.  I rely heavily on my support folks, who get me the info I need to do new work and maintenance (we have a home-grown tracking app for bugs and enhancements). 

Our system works due to good communication and trust, trust, trust on all sides.  Two other members of the team can now telecommute at their discretion.

Another benefit of telecommunting:  My Dad became ill recently.  I was able to fly back to NJ and spend an extended period of time with him and still get work done.

 

Dave Warner
Friday, April 12, 2002

Forgot two important things that have worked for me to build trust with my co-workers:

  1. Answer the phone before the third ring.
  2. Answer an email within 2 minutes.

Dave Warner
Friday, April 12, 2002

dave - it is nice to hear that it works for some people. i tried to get an ex-employer to agree that i could telecommute as i found the work env. too distracting but they would not agree. so i left. it would be nice to telecommute at this place sometimes, if just to avoid ppl bothering me with inane questions, but mostly it is okay. btw, given your "trust rules", i hope your colleagues never call when you are taking a bathroom break :)

nope
Tuesday, April 16, 2002

I have recently left a teleworking position.
I learnt a lot from the experience.
Some good things, some bad.
Must admit, most of the bad were due my own expectations or mis-conceptions.
Looking forward to trying it again with eyes open.

However, I'd be interested to know what people think does need face to face communication and what does not.
What activities in software development would you say do involve or require direct collaboration, and what are individual or 'isolated' activities.

Dave Morris
Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Dave M, I think it's hard to know what needs face-to-face if you're in an organization with wildly varying ability levels.  That's one reason why small, carefully chosen teams are good.  It's not just because picking the smartest is most important, but also so there isn't enormous friction.

Inspiration needs face-to-face.  Even with simple questions, in face-to-face you might let slip the wider context of the problem, and the other person might have ideas.

But I think this question can't be answered by people on a forum.  I just Trust in Peopleware, where if you have a "jelled team," these questions are as easy to solve as a programming problem.  If not, then it's the Eternal Struggle.

Greg Neumann
Tuesday, April 16, 2002

I have worked at home for about 1.5 years. The last two jobs I had I regularly worked with home-based employees.
I have not really seen any downsides. The upside for myself is that I can get up at 5 am and immediately begin work, and pretty much wrap up coding by noon every day. Then I talk to the clients on the phone for an hour in the afternoon and pretty much have after 2pm free every day. This is good since I'm pretty much brain dead between 1-7pm, and don't have to be in an office struggling to be productive.

I have friends and family nearby and am on a basketball team so I don't feel like I'm not socializing.

I do go over to visit my clients at least once every two weeks, usually once a week.  I recommend this if possible, because it reminds your clients that you are a real person, not just an instant messaging window or disembodied voice.

arsdigitan
Sunday, April 21, 2002

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