Thoughts on Working Remotely from Home

This post may seem a bit longer than my usual posts. It's one I've slowly been extending over the last couple years while working remotely. Many of the points may be obvious ones, but if you're considering a work-from-home (remotely) type of position that you consider some of these topics.

Background

My previous job afforded me the opportunity to work from home a couple days out of the week. While putting my wife through school, those days were great. I would start work extra early so I could leave early and watch our little girl while my wife headed off to class. The early start was great because these quiet mornings were often the most productive part of my day. The lack of distractions such as email, meetings, and instant message chats along with the quiet focus time all contributed to this increased productivity.

While I quite enjoyed this time, was often productive, and it helped my family I still preferred to go into the office over working from home.

So why did I still prefer going to the office over working from home?

I did not feel as connected to the group, which left me feeling as thought I was always playing catchup. All of those water-cooler discussions and inpromptu office meetings where I (or anyone else remote) wasn't pulled into more often not left me feeling like I was not able to keep on top of what was going on.

This experience and the feeling it left me with is what concerned me about the new job I was about to take.

Worried to take a remote / work from home job.

Given my limited work from home experience, I was concerned about working remotely 100% of the time. However, the new opportunity to work for a consulting firm I admired, and the thought of being able to constantly try new technologies, and business domains was really appealing.

I have now worked remotely for Vertigo for over 3 years and I'd like to share a list of Pros/Cons that I've gathered through my experience working from home full time.

Con's to working from home

Now, while Con's do not outweigh the Pro's for me, there is quite a bit of grey area here, so let's review some con's.

  • Less human/social interaction on a daily basis. As an introvert, and a software developer, this is generally not too bad. This was a bigger concern for me originally and is much less of an issue now that I've tried it out. I make sure to take some time to have great Skype video calls with fellow remote coworkers and I also try to offset this by participating in local user groups or and other social occasions. However, the best medicine for this is a simple trip to the park with my little girls. I will say that I've had a day or two where I jumped at the opportunity to take a trip to Costco or other errand just so I could get out of the house...
  • Shipping Hardware.
    • This one is a bit of a pain. Working for a consulting firm means there are many of different projects that require varying hardware configurations. From Xboxes, test phones, tablets, computers, and even TVs. I semi-regularly run to FedEx and send something to H.Q. or the Apple Store or Best Buy to pick up some hardware based on the needs of a project.
  • It can be a little too easy to sit at the personal computer in the evening and reach over to my work computer to reply to a late work-related email, or hammer on some code. So you need to be careful about the work/family balance when it's so easy to work from home. This takes a bit of discipline.
  • Sitting in the office chair when the amazingly yummy aromas of some fresh home cooking - distracting me from being productive as the smell is driving my stomach to scream at me to go downstairs for some food!
  • Communication
    • Being remote, you have to become an over-communicator. An email here and there is fine, but combine that with chat/I.M., phone calls, video chat calls (preferred), and more emails. However, you have to work a little harder to be noticed, especially if you have to compete with people who are all working in the same office.
  • It often takes a little more discipline to take breaks.
  • Time Zones
    • Time Zones are a hassle from many different angles, even when you work at an office; however, working remotely often means your employer has hired you because you are not near them. This increases the chance that you are several or more timezones away from your company's headquarters. Which can mean the usual things like meal planning, start/stop times, etc require a bit more planning and accommodation.

Pro's to working from home

  • Home office temperature!
    • Like most indoor jobs, AC and Heat are good amenities to have, but in big buildings people cannot often control the temperature. It's either too cold or too hot as big buildings have a mind of their own (their airflow and ventilation kinks). However, working from home, you're the master of your indoor weather. If you get hot, take off some clothes or turn on the AC. If you're too cold, put on some clothes or crank up the heat.
  • Commute
    • I often joke with my fellow Californian commute ridden co-workers when they complain about traffic that day that I narrowly avoided a 3 (lego) car pile-up on my way to the office.
    • I live where it's cold in the winter and not having to scrape the ice off of the windshield of my car in the morning due to the icy dew is a HUGE benefit.
    • Plus there's the, well not commuting part. While I enjoyed using the commute to zone out to my favorite podcasts, I still find time to keep up with my podcast when doing things like laundry, dishes, etc.
  • More family time overall. Since my coffee, water, bathroom breaks all lead to opportunities where I can say hello to the family.
  • SWEATPANTS! My wife recently introduced me to sweatpants. OMG they are comfortable, try wearing those at the stuffy-formal-office...
  • Quiet place to focus. It's easy to isolate yourself from the outside world if you need some quiet time to focus and be productive. Shut off the I.M., put phone on do not disturb, close email and get some serious work done.
  • We have all the usual necessities at home,
    • Tools (for that time you need a screwdriver)
    • Easy access to hygiene related products/tools. Ever need to take a shower in the middle of the day? Change of clothes (spilled coffee....)? Or brush your teeth?
  • Invest in your office.
    • When you invest in your home office, you're investing in yourself. Get a good chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, etc.
  • Lunch at home. My wife is a great cook. I'm spoiled to nearly always have a great set of leftovers in the fridge. Keeping me from eating out all the time. Not having to worry about someone eating my leftover chicken-wings (ya, that really happened - not even funny - You know who you are!)
  • My wife just brought me the most amazing homemade burrito. I didn't even care I was on a video call with my team. nom...nom...nom...
  • One of my favorite perks, is not even a perk that any company could offer (or even replace). I take the opportunity to for 10-minute break in the afternoon, where I walk up the street to meet my daughter at the bus stop. This is so much more important in my life than practically any company can offer (like free lunches, ping-pong table, etc...).
  • Scheduling an at-home call is easy. It's rarely a problem to have a fix-it man come by, or cable-guy, or if a package needs to be signed for, working from home makes this easy.
  • David's Additions: I shared a draft of this post to a good friend and coworker and he gave me some other tips, I hadn't thought of, which I totally agree.
    • You struggle on problems and your kid walks in the room and puts your life in perspective.
    • I can listen to my music turned way up!

What about distractions?

I get this a lot, when I tell others I work from home. "I don't know how you don't get distracted with other things to do at home." This may be a very individual thing. While, there can be distractions at home, I've always been a focused individual and I would say it's often easier to be distracted at the office with office chit-chat, meetings, going out to lunch, etc.

Not-so socially appropriate

  • When you're at the office, possibly in a long meeting, what do you do if you have some gas? Working remotely, there's no stress, or stomach pain... Mute your conference call, relax and nobody is the wiser. (Except this one time, I did such a thing not realizing my wife was within an earshot. Yea, a bit embarrassing but we had a laugh over it.)
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The Cloudera Experience

We’re going to see a sharp uptick in Big Data and Hadoop companies. This is all starting with Hortonworks’ recent IPO. The coverage of Hortonworks’ IPO always mentions my former company, Cloudera, as being notably absent in the IPO chase.

I want to tell you about my experience at Cloudera. I was employee ~200 and I worked on the training team. My experiences were mostly positive. It’s the first company that I’ve ever left and would return to.

By far Cloudera’s biggest asset are their people. I characterize Clouderans, as Cloudera employees are called, as incredibly smart, humble and dedicated. Your interactions are with the people who wrote the books on Hadoop or were the founder/committer on the project. This level of people should have brought about massive egos, but they didn’t. I dare most people to pick out the technical lead out of the group; you can’t do it based on sheer ego and attitude.

There was a funny thing that happened with new Cloudera employees. They were used to companies that had a wider strata of competence (usually on the low side) of employees. They would begin their descriptions or conversations assuming the very low end of knowledge. You quickly learn that you should assume a high level of technical competence when dealing with any Clouderan. Otherwise, you’d be interrupted to take it higher. That manifests itself in that a former Clouderan is a hot commodity these days and some even take to saying it on their LinkedIn profile headlines.

While at Cloudera, I learned how a great business should be run. I had worked at other companies and seen how a poorly managed and undirected company is run. Cloudera, by and large, communicates well internally. There are twice monthly meetings for the entire company. These meetings cover any new projects or company news. This isn’t just the CEO talking. It’s often the engineer, manager or program manager telling the company about their project. You do feel that you know the company’s goals and team’s goals.

That isn’t to say Cloudera’s phenomenal growth isn’t without its problems. I’ve heard the comparison that Cloudera is like a teenager that’s hit a growth spurt. There will be those times when they’ll smack themselves in the face with their gangly arms. It just happens sometimes.

If you’re looking at joining Cloudera, I say great and prepare well. If you’re an investor reading up on Big Data or Hortonworks’ competitors, the future looks very bright for the technology, success stories and uses cases.

Full disclosure: I am a Cloudera shareholder.

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One of the Simplest Things You can do to Improve Email Communication

TL;DR

Respond to emails with got it. Or some context-related reply, for example: thanks or will respond with further detail later...

More Context

We all know that communication is important, and often where things go awry.

I sometimes wonder if I'm alone in this thinking, but don't think I am. When I send an important email, I like to know that the person on the other end received it. It may be an email that will take the other person time to respond with the detail necessary, but it's awfully unproductive to send an email, and wait a day or two before finding out that the communication was never received.

Simply replying with got it or got it, will respond with more detail later... is a great way to notify me that you've received the email (and may take some time to respond).

I don't necessarily care that my email takes priority, but at least knowing that the other end has seen it is 1/2 the battle.

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