I have been mostly a telecommuter, working remotely, for six years. Arguments for and against working remotely fall on deaf ears when they come to me; I don’t want to imagine working any other way. I shirked off the confines of a cubicle zoo pen long ago, I have the freedom to simply turn off all the social and collaborative software when I need to intently focus on programming/developing, and best of all I get to spend more time with my family than most gainfully-employed people. Most of my clients, sadly, haven’t gotten around to embracing the productivity and employee happiness benefits of telecommuting, but then again I’m still optimizing it for myself.
If you, dear reader, were inspired to get the book The 4-Hour Workweek after my recent post on dreamlining, then you know (or will know) full well that working remotely opens the possibility of traveling abroad without being on vacation. If you’re an employer and are considering allowing your employees to telecommute but haven’t made the change, then I highly recommend Jason Fried’s book Rework to understand just how your stodgy, cubicle-bound workforce is being hindered and delayed by continual interruptions. Ultimately, no matter which side of the fence you’re on, it comes down to trying it. Working remotely is not for every business or every person, but it can work for people in every business depending on their job duties and their personal ability to remain motivated and focused without kindergarten-style oversight.
After you make the switch, though, there’s new problems to overcome. I just finished Jason Fried’s new book, Remote: Office Not Required and I came away with three good elaborations on telecommuting that were fresh for me, even after all these years of doing it. There’s of course an abundance of other good stuff in the book, these are just the sections that impressed me the most.
Working Remotely: Security
The following security checklist comes from pages 61-62 of Remote, being the standard all employees of 37signals must follow:
- All computers must have encrypted hard drives.
- All computers must not use automatic login, must require passwords when waking from hibernation mode, and must lock automatically after 10 minutes.
- All sites must be visited using an encrypted connection, especially email services.
- All mobile devices must use lock codes and be enabled for remote wiping.
- All sites must have a separate password, long-form and randomized. Jason Fried mentioned the password management software 1Password.
- Turn on two-factor authentication for Gmail, so getting into it requires cell phone access.
And that’s it! Modern security for distributed offices, all bundled together into a tiny checklist. For the most part, it’s simple stuff you can readily do yourself.
Working Remotely, and at Different Times
Something I haven’t done much of (I have dabbled with it a little) is working at a different time than my co-workers. But, looking back, those early-morning rises where I get into it are highly effective. And, when I’m performing consulting web services for a client and that client is in a different time-zone so that the time I work becomes partially irrelevant, I’ve been very successful. This boils down to two main factors, I think:
- When you work at a point when nobody, co-workers or clients, are hitting you up for stuff you maintain clean focus and don’t start a mental queue of things to be done. Your mind remains more tightly concentrated on the tasks at hand, so that you accomplish things much, much more quickly than you do once your mind begins to fragment into multiple things that need to be accomplished.
- When you work at the best times for your body and your life, you can work when you’re feeling the best rather than if, rain or shine, you’re at your station at a specific time regardless of what else is going on in your life. For me, that means working early in the morning, when my mind is smooth and my body is energized.
Does this mean that I’ll become one of those oddballs who is never available? Of course not, and even Remote doesn’t recommend that. Here’s two quotes from the chapter “Thou Shalt Overlap”:
Outsourcing gave remote working a bad reputation for many reasons, but one of the worst was that it could sometimes entail a full day’s delay between communication or turnaround. Yes, working with such a delay is possible, but we don’t recommend it. At 37signals, we’ve found that we need a good four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays and feel like a time.page 61
Ironically, you’ll probably get far more done when only half of your workday overlaps with the rest of your team… Plus, you’d be surprised at how many people prefer unconventional work schedules.page 61, 62
Intuitively, it feels correct that a 50% social to isolated focus ratio would yield the biggest gains and best work. Is it true? I’m not sure, but perhaps I’ll find out and write another blog post to let you know.
Working Remotely: With Clients
Finally, the chapter “Working with clients” of Remote has some excellent advice, even for an old-hat telecommuting contractor such as myself. Check this out:
- When pitching business, let clients know straight out of the gate that you won’t be available for constant personal interaction. In other words, set up expectations early to avoid problems as the deal closes.
- When pitching business, provide references. This offsets the possible negativity coming out of not being available for constant in-person meetings.
- While executing a project or job, show clients your work often. This prevents anxiety from building.
- Be very available as a company. Stay on top of communications, because a lack of in-person access compounds into a major problem when you’re not readily available in other ways. This isn’t contradictory to the idea of people working at different times unless you’re a one-person company, since it only matters that as a whole your business is readily available to clients.
- Consistently make sure the client feels to be a participating and contributing member of the project.
Good stuff, and obvious when you think about it. The problem is that once you settle into telecommuting it becomes second nature. It’s hard for me to understand when people want to have an in-person meeting just to discuss the status of a project, these days, because it’s obvious to me that I can halve the time involved and be just as efficient by just appearing in a box on their computer. As business people, it’s important to remember that we need to introduce clients to our company culture such that they can immediately appreciate the reasons behind the way we conduct work.
Working Remotely: Bonus Thoughts on Personal Success
As I stand here writing this up, it occurs to me that I should also mention that telecommuting can be extremely bad for your health. When you have ready access to the fridge, don’t have to go anywhere to earn your keep, and don’t clearly delineate between “working time” and “personal time”, you’re asking for trouble.
These are the changes I’ve made over the years to make sure that working remotely is healthier than sitting in a cubicle:
- Don’t sit 40 hours a week. I made a standing desk and do all my work either standing or dancing a bit of a jig. I’m an extremist, so I’m not saying you should go all the way with it too. But whether it be sitting on a medicine ball or standing at intervals, not doing a slouched desk slump for 8 hours straight is a good idea.
- Make hobbies physical… and outside. I’m not all that successful in this department since I also blog and am an avid reader, but it’s definitely the ideal. It’s easier because I’m a parent; I prefer to go outside with my son.
- Finally, define your personal business hours. I do try to be of assistance outside of the specific hours I set, of course, when it’s requested and it’s really necessary. But much like exercise or meditation, if you make working into a ritual and a habit then you don’t really need to work on this – after a while, you reach a point where the end of a particular daily routine comes. You stop to reflect and be grateful, then you let it go and continue on in your life.
You may also enjoy these articles:
- How to Qualify Short-Term Goals: Dreamlining – programminglife.net
- Why telecommuting works for me (Infographic) – mnn.com
- It’s About the Work, Not the Office – nytimes.com
Keep on keeping on,