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Programmer’s Survival Tips – #10

telecommuting

 Telecommuting – The Pros and Cons

I have taken some time to write this next post, simply because I wanted to give it some thought. Working from home….. It sounds like a dream come true, right?

My company has their HQ in Johannesburg, and I have been working for one of their provincial branches from my home (telecommuting) for the past 2 and a half years. The other day I was stunned that it had been so long. I then started thinking about the road I had traveled and how I have become accustomed to working alone.

First of all, some of the plus points are that I have so much more time with my family. I can also spend some quality time with my baby daughter during lunch hours. There is no morning commute through traffic to get to the office. The only commute that I am used to is down the hall to my office while grabbing a cup of coffee along the way. This commute also doesn’t cost me anything on fuel. But telecommuting does have a few proviso’s. There are a few things that are essential to any telecommuter.

Your Office

You have to have one. This is the most essential part of telecommuting. Your office must be an extension of your on site office in the city. You must have all the tools you would normally have at your company. But you must also have some extra tools at your disposal too.

  • A fast connection to the Internet
  • Fax machine, scanner, printer
  • Preferably a Laptop
  • A backup connection to the Internet such as a 3G dongle
  • Some external Hard Drives (I’m already at 1.5 Tb)

While your office should be comfortable, it should also be functional. Make everybody understand that when you close your office door, you are at work. Interruptions should be kept to a minimum. I would recommend utilizing a separate room in your house as your office. If you have a study, great, if not, you’ll have to use up one of the other rooms. Never think that you can do your work from the kitchen table or from bed and still be productive. Lastly, when the end of the day rolls around, and it is time for you to “go home”, closing your office door separates your work space from your relaxation space. Never mix the two. This allows you to switch off after work.

Connect with Colleagues

When you work from home, you can’t pop round to your colleague’s cubicle and have a quick chat. There are no more water cooler conversations or Friday Afternoon beers. When the office goes out for lunch (something that our office does once in a while) you will not be with them. You will, and this might sound harsh, be totally alone. If you can’t handle the solitude, then working from home might not be for you. I find that I am much more productive when I work from home.

Every once in a while I fly down or drive the 700km’s to my office and work there for a week or so. While it is absolutely great seeing my colleagues and friends again, I do find that my productivity does take a knock. Simply because of the interruptions (office door bell, telephones ringing, keyboards clicking as people type, colleagues talking to each other etc.). While there is much to be said for working in an office environment, it has it’s drawbacks, just as working from home does. One big drawback with working from home is that you have to fend for yourself. If you have a problem with whatever, you need to rely on Skype, the telephone or a similar solution to communicate with your support base. While this does teach you to solve more issues on your own, face to face communication is alway nice.

Get Out

If you aren’t careful, you could end up spending a couple of days in the house without stepping outside once. This isn’t healthy for anybody. The Internet provides us with so much to do and so many communication channels, but nothing (not even Google Street View) can compete with the feeling of grass beneath your feet. What I mean to say is that you have to take a break.

Remember, working from home makes it so easy for you to work longer hours than you would normally do. Simply because you don’t have to drive home. Also, try never to skip your lunch hour. In fact, take a nap during your lunch. After all, your bedroom is just down the hall. Studies have shown that people that take an hour nap at lunchtime are productive at a higher level after their nap, than at the peak of their productivity before their nap. Why? Well, simply because your brain does get tired, and taking a nap, gives it time to rest and “flush” out the memory banks.

Invest in your equipment

What do I mean by this? Well, don’t buy a cheap office phone. Get one that is nice and comfortable to use. Don’t settle for the plain budget beater fax machine or scanner. Don’t buy a bottom of the range router. Invest in proper equipment. Part of my job requires me to access and use various Virtual Machines in order to simulate various live environments for testing purposes. And as any of you know that have used VM’s before, they can get quite large. So instead of having the lag of accessing them over my VPN connection, I simply store local copies on my external hard drives.

I also keep copies of my source code and other customer related documentation and files on my external drives. And while I have a second drive as a backup for my primary one, I also use SharePoint across the VPN to store my documentation. You need to be set up in such a way that you can work seamlessly when not connected to your corporate network due to a network problem. I had no Internet connectivity for a whole week earlier this year, due to the national telecoms operator (Telkom) struggling to change a port in the local exchange that was not working due to lightning damage. Well, it left me high and dry and I had to rely on my 3G dongle for connectivity.

Lastly

Remember, even if your employer can’t see you while at the office, never take advantage of this and slack off. Your employer has put much faith in you by allowing you to work from home, and betraying that trust is counterproductive and will play havoc with your karma. Telecommuting is a privilege few people have.

Reference: Upwork

Dirk Strauss
Dirk is a Software Developer and Microsoft MVP from South Africa. He loves all things Technology and is slightly addicted to Twitter and Jimi Hendrix. Apart from writing code, he also enjoys writing human readable articles. "I love sharing knowledge and connecting with people from around the world. It's the diversity that makes life so beautiful." Dirk feels very strongly that pizza is simply not complete without Tabasco, that you can never have too much garlic, and that cooking the perfect steak is an art he has yet to master.

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