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Working from Home: Month 3 Update

January 19th, 2009 · 16 Comments

I’ve been working from home exclusively at my new job with Collaborative Software Initiative now for almost three months, and I’ve learned a few interesting things. In many ways, my expectations about working from home and the realities of it have been pretty different, so I thought I’d post some of the observations I’ve made.
I work a lot but it doesn’t really matter much
I work as soon as I wake up. I stop for food, exercise, bathing (see below), and family-time, but… otherwise I’m working. Work, work, work. The surprise? I like it. And my family doesn’t seem to mind that much, because when they ask me to stop and do something I usually do.
I haven’t gone cabin-fever stir-crazy
Everyone said I would miss being around people at the office. Part of me thought they were right. They weren’t. I don’t miss the office AT ALL. Not a bit. In fact, the sleeping recluse in me has, to a certain degree, taken over. Even with my friends, I sometimes resent that I have to put on outside clothes and leave the house just to make lunch. Last week I only left the house about four times, and I didn’t mind at all.
The stress release has been a major change
Shannon and the kids say I have a sense of humor again. We laugh “like the good old days”, as my 9-year old daughter puts it. I have the energy to exercise, to help around the house, to cook the odd meal or two, and to fix up an old beetle for fun. We play games again, and my temper is slow and even. I even have creative writing ideas for my long-shelved novel project, “The Legend of Charlie Snicklefritz”.
I can skip bathing or skip deodorant but not both
My brother recently told me he didn’t use deodorant, and I had never noticed that he stunk. So I tried it, and Shannon didn’t complain. Then she went out of town, it got really, really cold, and I didn’t do my daily run for a few days (which always preceded a shower). So I just skipped the shower and the deodorant. That didn’t work out.
I have a routine that optimizes my personal energy levels
I’m smarter in the morning. So, I usually get up early and work for a while. When the energy starts to drop, I go downstairs and run/walk fast for 30 minutes (I’m still too fat to run it straight). Then I bathe, eat, and work some more until I hit the afternoon doldrums. Then I take a break. Sometimes, it’s Dr. Mario on the Wii with Shannon, or Ocarina of Time with Eli. Other times I will run an errand, read a little, do some chores around the house, or pick up Reese from school in the beetle (you should see her grin when that little red car pulls up). The break invigorates me, and I usually work straight through till dinner and family time. After the kids are in bed, I work a little more, usually on email or on some unfinished task that is nagging at me.
Anyway, I like this pattern. It works for me, and it takes advantage of the flexibility of my schedule to optimize the peaks and valleys of my energy.
The food is great and it’s good for me!
Shannon is a stay-at-home Mom, and she’s a good cook. Lunch is rapidly becoming the best meal of the day for me. Yesh!
Episodes of work guilt and work heroics are common
Am I working hard enough? Am I pulling my own weight? Does it matter how hard I worked if we don’t ship a successful product? If our product fails our company could fail – what if it fails because I didn’t do just a little bit more? I have one of these moments every week. Sometimes it’s when I watch the monumental, often heroic, efforts of my colleagues, and sometimes it’s after I take a two-hour lunch break even though there’s still lots to do. And then something comes up, and I make a monumental, heroic effort of my own, the work guilt goes away, and I am normal again.
I could do this for the rest of my life
With one exception (see below), I don’t ever want to work in a cubicle again. I certainly wouldn’t mind visiting occasionaly, since it would allow me to see my friends and mock them for their captivity.
It’s not because I work from home
If I was able to do my old job exclusively from home, I would still hate it. It would be easier to hide slothfulness and laziness, which might balance the hate a little, but I know I would never feel about my old job the way I do about my current job. Why? Because the company is better. Our work-product is our source of revenue and it is important. It matters to us, it matters to our customers, and it matters to the world. The challenges are huge, the team is amazing, and frankly, we kick ass. Ultimately, that’s what makes it better, not my spare bedroom office with a view of the backyard, a door I can close, a stereo I can play as loud as I want, art I like, a growing collection of Star Wars-themed Potato Heads, and all my books arranged the way I like them. Nope, I would do my job from a cube if I needed to – because I like it. That is what has made all the difference.

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16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karen N. Johnson // Jan 19, 2009 at 3:06 pm


    One of the things I noticed in the combination of being an independent and working from home is that wasted time has even less value (if thats possible). As a QA Manager time lingering around the office to be accessible to other people including those that reported to me, had some value – I think? Or did I just feel obigated to be physically present?

    Burning office time might have had a value – maybe a good value, maybe not. But leaving the office because my energy wasn't there was not really an option. Now, there is no value in me sitting in my office unless I'm being productive. If I need to alter the order of what I'm working in to be more effective, everyone – my client, my family and myself are the better for that change. So being smart about following energy levels has a value. Yahoo!

    There's more I could comment on in the work from home situation, but work calls and the work I have in front of me now is some of the most interesting I've ever had. Time to mind shift.

    Thanks for your blunt commentary.

  • 2 Matt Heusser // Jan 19, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I've been working remotely for nearly a year now, and had a very similar experience. It's wonderful and liberating, I worry if I am pulling my weight, the work is meaningful and I have autonomy. I would add that if you want to work remotely and lose weight (and eat well), make sure there are healthy snacks in the fridge (carrots, grapes, etc) and, if you have a sweet tooth, no pop or chocolate lying around. It is amazing what you can gobble, unconsciously, by simply having a bag of candy next to your keyboard when working from home.

    If you have healthy snacks available, you'd feel like a fool to take your lunch break and go to wendys, and it's relatively easy to lose weight.

    It sounds like Dave is doing a better job than me at taking breaks and exercising. I find that unless I am carefuly, my entire life becomes sleeping, eating, and staring at a screen. I am working on that, and, I'm afraid nintendo wii (our fave is animal crossing) does not help.

    Overall, though, yeah, I don't want to go back either. No wayy …

  • 3 Jason Huggins // Jan 19, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I've been working from home on my own startup company (Sauce Labs) for seven months now. Your post here could have been something I wrote — almost to the word — other than the names of spouses and kids. :-) The biggest improvement in family life for me has been easily joining them for dinner — and lunch, too! At my previous job, I was almost never home in time to have dinner with the family. Now, though my work is still not done by dinner-time… being able to take a break to have dinner, play, and put the kids to bed is no big deal.

  • 4 Will // Jan 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I have a Star-Wars themed potatoe head in my cube.
    A spud-trooper. I love the potatoe masher weapon.

  • 5 Dennis Gorelik // Jan 19, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    1) How do you communicate with people on your team?
    Are there any communication issues?
    How many people do you interact with while working?

    2) If you cannot run yet — do two 30-minutes walks every day.
    Later you would replace it with either two 15-minutes runs or one 30-minutes run.

    3) I think deodorant is useless anyway. Only shower helps.

    4) Exercise every day. The only exception — when you are really sick.
    Cold weather is a bad excuse.

  • 6 davidray // Jan 19, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    1) Multiple ways. There are so many communication tools in my possession that sometimes I just shut down everything that beeps at me: IRC, IM, Skype, Phone, Video Chat, email, LiveLook, conference calls, to name a few.

    2) Good advice. Right now I am alternating running and walking on my treadmill. I will run for a minute, walk for a minute, run for a minute, etc. for 30 minutes.

    3) I think deodorant depends on the person. I can think of several examples where I had to choose between awkward conversations and relocating in the office (I always chose relocation)

    4) You got me there.

  • 7 davidray // Jan 19, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I have Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Spud Trooper, Darth Dater, R2D2, Obi-wan Kenobi, and Indiana Jones (who sings when you hit his hat). They were Christmas presents from the wife and kids.

  • 8 Dennis Gorelik // Jan 19, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    1) Skype _is_ an Instant Messenger. Do you use several different IMs?
    What IRC is useful for?
    What do you use for Video Chat? Skype?

    How many people do you interact with?

    3) Are you sure that bad smell came because of lack of deodorant?
    The most likely causes are health problems and lack of shower.
    I doubt that deodorant would help in such cases.

  • 9 davidray // Jan 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Dennis,
    1) I use Skype for most of my outbound calls because the quality of my iMac as a skype speaker phone is flipping awesome, whereas my landline, iPhone, and Blackberry Storm are all just okay. My iPhone is second best if use earphones while I talk. I use google chat and iChat for IM, voice chat, and video chat, depending on who I'm chatting with. I also use skype video chat similarly. I don't really use skype for IM that much.

    IRC is our main method of communication within the team. We have a bot that records and archives the handful of chat rooms we use, so we can search the archives and find a discussion we missed or can't remember.

    I interact with about a dozen people, give or take.

    3) No idea what caused the smell, but you're probably right. The aforementioned stinker probably did not bathe.

    Incidentally, I once had an allergic reaction to deodorant, which made me smell terribly. That was embarrassing.

  • 10 Mark Mzyk // Jan 20, 2009 at 2:10 am


    Do you now find that you work more on weekends? I'm curious if working from home blurs the typical 9 to 5 day. You take more breaks but work longer?

    Also, have you tried the coffee shop routine at yet? What about at a coworking space? I know those aren't that ubiquitous yet, but one recently opened up near me and I've only heard good things about it. Note that I'm a full time office employee through, so I don't have any person experience to relate on this matter.


  • 11 davidray // Jan 20, 2009 at 2:23 am

    I work on weekends a lot. There's no 9 to 5 anymore at all. It's 9:23 pm and I'm working now (but I'm stopping to post a comment on my blog).

    I've worked from the library, but not from a coffee shop or coworking space. So far, I haven't felt much on an urge to do so. I suspect that when summer arrives and the kids are here a lot I'll be trying stuff like that out.

  • 12 Troy Tuttle // Jan 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    David, You mentioned the communication tools you have. But I'm just curious, do you work on an Agile team now? And if so, how does it work from remote, even with good tools? The Agilistas talk about face-to-face communication as always being the best, but I always thought that was born from a lack of really good communication tools. So, basically, do you think Agile can be done well with remote teammates?

  • 13 davidray // Jan 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Totally. We are a high-performance agile team, and it's all remote. I think the multitude of communication tools have helped, but mostly it's because our boss has been incredibly careful as he hired people. He really took his time and picked people who could do it. I'm not convinced just anybody can.

  • 14 Dennis Gorelik // Jan 22, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    It's not that hard to find out if person can work remote or not.
    When you have a candidate — you simply email him instead of calling.
    And then interview this person asynchronously over email.
    Ask to do something (over email again).
    Ask this person to chat with you on IM. (Ask using email, of course, not the phone).

    And only then if you were able to do email and IM — talk on the phone.

    That would give you pretty clear impression if this person belongs to ~10% of people who can work remotely or not.

  • 15 Kelly // Jan 25, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    David – excellent post. I've worked @ home for 6+ years and you pretty much nailed it.

    In my mind – it's like you said re: not wanting to do the same job you had before working at home….it's not the location necessarily…it's the sense of freedom & independence.

    I started a coworking facility where I live because I started feeling trapped & isolated working at home. Don't get me wrong – i love working at home — i just didn't want to HAVE to work at home.

    i'll admit – I'm selfish – i want to work how i want, when i want, and WHERE i want.

    Sometimes i'm social, sometimes I'm not. Sometimes i like having the kids & dogs and family around – sometimes I really just want a place where I can hunker down and focus on the work at hand.

    In the end i think the lure of working independently is not 'working at home' it's about flexibility.

    Coworking spots are great for this – because you come & go as you please — yet still have the infrastructure of an office and the support & camaraderie of a community of peers.

  • 16 Jennifer // Sep 22, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Are there any other online auction sites like Ebay that are good to list auctions? I mean I am interested in selling items on ebay and other auction sites at the same time to bring in more income.

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