Thoughts on Two Years of Working from Home
By stretch | Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 3:44 a.m. UTC
I've spent the past two years working from home as a network engineer for two different companies. At first, I wasn't sure how well the remote lifestyle would suit me, but after a short time I settled into a very comfortable routine. And to my surprise, I discovered that I was much more productive working from the serenity of my home office than I ever was in a cubicle. I'd like to share my observations with the hope of convincing others to try ditching the office as well.
Why Work Remote?
No More Commute
This is the most obvious benefit to working remote. No more sitting in rush hour traffic twice a day. Even if you take public transit and are able to play on your laptop for most of the trip, commuting is a major time sink. Most people will instantly gain back at least an hour of time by foregoing the daily drive to and from the office. What could you do with an extra hour each day?
And beyond time, there are ample corollary benefits. You (or your company) are no longer paying for as much fuel or fare. You're greatly reducing your risk of being injured in a traffic accident, simply by reducing exposure. You're reducing your carbon footprint. And you're one less car on the road or occupied seat on the train, which reduces the burden on public infrastructure that's already strained to the breaking point in many cities.
Working alone in my home office, there's very little to distract me from my work. No coworkers carrying on a conversation in the next cube. No impromptu chats on the way to grab a coffee. No waiting for a stall to free up in the mens' room. No one swinging by to share his weekend plans. It's just me and my work, the way I like it. That probably sounds antisocial (and admittedly, maybe it is a bit), but I'm of the mindset that if you're being paid for your time you should be getting stuff done.
Granted, I can't claim that my home is completely free of distraction. My wife stays at home to care for our daughter, and occasionally I'll take a few minutes to bring in groceries or help with lunch. But these are all things that I control, rather than persistent interruptions I have to put up with. Naturally, it's nice to get up and move around once in a while, so long as it's when I want to and not because I can't stand listening for one more minute to the conference call going on next to me.
I Have my Own Office
This follows from the prior point, but having an office also provides a measure of freedom. This is especially beneficial at a time where open floor plans are inexplicably all the rage. ("You know what would increase productivity? If everyone can see and hear everyone else, all the time!") In my own office, I can play music if I want. I can put my phone on speaker without worrying about disturbing my neighbors. None of my belongings ever walk away. All of my conversations are private.
By the way, this applies to in-person employees with private offices as well. Stack Overflow has an excellent article on the benefits of private offices for developers:
The result is that today Stack Exchange is decidedly lonely if not quite alone in offering private offices to our developers (at least the half who work in the office; the other half work remotely). Suddenly we’re the ones who look a bit old-fashioned: isn’t that the old-school Microsoft approach? Doesn’t it make us less creative? How can we stay fast and agile if people keep disappearing into offices to do work?
This will seem like a paradox, but I have found that it's actually easier to collaborate with people remotely than it is when everyone is in the same room. Why? Consider what typically happens when you schedule a meeting. First, you find that the conference room you booked is still occupied because the meeting scheduled prior to yours is running long. You kill five minutes waiting for them to wrap up. One guy who's there for your meeting goes to grab coffee and gets pulled into a conversation down the hall. Meanwhile, Steve is wasting another few minutes trying to get the projector to work with his new laptop. And did anyone dial Gary in on the conference bridge? He should be here for this. Wait, where did Mike go? We're ten minutes into the meeting now and we haven't even gotten started.
Now compare that to an all-remote meeting. A notification pops up, alerting you that it's time for a meeting. Everyone clicks a link on their calendar to join a Google Hangout without leaving their desk. You paste a link to the meeting agenda in the group chat and share your screen to show your presentation. And when you're done, you can get right back to whatever you were working on. In my meetings, the last attendees to join are almost always those connecting from a company conference room.
And it's not just group meetings: I've found that one-on-one collaboration flows better, too. Instead of calling or walking over to a colleague to chat about something, just shoot them a message on Slack. They can respond as their time allows rather feeling obligated to drop what they're working on to get you answer right away. Or, raise an issue in a team's channel and see who's available to help, without unnecessarily disturbing others.
Chat Leaves a Paper Trail
Aside from optimized collaboration, chat provides another great benefit: Everything is written down and archived. I'm a very detail-oriented person, but my memory isn't the greatest. I couldn't tell you how many times I've had to go back through a chat log from a few days earlier to pick out one or two discussion points that had escaped me. This save my colleagues from an interruption while I get to save face. Sure, you could make the same case for email, but chat tends to capture far more conversations by virtue of its more casual nature.
It's Cheaper for your Employer
Office space, particularly in large cities, is not cheap. By allowing half of its employees work from home, a company can easily realize a 30-40% reduction in leasing and utility costs. This can be an especially appealing approach for startups where every single dollar must be put to work in order for the business to survive.
Greater Family Presence
This doesn't apply to everyone, but as a new dad, being able to see my daughter throughout the day has been invaluable. I was thinking just the other day, if I was still working in an office, how often would I get to see her? Maybe for 15 minutes in the morning at breakfast, then I'd have maybe a couple hours at night before her bedtime. Working from home I get to check in on her several times a day, even if it's just for as long as it takes to make a coffee, and I'm always home in time for dinner.
You're Probably Working Remote Already Anyway
Aside from interaction with colleagues, how much of your actual job requires you to be physically present at a particular place? For network and system administrators, this might be the case: someone has to run cables and swap out hard disks. But most of us in IT can really work from anywhere with a sufficient Internet connection. For example, my employer operates facilities in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Singapore. Despite having performed much work at all of these sites, I have never even seen most of them.
And even if you are required to be physically present, is it every day? Even working remotely just one or two days a week could yield significant gains in productivity and reclaim several commuting hours per week.
Also consider whether your company maintains multiple physical offices. You and a coworker might both be in an office, but if it's not the same office what does it even matter?
Why Remote Might Not Work for You
All this said, working remote isn't for everyone. Here are some of the biggest impediments. (I have no doubt that readers will point out many more in the comments below.)
Your Home Isn't Suited for It
As I mentioned, I live in a house with a bedroom that's been re-purposed as a dedicated home office. Not everyone is so fortunate. Unless you live alone, a dedicated office space is a must for permanent remote working, and even if you live by yourself it's still highly recommended to aid in maintaining a distinction between work and life. Disruptive roommates or family can also be disqualifiers.
Your Work Requires a Security Clearance
Some people in the government and military sectors are required to maintain an active security clearance and are permitted to work only from within a secure facility. There's not much you can do about this until the DoD starts offering home office SCIF certifications.
Your Employer Sucks at Technology
Enabling employees to work from home means investing in remote access VPNs, group chat services, and some form of video teleconferencing. Years ago, this stuff would have been a major pain to orchestrate, but today we have a healthy selection of services like Slack and Google Hangouts which are both low-cost and child's play to deploy.
Still, some organizations just can't handle new technology. The people who still use email for file sharing and faxes for trouble tickets. Sadly, you'll need to conquer in-office tech long before you start using the word "remote."
You Hate to Travel
Although my job carries no formal travel requirement, I do fly up to company headquarters in New York City a few times each year. It's not the travel that bugs me as much as being separated from my home and family for a week. (And it doesn't help that I'm decidedly not a city person.) Some people understandably prefer a daily commute to a local office over periodic travel cross-country.
Company Culture Won't Adapt
This last point is usually where most people find themselves stuck. It's been ingrained in the collective American psyche that showing up to an office at 9 AM and leaving at 5 PM equates to working. Some managers, particularly those who started their career before this whole Internet thing, simply don't trust their employees to be productive outside of an office setting. But ask any manager how he or she measures employee performance: "By comparing the employee's accomplishments against the goals that were set for them, of course." Does it matter, then, where the employee was sitting when those goals were met?
Fellow rank and file employees can present a challenge as well. Some people simply don't care to learn new tools, even if they're more efficient. Others might harbor a grudge born out of envy for not being allowed or able to work remotely themselves. The political challenges to enabling remote working generally far outweigh the technical ones.
But as energy and commercial real estate costs continue to rise, and remote collaboration tools grow cheaper and easier to use, I believe that remote working will become much more common in many industries over the next few years.
Posted in Opinion
November 11, 2015 at 5:20 a.m. UTC
Excellent article. I agree with you..
November 11, 2015 at 8:42 a.m. UTC
One other side I will add is that while you've mentioned collaboration being easier with meetings being remote, I'd argue that not all collaboration is planned.
Some very useful ideas in the environments I've worked in come from overhearing issues people have when talking to others, or them overhearing me and suggesting something.
That's not to say that's always the case, but working from home kills that kind of approach from the very start.
Besides that though, I agree with pretty much everything else.
November 11, 2015 at 11:15 a.m. UTC
I found that I just don't have the discipline to remain on task at all times. Any recommendations on avoiding such pitfalls?
November 11, 2015 at 12:38 p.m. UTC
All good points. I've been working remotely for more than a year now. One important downside is the lack of human interaction. Like with actual people. Of course this only applies in some cases. So, IF one is single AND IF one has a small social circle, THEN going in the office might be one's only chance to interact with fellow humans on a regular basis.
For me, the ideal situation would be a combination of office work (3 days/week) and remote work (2 days/week).
November 11, 2015 at 1:34 p.m. UTC
I am sitting in my cube listening to two loud individuals discuss the finer points of life such as waking up on the wrong side of the bed, weather prediction, and personality types. I am definitely a person that prefers quiet and an environment the promotes focus. Hopefully work from home is in my future. Thanks for echoing my sentiments!
November 11, 2015 at 2:14 p.m. UTC
@Stuart: I'd argue that spontaneous collaboration is not only more frequent but more impactful online. This is because communication that takes place in a chat channel is open to everyone in the channel, rather than being limited to whomever is in earshot at that very moment. Further, people who aren't around at the moment have a chance to catch up on prior conversations by skimming the chat logs. Discussing an idea in chat ensures that far more people have an opportunity to process and respond to it.
November 11, 2015 at 3:39 p.m. UTC
Couldn't agree more with the points raised. Been working from home as network architect for years and couldnt go back to an office now.
Get so much more done, can top up my training easily (Cisco, Juniper online sessions) and no commute.
In modern day IT its insane that anyone has to go into an office daily.
November 12, 2015 at 12:07 a.m. UTC
Great article! Completely agree with all the points and comments.
No commute is huge. I'm more energized when I log out at the end of the day and I'm already home. I would also add that it's less wear and tear on your car meaning less maintenance required and longer life.
One other side benefit I've noticed is laundry. Working remote you're not wearing work clothes everyday and that can equate to less laundry depending on the dress code of the office environment. Honestly, most days I'm in pajamas all day or casual clothes. You could even argue that you may not need to own as many nicer outfits depending on your personal and social lifestyles outside of work.
Gabriel makes a great point though about social interaction. If you're not married with a family or live with someone, you can easily turn into a hermit when working from home on a regular basis. Need to be sure you're leaving the house to get fresh air and interacting with people ;)
November 12, 2015 at 12:23 a.m. UTC
I agree with all of your points, for I too have worked from home for several years at a time either for various clients or my own project(patent) etc. You gain a lot of extra time either for personal or professional growth or family time but you need a balance too.
The one major thing that missing is the human interaction, social skills, handling difficult people and presentation skills begin to wane. Though you may be a "killer" speaker on the phone or skype your in-person social skills(tone, body language etc) can start to erode without you noticing. You can also develop bad habits if not disciplined enough.
You need the interaction and camaraderie with other workers from time to time and you learn from others in daily interaction with them on approach, ideas, attitude, plus glean project related news from passing conversations and you are able to pick up the best traits from the good ones too. So, to continue growing I actually look forward to working on site from time to time to mix it up. Being home too long and you can go nuts. Great though during the winter months ;)
I see more vendors pushing this to save money but at the same time want to present to their clients a polished professional who, when onsite can handle things, knows how to navigate and adjust. I have so many clients trying to conduct network assessments via remote to save money, and it always ends up needing someone onsite for there is the personal interaction to catch all the real things, walk up to a cube to the FW engineer for example to ask a question or track someone down.(of course after emails first etc) but you know what I mean.
Some can stay home too long and become resistive to dealing with people face to face and find comfort in just huddling in their “spot” for 8 hours so it is not for everyone, you have to be very disciplined and if you do try it keep some balance and mix it up a bit, if you have a fully remote gig, try to go in once a week etc for a change of scenery. Remember if people don’t see you in person from time to time they may not be considering you. For business a lot can be made from that friendly pat on the back, smile, anecdote and interaction that gets around the office. You lose some of that benefit if fully remote.
November 12, 2015 at 7:11 p.m. UTC
Open floor plans are terrible. Constant interruptions are terrible. Working all day at work, then going home to push changes or work-on/study something sucks.
Occasionally, being in the office is alright, for the human element. I like working at larger companies are there are more people, thus larger chances to find people that are fun and engaging to hang out with, go to lunch with, etc. Working from home one day a week and avoiding long commutes are the only thing that keep me (mostly) sane. Companies in the bay area (and else where) make the commutes a bit easier with the shuttle services. I can't say I would enjoy a new york subway commute every day, but I don't mind the Caltrain and/or employee shuttles for the commute.
November 13, 2015 at 8:28 a.m. UTC
@Stretch: That's fine when everyone only every talks in chat logs, but that's a habit you'd need to break in every single person in a department. When some people are naturally chatty in person, or even just mutter things to themselves, then that isn't going to be picked up in a chat.
The problem is working from home for this scenario only works when the entire department, and even the entire company goes through a massive culture shift. If only certain people work from home, or buy into the culture shift, then the problem is just as bad, if not worse.
I'm not saying you're wrong, and it is a great ideal to work towards. It just needs more than a couple of the engineers/developers working from home, and wanting everyone to shift to their way of working, to change it.
November 13, 2015 at 9:51 a.m. UTC
Working from home sure has its benefits, and seeing your arguments for it made me think twice about this, but I don't think I'm disciplined enough for working from home.
As far as commuting, it takes me 2 hours overall, but I got smart at some time and decided to do something during that time (I use public transport), and now, thanks to modern technology, I don't consider that time being lost.
November 16, 2015 at 8:53 p.m. UTC
All very good points. Another perspective is regarding what type of work are you performing. Design/Build configurations/Testing/Documenting is probably better to do in a quiet room free from distractions.
But when troubleshooting live issues that involves multiple parties I found the physical proximity very helpful. Granted, we are a small team where my sys admin and DB admin are at cubicles next to mine.
November 17, 2015 at 4:56 p.m. UTC
I live in the greater NYC area and had to work at home after hurricane Sandy hit as there were no travel options. I did this for a little over a month and I can certainly say that you do seem to get more work done. There were plenty of times where I would find myself starting to work at 8am and look up and it would already be 6pm.
It's not for everyone and it does take some time to get used to, as you can get distracted just as easily at home at times, especially if your work is sporadic and you're not plugging away at any given assignment with full attention.
The only thing I think that actually going into the office brings is a slightly easier method of collaboration with other teammates, but as the technology advances, it has certainly become easier to do this as well.
November 22, 2015 at 4:27 p.m. UTC
I work for Cisco as a NCE, this has been my only job so far, two years now. I can say since I finished my training program (3 months) I started working from home, the only requirement was to go to the office twice per week just to meet the coworkers. I can say I really like this lifestyle, I'm able to stay with my family, have my own schedule and avoid the time stock in traffic.
November 22, 2015 at 8:42 p.m. UTC
I work from home 2 or 3 days a week. It's great for me with young kids, allows me much more flexibility in my day as I choose when to do project work or study. My only issue is my wife stays at home and is very hot!
November 24, 2015 at 7:32 p.m. UTC
I love working from home and have been for almost two years. The results oriented work environment is superior. Work is a verb.
To Stuarts point, I agree it is a huge cultural shift and far more expensive than most people realize. I think in the long term we will see that the companies that embrace the results oriented work environment will be more successful. Some environments will not embrace that attitude in the lifetimes of our children. The example that comes to mind is the government. It will take a sea change for government middle managers to shed the idea that if they can't see their employees then their employees are not AT work.
November 25, 2015 at 1:47 p.m. UTC
I've always wanted to work from home. At least several days per month in order to see if I'm more productive at home than work. However working for 2 years from home, I surely miss talking with colleagues or having coffee breaks with the team.
November 29, 2015 at 3:46 p.m. UTC
Hello , Congratulations for the very well structured site. One joke about the Home Office: "If you are not able to work at least 2-3 business days per week dressed only with your underwear , this means that you have made wrong decision ever " :)
December 1, 2015 at 7:38 a.m. UTC
I get distracted toward lots of other things other than work like internet when working from home , benifit is that at times you genuinely dont have any work , and when at work you dont need to pretend like you are working .
Downside to working from home is you miss out on some real socialization and I start getting depressed in few days .
December 30, 2015 at 4:27 p.m. UTC
I have worked from home for several years for a few companies. I agree with many of the points made in this article.
One down side I have noticed is when the company culture has many people working in the office, you lose some of the time to hang out with your co workers over lunch etc. Also, sometimes to a detriment, you lose face to face with managers/supervisors/directors, and I have noticed at times though you may be doing ten times the work of someone who works on site, because you are out of sight out of mind workers on site seem to be valued more. I suppose that can be due to mixed culture of some employees working remote and some at home.
January 13, 2016 at 11:29 a.m. UTC
Congrats for being a daddy .
But for me, with a 3 years old daughter, this will be impossible, because she will not leave me alone , and if she did, she will keep crying until she sits beside me and watching me working, and of course, asking about everything.
God bless your daughter and I hope you see her growing up and see what I mean :)
January 15, 2016 at 8:19 p.m. UTC
I worked in an IT company in Ireland for over 4 years sitting in a cubicle and I hated it(mostly). My team was one of few teams that never allowed the workers to work from home. I only lived like 30 min away if I walked so it was nothing big, but I really wished that I sometimes would be allow to work from home. At work it was so many people walking around just chatting or disturbing my teammates and so on. If they would have allowed us to work from home once in a while that would have been so good. I wish I was allowed to work from home but not all the time. Doing it at all times I think would be a bad thing. The best would be to be able to choose a little more. A friend of mine, she works 2-3 days from home a week. When her husband,who works in the same company but another department, comes home she could already have made food. She has saved a lot of time because of her home office.
January 20, 2016 at 10:41 a.m. UTC
The problem is that in most workplaces/cultures, the thought is: everybody or nobody...
If people were given a choice, I'm sure some would embrace working from home and others would prefer not to, but the problem is we're not given the choice...
January 29, 2016 at 7:48 p.m. UTC
Reminds me of the time I used to work for a major Video Conf. company in Silicon Valley as a Network Engineer. Working from home just lengthened my work hours since everyone got accustomed to simply contacting me and booking my time before and after the usual working hours. This wasnt the case when my team physically saw me come in and leave the office.
I love your site and its very informative to me. Keep up the good work and publish more cheat sheets pls. (ex. Juniper route/switch, dual home ISP etc)
February 13, 2016 at 2:04 a.m. UTC
I too started recently working from home. I'll vouch for what others have said about the important of discipline. I'd like to share a few tips, but not without first highlighting that discipline should be personalized -- what works for others may not work for you. And its nothing but trial and error until you find what works for you.
Here is what worked for me:
Wake up early. Its easy to think you can sleep in every day, but bar none the days I wake up early and get to it right away I end up being far more productive, despite battling feeling tired. When I sleep in, I end up slacking all day and getting very little done.
Break up your day. Don't think you can sit in one place and stay productive for 8 hours straight (or 4 hours, or even 2 hours). Plan a mid-day workout or walk to get away and decompress. I use this time for errands. It creates a break in my day and lets me stay productive (even if its just buying groceries).
KEEP A TO DO LIST!!! Super important. You must keep a to do list. Add everything to it. If you do something that isn't on your list, add it to your list and then cross it off. Live and die by the to do list.
Work from coffee shops, libraries, or restaurants with wifi. I'm lucky that I can do most of my work from a laptop, and don't always need multiple monitors or a lot of paperwork/books. If you aren't so lucky, then find the tasks that don't require your full desk setup, and make it a point to get those done outside of your house. Also suggest bouncing between many different coffee shops. I live in Seattle, and I can easily find a new coffee shop to work in every day for months before I have to cycle back through.
Again, these worked for me. I tried other systems which other folks recommended with less luck. But in trying them I was able to discover practices that did work. Trial and error. Its a process, you won't be as productive your first week, but it will get better.
March 3, 2016 at 4:16 p.m. UTC
We had such conversation a few times with our boss & HR department - latest response from boss is 'yes, I agree: you or almost whole team could work from home, but in a few months there will be an idea why not to outsource whole department to India.' When I was working at home a few times I had way more distractions then at work. It depends.
March 7, 2016 at 2:27 p.m. UTC
I would love to work out of my home.
I have worked as a network engineer and security engineer for a Fortune 500 and now for the government.
What specialty would you recommend to make it easier for me to find a position where I could work out of my home office?
March 8, 2016 at 5:46 a.m. UTC
I have been searching for remote network engineering jobs, but I am not sure who has them. I saw FlexJobs has some, but wasn't sure about paying $15/month to test the site out. Does anyone have any advice for searching for fully remote opportunities? I am a Sr Network Engineer with 9/yrs.
March 23, 2016 at 7:22 p.m. UTC
Nice work and many attributes are true
I worked for 4 years doing this and able to polarise my network changes for a retail banking network so that they were pre-dawn or post-dusk. This allowed me to schedule my life accordingly. (Back then my half marathon times and my golf swing were at their best)
However, the missing link was office small talk - I found that my soft skills waned as everything was always task focused. When I moved back to the office environment that took the longest to reinvigorate
June 7, 2016 at 7:36 a.m. UTC
Good suggestions , btw few MNC's doesn't allow to work from home . and even few employees take this as granted for personal work...!
June 25, 2016 at 8:55 p.m. UTC
I am a CCNA w/3 yrs experience on the job market now (contract just ended). I too have a fully dressed dedicated home office. I need to find employers who embrace this concept. I am in the hunt now, thank you.
July 10, 2016 at 3:56 a.m. UTC
Stumbled on your blog again, and in the same boat. Working from home full time, with some travel has been a boon to me with now 2 kids. That and also I'm around for deliveries, random people coming to the house, appointments, etc. I work more because I don't need to take time off for any of that crap.
You didn't mention this, but another huge plus is being able to do more than just wander to Subway with a bunch of coworkers and eat. I eat WAY better and save money. Beyond that, for the past couple months, on my lunches I go for a nice 30-45 min bike ride and burn some calories/get some sun. My whole attitude is refreshed when I get back, it's like a work-day reset.
Hope life's treating you well beyond the greener pastures of managed services :)
September 3, 2016 at 7:32 p.m. UTC
This is awesome! I periodically pop into your blog. I've been working from home as a network engineer, full time, for nearly two years now. It's a complete flip to what I've been used to in an office environment daily. It took some getting used to, and for a while it was hard to shut out work, but I've gotten much more proficient with it. I know this is from nearly a year ago, but excellent write-up!
October 5, 2016 at 5:12 p.m. UTC
Stretch, great post, from home i am working for 1 year and very agreed with your points and agreed with Family Presence very very invaluable