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Working From Home

The idea that one can do nothing useful as a developer unless you are in an open plan office is rather retro. Although we all get that knowing wink when we announce that we are “Working from Home”, the truth is more complicated, I think.

Some people are more productive when they work from home, others if they work only part of the week in the office. A proportion of people who try working from home seem to go entirely to pieces and end up in unscheduled conference calls unwashed, in their pyjamas or underwear. A famous software company, puzzled by the patchy productivity of their remote workers, studied their VPN logs, only to discover that a surprising proportion of rarely logged in, and when they did it was often only to complete their expenses claim forms.

At the other end of the spectrum, the urge of the remote worker is to carry on working far too long. For many geeks, the closing of an office in the evening is a mercy, driving them out onto the street, blinking in some bewilderment at a world outside work. When you work from home, there is no such restraining hand.

A lot of jobs in IT are so interconnected and dependent on other team members that there are few opportunities for working from home. Comms are reducing the need for physical presence, but it is a slow trend. One of the worst effects of home working is that you tend to become forgotten by your colleagues and by management. Many working in IT, particularly in management, seem to find something magical and supernatural about comms technology such as Skye or Slack. The remote worker appears briefly ‘on the other end of the line’, like some vision from the spirit world, then ceases to exist again.

So, what is the answer? From long experience, I suggest using a ‘home office’ which you attend on a rigid timetable of Office Hours, and avoid at other times, unless there is a crisis. I believe that a hybrid system is best, where you are in the office on set days, and in the home office the rest of the time. When in the office, it pays to reassure your colleagues that you still exist, and that you are being productive: it pays to look in a mirror occasionally to ensure that you still have a reflection.

This works for me, but it won’t suit all people who work from home. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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