Homework

E just sent me the most wonderful article about the pros and cons of working from home.

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It strikes me that the dilemmas described in it are terribly important to my next big career decision, so I need to address them honestly, directly.

One way to ensure this, methinks, is to blog about it: The article defines an eight point checklist, which I will try to respond to point-by-point.

  1. Understand yourself first
    If you need daily contact or reinforcement from working with others, a home-based business is not for you. Ask whether you can work days, weeks and months on your own. Are you introverted or extroverted?

    I’m an introvert, but that’s less help than one might expect. Sitting here (blogging on company time! Shame!) my workmate Chris sits at the adjacent desk. He is largely either oblivious to what I do, or discrete enough that I never notice him noticing. It is very likely that he cares as little what I’m doing as I do about his tasks. Nonetheless, having Chris there makes a massive difference to how I feel. I don’t interact with Chris in any way (or to any effect) that I don’t equally derive from chatting with people online.
    Can I work usefully most of the time (for days, weeks and months) without Chris or some similar fellow human presence? Yes, although I recognise that it will be harder.
    Further to this: I some have tactics in mind…
  2. Understand the nature of working from home
    Too many people think home-based businesses offer wonderful freedom and lifestyle. At times they do, but they can also be terribly lonely and isolating. Read up on the pros and cons of working from home and put strategies in place to make it work for you.

    Having done this a couple of times before, I think I can safely claim to understand it: When E was in Wonthaggi, and earlier when she was living in Adelaide, I did quite a number of week-long stints working two different jobs from desks in those places. I won’t pretend it was easy: I had a tendency to go stir-crazy.
    Since then I’ve done quite a few single days from home, and found several things that help immensely:

    • Keeping a chat tool open, and talking to those who’ll tolerate my idle chatter.
    • Having a decent work environment, in terms of an adequate monitor, ergonomic chair, a proper keyboard and mouse.
    • Being in one’s own comfortable home, as opposed just being in a house.

    I’ve done a lot of reading about it, and talking to my prospective future workmates, S and Thingalon about exactly this issue.

  3. Think carefully about your business
    Do you need lots of clients to survive? Do you need to become part of your industry and raise your profile? Do you need a fancy address? Can your business only grow if it hires more staff? If yes, the downside of not working in town will far outweigh cost savings from working from home.

    Mercifully not my problem, since I aim to work from home as an employee, not an entrepreneur. A lot of literature on work-from-home seems focused on the sole trader and small business owner, for obvious reasons.
  4. Protect your physical and mental health
    Allocate time for exercise each day and take steps to ensure you are not too isolated. I’ve seen entrepreneurs develop depression because they felt too isolated working from home.

    I mean to increase my levels of exercise. Despite scrapping an hour’s walk every day along with the train commute, I will have about two extra hours every day in which I can do some formal exercise. That will be a matter of discipline and routine.
    Not catching the train will make me a much happier member of society. Oh yes.
  5. Set boundaries with your family
    Yes, it’s easier said than done, but make sure your family, or others you live with, understand work time is just that. Let them know that hours for home-based business owners can be irregular.

    This one is surprisingly hard. When I’m working at home, people deprived, what could make more sense than seizing a little time with my E, whose odd hours of work make her readily catchable during much of my normal working week? This is actually a wonderful thing, but obviously I have to draw a line… somewhere. Therein lies a very hard part, especially when you take into account the very different ways in which E and I work.
    In the short term, this will take work. The same distinction between 9-5 and on-call hours which works for me now can be made to work at home, if it’s made explicit.
    In the medium term, I aim to fix this by having an actual home office, rather than just using the study. Given a space with a door, the line becomes physical, and obvious to both of us.
    The very long term is still a murky mystery. Thingalon manages to work and mind a toddler at the same time; I take hope from his example.
  6. Develop a routine
    Mine is simple: I start around 8am each day, work solidly till 4pm, then have two hours to go to the gym, play with the kids or spend time with my wife. A quick dinner and the night shift starts where I finish late or early depending on my workload. I try to keep Fridays aside to catch up on reading, networking and prospecting for work. I usually work all or some of Sunday.

    I figure I have one of these already: I start work at 9, finish at 5 (or as close to it as I can manage) and am sometimes on call, liable to random summons 24 hours a day. As a total creature of habit, I aim to fence out housework, exercise time, time to get properly dressed and clean (even if I’m not leaving the house) plus any time I spend seeking out a temporary office-for-a-day somewhere Different. I am lazy, but I already have most of these mindless habits ingrained, and they already beat my laziness every day. Piece of cake.
  7. Force yourself to get out of the house
    As a university lecturer, I know it sounds like I’m pushing my own book when I recommend part-time study. But doing a subject every semester is a great way to meet other entrepreneurs, learn new skills and stay fresh. Set a goal to add at least one new person to your network each week.

    This is already an issue for me. A new job which leaves me more personal time each day can only help.
    New skills, courses and technology conferences are just a fact of life for a sysadmin, and I have high hopes that going back to a small firm will amplify these opportunities.
  8. Have a second place to work.
    If you can afford it, lease some cheap office space to alternate between home and office work. Better still, sub-let space in somebody else’s office for a fraction of the price. If you can’t afford it, work from a university library once a week or at a friend’s house.

    That’s the plan. Cafes with wireless, the houses of willing friends and public libraries are all alternatives to our study at home. Not only does this placate my gregarious brain with a varied ambient herd, it also means I can still have proper barista-made coffee while I work! W007!

I believe I’m ready for this.

2 thoughts on “Homework

  1. Hmm – I’m not sure I want to encourage you – personally, I think working from home is a big trap for almost everyone, risking loneliness, de-motivation, and (most importantly) isolation from divergent *ideas* – there’s only so much you can learn on-line; I’m a big believer these days in learning from the people you work with…

    Anyway that’s a digression – what I was going to say was, a nifty idea I heard about working from home:

    Put a barrier between your office and everything else, by putting a 5-minute walk between them. If you need to go from your house to your office, *walk around the block* first – and ditto going from the office to the house. You don’t work from home, you work from a place remarkably like home, that’s a 5 minute walk away…

    If you are going to something that might reasonably be at an office, like the lavatory, then you can skip the 5 minute walk. But if you are going to the kitchen for lunch, or to put the washing on, or even if you are staying at your desk but doing something clearly *not work*, then walk around the block first, to clearly signal “I’m not at work now, I’m at home” …

    Anyway, I thought it was cunning, YMMV.

  2. I actually tried this exact tactic when working from E’s study in Adelaide: in the morning before I started work, I would walk around the block.

    The thing that killed this was the silliness of it all: at some point it just becomes obviously ridiculous, and you stop. Once you’ve stopped, it becomes harder to convince yourself there’s a point to it the next time.

    I’m a little concerned about the isolation, but as documented above, I have tried it a fair bit, and I do have some plans (based on discussions with other who’ve been doing it for years now) for how to ameliorate the problem.

    As regards skill, I’m not worried: I will talk to my new workmates, constantly, probably verbally. I will talk their ears off. I won’t be stuck in an eyewateringly narrow role in a frankly stagnant company; I’ll be in a startup, where the challenges are real, and the choice of technology is largely mine. 🙂 I’ve missed that fiercely.

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