Fast forward six years, and these terms have all but disappeared. This once-disruptive way of working has become a matter of course for many companies in tech and beyond. It’s no longer “web work,” it’s just “work.” Work from home policies are viewed more as a standard offering than a benefit. Nearly every cafe you walk into — well, at least the ones with free Wi-Fi — are filled with people tapping away at their open laptops and taking conference calls on their mobile phones. Most of our readers have at least one coworker who works in a different country or at least a different time zone. Nicole Solis
That was written a bit over a year ago and I still don't think it's true. I cannot count the number of people who give me googly eyes when I explain I work from home. Granted, I live in a small town, but so many people, especially older friends, still think it's a bit of a novelty to work from home. This is a few months old, but a recent Census report showed that 13.4 million people work from home at least once a week. That's a huge number and a dramatic increase from earlier years, but it's still only 9.4% of US workers. And it's only once a week in many cases. And if you're one of those people that's working from home one day a week, I'm sure you know the challenges and anything-but-seamless experience.
I remember when I first started working from home, before I had a company provided computer. I had to copy my files to a USB drive (this was before Dropbox) and carry them home. Then I had to make sure to save these files and bring them back in, or I'd have to merge files later. Our company didn't have webmail then, or at least you couldn't find the information easily, so you had to use a wonky VPN connection to connect to your office computer and then try to open files and manage your desktop remotely. Worked most of the time, unless I accidentally turned off the computer before I left the day before. I can't tell you how many times I called my coworkers to ask them to please turn on my computer, or restart it if there was a problem.
Certainly these are first-world problems, but it's an illustration of how difficult home-based work can still be for an employee of a company that doesn't have an established work from home arrangement. Sure, you can work from home, but how does the lack of technology impact your productivity?
In the five years since I moved to Beaufort, working from home has become increasingly doable, even if it requires a lot of patchwork solutions and duct-taped systems. But what I continue to wonder is, How do you make the experience of working from home more seamless, less like a house divided, and more like a team that happens to not share a common location and nothing more? So, I started looking at the companies that are distributed, or partially distributed and found a few interesting things. Of course, I'm talking about Automattic, owners of WordPress, the software I use to publish this site. And there's 37Signals, which I've discussed here. But there are dozens of microbusinesses that depend on distributed workforces and even many larger companies. (Here's a list from Scott Berkun). The other weekend, I was in Tennessee to visit my in-laws and I was working from a nice coffee shop. I started chatting with a guy at the same large table as I was and I discovered that he was the COO of a small web firm with programmers and other employees spread across the world. Some of this was outsourcing, but many of these folks are full-time employees that just happen to live somewhere else.
So, what makes a successful work-from-home arrangement? What can you do to empower and develop your home based employees? We'll dig more into this in the future, but the two consistent points that I discovered when I did my research were:
- Hire people you trust that are good at their jobs
- Let them do their jobs
You won't be surprised to know the next key is communication. Not communication for the sake of chatting, or meetings, or whatever else, but the creation of a communication structure that attempts to replicate the experience of being in the office. There's too much to discuss for this post, so check back next week for an update on communications for home based employees. You can grab the RSS feed, or sign up using the box on the right sidebar.