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‘There’s No Place Like Home’ – Thoughts On Remote Working

June 14, 2017 - developers

Before I joined Fifteen, I worked for five years or so as a self-employed, freelance developer. My office was the spare room of my flat and my morning commute the express line down the hall, via bathroom and kitchen.

I’ve been back to doing what I call a ‘proper job’ – the kind of job where putting on trousers before turning on your computer is considered basic etiquette – for 18 months now, but I recently had a flashback to my home-office years that got me thinking about the pros and cons of both environments.

A major project was held up by a third party (yes, I know that sounds like an excuse, but it’s true) leaving three weeks to complete around two months’ worth of work. Faced with this fast-approaching deadline, Fifteen supremo Ollie suggested I relocate my Apple Macs (that’s right – there was so much work to be done I needed two computers to do it!) to my flat and ‘lock in’, as he put it.

Time flies…

People who haven’t done it get the impression that working from home is a cushy number – and to a certain extent they are absolutely right. Who would take the morning train over a morning snooze?

But many who have done it agree that a day at home can be more gruelling than one at the office. In an ironic example of reverse psychology, the privilege of working from home makes us feel guiltily obliged to give the metaphorical 110%.

The neurosis of the home-worker also makes them more conscious of time. In an office, we plug on with our work but take casual interruptions – colleagues stopping for a chat, clients on the phone, birthday cakes to be eaten – in our stride. At home, each cold-caller, kettle boil or adjustment of the thermostat seems like precious time wasted and adds to our sense of guilt – the boss isn’t paying us to leave our desk to let the dog out!

This temporal anxiety is amplified if you are self-employed, when each month’s bills depend on making the most of every minute, when time is literally money. However, when I was my own boss, if I wasn’t on top form on a particular day, the only person I had to explain that to was myself – and I happened to be quite understanding about it. Now that I’m part of a team and on somebody else’s wage bill, I’m all too aware that if I take advantage of a casual day at home, I’ll be letting a lot of people down.

…when you’re having fun

Of course, it has to be said – and trials prove – that working away from the noisy distractions of the office can lead to a very productive day, perhaps even a higher quality of work if you find it easier to concentrate in a peaceful environment.

But what nobody tells you about working from home is that while the commutes are shorter, the hours are often longer. With no disruptions, you’ve got no excuses if you haven’t completed your day’s tasks, nor are you at risk of being locked in overnight if you linger at your desk too long finishing things off, so you may find yourself working into the twilight in order to complete your to-do list. On a regular day at the office you would probably defer trivial bits and pieces until the following morning without a second thought, but leaving loose ends after a home day won’t reflect well on you and you may not be trusted to deliver next time.

On the other hand, having the freedom to work a little longer – perhaps only eating up the time you would have spent driving to and from the office anyway – gives you a bit more breathing space, which can help your creativity. There is no arbitrary 5pm deadline, so if something isn’t working out, you can relax, take a sofa break and come back to it when you are refreshed – without anyone thinking you are dossing.

During the project I mentioned at the start of this piece, much of the work involved synchronising large amounts of data, meaning there were regular lulls during which I had literally nothing to do but wait. In this enforced downtime I would make my lunch or sort out the washing, then come back to my Macs when the data routines were complete. My working day was spread out literally from dawn till dusk, but this allowed me to manage both professional and domestic duties efficiently as I was not beholden to any other schedules.

I should note here that although we have regular office hours, everybody puts a tremendous amount of personal investment in our projects (which is rewarded by our perks), so I don’t resent putting in the extra time. It’s also worth noting that fortunately, I have absolutely no social life to be disrupted, though this may be a chicken and egg situation…

The Dev Who Came In From the Cold

The fortnight my two Macs and I spent catching up in my spare room were crucial to Fifteen delivering the project in question. The nature of the work needed a focused, committed approach. An extra hour in bed every morning didn’t hurt either.

But in all honesty, I was glad to be back in the office the following week. It helps if you work somewhere as vibrant and friendly as Fifteen (and no, they didn’t make me write that), but the point is this – if I wanted to work from home all the time, I could. I could easily go back to freelancing and be my own boss again, but then I wouldn’t get to work within the brilliant team here.

That was the main reason I gave up my freelance lifestyle to return to the 9-5 rat race. I wanted to work with other people, to collaborate with them and learn from them. And even though it is possible to use Slack and Skype to stay in touch with colleagues remotely, it is only an ersatz version of teamwork.

There is no place like home, but there’s also no place like the Fifteen offices for feeling involved – involved in challenging projects and involved in award-winning results. Working from home is like watching your football team on the telly – it has its advantages, its comforts, but nothing compares to standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the terraces. And I honestly wouldn’t swap that for an extra hour in bed.

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