Working from Home (or anywhere)

I've been thinking about giving up my office and engaging Sun's work from home program. I've always supported the notion of working from home -- or wherever you need to work from given the circumstances of your projects and your geography. Place shouldn't matter. Results should matter. Being tied to an office as the only place of work is outdated at best. But I also value the concept of everyone getting together in the same space at times because I believe that face-to-face contact is essential to getting quality work done over the long term. Local teams can get together weekly in the office for meetings and white board sessions, and distributed teams can get together quarterly or bi-annually. And in between team meetings, various members can be interacting at conferences or user groups. In other words, there needs to be a balance of face-to-face and digital-phone relationships. Everyone has a different opinion about what the mix should be, but pretty much everyone who values innovation believes that a variety of work experiences is necessary and the key to that is flexibility.

But many times working from home doesn't fit for some people. They miss the office interactions that proximity enables. And that's real. I have certainly experienced that there is great benefit to being close to others and close the action if an organization is centralized. The "bump-into" factor can be a significant cultural bit on some teams, and that puts remote employees at a tremendous disadvantage. However, I have an interesting twist to this. I live in Japan. Just outside Tokyo. And I go to the office every day, yet 99% of my activities are global. I actually do very little work in Japan with the Sun Japanese team for the Japanese market on the Japanese time zone. The cultural and language barriers are gigantic for a solo American to focus on the Japanese market, and also I'm the only Westerner as far as the eye can see around here at Sun. As a result, I'm actually working more and more on a US schedule so I can connect to my core team in California. So, that means I work most nights and early mornings to get the guys in the US and Europe on the phone live. I find that real time communications -- phone and email -- is the most effective way to compensate for the distance and time problem I live with every day. When you are responding to things 10 hours later than everyone else it's just too late. Over time, the conversation simply moves on without you and you are slowly forgotten. I can give many examples of this. It's real. To compensate, you over work so you are on the same time zones as whoever you are working with 10,000 miles away. That's not a good long term strategy because over time you simply die.

So, real time interaction with a distributed team is absolutely critical if you have no local team that forms the base of your job. That's the key. Now, most Asia Pacific Sun employees eventually cross over and interact with the US and/or Europe at odd times of the day for meetings and such, but for me working at odd hours is quite literally my entire job. And it's exhausting. It does wonders for the family life, too. Not to mention the early death part. So, that's why I'm thinking about doing the work-from-home program. The team I work for is spread out in six cities on three continents. For me, I come to the office to get in to Tokyo, but it's not really necessary, and at this point I'd argue it's wasteful. At the very least I can save the commute time (45 mins each way standing on painfully packed trains). I can walk my daughter to kindergarten and back 10x during that commute time to get to an office where I have no real day-to-day interaction with anyone there. Or I can sleep, too. An extra hour and a half of sleep would come in handy -- especially on my 22 hour days. Perhaps by working from home I can get more of my main tasks done, and then when there are occasional opportunities for Japan-specific projects I can take better advantage of them. We'll see. I'm just thinking about it. Two things are clear, though: I have little time or patience for inefficiency anymore, and no one in my position does what I do. They are all global employees working from home.

I'm off to Prague tomorrow ...

Comments:

Just do it.

I suggest, too, that you find a very local place where you can occasionally get stuff done away from wife and daughter.

Hang in there. And do take care of your family. They'll be around in your life when SMI is just a memory.

Posted by Christopher Mahan on June 23, 2008 at 07:01 PM JST #

Wow, that's a tough spot to be in. Definitely do what's going to work best for all parts of your life; I can't see why more than an occasional visit to the Tokyo office would be of any great benefit to you.

Posted by Deirdré Straughan on June 23, 2008 at 09:33 PM JST #

I would try the work from home thing Jim, more and more I see little need for me to actually be in the office. It helps from time to time to meet with people but over the long haul much like you I get more do on my time than I ever would in the office on the "NORMAL" work time. It's just more efficient to work when my team of other teams are up.

Posted by David Vasta on June 24, 2008 at 02:01 AM JST #

I find walking my kids to school is incredibly good for the soul. I don't know why. Maybe it's because you're ushering your kid into their education, which will form the basis for their entire life. Anyway, I hope you like working from home and that you can get more sleep and more time with your family.

Posted by melanie gao on June 24, 2008 at 02:59 AM JST #

If I find a company that give me the same salary and conditions that my actual one and let me work from home, I change immediately.

Working from home had many advantages.

-- Save money and time for transportation. It's tired, by train, by car, whatever. I spent almost two hours by car in Europe to go to job. Traffic jams, pollution... I spend one hour in Japan inside the train. I arrive to office already mentally tired. I would like to spend those 2 hours with family, friends and personal life. 2 hours per day means 10 hours per week, 480 hours per year! 480 of no-sleeping time. That means, taking 8 sleeping hours, 480/16 = 30 days! I spend one month of my life inside a train… Let’s think about people that spend even more time.

-- Company saves money and space. How much money is spent for air conditioning, electricity, infrastructures? More than everyone can imagine.

-- Human interaction is not a problem. I have a life after work. I have friends, I’m busy at weekends. If someone can’t have a live beyond the office, it’s better to contact a specialist.
Big projects as Linux and many other open sources one has been developed from home. Email, phone, video conference is enough. More human interaction is needed? Ok, let’s make one meeting per week.

-- Productivity. Feeling well, comfortable at home, managing my own time, makes me feel better in my life and focus my job with a clear and smart mind. Isn’t productivity important?
As you said: Place shouldn't matter. Results should matter.

So if I were you, I just don’t think twice. Working from home.

Posted by Pietro Zuco on June 24, 2008 at 05:43 AM JST #

I started working from home about 2 yrs ago. I'm UK-based with the rest of my colleagues (also home based) on the East coast of the US. I initially started to be very disciplined (9-5, nothing afterwards) but quickly realised that I do need to have proper interaction with my collegues. So I went the other way. Now I'm happy to have a meeting in the evening (with the proviso that if there's something decent on TV, or I want to go to the pub), then we move the meeting. On the other side, I'm happy to do personal stuff during my working day. So far it works quite well. My colleagues are all very flexible too, and they know I will get annoyed at being IM'ed with trivial stuff in MY evening. But important stuff is fine.

Posted by ferg on June 24, 2008 at 11:03 AM JST #

If you need to balance the need to accommodate vast differences in time zones between U.S. and Asia (and the cultural differences as well), Honolulu should be an ideal place.

OTOH, if you work from your home, physical location should not make much difference. Thus, if we have enough Sun employees (and/or non-Sun community activists) working from their homes, perhaps I can try to talk to our local politicians to help setting up a "virtual" OpenSolaris, OpenOffice.org, or Java/NetBeans center here in Honolulu.

I practiced mainly before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, both in Washington, D.C., my partnership is in Houston, Texas, and most of my clients are in Taiwan. But I live in Honolulu. Go figure. :-)

Posted by W. Wayne Liauh on June 24, 2008 at 07:40 PM JST #

Don't hesitate, do it. For the past 3 years I have worked from home full time. My team is also spread around the world, majority on the West Coast, so most of my interaction with the team starts between 3 and 4 pm CET, and lasts on average until between 6 and 7 pm CET. Occasionally there is the meeting that takes place at 9 or 10 pm CET, and a few times a year I get up at 2 or 3 am CET for a meeting with Asia Pacific contacts.

This sounds odd and non appealing to people used to going into the office for a 9 to 5 workday, but it just works for me. Like others that have commented before, I do personal things in the mornings when needed, spend some time with my as she comes home around 2 pm CET.

At this point I would not trade Sun for another company, not even for a little more money, unless I can have the same Work from Home environment, it has changed my life and would not go back to 90-120 minutes of daily commuting.

Posted by Marc Dierens on June 24, 2008 at 08:02 PM JST #

Just a note based on my own experience. Yes, WFH saves me lot of time (~2hrs at least a day). On the other hand, over time, it could become more and more difficult to motivate yourself to work on lets say "expected level of performance"; especially, if you have small children around you (you are still the best target to play with - if we are not talking about your working in "odd hours"). Me personally, I had to found the best balance between both - WFH & WFO. The good balance seems to be the key..

/j.

Posted by Jan Friedel on June 26, 2008 at 03:50 PM JST #

hey, thanks for all the advice. I'm inclined to do this at some point. But I'm wondering about insurance issues. Also wondering about expenses of power expenses for computer use all day, air conditioning in summer, and heat in winter. Systems that would generally not be running all day now have to work all day if I'm home. And power issues in Japan are gigantic. Have to do more research about how Sun handles this.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on July 05, 2008 at 03:54 AM JST #

I hope I answered some of your questions about costs of WFH on http://blogs.sun.com/AntoinetteO/entry/costs_of_working_from_home

Posted by Antoinette O'Sullivan on July 07, 2008 at 12:06 AM JST #

I added some more "Costs of WFH" in response to new questions on my blog: http://blogs.sun.com/AntoinetteO/entry/more_on_costs_of_working
Just more thoughts to weigh in the balance for now or the future.

Posted by Antoinette O'Sullivan on July 08, 2008 at 12:06 PM JST #

Hi Jim,
I've worked from home for over a year now. Compared to the office, there are many advantages -- the flexibility, less commute time, etc. I also enjoy the ability to wear pajamas all day (which, if you want to compute laundry expenses could be considered a cost savings). As far as the costs are concerned, yes, there is a slight uptick in heating and cooling cost -- but I save money on fuel for transportation. From what I can tell, the increased cost hasn't added up to more than $20/month compared to when I didn't work from home. The most unanticipated additional cost was toilet paper... But in the US, all of these costs are pretty much negated through the tax write-off that you can take advantage of when you work in a home office.
It sounds like, for what you do... working from home would have major benefits -- not the least of which would be saving you from early death due to overworking!

Posted by Leah on July 09, 2008 at 10:17 PM JST #

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