Monday Jun 23, 2008

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 Being tied to an office as the only place of work is outdated at best.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 ...

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