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Wednesday, March 19 2014

Keywords: Working from home, DBA work from home, Working remotely, virtual teams, remote teams, The Matrix, distributed teams, geographically dispersed teams, team with different time zones

Benefits and challenges of working from home with remote teams. Part 2 of 2.

Are you currently doing or are planning to do Information Technology related work from home while collaborating with remote teams? If so read on...you are at the right place.
 
This is the second and final article in the "Remote Teams" series... if you have not already read the prequel, I would recommend that you read it first as it provides a ton of tips. If you are not working in the field of Information Technology, or you are working for yourself and not with a remote team then you could certainly still read this article and hopefully find it helpful but it is possible that some of my recommendations will not apply to you.
 
Working from home could be more challenging than you think. I did just that for a long while and learned lots from doing it. Doing so one even learns more about oneself. Admittedly, I did stumble upon certain known “working from home traps”… but the important thing is that I learned from my mistakes… improved substantially by time… and got quite productive at it too… even more productive than working in a company with a co-located team. The lack of distraction at home makes me concentrate better and render a lot more work.

 

The keys to success when working remotely from home are:
 

  • SELF-DISCIPLINE, if not at least having an open mind to becoming better at this
  • HIGH LEVEL OF MATURITY
  • SELF-MOTIVATION
  • DEDICATION
  • GO-GETTER PERSONALITY
  • GREAT COMMUNICATIONAL SKILLS, if not at least having interest to becoming better at this

 

Let’s jump right into the meat and potatoes of it. This is what a typical productive day of working from home should look like IF YOU WORK IN THE MORNING:

 

  • Take a shower before starting to work! I am not in the habit of telling people how to run their personal lives, but I mention this otherwise-rude-comment because nothing would stop a person from simply ignoring this important step… and get up and jump directly on the chair and start slamming on the keyboard… It is wrong to do so… and you are building up bad lazy habits.
     
    I strongly advise you against it, and for many reasons, including but not limited to: feeling alert, as well as looking good and professional in your teleconferencing sessions with your colleagues or manager or clients later on during the day. I highly recommend that you do treat your working day at home like an ordinary working day at an actual company.
  • Eat a full breakfast… do not work on hungry stomach.
  • If you are into your dose of caffeine to wake up… by all means go ahead and enjoy your favorite source of this dark magic potion to become even more alert.
  • No need to suit up... but I'm against working in pyjamas, we live in the times of video conferencing also. Wear something comfortable… but nothing pyjama like.
  • No need to take a briefcase or lunch bag with you...let's not exaggerate neither.
  • If there are other individuals in the house, say ‘bye bye I am going to work to them’… so that they explicitly get the message that you are working and they should respect your work and stop making loud sound.
  • Go to your cozy corner or room where you call 'my office'.
  • Start work on time! Not too early just because you are at home… and not too late so that it would look like you are abusing it. Try as much as possible to treat it like a normal day in a normal company with normal working hours.
  • Get some work done... or attend meetings.
  • Take a break for 15 minutes.
  • Get some more work done… or attend meetings.
  • Lunch break
  • Get some more work done… or attend meetings.
  • Take a second 15 minutes break.
  • Get some more work done…or attend meetings.
  • Finish work on time... do not over-work, something which is very easy to do at home… and do not finish way too early which will make you look like a lazy slacker!

 

Tip on making your working from home experience more fruitful:

 

  • Have a comfortable office setting including a nice size desk with the right height and shape…and an ergonomic chair with high back support which is intended to provide optimum comfort and to avoid stress or injury.
  • Adhere to all rules of sitting properly... good posture... to avoid all back pain...and wrist injury etc. There are many sources online like this one to show the proper ways. Here is one example I picked randomly.
  • Do not answer home phone calls during working hours, unless you are waiting for an important call. If you were working in a company you wouldn’t even hear your home phone ring… so treat it the same way.
  • It is common for family members to abuse the one who works at home. Refuse your spouse's requests such as "honey since you're home, cook this and wash that, and do this and buy that"... make them understand that you are actually working and they need to support and respect your work, office and schedule.
  • Do not work in lying position on the sofa or a bed...but sitting on a comfortable chair that is good quality.
  • If you have pets… do not spend hours petting them… a little bit is fine of course…maybe doing so during your breaks and lunch should suffice.
  • Do not place a mini-fridge in your home office!!!
  • Between years 2000 to 2010 you should have had 2 monitors while working at home… I now recommend 1-2 computers and a minimum of 3 to 4 monitors placed around you, especially if you are into database administration. On one monitor I had my email application (Outlook) + my office chat application visible at all times… do not forget that you are alone as well as remote, so you do not want to miss out on any important message or email. On another monitor I was monitoring the heart beat and performance counters of some of my live production database servers… and then on the 3rd monitor I had a PDF or a browser open for lecture, training, lookups and researches, and on the 4th monitor I was getting the actual development/administration work done.
  • Working with a laptop in a park, in the back yard, or while sitting in an Internet café or near a beach all sound fascinating... but maybe once a year it could be realistic or OK, otherwise it's actually distracting... (I'm talking from experience!). You will get your best job done alone in your home office.
  • Working regularly from home works out BEST if you are ALONE at home. Children are a big No-No (again I talk from experience!), and if you do have small children at home, then I would even argue that you should not be doing certain types of work which require absolute concentration such as computer programming. It would not be fair for you, for your children who will end up watching too much TV in order to be quiet, and nor for your employer who’s paying you.
     
    Hopefully your better half is not at home neither, otherwise be advised that most spouses have not been taught how to handle this kind of situation. They are used to the fact that when you are at home it is either for holidays or weekends or vacation times. Therefore they could by default be inclined to treat you that way… so they could either ask you to perform domestic tasks… or even try to spend the whole day beside you. A good solution to untimely family expectations would be that you sit down and explain your situation to your loved ones clearly. Your job is what brings bread to the table after all.
  • Concentrate on work… Remain focused at all times.
  • Apply all other rules I covered in “Woking with Remote Teams” chapter.
  • Sitting long hours is not friendly to your health… If I were you I would do some exercise at least 3 times per week… walk after work or during lunch hour… learn relaxation and meditation techniques etc.
  • Do not cook, iron or do the laundry during working hours!!!
  • Do make plans to meet with friends or other co-workers in a mall for lunch… Sociability is healthy for your brain. Staying alone is neither healthy nor good.
  • Do not start play video games during working hours AT ALL… they are VERY addictive and worse yet VERY TIME CONSUMING.
  • There is a ton of work for you to do and there will always be… do NOT try to finish them all in one day! Only do your usual 9-5 or whatever shift it is that you have to do, and nothing more or less. Respect your personal life and schedule.
  • Make sure you get a cheap long-distance phone package… I don’t want to get into the topic of who has to pay for this… but you need to feel free to make long distance business calls at any time.
  • Do attach a video camera to your workstation and do hold video conferences on daily basis with your remote teams, if technically possible. If your team is not into that, propose this concept to your boss, chances are he will like and condone your idea. By showing yourself to your team every day you also dodge the danger of being overlooked for salary increases and bonuses.
  • If you see that working from home was at first exciting but it has since lost its appeal there is nothing wrong with that… maybe this is just not for you… but at least you gave it a good try and learned much from it. I would recommend that you be honest with your manager about your sentiments regarding working from home and try to discuss this with him and to come to some agreeable solution. You will be surprised how a caring manager could react to your concerns. I once saw a friend do just that and his manager arranged for him to have an office somewhere in downtown Montreal in an actual big office building that didn’t even belong to the company at all… they company rented an office-room for him in another existing big company! You see they didn’t want to lose him so they went out of their way. And my friend? He was very satisfied of the final outcome… he was suiting up and getting out of home every day to work.

 

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Do you think that's all you needed to know about working from home? Sorry to contradict you! Let me walk you into the personal sides of working from home. Things closer to us than the technologies and technicalities.
 
Acknowledge your bad habits... be aware of them… face them… and try to proactively treat them. If you are unable to do it on your own then do not feel bad to seek help. Face the bad habits now and show them that you are in control of yourself. Example of some of these extremely devastating bad habits are:

 

  • Going to smoke often… maybe even more often at home than if you were in a company.
  • Opening up the fridge door every 45 minutes… staring at all the delicious foods inside… letting gluttony take over your very being.
  • Drinking alcohol… alone at home… no one is watching… no one knows… but wait you will sound under the influence during the phone conference with your boss later on.
  • Doing other drugs… you are working at home… you are alone… and you get this epiphany that you would like to prove the hypothesis that best computer algorithms were written while the programmer was high!
  • Reaching out to your smart mobile phone every 2 minutes… staring at its screen often as if the most important life-dependent message of all time was going to arrive at any time… grabbing your phone for no other reason than a habit.
  • Launching your browser for no reason every 10 minutes so that you could read some article... the latest news… the latest discoveries or tech news… or your stocks’ hourly ups and downs!
  • Having the urge to respond to every single text message or Wazzup message from your friends or spouses.
  • Getting up from your sit too often, for no apparent reason other than anxiety or boredom.
  • Chatting, texting personal stuff all the time… even if it is done with another colleague.
  • Unable to stay quiet for too long. Getting the urge to make too many personal phone calls.
  • Over-doing jokes and humour and sarcasm.
  • Eating all the time… the whole day… non-stop… you noticed that since you started working at home you have gained weight. If this is true by the way… take it very seriously.
  • Addicted to video games… on the PC or on your cell phone, or on a game console.
  • Maintaining super long non-work related conversations with other colleagues every day on boring and over-done Android vs iOS, PC vs Mac, C# vs VB, my smart phone vs your smart phone, or some other waste of time redundant topic that has been already discussed a million times to death.
  • Constant Fear of things going wrong…afraid of everything…afraid of losing their jobs…of health problems…of politics and wars etc. Just relax and concentrate on your job! The world is not ending tomorrow unlike what some folks say in Hollywood block busters!
     
    I have seen worried people leave excellent positions at excellent companies prematurely because they had these hallucinations that they were getting fired soon (far from truth). Another colleague of mine, a network administrator whom was very much loved by his managers actually… was so insecure that got himself fired by being overly negative and always suspicious of losing his job.
  • Your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse is at home too… and somehow you two always end up getting intimate with each other during your working hours… That is of course very humane and natural and I congratulate you on that personally… However it will affect your work… the human brain gets flooded with a plethora of good hormones after intimacy and for at least a couple of hours you won’t be your usual alert-self and won’t be able to concentrate well on your job and work efficiently. So if you find yourself addicted to that as well… you need to deal with it by moving it to another time slot during the day!

 
All the above-mentioned habits will stop you from growing... from working... from learning... from doing your job... they eat away precious hours every day... while you read the latest news at CNN (during your working hours) or create and send out some funny MEME to your colleagues. Instead give time and energy to learning new things, to communicate more efficiently with your team... learn new technologies... give more time to development... and to administration and to knowledge transfer.

 

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Like everything else, working from home has its advantages and disadvantages, and we each seem to weigh them out differently, so it does not matter if one research somewhere has stated that working from home is good or bad… it all boils down to “me”… is this for me? You need to ask yourself that question. As your specific motives behind working from home varies from others’. Working from home all alone all day long, day after day, could render some individuals mad; but could also be heaven for others. The fact that we are all different is a beautiful thing. You wouldn’t want everyone to love working at home would you?

 

It could be months or up to a year, before you feel that you really got 100% full control over the whole working from home routine… and that it is working out optimally for you.
 
If and when you overcome all the associated vices, and master the required high level communication skills to survive a remote and lonely working environment; then and only then you will realize that you have come out of the shy IT developer/administrator perimeters, and are comfortably on your stealth journey toward becoming a confident and unshy autonomous professional with leadership proficiency as well as strong conversational skills that will make you a Jedi Master in the fields of knowledge transfer, motivational speeches, and even sales and marketing.

 

Written by Ramin Haghighat