Last night I met up with several “BMC exiles” (the group of people who have worked or are working at BMC, or know that group) for a few beers and a BLT. On of my former managers, Divakar, was there. Having just started up his own business (congrats!), he asked me what it was like working at home.
So, how appropriate is it that I’m here on a Saturday morning, sitting in my living room, writing this up while Kim is on a conference call her self? Freedom doesn’t sleep in (inside joke).
First off, the question is about more than simply working at home. The question is about what it’s like to be a highly self-directed, decentralized worker outside of the office, that very distinction leads up to the first item:
- Keep up with introspective people to figure out just what the hell it is your new type of job is and for operative tips. For example, Anne & co.’s Web Worker Daily. WWD (and other sources I assume) are a good version of the self-help magazines of hold where you can actually learn new ways to make your work better but also get the sort of camaraderie of knowing you’re part of a larger group. And, at times, there’s even counseling for common problems.
- Take on more responsibility. When you’re working “alone” or (as I am) of part of small team, you have to take on much more responsibility than at a large company. Part of this is doing menial things like helping make sure meetings get scheduled. Another part is realizing your represent the whole group, all the time, so you better preset yourself and your group well. That should go without saying, but large companies breed cog-think, and it’s easy to apply that even when you’re 1/3 or a 1/4 of your new group.
- Use isolation to your advantage. When I worked in an office, I goofed off a lot getting coffee, talking about non-work things, but also I goofed of by talking about work things too long. People are fun, and if you’re face-to-face with them, you want to hang out with them (or, if they’re not in your work-tribe, avoid or battle them). In an office setting, I don’t really think those things are bad: there were many, many times that the only reason I stuck with a job was to hang out with my friends at work in the process of doing the “real work.” At home, I still get all a form of “hanging out” (see below) but it’s easy to turn off or jump in to as needed. So if you’re getting the positive effects of isolation, you should be able to work less clock time than at an office job.
- Open the windows, go outside frequently. One of the most depressing things about office work is that you’re never outside. You can’t even open the windows in most modern offices! That’s crazy! Not so at home, of course. You can open the windows, sit out on your back porch, or even take a walk up the neighborhood mailbox to drop off your letters. Almost every past generation — at least in literature, philosophy, and other documented spheres of life — spent a lot of time outside, yet we seem to be hoveled up inside glass towers. Of course, laptop screens don’t really work so well in day-light: otherwise I’d be on the back-porch all the time.
- Chase every chance for hanging out online. Speaking of WWD, Anne’s written up the most vital tip I’ve come across of all using social software tools to simulate “face time” or “virtual shared office space.” I like to call it hanging out on-line. The point is that tools like blogs, IM, IRC (if everyone can spell it), Twitter, email, and podcasts to keep up with not only you’re co-workers, but new people online. At the moment, Twitter is the king in this area.
- Push yourself to do and use new things. If you’re in an office, it’s OK to let your work patterns and tools, well, stay the same (I wanted to [and still am ;>] write “go stagnant.”). It’s easy to stop learning new ways to work. Not so in this new world of work: there’s all sorts of new tools to use (Twitter!), people to talk with, and things to do. The secret is that it doesn’t take much effort to keep up with these things: probably 5 to 30 minutes a week depending on how obsessed you get with them. Point being: learn new tools and work-theories.
- Figure out all the “boring” stuff first thing. Like taxes, expenses, having enough laptop cords, getting envelopes, stamps, and a good headset. There’s a crap load of stuff that other people in the office used to do for you, and now you have to do it.
- Finally, get out of the house regularly. Now that you work at home, you want to make sure not to become a home-troll. You should go out and meet people for lunch or, as they say, “coffee” if there’s no food involved. Now that you’re not tied to an office, you can actually go meet all sorts of other people. If you can travel to conferences and other events, so much the better.
It’s Saturday morning, and Kim is wrapping up here conference call, so I better wrap up this list. Which brings up a good last tip:
- Be able to interrupt your work at a moments notice and come back to it when the interruption — usually otherwise known as “your life” ;> — goes away. Put another way, remember that your work is an interruption to your life (don’t give me that work-is-my-life crap), so when your life comes along, close up your laptop. Strategically, this means structuring your work such that you can abruptly stop it and come back to it without damage. Think of those damn video games where you can’t save until you finish a mission: those are not life friendly, you’re porked if you have to stop playing halfway through the mission. Instead, you want video games where you can save at any point, and then just jump back in later.
So, happy gaming…uh…working!
Disclaimer: BMC is a client.