Living Well

How I Learnt to Telecommute and How You Can Too

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I recently read a great post from Scott Hanselman on his challenges being a remote worker.
Working from home can be great-when the circumstances are right. But it’s not always great and sometimes it sucks. But the pay-off for me has been and continues to be massive. In short, I would fight tooth and nail to keep working from home.
In my career in Tech Comms working for Sage, I get to work from home two days a week; this isn’t the norm. We have some full time remote workers and a fair bit of occasional remote working in our Technology department, but on the whole, people are working from the main office.

What common problems do I face working from home?


  • We use Skype for instant messaging, but group chats can be pretty irritating. When I’m concentrating, I hide my Skype notifications as there is quite a stream of back and forth chat amongst the team. Yeah, it’s good to see the agile team communicate on progress, but to be honest, as a Tech Writer, most of that chat is plain distracting. But, if I drop out of the group, I don’t get dialled into the daily stand-up meetings.
  • Meetings used to be pretty dire for remote workers: the organiser by default using the telephones for conference calls. Over the years, with supportive managers, and forward thinking, things are getting much better. Our main problem is organisers not giving themselves enough time to set up any equipment (speakers and external mic) that will help improve the experience for remote workers. Outside of the Technology department things are different. Teleconferencing over the phone network is still commonplace, and that always puts the remote worker at a disadvantage when contributing. If you’re going to dial me in on a speaker phone, you might as well be shouting from a well.
  • Forgetting remote workers. Still happens, and I never really understand why. If you’re organising a meeting, and I’m invited, I’ll let you know that I’m working at home that day and will either need dialling in or skyping in. Despite assurances that this will happen, there are still times when it doesn’t. Physical bodies in the room trump the needs of remote workers every time.


Do I feel guilty working from home? Yes, sometimes. But I’ve been doing it so long, and I’ve grown pretty thick-skinned so I don’t care too much what others might think. Do I tell people that whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, I’m also emptying the dishwasher? No. Do I mention that I don’t start work until an hour later when I’m working at home so I can walk my daughter to school? No (or that I work an hour later to compensate). Do I mention that when my daughter comes home from school I come downstairs and see how her day was? No.
Do I feel guilty whenever I’m away from my desk? Yeah, pretty much all the time.
But the flip-side; I’ve come to recognise is that as someone not physically in the office, I’m not having long chats with colleagues in the kitchen, or disturbing them across the partitions, or all the other social activities that interrupt our days.
And let’s not forget meeting guilt. Whenever the technology doesn’t go smoothly to connect me to a meeting, a little part of me dies inside. It should be easy. It really should. I’ve done it myself. I know it’s easy. And yet when it’s not, and it goes wrong, and you can sense the daggers being thrown from the other meeting participants, I just want to apologise, tell the organiser ‘it’s fine’ and that ‘I’ll catch up from someone else’ and generally apologise for being alive.


Being a Tech Writer in the office can be a fairly invisible role. A lot of the time we’re working quite happily with the information we’ve got and I could easily go a whole day without needing to speak to anyone. At least being in the office means I can nod hellos to colleagues walking past my desk. Now that I’m working in Agile teams I get to go to the daily stand-ups and review meetings. This helps tremendously. Colleagues can see the work I’m doing (although I’m sure most of the time the nature of that work is lost on them), and I’m happy with that. Being out of the office on a regular basis contributes to the visibility problem.
But, it’s not just my being visible that can be a problem. Working from home I can’t just look up from my desk to see if such and such is at their desk to go and speak to. We have Skype but not everyone uses the ‘away from desk’ feature, and because people do the same as me in hiding Skype in their notifications tray, they won’t always see messages. So, if I want to speak to someone, I have to ring, or email and that makes me think twice before getting in touch. Perhaps this is a good thing, I don’t know.
The problems listed above are never enough to make me not want to be a part-time remote worker. In fact, if the opportunity came along to progress my career, with the proviso that full time office working was required I’d say no-right now. Here are some of the reasons I value my remote working so much.

  • I save 5-6 hours a week commuting. This is time I get to spend with my family instead. Easy trade.
  • I save £20 in petrol each day I work at home. That’s approx £40 a week, £160 a month, £1920 a year…This is a big deal when supporting a family with two young children.
  • I like the peace and quiet. When I’m in the middle of a piece of work, I love to just concentrate and get it done. It’s so much harder when the impromptu desk meetings go on close to you at work, or the general drone of the office gets too loud.
  • I get to see my daughter off to school twice a week, and generally see the kids when they’re not knackered at the end of the day.

How can it be made better?

I’ve seen over the last few years that more and more people are doing the odd day here and there at home. Now I’m not saying that I’m in any way responsible for that, but all of us who do get the opportunity to work from home, need to demonstrate that we are good performers when we do work from home. We have to demonstrate this in our attitude to work, to our colleagues, and yes, show some appreciation to the boss. Our managers in the Technology group do make the effort to make sure remote workers are involved. I’m grateful for that.
We should become experts in remote working technologies to make it as easy as possible for people to work with us remotely. This includes knowing how to set up video calls, record screens in meetings, and use screen sharing technology such as

We should choose our battles. Know when it’s worth fighting for more consideration and when it’s not. In our large R&D meetings, our manager when asked a question will more often than not, repeat it for the benefit of remote workers who might not have heard. If he doesn’t, or if the conversation goes back and forth, I keep my mouth shut. No one in the meeting room wants every sentence repeating for the benefit of remote workers.
Make yourself available.
  • My desk phone is always set to divert to my mobile when I’m at home. I religiously do this before leaving the office.
  • Skype is our department’s preferred instant messenger. I keep in the group conversations for the various projects I’m working on, and always have my headset to hand in case someone wants to voice chat. My laptop has a webcam so can hold a video conversation if people prefer.
  • Email. I’m not a massive fan of email and try to limit my exposure to Outlook to a few times a day, but I do check it regularly.

I’m sure that despite little slip-ups like Marrisa Mayer’s edict for all remote staff to return to the Yahoo offices, that remote working is still going to continue to be more important for more people.
If you want to remote work, be warned that it’s a considerable change in your day job. Perhaps a part time remote working arrangement would suit you better like it does me. But if you do get to have the opportunity to remote work, seize the chance to try it. And if you find it works for you, do what you can to make it work for others.
In short, become a role model and a brilliant remote worker.

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