A year of remote working
[Note: I originally posted this on my personal blog, but it occurs to me that it’s likely something of general interest to software developers. -J]
Today is my last day working for Humana, after about a year. One of the initial considerations in taking the job was that it was remote, as the home office is in Louisville, Kentucky, and I'm not. I had worked from home from time to time while at Microsoft, but it wasn't on a schedule or anything, just when it made sense. I didn't see any reason why it wasn't possible to do it on a full-time basis.
My conclusions after a year are that it totally makes sense to work remotely in this line of work. The only negative consideration that I can think of is that you don't build the same kind of social relationships with your coworkers. You obviously can't go out for a beer with them after work. Beyond that, the benefits are huge.
The most obvious benefit to me is increased productivity. I didn't expect this at all, but it makes sense. There are fewer distractions when you're not in the same physical environment as everyone else. When you don't have to worry about the commute, I would also argue that you're a lot more willing to spend more time on actual work. In on-site jobs, I've always been quick to make sure I'm out by 4:30 to get a jump on traffic. That concern goes away when your commute involves going downstairs to your kitchen.
The benefit applies to companies as well, because remote workers don't require real estate, where they take up space. If it costs $10 per square foot (double that in a lot of prime markets), and you plop someone in a 5x5 cube, you're spending $3,000 a year for that office space, for one person.
Technology is in a state where it's not hard to collaborate with people in different places. Ideally it means you have more real-time, ad hoc collaboration and less meetings, but certainly big old companies have a hard time with this. IP telephony, Web cams, screen sharing, wikis, Sharepoint... these all reduce barriers to remote work.
There are cultural problems that I'm sure can get in the way. This is especially true with what I call the "Midwest factory culture" in the workplace. These are businesses that have a strict working hour policy, where face time is associated with productivity. They're the same kinds of businesses that promote people for working later instead of working smarter, oblivious to the actual results of work. Those are places not equipped to handle remote workers because they don't know how to evaluate their effectiveness.
The personal benefits are many, not the least of which is not having to get into a car. I estimate that I saved almost two weeks of my life this year by not having to drive anywhere. The best part of that is the fact that most of that time was directly translated into more time with my 2-year-old, and that's priceless. Not seeing him for pre-nap roughhousing is something I really struggled with when I considered changing jobs.
Overall, I see a future world where many business, especially in those related to software development or other primarily electronic endeavors, will tend to work in a hybrid mode of sorts. Formal and structured work spaces, with cubes and offices, will go away. It's rarely necessary to meet in-person, but there are certainly times when it adds certain intangibles to the work experience and the output of the business.