Working from home

By Shamus Posted Thursday Apr 26, 2007

Filed under: Personal 25 comments

Several people have asked overlapping questions about my unusual employment. I’m not sure what triggered this, but rather than write a bunch of emails I thought I’d write one post.

Yes, I work from home. I should point out that I’m not just sitting here at a desk jammed into a corner of the living room, which is what I think a lot of people imagine when I say I work from home. I have a proper home office with a dedicated phone line and good deal of equipment for doing my job. You can see a panoramic picture of the place here, although I place functionality over aesthetics, so it isn’t much to see. Kind of shabby, really.

I got this job by getting in on the ground floor of a newly forming company. I don’t know how to advise anyone else on how to secure a job like this (although note below: there are serious drawbacks) except to join a company whose future is still in question. Since 90% of all business ventures fail, this is somewhat risky. However, if you find yourself dealing with a small company who is strapped for cash, you may want to offer them something like this. You do your job from home, and they pay you less money. How much less is a tricky question. I suggest starting around $20k to $15k under your normal base salary. That is indeed a lot of money, but remember that you want it to be enough to really tempt your employer. Is having you in a nearby cubicle instead of a phone call away really worth $20k to them? If they really are strapped for cash, they will probably at least give it serious consideration. If they are of an environmental mindset, you can point out that you’ll be saving trees by burning less gasoline or whatever. Obviously some jobs are more suitable for telecommuting than others. Don’t bother asking if you’re the receptionist.

That is a lot of cash to give up, although I want to point out that there is a lot of money to be saved as well: Our family only needs one car. So we don’t have to pay for repairs and wear and tear on an extra car. We don’t have to pay the extra insurance. I’m not paying for the gas for a daily commute. I don’t eat out for lunch every day. I don’t pay for parking every day. I don’t have to maintain a wardrobe of dressy work clothes. Finally, we own a place in the untamed wilderness of western PA (my town doesn’t even have a single Starbucks!) as opposed to living in some traffic-clogged megacity with stratospheric property values. Taken together, this probably adds up to several thousand in savings a year.

A while back one person implied in the comments (rudely, or perhaps as a misfired joke) that I must spend all day goofing off. This is probably possible for someone working from home for a major company that employs hundreds of people. But if you’re on a small team you can’t get away with that sort of thing. If you’re in a team of hundreds of people building a skyscraper, you can probably sneak off for a nap and let everyone else pick up your slack. But if you’re the only bricklayer working on a particular house then goofing off is just self-defeating. The carpenter isn’t going to start laying bricks when he sees you dozing. My work is pretty tightly scheduled. I am hunted ceaselessly by the twin demons of cruft and obsolescence, and that sort of thing tends to keep your nose to the grindstone.

But the biggest benefit of a job like this is the fact that I don’t commute. That’s about an hour and a half I have every day that most people don’t. I also have my lunch hour to screw around, which most people spend driving, parking, standing in line, and waiting for food. How much would an extra two and a half hours a day be worth to you? That two and a half hours each day goes into this site, which is what makes it possible for me to keep up with something like this. If I had a normal job, this would be a normal blog. I’d post every couple of days and DM of the Rings wouldn’t exist.


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25 thoughts on “Working from home

  1. Justin says:

    Finally, we own a place in the untamed wilderness of western PA (my town doesn't even have a single Starbucks!) as opposed to living in some traffic-clogged megacity with stratospheric property values.

    I was about to say something in disbelief at there being a town in western PA that doesn’t have a Starbucks, but then I came to the realization that mine doesn’t, either, and I don’t think either one of us live in a place like, say, Kane or Warren.


    I’m going to have to get right on that…

  2. Gothmog says:

    Very cool. I’ve been meaning to ask you questions that this post neatly answers as well!

    You’re one step ahead of me at least. :)

    Oh and ‘Yay! 1st!’ or something :P

  3. Nilus says:

    Really you don’t need to work for a small company or take a pay cut to work from home. I work for a very big company(Fortune 500 big) and even from the beginning of my employment had the ability to work from a remote location(ie Home) a day or two a week. When they moved our offices, I got the opportunity to officially work from home full time. I didn’t take a pay cut, in fact they began paying for my broadband internet service, as well as my second business phone line. Lot of big companies are realizing its cheaper for there employees to work at home then to have them work in cubicle farms. Professional office space is very expensive to rent.

    I agree with the rest of your post though. To many people think working from home means goofing around all day. From my experience and others, work at home employees tend to do more work. That extra hour or two you gain from not having to commute ends up being hours you work. Since you are at home already you are more inclined to lose track of time and work later and later. Plus physically not leaving the place you work to go the place you live makes it hard for your mind and body to shift gears from working to being at home.

    Of course the benefits out weight the bad. You save money and time. You get to keep your workspace just the way you like it. You can limit your distractions. And best of all you can work all day in your PJs.

  4. Gothmog says:

    ‘doh! Well, 2nd, then. :D

  5. Jeremiah says:

    Yeah, I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about being able to work from home. My girlfriend works for a pretty big IT company that has a pretty lax work environment, and she works from home usually 2 or 3 times a week, and there are a lot of people that work from home permanently. No worries about a pay cut there, though, it’s a big company. And, in this case, when a company has offices all over the place and most meetings are done via phone, anyhow, physical offices aren’t as necessary for some employees.

    And, really, if someone is the type of person to goof off, they’re going to find a way to do that whether they work in an office or at home. I don’t think that people working from home are, necessarily, more likely to goof around all day.

  6. Shamus says:

    Wow. You can work from home without taking a pay cut? Working for SoCal money and living in Mayberry RFD is actually like getting a huge raise. Really if this option was available to more people they’d have to build a wall around Silicon Valley to keep people from leaving.

  7. yd says:

    Another option is to find a company that doesn’t really have a US office… :) It’s worked out well for me for almost a year now. Working from home and living in a studio apartment can be a bit difficult, though.

  8. Ryan says:

    I too work for a big (huge) company and have the ability to work from home pretty much whenever I feel like it. I’d say almost everyone around here does “WFH” to varying degrees. No pay cuts or anything like that here, either. My manager’s only stipulation is that we be “visible” – meaning that we don’t miss meetings, etc.

  9. Rebecca says:

    So how does your family fit into your business at home? I think I remember you being a homeschool dad with a bunch of young ‘uns.

  10. Brian says:

    I’ve worked from home for many years. We’re actually a virtual organization – we don’t have any office space at all. We’re small, with 11 total employees. I started the business 8 years ago with 3 other guys. We’re an IT consulting firm, so most of us are constantly at client sites. I’m the code monkey and wind up on lots of different projects all the time so I’m home almost all the time. I hate not seeing other adults regularly, but the wins make up for that easily.

    But no, I never goof off during the day. Ever. Especially if my business partners are reading this.

  11. Shamus says:

    Rebecca: My wife does the education thing with my kids while I work. So, all of us are home all day.

  12. Roxysteve says:

    A word to the wise. Most large companies “allow” people to work from home because they can be bugged at all sorts of ungodly hours as a result with no come back. Ditto for companies who “give” out cell phones and Blackberries. Working from home is a great idea for most people though.

    Although the commute is a pain sometimes (90 minutes? Luxury!) most of my fellow commuters fill the time with a laptop or a blackberry doing unpaid work stuff anyway.

    I prefer to use mine to read, sleep or occasionally work on those paid-for outside contracts my boss knows nothing about.


  13. Rebecca says:

    Shamus: Any problems keeping the kids out of the office, or have you established boundaries?

  14. Nilus says:

    Wow so you have you, the wife and the kids all home all day. I am impressed. When my wife is off of work or home sick I have a very hard time getting my work done. I love her dearly but her presence is just a huge distraction. Its not her fault. She tries to leave me alone. I just keep wanting to go chat with her and bug her or play hooky with her. I am honestly a little worried about how things are gonna work when we have kids. I love the idea that even though I am working I can be home with them all day, but I fear my work will suffer.

  15. Rustybadger says:

    I enjoyed the opportunities I have had to work from home over the years. For about eight years I was self-employed in the trades, and a lot of what I did was in my home office; then I got the chance to get in at the ground floor(as Shamus suggests) with an Australian tech company, and that was entirely home-based (tech support). Unfortunately, it was one of the 90% that don’t make it, so it was a great 3 months!

    I currently work for a public school district, and one of my co-workers telecommutes one day a week, which saves him 200 kilometres of driving. He’d like to increase it, but our HR department is old-school and can’t wrap their head around it. Unfortunately, my job demands physical presence, so I am stuck with the commute and the desk and the getting dressed every morning. Sigh. But at least my wife and I work together, so I get to hang out with her all day!

  16. Shamus says:

    Rebecca: It used to be a problem, but now they’ve learned. I keep a fan running here, which masks pretty much all external noise, so I don’t have much in the way of distrations, even if the kids are loud.

  17. Dave Klecha says:

    I work remotely, though more often than not that means being on the road. Today, that meant sitting at home all day calling clients who entered trouble tickets into the system, while the A/C guys worked on cooling my home.

    It’s possible that I’ll end up working from home full-time, and I have to say, just in the afternoons that I’ve tried to juggle my son being home and the work-from-home thing, he’s going to daycare if I do go full-time. For now, it’s not such a big deal, since the company acknowledges that home days are low intensity days, but… if I do start working from home full-time, it’ll probably be because I’m going freelance, and my productivity will be directly related to my income.

  18. Patrick the Evil Twin says:

    Don’t let him fool you folks….I’ve known him for some time. Actually, I’ve known him the entire time I have existed come to think of it…. but that’s not the point.

    Point is, this crap with the ” I work from home thing” is just a cover. Truth is, he’s ACTUALLY a free-lance ninja assasin for-hire, who poses as a low-grade gay porn producer, that uses the cover of ” stay at home web programmer” as a way of laundering his ill-gotten money.

    The code to contact him for a “job” is actually part of Aragorn’s ramblings….

  19. hank says:

    I remember reading a story awhile back about some reasonably profitable small company where most of the employees worked from a Starbucks… no office, no cubicles, no soul-crushing dehumanization. (Well, it was a Starbucks, so I’m not sure about that last one.) This is the information age… keeping people in little pens is outdated and barbaric, if they’re only interacting with the world via computer and phone anyway.

  20. Dev Null says:

    I work from home too, and the interesting thing I’ve found about goofing off is this: I don’t goof off much at work – now or back when I worked in the office – the only difference is that now, when I _do_ do it, I don’t get paid for it…

    What I mean is, I used to get paid a salary, and some days your brain just isn’t in gear and refuses to play nice with others, and on those days I had to be at work whether I was thinking or not, and I got paid my salary just like any other day. Now I work from home on a contract with flexible hours. On the days when my brain takes a holiday and I really can’t concentrate, I usually just take one too – if I can afford a bit of a break in my workload, or don’t have some braindead docos to write. Essentially the difference is that they only pay me when I’m being productive.

    Is it worth it? Hell yeah. I hate being stuck at work when I can’t manage to think straight, I ditched a 2-hour-a-day commute, and the dog and I walk out my back door into a National Forest on my lunch hour. Wouldn’t give it up for the world.

  21. Myxx says:

    I’ve spent the past 15 years or so doing combinations of the full time office monkey, work from home, and a healthy mix. Really, the only thing I really like is the flexible schedule that allows me to work at home whenever possible, but still provides access to others at the office when I want.

    I’m currently the director of a technology consulting company, which means that by and large, my entire staff is out at client sites all the time. We do have an office staff of 20 or so outside my team, and I feel it’s good to stay connected. So typically what I’ll do is work the first couple hours of the day at home, drive the 20 minutes to work around 10:30 or so, spend a few hours at the office (which includes going out to lunch with others from the office, for the adult human contact), then head out around 3:00 to work the rest of the day from home. I actually enjoy the hours I spend at work, building relationships with the other people there. However, my schedule allows me to miss traffic, and spend my day working rather than wasting time. And if I’m not in the mood to work while I’m at work, then I just push it off to do later and spend my time distracting others at the office with socializing.

    Of course, this is flexible, and at times I’ll have morning or afternoon meetings at clients, or sometimes I’ll want to hang at home with the fam for lunch (wife is stay-at-home and kids are too young for school), so I just make that work when I’m in the mood and head to the office for a few hours after lunch if I think it’s necessary.

    I didn’t accept a lower salary for this type of flexibility, because frankly, I do whatever it takes to get my job done; I just determine where it can be done rather than letting anyone else do that for me. And there are certainly drawbacks… there will be many nights when I’ll work until 10:00 or so at night on a project, just because it needs to be done. But there does need to be balance for the freedom I enjoy.

    I also have a formal ‘office’ at my house; a dedicated room that’s mine only. The kids aren’t allowed in, and my wife seldom has any reason to come in. It makes for a peaceful work environment that I can call my own, and feel comfortable separating work from home. That was the biggest challenge when I lived in a smaller house and my ‘office’ shared space with other home necessities (like a baby’s room).

    This arrangement is great, though, and I hope it never changes. I live in Orange County, CA, and if I were to drive to the office during normal commute times, going the 12 miles to or from the office could take easily 45 minutes, perhaps more. This way I’m connected, but free to optimize my work schedule to a great degree.

  22. Insanodag says:

    While I do have the opportunity to work from home most of the time, I tend not to take that opportunity. I live twenty minutes walk from the office, my self-discipline is atrocious, and the main reason I took this job was so that I would be in an environment with a lot of smart people whose ideas I can steal while waiting for the kettle to boil. I also hate the hassle of synchronising the various locally stored databases I need to actually do some work, and besides, I like the people I work with. In fact, a lot of my work satisfaction comes from the interactions I have with my colleagues. I would really miss that aspect of my job if I spent less time in the office, so working from home is not for me.

    The only time I work from home is if I have a large stack of articles to read, which I do more efficiently on my sofa than at my desk.

  23. You call where you are the wilds ;-) Try living in Meadville The one advantage of Meadville is what we may be two hours from any major city, (except Erie) we are two hours from several cities, (Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Akron, etc). Pittsburgh is the easiest to get too as it down I-79 and hop on I-279, 579.

  24. Garfield says:

    This Starbucks thing sounds interesting. Do you remember _where_ you read that?

  25. Dev Null says:

    Insanodag mentions he lives 20 minutes walk from work and likes the people he works with

    Yeah well, I like the people I work with too, but possibly I forgot to mention that I started working from home when I moved to Arizona from Australia and the company wanted to keep me on. I like them, but I dont like them an 18-hour plane flight commute’s worth…

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