Thoughts on (Flexible) Working From Home

It’s been a few weeks since I started working from home for Automattic, engineering happiness for users of WordPress.com.

Having moved from an (almost) standard 8.30-5pm, office-based working day, the switch has proven to be an interesting experience.

Even with my youth squandered in online tech communities that operate in very similar ways to Automattic, it’s definitely a mindset shift to go from that sort of world being just something that you do, to something that actually pays the bills. Work is meant to force you into set patterns begrudgingly… right? I didn’t expect there to be too much of an overhaul, but a job with complete flexibility has definitely brought with it some interesting quirks.

happy monday - working from home

Here are some of my observations:

You don’t get distracted

One of the usual reasons that people give for ‘not being able’ to work from home is that they get distracted and can’t concentrate on what they’re meant to be doing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s nonsense. Sure, it may well depend on the person, but if you are independent and self-motivated, you shouldn’t find it a problem to set out an area and dedicate the time you need. If a Gen Y-er can do it – with our alleged ridiculously short attention spans – then so can you.

Going to the bank isn’t the headache it used to be

Ahh… the dreaded trip to the bank/post office/travel agent/loanshark. It was always such a torture to have to undertake any sort of task that fell during the working day. This equally applies to the receiving of parcels. Sure, you can get small things delivered to work, but what happens when you order something big? Carting it back from the office is never a fun task… even if you are lucky enough to have access to a car. Working from home sweeps all of these troubles away in one fell swoop.

Your Neighbours Will Love You!

If you play your cards right, that is. So long as they’ve met you (and you’ve not been weird about it), you can easily become a local everyday hero. Just make it clear that you’re usually around during the day if they have parcels getting delivered, or need an eye kept out for something. Even if they never actually ask you to do anything, you’ve won major brownie points – especially handy when you throw that 7am-finish party with all of your dubious mates.

lunch

Lunch is better

The first week I worked from home, I ate nothing but bacon sandwiches – purely because I can. That can’t continue for long though, or I’ll balloon to some ridiculous size. In general though, it means you have access to your own kitchen, rather than an awful, over-priced canteen (or a microwave, if you’re lucky). I was never any good at avoiding squashing my sandwiches anyway, so this is a winner. The only real dilemma is… what to have? So much choice!

You get to mock those who have to commute

I’ve luckily managed to avoid travelling every day during the onset of the Scottish winter this year, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest perks about being based from wherever you choose.

It’s pretty soul-destroying to wake up early, in the dark, to make your way into work, only to return home at night, in the dark. What has never made any sense to me though, is the preposterous notion that people should fight their way for hours through gridlocked motorways in the rain, sleet, and snow, to get to an office to do a job that they could arguably do just as well from home. I’d even go so far as to argue that it’s negligent for employers to expect people to physically come in to work on days where the police are ‘advising motorists not to travel’.

That said, I think there are those who genuinely love this sort of daily battle, as if there is some sort of valour to be had in succeeding in such a pointless trip. Those, my friends, are those whom we should mock relentlessly.

Electricity bills

Uhhhm, Leave this one with me.

You can go hours without saying a single word to anybody

Insert your own joke about how it’s better if I keep my mouth shut here. There’s a lot of commentary about how it can be unproductive to be constantly interrupted in an open plan type office, and it’s definitely true. The flip-side is the total opposite though. Unless you live with other people, you can go entire days without uttering a single word. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s a completely zen-like experience just yet.

Watch this space.

The banter

This is related to the above. Sure, there are a lot of downsides about working in close proximity with over folk – like having people hang over your shoulder, or force you to look at links on the Daily Mail website (shudders – Linda, you know who you are!), but you can’t really beat the days in work when you’re surrounded by people who are working on the same thing, having a laugh together.

You need to make more of an effort to stay in the loop

This could well be partly because I am refusing to pay for a TV licence, and so am missing out on the news at night, (disclaimer: I don’t own a TV, or watch it as it’s broadcast online) but more often than we think (yes, even in the age of so-called ‘new media’), news is spread by word of mouth, through the people we come in contact with every day.

If your community is online rather than round about you, very quickly you might find that you aren’t as up to speed on local happenings as you might have been previously. It takes a real effort to keep up to date; a battle that I am currently losing, it has to be said.

You can find your natural schedule

I’ve never been a fan of mornings. Not that I don’t like the crisp, fresh air; the tweeting of the birds; and all that. I simply don’t function well at that time.

Part of the problem is that due to whatever screwy Circadian rhythm I have, I don’t naturally get tired until around 2-3am. Irrespective of how early I was up at in the morning, the time I went to bed remained the same. Working from home, I’ve shifted to a 10am-6pm day (roughly), which already means if I go to sleep at 3, I’m getting 7 hours sleep, compared to 4. That’s almost double the amount, and has meant I feel 100% better during the day, with no irresistible urge to disco-nap early evening.

Working from bed is the best thing ever

…for a few hours anyway.

Days seem shorter

Even though I am working the same number of hours, and finishing up the same time I would be getting in from work if I was commuting, the days still seem to fly by. Those extra 3 hours spent getting up, getting ready, and travelling to work in the morning have been converted into sleeping hours, which is probably what they should always have been in the first place.

life work balance

Concepts of time become more fluid

Weekend? What’s that? With total flexibility, there comes a blurring of the lines between the ‘working week’. When you are able to choose a schedule that fits around your life, that may not be in traditional daily blocks. Many people will shudder at the thought of the lines between work and personal life ‘blurring’, but that isn’t really what’s happening. Just because work becomes spread more diffusely, doesn’t mean that it takes over; it just allows you to integrate it more closely to what fits best for you. Working two hours in the evening or at the weekend instead of on a Monday morning doesn’t mean you are a slave to the job, it means that you are more in control of how and when you choose to give it your full attention.

When you spend all of your time in the one place, with work spread out more than beforehand, It does mean that weekends never feel quite like they used to.

I don’t actually think that that’s a bad thing, for what it’s worth.

People don’t get it

‘But… How do they know you’re actually working?!’

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Engineering Happiness for WordPress.com

happiness engineer
My interpretation of a happiness engineer turned out a bit horror film-esque.

I am more than excited to say that I’ve accepted an offer from Matt Mullenweg – founder of WordPress – to join Automattic as a full time Happiness Engineer, beginning at the end of November.

With just a shade over 200 employees, Automattic’s network gets more monthly unique visitors than Amazon.com, eBay.com, and Yahoo.com. It’s not too far behind Facebook either… They support some of the biggest names on the web, like CNN, TechCrunch, and TED, and get about 19% of the world’s web traffic.

‘Based’ in San Francisco, almost everybody works remotely – from locations around the world. I’m the only employee north of Manchester, which is pretty awesome in of itself. From what I’ve seen, they have an amazing culture with some incredibly smart, and talented people. I’m pretty blown away at the chance to be part of it all.

All that said, it’s been great working with Amor Group, – where I started out 9 years ago as a fresh-faced, terrified schoolie. They’ve been good to me over the years, and I’m particularly proud of what we’ve managed to achieve with their digital communications. I wish them all the best as they go forward as part of Lockheed Martin, but it’s time for me to bow out.

I’ll leave you with this, the Automattic creed:

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.