I started my educational consulting business almost 20 years ago, and between those Webbed Feat contracts, a faculty position at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (50 km commute) and a management/teaching/stewardship "telecommuting" job at BCcampus, I've been mostly working from my home office.
Telecommuting :: to work at home by the use of an electronic linkup with a central officeThis definition doesn't really fit how I work. My BCcampus colleagues work primarily from an office in Victoria. There is another office is in Vancouver, but when people talk about "the office" you can bet they mean Victoria. And then there's me. I think I'm the only BCcampus employee left working completely from a home office -- very different from the early days -- and what I do day to day certainly doesn't involve some big pipe into the main (real) place of work. Rather, my communication channels go in all directions, across the post secondary education system.
I've been working at BCcampus for 9 years, surpassing my 5-yr limit in any one job. However, my job titles have changed enough that I think I can cheat on that rule. In any case, I decided to jot down my observations and reflections on working from home, with some hints on how it has changed over time.
My office door is always open. Some people complain that mobile devices mean they can never separate work from home life. I say it allows me to be way more responsive and flexible than ever. And if I get pinged for a quick meeting, I can just turn down the burner under the pot of soup and go back to work.
Speaking of soup, I can make my husband lunch every day. He'll tell you that I don't, but I could!
I live in the mountains, on a lake, in a house I designed, with lots of natural light and spectacular views, surrounded by art work done by my family. In office buildings it's hard to find a window that even opens. But the restaurants. Yeah, I miss going out for lunch.
The mute button is my friend. When we built our house I planned for my office to be in a loft. Sound travels up. That includes burping, coffee grinding, dogs barking, TV... I'm now on the main floor in a room with a door, but I still have to use my mute button all the time.
Neighbours don't usually get what I'm doing inside my house. You're at home, how can you be working?
I can access wireless internet from many outdoor locations. It cuts out just short of the dock, unfortunately.
The idea of setting 9-5 hours is very foreign to me. If someone asks 'what time to you start work?' I immediately know we view the world very differently.
I get my best ideas while floating on the lake in the summer. I should be tracking those hours :)
I can start my work day at 5a.m., or whenever. But usually it is way before the sun rises.
It's 6 kilometres round trip to my mailbox. Courier packages are delivered to depots about 30 kilometres away. We have no garbage/recycle collection. I really do prefer electronic communication.
I cut my work at BCcampus back to half time, and needed to keep better track of my hours. This is when I realized that I used to work A LOT. But that doesn't bother me. I worked hard and enjoyed myself. But to get a half time salary and work more than that? That bothers me. Weird how that works, and it strikes me this is very related to working at home. If I showed up for 4 hours to an office every morning I think expectations (self-imposed of course) would be different. But set hours ain't gonna happen at home. If I need to go full tilt for 8 hours on Monday into the night, I'll adjust on Tuesday, and so on... Convince me this is a bad work habit.
Hours working at work are spent working. When I sit down at my desk I hit the Toggl timer. When my sister calls I turn it off. When I go outside to get some fresh air and stretch I turn it off. When I write blog posts like this on a Sunday evening that aren't directly related to my work, my timer isn't running. Those emails I deal with on mobile? Much of it is on my own time but hey, I'm wandering along a creek with my dogs. In contrast, many hours at a workplace are spent paying attention to a lot of things that have nothing to do with you, and socializing.
I'm sometimes envious of my retired husband who watches movies in the middle of the day.
People have asked me how I get any work done trying to work from a home office: "There are so many distractions!" My struggle is more about getting away from the work. I barely notice that I'm surrounded by a household 'to do' list as well. Just look at the pile of laundry half way down the stairs to the basement.
I've fallen asleep with my head on the desk and nobody knew about it. Until now.
My dress code is pretty relaxed. I usually bust outside early morning, again at some point during the daylight hours, and I live almost 1300 metres above sea level so it's always chilly. This means I suffer from perpetual hat head. I also keep a wood stove going and entertain my dogs frequently, so my clothes tend to be covered with debris and paw marks. During my virtual meetings people mostly see my head and shoulders. So my go-to attire is a hat to cover my hat head, and something that doesn't look like a lumberjack shirt.
I probably get more vitamin D than many of my colleagues.
In the past year I actually took some sick days. I don't think I've ever done that before, but it was pointed out to me that when I'm sick, I should just be sick. Not surprisingly, I still worked a bit on those sick days.
I work on snow days. As I watch the news about university closures around the province, I wonder if I should take a few steps over to my recliner chair and read a good book. Actually, I can just turn off the Toggl timer and go read a book any time. So why am I even wondering about this?
My yoga mat is just a few steps away. There's no need to ever roll it up. My anti-gravity napping chair serves its purpose well.
I'm often not considered in plans about what goes on in "the office". My co-workers talk about connecting the Victoria board room to the Vancouver office. Meanwhile, I'm a dot on the map a few hundred miles wondering how I fit in. I find emphasis on place in conversations about connecting people odd. This got me thinking about blended learning models, and how individuals participating online often feel like an add-on to what's really happening.
As much as I would love to hang out more with my colleagues, I wouldn't trade my home office for anything. I could make more of an effort to connect with everyone, but I don't. I used to. Hmmm.
Working at home is ideal for introverts.
I miss out on conversations in the hallways. I used to love that aspect of working at NVIT. These conversations, often around a fireplace in the centre of the building, were how we came to know what our work was -- what was important, what needed our attention that day. It's hard to replicate that, although we've come pretty close.
Having said that, since we started using Rocket Chat in the past year at BCcampus I do have a better sense of what's going on in "the office". Like what people ate at the Christmas party.
This year it reminded me that I should have my own Christmas party, and I did!
At home I have access to an endless supply of excellent tea made with actual boiling water, and coffee without those disposable what's-its.
My stand up work desk is a kitchen counter. Complete with snacks!
I can take my dogs to work with me every day.
What are your days like working from home? Like this? :)