Since roughly 5 years I work remotely, from my home office. I did so self-employed as well as employed, being a programmer, consultant, pre-sales, marketing guy and in management positions. I was engaged, now being married, rich and poor, rented a flat and now own a house. Work was pleasant, nerve-wracking, boring, amazing.
Monty and Zak formulated a set of principles and rules for running a Free Software/Open Source business. One rule they proclaim is:
The Employee works in distributed company and may work from anywhere.
In fact, while employed, I was often the only one working remotely from home – quite opposite to Monty’s MySQL, where most people work remotely. Hence, I could clearly see what’s different between me working from home and my colleagues sitting together in an office building.
I realized that it is necessary to visit office(s) regularly, to avoid being cut off from group dynamics and being left without influence. While the company is on track, being there once per month sufficed. The more strategic decisions needed to be made, the more often I showed up on the spot, because nothing beats face-to-face meetings in times of change.
The more people work remotely, the more a company needs to be disciplined and discuss important issues at a given time, either via conf calls or in meetings on the spot, because you cannot easily gather colleagues in one room. It needs discipline to avoid the pitfall of “out of site, out of mind”. A corporate culture not being used to colleagues working remotely quickly “forgets” about colleagues working at home.
The big advantage of working remotely is that you can avoid the traps of group dynamics. To put it bluntly: Put a bunch of people in one room and they will make each other believe what they want to believe. This can end in fatal business decisions. It is good for software companies to have some insiders working from outside, because they can much clearer see what’s going wrong.
Then again, if something goes wrong badly, you cannot change a company’s course from your home office, you’ll need to gather people in face-to-face meetings to build trust, fight for the cause, commit to new goals.
Once, when starting in a new company which was not used to remote work, I had my boss call me several days in a row at 9:00 to see whether I really started work just like the others did. Managers not used to virtual teams, only believe what they see and unfortunately relapse to patriarch surveillance measures of early industrial times instead of trust-based relationships between knowledge workers.
In fact, working at home requires you to be a lot more disciplined and result-oriented and also to be more conscious about your work rhythm and that of your colleagues. At home, you cannot trick your boss into believing that you work simply by staring into a computer monitor.