The Great “Work From Home” Experiment

Man Working From Home with LaptopLast Thursday, when the National Weather Service was calling for a blizzard in the DC area, I had a choice to make:  open on Friday but probably close early, close the office OR keep the office open but let everyone work from home.  On Sunday night, with roads still largely impassable, federal and local governments announcing closures and public transportation down for the count, I faced a similar choice: declare the office closed on Monday and give everyone a snow day OR keep the office open and let everyone work from home.

While I’m sure most of my staff would have loved a snow day or two, as a small business owner, I know that when my staff isn’t working, we’re not generating billable time, which means a bad month in revenues, or worse.  So, since Friday, I’ve kept the Matrix Group office officially open but let everyone work from home. Here’s why:

  • Most staff appreciated not having to battle the bad roads to keep working and avoid taking vacation days.
  • Although most of our clients are in the DC area, we have clients all over the country; the latter expect us to be open.
  • It’s precisely when our clients are not able to serve their customers and members physically that they rely on their Web sites to be open for business virtually.
  • Letting staff work from home let us put our pandemic/DR plans to the test.

The results have been mostly good. With the exception of staff who lost power at home, everyone scheduled to work has been able to work.  Here’s what helped:

  • The Matrix Group network administrators worked hard to give the entire staff VPN access to their desktops and the network.  In fact, until today, the network admins somehow made it to the office every day.
  • We established a protocol for keeping in touch via Instant Messenger (IM).  We each announced to the entire staff when we started work each day, we stayed on IM, and we kept our statuses current to let other staff know if we were AFK (away from keyboard) for lunch, shoveling, etc.
  • We used a free conference call service to conduct conference calls between staff and with clients.
  • We use Webex to review documents and pages together, as well as Skype and Yahoo!Messenger to do group chats.
  • Staff kept in close touch with their managers to discuss their plans, priorities and workload.

On Tuesday afternoon, I polled the entire staff and asked for their feedback re: working from home.  I learned some surprising things:

  • Nearly everyone complained about latency on the VPN.  It seems we saturated our two T1 lines with all the remote access connections.
  • Many staff members have cell phones only and they reported difficulties doing lengthy conference calls on their cell phones or were worried about running out of minutes.
  • Most people missed the energy of the office, being able to conduct business face to face, and the convenience of nice computers, multiple monitors and fast access to the Internet.
  • Several people complained about missing their chairs!
  • Many staff members reported greater access to their managers (although I suspect it’s because managers were less likely to be on the phone with so many clients not working!).
  • By Day 3, many staff were experiencing cabin fever in a big way.
  • Those of us who are parents tended to take longer breaks AFK to take care of the kids.

All in all, I’m pleased with the Work From Home experiment.  If we do have a pandemic flu, we’ll be ready.  I’m grateful to have such a hard-working and committed staff; I feel like they’ve stayed in good spirits and have been very productive.  As for me, I miss the office, I miss my staff, I miss my chair, I miss my quiet office and I’m ready for my five-year old to be back in school!

How about you?  Did your company stay open or close during Snowcalypse?  How are you dealing with all this craziness?

5 thoughts on “The Great “Work From Home” Experiment

  1. As a remote employee, I know all about working from home. A few observations I’ve made on our company setup:

    -We all use Gtalk as a default, and keep our status updated, and always leave it runnng all the time. It works great as all staff can see each other’s status and ping whoever they need.
    -We all use Google Docs to host a majority of our documents, and Gmail exclusively. I went about 6 months with no VPN as I was able to do everything through Google. Awesome stuff!
    -I use GotoMeeting for internal conference calls all the time, and as a bonus, the Voice over IP option (“Use Mic and Speakers”) works excellent and has great sound quality. Also does not require cell phone minutes.

    And generally working from home…

    -I’ve been doing it for over a year, and would have difficulty going back to the office, I can get a lot done with minimal interruption. Personally, I love it.
    -I invested in one of these: http://joeliu999.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/aeron_chair_jn.jpg, Herman Miller Aeron – worth its weight in gold.
    -Have to keep things interesting and regimented at the same time. I spend the first 1/2 hour planning my day, and then spend the rest of the day executing.
    -I try to get out of the house every day. Going somewhere reduces “cabin fever”.

    Some of the greatest benefits…

    -Pajama Day!
    -Fresh coffee all the time
    -No noise to contend with (besides my cat)
    -Full kitchen

    Drawbacks…

    -Pajama Day! (sometimes can be demotivating so I try to dress up a few days a week. It feels silly at first but really helps get you in that work mindset)
    -Fresh coffee all the time. Caffeine addiction! (Okay, I’m on half decaf now…)
    -No noise to contend with. Sometimes it gets kind of lonely.
    -Full kitchen. I experienced a “freshman 15” event after working here for 6 months, I put on a few pounds. Now most days my “Daily outing” is to the gym.

    Thanks for a great blog!

    Garry

  2. Personally, I enjoyed getting to use my 24″ iMac – lots bigger screen. :) I think the biggest drawback for me was the isolation–since I live in a small studio apartment, that means I’ve basically been in 1 room for 7 days without live human interaction. Doable, but less than friendly.

    Technically, I’ve been able to work great, since I rarely need to RDP in, so I can work outside the traffic.

    I am very much looking forward to being in the office again!

    @Garry – thanks for the tips–since I work @ home for my writing job (2nd job), it’s great to hear from someone who does this regularly.

  3. Oh man, do I agreed with @Garry re: pajama day. I am ready for real people clothes again, believe it or not!

    Connectivity-wise, working from home has been very easy for me, as I’ve been working for a client for whom I work remotely most of the time any way. The thing I like best is having a headset to use with either our Microsoft Communicator or the Cisco soft-phone installed on my laptop–makes conference calls a breeze! (The laptop itself also has a built-in microphone, so no headset necessary really…but it is nice)

    Overall, it’s really great to know that I can do all of this work from home when need be, but I do miss my office friends. I am ready for lunchtime sledding again :)

  4. Overall working from home has been great. That is until my internet went out most of the day on Wednesday. Not so productive with out Internet. Making up that time so I don’t have to take PTO is going to tough, but there was no way I was going out in the high winds on Wednesday.

    I actually decided to brave the roads and come into the office today for many reasons. First, the cabin fever was setting in and it is nice to have have new people to talk to. Also, the VPN lag was really getting to me at home. The chair here is much more supportive, the keyboard much more ergonomic, and the bigger monitors easier to see. And since I lost internet yesterday, I didn’t want to chance loosing it again today.

  5. Overall, I enjoyed working from home. I felt like I had time to focus with the quietness, but also being in touch with colleagues through yahoo. I avoided being in pajamas all day. Instead would stick to morning routine of getting up in the a.m., getting ready, taking the dog out, eating breakfast and then hitting the computer.

    I will say though after being away from the office for a week now, I really do miss everyone. And, am looking forward to getting back into a normal routine.

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