Project Management

Four issues to consider before becoming a remote IT consultant

Working from home sounds great, but it may not be the best arrangement for you -- or your client. Before investing in a home office, read IT consultant Chip Camden's four reasons why it might be in your best interest to work onsite.

I perform most of my IT consulting work from home. This arrangement is quite convenient and allows me to work when inspiration strikes.

For example, I recently handed off a problem to a colleague, and then the solution occurred to me in a dream. As soon as I woke up, I walked into my office and grabbed the keyboard. I had forgotten my glasses, so I closed one eye and squinted my way through the solution. In five minutes, I implemented the solution, tested it, and e-mailed it to the client and my colleague. (I'm pretty sure it was the first time in 30 years of coding that I programmed naked.) If I had waited until I showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and commuted to an office, I probably would have forgotten about it amid the noise of the squeaky wheels that greet me every morning.

Despite the flexibility of working from home, not everyone is cut out to be a telecommuter. You also need to consider the drawbacks to remote IT consulting before making the commitment. Check out these four reasons why onsite may be your best bet.

#1: Network bandwidth can limit your productivity at home.

My home office is equipped with DSL that rates almost 1 Mbps on the CNET Bandwidth meter. My Internet access is considerably faster than most shared connections in an office setting, but I use that connection to perform tasks that my office-bound colleagues perform over a local network running at a gigabit.

Back when I first started my IT consulting career, I used to work remotely over a 9600 baud dial-up connection. Oddly, my network-enabled productivity isn't much better now because our expectations of what should go over that pipe have grown. Back then, I dialed into a character-based terminal server using a dumb terminal emulator and rarely moved files back and forth. Now, I do all my work locally and transfer files to and from a source control server. It's more convenient, but it's not that much faster.

#2: Some types of IT consulting work require you to be onsite.

If you're an admin, can you remotely resuscitate a system that is down? If so, you're better than me. I stay away from that kind of work; software is much easier to make location-independent.

#3: Clients may insist that you are present onsite.

Even though it's getting easier to collaborate over the Internet, sometimes a head-to-head session can be more productive -- especially when kicking off a new project. Facial expressions and direct conversation can often communicate more than we realize, while e-mail and chat can be misinterpreted for lack of those elements. Perhaps as Internet collaboration continues to improve, the personal element will become more available remotely.

#4: You may be more productive when you're onsite.

Some IT consultants prefer to work onsite because they concentrate solely on one client and don't get interrupted by other clients or nonwork-related activities. On the other hand, when you're only working for one client, you can face unproductive periods while waiting on a decision or some other resource; if you are working remotely, you can turn your attention to other matters like World of Warcraft.

Is remote work for you?

Even though I much prefer working from home, I can see where it wouldn't be the optimal situation for every IT consultant. Before you take the plunge, think about how much work would best be performed at clients' sites vs. remotely. Also, consider which arrangement you think is better and why. If you're already doing remote IT consulting from home, share tips on how you address the four drawbacks I list in this blog post.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

42 comments
pvolkmuth
pvolkmuth

Really, really watch this. If you work remotely 100% of the time, you are removing any value that you get from adding value to your billings other than your quanifiable work. All consultants say "My work is so exceptional that I don't have to be there. You can call or e-mail if you need to talk to me". As a manager who hires consultants, let me just respond, "Yes your work is exceptional, so is they guys in Bangalore or Kiev. Tell me your billing rate again". Do you really want to participate in that kind of auction?

mel
mel

#1: Network bandwidth can limit your productivity at home. Using the right software for the job will make a big difference. Some innovative tools make better use of bandwidth than others. I use the Syberfix remote repair tool. It works well on any type of internet connection. #2: Some types of IT consulting work require you to be onsite. You may not be able to resuscitate a system that is down, but you can offer remote maintenance that will reduce the number of times you have to go back, giving customer satisfaction and adding additional billable hours each month. Rarely do you have to go onsite, and in some cases using remote tools allow you to quickly determine if necessary or if you can fix it remotely. Again, the right software helps. Remote software cannot be used to fix every problem, but it can for most and is very beneficial to have as another tool for your trade. #3: Clients may insist that you are present onsite. You are right; some customers require face to face for a first meeting to foster a relationship. At that time you can sell them on the benefits of Remote Support for additional service. #4: You may be more productive when you???re onsite. There are some who are better at handling business than others. If you have good remote software activities can be completed quickly, which allows you more time to take on additional clients and make more money. Consideration should also be given 1. On the down time it takes to travel back and forth 2. The money you save on gas and vehicle expense 3. Reducing vehicle emissions which is better for the environment

scott
scott

Have to say I am mixed about remote consulting vs remore working, I have recently left a company and one of their competitors approached me to do some contract work for them, I could work from home, company vehicle (since they are in a different state) and very good pay rate. I get touchy on the remote consulting because they are paying me by the hour and at home its sometimes hard to go un-distracted, it takes alot of disiple, but your days are alot longer, have run into it many times already, the main point of contact is busy and unless I am at their office standing there he isnt freed up till he is at home and calls me at 8:30. I run in to the quandry because I am trying to do 8-5 on this gig, but if I know he will probably be calling me, I coast till he does call and dont feel right billing them for the coasting time. When I "Worked" from home, I had to have the same disiplne but when 5 came the day was over.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Some clients will expect you to work an unreasonable number of hours in the day. Or they'll expect you to be available 24x7 ("Sleep? You don' need no stinkin' sleep!"). Because they are not keeping you company they don't clue in that the hours are unreasonable. This is especially true for clients located in other time zones. It also seems to be most true for clients who insist on a per-diem rate. And of course, they expect 12 hours of output in 8 hours because they haven't realized how much time is being spent.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

1. I think you would have been better to title this paragraph/item "Sometimes the work requires you to be onsite". Which is certainly true and a factor to be considered. Dealing with people remotely is a different skill set from being on site and has a whole set of issues of its own. 2. The title should still stay. The US seems to be better than Canada that way, but a lot of clients up here still seem to feel that they have to have you in front of them in order for you to be working. For that matter a lot of clients in the US feel the same way.

paulj
paulj

Most of my clients are small businesses, and I have lots of them. Remote computing helps me to support sometimes 4-5 clients at one time. It's ideal for those software upgrades that require much time just waiting for the install to complete. Still, it is very true that you need face-to-face contact sometimes. Customer relations can ususally generate new business or expanded projects especially with existing clients. The real challenge is charging them fairly. Some customers do not feel they should pay the same rate, so I charge a "travel fee" that covers gas, wear & tear on my car, and my time to travel to their office. Of course, these are not charged if I remote connect. My problem is that I also charge a lower "remote per hour rate" that I am getting away from. Paul J. Montenero Clear-Cut Computing www.clearcutcomputing.com

reisen55
reisen55

Remote can be used in a pinch for CERTAIN tasks, but not all of them so you cannot dump ONSITE entirely. People pay an IT consultant money for results, and remote can give you a good measure of control but not the personal inter-active part. VERY IMPORTANT TO BE SOCIAL, TO SCHMOOZE WITH THE CLIENT. I often bring food and good stuff to them, and you can sit down and discuss current needs and issues with a client's staff. A consultant has to BE PART OF THEM to work with them, so sitting in an IVORY TOWER does not cut it. Remote is a supplemental tool, nothing more or less.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

2 things have happened since the late-90s to make this possible; 1) Hardware these days is very reliable and it rarely fails. 2) Near universal availability of high-speed Internet. At the same time, it's software that has become unreliable. This means that it's rare that I have to make a personal appearence anywhere since most software problems can be fixed remotely. On occasions where it's hardware, I've got people who can swap most items out for me. I now live thousands of miles away from most of my clients and can be working almost anywhere I am. The freedom is wonderful! 9600 Baud dial-up? Lucky bastard! I started doing remote support back in the '80s on 2400 with "Carbon Copy". Since everything was text-based back then, it wasn't too bad. Actually, could do most things that I can do today. It was Windows that really screwed things up. PCAnywhere worked suprisingly well until GoToMyPC and Remote Desktop and the like took over.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... by a request from one of my clients to go onsite for a week in May. I used to go into their offices every day, but now I live 800 miles away. At first there was a productivity lapse as we got used to the new arrangement, but overall I'm glad I made the change. What sorts of experiences have you had with onsite vs. remote?

Editor's Picks