Networking

Poll: Does telecommuting make sense for programmers?

Justin James loves working remotely, but he admits there are some challenges to telecommuting. Do you thinking that the benefits of working remotely offset the disadvantages for programmers?

I bet that many people who work in an office think that telecommuting seems like a great idea. As someone who has been working remotely for the last few years, I can tell you that there are a lot of great aspects to it, but it also comes with its own set of challenges.

For example, the parts of my workflow where I need to work with others, like QA, requirements gathering, and so on are all hindered in one way or another. A big problem is that projects are more likely to slip in the handoff to others.

J.Ja

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

23 comments
lastnitescurry
lastnitescurry

YES and NO. NO, when you need a lot of communication and face to face is the best kind... for example project start up phase (which I am in right now) YES, when a project is in steady state. Everyone knows what to do and just gets on with it

Slayer_
Slayer_

If even just to give us VPN and RDP access to our workstations from home. That way we don't need to brave the icy highways during blizzards and such.

jk2001
jk2001

You have to schedule it so people who need you aren't affected. Also, unfortunately, in some environments, the home office is the only place to get peace and quiet and not be pulled away. Some employers still don't understand the need for an office with a door for concentrated work.

jnowen
jnowen

If we can out source to anywhere in the world, what could possibly be wrong with telecommuting?

alistair.k
alistair.k

Sounds a bit "strong" I guess, but in the office you bump into people the whole time and its very informal. In a telecommuting environment you have to make more effort with this, and occasionally just to be in the office for the heck of being in the office.

Mike Page
Mike Page

I've been working remotely for 7-1/2 years, and couldn't be happier. My productivity is up due to the lack of interruptions. Using the phone, email, and VNC allows me to do almost everything remotely that I could do if I were there.

teldridge
teldridge

Been doing it for 5 years, I use Skype to 'be in' my old office so anyone can come in and chat whilst I work.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

parts of the job that are aided by face to face communication can suffer badly. Also if you are the exception doing it, you can start feeling really disconnected from the rest of the team / department. Basically it depends on how self reliant you can AFFORD to be, no face to face interaction, no one to bounce ideas off, no 'watercooler' means you can go right off track through any assumption. Given how many assumptions there are in our game, this can be a very bad thing. If you are going to adopt it as part of the process, then conferencing 'stand ups', regular reviews and such become an absolute necessity in any non-trivial work. You also lose things like pair/ buddy developing, team cohesion is much more difficult and an absolute killer is management distrust, being bomarded with emails to see if you are at 'at your desk' and such.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It requires discipline and very good remote communication skills. It's not for everyone, but for anti-social types like me, it works fine.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Face to face is not necessary if there is sufficient communications between team/project members. It's not that hard to schedule a group meeting and enable it online.

Mike Page
Mike Page

Informal, quick, face to face interactions appear to be effective at first. You have a question and you get an answer. However, not having access to that quick back and forth forces the interactions to be more thoughtful. If I have to write my question in an email or state my understanding in a formal design document then it should be the result of careful consideration. The speed that you progress through a project has more to do with progressing in the correct direction than anything else. Careful uninterrupted thinking is the best way to get do that.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... it can work for them. I happen to know a team of coders and administrators who almost exclusively telecommute--and they're one of that bank's most productive teams. No, I can't name the bank; I can tell you it's fully international in scope, however.

Realvdude
Realvdude

While outsourcing can help develop the communications processes, unless your outsourcing to independent contractors, the work is being done in a conventional office setting.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

When you're working in a cubicle or physical office at the workplace, you are constantly affected by interruptions by people who simply want to chat or other unproductive activities that distract and disrupt your train of thought when programming (or whatever your particular tasks may be.) Face-to-Face can be handled well enough with today's communications technologies that you could have an effective working team where no two even live in the same state. In fact, I've seen where the 'office' mentality has visibly slowed productivity and product reliability. I agree that some people cannot work well in a telecommuting environment, but I've also noticed that it's the managers rather than the workers who have the most problems; they seem to feel like they have less control if they can't present an imposing 'fear' figure over their workers.

Realvdude
Realvdude

I imagine that if you can still be virtually face to face, you may be able to have the free flow of ideas back and forth, and read some of the non-verbal communication from those attending. A lot can be lost in the minutes, hours or days, waiting for a email reply to specification or implementation suggestions.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

running of the job. As has been said elsewhere, face to face can be extremely important, saying it isn't is an assumption. It's not generally true. Besides communication isn't just what people say or write out loud. If you are depending on something being done and the person doing it says one thing but shows another.... I'm not saying your way can't be effective, but you have to gear up for it. "Right" people, "right" processes. Accept no substitutes.

Slayer_
Slayer_

the usual what if fear mongering got in the way. He was afraid that we would not be able to answer the phones cause for some reason at our company the programmers double as receptionists...

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... and that includes management. If your company is so 'paper centric' that they don't understand the technology they have, then your competitors have a serious advantage over you and your management needs to understand that. Your systems don't need to be the 'latest and greatest', but they do need to be used effectively. If all your capability is going to waste, then you simply aren't getting what you need out of it. I think it's time you recommended some education for management on how to use Outlook's capabilities, for one. Even Outlook has its issues, but if a company with hundreds of thousands of employees can use an 8-year-old version of it, then your company should be able to as well. Obviously the problem here isn't that they can't telecommute, but rather that the company doesn't understand what telecommuting is or how to use it.

Justin James
Justin James

... no one uses the variety of non-email alternatives that I have provided. I set up OCS, and all people use it for is the screen sharing, only a couple of people even run the IM client and even then they don't know what it is. I send them a message and it sits on their taskbar for hours, blinking at them. The folks in my company are so far behind the times, they don't use the scheduling assistant in Outlook to make sure that people are available for meetings, and many times they don't even click "Accept" on a meeting because they do not know to. No, if I need to get in touch with them NOW, it's best for me to just pick up the phone a call. J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's bad enough being interupted by email, IM is much more in your face. Just today, I was being contacted by my manager about whether I wanted another monitor on IM, my team leader to look at an issue on IM, by the test team leader on email about a fix that didn't work while trying to get my head round another issue which she'd also emailed me about. When I'm in teh office, people can see I'm busy and wait a minute. We just aren't very good at this remote stuff. Nearly threw my mug at the missus when she asked me if I wanted another brew during all this, now she at least isn't bugging me, but I'm very thirsty... You wanting a response in seconds isn't necessarily me being able to give you one, well not one that doesn't involve a mug flying past your left ear... Or vice versa of course.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

Why are you relying on email? You do realize that there are several different real-time messaging apps, including face-to-face apps using your computer's webcam that can let you get a resonse in seconds, don't you? If your company thinks that email is the fastest way to communicate, it's more than a decade out of date.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I'd do, is because I've spent all my time on constructing a really life like avatar that can lie it's virtual arse off to your virtual face. :D I've been there with that one, and on both sides as well. There you are head deep in the code, and you don't see or even hear that you have mail. Some other poor twonk is now sat there twiddling his thumbs...

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... their physical presence is required for something other than coding. Then again, if all your programmers are receptionists, you must have a bunch of good-looking programmers. Maybe I should come up and pay a visit.

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