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.