One Year at Home

One year ago today I moved from Ottawa to Brantford, switching from working in the office to working from home full-time.

I’d always wanted to work from home, but I’d never asked an employer if I could. At Adobe, and at previous jobs, my employers were okay with employees working from home one or two days a week so I often did that, but this time I made the leap to not having an office “at the office” at all.

My wife is from Brantford, and moved to Ottawa to be with me. Four years ago we had our first child, and the value of having family nearby started to become apparent. We didn’t have any in Ottawa, so every birthday and holiday involved a 12 hour round-trip to Brantford. Plus, there was no grandma dropping by to see her grandson. No playing with the cousins. We eventually decided that it was important to be closer to family.

So we’ve been here a year. So, how’s it working out?

It’s been a very good move for my son and my wife. Brantford is a much smaller town than Ottawa (about 100k vs close to a million) but big enough that there isn’t much you can’t get here. It’s got a Future Shop, a decent theatre, and a Starbucks. What more do you need?

Brantford’s main industry has been manufacturing, and that’s been struggling in recent years. On the positive side, this means housing prices are much more reasonable than in a lot of big cities, and I think that in general, telecommuting means being able to buy a better house for the same dollars, because you don’t need to compete for prime real estate.

My commute time has dropped from about an hour a day to the time it takes to walk down the stairs to my office.

Staying Motivated

One question people ask me is how do I stay focused and motivated. There are a few parts to that answer.

If you’re not self-motivated to start with, don’t try working from home. If you’re the sort of person that has a hard time quitting at 5pm, then this is for you.

But keeping in close contact with your co-workers is also important and motivating. At Adobe, we use a development methodology called Scrum. A key part of Scrum is that every day, you have a stand-up meeting with your team (and stand-up literally means you stand during the meeting, which helps keep the meeting short). Knowing that tomorrow morning you need to answer the questions “what did I do yesterday” and “what am I going to do today” helps keep you focused.

And the third part of staying focused, for me anyway, is a good GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. I use Things, a Mac app that tracks tasks, both for work tasks and for non-work tasks around the house. Every day when I figure out what it is I want to get done, I highlight those things in Things and that helps keep me focused. Scrum has tools for this as well – there’s a backlog of tasks that are assigned to me that I can check – but the Things UI and workflow just works better for me.

Keeping in Contact

Staying in touch with the people I work with is incredibly important, and fortunately, Adobe is already very well set up for this.

We use a tool called Adobe Connect that enables easy audio and video conferencing. Most people at Adobe are used to working with Connect for most meetings anyway, so including a Connect URL in a meeting invite is a common thing to do. This lets me see whatever’s on the screen in the other meeting room(s), and share my own screen if I want to.

Adobe uses Cisco IP telephony, and thanks to the VPN, the phone on my desk at home has a 613 area code and rings when you dial my extension the same way it would if I was in the office in Ottawa.

Home and Work

There are benefits and drawbacks to being “at home” all day. My wife is at home with Matthew during the day so everyone is here in the house, but the house we moved into is a former duplex and the two sides are completely separated from each other save for one door. That door has a child lock on it, and my son knows that Daddy spends his day over there and he’s not allowed over there.

Occasionally if there’s some emergency Matthew wants me to attend to, like putting new batteries in his fire truck, he’ll ask Mommy to email Daddy to come up and fix it. Seriously. It works.

On the other hand, sometimes when I’m working I like to wander around and think about problems or whatever it is I’m working on. In the office, this usually meant a trip to the kitchen or downstairs to Starbucks. At home, it just means stepping out onto the patio outside my office for some fresh air, or walking upstairs to say Hi to my son.

It’s been a great year for me, and looking back my only regret is that I didn’t start doing this sooner.

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