Monday, October 26, 2009

Working From Wherever. Is This Possible?


I think about location independent working and how to make it work for people all the time and it all started a few years ago when I realized 2 things:

1) My productive hours are from 7AM - 2PM. I can be productive again around 8PM.
2) I got a lot more done on days that I had the flu enough to stay home than I did in the office.

This got me to thinking about how many hours I spend getting ready to go to an office during my productive time and how many hours after I was chilling in my office but not necessarily getting much done. I also felt stifled by going to the same place day after day after day. It can be very uninspiring.
When I bring this subject up people almost always say "yes, that would be great but it wouldn't work in my industry" and I used to accept that as an answer. Now, I'm not so sure that it can't work for any industry. * The only industry this wouldn't work is in a retail setting where people need to physically check people out, make a latte, etc.

Since technology has come in and bowled over the workplace as we know it, people are much more connected. When I stopped working for someone else and opened my own business I realized that my network didn't change very much because my network existed online. I can change jobs or cities and I still e-mail the same people every day that I always did.
Granted, the freelancers and small businesses will be the first ones to catch onto location independent working because the overhead of keeping an office, desks, phone lines, etc. will force them to consider co-working or remote working. I think the bigger companies will follow eventually.
1) Productivity will go up. If people don't have to go to an office every day, office drama will decrease significantly. When I started adding up the coworkers birthday lunches, pointless on the spot meetings, and hallway chatter, I now wonder how I ever got anything done at all. By eliminating the social aspect of the office, people will not only get more done but they will then spend more social time with friends and family.
2) Companies Can Charge Less. The overhead that advertising agencies have to charge is enormous because everyone works in house. The same goes for a lot of other industries. What I've been trying to do is set up a core group of people that make up my company and when a client tells me what they need I contract those people accordingly. This means that when I don't have projects where I need a designer, they don't need to come and kill time at the office. This keeps my pricing very competitive.
3) Gen Y Will Demand It. Gen Y wants to know how everything fits into their life. They look for jobs that allow them to use the internet skills they have grown up with and that allow them to pursue their interests. Gen Y travels more than previous generations and will want to know how this fits into their job. Sound spoiled? I don't agree. I'd rather hire someone who has thought of a trip they wanted to take, pitched it to a company who agreed to pay them to blog about their experience, and come back with ideas, writing skills, and a knowledge of how to create work out of their experiences than someone who showed up at the office every day.
4) The Family Unit Has Changed. It took me a while to realize this one but it is relevant to this subject. Our families don't live as closely knit as they used to but things still need to get done. Most people don't have grandma cooking meals, or aunts doing laundry, or fathers next door to fix leaks. I was starting to feel like I simply couldn't get it all done and spend 60-70 hours physically at an office each week. Office hours are primo "get things done" hours so these errands had to wait until the weekend which meant I couldn't go and visit my actual family. Flexible work schedules mean we can answer e-mails while we wait for the plumber on a Tuesday.

I'm interested in hearing other thoughts on co-working or location independant working.Is anyone trying this ?
Here are some other places to read about the subject:
Location Independant
Coworking.com
Free Pursuits
Wise Bread - Location Independent 101

13 Comments:

Blogger Grace Boyle said...

I love the idea of being location independent and not having 'set' office hours.

Ironically enough, that isn't my life currently, but I have done that before and I know with 100% conviction it's something I will be doing in the future.

This past summer (before my move to Boulder, before Lijit) I worked freelance and did some PR/social media for a traveling tour company. I loved it and it really helped me stay (even more) organized. However, I felt a little struggle and I think that you get the hang of it past two months. I only did two months with them, so I don't think I worked out all the kinks properly.

Some of the challenges: Thinking you're free because you have a few days on a deadline, so a long lunch with a friend is fine. Not being around people, isolated instead of around people to bounce ideas off of.

Do you think some people are better at being location independent or freelancing? I can focus when others are focused around me, but then again, I do some of my best work alone at a coffee shop or in my workspace at my apartment.

October 26, 2009 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger findthejake said...

I think this is brilliant and I can't wait for the day that my life becomes truly location independent. Thanks for sharing your epiphanies. I never thought about what my "productive" hours might be!

October 26, 2009 at 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Nathan Lustig said...

Good post. I've been location independent for the last four years working on two different startups and doing some consulting. I agree 100% about productive hours. Mine are some combo of 10am-4pm and then again from 10pm-2am.

I used to be very anti-office, but now I think they are useful if you can come in when you want and not be distracted. My partner and I just got an office as a place to go when we need to get out of the house and work and have seen our productivity go way up.

I think companies would do well to still have offices, but be much more flexible on when people have to come in. I find that when I am being creative (writing marketing materials, doing research, coming up with new products/partners) I work better alone, but when I am trying to brainstorm/work out a tough problem, I work best with my partner in the office.

I'm sure its different for everyone, but I think being completely without an office, while much better than being forced to come in 9-5, can be a problem as well.

October 26, 2009 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Grace - you're spot on with the challenges. Self discipline is mandatory to actually completing projects....
also interesting question. I think everyone could certainly benefit from more work flexibility. Can anyone work remotely? Not sure, some people seem to like the office hour routine and work better with a more scheduled day.

FindtheJake - It took a while for me to break out of 9-5 enough to figure out what my productive hours were but they definitely exist! At first I tried to make myself work from 9-5 but my work day looks so different now, and I think, more productive.

Nathan - I like your combo idea, having an office for meetings, to get out of the house, etc. :) I also agree with being more creative by yourself but brainstorming with others. That's why I'm really attracted to the co-working idea, so that you'd still have people to bounce ideas off of if you need them. Thanks for the comment.

October 26, 2009 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Grace Boyle said...

This is also interesting and reminds me of what you said here: http://www.creativeclass.com/creative_class/2009/10/25/do-live-work-spaces-work/

October 26, 2009 at 4:22 PM  
Blogger Royce said...

Considering this through the lens of my industry - in real estate everything is (obviously) location dependent. The job of most individuals is paradoxically location independent, however. That's because while most of my projects relate to specific properties, the generic office work I do can be done remotely quite easily through phone calls, emails, etc.

The biggest benefit to me of having an office and spending time there is that it's a central hub where I can get a lot done very efficiently. The value of a really good scan/fax/copy machine can't be overstated. All my projects involve a lot of paperwork, signatures, reviewing proposals, etc. I get these done for multiple projects and multiple properties quickly by consolidating the files in my office. It's true a lot of things can be sent digitally, but at least half of the files I work with are in physical form at some point.

The other major benefit of being in my home office is that I can quickly communicate with other people on my team, from my boss to my accounting group to my advertising group. While a phone call and a linked file in an email are effective, sometimes it's quickest and easiest to walk over to their desks and show them exactly what I'm talking about. Impromptu "on the spot meetings" that you describe, Caitlin, are frequently beneficial to me as well and let me clear issues with my boss without needing a formal review using an exchange of emails. And this may just be my bosses' habit, or it may be endemic to our industry, but emails and voicemails are never answered as quickly as a walk-in question or concern.

Anything I can do remotely I am very productive at, and I do resent unproductive time spent in the office. My bosses are old school, however, and I don't foresee them giving me "work from wherever you want" leeway anytime soon. Unfortunately =(

October 26, 2009 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger Janet Clarey said...

You might like this too - the cloudworker creed. http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2008/10/23/the-cloudworkers-creed/

October 27, 2009 at 7:37 AM  
Blogger Pamela said...

I too have those same more productive hours, then I set in my office on the days I "have" to be there and think of things I could be getting done at home! I work at home on Wednesdays, and do schedule the day to death. Sort of wishing my employer would get the hint that it's better to work from home. I'm starting my own business, so I know I'll eventually get there. Great post! I needed to see it in writing because I always think it.

November 2, 2009 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I started working from home 100% of the time a few years ago. One big change for me has been in my home office quality.

I companies truly believe they are getting value for the: private offices, roomier workspaces and better technology that executives are provided...why not spread that benefit down the chain?

I improve my home office space constantly, at my own expense. When I compare that with the ever-increasing cost of an ever-shrinking cubicle...it seems like quite a bargain for the firm.

November 2, 2009 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Janet - Thanks for the link!

Pamela - I am trying to come up with a post to help people pitch their bosses on working with a more flexible schedule :) If you've got any ideas let me know!

Thomas - I haven't even touched that yet but I completely agree on the home office front. Not only do companies save by not having to provide office amenities but people get to work in a space they LIKE. I am not a big fan of cubicles at all so to me, a home office is a space that makes me feel creative and inspired not stifled.

November 2, 2009 at 10:31 AM  
Blogger Serolynne said...

Yes, there are indeed a lot of us working location independent!

I started back in 1994 by running my own software development business out of my home, and was able to integrate in my normal work day in with extended personal travel.

Since 2007 I gave up a fixed home, and got one on wheels (a small solar powered travel trailer) and now roam the US - working remotely as I go from inspiring locations and visiting friends/family. It's awesome, and it's so thrilling to see this becoming more of a trend.

- Cherie / http://www.technomadia.com

November 2, 2009 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Cody McKibben said...

Caitlin, kickass post! I actually share very similar productive hours with you, it's funny I thought I was so unique! Working from Asia with clients in the West works well when you're up until 5am.

I also rarely think about your other point for small businesses—the cost savings. I hope to see a lot more businesses embracing the digital nomad/location independent philosophy like we have. One question though: what do you do for your social interaction? You're right about all the hours wasted on meetings and distractions in the office, but I find I have to at least put the TV on in the background while at home, or go plug my headphones in and work away at the laptop in a cafe surrounded by other people. And I definitely like to go out to dinner most nights of the week with good friends because I don't get that same interaction I used to get in the office.

Thanks for this post!

November 2, 2009 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger camilynn said...

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November 10, 2009 at 9:35 PM  

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