Friday, December 2, 2011

Remote working

Whether you call it teleworking, work-from-home or remote working, that's what I've been doing for the past 18 months full-time. Before that, I used to work from home mostly two days a week and commute into the office on the other days. It took more than an hour on the bus in Sydney peak hour traffic, so including the walk/wait at each end, the trip took more than three hours a day. It was often stressful and a dreadful waste of time, except while I was studying, when the bus trip (provided I got a seat) was great for textbook reading.

I work as a regional director of PR for a US company in the technology industry. That means spending hours on the computer or phone, writing, talking with journalists, finding them information for their stories, arranging interviews with the company's spokespeople, promoting the company's expertise. I also manage a small team in Asia Pacific and Japan. I travel interstate to host journalists at the company's conferences and for leadership team meetings. This kind of work can be done from anywhere.

I consider myself very lucky to work for a company where this is normal. I have met colleagues who work from their home in the Arizona desert, on Vancouver Island in Canada, on Waiheke Island near Auckland, New Zealand, in Perth, Macau and on Scotland Island in Sydney. Everyone in the company has a notebook computer; there are no desktops. With the increase in fuel costs, traffic and natural and other disasters, I think this is a very smart move. In an emergency situation, almost the entire company can do their jobs from home. But even in a company with the technology set-up and culture and experience to support remote workers, being able to do so successfully is still dependent on having a supportive manager and management team, and I'm lucky in that regard too.

Personally, I like working from home. I can concentrate better on the task at hand, I'm in control of my own work environment (no beige cubicle for starters), I don't eavesdrop on everyone else's phone calls, I can stand up and wander around on the phone, the coffee is good (and cheaper), there's less wasted time. I can wear jeans every day. My desk has a nice view (see above). Sure, my social interaction mostly comes from Twitter, instant messenger and the dog, but that has its upsides to be honest!

However, there are things I need to do better:
  • Get out more. Late yesterday afternoon I drove into Hobart for networking drinks organised by the Public Relations Institute of Australia. It was the first time I had met other PR people in Tasmania. Some of these people are in the same situation as me. One suggested catching up for coffee in the new year, so I'll be following up on that idea. I go to local business dinners with David, put on by the Huon Valley Business Enterprise Centre, but there may be other networks that are useful. Also it means I put on a suit! And as much as I dislike being away, I also need to travel to see people more. Relationships are worth investing in.
  • Exercise. In Sydney I had regular appointments to train with the totally brilliant Wild Women on Top, and I always kept that commitment, rain, shine or headache. When working from home I walked the dog every afternoon. Here I have failed to keep any commitment made to myself to keep up the hiking training, and the dogs have a huge paddock to run around in. Sitting at a computer all day long is not doing me any good at all. To change this, I have to set a big hiking goal to train towards.
  • Webinars. I used to attend these more when I was in Sydney, and in the absence of PR colleagues to discuss ideas with, I found them a time-efficient way of thinking outside the day-to-day.
  • Weekly 'team' meeting. Or Friday drinks, like the office-dwellers do. David and I have a regular breakfast booked in at a local cafe, but I need to do a better job of actually using the time to discuss our work.
  • Keep more regular desk hours. With most of my team between one and eight hours behind me (and worse in summer), a lot of the email and calls fall late in the day my time. That's hard because I'd prefer to work early and finish before I am brain dead and inefficient. I don't have a good answer for this one yet. To be honest it was no different in Sydney.
There's more, but with this post I just wanted to share a bit of what it's like working remotely, the good and the bad. I'd love to hear about your experiences if you work from home too.


  1. You sound like you have a great job, and a very busy life.

  2. Hi Susan

    Thanks so much for your wonderful description of how life can be when you work from home with all its positives and challenges. It is so incredible that we can be ensconced in a cottage in Southern Tasmania and yet be linked to so many across all corners of the globe. As one who is looking for ways in which I might combine work with home and cut down travelling time and wasted activity, I loved reading your ideas/strategies for keeping connected, networked and involved. Thinking about working from home has become even more timely for me given that tomorrow a contract will be signed for the home in which we now live. So it seems our Huon cottage will soon become a reality ( I just haven't had time to blog about it yet). One thing is for sure...I will hate leaving it every day for work and so will continue to cook up a plan to work from home. Thanks so much for such a timely reflection on your fabulous working world. P.S You have the neatest desk I have ever seen...please tell me you you gave it the once over before you took the pic.

    Cheers, Kathy

  3. Haha yes Kathy I did tidy the desk a little before taking the photo... at least removed the collection of water bottles and the many pens.
    Cheers, S

  4. I have found it wonderfully satisfying to know there are so many ppl down here that work from home. This is because it has always made so much more sense to me. Cost effective/more Environmentally benign/facilitates better work/life balance. It is like a modern version of life before industrialisation - blending work with home life. I do work part time outside of home but am fortunate to work for a natural history publisher on a freelance basis from home which adds a little additional income. With that role I get to look at great photos of australian flora/fauna and identify/catalogue images. Unfortunately, a lack of money their end, impedes their ability to implement further things that would enable more remote work to be possible - but I live in hope. My husband used to work from home in Brisbane, wanted to relocate and work remotely from Tassie but the manager at the time did not have the forsight saying that he could work from home anywhere else (even NZ) but not Tassie! Weird - we've since found out that this manager is gone and they have remote workers everywhere now and it works brilliantly.
    Oh yes, and you do have a neat desk :P
    I also really liked your link to Wild Women in an earlier post. I have always thought about groups like that and I feel a tiny bit motivated now to start jogging up and down New rd to get back into shape again - especially in the rain ! scary :)
    Heather, Franklin.

  5. Hi Heather, I've been thinking about forming a kind of local 'wild women' type of group for regular training, in the rain, sun or snow! Will have to chat with you about that. I've done the trek up New Road a couple of times (once from the bottom and once from Rankins Road) and although I like hills it's not a pleasant walk...
    Cheers, S

  6. I can certainly relate to many of the issues that You need to do more of Susan :). Especially meeting more local people, I haven't invested a great deal in that yet, and sticking to more regular business hours. 2012 may be a turning point!

  7. Hi Susan, I have just found your blog & am reading my way back. It is a wealth of information. I was last in Franklin in November checking again that my heart is still in the Huon even though I currently live in Perth. One of the factors holding me back is once I move I don't want to have to scale the hill each day into Hobart for work (even though I travel about the same distance / time in Perth now). I had heard of remote working but more as a US concept. Now I have another avenue to look into to make my move to the country a reality this year. Great blog, thanks very much. Tracee

  8. Hi Simon - great list of ideas on how to make working remotely 'work' in your post - I'll have to add them to my 2012 plan as well.

    Hi Tracee - it took me and my OH almost 10 years to work out how on earth we could manage to move out of Sydney and still have work/make money. One thing that has struck me is how many people do more than one thing here e.g. two or three completely different jobs, or a job and a business/art or craft etc. I am sure we will see you back here in the Huon soon.