Perspectives from the *other side* on Software, Management and Life

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Work from Home

Working from home (WHM) has been practiced since the 90's in the US from what I know. But it was in the early 2000's that it really caught on. As is with fads, the pendulum swings to the extreme ie I knew plenty of co-workers who would go out on day trips when they were suppose to be "working from home".
Confession: I went on skiing trips while WHM and would use a brittle WAP based email tool on my cell to respond to any fires. Of course, I'd have to catch up in the evening with the backlog ...but still, its not something I'd want to do again

Getting to the meat of the subject, here are some of the models for WFH:
  1. Light - must come to office each day. But can go home early on some days when workload isnt as high
  2. Medium - can work 2-3 days in a week from home.
  3. Heavy - work from home as many days as one likes. All coordination between team over conference calls, emails and IM

With Fuel prices at record levels, WFM seems like an ideal solution. However its pretty easy to get burnt when managing a team using the 3rd model (ie heavy). In the developing world, the infrastructure is poor, which means you may be stuck with a production emergency only to find that your key developer doesnt have internet or electricity at the moment and no ETA either.
And since the average programmer in the developing world has fewer years of experience, lack of maturity is a significant concern specially in terms of productivity.

My recommendation, specifically for software development in the developing world, is to go for the light WFM option ie issue everyone laptops but make it clear that these are only for situations where support is needed offhours and the one off weekend. This allows for team building to take place, while ensuring adequate checks and balances by having them in sight of their managers. I'm not a proponent of the micro-management style, but the job of a manager becomes a good number of notches difficult when responsible for deliverables being developed by home working engineers. Today's IT managers are generally overworked as it is, specially in the outsource market. So I'd much rather err towards the manager's side and hold him/her responsible for the deliverables without fear of excuses related to WFM concerns.
The benefit of the light WFH, other than having higher employee morale (engineers love laptops!), is that it enables the off hour support that is generally required every now and then for offshore development (due to timezone differences).

In summary, be careful with a WFM program in the developing world, because the infrastructure isnt close to the 99.99 reliability and specially when the average experience of developers is below 5 years.
That said, I do look towards rolling out an aggressive WFM for our engineers in 1-2 years as Pakistan has seen a significant boom in telecommunications and the software industry looks to be maturing. But in the meantime, I remain on the sidelines.


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