Dave Michels On Teleworking

soundpoint_ip_450Dave Michels, principal of Boulder’s Buffalo Communications, has a great post today detailing recommendations for effective teleworking. His recommendations are backed by some detail about his own home office installation. As someone who has worked from a home office for over a decade his advice definitely rings true.

In fact, I’d like to take a moment to amplify and extend his recommendations based upon my work situation. Most of the things that I’d like to highlight reflect the difference between the occasional teleworker and the full-time home-office dweller.

Dedicated Office Space

To start, he puts the provisioning of a dedicated workspace, a real home office, in the category of “nice to have.” I think it may be more important than that for many people. The root of its significance is the degree to which you’ll be working at home. If it’s just something that you do infrequently, say one day a week on average, then you can take over the den or the dining room and be very happy. But if it’s something that you do frequently then a dedicated space is a must.

In my case the home office is the only office. I tend to be working on various projects that routinely get interrupted by necessity of business travel. The ability to leave whatever I’m working on as it stands, whatever mess that might be, and come back to it next week, is critical.

If you’re going to be working from home full-time then there is another overlay of emotional issues to be considered. You need a place to go and do work, where family knows that you’re working and gives you time and space. If you’re in the den and the kids want to play with the wii you’re probably not going to get a whole lot done. This is especially true around our place as I like quiet while while I work, whereas my wife can’t function without some background noise, usually the TV, even if she’s not paying any attention to what’s on.

When we were shopping for our present house I knew that I wanted an office space that was if possible physically separate from the house. In our neighborhood there are a lot of garage apartments, carriages houses and the like, so this was a consideration. My office adjoins our garage and was once a one bedroom apartment. It’s about twenty paces away from the house. Those twenty paces are my transition from work to personal life.

Teleworking is supposed to be a perk. If you don’t have the right sort of space available then injecting your work into your home life can be a source of friction.


snom_m3_frontal_1_200x500My core telephony needs are met by a Polycom SoundPoint IP650 on my desk. However, I also spend a lot of time on the snom m3 cordless SIP/DECT phones. Mobility can be an important consideration for a one person office. On long calls I like to have the portable clipped to my pocket and wear a common wired headset.

When Fedex rings my doorbell I need to act quickly and respond before they leave, even if I’m on an important call. This often occurs while I’m on conference calls. By muting the mic momentarily the other callers never know that I’ve attended to the delivery or refilled my coffee.

Reliable IP Connectivity

Again, for the occasional teleworker just about any reasonable connectivity solution will do. But if you’re a frequent or full-time home office dweller then you really want a reliable internet connection. Whatever connectivity problems you face, however caused, are reflected in the impression created in your customers, manager and co-workers. If they can’t reach you, or you have more than occasional e-mail trouble, it undermines the perceived productivity of the home office.

Around here reliability means redundant internet connections. We have both Covad DSL and Comcast HSI. Even taken together these cost much less than a T-1.

In addition to increasing reliability it also provides a way to have greater upstream bandwidth. It have given me the flexibility to try video conferencing without endangering other network activities. If I know that I have to upload a large file set to a remote server I can start that process on a PC connected to the cable modem, whereas most other traffic is on the DSL. This also lets my wife download movies from Amazon or Netflix without impacting my office activities.

Yes, at present I don’t have a dual-WAN router so we have effectively two separate networks.

Reliable Power

A good UPS is cheap insurance against power company misdeeds. It’ll be the best $150-200 you ever spend. You’d be surprised how often we lose power in Houston. Our humble UPS keeps the core network stuff, incuding the phones, running through all but the most serious of power outages.

Reverse Connectivity

If you’re the sort who travels occasionally then there are bound to be times when you need some files that you didn’t think to bring with you. There are a number of solutions to this. You can push all your data to company servers, but that may be impractical, or overly bandwidth/time intensive. You can use something like GotoMyPC, but then you need to either leave your PC on 24/7 or work out the details of remote wake-on-LAN.

5big_3qtr-left_new1My solution is two fold. It starts with using a router that will let me easily VPN connect back to my office network from afar. Nothing fancy, just a PPTP VPN connection to m0n0wall, from which the entire office is accessible. Then, rather than leaving a PC on 24/7 I prefer to put all my important project files on a RAIDed NAS device. It’s big (in terms of bytes), small (in terms of size), is  quiet, draws very little power and reliably reboots to fully operational if AC power is lost.

Working from my home office all these years has been a tremendous blessing. Some people will probably need more physical interaction with their customers or co-workers, but I get by very nicely. I think that a well provisioned home office is actually more productive than a typical corporate cubicle and can even save the company money.

I wouldn’t want to go back to that cubicle kind of existence.

Oh, yeah. Read Dave’s blog. It’s good.