Where to work?

Did you know that 62 percent of employees believe their productivity increases when they work remotely—away from typical office distractions? Yet, only 15 percent say their companies support remote working arrangements
From Microsoft’s Work Without Walls whitepaper.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals and co-authors of one of my favourite books, Rework, are currently working on a new book Remote: Office Not Required. I look forward to hearing their thoughts on their own work from home culture.

For many information-age jobs, I’m an advocate of telecommuting due to the associated benefits (eg no wasted commute-time, ability to live anywhere [a bonus for the employer as well who now has a global pool of resources to choose from], less interruptions, less meetings, etc). However, I’m not completely convinced in the world of OSS as it’s not just a decision between working from the office or the home.

It seems that there is a third* main working option when it comes to OSS projects – working from the client’s site.

The client site is usually the most intense of the three as you’re working under the gaze of the customer and feel the most pressure to deliver. It is also the only place where you can really understand the customer and their needs. It is the only place that you can really build a rapport with the customer, get constant feedback to refine your solution and strengthen your network in the process.

For example, developers need to get regular customer-time so that they remain more in touch with users needs and technology/process innovations. But these developers also need to strike a careful balance to avoid being distracted from core product objectives. Having worked on projects where the code was being developed on site by the project team, product development was clearly being diverted to the customer’s specific needs and away from the best interests of the core product objectives.

Other front-line implementers like Data Modellers / Migrators, Business Analysts, Solution Architects and Project Managers must spend a majority of time at the customer site. Testers and trainers also benefit from having on-site presence for extended periods.

It seems to be no coincidence that most project’s linchpins are in customer-facing roles or have spent large amounts of time with customers in the past. It is on the client’s site that you have the greatest opportunity for personal growth, as you see different cultures, corporate cultures and diverse ways of doing things. Bank these identified pros and cons in your memory for future projects.

OSS is a business of connections. Despite great progress with telecommuting tools, the office remains one step removed from the hub of those connections and the home is a further step removed. Each location has its merits, just don’t stay too entrenched in your ivory tower.

* A fourth is “in transit” but that is usually just a temporary state between one of the above three.

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