I am lucky that my job allows me to essentially work anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection. Sure there are times that I need to be in meetings and on-site with clients, but most of my work involves sitting in front of a computer and typing code.
This allows me to work from home from time to time. This basically gives me an extra 2 hours every day with my family that I would normally be stuck sitting in peak hour traffic driving to and from work.
You don’t have to be a programmer to have this kind of freedom either. If your work involves sitting at a computer, typing emails, writing reports, talking on the phone etc… then you can work from anywhere too!
Using Your Computer
The first step to working from outside the office is either connecting to you computer on your desk, or connecting your laptop to the corporate network when you’re not there.
Option 1: Remote Access
If you have a desktop computer at work, then it’s not practical to be lugging that home every time you want to spend a day working from home.
There are a number of solutions to this problem though. They involve installing some software on your computer and then you are able to connect and remotely control it from any web browser on any computer.
LogMeIn Free – This is free for personal use which basically allows you to see your screen and use it as if you were sitting at your desk. You can buy a paid account that allows you to do more, such as transfer files between your work computer and your home computer, but there are other services like Dropbox, Box.net, SkyDrive etc… that allow you to sync you files between any number of computers.
GoToMyPC – Essentially the same thing as LogMeIn, but developed by the guys that did the remote desktop features found in Windows (so apparently better). This service has a small monthly fee and has many of the same features as the paid version of LogMeIn.
Option 2: Laptop
If you have a work laptop then your already well on your way to working from home. Pick it up at the end of the day and take it with you. Without needing anything else, you have access to all the files on that computer and can finish off your reports or anything you’ve been working on.
Most companies have their email accessible to the outside world (to allow you to access email on your iPhone etc). This means that if you’re using Outlook or similar, it may just connect from your home internet connection.
If you need to access files on a shared drive, or internal websites like SharePoint, then you will probably need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This technology connects securely to your corporate network and your computer is basically connected as if you plugged in the blue network cable at your desk. You will be able to access file shares, email, internal sites, and even corporate printers. Talk to your IT Manager about setting up a VPN connection.
Ok, so you’ve got access to your work computer or connected your laptop to the VPN, now what about that phone on your desk? You can make is so that someone calling you (even a person down the hall) doesn’t even know that you’re not sitting at your desk in the city.
Option 1: Call Forwarding
The easiest way to set this up is to forward all incoming calls through to your mobile. The downsides to this is that when someone calls you, the forwarded call to you mobile may cost money depending on your company’s phone contracts. Also, if you want to call out you will need to make the call from your mobile (which will count against the plan).
Option 2: Voice Over IP
Voice Over IP (VOIP) sends your voice call over the corporate network (or the internet). This means that if you are connected via a VPN you can run a VOIP client (similar to Skype) that connects to your corporate phone system. All you need is the software (3CXPhone is a very good free client) and a USB Headset. Look for a headset that has a noise cancelling microphone as you don’t want a whole lot of room noise coming through on the call.
Depending on how your corporate IT is setup, you may even have external access to your phone system. This will allow you to connect a physical phone handset on you home desk to the corporate phone system. This is one of the best options, as you still have the physicality of a handset to just pick up when it rings (instead of quickly fumbling for the headset before the person hangs up).
Both of these options allow you to make and receive phone calls like you were at your desk. You can even transfer calls to colleagues just like you would at work!
What are you waiting for?
So we’ve gone over some of the technical hurdles to get you working from home, but what about the boss? This is probably the hardest issue in the whole setup (people always are aren’t they?).
My advice is baby steps. You’re not going to be working at home full-time next week, or even next month. Start by getting the technical steps setup, and if asked why you want to have these things setup mention that you might like to get that report finished over the weekend without the need to come all the way in.
Once you have the technology setup and working in the case of occasional weekend work, you can then start to mention things like your kids have a school assembly item, and in order to not miss any work time you’d like to work from home for the day, pop down to the school, and then back to work in your home office. This way you’re doing the full day of work rather than taking a half day and still having to drive if afterwards.
Once you have been able to prove that you are at least as productive (or even more productive) at home as you are at work, you will be able to start arguing the case of a day or two a week at home to get your “busy” work done.
Now you have an extra couple of hours with the kids a week and you’re still getting the same, if not more, work done.
I’d love you hear in the comments about your experiences working from home, the technologies you use and the methods used to convince your boss it’s a good thing.