Growing up Remote: What it means be a remote engineer

bsoremsugar —  May 3, 2010 — 7 Comments

I have been working at SugarCRM for almost 5 years now. I started as a remote engineer for Sugar and continue to live and work in North Carolina. When given the opportunity to work for such a great company as a remote engineer I jumped at the chance and have learned few things along the way. In this series of posts I will try to examine what it means to be a remote engineer, how a company can successfully manage such an undertaking, how to manage other remote engineers.

When I started at SugarCRM there were not any other remote engineers. We had other teams with “remotees”. Some in premium services, some in support, but none in engineering. We didn’t have that many engineers to begin with at that time, so having a remote person would have been unlikely. I started by working on the Office plugins. I had some experience in that field and was excited to work at Sugar and see how to integrate Outlook, Word, and Excel with SugarCRM. Because of the nature of the work it somewhat lent itself to being remote. No-one else at the company worked on the plugins so it wasn’t like I had someone to work with. But I quickly became a core part of the team and started contributing on the core php code. You would have thought that it would have been an issue for co-workers or managers, but given the culture at SugarCRM it was fairly seemless. I mean sure there were some late nights given the timezone difference on top of us trying to get new features out the door but everyone was very understanding. This leads me to my first point as a remote engineer:

Find your work-life balance
Given the three hour timezone difference between SugarCRM HQ (Cupertino, CA) and where I live in North Carolina you will be having lunch when everyone in HQ gets into work, and you be winding down your day when everyone is coming back from lunch in CA. It is easy to leave your computer on, bring it to dinner with you, come back to work after dinner, run back and forth into your office while giving the kids a bath to check for new issues.

No doubt you will have to do this sometimes if you are trying to get a release out of the door or looking to resolve an issue. That is understandable and somewhat expected. I am not talking about those instances, I am talking about everyday life. When everything is going as planned. You have to find someway to walk away from your work knowing you put in a hard day and it can sit until tomorrow. I have to be honest I have not been too successful myself. I always have IM running and email syncing. I am running back and forth between bath and dinner. I do check in after I put my son to bed. But that is my fault. People will understand and know you have been working hard and getting your stuff done. Go enjoy yourself, your friends, your family. Work will be there, at least until your email syncs again in 2 mins, 1:59, 1:58….

7 responses to Growing up Remote: What it means be a remote engineer

  1. 
    Scott Whitlow May 4, 2010 at 3:25 am

    I completely agree with you concerning the work/life balance. I work remotely churning out PHP code everyday as well as manage other remote workers and their production. It’s a difficult balance between being available all the time, and still having some sort of family life.

    I definitely do not have this down yet since I still find myself working way too much (Hence this posting at 11:20pm at night when I decided to get a little work done). But, I am trying to do better.

    One thing that I have started doing is taking lunches away from my home office. I take my wife out to eat and spend some time with her. If my boss does call I try and take it if I am on my way to/from the home office (I just let them know that I am at lunch and that I will be home shortly) and then I call them as soon as I arrive back.

    We have to understand as remote workers, if we call an office worker and cannot reach them, we assume they have stepped out for lunch, went to go get a snack, or are on the phone with someone else or speaking to someone else in the office. We leave a voice message and we go about our day. However, for office managers, when they get your voice mail, the perception can be sometimes, “what in the world are they doing?” :)

    The fact is, remote workers (for the most part) have the same distractions that office workers have. We get interrupted, we get calls, we get stuck on problems, we step out for lunch and sometimes, and yes, we raid the fridge looking for the last can of Mountain Dew or Red Bull knowing that it was certainly there just the day before!

    However, I have found that as long as I can be as transparent as possible with my work, they are usually quite understanding. It just takes some getting used to from both sides.

    If any other readers of this blog are thinking about working remotely, be prepared for some bumps along the way. I have been working remotely for the past 4 years and have enjoyed it quite a bit. But, I have also learned that I work way more now than I ever did when I worked inside an office. Be careful to try and separate the work life from the home life early on and you’ll do just fine!

  2. 
    Scott Whitlow May 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I completely agree with you concerning the work/life balance. I work remotely churning out PHP code everyday as well as manage other remote workers and their production. It’s a difficult balance between being available all the time, and still having some sort of family life.

    I definitely do not have this down yet since I still find myself working way too much (Hence this posting at 11:20pm at night when I decided to get a little work done). But, I am trying to do better.

    One thing that I have started doing is taking lunches away from my home office. I take my wife out to eat and spend some time with her. If my boss does call I try and take it if I am on my way to/from the home office (I just let them know that I am at lunch and that I will be home shortly) and then I call them as soon as I arrive back.

    We have to understand as remote workers, if we call an office worker and cannot reach them, we assume they have stepped out for lunch, went to go get a snack, or are on the phone with someone else or speaking to someone else in the office. We leave a voice message and we go about our day. However, for office managers, when they get your voice mail, the perception can be sometimes, “what in the world are they doing?” :)

    The fact is, remote workers (for the most part) have the same distractions that office workers have. We get interrupted, we get calls, we get stuck on problems, we step out for lunch and sometimes, and yes, we raid the fridge looking for the last can of Mountain Dew or Red Bull knowing that it was certainly there just the day before!

    However, I have found that as long as I can be as transparent as possible with my work, they are usually quite understanding. It just takes some getting used to from both sides.

    If any other readers of this blog are thinking about working remotely, be prepared for some bumps along the way. I have been working remotely for the past 4 years and have enjoyed it quite a bit. But, I have also learned that I work way more now than I ever did when I worked inside an office. Be careful to try and separate the work life from the home life early on and you’ll do just fine!

  3. 

    Thanks Scott, yes I definitely agree with you and that is great to hear you are taking lunches away. Even just going downstairs to get a cup of tea is helpful to just stretch my legs out! Keep posted I am going to be writing a few posts in this series about being a remote engineer and managing a team of remote engineers.

  4. 

    Thanks Scott, yes I definitely agree with you and that is great to hear you are taking lunches away. Even just going downstairs to get a cup of tea is helpful to just stretch my legs out! Keep posted I am going to be writing a few posts in this series about being a remote engineer and managing a team of remote engineers.

  5. 

    A perspective from the opposite coast of the US…

    Back in 2003-2004, I was working for large company that had its headquarters in Virginia. We had offices in California as well, where I was based (and still am), but the business unit I was in was entirely based on the East Coast… except for me.

    I quickly realized that going to the office every day, dealing with the Bay Area traffic commute, and working a West Coast business day was a waste of my time. My boss and co-workers had a 3 hour head-start on me every day, and the only interaction I’d have with the people in California was “Where do you want to go to lunch today?”

    I shifted to working from home, rolling out of bed and getting online at 6am Pacific when the rest of my team was arriving at their offices in Virginia. I’d work with them over email, telephone, and instant messenger for three hours, and then when they’d go to lunch, that’s when I’d hop in the shower and eat breakfast.

    The best part of this arrangement? When they were winding down at the end of their days, I’d wind down my day too… and be done for the day at 2pm or 3pm Pacific, with plenty of time to enjoy the California sunshine!

  6. 

    A perspective from the opposite coast of the US…

    Back in 2003-2004, I was working for large company that had its headquarters in Virginia. We had offices in California as well, where I was based (and still am), but the business unit I was in was entirely based on the East Coast… except for me.

    I quickly realized that going to the office every day, dealing with the Bay Area traffic commute, and working a West Coast business day was a waste of my time. My boss and co-workers had a 3 hour head-start on me every day, and the only interaction I’d have with the people in California was “Where do you want to go to lunch today?”

    I shifted to working from home, rolling out of bed and getting online at 6am Pacific when the rest of my team was arriving at their offices in Virginia. I’d work with them over email, telephone, and instant messenger for three hours, and then when they’d go to lunch, that’s when I’d hop in the shower and eat breakfast.

    The best part of this arrangement? When they were winding down at the end of their days, I’d wind down my day too… and be done for the day at 2pm or 3pm Pacific, with plenty of time to enjoy the California sunshine!

  7. 

    I've been working as a remote contractor for the past 3 years or so now coming close to my 50th project. I love the freedom from being able to work from home, however in retrospect, I had difficult times. Sleeping and working in the bedroom is a bad idea! Working through oDesk and Elance there's a significant amount of pressure on your productivity (in a positive way!) that's different then from being in the office. I admit if I were in the office I'd have much more “cheat” time! Having and managing your clients waiting list definitely makes you more productive, as you're able to give the best output possible in the shortest amount of time. And of course create the most optimal cash flow. A major helper in regards to personal productivity for me was implementing a system, such as the GTD system (Getting Things Done) by David Allen. I use the Shuffle on my Android which is linked to GTDify.com.I hope this is not off-topic, as it relates to working from home as well: exercise. There's TONS of great home programs such as “P90X” and “Insanity” by Beachbody that can help bring more focus to your work life by de-stressing.Here's how I do it in my home-office!http://bit.ly/9KdJMC

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