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I'm about to start full-time telecommuting. I would like to save myself some trouble and learn from everyone's experience.

I'm pretty much an IT generalist in a small office, but I focus more on SQL Server and the business intelligence side of things.

I'm moving to a different city (5 hours away), with laptop and cell phone as my mobile office.

What tips do you have for me?

What pitfalls should I look out for?

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8 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Well, first of all, I hope whatever company you will be working for is going to both provide you with VPN access, as well as pay for your home internet, since it is now a business requirement. Once that stuff is out of the way...

Ensure your workspace is both comfortable and void of too many distractions. It is very easy to be either 10x more productive when working remotely, and also 100x less productive. You will have to learn to manage your time very well.

It can also be hard to get used to not working in collaborative environment, so make sure the proper communication mediums are present. Invest in a quality phone with either a good speakerphone, a comfortable headset, or both. One thing I hated when I worked remotely was long conference calls on a crappy phone.

Depending on how mobile you will be, since you mentioned a laptop and cell phone as your mobile office, I would suggest setting yourself up with some sort of semi-permanent home office with the above prescribed phone setup, which you can set your cell phone to forward to, as well as a proper keyboard-mouse-monitor and a quality laptop docking station.

The biggest pitfalls are avoiding the distractions, staying connected, and staying visible.

When the boss is considering who to promote, since he doesn't see your face around the office every day, you might not be at the top of the list.

Make sure your presence is known.

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Techical aspects aside, telecommuting requires a lot of trust, especially in the begining. Make sure you're reachable by phone, email at all time during work hours. If you're to take a short break from the computer, send a reminder to your manager.

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  • Setup VPN access (e.g., using Hamachi or other) to the office
  • install a remote boot device on the server(s) if their admin is your responsibility
  • if using Terminal Server set it up so that you can disconnect from your session and it will keep running (e.g., set a very long, or no, timeout)
  • if doing development work, setup a local copy of SQL Server, etc., so that you can work for the most part without connection to the office for much better speed. Then, connect when you need to deploy.
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I worked from home a couple days a week for a year or so to help lower the amount of commuting days I had. I agree with the first post, make sure to have a seperate comfortable room in the house to work out of to eliminate distractions. Working at the kitchen table has to many distractions.

I found having my own designated office with a door was nice. I used my laptop at home, but used a terminal services session to work off of a lot. We had a terminal services server, so I loaded Microsoft Office and other software I needed on it. Created my profile on it and mostly worked off of that for the speed. It was like working in the office.

We also had VOIP in the office, so I had a cisco phone on my desk at home with my work extension on it. Being I had a firewall in my home with a site to site tunnel the one phone worked great. Users calling me had no idea I was in my home office.

Between those three items, I was in serious good shape. However sometimes there were those occasions where I would have needed to be in front of the server, but then I just called one of my counterparts.

Oh, if your office uses citrix at all, that is a great tool for remote working.

Good luck, hope all goes well.

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re: office with a door. It must have 4 walls and be devoted solely to work in order to claim it on taxes in the US. Might look into it ahead of time if Canada does anything similar. –  Kara Marfia May 15 '09 at 17:04
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Brent Ozar had a few good blog posts about it. I read all of them, and I am never going to get to telecommute.

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you beat me on posting Brent's link. +1 vote for your reward ;-) –  MarlonRibunal May 13 '09 at 19:42
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Other people have talked about the need to manage time, setup a separate area and so forth, but the one thing that I generally missed / needed off site is what I call "office culture".

You can have all the phone conversations, email theads or IM'ing as you want, but for some things you just can't beat physical face-to-face contact, even if it is to talk up your football team's exploits on the weekend.

Aim to have some office time reasonably regularly to maintain physical contact. One negative aspect of you not being in the office (unless everyone else does it too) is that when you're not seen in the office, you might not be seen to be doing work by your co-workers.

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Absolutely agree with this- I've made an effort to join the local nerd meetups, just to get some human contact with other professionals. Definitely worth looking into finding the local pack of geeks and joining them for drinks, lunches, etc. –  Tim Howland May 14 '09 at 0:24
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Test your VPN connection before you go. Too many things are changing at once. You want to have a baseline before you move 5 hours away.

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  • Laptops die easily- make sure you have a really really robust backup system running, preferably with your backups going offsite. Drobo, Carbonite, Mozy, etc.
  • Buy a really good quality phone headset.
  • Spend money on a good chair if you'll be in the home office for any length of time.
  • Buy a subscription to O'reilly's Safari service to act as the technical library that you can't get to at work any more.
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