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The Future of Working from Home

Up until 2006, I had spent 25 years working for large corporations in large corporate offices as was expected and normal up until around that point in time for someone with my background and skills.  Then I left that world to join the consulting world – not as an independent consultant as I had done briefly a few years prior, but working for a firm with a couple of hundred employees and a few offices throughout the US.  One of my roles was to establish a New York City office and build the consumer products consulting business in the metro area, but still, I was expected to primarily work from home when not at a client site.

Thus began my work from home experience in earnest, which I am still doing today for SAP.  Back then, the tools required to work virtually functioned well enough not to be an obstacle to getting the job done, most of the time.  I have to say most of the time because I continue to be surprised and disappointed how many times the tools of technology prevent a successful meeting or transaction and can even dominate the discussion still today.  It feels silly working for one of the most successful software firms in the world, and still struggling to hear the speaker on a conference call or meeting.  More than once I’ve spent too much time struggling to share my screen in a status call.  Considering how SAP has been an innovation leader by carving out paths in the cloud, on mobile devices and of course, HANA, when other software giants did not have the vision or guts to do so, makes the remote working challenges more frustrating.  Still, you can’t beat the commute to walk from one room of my house into another and closing the door to go to work compared to rushing for the train, driving in traffic, paying tolls or maneuvering your bicycle through pedestrians and potholes.  We keep raising the technology bar and take for granted that what we’ve become so used to and dependent upon will work as expected – all the time. 

And that brings me to the main topic I want to hear your thoughts about – video conferencing.  I’m not talking about those elaborate video conference rooms set up in corporate offices with secure connections to other branches, locations and even vendors and customers.  Those seem like expensive, obsolete dinosaurs in the today’s world of FaceTime and SnapChat.  I’m talking about all those phone calls, meetings and conference calls that the work from home crowd spends so much of our day doing. 

I think that these calls will be replaced by video calls within the next five years.  We can debate about how long it will take until video conferencing will surpass phone calls as the norm, but there’s no debating that it’s coming.  Just like cell phones are replacing land lines and the internet streaming is replacing cable television.  When video calling, you’ll always be able to hide behind a setting that does not project your image to the others on the call, but the expectation, especially in business during business hours, will be to show up and be seen.

How do you think that new normal will change the way we work?  On one hand, I think that working from home will become even more widespread and accepted by managers and companies, Yahoo’s policy change notwithstanding.  But how do you think it will change the way you work on a daily basis?  So here are a few obvious things.  You’ll have to brush your hair more often, especially in the morning.  Oh, and you’ll have to get dressed with something cleaner and nicer than your night gown or white T-shirt with pictures of Beers of the World.  I’ll have to start wearing my dress shirts again (hopefully over shorts below the camera picture frame 🙂
).  No more nail filing, email reading, making coffee, talking to family members, visiting friends or contractors while on mute, eating lunch, playing Words with Friends, walking the dog, brushing your teeth, sewing, newspaper reading, texting, cleaning the house, and so on, while on a business call.  We will have to behave just like we are sitting in a real conference room in a brick and mortar office.  And I think that’s a good thing, forcing participants to pay attention and engage as if in the same physical room.  Granted, it will be more difficult to multi task to do legitimate work while a routine meeting drags on, but I think that video will force these meetings to be more driven and focused.  How many calls are we on nowadays that last an hour that only has five minutes of value to many participants. 

The other important impact of video conferencing compared to phone calls is that so much is communicated visually and with body language that is lost over the phone.  Especially for an international company like SAP where there are employees and customers around the world from different cultures and native languages.  It can be difficult to understand someone with a deep accent but seeing them speak and smile can make a very big difference between drifting out of a call that you can’t comprehend and getting the point through video.  What do you think?

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  • Good piece on work-at-home! There are so many pros and cons, but I would have to say my favorite perk of working remote is saving the time and hassle of the commute. I am lucky to have a 45 minute walk/train ride, but I hear of many others that spend 3 hours or more commuting per day. I prefer working in the office, but it depends on the person.

    • Working from home is not for everyone.  On one hand you can feel like you're working all the time but that gives you the freedom to manage your personal life more flexibly that being in an office every working day.

  • Telecommuting, from my experience, has been the norm.  I've observed this since 2003 as the company I worked for then allowed us to work from home 3 times out of the week.  We did lack the online meeting technology then.  But when we can go on a conference, we didn't have to come in for the meeting.  Or if we had to come in for a meeting, then we planned accordingly.  Basically, if it was my day to work from home but there's a meeting say in the morning, I'd go in the office.  Work on my desk, attend the meeting.  Then go home for lunch and continue work from there.

    When I started consulting independently, online meeting like GoToMeeting and WebEx was in its infancy.  But I saw the potential for it back in 2004, 2005, can't remember when I started using it; This was a service I started to use when talking to a potential client for a project.  It was also a tool I used to meet with my offshore developers.

    From my observation, telecommuting has been in practice since the internet boom and continued on through the internet bust and financial crises of 2008 and up until now.  BUT, it is not fully taken advantage off by business; at least not at a large scale.  I'm not an expert in this subject, this is just base on my observation. 

    Now telecommuting is not for all job positions.  But I'm sure if there was a will, there will be a way.  But it always comes down to benefits over cost.  One benefit I've heard of is, "People working from home are happy workers" for many obvious reasons. 

    This is an interesting topic of conversation.  Thanks for the write up.

    • Just like the tools you describe like GoToMeeting and WebEx (and lower long distance telephone rates) were the catalysts to making remote working viable, I think the growth of video calling capabilities and Internet bandwidth will continue to change the way we work in the years to come.

  • The best response regarding working from home I've heard from a colleague. A manager said (jokingly?) that he couldn't work from home because he'd just be watching TV all the time. A colleague replied: "If you can do that and get all your work done, then does it really matter?".

    Having to get my hair/makeup done surely will take away a significant advantage of working from home. Perhaps someone will come up with an app that could add the nice dress and hair to your image? 🙂

    • yea integrity of the person working from home is important.  From my experience, it is pretty easy to pick up if the team member is preoccupied with other stuff other than work.  The greatest benefit of working from home is that it is easy to tend to personal things; cause life outside work during business hours does happen.  It's how the individual balances this.  Which is probably why many orgs don't allow telecommuting when they are capable of it due to the issues it can bring up.

    • That's funny Jelena.  I have an app that will add funny hats and mustaches to your photo but I haven't seen one that can add makeup and a nice dress to a video call.  I see an opportunity there for a clever app developer. 

      I think to work from home you have to be disciplined and make rules for yourself to function effectively.  For example I won't watch TV during the working day.  But the colleague's comment you quoted is correct - as long as you join the calls, attend the meetings and get the work done, that's what matters. 

  • That's excellent David!

    And BTW, welcome and congratulations on your first SCN blog!   I just saw your comment in Luke Marson's blog  🙂

    I agree with you about video.  I've actually discovered a great feature in SAP Connect.  You can modify the "pods" and add a large video pod instead of the "screen share" pod and with your laptop webcam, you've got instant video conferencing.  I've started using it for my leadership team meeting and it works great for all the reasons you mention.  You definitely feel closer to everyone on video than you do with just a conference call.

    Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.  And great to see you here on SCN -- hope you continue to blog going forward!


    • Thanks for the idea about the video pod option in SAP Connect Chip - I'm going to try that on a small scale to see how it works and may expand beyond that.  I may need to get a separate webcam because I keep my laptop docked when in my home office.

  • Hi David,

    Good first blog and good points. Working from home is a discipline in itself and is mastered better by some folks than others. But like driving and car and using a computer, everyone will have to do it irrespective of their ability to do it. And inevitably some folks will become lazy and bad habits will creep in - but if they get from A to B as intended then most of the time it will work out.

    Best regards,


    • I agree and like your analogies. It's like the "Nature vs. Nurture" comparison when it comes to working from home.  By nature I mean that some people are just more suited to working from home because of their personalities; disciplined, focused, task driven, etc.  And by nurture I'm refering to the environment you work in at home.  If you have young children and no help watching them then you're probably doomed to frustration at both work and parenting. 

      If you're the kind of person that thrives on his or her own and can work without distractions, you can be hugely successful.  Think of the authors, painters, computer programmers that have worked on their own successfully.  

      My wife says to me "Why don't you get out of the house?" To which I answer that I'm working and don't need to.  

  • My location recently did away with phones and now everything is handled through MS Lync. Making a video call is now just as easy as a voice call but still haven't used it much. Maybe it's out of habit or just that by the time my colleagues 10 time zones ahead get online I'm no longer looking as fresh I did when I started working in the morning.

    About working from home, it's not always a choice we have and could even be considered a luxury in some paces. Where I live now, most people live in apartment buildings. Space is limited and the "home office" is often the kitchen table. (I'm lucky to have a home office at the moment but only until our next child arrives.)  Economics is another factor: not only do I get free coffee and a subsidized hot lunch at work, I don't have to worry about paying for electricity to keep my home cool or hot during the day.

    • Good points - for me, the few times I've worked at home, I tend to eat too much.  At work I eat at certain times so it's all automatic.  At home, the kitchen is too close for comfort.

      • As I said, it doesn't work for everybody 😉

        Discipline is certainly required and I found it difficult the first days I worked from home. Eventually you get used to it and become more disciplined.

    • Cost of utilities is something that doesn't get subsidized by your company, so it's about whether this is a trade-off with other benefits you get from working from home. For some it's a benefit working from home, but for others they prefer the office so they are paying for and working in an environment they don't wish to work in. It's an interesting dilemma, but usually not a forced one as often the need to work from home is discussed up-front of any job offer. If it's something that is introduced later, then that is something different.

      • I'm intrigued about this part of the discussion about cost because I always figured that working from home was a savings by avoiding the commuting costs.  I live in the New York metro area so commuting can be expensive here.  There is the other side of the argument about utility costs, food and mostly, as Jason points out, space if you live in a small spot.  It's enough that you can feel like you're working all the time when you work from home but if it's on your kitchen table, that's in your face.  I don't think even I would like that!  Fortunately my home office is in my son's room and he's moved out to his own place so my work space is isolated and spacious.

    • Jason, good idea about the MS Lync video call idea.  I will have to try that like Chip's idea about using a video pod in SAP Connect.  The only way to start the trend is to use the technology and demonstrate the benefits of video calling. 

      You make a very interesting point about the cost to heat and cool your home along with free coffee and subsidized food in an office.  If your commute is close or inexpensive, office work may be the better option.  Some work is clearly best done face to face with colleagues.

  • Working from home certainly has advantages. Less time spend on commuting (long distances) is the biggest advantage. It is not only time you gain, but a well-rested person also works better and more efficiently.

    Yes, you can be available/reachable at home just as well as in the office (by telephone or video conference). But also keep in mind that nothing beats real-life contact. Using technology is not perfect, you'll miss out on big chunks of 'body-language', emotion and 'tension'. Things you will 'feel' or 'sense'. No, I do not see dead people, but the living look more alive in person.

    A video conference also give less overview on all participants. It is difficult to see who is about to speak. Normally you can see who wants to say something...

    I like working from home. It give flexibility and less stress. But I would not want to work from home all the time...

    • I definitely miss the contact time with people when I work remotely. I prefer remote working for development or configuration work, but also like to perform some of it on-site so I can work with people when I have questions etc.

    • I'd agree that some combination of on site and at home is probably the best. Depending on personality, people who work from home full time might feel isolated and even get paranoid sometimes. And it's not easy for the whole team to work in such environment.

  • I see a further important reason to work at home from time to time. I have a job that requires a lot of creativity (designing KT concepts, designing product videos, composing background music etc. for SAP products). To produce good and creative things, you need to be able to get into a creative mode - I am in the lucky situation that my office environment allows me, to reach this mode - but many have office situations that are more preventing then supporting it.

    At home, you can create a workplace, that perfectly supports you in being creative. You can eliminate the disturbing factors and promote the supporting factors. Interesting lecture about this was once given by John Cleese (considering the person given this lecture, you can imagine that it is not totally serious - but believe me, you can take away a lot for your daily work - simply google for Open mode - simply look in youtube for "John Cleese on Creativity").