Working from home (was: Re: Alternative sources of Perl programmers)

Sam Kington sam at
Tue May 14 03:40:35 BST 2013

On 13 May 2013, at 23:27, Kieren Diment <diment at> wrote:

> The management challenges for telecommute jobs are different to those for on site.  But it does increase the pool of potential candidates a lot.   Does anyone have any useful experience about managing mixed on-site/offsite staff?

Can't speak about management per se, but I can talk about how a team with off-site developers can work.

In a nutshell: as soon as even one member of the dev team is, or could be, out of the office, you need to do everything important off-line. Otherwise you'll end up discriminating against the off-site people, wittingly or unwittingly.

At UK2 we've historically had a mixture of off- and on-site developers - me in Glasgow, and some guys on-site in London. I come down to London once a month for three days to get face time with the other devs, but otherwise things get done over IRC, email or GitHub pull requests depending on what's most appropriate. We've had the occasional tele-conference via Google Hangouts to discuss upcoming projects and releases, but I'm not sure whether they were that useful. (That might be more useful for one-to-few discussions, rather than manglement + entire dev team.)

We started ramping up hiring a couple of years ago, and while we found a few people in the Greater London area, after a while we hit a brick wall. Because we already had some people working from home, and the group as a whole had developers in Ukraine already, it wasn't a massive cultural shift to hire people from Foreignstan - currently we have a handful of people in Ukraine, a guy who's effectively a Senior Developer in Russia, some people in India or somewhere (I'm not entirely sure where they are - I only know them from their online handles, and I've never met them), and another developer in Australia.

One interesting thing about this whole process is that a number of the guys in the London area started working from home as well. After all, if the important stuff is done via IRC and email, and we don't expect people to work 9-5 because they live in different time zones, then why should you struggle through rush-hour commuter traffic to go to an office with electricity, wifi, a desk and a chair if you have perfectly good electricity, wifi, a desk and a chair at home? (I think we might actually not have enough desks in the office any more, because we don't expect the entire team to be in on any given day.) As a general rule, most of the London developers only come into the office once a week. On weeks when I'm down, we try to schedule everyone on the same day so we can go to the pub; some of our best ideas have come from there.

Obviously, there are caveats and exceptions. Some people prefer to work in an office, probably so there's a clear demarcation between work and not-work (living close to the office is a contributing factor for this). Others may think they can work from home, but end up procrastinating instead, so while you'll have a much larger pool to hire from, be aware that some of them might not work out.

Employment contracts may need a bit of sprucing up - one of mine told me the company provided me a place to work, but reserved the right to search my desk and personal possessions, which I thought remarkably keen. A decent union will tell you that if you work from home, your employer should make sure your equipment is ergonomic and up to standard; if you live alone or your spouse works, you're entitled to claim a fraction of your utility bills, on the basis that your home wouldn't be heated otherwise. And so on - I suspect most telecommuters don't press such matters because, after all, they're no longer paying for their weekly season ticket, but it's something to bear in mind.

The people in HR might be concerned about how easy it would be to enforce penalty clauses against employees in distant lands also. We have a guy in Russia who is socially a Senior Developer, but legally is a contractor, presumably because we can't legally employ non-resident non-EU citizens.

Finally, if you want regular face-to-face meetings (which are absolutely useful), you need to budget for the expense of moving remote employees around.

Having said all of this, one of the reasons I've stuck with UK2 during bad times and good is that, if you can cope with working from home, it's bloody marvellous. Working from home effectively means flexitime, which is a big plus for me (look at the timestamp on this email ;-) ); it lets people say "I need to take the dog to the vet" or "knocking off early, I have a bunch of Russian people around and I need to barbecue things and drink vodka with them". or "brb, kid's vomiting". And it means that you don't have to worry about an employee saying things like "hey, I have a house in France now, I'm going to spend a couple of months there every summer" or "I'm thinking about moving to Mexico, is that OK?" - as long as they have an Internet connection, what do you care about where they are?


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