Why Do I Have An Office?

As some people may know, I have rented an office in space operating by Regus, a company that specialized in renting individual offices and short-term office space. So why would I do this, particularly since the trend for many start-ups is for people to work from home? Some of it is about habit, and some of it is about productivity.

Working At Home Is Hard

A lot of people have written about telecommuting and working from the home for decades. On paper, it would seem to make sense for some types of jobs. If all you do is work on a computer, or talk on a phone, then why do you need to be in an office? For as long as I can remember, futurists have spoken and written about the expected decline of the office and the move to most people working from home. They would only travel to an “office” for face-to-face meetings (and the expectations were that even many of those would be handled via first through conference calls, and later video conferencing as it became cheap and readily available).

But what most of those writing about telecommuting left out was how hard it can be to work from home. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of setting aside some of their living space for a dedicated office. Having a spare room you can allocate just for work appears to be the exception, and not the rule. That means that many will be working at their dining room table, or in the same room they use for the personal computer user (which is often shared with other family members).

Even with dedicated space, working at home can have challenges for all but the most disciplined of people. Why? Because of the distractions and potential for distraction. Your TV, game console, books, music and refrigerator are “right there”. Your spouse or smaller children are in the house as well. Even older kids, when not at school, can forget that “Mom is working right now” or that “they shouldn’t bug Dad when he’s in his office”. You can easily get “just one quick question”-ed to death at home.

Working at home can let one slide into the “time isn’t as important” train of thought. Unless you have a pressing need, you can start and stop your day when you want. That can be great, but it can also mean your day never ends, either out of habit or because of work pressures. When work is a 30 second commute down the hall or down the stairs, it can intrude on your life more often than if it requires you get out of the building to do it.

But Why A Solo Developer?

Okay, so right now I’m not deeply involved with a team of people full-time. I’m working with a couple of colleagues on a couple of possibilities, but I don’t have a formal “job” or “employer” making demands of my time. That would seem to be ideal for working out of the home.

And you would think so, except that I do have work-like projects that I have set out for myself. I still have my own apps to maintain, and new apps that I want to build. I have new skills I want to acquire, and projects to help with that. So while I may not have a formal “job”, I still have “work”. By working at home, I am subject to all the distractions I listed above. Plus, because of the only space available in my home, I get to enjoy the distraction of people rummaging about in the deep freeze or digging stuff out of storage in the furnace room (which happens more often than I would have thought). Noise cancelling headphones can only do so much.

I’ve always had a fairly clear dividing line between “home” and “work”. Some of that was dictated by technology. That has obviously changed in recent years, but there was a time where the only place I could work was the office. Remote work wasn’t economically practical, because the necessary hardware was too expensive. Today’s technology, and my requirements for it, mean that I can work pretty much anywhere I can sit.

Having an office, even if it’s one where I’m basically by myself anyways, means I can make a clear distinction between when I’m working and when I’m not. When at home, I rarely pull out my laptop, unless it is some that I need to address right away. Otherwise, now, when I want to work, I drive to my office (which is, at best, 10 minutes away). On nice days I could walk or ride my bike, but I haven’t got there yet.

I am now free of the distractions of working at home. I can put on my tunes, and concentrate on complex problems, or learn new skills, for hours at a time. Since moving into my little office (which features 2 key elements: a door and a window), I feel much more productive. I feel I get more done with my time that I did working at home. When I leave for the day, I feel like I can put work behind me until the next day, or the next time I come to the office. If I find myself ruminating a problem while at home, I’ve so far found that driving to the office, sitting down and working it through is more effective now than when I worked at home.

May Not Be For Everyone

Not everyone wants to work in an office, and many, many people are productive working at home. I’m not going to claim I’m some kind of statistical norm (“normal” is not a word most people would use to describe me anyways 🙂 ). Your mileage may vary, batteries not included, see dealer for details.

But for me, this is working out pretty well. I have a place that’s mine, where I can concentrate on my work and on the things I find interesting. I have a better division between home and work, so that when I’m home, at truly at home, and not just “not working” for a few moments. When I’m at work, I have fewer distractions and can concentrate better. We’ll see if I keep this up. I’m here until the end of March, and my opinion on this may change in that time. For now, though, it feels good to have an office. It feels more “normal”, and helps to bring some balance between work and home.