Working from home - why it used to be so hard

I've long been an advocate of people in a technology-oriented job being able to work from home, even if it's just a day or two a week. I've even provided some tips on working from home on this blog. In the early days of my software engineering career, working from home had some significant obstacles that really don't exist today.

I tried to work from home once I had a serious commute. Back then I lived in Los Angeles and had to spend an average of 50 minutes commuting to work and back every day. Over 400 hours a year spent staring at tail-lights and bumper stickers in LA traffic. It was just awesome. My bosses at the time didn't like the idea of me working from home because they didn't think I could be productive from there. Relative to today's technology, I can see why.

A Different Time
Back then (1988—1994) my ability to work remotely was severely limited. I used a modem to dial into my office computer using PCAnywhere and hoped that my wife didn't pick up the phone in the middle of the call. She seemed to have an uncanny ability to do that. I would look at my phone bill at the end of the month and realize that the call to the office was costing me 15 cents a minute because the phone company considered that "long distance". The phone company was always changing the call rates and packages, so I never knew what the calls would cost until after the fact.

I did have a cell phone. It was a large brick-like device that worked incredibly well while standing directly underneath a cell phone tower, but it dropped calls if I even looked at a tunnel. I rarely used it because to keep my monthly plan affordable I had to pay nearly 80 cents a minute for air time.

I did have access to instantaneous communications through my pager. It was just like SMS is today, except that I could only receive messages and the messages themselves could only be numbers. Since I had some IT responsibilities back then I had to keep that pager nearby. I could either set it to belt out a high-pitched sound that gave me a case of cardiac arrhythmia when it sounded or set it to silent and miss the page. Stupid thing didn't even have a volume setting.

Though the Internet technically existed back then (I started using it regularly in 1993 from the office) there really wasn't much on it. We didn't have search engines so we used this as our Google:

(Yes, I kept the book. Just couldn't throw out that history)

As a software engineer I needed reference material. Virtually all of the documentation I needed to reference came in heavy book form so if I was going to be working from home I'd pack up the two or three heavy duty books I needed in a backpack and lug them home. It was a great workout and given the time I spent commuting, about the only workout I got.

In spite of all these hassles I was eventually able to convince my bosses to let me work from home one day a week. Friday was usually a slow day at the office and traffic was usually at its worst, so that was often the day.

Since I had to go through so much in order to "telecommute" and work from home back then, I'm amazed at how much easier it should be today. Even with all of the advances, many companies don't embrace it. I put together a post on the SharedStatus blog: Working from home - justifying it to the boss. Please take a read and let me know what you think.

How about you?
It's great to see how far we've come in terms of "telecommuting" technology, a somewhat anachronistic term now. What technology did you use to work from home back in the day? Drop a note in the comments and we can compare war stories.

An All New SharedStatus - Free Project Management Software

The core product for my company, SharedStatus, has undergone a pretty large overhaul that I would like to share with you. First off, what does SharedStatus do?

SharedStatus is a free online service that helps you keep get stuff done as a team. You can create a project, add team members to it and assign tasks to yourself and others. You can also share ideas through messages and comments. Most project management tools focus on features only a project manager needs, and often have lots of overkill; SharedStatus is focused on the people that actually get the work done, making it easy for everyone to update their status as they go. You can eliminate the last minute status report updates and time wasting status meetings; it’s why we call it SharedStatus.

What’s New and Improved
Here is a quick summary:

New UI - It’s clean, simple and focuses on the content. We made it highly responsive, so much so that it often feels like a local desktop application.

Labels - We added a project wide labeling system for tasks, messages and files in your project. You can apply one or more labels to anything and quickly see everything with that label using a mouse click (or finger tap).

Group Chat – Stay online with your team to discuss issues in real time. No need to fire up that IM client and get disturbed by friends and family while you are trying to get real work done.

File Storage - Got a distributed team, or even people that need to work from home occasionally? Let SharedStatus ride herd on key files, storing them in your project so everyone on the team has access.

Email Enabled - People live in email. Rather than fight that, we embrace it. If someone comments on a message or task in your project you can be notified by email. Simply reply to the notification by email and your response will be added to the thread for everyone to see.

Free Version - We wanted to remove the barriers to people using SharedStatus. Rather than give you a free trial, we are giving you a completely free option. No credit card required, no expiration. There are some limits but for a small company that needs to manage tasks between a group of up to 20 people, our Free plan may be all you need.

A Whole New Business
Not only is SharedStatus the application new, the entire business has evolved. We used to operate under the AlisonWeb Corp. banner but have now become SharedStatus LLC - making it clear that we are focused on exclusively on SharedStatus. I added a partner last year that has helped make this new product a reality: Josiah Ivey. Adding Josiah to the team has been incredible and we are both excited to see SharedStatus evolve over the coming years.

There is also of course a new web site that reflects the changes we have made and includes lots of screen shots and videos to help you get an idea of how SharedStatus works.

If you work with a team of people and want a simple, free tool for keeping your projects running smoothly please check out the new SharedStatus.