Working at home is becoming more popular and more common for all sorts of jobs, including engineering. This change in work location is enabled by powerful mobile computing equipment and readily available broadband internet connections. Some large technology companies today acknowledge that up to 50% of their work force regularly and consistently work from home. Interestingly companies have gone from passively allowing employees to work from home (especially those employees with special or unusual circumstances) to actively promoting alternate work locations.
Why the change in attitude? Working from home offers many benefits – not just for the employee – but also for the employer. These benefits include 1) Reduction of office space and associated infrastructure, 2) The ability to attract a skilled geo-diverse work force, 3) The opportunity to retain valuable employees that may need to work from home and/or to have a very flexible work schedule, and 4) Improved productivity (often those who work from home work more due to eliminated commute time and they are available over a wider time range enabling them to interact with others in different time zones).
There are some pitfalls in working from home. A person does need to focus on their job and not be distracted by the kids, the dog, or other household tasks. Also informal information exchange with co-workers can be dramatically decreased when working from home; those office hallway conversations often lead to vital information exchange. These pitfalls can be avoided if a definite work schedule is made and followed. And a private work space should be established (i.e. not the kitchen table!). To help with information exchange, the generous use of phone calls, instant messages, and email can make up for what is lost in those informal conversations. Ask your co-workers for feedback; ask if they feel that you are accessible or if they feel you are difficult to contact. And then make adjustments as needed.
If you do frequently or almost exclusively work from home, take advantage of opportunities when you do have face-to-face meetings. Arrange for multiple meetings in the same day, and use the opportunity to make even a brief visit to those you may have only spoken to on the phone. Definitely hold a face-to-face meeting when needed and beneficial, such as when interacting with a client or customer. Take advantage of other opportunities to interact with your peers, such as at technical conferences or seminars.
Make sure that your home office is up to the task of meeting your needs as a professional engineer. Adequate computing, printing, and networking resources are a must. If your computer (likely a laptop) is provided by your company, then likely the needed software tools will be available and necessary network and security software will be installed. If you are using your own equipment, you will need to ensure that not only are your engineering applications working but that you have appropriate anti-virus and backup software in place. You will want to make sure that your desk is comfortable and ergonomically appropriate for working for an extended period of time. You should have a phone line available – perhaps a reliable mobile phone – so that you can answer the phone in a professional manner (and to ensure that others in the home do not answer your business calls).
Working from home can be a viable option for many. In fact, it should be seriously considered when searching for a new job. If you restrict your job search to a small geographic area you will be limiting your possibilities. However you may not be in a position to physically relocate. So you may be able to obtain a job with a company headquartered almost anywhere and still be able to work out of your home. This may only require minimal travel – perhaps for the intial job interview, and occasional additional trips to the main office.
Thus there are many benefits from working from home, even for the professional engineer. It may be good option for you now, and in the future.