ZDNet blogger: working from home

Summary:More and more people work from home every day. Not only that, more and more people don't work from their offices, or "where they're meant to work".

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More and more people work from home every day. Not only that, more and more people don't work from their offices, or "where they're meant to work". With the Internet, intranet's and extranet's, email and unified communications with VoIP and Blackberry devices, it makes life much easier for those with already busy lives.

Having said that, whether you work from home or primarily in the office, either have their ups and downs, and working from home isn't always cracked up to what people think it is. I thought it'd be interesting to show what it's like working from home, and whether it beats working in the office.

Mary-Jo, esteemed colleague and friend, some would say the cornerstone of ZDNet with her blog, All About Microsoft, gave me her view on effectively the same job as me.

I actually love working at home. I am way more productive at home than in an office with a lot of interruptions. That said, I think I work too much because there is less separation between being "on" and "off" the clock. The expenses kind of even out: no commuting costs and no $12 tuna sandwiches. I can make what I like and eat what and when I want. That offsets my Internet/electricity/phone, in my mind.

I do more and more of my interviews on email and IM. I like that because it reduces time differences, the need to transcribe and the worry you misunderstood something. So I am happy to do fewer phone calls and more "social networking" kinds of interactions.

We at ZDNet are as transparent as we possibly can be. You'll notice some of us have full time jobs as executives and directors, CEO's of organisations and some do this for a living, whereas I'm the only good-for-nothing student, *sigh*. This is my way of showing transparency in my work, but also the future of how we work, as technology can be the key to our work freedom.

So, what happens in my average day as a work-from-home employee?

0915: I wake up, sun blazing through the window, and my phone's ringing. It's not hugely important, but my housemate wants me to nip to the shop and grab some milk for when she comes back to study obligations and contract law.

0930: I've grabbed myself a cup of tea, had my waking-up-cigarette and load up a whole batch of favourites. Bink, Neowin, istartedsomething, LiveSide, and check the Beeb to see what's been going on since I've been asleep. Naturally, I check the pages of ZDNet to see if my lovely editor has put me on the front or second pages. Alas today he has not, but losing out to Perlow makes the pain less bearable as his blog keeps me chuckling through the day.

Because of the time difference and I've been asleep for five hours, this is a golden opportunity to catch up on the networks whilst I've been absent. I check my email, see what the other bloggers are saying, see what university announcements there are and start emailing back. Considering I get around 30 genuine emails by the time I wake up, this can take a good 15-20 minutes.

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1015: Because of the Student Technology Day which I've been covering over this last week, I finally got round to putting in my headphones and transcribing the Steve Ballmer Q&A. Although Ballmer's a lovely guy, passionate about his work and seems to caress the audience with his soothing words, he ain't half difficult to transcribe. This will end up taking me the best part of my morning as I'm pausing every 10 seconds and scribbling down what he's saying.

I tried text-to-speech recognition and transcribing software, but it failed miserably because of the background noise and the incessant coughing fits of the poor-health of students with nothing-but-noodle diets and excessive drinking regimes.

1140: Time for coffee, cigarette, shower, watch a bit of telly as New York wakes up. One of the best things about working here is the time difference; I'm in Canterbury so I'm on London time, New York is five hours behind and San Francisco where the editorial stuff happens is eight hours behind - which means I can effectively have a relaxing morning and start work in the early afternoon should I wish.

1210: I fire off a quick email to Tammy who moderates the comments, writes the newsletters and is used as the general "scratching post" for information, chit chat, motivation and all round love and care for us bloggers. Some idiot decided to post a whole load of porn/Viagra links on one of my comments, so she removes the comment and emails me back with a single smiley-face.

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1230: I've got a lecture in half an hour on campus, so I throw my stuff together, get my iPod and bung that in my ears, shout out to my housemates and head off out the door with a couple of pieces of toast in my hand. This, today, will be my lunch.

1311: In a lecture; bored.

1357: Lecture over, thank God.

1415: In the university library on campus and nip into the cafe to grab myself a quick cup of tea. I take my tea, head over to one of the quick-access PC's in the corner and login. I check my email and lo and behold, I've been away from my computer for nearly two hours and I'm swamped with more emails to reply to. Two more live meetings set up, replied back to the group discussion forum us ZDNet bloggers have behind the scenes and quickly send off my first draft of a revised government whitepaper I'm working on to get passed around the corridors of the Cabinet Office to be slated, ripped to bits, criticised and have coffee occasionally spilt on.

1420: Nipped to get milk on the way back home so we can all drink tea once again. Hurrah!

1605: A couple of months ago, I was seconded onto Enterprise Alley by my editors to join my gentlemanly British colleague, Dennis, with bridging the gap between students and the future enterprise. I had a live meeting with some chaps from Egnyte, a cloud storage company which revolutionises how organisations and small-medium businesses store their vital data. The meeting starts, I've got my hands-free kit on my phone jacked into my ear, and I've got a cup of tea in my hand.

As a freelance journalist, my job could essentially go at any time. It's unlikely because we're got such a great team of people working "here" - I say loosely because we are essentially a whole load of mini-branch offices all connecting into one big central core. Also, because I'm a student I don't get a huge amount of money coming in generally, so I operate a no-call-out policy. If somebody wants to speak to me, usually public relations or someone representing a company, they can afford an international call whereas I can't. They ring me to talk to me, or they don't talk to me at all. It works every time though.

1655: Live meeting is over and I've got a whole load of scribbled notes on FrontPage, my offline text/HTML editor (because it's easier) of which I slowly start dissecting and adding more notes. It won't take me a huge amount of time but to get images and everything sorted can take a while. The post won't be up until next week until an embargo is lifted, but I'll take a trial run of the product and see what it runs like from a consumer's perspective.

1730: Have a quick chat with some colleagues over IM to see how their day is going. Considering for some it's nearly lunchtime and some have only just woken up (not because they're lazy, the time difference, remember), some are a little more responsive that others.

1750: My little sister returns from college (high school) and needs help with her homework. I, obviously being the sort of person I am, tell her to sod off first, then inevitably end up helping her with a subject I have little-to-no knowledge of anyway. This is when my best friend who just happens to live with me and just so happens to do psychology, which is what she needs help with. This'll take up some of my time...

1830: An article I was working on earlier on in the week was published automatically by the post scheduler we have behind the scenes. Because journalism is one of those things where you can either be reporting something classed as breaking news, a follow-up post on something, or just something you've thought of because it's a slow news day, you can get away with pretty much anything, within reason.

1910: One of my best friend's came round to use the Internet because his isn't set up in his house yet. I make tea for everyone and we have a bit of a gossip and see what's going on in the world. Because we met on the computer science course last year, and he essentially slept with all of my female friends, through some strange reasoning we became very close. We were discussing something which gave me quite an interesting idea for an article I could whop out when it was a slow news day. Nobody said journalism was easy - but sometimes you really can get inspiration from anywhere.

1950: Checking emails again to see what's new. Obviously because I keep my email open all day and I've got essentially a Nokia/Blackberry, it allows me to keep checking when something comes in. However, in a perfect world, this would work brilliantly but because I'm not always stuck behind my computer screen, sometimes it takes a few hours to respond.

2000: Fired off a quick email to my editor about an invoice issue; nothing wrong, except the fact I can't keep track of my own life very well and wanted to try and get my past invoices back so I can keep them all safe and sound just in case the evil tax-man comes-a-knocking - which he inevitably will.

2215: Dennis emails me a few things to take care of, and to take off his hands. Even though I've got university full-time to worry about, because I've started a new course, I've got many hours of my life free. Dennis on the other hand, is a busy guy so from time to time he'll send stuff over. Having said that, I seem to be able to give things a better perspective on new startup's because naturally, I'm a student.

You'll probably notice that it's around 10:20pm now, and even though I don't work in an office, I'm still trying to keep in tune with the time zones. An awful lot of companies and people I speak to on the phone are in Pacific Daylight/Standard Time

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which is 8 hours behind, so they're only just past 2pm their time. On a much busier day, I'd be up until 3-4am writing up things, but as people have noted before, "I'm a night-owl who doesn't seem to sleep too much." Too true.

2350: Finally give up for the evening. My Messenger status turns to "Away" and my phone gets switched to silent. I pop in a handful of sleeping pills and a swig of scotch and I'm gone for 4-6 hours. I wouldn't recommend doing that yourself; I'm just not a very good sleeper.

Topics: Collaboration, Mobility

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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