A lot of IT guys have to work at home (in German, but not in English it is called „Homeoffice“) now or are at least encouraged to do so. Btw. „home schooling“ is a different abstract concept, it not only replaces the school building by the home, but also the teachers by the parents, often for religious reasons. But we have enough „theology“ in IT already, so we don’t have to add real theology to this blog. That would be a different blog anyway.
Remote work is nothing new, because some companies have been entirely working like this for years. And people live anywhere in the world. They meet maybe once in a year for a company gathering.
There is some difference, though. These „remote only“ companies can choose their employees, their working area and their technologies in such a way, that it fits this model.
Some people feel more comfortable with going to work and going home, hopefully not with a very long commute, and having these two areas of life clearly separated. This is gone for the moment. But we IT people are lucky, because most of us can continue working with low risk of being infected with COVID-19.
Another important aspect is, that in person meetings are often better than just talking on the phone. Of course, when the working progress is established, smaller issues can easily and efficiently be handled by phone. But for larger issues that may be more complex, controversial or just require not only words, but also white board or something like that, it is usually better, to meet in person. At least if it is not too far to travel.
Also it is very easy to ask colleagues who sit nearby a question, it is nicer to drink coffee together…
So apart from the advantage of saving travel time the remote work has its disadvantages.
But now we are learning to work like that and maybe that will benefit us, because the possibility to use remote work like a couple of times in a month may be useful even in the future.
Some interesting technical aspects are worth noting:
There are different ways to do the work. Some companies have the policy „bring your own device“. The work is mostly done on this device and probably VPN is already in place. So working at home just works immediately.
Also companies that use company owned laptops are often quickly set up, because they just need to setup VPN and maybe rules about the home network security.
But even for companies that use desktop computers, there are ways to deal with this. One approach is to just leave that computer running and redirect the display. This is built into the X Window System of Linux and Unix. It has been there already 30 years ago. In conjunction with Cygwin this is also possible for MS-Windows, but somewhat limited and difficult with non-cygwin applications and somewhat hard to set up. But other technologies like VNC, RDP and probably some others exist. It just requires enough band width, give a little bit of a delay, but it is absolutely possible to work with this. It may be useful to consider moving some things to the local computer, for example the IDE by just accessing the disk remotely, if that is possible with the company policies and the licenses for the IDE. Also confluence, JIRA and these web applications might be accessed with the local browser instead of the browser on the remote computer.
Now for meetings it is good to find a good tool. Maybe use different tools simultaneously. We need to talk with good voice quality. In a group. It is better to have video. We want screen sharing. And there are even tools that do something like shared white boards. A lot can be done. Sometimes it is good to use different software simultaneously, because one has good voice and video, the other one good screen sharing and collaboration features. It is possible to use the mobile phone for one part and the computer for the other part. Good earphones can be helpful, so you can talk with your hands free. Unfortunately they are sold out in many online stores.