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I’ve been working remote as a private consultant from my home office since January 2008. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way. As I noted in Doing Your Homework, innovation can come in an assortment of shapes and sizes, including new forms of working arrangements. Many of my friends and some family members have worked at least part of their careers as entrepreneurs, often solo like me, so the idea of striking out on my own was not radical.
Some have no concept of a “day job” or working in an office. Imagine never having had a boss! Still, it is a gamble and does not work out for many folks, however hard they try.
There are downsides and there are upsides. All in all, I would estimate that a 40-hour work week, excluding commute, can now easily be accomplished in 20 hours. This means that what is now a 60-hour week – not exceptionally grueling in today’s world – would previously have taken 120 hours…and these would have been more stressful hours.
There are only 168 hours in a week…
Here are some of the reasons why my current arrangement is much more efficient than a “normal” job: no commute; no staff to manage; no managers to manage; and no corporate distractions. Much less time is wasted in unnecessary meetings, and my meetings are nearly all conducted by phone, Zoom or Skype. Moreover, my rough estimate is that, excluding travel time, face-to-face meetings, on average, take three times as long as a phone meeting to accomplish the same objectives. Let’s also not forget that it’s possible to accomplish a great deal with email alone.
Less noise and far fewer interruptions allows me to concentrate better and structure my day more effectively. This is a big benefit for statisticians and others whose work requires that they block out long chunks of time so they can focus.
I am not someone who sells a gizmo I’ve developed. I’m a research generalist and statistical consultant who draws upon a broad range of methods, such as experimental designs, Bayesian statistics, mixture modeling, time-series analysis and machine learning. I spend a lot of time on self-study. Jeff Bezos owes me more than one lunch in return for the amount I’ve spent on books in the last ten years! This is much harder to do when you need to commute to and from an office and are subject to the numerous distractions of that work style.
Related to this, you need to be self-directed and, while part of this comes from experience and maturity, some people are naturally more content working in groups and being assigned tasks. What I do and my work arrangement is not for them.
A bonus I hadn’t anticipated is that I no longer need approval for purchases. Besides the books, being able to choose my computer and software is a plus – imagine being a musician and needing budgetary approval before buying a new trumpet or even a new mouthpiece!
I’m not claiming to have found heaven on Earth. Cabin fever can quickly set in. It’s easy to be chained to your desk 24/7, and data issues such as late delivery or serious errors can wipe out that special weekend you’d planned for months. Want to take a real vacation and totally get away from work? Well, I guess that’s hard for most people, thanks to the Smartphone…
My set up probably would not be right for people who are unusually extraverted and gregarious. They’d soon become bored and restless. Also, individuals whose main skill is impression management tend to resist telecommuting, for reasons that I think should be obvious. You also need to be self-disciplined. Though I never progressed very far as a martial artist or jazz trumpeter, the training I endured has paid off enormously. In a way, it was like going through boot camp twice. It got me ready.
First and foremost, though, you need core competencies that are marketable and a large number of contacts. Working as an internal consultant and being part of marketing science networks for global companies (Nielsen and Kantar Research International) put me in touch with marketing researchers all over the world, including highly-skilled technical specialists. It also made access to academics easier, very important for a statistician and data science person.
In my case, a traditional business model – renting an office, hiring local staff and working directly with local clients – would have been an expensive and risky choice. It made much more sense to work through existing contacts, wherever based, who had already built a local infrastructure and were comfortable working in the local language and culture. Usually, though not always, their company is situated in the land of their birth. They are language and culture specialists of that nation. Moreover, there is almost never a need for me to spend 3-5 days traveling to and from a two-hour meeting – I can be patched in through a teleconferencing service, Zoom or Skype.
Being a Home Monkey is not for everyone and would not have been right for me, or even feasible, early in my career. But I’m glad I took the leap. I’ve learned more about business, marketing research and analytics in the past ten years than in any other stage in my career.
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