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Alone Time

By Steve Jones,

In reading about how distributed teams work together, I found an interesting note from one person, David Heinemeier of 37 Signals. He mentioned that early on 37 Signals was a distributed company, with him being in Denmark and a the rest of the company in Chicago. So they were 7 hours apart in their workdays.

Now many people talk about the challenges of working in separate physical locations and then about the issues of timing between teams. It's something that we've struggled with here at SQLServerCentral over the years with 2/3 of us on the East Coast and one guy on Mountain time. There are definite challenges to working at different times, trying to coordinate things, even find time for phone calls. You depend heavily on email, and you get frustrated when things are moving quickly.

But David mentioned one positive that I hadn't openly considered: Alone time. He said that it was good because he wasn't interrupted, he had a definite amount of time that he could work without being disturbed. I think I knew this internally, but I'd never specifically called it out to myself as a benefit.

When you are doing any type of creative work, from building software, to writing editorials, to creating advertisements, to training a horse, you need a certain amount of time to think. Working through  things, trying them out on your own, just getting through the process of evolving your ideas and basic structures is something that requires uninterrupted time. Something that can be hard to find when you are on the same schedule and in the same location as a lot of other people.

I used to struggle with working at home, and still do at times, but I also greatly appreciate the time I have to think and work through ideas. I'm not sure that I could do this job I had to go to an office every day.

Working alone isn't for everyone, and even those of us that like it need social interaction at times. However I know that I have a limited amount of time in which I'll get real-time email or phone calls from the UK, usually the first 2-3 hours of my day, and a limited time in which I might hear from Andy or Brian, usually a couple hours in the afternoon. I've subconsciously planned around this time, doing work that can tolerate interruptions (email, answering questions, etc.) during those times and saving writing or podcasting for the middle of the day when I can work alone.

There are always challenges and opportunities in every situation, and working remotely from others has plenty of both. How you view it probably depends on whether you think of it as a half-empty glass or a half-full one. Reading that quote certainly made me realize I was looking at things the wrong way.

Steve Jones


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