I’m flying long haul from Bali to London. I’m returning from 3 months spent in Bali, during which I worked on and off, sometimes even for money. Long-distance telecommuting is an interesting experience. Being away from London has made me think about living and working there in a new light.
Telecommuting from a relatively well-developed place like South Bali is very easy. Free wifi is readily available and backed by “fast enough” internet connections (up to 1Mbps at time of writing). Enough for a Skype call, sometimes even video. Coffee and food are cheap enough that you can pick a café and make it your full-time office. (My thanks go to the proprietors and staff of Grocer and Grind, Sticky Fingers, Bali Buddha and Café Lazumba and Café Local.)
Contract software development lends itself well to telework. It requires some kind of rigorous technical specification to be agreed by contractor and client. The work itself involves periods of focus. This means communication is generally quite minimal. It can be concentrated into daily bursts for example, and is often better than way.
I found it difficult to work around the time difference. My UK clients would start work as my day was finishing, so the end of the day should have been set aside for communication. In reality I was often busy with other things by then, my girlfriend finished work at 5 and I got into Pilates and other pleasant evening activities. I ended up having email conversations with a 24-hour reply frequency.
I also found it difficult to sell clients my services from Bali. Work I agreed before I left went well, but people were reluctant to commit to new work without face to face meetings, though they weren’t explicit about this. After the window of remaining time shrank to less than a month, conversations degenerated to “email me when you get back” frustratingly quickly. I have a list of 14 people to email this week.
I’m looking forward to coming back to London. I’ve missed my friends, my family, the tech start-up community (and my bikes). I’m planning a busy period to make up for all the slacking I did in Bali. Amusingly enough, much of the “slacking” involved hacking away on personal stuff or projects for charity. It was great to get the mental space for things like Followize, the redesign of this site, learning more Haskell and doing some serious reading.
My busy period kicks off with a return to the tech start-up scene — attending a bunch of events to catch up with people and activity — and with lots of meetings with people I haven’t seen for a while. When I left in December, startups in London was perceived to be coping with the economicrisis better than those in some other cities. I’m intrigued to see how views have changed in the first quarter of this year, whether people are starting to feel the pinch more accutely. Many of the companies I know well are pre-revenue. Others (e.g. Huddle) offer concrete cost-savings to their customers and thus may even benefit from the downturn.
Since becoming a freelancer again I’ve been considering what I want my future role to be. I have a fair amount of web tech experience and quite a bit of startup experience (all learning from my mistakes). I like to think that my role could be as a consultant technologist attractive to some of the great companies building their products. I wonder how long I want to stick at a non-scalable profession. I took on the challenge of MyMart to chase that big pay-off that comes to the companies that win. We failed sadly, but I’m interested in buying another lottery ticket.