The main trouble with a long commute is the long commute itself. Living some 25 Kms from my work place in a chopping and changing city like Bangalore has brought home the realization and the simple mathematics that there is a non-zero probability of a traffic flare-up happening at any junction, and the more junctions you traverse on a given day, the higher the probability of getting stuck in at least one. Given this, and the fact that I spend anywhere between 3.5 and 4 hours on the road, that too by only working for 7 to 7.5 hours a day, working from home is a welcome option. Thankfully my manager also agrees.
So the first question was when? I alternated between Fridays and Mondays. Monday morning traffic is bad and equally so is the Friday evening one. After much thought I settled on Monday mornings. I liked sitting at home and watching my Facebook timeline grow with groans of Monday morning blues. And it was always good to be part of the TGIF feelings on Fridays. Also Murphy’s law seemed more likely to operate on Mondays. Delayed buses, crowded buses, no buses, no autos to get to the bus stop; all seemed more likely on Mondays.
As for the more interesting part of working from home, the real technology itself, unlike most of my colleagues I refused to ferry my laptop around across the city and back. So it stayed firmly locked in to the dock and the desk with a computer lock (one of those things you didn’t know existed until you really have to use one, and then you realize it’s there on every laptop!) and I connected from home through remote desktop. Remote desktop itself is an interesting concept as I own a Macbook with Windows installed in a different partition.
The way VPN worked was for us to go to a portal supported by Checkpoint, where an ActiveX script runs(Yes,#facepalm indeed), and then I get a box asking me to log in. On doing so, it would assign a VPN address and then I could remote desktop into my machine and life was good. Turns out, there was a way from OSX too. So I ended up searching around to find a shell script which did the same as the ActiveX script. And I had the Remote Desktop client for Mac on my machine to connect to my laptop.
All is well, except that the lack of keys like Home, End, Pg Up, Pg Dn, Insert etc keys that you commonly find on Windows laptops starts posing problems when using Windows on Macs. Suddenly the missing Home and End buttons are noticed, copy from a tool asks you to use Ctrl+Ins. Where do you go for Insert?! Ctrl itself becomes Ctrl, whereas everything in OSX works with the Cmd key. After much experience, most of it painful, I decided to start going back to the Windows partition and logging from there. At least it was consistently painful on both the windows OS and the remote machine. And it was definitely less painful than from OSX.
With that issue solved, I moved on to the next one. Summer. In Bangalore. The state and the city with arguably the most power problems. You never knew when you’d lose power or when it’d come back and with what intensity. With a very dodgy transformer right in front of the house the problems were only exacerbated. Sometimes two birds flying off in opposite directions too eagerly from parallel electric cables close to the transformer also meant long power cuts until the BESCOM people turned up in their vehicles to fix it up. (The weird thing is, they had a phone number printed on their van, saying its their mobile unit. On calling that number it was picked up by an extremely hassled man explaining painfully that this was not any BESCOM’s mobile unit, but just his residence!)
To get the record straight though, we do have UPS installed and all that. But ours being a duplex unit we decided to use two smaller power UPS units, one for the ground and the other for the first floor. All good, except that the one on the first floor keeps getting conked off. Once it is “battery gone”, then it is “the technician did not screw it in tight enough, be glad there was no fire”, sometimes it is an over-zealous domestic help pulling something apart when cleaning. But somehow it’s just the first floor one that bears the brunt of Murphy’s law bearing down on it. But then, it kind of vindicates my Remote Desktop obsession. I don’t lose any work. It’s always there sitting as I left it on my machine 25 Kms away.
After all this, there is the final chink in the armour. The internet connection itself. The BSNL connection is a beauty. It works just fine depending on what you are doing. If it is a download, fine, you’ll get your movie in a few hours. If you are browsing in general it will be fine. But if you are looking for connectivity over 7-8 hours non-stop, you may be disappointed. But then I am told it is better than the rest, which of course am told about anything I use and find abysmal. Times we live in?
But one of the best things about the BSNL connection is that there’s a local number you can call up and talk to a person directly who decides whether there is a problem in general based on the number of complaints she receives. It’s a very simple and effective approach. One call in isolation is usually a local problem at your end. More calls means there’s a server issue. Makes me wonder how they deal with the very first caller. And yes, they are effective and efficient. ETAs are given properly. They ask the technician working on the fault and let you know it might be a couple of hours or should happen in half an hour. They even take your number and call back to check if things are working after they’ve fixed it! But it does not eliminate the problem of non-continuous connectivity. Sometimes I wonder if I should get one of those 3G sticks. But then, am lazy and procrastinate.
The positive thing of course is that in most companies in India, when someone says he is working from home, the managers tend to think of that as an unproductive day for them. With expectations set so low, and given my work ethic which ensures that am more productive at home than at the work place I manage to carry on somehow. But then, working in India, “carrying on somehow” is kinda written into our mindsets, no?