Working as a Contractor

I was recently having a discussion with another developer about the pros and cons of working at home as a contractor versus working in an office with other team members. Here’s what I came up with…

First the Cons

Contracting does work for me but there are also problems with it. I love the flexibility of being at home and not stuck in an office, but here are some issues that I’ve found with it:

– Motivation/distractions: It’s easy to not do a 7-8 hour day at home when you have a family making various demands and you have home chores etc. Plus it’s easy to get distracted by the Internet and other stuff like when it’s sunny I want to go outside! I’ve got much stricter about when I do my home chores (evenings and Weekends only) so that I get more done in the day now. I also only allow myself a certain amount of time for lunch/breaks and I try to start close to 9am so that it’s as much like being in an office as possible.

– Designing: It’s much easier to do design work in a team face to face or at least where you can phone them in the same time zone. Writing emails takes ages and things get lost in translation. Also, because I work with a US team and I’m based in England, all their emails come through after 6pm which is when I want to stop work; but I often don’t stop in order to reply and then I don’t see my kids or eat dinner on time. Another thing is that, even with a good design doc, MANY questions on design will crop up along the way which need to be discussed and I have to keep sending emails and waiting for a reply instead of just asking someone face to face for a quick second opinion. I’m learning to make more decisions on my own though. However, the problem with being more autonomous is that you can spend hours making it work one way and then the producer sees it and says they don’t like it and you wished you had discussed it with them first (although luckily this is actually very rare for me). Also, sometimes just discussing a design issue with someone generates a better joint solution than you could have come up with on your own.

– Art feedback. I constantly have to give feedback on art such as concepts/ideas, anim strips that need to be different, outline anomalies and tiny details, colours, fonts etc. The list is endless. It’s very time consuming to send emails back and forth about these minor details. It would be much better if the artist worked on-site and I could point at their screen and say “change this”. I know this is not always the case though as the current artist I’m working with is based in the US but NOT in the BFG office.

– You never see anyone: In an office you would get to see other people and share ideas but at home it’s just you. I guess that these other people could distract you too though. However, at home the phone often rings with calls for Helen or me that could have been made in the evening if I was working in an office, so they are distracting too.

Now the Pros

– I can listen to loud music when Helen is not working and this is cool. In an office I’d have to wear headphones all day (if that’s even allowed).
– I can take mini Internet breaks and reply to emails which may not be allowed in an office (although this IS distracting).
– I can get up and dance around to loosen up stiff joints, this may look weird in an office.
– I can lie on my sofa (or sun lounger outside during the meagre British summer) and generate ideas, but I know that BFG has a thinking room with beanbags in so that should be OK.
– I can see my kids at different times in the day and also Helen.
– I can pop out to lunch with Helen (she would probably be able to meet up with me if I worked in an office nearby).
– I can eat my own healthy food at home whereas in an office I’d need to prepack it all or eat less healthily (and spend too much money) in the town/city centre.
– I can do urgent home/financial chores at home whereas I would have to wait until the evening or lunch break in an office.
– There’s probably lots more but that’ll do for now.

If I was hiring someone…

So that’s my experience of working at home (I worked in an office for 9 years and in a shop before that, so I know what that’s like too). So if I worked in an office and was given a choice between hiring someone in the office or on a contract-basis, I’d always try to get them in the office because working like that is a LOT more productive. But working in an office can be perceived as having some downsides if that person is used to an “Indie” lifestyle. However, if an “Indie” is very good at what they do, but they won’t work in an office, then I guess the only choice is contract work.

9 Responses to “Working as a Contractor”

  1. Gavin Bowman Says:

    Great post, I think you’re bang on with both sides. I’ve been working from home for almost 10 years now, and although I still love it and manage to keep my motivation pretty high, I feel like I’ve got most of the cushier “indie” pros out of my system. There are plenty of things I’d really miss about working at home, but the team interaction issues really make working in an office appealing.

    The rest of my team work in the US too, so I get exactly the same post-6pm thing, it makes it very hard to switch off and relax at night. There have been times we’ve had week or month long email threads that could have been eliminated by a 10 minute face to face meeting, or when work has ended up being thrown away because of a misunderstanding. I found it especially difficult when working with junior programmers – you want to give them good guidance and mentoring, you know you could make everything clear to them if you could sit down and go through something step by step with them, but remotely it can end up just being frustrating for both sides.

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Great comment Gavin, interesting to hear from someone else with similar experiences.

  3. Hugh Mathison Says:

    Perhaps Skype could help some of these problems?

  4. Hugh Mathison Says:

    Perhaps Skype videoconferencing could help some of these problems?

  5. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Yeah I’ve used Skype before but found it a bit laggy/bad quality at times – also the free version doesn’t support video conferencing with more than one person. What I do at the moment is schedule phone calls with the designer and conference calls with the artists to go over major stuff and that works pretty well, although it’s always at the end of my working day.

  6. Gavin Bowman Says:

    We use Skype a lot too, but we also have problems with lag and slow delivery of text messages, or with dropped calls on voice chat, especially with more than one person on the line.

    Now we have enough Mac’s we’ve started experimenting with iChat, and it seems like it could be a good option for us, clear video, reliable (so far) voice, and screen sharing.

  7. Winfried Maus Says:

    I’ve been in the corporate environment for too long to agree with your ‘Cons’ section: In real life, people in offices spend hours everyday surfing the web, writing private emails, making private phone calls or hanging out at their co-worker’s offices chatting, drinking coffee and -not- doing any work. The rest of the time you waste at meetings. Even if you wanted to actually get something done, your co-workers and managers just wouldn’t let you.

    In my career, I’ve done most of my productive work when everybody else had already left the building or during night shifts when nobody else was around. There is NOTHING more counter-productive than “cubicle land”. And the worst unproductive place where I’ve ever worked were the United Nations. After having made all those experiences, Dilbert cartoons are not really funny anymore – they are nothing but the sad truth.

    I’ve now checked out of the rat race and am in the process of adjusting to working at home. It’s not as easy as I originally thought. No, I don’t miss the office environment. But it’s difficult to handle the freedom that I have now in my life – but I’m learning, and it feels GREAT to live by my own rules and rhythm. If I can avoid it, I won’t go back to a corporate environment.

  8. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Hey thanks for the other perspective. I’m going to try to make working in an office work for me again when I start my new job at BFG Canada soon. I’ll probably wear headphones a lot to avoid distraction and kinda be unsociable if people distract me too much. As the studio will be starting small there shouldn’t be too many distractions or meetings so hopefully it will be a hotbed of collaborative ideas 🙂

  9. Winfried Maus Says:

    I’m sure it will be different for you where you are going – after all, you will work in a creative environment. My experiences are rooted in those boring-by-nature corporate environments where people only go because they need a paycheck, not because they love it.

    Okay, it’s not entirely true; from 1998 until the end of 2000 (I could also say until the company went bankrupt), I’ve worked for that cool compiler creator. During my last months there, I was working in Germany again, but on a shift that was compatible with American office hours. Which meant that I started at 1 PM and worked until 9 PM. I loved it. After 6 PM, I had the entire office for myself and really got things done. But although everybody at that company really liked the product and enjoyed working on it, the time between 1 PM and 6 PM was mostly filled with… Well, shall we call it the “office café”? 😉

    By the way, I really find it cool that you are taking the chance and go for a major change in your life! I think you’re doing the right thing and you won’t regret it. You and your family will gather a lot of invaluable experiences. Enjoy it! 🙂