Working Solo

In the last 2 months, I’ve moved jobs and into a very different role with a start-up firm. Since I am the only employee in my city right now, it doesn’t make sense to invest in office space as yet, so I have a Home Office. While working from home is comfortable in a number of ways, its also thrown up some challenges for me.

One thing I miss is the hum of office chatter and being able to pop over to a friendly colleague’s desk for a word now and then. While, at work, I used to sometimes crib about the non-stop talking that some folks could do, when you are working all on your own, you realise how much you get used to having people around. Ofcourse, technology has made remote working possible, and using chat, I do stay in touch with my colleagues 350 kms away. Plus. I pop down to Chennai where they work, once in a while, and ensure that I meet atleast a few clients a week. That way, I don’t end up completely isolated. Still, it takes a bit of getting used to, from just turning around and bumping into colleagues whenever one fancies.

Then, its not just that I am working from home, but also that I’ve moved to a start-up, where things are much more unstructured. The good thing is that there is so much more to do, there is tremendous flexibility, no bureaucracy, and an opportunity to shape the business, not just be another employee. The bad news is that it takes tremendous self-discipline to work in an organized manner and get things done, when there is no one looking over your shoulder. Again, it takes some getting used to. I consider myself a pretty efficient worker who can get things done. But now, I don’t just have to do things efficiently, I also need to do a good amount of deciding what things should be done. This ofcourse involves changing one’s mindset to think more in terms of the overall business, than just one’s portfolio or allotted tasks. But it also helps to convert broad plans into smaller steps, and put them down somewhere in specific terms.

Working from home also means a lot of interruptions. When relatives land up, some (wrongly) assume that I am working from home, in order to “take care” of home. So while I try to set fairly defined timings for myself, there will be someone knocking on the door and asking where the garam masala is, while I am on a client call. Or the lady on the road selling keerai (greens) wants to know if I would like to buy some. Or I myself am tempted to snooze for half an hour or watch TV. After all, the bedroom is just 10 steps away! This is probably the toughest bit – facing interruptions from self and others! Others, I try to ward off by keeping my office door closed or not answering the door unless its someone expected. Thankfully, I have a separate study that has been coverted into an office. The self interruption bit is harder to combat!

Its early days yet, but on the whole, I think working independently suits me. I am the type who handles authority very poorly, especially when its orders don’t make sense to me. I can’t do something just because I am told to. So working with a start-up firm and really being able to contribute meaningfully, is something I am enjoying. I am also hoping that the second-hand-entrepreneurial experience will come in handy when I eventually start something of my own. In that sense, working on my own will probably prepare me for such challenges. It would be great to hear from anyone else who’s been through a similar experience.

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4 Comments

  1. It’s amazing how similar situations work out so differently for different people. Though you asked for the similarities, I would go ahead and share a somewhat different experience.

    I joined a startup when I myself was starting my career, ie at the bottom of the ladder. This was an entirely different experience than yours, since the organization was still not-structured, and I was moved around a lot in different fields. one day I would be coding, the next day would be working on something entirely different. Not having had an idea about how things ‘should be’ was another problem since I did not have well-defined expectations and was still learning. Also, more than the flexibility to experiment, initially I needed to find out my own strengths and weaknesses for some time. I guess, having had a mentor at that stage would have been a bliss. but then in small organizations most of the seniors have their hands full.

    Looking back it makes sense to me why most start-ups don’t hire freshers – for the very good reason that more than talent and cheap labor, they need experienced hands to steer themselves clear of possible goof-ups. Don’t know if mine was a one-off case or other freshers face the same problems..

    Your situation sure seems exciting. Good luck with the new venture:)

  2. S, thank you for the thought-out note, and the wishes. Your case is the exact reverse of mine! I think start-ups can afford to hire different sorts of people, including freshers, with an important caveat. The number of freshers has to be so low that they can be easily guided, and someone needs to define their tasks from project to project, even if the number of things they work on keeps changing. The moment you have more than, say, 2-3 freshers, I think it becomes difficult to mentor – as you said, the senior people are always more involved in fire fighting.

    the pros are that I’ve seen freshers in start-ups growing to take up responsibilities much earlier than a regular organisation would permit or need.

  3. Hi. After 3 years working full time in a busy office with many like-minded people, I have moved to Mumbai post marriage, where it is easier to do my kind of work from home. I really miss hte lunch-time chatter and the sense of a team working with the same set of goals and problems (and annoying people!). But I especially agree with you on the ‘interuptions from self and others’. In my lunch break I try hard not to turn on the TV, though I often give in and end up mindlessly surfing channels 15 minutes past my lunch time! šŸ™‚ But I try and make a to-do list at the start of the day so that I make sure it’s all done by the time I “shut shop” at 7!

  4. True – making a list is I think one of the easiest ways to keep yourself on track!


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