SQL Server DBA Telecommuting Tips


By:   |   Updated: 2008-08-22   |   Comments (5)   |   Related: More > Professional Development Skills Development

Problem
I've been working remotely (also known as Telecommuting) for over 8 years now.  While it sounds great:  "Hey I get to work from home!" telecommuting effectively takes a great deal of work.  You can't just phone it in (sorry I could not resist the pun).  Below are my Top 10 Tips on Telecommuting from someone who has been doing is since the days of dial-up and before VPN.  Some are no-brainers, some you may not think about when starting out with your home office, but all are crucial.

Solution
Without further ado, here is my top ten list:

1 Internet Access Whether it's Wi-Fi, T1, Air Card, or a wired connection you can not work remotely as a DBA without being able to connect to work.  There is definitely no need to dwell on this topic, but it does lead to the next item...
 
2 Remote Access If it is a current or an antiquated method of connecting to the office I've done it.  When I first started out I was working as an Access Developer.  I'd copy my work from my workstation to disk and then develop on my home PC on the days I'd work from home using the media as a shuttle.  Once it was a day to go back into the office I'd copy my work back to disk and repeat the process in reverse.  Now the options are usually Citrix or VPN.  In order to support your SQL environment you must be able to connect to it.  Using VPN technology on my laptop I end up with the same connection whether that laptop is on my desk at home or on my desk at work.
 
3 SQL Management Tools Chalk this up to the obvious.  You need to have the same software you've access to at work, while at home.  First and foremost for the SQL Server Database Administrator is Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio.
 
4 Remote Server Access This is a must in most (but not all) SQL Server DBAs' tool belts.  It is also a point of contention for many IT Departments between the Server Engineers, Security, and Database Administrators.  If you think about it, how often do you physically touch the servers hosting your SQL instances?  I think I've seen only five of the 80 servers I support.  When it comes right to it, even when I'm in the office, I'm technically a remote worker.  I rely heavily on Microsoft Terminal Services.  After SQL Server Management Studio and Microsoft Outlook, it is probably my most-used application.  If you need to copy backup files or detach/attach databases to migrate between PROD/TEST/DEV/BUILD, you are wise to use Terminal Services over Windows Explorer.  There is a noticeable performance hit when copying a file from Server A to Server B using two Explorer windows on your workstation versus using Terminal Services to connect to Server B and then copying a file from a Explorer window on Server A.  If using your workstation to move files, you are actually copying the file(s) from Server A to your workstation and then from your workstation to Server B.  Think about the time difference to do this when moving a 20Gb data file from BUILD to PROD from your home office using DSL!
 
5 Collaboration/
Connectivity Software
Just because you're working away from the office doesn't mean you can ignore your coworkers. Besides the obligatory email/office productivity software (Outlook, Groupwise, etc.) instant messaging software is also important.  We've used a variety of products in our company before settling on Microsoft's Office Communication Server (OCS).  Nice thing about it - it uses a SQL Server database.  Support your local Relational Database Management System!
 
6 VOIP Those cell phone bills can add up over time.  Anyone who has ever been on the support line to Microsoft through two shifts on their personal cell phone can attest to that.  Recently I installed a product from Nortel, IP SoftPhone that allows me to answer calls and make calls from, my desk phone in the office.  While this is not a requirement to working remotely it does take some of the financial pain away from it.
 
7 Telecommuting is not for the Social Butterfly I do not recommend telecommuting more than a couple days per week to those individuals who crave the social aspects of the office environment.  You'll find yourself going stir-crazy if this a personality trait.  When in the office you'll spend too much time socializing to get your "people fix".  Telecommuting is just not for everybody.
 
8 Don't Become Invisible; Don't Become a Nuisance There have been studies showing that those individuals who work remotely to some extent lag behind workers that exclusively work in the office when it comes to wage increases.  Much of this has been attributed to the lack of visibility these remote workers have compared to their office-bound co-workers. 

So, how do you get around this?  With moderation.  I find that keeping a running email with nothing more than bullet points highlighting what I worked on over the course of the day, with high-level detail, provides the proper amount of information to keep my Manager "in-the-loop".  He's often commented that he knows more about what I do than any of the other staff that report to him.  What this also does is prevents the formation of a bad habit of cc-ing your supervisor on each email you write during the day in order to simply keep him/her involved and aware of what you're doing.  This documentation also serves a valuable purpose when it comes to your drafting your annual self-performance review.
 

9 Work Within Your Limits There is a big difference between working two days per week remotely and working three days remotely.  There was a large behavioral adjustment when I shifted to three days remote, even after working remotely two days per week for six years prior.  It was easier to get up and immediately start working, work through lunch, work until dinner and realize I was still in the clothes I woke up in.  It is amazing how you find yourself working harder and longer and it takes a bit of time to work out of this mode; a very unhealthy mode.  My recommendations to combat this:
  • Maintain a dedicated home office or area dedicated just to work, be it a desk in the dining room or a room solely for this purpose.
  • Keep to a routine - get up and take that shower, grab your coffee, and walk into your home office.  I've known of people who will get in their car, drive around the block and then come in through the front door and walk into their home office just to put mental separation between working from home and being at home.
  • Fight the urge to keep working for just a "few minutes more" at the end of the day.  It is so easy just to keep working, since you don't have to commute back home at the end of the work day.  Just like at the start of the day, come up with a process that separates work from personal life.

Oddly enough, when I began working four days remotely per week I found the transition easier.
 

10 Remember: It's a Benefit, not an Endowment Work every day remotely as if it is something that can be taken away.  Sure, you may have situations where you'll need to step out and take care of something.  Follow whatever protocols your office expects if you were to step away for personal matters if you were physically in the office.  Sure, you may look out and see the lawn needs mowing or that the laundry is piling up.  Resist the urge to do anything about it though until after work.
 

Next Steps

  • Talk to peers that are currently telecommuting for further suggestions
  • Keep track of your expenses when setting up your home office.  They may be tax deductible.  You'll need to consult your tax preparer for further details.
  • In that regard, do remember that currently you are not able to deduct commuting expenses to your office on those days you would be driving into the office.
  • It's good for the environment, if telecommuting fits your personality and is offered by your company I advise you to try it out.


Last Updated: 2008-08-22


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About the author
MSSQLTips author Tim Ford Tim Ford is a Senior Database Administrator with MindBody.

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Comments For This Article




Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - 5:47:08 PM - grammarpolice Back To Top

Hi Tim

 

Many who work from home nowadays (including myself, but not on a regular basis) remote desktop to our PC's at work via VPN. This eliminates the need for installing any management software on your own PC and/or trying to access any servers remotely. Unless you live in a bush or some sort of backwater country cottage, I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that you have a reliable broadband connection that is able to support this sort of activity.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011 - 10:53:24 AM - Akinja Richards Back To Top

Very good thoughts and practices to keep in mind.  I would like to add some comments.

- Ensure you backup your work on the network server.  If you are working on a laptop and it dies, is stolen, or anything of the sort, your work is safe elsewhere.

- UPS backup battery on my router has saved me a number of times.  My area use to be plagued with power outages and brown outs (especially in the summer).  Since my laptop stayed up during this time, the same could not be said for my router.  For short outages, I was able to keep working, especially if I was working on something critical.  At least I had time to warn my team members what was about to happen.

- Protect your back and take fequent breaks.  This goes for working in the office but there you may be subject more interruptions, which can be a good thing.  Working from home, you tend to focus so much on work this is usually ignored.

Good article


Friday, June 11, 2010 - 4:24:35 AM - DavidScott Back To Top

This was an interesting read. I just finished a job where I was home working most of the week, and wish I had read this  before I started.

Apart from disciplining yourself, its also important to discipline family and friends who can interfere with your work schedule.

I would like to have more detail about your use of Terminal Services and using a VPN to sync tour development database and the production server.

 

Thanks


Friday, May 07, 2010 - 1:54:18 AM - @tif Back To Top

Tim thanks for sharing your experience here.

Please let me also have an idea about pay difference percentage between regular office employee and remote DBA. I mean how much pay may fluctuates between the both positions.  

Thanks


Friday, August 22, 2008 - 10:53:35 AM - SAinCA Back To Top

Thanks, Tim.

You succinctly present many good points to ponder, especially useful reminders for one about to enter the 2-day at-home "Benefit".

 I would add:

  • Be smart about the money you save not having to commute - use part of it as an investment in your at-home work facilities so your environment is not a hindrance to productivity or a deterrant to actually getting down to work. Save the rest for a vacation away from home. :)
  • Absolutely agree that you must get out each day - dangers of becoming a recluse or suffering isolation disorder are very real.
  • Working in your night-attire - BAD IDEA!  Beware the web-cam if using collaboration...
  • Be thankful.
  • Use the extra time wisely - as Tim says, don't elongate your working day.
  • If you're on Wi-Fi, please remember to disable the broadcast and encrypt as securely as you can (MAC-address-limiting if practical,too) - you likely have additional securable artifacts you need to protect when NOT VPN'd in but still on the air...
  • Back it up!


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