Distributed Control

Automation Professionals Work From Home

There Are No Reasons One Could Not Work On Project Files Anywhere

By Dan Hebert

In the automation industry, opinions are mixed when it comes to off-site work.
At Ergon Refining, it's feasible, but not encouraged. "We have found that individuals may work longer and harder from home, but the lack of being with the team in an office environment prevents interplay, and gives a feeling of not being part of the core team," says Steve Elwart of Ergon.

An anonymous end user adds, "There are no reasons one could not work on project files anywhere. For example, during a recent project, I worked extensively from home, developing and testing software on my laptop. Once the logic was proven, I exported the files and imported them on our DCS. Documentation, of course, can be worked on anywhere."

Systems integrator Maverick Technologies' employees can work from home, but it can cause problems with clients, says Dave Van Manen, PE, PMP and operations manager for enterprise integration at Maverick. "The work-from-home culture was not as prevalent at a dairy manufacturer client as it is at Maverick. Until a particular resource proved productive and effective, the customer's team was skeptical. Once each person was proven, the remote resource culture was embraced," says Manen.

"In our industry, most people think that we have to be at the workplace to show our boss that we're working," laments Rick Hakimioun of Paramount Petroleum. "Working from home does not count. I recall many years ago (at a different company), I spent close to eight hours over the telephone helping the plant technicians solve a major issue with the process control system. On the following day my boss called me in and said that next time I would need to be on site in person to help them solve the problems. Although this saved our company $50,000 in production losses, he not only didn't recognize it, but he didn't even acknowledge the time I had spent working at home."

Hakimioun says things have changed, and now he works from home quite a bit. "I can do engineering design, SCADA programming changes and control system troubleshooting. I can answer and send emails, and monitor plant process conditions, alarms and the plant security system—all from my home PC."

Not everyone agrees. "We believe it's most effective for our employees to spend their time in one of our offices, working hand in hand with project team members, and establishing the rapport with our personnel that ensures success when they are teamed in the field," says Stephen Goldberg, director of information technologies at systems integrator Matrix Technologies.

Then there's the management aspect. "As a manager, face-to-face interaction with your team is needed to build coordination and trust," says Tim Johnson, a project manager at systems integrator Avid Solutions. "A manager can manage people, but a manager can't lead without bringing energy into the room."

Each individual employee can be much more efficient when working from home if certain conditions are in place, such as proper work space, no distractions and, most importantly, a high degree of self-motivation. But, it's easier for employees to work as a team when all members are physically present. The trick is to mix and match the efficiency of working remotely with the benefits of on-site team cooperation.