I get this question all the time, especially when I go home for the holidays. It’s a valid question, I suppose. When you work in an office, that’s your default way to know the other people on your team are working. [Ed. Note: it's sad that people think their physical presence in an office proves anything other than that they're present.]
Still, it kind of baffles me, because no matter what you do, don’t you have to make your presence known by consistently generating value?
Imagine I’m a mechanic. Someone brings their car in for repairs and then gets a ride to work for the day. I’m my own boss, so I have no supervision. Since I’m especially crafty, I figure out that I have the perfect scam–I can charge for my time without actually doing any work! The customer comes back later to pick up the car, I hand them the invoice, and the profit is all mine.
… except the car still won’t start.
A mechanic who actually wants to stay in business will assess the car, research replacement parts, provide an estimate to the customer, send someone to the store, perform the repair, verify that things are working properly, and create a detailed invoice.
The process is nearly identical for me. When I get assigned a new story, I need to gather requirements by talking with the client. I may also consult with my fellow team members and do some research to find solutions to similar problems. Then I give an estimate of its complexity, write the code and tests, and send the changes off for review by one of my teammates. Once everything is approved it’s sent to the client, and after a final approval it ends up on the production site. This cycle repeats itself daily, with every change being viewed and approved by someone on our team, the client, and ultimately the rest of the world.
Outside of our usual process, I need to make myself generally available for questions in our team chat room, e-mail, Skype meetings, and the occasional emergency. And yes, many of these things happen while sitting motionlessly on my couch next to my happy dog.
We also don’t just check in and check out; we are expected to log our time in detailed 15 minute increments. By the end of the day, between logging time for projects where I’m the primary or support developer and internal projects and meetings, I may have something like 20 entries for 5 different projects.
This remote working arrangement goes hand in hand with our shorter-and-less-soul-crushing-than-normal work weeks. I only log my time when I’m generating value. Each week I’m logging 30-35 hours of actual work, not just hours of being in an office. Sure, I’m able to sleep in more than most people and I don’t have a commute, but when you remove all of that overhead and can focus on accomplishing things, you’re able to work at peak efficiency.