Start-up to success, from home
In his memoir-cum-self help book, author James Joseph recounts his cross-continental journey -- from being a director at Microsoft in UK, to relocating to Kerala to eventually initiating a successful start-up
Q. Tell us about your journey — from India to America and Europe and back to India?
A. In 1996, I read a newspaper article about the requirements to be a global manager, i.e. manage a global business from anywhere in the world. The requirements were an internationally recognised degree and work experience in three large markets in the world. It’s when I left my job at 3M (an innovative technology company) in Delhi, to do my Masters in the UK, and went on to work in North America and Europe. After completing these requirements, I returned to India. My rationale for choosing to work from Kerala was that I had the confidence to manage a business from anywhere in the world and a strong conviction that my children would do well if I am able to provide them a slow life surrounded by nature, spirituality, farms and generations of family and friends. In the book, I call this the Bha-rati phase of my life, a slow and secure 20 years of acquiring knowledge. This phase prepared me for the second, fast-paced 20 years of Dhan-rati or of acquiring experience and wealth.
James Joseph at work in his back-up office, located in his attic, in Aluva, Kerala
Q. What were the challenges along the way and how did you cope?
A. I had to ensure that I was more productive while working from home than while working from a city office.
I came with several strategies to overcome the challenges you come across in a small town or village such as frequent disruption of power and broadband access, unplanned interruptions by friends and family, staying top of mind with the management even when I wasn’t around physically, ambient noise while on a conference call, etc. I was able to resolve these issues. These solutions are captured in the book as 26 tips to help anyone trying to move to their hometown or even work from a city office during peak hours.
Joseph at his primary office at his residence; he jokes that a vacation is just a 90-degree turn of his chair
Q. Is there a message that you aim to convey through this book?
A. God’s Own Office is about how I moved from the work-life compromise of a big city to the work-life resonance of a small town. It’s about how I moved from days of meetings sandwiched between traffic jams, to days of meetings in between watching birds living around me, how I worked from cities in three continents and achieved my career-best professional performance at software giant Microsoft, from my village. The book is full of tips for anyone frustrated in a city with its ever-increasing traffic jams and constant decline in the quality of life. They can take charge and start their own God’s Own Office project to achieve their best quality of life without compromising their career.
James Joseph at the family farm
Q. Do you find that working from home and small towns is getting more common these days?
A. This is inevitable; our cities are getting overcrowded at an unsustainable rate. The quality of life for professionals with children is diminishing with the amount of time spent on the commute. On the other hand, the quality of life is much better in smaller towns that have a significantly lower cost of living. This is an established practice abroad. Most of my colleagues in the UK are used to working from home every Friday. As long as you are able to manage your work well, it doesn’t matter where you work from.
Joseph with the packs of JackFruit365; this was his start-up venture offering freeze-dried ripe jackfruit. He won the Start-up Entrepreneur Of The Year award for this at TiEcon Kerala
In India, there are genuine problems in working from home such as ambient noise, which upsets colleagues, and customers who expect undivided attention. We must create the right working environment and discipline at home for this concept to gain more traction. The announcement by the government to set up 100 smart cities is a great step to accelerate this trend.
Pros and cons of working from home
>> You save two to three hours of commute, everyday. This is a significant saving, especially since it is during the most productive hours of the day i.e. early morning. You can give half of this time back to work and the other half to improve your quality of life.
>> You get to spend more time with your family. If you are working from your hometown, the family will have a better quality of life.
>> A drawback is that the responsibility is on the employee to ensure he/she works as efficiently as from
>> You need to ensure you stay on top of mind with your management and colleagues.
>> You need to have the right discipline to ensure you are at work, when you are at work.
God’s Own Office, James Joseph, Penguin, Rs 399. Available at leading bookstores.
Before undertaking such a move...
>> Work hard and become an expert in whatever you do. You have to earn the right to return to your home.
>> Make sure your decision doesn’t affect anyone else’s work and doesn’t affect the budget situation of your team. You must have the backing of the HR, your manager and manager’s manager.
To experiment working from home...
>> Start with Fridays. Organise your week such that you plan all your desk jobs and internal conference calls on Friday. Then, gradually build the discipline to work from home unless you have an important face-to-face meeting.