This could be the new trend in town, if not already!
With people losing jobs everywhere these days, it’s hard not to think about what to do next if you were laid off and where you might be scoring the next paycheck from. Sure it may be easy for some if the coffers is strong and mighty but for the larger workforce and especially in Malaysia, we know fully well where the money’s gone to and that’s everywhere but the bank.
Just two months ago I reconnected with an old friend and boy did we catch up like house on fire. We had the best chats probably ever since we became friends and we even had a few cups of double shot coffee over that one meet. We chatted from one table before moving on to another so that he could get in some “fresh” air and I breathed in the best of what’s available from the surrounding green with a view into his office space. Quite a nice office I must say because it’s all in the comfort of his home!
To me, it was one of the most comfortable meets I’ve had in recent times and one I believe connected us even more than any swanky Mont’ Kiara offices we had from our previous lives. So, curious about how he’s been doing this, I attempted to find out what spurred this fella to really take the plunge to run it all from his pad. But first, who in the world is this dude named Marteyn (pronounced as Mar-thai) Van Doorn?
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a 43-year old social media strategist, software architect, entrepreneur, and lover of all things geek.
Where are you from?
Saya Belanda, but have lived in Malaysia since 2006. Before that I spent one year in Bangkok.
How in the world did you end up right here in this country?
Hah. Blame it on the Internet! To cut a long story short: I met my wife (British, but with Malaysian parents) on IRC (can you believe it, IRC?!) many, many years ago, somewhere in 96-97 I believe. We have been pen pals for the longest time and finally ended meeting each other in person, in London, in 2005. My wife had previously moved to Malaysia, and I’ve always had the wish to live and work in Asia for a while, so the choice was simple and swift. The rest, as they say, is history.
What prompted you to set up your home as your office?
Efficiency, cost and the love for my coffee maker.
First off, and most importantly, I don’t have any eye-watering commutes in the morning. I’m also saving substantially on office-related expenses such as rent, utilities, equipment, supplies etc.
And last, but certainly not least, I have great coffee at home. Admittedly, I did have the luxury of claiming one unused bedroom as a dedicated office space, which I feel makes all the difference, especially if you work long hours and tend to be easily distracted by the missus frolicking around the house.
What were some of the challenges in making this decision?
It took me a while to get to the point where I can work at home, without distraction and I’m not even talking about my bed or TV. There’re so many chores to do around the house, especially as a homeowner, that it’s tempting to spread your time thin over all the things you want and have to do.
I had to force myself to stick to office hours as much as possible, so I work when the wife leaves the house, and stop to start dinner about an hour before she gets home. Of course, there’s still the major advantage that I can go and get groceries while most people are at work 🙂 Now if I had kids running around the house, things would probably be a bit different, requiring, even more, self-discipline.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been working from home full-time for about six years now. The first six months were devoted to getting my office set up, decorated and equipped exactly to what I wanted, and to get into the habit of working office hours.
What’s your productivity like now compared to when you were working from a conventional office?
It’s hard to quantify this into exact numbers but I have definitely increased my productivity and productive time several times over. Not only can I dedicate my time without any distractions but I’m surrounded by everything I need within a mere few steps distance. I don’t have to waste time in traffic and I’m always home on time for dinner 🙂
True, sometimes you miss the banter and interaction that comes with the office water-cooler but once I got into the routine of working at home, I don’t miss the days in those offices. In fact, the few days that I used to spend at the office (when we still had one) productivity went completely down the tubes due to amicable chats, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and other non-work related activities like bin-basketball and funny cat videos. I can focus more when I’m in my familiar surroundings.
Who do you reckon are suited in this kind of setting?
Well, you most certainly need to be able to become self-sufficient and somewhat able to “enjoy the silence”. But all of that can be learnt if you ask me. I think the difficulty starts when either you run a company where you need to attend a lot of meetings, or if you simply can’t function in a rather solo environment. But the whole thing can work for anyone from top-level management down to the office grunt. It’s all about the discipline of doing your work when you need to. Mind you, part of that discipline is also to ensure you do take breaks. It’s very easy to completely forget about time and space, and just sit there glued to your chair for hours on end.
I’ve trained myself to get up every hour or so, to make coffee or a sandwich, or to do a simple domestic chore like throwing a load of laundry into the machine. Be warned: working from home could mean you’ll end up being in charge of the household chores, but you do get first choice on chores, safely leaving the few less pleasant items for your significant other 🙂
What’s your client’s perception of you and your service to them after knowing that you actually operate from home?
It’s a pity, but for a lot of people (companies), it seems almost unacceptable that you don’t have a proper office location. It tends to be considered at least somewhat odd, but mostly they regard you as unreliable, and sometimes even too “disruptive”. The mindset still seems to be filled with images of a prestigious office building, a glorious meeting room, and cubicles as far as the eye can see.
I think in this modern-day and age, with Internet speeds to do quality video conference calls, the idea of working from home should be a standard approach towards the efficiency of your organisation and tending to your staff’s health and happiness. In any case, I am most certainly not ever going back to having an office full-time. And to be honest, once I’ve built up a relationship with the client, they tend to become more curious about the concept and do see the merit of it all, especially when I point out the fact I don’t have to factor in additional cost for office upkeep into their bill.
Meetings can sometimes be a bit of an issue, but in reality, most meetings are at the client’s office anyway, or can be done via Skype video conference. And as a backup, I have an arrangement with a friend that I can use his office space if need be. Better yet, I have actually had clients over for meetings at home. They’re initially always kinda surprised and somewhat shy and reluctant (I do tell them up front that it’s my home), but so far they’ve all seemed to enjoy the casual atmosphere and view of my balcony, the coffee, and the home-made snacks! Yeah, I cook and bake (first the chores now this, he should be nominated for Hubby of the Year!). I’ve actually managed once to cook lunch while having the meeting, but that’s definitely not suitable for every client 🙂
One tip on receiving clients at home: you do have to clean up, at least, the obvious. No one likes to deal with a total slob. And even though you don’t need the place to be completely sterile (it’s your home, after all), you may not want your wife’s knickers hanging to dry within eyeshot 🙂
None whatsoever. I love my office. I also have to wear suits and shirts way less often, saving a bundle on dry-cleaning and clothes. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my suits, but this way they stay magnificent and powerful much longer, and I don’t have to iron shirts. I utterly detest ironing shirts. Simply because I don’t know how to 🙂
My office is an evolving project. Finally after five years, most things have found it’s perfect spot. However, there are still little projects I want to do to improve. First next on the list is trying to implement a standing desk. I’ve heard it’s a horrible experience, but a healthy choice. Despite the chore-breaks, I still sit down way too much. And then there’s the dedicated Game Station so I won’t have to battle over TV rights with the wife anymore!
So, budding entrepreneurs or those who are venturing out into your own practice or business, if you’re seriously thinking about starting one in today’s climate, why not opt for your very own home? If it’s neat and tidy, you may even take pride in showing off your very own office-with-a-window-view and kick-start that startup dream of yours, launching you into a new-found path in the most comfortable and coolest way possible.
And before we part ways for you to really go and consider turning your home into an office, I asked Marteyn one last question to really understand what made him stay here for so long and what, if anything, would’ve driven him up the wall and out of this country:
Love: the temperature of Malaysia and it’s beaches and nature, the food, our culturally diverse circle of (local) friends.
Hate: The politically correct answer (as much as I can be) to that would be: corruption, the somewhat poor and lackadaisical work ethics and service, and T.R.A.F.F.I.C.