I’ve worked almost my entire adult life from home: first as a translator, then as a programmer. In fact, in the twelve years since finishing college, I’ve only worked in a office for eighteen months, eleven of which were in Russia, so I’m not sure that even counts.
My remote work history falls into three buckets:
- Self-employment. You’d better like solitude for this (I do), because it involves basically no human contact at all during working hours. I’m not sure I’d recommend this to others.
- All-remote teams. This is my favorite arrangement. You get the same level of quiet most of the time and still have your Get Out Of Shower Free card to play, but you have other humans (or maybe chatbots that pass the Turing Test – I haven’t always managed to verify) to bounce ideas off, assist with debugging, etc.
- Mixed remote/on-site teams. This is perhaps the most common arrangment I’ve encountered, and it’s what we have at ATK, but it brings with it a particular set of challenges.
In the past year and a half, we’ve grown from a team of four to a team of eleven, and though others occasionally work from home when needed, only two of us live far enough outside of the Boston area that we consistently work remotely. The shift in our remote:on-site ratio has produced a few wrinkles, but I am generally still a very happy remote worker because of all the advantages and flexibility that remote work confers.
I’m feeling particularly good about one aspect of this today:
I AM ACTUALLY WRITING THIS IN A TENT
That is correct. The photo above is my “Thursday/Friday office.” I have to admit that I actually structured this post so that the picture would be below the fold for dramatic effect. I thought about titling this “Tent-Driven Development,” but that could have given it away. But seriously, working in the woods is amazing, and I really suggest you try it.
How to work in a tent
There are four principle components to an office campsite:
- Land. In my case, we are converting a piece of property into a farm, so I get this for free. But campgrounds are everywhere, and are often very inexpensive.
- Sustenance. Bring water – lots of water – and a cooler full of snacks.
- Power. If you are at the right campground, this is no big deal. In my case, I have a GoalZero 150Wh battery with a small solar charger. On sunny days, I can get 2 full charges into my 15” MBP, 1.5 if it’s cloudy. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for running iTunes all day, or for forgetting to bring your laptop fully charged.
- Internet. I ended up getting a Verizon hotspot, which works extremely well. It is, in fact, substantially faster than my Charter broadband at home. At $50/month for 5GB of transfer, it’s not exactly cheap, but it turns out that is not such a bad thing.
Improved office productivity through outdoorsmanship
I have found that my coding hours in a tent produce a lot more working, well-reasoned code than those during the rest of the week under fluorescent lights. Why?
The first reason for this is bandwidth restriction. If I exceed my 4GB limit, I get hit another $15 for every gigabyte of overage. This incentivizes me not to click on the cat pictures or even conference presentations that bounce around in our Slack rooms. StackOverflow pages take up very few bytes on the wire compared to YouTube streams.
A more important aspect, however, is being visibly and audibly surrounded by a variety of living things. If you have never found your job at least a little dehumanizing – you know, staring into a glowing rectangle and smashing buttons to send signals to a robot – I’m fairly suspicious that you’ve already been assimilated by the Borg. Sometimes I see a deer, or a fox, when I’m up getting a drink; sometimes I can look up and see our resident redtail hawk circling over the clearing. We know that spending time with trees reduces stress, and we know that programming can be stressful. It is great to be able to get that relief immediately by looking around you, rather than waiting for the end of the work day to go to the park.
Taking it up a notch: the Kickstarter campaign
Just kidding. That would be ridiculous.