How I Mastered Remote Working for 25 Years

This is likely to be one post of many on the topic. Maybe a story will evolve from it. Think of this a preface.

Virtual Worker, Remote Worker, Telecommuter, whatever name you want to call it, I have experienced it in spades. Without a doubt someone can claim working remotely from stranger places than I, like Antarctica. I have not been to space nor the Antarctic nor the bottom of the ocean. At some point, it is not really about where you have or can work, it is about how you work from where you are.

Advice on remote working often centers around the tools you need. This is helpful in the sense of, “don’t forget….” Useful, but not much of a story.

To get it out of the way, some of the places I have worked include: A sailboat underway, an RV traveling the US west coast, my car, coffee shops, a lanai in Hawaii, hotels, a folding chair in an empty room, a bathtub, a hospital, on my stomach laying on the floor, camp grounds, laundry mats, various dining room tables, airports, and factory assembly lines, just to name a few things off the cuff.

Everywhere is a story, everyplace a learning experience. My barest essentials are a laptop and a cell phone. Early on, around the 2000’s, I didn’t have a cell phone. When I started telecommuting, I used a laptop or a desktop computer with a dial-up modem and a second phone line in my house.

I choose to work remotely when possible. Initially it was part of the job, and I grew to like it. Later, my life took a series of turns that made telecommuting a necessity. More recently, a pandemic pushed the world into accepting virtual work as a requirement.

I started working remotely in 1997, traveling around Puget Sound coordinating on-site computer upgrades. While I sometimes worked from a dedicated office, most of the time I used whatever desk was available, sometimes for a day and often for a month. Since then, where I worked only got more diverse.

In 1997, on my first day on the job, I arrived in Bellevue, Washington, at what would be my dedicated office. After checking in, meeting my boss and a couple coworkers, I got my first assignment and immediately drove to Renton with a bulky laptop, parking pass, and a sheet of paper with account and login instructions. By lunch I was sitting in a meeting room and began my life on the move.

Every day or week was a new meeting room or partially abandoned cubical. I deployed my trans-luggable-desktop, i.e., the massive laptop, and dove into work. I immersed into database mining to gather the latest asset information and finding printers to issue work orders for the team.

When starting in a new environment, new job, or any change of conditions, it is natural to spend time thinking of, planning, and undoubtedly acquiring items you believe will help you going forward. By the end of my first week, I had my travel-bag (briefcase? attaché? satchel? haversack?) with laptop, cables, notebook, pencils, pens, paperclips, lunch, and so on. The notebooks were indispensable for years. The bag was heavy. Lunch always on-the-go.

Today, for the first time in years, I have a dedicated home-office space, and it feels like a luxury at times. I have a sit-or-stand desk, nice lighting, extra counter space, a window, high-speed internet, lunch with my wife, and my cats visit periodically. Things are definitely different than in years past.

One day I pulled my old travel-bag off the closet shelf. Digging through the bag I found a stash of unused pencils, pens, cables, paperclips, post-it notes, and more. Thankfully, no old lunch leftovers. Too much un-needed desk clutter from the age of a paper-based office, now long gone.

The technology improvements in the last twenty years have made a mobile office much better. When I leave my home office today, my backpack still has a pen and pencil, a stamp or three, and a pocket-size notepad. I have the laptop, charger and related cables, a couple headsets (always a spare or two), and a wireless mouse. Of course, now everyone has a cell phone, which is an alternate internet connection if needed.

What have I learned from then to now? Spend minimal time finding the physical things you think you might need. Start simple, don’t over think it.