October 08, 2019
5 Minute Read
Matthew KolbMy alarm goes off. I roll out of my sleeping bag, get the water boiling for my morning coffee, throw on some warm layers, start up my laptop and fire off a couple of emails while having my coffee and a quick breakfast. I then shut the laptop, throw open the door to the van and rush to grab my snowboard off the roof rack to catch the first chair up the mountain after the prior night’s snowstorm. This is a remote work-life I dreamed of, and now this is my reality…for less than one week a year. The remaining 51 weeks I roll out of bed, get the water boiling for my morning coffee, usually stay in my pajamas and fire off a few emails until my two-year son starts calling my name. I then throw open his door and begin the morning process to get him to daycare before retiring to my home office for the day. This IS my reality, and the reality for more and more of the workforce as telecommuting becomes common practice.
Global Accounting Manager
I began working for Caravela as an accountant nearly 6 years ago while my wife was in grad school. After she finished school, we decided to follow her career ambitions to Boston where I have continued to work for Caravela as a remote employee. This year my wife also joined the remote workforce, and we moved our family back to my hometown of Bend, OR, where a recent article in the local newspaper stated that close to 12% of the local population telecommutes. We are embracing the work-life balance that we set out to find in our move. I could now write a whole separate blog on the challenges of staying sane while working remotely as a couple. But for this post, I want to share some of my experiences and how I deal with some of the challenges of working remotely.
For better or worse, telecommuters and telecommuting have played an active role in the coffee community - probably since coffee shops and telecommuters have existed. I can only imagine that a key question to the opening of every coffee shop is “how are we going to deal with those telecommuters that order a $2 cup of coffee and then sit in our shop all day?” I love visiting roasters from across the US and seeing how they navigate this challenge. Some have explicit signs requesting limited work hours, some limit wi-fi, and others just full-on embrace the community. As a telecommuter, I try to abide by the following guidelines while visiting roasters. I’d also love any feedback or suggestions on how to navigate working in a coffee shop.
1. Feel out the vibe. You can usually tell within five minutes of walking into a coffee shop if it’s the kind of place you should pull out your laptop or just grab a quick bite and a coffee. And some places will explicitly say no to the former.
2. Pay attention to foot traffic. If the place is packed, I don’t set up the laptop. If it is quiet and there are a lot of open tables, I’m probably ok to set up for a bit.
3. Generally, I limit myself to an hour or so. If I stay longer than that, I get another coffee or some food to help me justify the extension of the stay. There have been times where I’ve left way too full and buzzed up on caffeine because I’ve extended my stay too long.
4. Be a good patron. Be friendly to the staff, tip well, and bus the table.
I like to take advantage of the remote part of telecommuting and travel to new places to work. In Boston, we would take trips up to Vermont in the fall and would rent an Airbnb to work from. We also escaped a Boston winter and worked from Puerto Rico for a few months.
In addition to working remotely in Puerto Rico, Boston and Oregon, I’ve worked stints in Europe, Latin America, and visiting friends and family in the Midwest. Which brings up another challenge: working in different time zones. Caravela has offices in 7 countries in Latin America, as well as the US, UK, and Australia. We can have employees in over 7 different time zones, daylight savings depending. It is often a logistical nightmare to coordinate with other team members and come up with a time that works for all parties involved. For example, once a month we have an accounting meeting that has our accountant in Sydney, Australia joining a call at 5:30 am (UTC+10 hours), our UK accountant in London at 8:30 pm (UTC +1 hour), and myself and the other US accountant join at 12:30 pm (UTC – 8 hours) and 3:30 pm (UTC –5 hours) respectively; quite a spread. We keep our meetings concise and to the point, so as to be as respectful as possible to others who are working outside their normal hours. Since moving to the west coast, I’ve been keeping Mountain Standard Time, which means I start and end the day several hours earlier than I would have from Boston. I’ve been enjoying the change, as it has resulted in extra free time during daylight hours in the afternoon that I hadn’t had previously. With Caravela, working odd hours from time to time is something everyone takes on and generally embraces.
In addition to the previously identified challenges, other difficulties I’ve experienced include staying motivated, staying in communication with the team, and turning off work at the end of the day. Or the end of *my* day, I should clarify; to invert the old bar joke, “It’s always 8 a.m. somewhere.” I’ve found that nothing replaces face to face time, so I try to go back and visit our North American headquarters in North Carolina at least a couple of times a year. I also try to set up regularly scheduled phone calls with team members, so I feel connected to the group and we keep moving forward as a collective unit. I eventually set a time of day where I would just stop responding to texts and emails. That was probably the hardest issue to address, but also the most valuable in keeping my work-life balance. I set myself strict deadlines and keep an organized calendar to help keep on task during the day. And above all, I just try to keep it fun and interesting, and not wear my pajamas all day.
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Matthew, it’s great to be able to work this way, my wife does it, me… someday …!