Remote working from a park

It’s quiet. I’m compiling some code but can’t even hear the laptop fan moving. While I wait for it to finish, I chat with a visitor to my site. They are from South Africa. And I’m based in Melbourne, Australia.

Winter is losing it’s hold. The chill in the air has no bite. The streaks of golden sunlight that stream down between gaps in the cloud warm me instantly and then are gone.

Here, on this park bench I’ll work for another hour, then retreat back to my home office to plug in the laptop charger. The short 15 minute bike ride gives me time to think about the work, and tasks that are coming ahead later in the day.

Do you actually get any work done?

Talking like a hipster about riding your bike and working from park benches is useless if no one gets any work done. But I’m here to tell you that I get plenty of work done. It is easy to set up the remote working lifestyle. And I’ll share exactly how I set it up. The more advanced configuration will be spared for another technical post. Most of what I talk about here can be used by any of my desk-bound brethren - not just programmers.

What is a typical day like?

This is how a day goes down. First a quick check to see if anything needs my urgent attention on email. If not I’ll pull up my list of TODO items and work out which I can realistically finish today.

After the first item or part of a TODO item is finished in my morning work period, I’ll take a break at 10:30 then take my laptop and bike for a 15 minute ride to find a picnic bench to set up. I can work for about 1-2 hours on the battery life I have then I ride back home and work the rest of the day indoors.

Working from multiple computers

I spend most of my time on a big desktop computer, but when I ride it has to stay home. Instead I take the lightweight macbook air (which is a few years old, so the battery isn’t amazing). Already there is a problem. I’m working with two computers, how do I share my work between them?

I use some free software specific to programming that makes it very painless to switch computers, I could work from my home, my laptop or my wife’s parents computer without any trouble at all.

Non programmers would find it easy too. You can share your files between computers with Dropbox (or even just emailing yourself the files) . You could work online using Google Docs, or just use the same laptop to do all of your work.

Things you will need

Here are my thoughts on what works and what doesn’t for working out of the office:

  • You need the internet

It’s a reflex to reach for Google whenever you come up with a question. Don’t kid yourself, make sure you have a phone that is capable of sharing it’s internet connection as a wireless hotspot, or work from a cafe or library somewhere with internet.

  • Don’t go too far

Don’t ride much further than 6-8 km to your destination. You are doing this for the fresh air and change of scenery, not the exercise. Travelling a shorter distance gives you the confidence that you can quickly return home if something needs your urgent attention.

  • Have something concrete to achieve

The change in scene will give you some fresh focus, use it to actually finish a task that could be completed in about 1-2 hours. Once you’ve done the task, call it a day and go home. I reckon if you try and stick it out too long, you wont be as productive as that initial hour. Also you’ll run out of bread having fed all the ducks.

  • Pick a picnic bench not a grassy slope

I reckon that sitting at a proper bench and table is best for maintaining your focus. I’ve tried sitting on the grass and other random ledges, but I wasn’t really at my best.

  • A bit of shush please

Don’t bother with spots near a busy road, you won’t get used to the noise. It’ll just grate you. Stress isn’t good for focus.

Some random places I went to

Here are some random places I went to before winter. I didn’t bother working outside during winter, I’m more of a fair-weather outside worker.