In a world that is dominated by the World Wide Web, I find it amazing that so many companies still want all workers to be confined to some cubicle in a high rise office building in the city. There are supporters of both schools of thought, I suppose. But having been a remote worker for nearly my entire career I couldn’t dream of going back to life in the Concrete Hell known as the City.
Why would I ever want to spend an hour and half or more commuting each way to my office each and every day, only to be forced to be exposed to others that I may or may not work alongside of very well? Sure, I can be friendly with just about anyone, but working alongside someone who likes to talk or chew gum and I think I would take that big plunge from the roof to the concrete below before I ever got my first paycheck. It’s just not me.
I much prefer my little office here in the middle of a very remote part of Texas.
Where we live, we have to travel 31 miles in each direction just to go to church. We have to travel 82 miles in each direction to go to a Super Walmart or a decent grocery supermarket. But that’s how we like it.
I am a Senior PHP Web Application Developer. Which basically means, I can work wherever I plug in my computer.
There are countless reasons why we chose to live out here in the sticks. But the biggest is so we could be in the outdoors; living life as we see fit. There are some draw backs like the distance to modern city conveniences and the fact that politics out here really take some getting used to. ie: A big fish in this small pond can make your life hell if you let it.
Luckily however, we are in a county with a fantastic group of folks. Our politicians are all friendly and pretty much believe in the same values as we do. Good ol boys for the most part.
Choosing life here in the sticks isn’t for everyone. If you are thinking about living and working out here (or some place like here) you should consider the ten things I have listed below. I’ve listed them in the order of their importance to me. I will write a future article on some of the issues dealing with simply living out here.
1) Internet Internet Internet
This is probably the most missed convenience of living in the city. Believe it or not, not all parts of the country have high speed cable, DSL or fiber internet. It simply doesn’t exist out here for the most part. There are some alternatives that make it nicer, but you really need to be okay without things like NetFlix and streaming internet players like Roku if you choose life out here.
We are in the process of getting our own fiber connection out here. But it’s pricey. VERY VERY pricey. Not including installation, which will be thousands of dollars and can run as much as one-hundred-thousand in some cases, the monthly bill is about $980 for 20mps service.
We have tried a lot of the Wireless Internet Service Proviers (WISPs), but frankly those are only slightly better than buying into someone’s hobby. Most providers don’t have a clue about network management and share their single IP address with each and every one of their customers. This causes the IP address to be blacklisted by just about every site on the internet. Even doing a search on Google requires a CAPTCHA input just to do a search and routinely requires it even on a simple activity like clicking on the “next” button to see the next page of results. While I am a certified network engineer, most WISPs are not and you will quickly become paralyzed on the internet by their ignorance. I have seen this time and time again. Don’t be fooled.
DSL isn’t available in most rural areas either. What DSL is available, is only through very small telephone companies with very limited service. The tech support department in these small wanna-be telephone companies is often much worse than the WISPs mentioned above. You better be pretty technical and require little from your DSL provider if you are lucky enough to have it available at your new remote home/office.
Don’t even get me started on their FIREWALL PORT RESTRICTIONS. If you use anything other than a normal web browser, you will most likely find out that getting these small time Baby Bell Telephone companies to open a port is like pulling teeth without a pain killer.
Then there is satellite. Not all satellite providers are created equal. I used to be a retailer and certified installer for three of the major players in this market. Do to contract restrictions, I can’t tell you who they are. But I can tell you this… I now use Exede Satellite. Exede is very reliable and I find it to be worth the money. We pay $59 a month for 10GB of data.
Did you catch that last bit?…for 10GB of data. Additional 1GB can be purchased for $9.99 each. 10GB suits Ranae and I pretty well, but there are times when we spend as much as an additional $50 to $100 per month buying additional bandwidth.
With the normal 2 hour movie consuming nearly 4.6GB on average, it doesn’t take long to see that NetFlix and streaming products like Roku are next to impossible to use on any satellite service. Get used to it if you plan on coming to the country and using a satellite internet provider.
There are plenty of ways to cut down on your data usage, but unless you’re tech savvy it might be an expensive learning process. Seeing as how I’m very tech savvy, we manage it pretty well using only 10GB per month on normal months.
Then there is the issue of latency. Which basically means, while transferring a big file the speed is very comparable to DSL or Cable, the loading of many small files or graphic images on a webpage can make you crazy with the wait for the modem to go back to the website server repeatedly. This gives the appearance that the webpage is loading very slow, and it is.
Other services like MagicJack, Vonage, Skype and most all video chat services simply will not work whatsoever on satellite. No matter which company you go with.
Browsing the internet; email; uploading; thin VPN clients and remote desktops are all accomplished quite nicely on satellite. BE CAREFUL though… some remote desktops are very bandwidth hungry and your usage can be at it’s 10GB max in a matter of a few days at most.
Update: We no longer use satellite except as a backup to our highspeed link that we now have out here
2) Cell phone repeater
Every bit as important as internet service is cell phone service. Without a cell phone repeater (some call it a booster), we wouldn’t even be within cell phone range here at Six Acres. Basically the way it works, is you put up an outside directional antenna and aim it towards the nearest cell phone company tower. Then there is a unit inside our buildings that our cell phones latch onto with their internal antennas.
We went from NO SERVICE to five bars of cell service. We use a product created and sold by Wilson Electronics in St. George Utah. They have retailers all over the country and you can usually order direct from them as well.
We use the AG PRO 4G unit. It has a rather pricey retail price of $899. But it is worth every penny and we couldn’t exist out here without it. Note: The higher you can get the outside antenna, the better you will be. I put ours on my ham radio antenna tower at about 120′ in the air.
3) Your work environment
While we are building our main house, we are living in a small cabin that my son Marc and I built. Most people in the city wouldn’t live this way. The small amount of square footage is enough to drive most city dwellers bonkers and to be honest, we aren’t fans of it much ourselves. But we chose it for a reason… we wanted to be here on our property while our new house is being built. The cabin we currently live in will become a guest cottage once our main house is complete and not throwing money away on renting a place in the Concrete Hell while our house is being built sealed the deal for us.
But special care should be taken when planning your work environment. I chose to use a small portable building. It’s a mere 160 square feet, but suits me perfectly. It’s my man cave if you want to think of it like that.
I love having my own space. I can turn up my stereo as loud as I want. I have a place to be me and get creative for my clients.
Below are some photos of my little work space.
4) Office setup
Just as important as having my own space is also how I have it setup. Here are a few things I couldn’t live without. You might consider them as you setup your space.
a) Headset – I absolutely couldn’t live without a good head set. I use the Blue Parrot Model #B250-XT+ Note the PLUS SIGN. I tried the standard unit and found it to be lacking in noise cancelling. The plus unit is the bomb! Here is a link to where you can buy one. (disclaimer: affiliate link)
b) Multiple Clocks – Because my clients are often in different time zones, I use multiple clocks in my office to help me easily look up and see what time it is where the client is located.
c) EverNote – I use EverNote to help document darn near everything in my life, and my clients really like it. I can share notebooks with them and it is very lightweight when it comes to internet bandwidth usage.
d) Chat programs – These are handy, but can really be expensive when using satellite internet. I much prefer email for this reason. It really depends on your client.
e) Good speakers – What can I say? I have to have instrumental music when I’m working. Spend some money and get a good set of speakers. I strongly suggest Klipsch bluetooth speakers. I even bought a set for my son who is away at college. He is quite proud that other residents in his apartment complex ask him to turn them down. 😉 It’s nice to have good quality sound. Apparently it’s even nicer when you’re a college student. LOL
f) Comfortable chair – I’m a big guy. I stand nearly 6’5″ and weight about 300lbs (less and less each day by the way). Invest in a good chair! You will thank me later.
5) Create a daily work regime
This really should go without saying, but I will say it anyway. You need to treat going to your workspace just like you would treat going to your office each day. Set boundaries with your family and friends. Don’t allow them to come interrupt your day with other tasks just because you are home.
For me, it helps to split my day into 4 hour segments. I get up early, then work 4 hours followed by a few hours to do silly stuff around here including my daily walk then I come back to my man cave and work another 4 hours or longer.
Keep in mind, you have more time available each day because you are not commuting to the office, etc. This really adds to my productivity. Often, the client will send me something to work on as he is walking out the door for the battle on the freeway. Because I don’t have to fight traffic, and I am still in my second 4 hour block, I usually get the task done before I call it a day, and it’s on his desk when he comes in to work the next morning.
6) Keep current
Because I am a freelance developer I devote a set number of hours each week, for keeping my tech skills up to par. I have a list of things that I study each and every week, whether I use them daily or not.
I read Twitter and various other social media sites looking for anything related to my chosen study topic. Blogs are amazing places to network and stay current. I also attend a fair number of user group meetings in one of the big cities nearest me each month. This lets me keep my finger on the pulse of my field.
Don’t dismiss this suggestion if it applies to your field or you will regret it. There is nothing worse than becoming a tech dinosaur AND living out in the sticks. Can you say unemployed? Keep studying and learning each day.
7) Don’t be invisible
Make sure your client or co-workers know you’re at your desk! Make sure you don’t go invisible or you will go unemployed very soon.
Turn in work on time and communicate with your team members quickly. Set your email client to check email often and respond it as quickly as possible. Even if all you do is tell them you will get back to them at a certain time.
Remember, you’re not there and if they feel slighted by your not being there, they will attack you whenever they can! Trust me! It happens! I learned the lesson early in my career and will never forget it. Stay in touch with your team!
8) Use social media to build relationships
This can be a two edge sword. You need to build relationships, but you don’t want your team members thinking all you do is sit at home and post photos of kittens on Facebook. Make sure to use Facebook or Twitter or whatever only during set hours of your day. Appearances are everything in this remote working game and always being on social media sites is a quick way to harm your appearance in the eyes of your team.
9) Be aware of cultural differences
I often find myself on teams with people in other parts of the world. You should do your homework and try your best to not do or say something that offends the other team members. This is often the case even here in the USA. The culture of a worker in Austin, Texas is completely different than a worker in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Be careful to not offend and work within the cultural confines.
Remember, the communication style is quite different in many places of the USA and the world.
10) Above all, be reliable.
If you have told your team or client that you will have something done by a certain time, then by golly have it done. NO EXCUSES! The first time you try any excuse, your detractors will say it is because you are working remotely. Don’t give them that chance!
Be a man of your word and get things done when you say they will be done, no matter what the cost.
Well… there you have it… a few things I think you should consider before stepping out into the remote worker space. Of course, some of these items won’t apply to you if you work remotely while living in a city.