I've been spending more time with people who do most their work remotely. Since writing about the advantages of distributed/remote teams versus working in person, I've been paying attention to all of the time remote workers spend figuring out how to be around other people in just the right doses. They're looking to be in the same place with some fellow humans who have a common sense of purpose, or who at least share an understanding of the remote work lifestyle, even if just for a little while.
This leads me to wonder if the future of remote work isn't just a bunch of people on their own, working from home offices or coffeeshops, but instead an arrangement of remote workers coming together in person for a sense of shared experience. Ironically, it might even end up looking a lot like traditional notions of where and how people work, but probably with a lot more freedom, flexibility and fun along the way.
Here are some of the signs I see:
Digital Nomads is a community for people who work remotely and/or travel a lot for their work. Despite being populated almost entirely by people who are leaving behind traditional notions of working business hours with a bunch of other people in an office somewhere, a lot of the online conversations are centered around bonding with fellow remote workers in different spots around the world. The value proposition on the Digital Nomads site conveys well the sense of longing for human connection that I think a lot of remote workers feel:
You check in to your hotel and ask the chat what's the best place to do some work. Then after finishing your work, you ask if anyone other nomads are up for a meet up. At the end of the night, you've met new people, both nomads and locals, and you feel a little bit more home in your new (temporary) destination...Let's kill lonely, together!
The related resource Nomad Trips is a fascinating list of people and their cities where you can share resources, exchange travel tips and plan experiences together.
Hacker Paradise is an organization that plans trips all over the world for "developers, designers, and entrepreneurs who want to travel while working remotely or focusing on personal projects. We take care of accommodations, workspace, and community so that you can hop off the plane and immediately be productive." They'll take you to Bali, Thailand, Portugal, Tokyo, Barcelona, Costa Rica and other places...but you won't be alone. On their "what's included" page, note the focus on community:
A tight-knit, intellectual community to accelerate your personal and professional growth...Like-minded, passionate people to hang out with outside of work...Social events, talks, workshops, hack days, and BBQs
Those are some people that want to be around other people! Sounds awesome.
Tribewanted Bali is a similar program, focused on bringing 20 remote workers at a time together to be creative and collaborative in an interesting setting. They have a minimum of 2 weeks and an average stay of 6 weeks - these aren't just people passing through for a coffee and some background noise, they're really spending time together, getting to know each other, sharing in mutual support and inspiration.
Want an even longer shared experience? Remote Year takes 75 people around to 12 different cities around the world, over the course of a year. Their next trip leaves June 1st, and includes Prague, Czech Republic, Belgrade, Serbia, Istanbul, Turkey, Lisbon, Portugal, Rabat, Morocco, Valencia, Spain, Mexico City, Mexico, Bogotá, Colombia, Medellin, Colombia, La Paz, Bolivia, Córdoba, Argentina and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Wow!
Hoffice is a site that will let you find a coworking spot in someone else's home, apartment or office - it's like Airbnb for coworking. People could choose to go work in hotel rooms, libraries or coffee shops, but I can see that there might be appeal in something less sterile and anonymous. Wandering into a stranger's home for a shared working experience is endearingly human, and belies the notion that many remote workers are isolationists.
Flock Teleport is a resource all about helping remote teams figure out how to get together in person. Just enter the starting locations where everyone is coming from, and search through a variety of interesting places based on your budget and other preferences. I know from my experiences at Automattic that planning successful team meetups can be a time-intensive activity, largely because of all of the logistics that have to be figured out when you go to one physical place together. People have to eat, sleep, have fun and get other basic needs met; it's pretty cool to see tools emerging that help streamline that planning.
Programs and projects like the ones above, aimed at helping remote workers do what they do better, are evolving and growing. It seems like new coworking spaces open in cities around the world every week, and traditional coffee shops and restaurants are sometimes retooling to be more friendly to remote workers. Online directories of coworking spaces are abundant.
The world is creating the infrastructure for making remote work a typical experience. In many cases the focus is on making it a shared, in-person one.
I imagine that we'll start to see companies with traditional offices offset the costs of maintaining those spaces by renting out desks to remote workers on a regular basis. In less economically thriving areas, buildings that once teemed with workers who were all employed by the same organization will be opened up to host remote workers passing through. Tourism bureaus will start to create marketing campaigns advertising how remote-worker-friendly their cities are. And so on.
As a distributed/remote worker myself, sometimes what I do can feel pretty abstract -- lots of sitting in front of a screen, moving information around, flipping bits, trying to make a difference and feel useful to the world.
But I'm obviously more than just a brain interfacing with a computer and the online world, I'm a human being in a physical environment, depending on physical infrastructure. Even on my most introverted days, I'm still a social being that wants to be a part of a larger culture, society and physical world, within my work life and personal life alike.
Remote workers want community too. It's exciting to see all of the options emerging to help make that possible.
If you're a distributed/remote worker, what practices and resources do you use to build community with other people along the way?