Remote work was once a perk.
At the beginning of this year, Technical.ly talked to two technologists who were living a “digital nomad” lifestyle — traveling and working remotely thanks to a laptop, flexible work hours and a Wi-Fi connection wherever they ended up.
They worked when they could and saw the world between meetings and on weekends. Alex Lash, a UX designer with geospatial software B Corp Azavea, was told to please just avoid a 14-hour time difference from HQ in Philly. These experiences were unique. While the tech industry is more remote-friendly than many others pre-pandemic, the thought of fully remote work wasn’t embraced by all.
But now, as 58% of Americans are still working remotely at least part of the time because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and many face the reality that they may never be back in-office 100% of the time — there’s room to consider more creative arrangements.
Kathryn Stracquatanio, director of UX engineering in Experience Design at Comcast (and one of our 2019 RealLIST Engineers) recently hit the road with her husband and eight-month-old daughter in a trailer to wander the northeastern U.S. while working remotely by day.
Her crew is about a month into the trip, and Stracquatanio and I talked while they were stationed up “somewhere in the middle of Massachusetts” one afternoon this week. At first, she said, her planning instincts kicked in and she’d scheduled out legs of the trip day by day, planning to drive four hours at a time.
But with a baby and the general we’ll-figure-it-out-as-we-go attitude her family has adopted during the pandemic, they move from campsite to campsite on a whim. In fact, when we talked, they weren’t yet sure what town they’d be sleeping in that night.
The three of them stay in a trailer hitched to the back of the family’s truck, and Stracquatanio works her normal 9-to-5 while her husband cares for the baby, using some parental leave he didn’t get to take when she was first born. They’ve been married for six years and always wanted to try traveling in a trailer, she said.
While the pandemic has taken a lot away, it also gave them the opportunity to act on this travel dream. Comcast announced recently it wont bring people back to its offices until July 2021, and there’s little expectation that in-office work will resume as totally normal, Stracquatanio said. And her team was already remote friendly before the pandemic.
“Officially moving to remote wasn’t a big deal for us,” she said. “COVID didn’t impact the way we worked, just where, for some people.”
The trio ventured to New England from their Manayunk home as soon as they could find a trailer — supply is very low right now, Stracquatanio said. It was close enough to home in case of emergency, but still hosted a bunch of places like the Finger Lakes in New York and towns in Vermont the family wanted to see. Currently, they plan on heading back to Philly for Election Day, and may be traveling south after that.
There is some necessary tech that makes this type of remote work achievable for her, Stracquatanio said. Her arsenal includes her laptop, a DC inverter (which makes battery power available as an outlet for a charger in case you don’t have an external power source when you park your RV), a cell booster, Verizon and AT&T phones with hotspots, a portable and foldable extra monitor, noise canceling headphones, and a pillow for ergonomic support.
She also recommends that anyone working remotely schedule in breaks to avoid burnout, and to take in the scenery. Even after life returns somewhat to normal, the family has plans to use the RV for future trips and vacations, working remotely along the way. They aim to make it to California next year, she said.
“There are ups and downs of course, and the normal stresses of having a newborn,” Stracquatanio said. “This morning I was on a call and she was peeing everywhere, and I’m like, ‘I’ve got to turn my camera off real quick!’ But nothing about that is changing when we’re settled.”
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