The "Officelessness" Epidemic

I’d hear of it happening to people. Whispers here and there. I’d sit and think, “that’s never going to happen to me.” I’d never let that happen. Until it did. I was embarrassed at first. Ashamed maybe. How did it come to this?

Finally I had to accept it. I was officeless.

What Happened?

Los Angeles has horrible traffic. My office was in Downtown LA. I live in the Long Beach area which is roughly 25 miles away. So I was complaining about traffic coming into the office most of the time. One day it’s a broken down car on the 710 freeway. The next it’s yet another movie or commercial shoot outside the office building. It usually is just normal, heavy, slow, annoying traffic. Always something to bitch about when it comes to SoCal traffic.

“Another parking increase?… WTF!” - This outburst was becoming more and more common at the garage where I parked my truck. Add on the fact that production crews were frequently renting out the entire garage and pushing all of us monthly customers to another lot a couple of blocks away. The garage was already a block away from the building. First world problems? Yea. But still annoying.

I bought my Tacoma brand new in 2013. I’ve got nearly 80,000 miles on it in 3.5 years. Keep in mind I spend a few months of the year out of town so my truck is parked during those times. Part of that mileage is because my daughters play club soccer all over SoCal every weekend but most of those are from commuting. Also, gas in California is some of the highest priced fuel in the country.

Trendy is expensive. As DTLA becomes more and more trendy the restaurants and bars in the area become more and more expensive. And if I’m being honest, I don’t think the food in DTLA is that great (for the most part.) You’re paying for the “scene” of it but I’d rather eat in a hole in the wall in East LA or a noodle house in Thai Town than eat in these new fancy places in downtown. Unfortunately landlords are pushing all the little guys out to make room for the bigger themed places. Pushing rents, and thus prices, up. The days of spending $10 for a couple of beers with co-workers are gone if you’re drinking near the office.

“Where do I park and do you validate?”… Awkward questions from potential or existing clients coming to the office. Or even if some friends are coming to visit, we get the same questions. The answer is “There are a few lots around us and no.” Parking in DTLA sucks. There is no other way to put it. To add the problem, all the parking lots are being bought up and high rise buildings or hotels are being placed there. Removing parking spots from the already tight situation. Parking is only going to get worse and more expensive than it already is.

California has a very real and serious issue with homelessness. DTLA is the epicenter of this issue in Los Angeles county. There are a lot of shelters and low income housing that provide much needed services for these people. They do a lot of good work. Unfortunately the gentrification of downtown is pushing these housing programs, shelters, and other projects out of the area. This is causing larger “tent cities” and roaming homeless in the streets. They’re mostly harmless but it’s gotten so out of control that I no longer felt comfortable bringing my daughters to the office. I’m completely empathetic to the issue but also realistic in that it is dangerous and with the old office being about 2 blocks away from skid row, I was right in the heart of it.

Ego is a powerful motivator. I loved our offices. I mean I really loved them. We had such a beautiful space and my office in particular was so comfortable that I truly enjoyed working there when I finally made it in. We had a corner suite with each office having large windows that gave amazing views of downtown. The conference room in particular had views of Spring and 5th streets and at night the various lights outside looked amazing. Eventually, after a long period of consideration, I had to admit that my ego wouldn’t let the office go. I thought having that space was a sign that we were “successful” as a company. I could show it off to clients and friends. Fact of the matter is, clients rarely came to the office and friends not very often. When friends showed up, it was always “Oh cool space. Let’s go get a beer”. No one cared. Really, no one cares at all. I was the only one holding onto it.

How Is It Being Officeless?

Well I guess technically I should say I am lacking a “traditional” office. Now my office is wherever my laptop is. Internet connection preferred but not required. For example, I love to work on a plane because it’s virtually impossible to interrupt me. Here’s a view from my office today…

Casitas Pacific

Currently I’m in Guasacate / Popoyo Nicaragua. One of my favorite places in the world and I come down here to work as often as I can.

But that is just the ego talking again. Most of the time I’m in my bedroom in a cramped space. My office at home is a desk next to my bed. Honestly it’s not ideal but I don’t want to give up living room or dining room space. It’ll look ugly to have my desk, setup, etc. sitting there. So for now, this is my main work space. I’ll head to coffee shops or friends offices to work when I’m bored or need to get out of the house.

So far it’s been great because I’ve been able to get my work day started earlier and and making it a point to end at a decent time.

Changes In How I Work

Some of this has been a long time coming and not necessarily related to becoming officeless. But being without an office has allowed me to implement some things I’ve been thinking about for a while. Here are a few changes I’ve made…

Work Early In The Morning

It’s normal for me to be up at 5am. Though I used to go straight to the gym to get my day started. Now I wake up, write a page or two in my journal, sip a cup of coffee and get to work. Everyone else is asleep at this time so I’m left alone to focus. I usually start on a hard task and use a couple of hours to try and make real progress on it. Basically I pick the task I want to put off the most and start there. It’s funny how quickly you can get through some of these tedious, but important, tasks at this time. Once I’ve done that, then I’ll get to the gym, have some breakfast, and get back to work when the rest of the world is starting their day.

Write Better, Write More

Communication is important. It doesn’t matter if we’re communicating with clients, customers or internally. Everyone has to understand what’s going on with all aspects of our work, other wise we end up with confusion and mistakes.

  • Process Documents - We create in-depth process documents to handle essentially every task we have to do. If we have a repetitive task and it’s not documented in our internal wiki then we create a new request to have that process written.
  • Requirements - Another part is making sure that our requirements or ticket requests are written as clearly as possible. If an 8 year old can’t understand the request, the ticket isn’t clear enough. Write it in simpler language that is so clear that any team member can understand the problem, the plan of action, and the resolution.

Ensuring all items are documented clearly means we need to spend less time discussing issues, resolutions, or whatever after it’s all been decided. Cut’s down on Slack chatter and email. Oh email?…

Email

It sucks. It’s become a nuisance to productivity. Of course it has it’s place and it’s very useful for many things. Including being an interruption.

For team communication we use an internal tool. This is part of our back office and we built a transparent communication tool to talk to one another for larger requests or discussion. This is based on ideas given by Automattic and Buffer. This allows us to stay out of our inboxes and also for everyone on the team to follow along. There is never a need to “forward” an email to a colleague because it’s already in Grinch (our back office application.) It also allows for easy company wide notices and allows everyone to know what’s going on. We also use Slack for quick chats but we’re trying to slowly use that less and less. It has it’s place for sure but it’s another interruption.

So I try to only check my email twice a day. Times vary and I don’t have a real schedule. Sort of just when I feel like it. I don’t really have a system for handling email other than trying to get my inbox at zero messages. Basically reply if it’s quick. If it’s a task that needs to be done or an email that needs a reply and I don’t feel like doing either of those now, just leave it in the inbox. I’ll revisit next time I open mutt. What’s mutt?…

Mutt

For the last several years I’ve been using the Gmail web interface for handling email. Both personal and business accounts are hosted on Google Apps so it was easy to have a separate browser window with a few tabs for all my inboxes. However this allowed me to constantly check email. This is a huge distraction and also helps to create a feeling of being overwhelmed. I’m a bit OCD so if I see a number (of unread email) in the browser tab title I have to at least check. Often I’ll read, act and respond right away which completely breaks my concentration on the task I was doing before I noticed the email.

For most of my “email life” (well over 2 decades at this point) I’ve used the mutt email client. This is not for the faint of heart. If you’re not familiar with the CLI then I don’t recommend it. If you don’t know what the CLI is, it’s definitely not for you. In any case, I only download new email when I manually type a command and only read the email when I start mutt. So now email is done when it’s a convenient time for me to read, respond and act on it.

Less Meetings

Yea, pretty much. Try to avoid meetings unless absolutely necessary. For all regularly scheduled meetings we try to keep them on a single day and as late in the afternoon as possible. This allows us to spend the morning being productive. Writing better requirements (see above) really helps keep this in part in check.

End The Day At a Reasonable Time

This is one of my biggest problems. I work too much. I know I do. If I’m not “working” then I’m thinking about work issues. I’ve broken from my routine lately. And by routine I mean ANY routine. I don’t surf as much, I go to bed to late, I haven’t been eating great. I need to get a hold of all of that and part of it is ending work. When I’m not working I need to relax a bit and think about anything else. Spend more time on leisure activities. You know… fun.

What’s Next?

Well between my projects in Nicaragua, my mother and brothers living out of state, my daughter going to college in Boston (this summer), and my general love of getting out of town, I plan to work on the road a bit. If I can squeeze in a road trip or a journey somewhere new, I’ll do it. I always feel extra motivated when working on the road. Being out of my element helps me focus and feel creative.

I’ll join a co-working space. There are a couple in Downtown Long Beach and I’ve checked them out. I’ll join one and work from there a couple of times a week. Just to get out of my normal space, talk to the other officeless people, make friends, eat lunch at new places.

That’s about it for now. We’ll see what happens. I may break down and rent a small office near my house so I have a place to call “work” and separate my home life from my work life. Having my desk one foot away from my bed isn’t healthy and doesn’t help with my ending the work day at a reasonable time. For now it’s working and I hope it continues to but if I need to make a change I will.

PS. I thought I was so clever coining the term “officelessness.” So clever that I went to buy the domain name Officelessness.com. Someone had it. WTF. I go to the domain in a web browser, turns out a woman has an entire blog based around being officeless. Guess I’m not so clever after all.

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