Terralien’s Nathaniel Talbott has an interesting article up on their blog about an activity they’ve termed nomading, or nomadic programming. Basically, Terralien is what you might call a remote company, in that a good number of their people work from geographically distinct locations, often not meeting in person but keeping in touch and coordinating their projects and work over the Internet. We work this way, too, so we’re always interested when other firms write about their experiences.
Talbott’s article is interesting in that Terralien is using this concept of nomading to help mitigate the problem of isolation one can experience remoting:
But no matter how much we appreciate the flexibility of working from wherever, we still often feel the need to spend some time in the same place with fellow geeks. The wife and kids can only take so many explanations of the latest cool hack we pulled off, and a change of scenery can really help get the creative juices flowing. As with so many other remote workers, we started heading out to a coffee shop on occasion, which was fun, but still didn’t quite cut it.
I can tell you from first hand experience that a year and a half of working out of my apartment was a pretty isolating and eventually depressing thing. I’m sure it’s not a problem for some people, but I think most people who try it for any considerable length of time run up against this problem. It comes down to a pretty simple notion — you need to get out of the house, and by the end of your work day, you’d ideally want to enjoy being home.
Terralien’s Matthew Bass, who coined the term nomading, describes how he arrived at his solution:
I don’t mind being alone to a certain extent, but after a few straight weeks it can get pretty lonely. Recently, I’ve started doing what I’ve termed “nomadic programming.” Namely, spending the day roaming between various wi-fi hotspots instead of working from home. This has worked really well for me. So well, in fact, that I think the concept needs to start spreading.
I actually disagree, having tried nomading when I started to get stir-crazy. While I do think it’s a good first step for anybody who’s been working in isolation, you quickly run into some problems doing this that make it a somewhat incomplete solution to the problem. There’s really nothing that comfortable about hanging out in one or more coffee shops all day long, buying obligatory coffees and snacks, using their power outlets under the glare of the manager, not being welcome for quite so long, flakey network connections, and finally, do you really want to leave that $2000 computer alone by itself in Cafe Grumpy while you go to the bathroom? Do you want to take it in there with you, for that matter?
Coworking has been the ideal solution for us here at Zetetic, as we’re now working out of two coworking locations, Williamsburg Coworking in Brooklyn, NY and Indy Hall in Philadelphia. One of our guys is planning to open a new space soon with some partners (so I can’t reveal any details), and our founder Stephen Lombardo has been thinking for some time of starting one in central NJ (if you’re in central NJ and you are interested, get in touch!). It makes us really happy, keeps us extremely productive, and we can’t recommend it enough.
We pay monthly fees to use our spaces — it’s a lot cheaper than renting commercial office space. We have ergonomic chairs, we have personal storage areas where we can keep keyboard trays and the like. We have a fridge, a kitchen, wifi, and a really fantastic social group of thinkers, artists, programmers, writers, you name it. Distractions are low, productivity is high, we have people to bounce ideas off of who’ve become our friends, we even prepare lunches together sometimes to save money (and because it’s fun, Zane’s a great cook). We even have an excellent library of somewhat “alternative” reading materials.
When I started working here, my productivity shot up like woah. In addition, I’ve learned how to screen print and pickle vegetables. I’ve made some great friends and I get to bounce ideas off extremely smart people. And this is a very large community — our space is part of a network of locations all over the world, and any of us is welcome at those spaces if we’re traveling (read more about Coworking Visa). I think the main reason people here get along so well is that there’s no one here who doesn’t want to be here, it’s the total opposite of being trapped in an office. And having done a bit of nomading myself, it’s a lot less stressful.
These coworking spaces are popping up all over the country, the world, and they work. They’re even potentially lucrative businesses, although I prefer our space’s non-profit setup. If you’re considering nomading, we encourage you to try coworking as well, you can find many locations by searching the wiki.