Is working remotely hereditary?

The year is 1984, I am still a kid, living in Italy with my parents, this is the year that changed my life. My Dad started a new activity that year, transcribing music in Braille for the Swiss Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Now, back then this was done exclusively manually by human beings and, as you can imagine, required a pretty rare skill set: one had to know how to read and write music both in Braille and the regular way while not being visually impaired.

In the 80s Switzerland wasn’t an easy place to move to as a foreigner, and as it usually happens when problems are interesting, people got creative, so my Dad started working from home.

I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I grew up totally stranger to the notion that to perform a task you had to actually go every day to an office, a factory, or any other facility.

We eventually ended up moving to France later that year. Transcriptions were extremely fragile, and unique until they reached Zurich (how that worked is material for a different story). He had to travel to Switzerland roughly once per month, and moving to the east of France made that much easier.

Once there my Mom eventually also learned how to make these transcriptions, and for the following years they worked together, remotely.

I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I grew up totally stranger to the notion that to perform a task you had to actually go every day to an office, a factory, or any other facility.

Fast forward. The year is now 1994, I just finished school and start working in a photo studio in Paris, on this new thing called “le web”. The distributed virus takes its toll, and soon I am moving back to the east of France, 360km away from Paris, working from home half of the week, going to Paris the rest of the time.

The next years are a mixed bag of working more or less remotely, including six months from NYC in 2000. Generally having an office in Paris where I would go for meetings, but doing most of my own work from home.

Fast forward. The year is now 2004, I progressively managed to gain my freedom by moving all bits and pieces to remote locations so that my presence in a specific place is not required anymore. Sites are hosted physically in the USA, designers all over North and South Americas, developers in India and Thailand, and we  move to Switzerland, with a 2y old daughter and her sister coming soon, it’s more attractive than the city.

Fast forward. The year is now 2014, I since moved to Vienna, Austria, work for Automattic, a completely distributed company, leading a team of 29 people spread across 4 continents, 10 countries, and covering 17 time zones.

Think about the millions of people who, every day, commute to go sit in front of a computer for 8 hours, now think how easier it would be to move these computers to the people’s locations instead. Now think again: computers don’t need to go back home at night!

As more and more of us experiment with remote working and distributed setups, more and more children will grow up strangers to the XX century vision of work, centered on the workplace and the time spent there, but familiar with the idea that “the office” is wherever you can think.


Photo: ‘Braille typewriter, antique’ by domesticat used under CC BY-NC-SA / Cropped and desaturated.

Categorized as stuff

By Paolo Belcastro

Paolo is a modern nomad: after Italy, France, and Switzerland, he now lives in Vienna, Austria from where he works on Automattic's Jetpack and .blog products. Passionate photographer, he also dedicates his free time to his family, cats, and hobbies. Working remotely since 1994, managing distributed teams since 1998, he firmly believes that remote work is the key to peaceful coexistence for 10 billion humans.

1 comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I was able to keep my job and work remotely and I’m just as connected and more efficient. Gotta love, technology, VPN and Skype!

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