A new version of this post has been published on February 3rd, 2022 under the title Is remote work hereditary? A short story of my distributed life.
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 traditional way while not 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 highly 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 in France, my Mom learned how to transcribe music in Braille, 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 started 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 following 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 gained my freedom by moving all bits and pieces to remote locations, so my presence in a specific place was no longer required. So 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 moved to Vienna in 2012; I work for Automattic, an entirely 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, centred on the workplace and the time spent there, but familiar with the idea that “the office” is wherever you can think.