Work Remotely: Shrink Your Office

Work Remotely: Shrink Your Office

I love working remotely. Working for Automattic is especially solid, since our entire company is distributed. There is no office anywhere, although we do have a building in San Francisco for events and visiting Automatticians.

Scott recently tweeted about one of the advantages that working remotely offers:

He’s absolutely right. Over the last two years I’ve shrunk my required inventory to be productive down to a pretty tiny footprint. Check it out:

I could do away with the legal pad and pens, too, if I had to.

The combination of having a job that allows me to work anywhere and a personal interest in working everywhere has really helped me to bring my workplace with me where ever I go  – I’ve worked from State Parks, libraries, buses, trains, cafes and libraries of all shapes and sizes. As long as I have access to a power outlet every 4 hours or so, I’m pretty much ready to go.


When I say that working remotely allows you to shrink your office, I do mean it in terms of physical necessities – I don’t need office space, or a parking space, or a copy machine. I don’t even need a desk or chair, although if you’d like to become a Supporting Member of the blog, I am in the market for one of these:


Shrinking your office down to one messenger bag worth of stuff is really great; it allows you to move around physically to where you feel most productive, it allows you to move around as your lifestyle demands (I worked from cafes in Syracuse, NY, for the week before Christmas this year so we could visit family around the holidays), and it brings with it the sort of streamlined thinking that comes with less stuff around. No clutter and no desk means you can’t have a cluttered desk, which helps with the cluttered mind piece.

There’s also a mindset that comes with an incredible shrinking office – work is no longer something that I do in a particular place. I remember when I was opening and operating coffee shops, there was a real sense of physical context to each type of work within the job. I’m in a blank cement box, so I’m working on plumbing and drainage and architect’s drawings. I’m in a kitchen, so I’m working on recipe development and inventory management. 

Working remotely breaks that cognitive connection between where you are and what you’re doing. I can do a one on one with a team member anywhere. I can break down a hearty .csv anywhere. My work is no longer tied to a physical space, which makes it much more important for me to identify, cultivate, and wall off my mental space – otherwise Work Mind will tend to bleed over into Gym Mind and Reading a Book Mind and, worst of all, Dad Mind.

This is the other, more metaphorical part of the shrinking office – I’ve had to reduce, or at least more sharply define, how I think about The Work. This has especially been true since moving into a leadership role. When Work is one proxy connection away, one tap on my smart phone away, it becomes my responsibility to know when it’s appropriate to work and to not work.

In that way I’ve had to draw sharp lines around my mental office, to keep it in check. When I’m done for the day, I’m done for the day. I am not a surgeon, I’m not a fireman, I can’t think of anything on my plate that can’t wait 48 hours for my attention – if there is some sort of emergency, I’m still connected via Skype, Telegram, and my phone.

For someone like me, with a bit of a motor mind and an entrepreneurial spirit, it takes some effort to box off The Work to certain times, to turn away from the never-done, but it’s important, for me and my health and my family, to shrink that mental office. Working remotely allows for the kind of experimentation and iteration that helps me work best, and be the best version of myself.


5 thoughts on “Work Remotely: Shrink Your Office

  1. My Office In An NPR Tote Bag:
    – Mac Charger w/ Extension
    – Sonnheiser Headphones
    – Legal Pad
    – 2 x Drafting Pens (#pensnob)
    – Anker Battery Pack (sticker bombed)
    – Retractable Micro USB Charger
    – Karma Mifi Hotspot
    – Macbook Pro (Stickers: Woo Ninja, Akisbot, WordPress, Rebel Alliance, Trellis to Table, Saratoga Tech Out, NY Wapuu, Cologne Wapuu)

  2. how do you like the karma hotspot? is it reliable? for video conferencing too? do you ever miss multiple screens? I just picked up an asus usb monitor and love it. hope you’re well simon!

    1. Hi Basheer! It is reliable, but it runs off of the Sprint LTE network, so how robust that network is in your area will determine reliability. I haven’t tried using it for video conferencing, but I’d expect that would really sap the data quickly – I use the pay-as-you-go plan, so there’s no speed cap, but you I do pay per GB.

      I have an external monitor at home, but even there I work with my laptop shut – so still one screen (though much bigger!)

  3. Nice! I enjoy seeing “what’s in my bag” posts like this.

    I usually go without the Mac Charger – with a bit of care the battery in the 13″ MBP covers a full day’s work. And I tether my phone over USB if necessary instead of carrying a dedicated hotspot. I’ve found that’s the most battery efficient: turn off wifi and bluetooth, USB tether, and play music from my phone rather than the MBP.

    1. Thanks! I’m a bit of a battery hog: I like a bright screen I guess 🙂

      I prefer using the dedicated Karma hotspot for a few reasons – it uses a different network than my phone, which can be handy, it costs less per GB than my phone plan, and it creates a free wifi network for others nearby – if they sign up for Karma, I get additional free data, which is nice.

      For air travel though, I’ll definitely take your advice. In the air, battery life is at a premium!

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