Free range: Silverton’s workplace nomads see many advantages in trend

January 2018 Posted in Community
Nomadic writers John Pattison and Lisa Gerlits meeting at Gear Up in Silverton. Melissa Wagoner

Nomadic writers John Pattison and Lisa Gerlits meeting at Gear Up in Silverton. M. Wagoner

By Melissa Wagoner

A quick scan around today’s coffee shops reveals tables of patrons tapping away on laptops, scribbling in notebooks and talking on cellphones. Sometimes referred to as workplace nomads, these people are often working remotely from their office away from the office. In Silverton one of the most commonly sighted of these wanderers might just be the familiar face of writer John Pattison.

“About a year ago, I did an audit of how much I was spending in coffee shops, and I was shocked,” he said. “Since then I’ve cut back significantly. It was going to be a big enough reduction that I felt like I needed to give one of the coffee shops a heads-up. I’m not exaggerating.”

Pattison is not alone. More and more people are able to work remotely, at least some of the time, and are finding creative ways to do so and to deal with the challenges working in sometimes unusual environments creates.

“I think that trend will grow, in certain sectors at least, as more and more of
the work being done moves online,” Pattison said.

Another Silverton resident, Sarah Miller, works remotely for a boutique health information technology consulting firm out of Baltimore, Md.

“I work from a home office whenever I’m not on client site – about 50 percent of the time,” Miller explained. “I love the flexibility to be a part of getting my son Mateo up and ready for school or to pick him up in the afternoon – some of our best time is chatting after school when he’s filling me in on how the day went.”

Laura Antonson, a self-employed landscape designer, also values the ability to work out of a home office as a way to stay connected with her sons, Thomas and Allen.

“When I became a mom, working from home became more of a convenience factor because I could, in theory, juggle being a stay at home mom and run a business,” she explained.

Antonson went on to say that although she values the flexibility and the lowered overhead costs of staying at home, working there is not always easy.

“My office is surrounded by the boys’ play area so it is often very loud when they are home,” she said.

The distractions of working from home are one reason Pattison made the choice to rent a small office space in 2015. Even with the added cost it helps him stay focused on work.

“At home, I have to contend with the dishes that are still sitting in the sink, the dog that needs to be let out (again), and the ever-growing list of projects that need to be done around the house,” he said. “My kids are the biggest ‘distraction’ of all. As much as I love the work I get to do, if my preschooler is home, I’d much rather be playing with her than writing a grant, writing a book or article, or preparing a keynote.”

Fellow writer Lisa Gerlits, who works from her home in Silverton, agreed that discipline can be challenging but she has employed tricks and rules to combat the distractions.

“I have rules about email and Facebook,” she laughed. “If I get a chance to check them in the morning I can do that, then I set myself an hour and a half when I can’t. Sometimes I set a timer and say, ‘I can’t move my butt out of this chair until this timer goes off.’”

Unlike the others, Gerlits said she is actually more productive when her family is at home on the weekend because she is less apt to leave her office to do housework or to raid the refrigerator.

“I don’t get up and ditz around doing this or that,” she said. “I’m able to crank it out in ways that I can’t when it’s just me.”

Gerlits said, like Pattison, she also utilizes the coffee shops as an alternative workspace. For her it is the background noise that is the draw.

“Sometimes I need somewhere loud so I can actually tune it out and I have to be hyper-focused,” she explained.

Pattison said that the mobility of his office is a high note for him.

“I love the opportunity I have to be flexible with where I work,” he said. “On a warm spring day I might do a few hours of solitary work in my office, then have a meeting at Gear-Up, and then spend the rest of the day working on the deck of Live Local overlooking the creek.”

All four nomad workers agreed that working from locations other than a traditional office may be the wave of the future in some industries, but not in all.  As Miller put it, “many jobs require face time with customers or coworkers, and those will never be good candidates for working from home.”

She also warned that spending so much time alone or even too much time with family members does not work for everyone.

“If you are an extroverted person (meaning you get your energy from being around people), really think twice about the impact of working from home. It’s hard to be isolated,” she cautioned. “If you are a Type A person, make sure you figure out which battles to pick with your family – it took me a while to figure out that complaining about how the house looked every day was annoying.”

Pattison noted the lines between work life and home life can easily become blurred.

“This is a challenge many people face, especially now that we’re getting emails and texts through our phones at all times of the day and night,” he said.

“But it may be an even bigger struggle for those who don’t have a traditional office, and who work from laptops that accompany them from office to coffee shop to home.”

Despite that, all four said that overall the benefits and flexibility of working remotely have outweighed the challenges and that the trend may be a good one.

“It might lead to fewer people having to commute long distances, and more people staying in their own communities, patronizing local businesses, etc.” Pattison said. “I want more people to have the flexibility I enjoy.”

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