Ashley's experience reviewing pull requests in the Swiss Alps.
September 3, 2019
At Brand New Box, we are always learning and growing, and we also do interesting things outside of work, like travel the world! During the month of August, I traveled through Switzerland, hiking through the alps, riding countless trains, eating plenty of chocolate, all while still pushing, pulling, and reviewing code.
I’m currently writing this on the train ride home from a weekend in the French part of Switzerland. I spent my workday on Friday on the patio of the Chateau d’Ouchy in Lausanne watching the World Triathlon Finals and enjoying a view of Lake Lausanne. Saturday, I hiked the Dent de Jamon and Rochers de Nayes, and then visited the Chateau de Chillon. I was able to get some work done while watching the sunrise from the balcony of my temporary mountain home before heading back to Zurich on Tuesday. Not bad.Let’s just forget about the part where I missed my train to Montreux and had to hitchhike down the mountain to make my train back to Zurich.
Switzerland is a beautiful, but expensive country. I chose to spend my days in coffee shops and hotel lobbies working instead of a co-working space. A $6 cup of coffee gave me access to internet for the afternoon, and it gave me the opportunity explore the city and meet some people that live here.
Working remotely was an incredible experience. I think the best part of working remotely was the ability to see and experience so many new things while still being able to spend several hours a day solving problems and feeling productive.
Sitting down at a coffee shop for 4 hours a couple of times a day was a nice break to the constant walking and exploring.
Working remotely while simultaneously exploring a new country reduced the exhaustion that normally comes from nonstop sightseeing. Anytime I was too tired to walk across town to find the next clock tower or castle to tour, I instead found a place to sit down for a few hours and work. I welcomed the familiarity of developing and reviewing pull requests in the midst of being in a foreign country.
Working remote has many perks. However, there were a few times I would have preferred the stability of an office that had guaranteed access to wifi and a place to charge my laptop.
Also, it was occasionally uncomfortable to constantly have a laptop in my backpack. I spent one weekend in Unterschachen, a beautiful mountain village in the alps. To get to my accommodations, it required a 4km walk up a mountain on an unseasonably hot day in the middle of the afternoon. I was tempted to leave my laptop with the cows at the base of the mountain that day.
That being said, it is remarkably convenient to only require a laptop, wifi, and an outlet to be able to do my job. I met several people on my trip that wished their job would allow (and encourage!) them to work remotely and travel. It made me resent the 4km mountain hike a little less.
Switzerland is 7 hours ahead of my colleagues in Lawrence, Kansas. To better align myself with the team back home, I worked a few hours early in the morning, then got back online around 4pm in Switzerland, which is 9am back home. This gave me the ability to talk with my team back home at reasonable hours so I could check in and ask questions. It also freed up the morning and early afternoon hours to explore whatever city I was in that day.
Although I did not have an office setting to remind me that I was supposed to be working, I didn’t have a problem staying productive during my work hours. Before leaving the country, I had a long list of tasks to keep me busy. Some tasks required no wifi, like writing this blog post. So wherever in the country I happened to be, as long as I had my laptop packed, I could get some work done.
To keep my mind separated from “work” and “home” while on my computer, I maintain two Google Chrome “profiles”. The main difference is the color scheme and bookmarks tab. It allows me to keep my mind off of work when I’m trying to map my route for my next hike, or find my next city to travel to. Similarly, the “work profile” keeps me focused on whatever problem I’m trying to solve.
Since I was working in the evenings in Switzerland, I was available to the team back home for a good part of their workday. I often started my afternoon with a check-in call, which helped keep me in the loop of anything new happening in the office, and I could give updates on what I had been working on. Check-in calls were through Zoom and we found it very easy to stay in contact during my month away.
Occasionally, we would also jump on a call to share screens for a code review, or to clarify an implementation detail. There was never a time that I felt isolated or unable to communicate with the team back home. Working during hours that lined up with standard hours back home was a big help.
Throughout the day, I would also talk to the team through Slack for quick conversations that didn’t require a phone call. I did my best to respond as quickly as possible to these messages so that the team could rely on me to be available and respond to messages, even if I wasn't physically in the office.
Overall, working remotely has been an incredible experience. I highly recommend it to anyone that only requires a laptop to work. I was able to explore a new part of the world, but I didn’t have to take an entire month off of work to do so. If you’re planning to spend some working remotely, these are my top tips: