I’ve always appreciated the trust Elastic bestows on each of us to do our jobs in a way that suits our individual modes of productivity. While remote work is now ubiquitous because of the pandemic, Elastic has been distributed by design from the start. With this in the company's DNA, Elasticians have the advantage of a healthy, distributed culture that was carefully cultivated years before everyone had to shift to a remote format overnight.
You like working in sweatpants? No sweat.
You enjoy heavy metal throughout the workday? Rock on.
You want to learn a new programming language on the side? Groovy.
Unlike previous jobs where attendance itself can be a voucher of effort, it's the quality of productive output at Elastic through which we prove our efforts. Elasticians’ dedication to solving hard problems brings us (and our extended community) together. In a distributed work environment, we find presence through sheer productivity, not productivity through sheer presence. It’s precisely because no one is there to look over my shoulder that I’m continuously eager to prove my level of productivity. Working remotely out of a van this past summer, this eagerness was doubly so.
Hitting the road
Earlier this spring — amid toilet paper and sanitizer shortages — my girlfriend Maddie and I packed up her converted van with the belongings that would last us through the next four months. With hiking boots, climbing gear, and mountain bikes packed...repacked...ok now it fits, we set out.
We had decided on a westward voyage from our home base in Denver that would culminate in wanderings through Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, and Wyoming. As this excursion also happened to be our way of moving out of Denver (we would be relocating upon our return to Colorado), our departure was full of personal unknowns during a time of global unknowns.
This video shows some of the highlights of our summer’s life on the wheels:
While this "highlight reel" paints a fun picture, the video really encapsulates the scraps of time we were able to string together between weekends and the occasional weeknight. In reality, we had to revolve everywhere we went and everything we did around our ability to commit to focused work during the week.
There were many questions we'd repeatedly ask at the arrival of each new location: How strong is our wifi signal here? Is it quiet enough? Will we harness enough solar power throughout the day to keep our computers/router charged? We'd determine our route based on our ability to put in quality work first. The adventures came only once we'd met that criteria.
Bottom line: Despite what our video and whatever #vanlife social feeds out there may glorify, the reality of two full-time professionals living and working out of a submarine-style vessel is far less dazzling than the carefree image of soulful wanderlusts setting out into the sunset.
Fortunately, our internet connection was consistently strong throughout our time on the road — even during screen-sharing video meetings, bandwidth speeds didn’t falter. Maddie’s “office” was the van’s swivel-chair passenger seat, while mine was in the kitchenette/hallway/common area. Though, like myself, Maddie works in marketing, our jobs are very different. I help create marketing content for Elastic Security. Maddie is the one-woman marketing department for a much smaller (also fully distributed by design) cost engineering company. I have Zoom meetings steadily throughout the week. Maddie’s company communicates primarily through chat. Our shared office dynamic worked well, and it was pleasant to have a change of scenery outside the van’s sliding door each week.
None of this would have been possible if I wasn’t part of such an amazing team. By heading westward into the Pacific Time zone, my schedule now actually better aligned with my boss and the team members that I work closely with. While in Portland, I was even able to grab a socially distanced lunch with my longtime colleague and fellow Elastic Security Product Marketing Manager.
Traveling during a pandemic
Exploring across different states, we saw how the pandemic had changed places, people, and attitudes. The spectrum of western Americans’ precaution towards the pandemic was wide-ranging — while some would cross the street to allow for more room when walking by, others didn’t wear masks in grocery stores. The mini culture shock of adjusting to local customs made crossing state lines seem like international endeavors.
We also noticed a lot of economic hardship on the road. Entire towns were closed. Homeless camps existed in places we hadn’t seen on our previous summer’s trip. We quickly came to bite our tongues when waxing nostalgic about the creature comforts absent in the van. We gained a fresh perspective on how fortunate we are.
Then the fires hit. We were chased out of the Bay Area, Portland, Idaho, Salt Lake City — even a final stopover to say goodbye to friends in Denver had us on the run. As many experienced, this summer’s fires were fierce in the western states. Residents in every state we visited were choking from wildfires that were oftentimes strong enough to keep even neighboring states’ residents indoors. 2020 has seen a lot of superheroes, and firefighters are more than worthy of donning the cape.
Home is where you park it
Waking up to increasingly chillier mornings as fall closed in, our life on the wheels was coming to a close. As we knew we’d be settling into our new home in Durango, CO, Maddie sold the van to another outdoor-loving couple who we trust are putting it to good use. It’s fun to think that our former home on wheels is still out there, creating more memories.
Van living may be parked for now, but our appreciation for everything we experienced on the road, both the fun and the challenging, still drives on. Regardless of where we as Elasticians may be logging in from — whether it’s a skyrise in Singapore or a rest stop in Wyoming — we’re connected to a global team composed of brilliant, compassionate people. I continue to be humbled to be part of this company and our mission, and am more than gracious to contribute in my own small way to the important work we’re doing.