Virtual office: How to work from anywhere

I’ve been in Boomzap for a year now, and have comfortably settled into the virtual office lifestyle. Sometimes people come up with me with misconceptions about what that lifestyle actually means. There’s a lot to be said on the subject, but here are the two most usual questions I get, and how I answer them.

The first question: “You mean you never leave your house?”

The truth is, I do work from home a lot, but I also work outside of home a lot. The point of a virtual office is not to remove the physical act of going to the office – it’s making that office “anywhere”, and the choice of where I work is entirely up to me. While some prefer to work from home 24/7, I personally like being able to go out, order a good cup of coffee, and work in whichever place I choose.

To work from anywhere, all I need are two things:

    1. My laptop. Since I am a game designer, I don’t need much tech to work (unlike artists or programmers who will have to lug pen tablets or dev kits around), but I still bring a decent amount of gear. I have a portable laptop stand – besides the fact that it’s more ergonomic, it has a built-in fan that keeps my laptop from overheating (my laptop is a gaming rig so it gets hot real fast). I also bring with me the following: a mouse and mousepad so I can build and test our games properly, earphones for music, a foldable headset for Skype, a USB thumb drive for emergency backups, and a USB connection for my mobile phone (more on that later). I invested in an expensive but sturdy laptop bag to keep everything protected from all the lugging around (ballistic nylon FTW). Armed with all of those, I can set up my mobile office from anywhere within a few minutes.
    2. A solid Internet connection. This is a requirement for Boomzap employees – it doesn’t matter where you are working from, as long as you are online. It is less about “showing up for work” than “being reachable should we need you” – we have daily builds and playtests, and constant communication is crucial if you have teams working remotely. WiFi is not as readily available in the Philippines as it is in Singapore or elsewhere, and the establishments that do offer it still ask you to pay for it – not economical if you plan to stay there a few hours. If you look hard enough, though, some establishments do offer free unlimited WiFi – these have now become my favorite haunts. And if all else fails, I can use my mobile phone as a modem by connecting it to my laptop, useful for emergencies.(I’ve also noticed recently that when I walk into a restaurant, I immediately look for a “Free WiFi” sign, and then scan the room for available electrical outlets :D)

The second question: “How do you get any work done?”

This question applies regardless if you work from home or in a public place. People seem to think that you need a boss looking over your shoulder to work properly – and that if you are left alone, you will just kind of sit around and not get anything done. This is not true. Being in charge of your own schedule and being responsible for your own results actually make you work harder and more intensely. For me, regardless of where you work from, the answer to this question is simple – you just need to focus.

This means not giving into the million possible distractions that surround you at any given moment: at home, it’s the TV (or, sometimes, a nice and inviting bed); in a public place, it’s noise and other customers; online, it’s Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, IMs, RSS, and anything else that can suck you in. For me, I’ve learned how to “get in the zone”, focusing entirely on the task in front of me and ignoring everything else until I’m done. Once you’ve trained yourself to do your work first, and check on little things later, you should be able to work from anywhere.

Of course, minimizing distractions will help. This is why I prefer working out of quieter places, choosing a neighborhood coffee shop instead of an overly populated Starbucks. While these places can get noisy, too, I just put on a pair of earphones and then I’m fine.

A virtual office lifestyle does take getting used to, and it’s not for everybody. For me, I used to tell people that my dream work setup was to work out of a coffee shop, drinking good coffee and making games. I can do that now, for which I am grateful.


Luna Cruz – Producer/designer