Tahoe/Truckee’s remote work environment draws freelancers, telecommuters
Special to the Sun
This is the first in a five-part series of stories that takes a look at rising trends and the current state of business in the North Tahoe and Truckee region. Look for subsequent installments publishing over the next four weeks, as we count down the days before one of the biggest business weekends of the year, July 4-6, Friday-Sunday, 2014.
TRUCKEE/TAHOE — Nowadays, it’s more common to walk into a coffee shop and see people typing away on laptops than it is to see a couple chatting over a cup of joe.
This growing phenomenon of coffee-shop workers is common in cities like Seattle and San Francisco, and with a huge shift in the way the world goes to work, Tahoe/Truckee is fast become a hub for freelancers and telecommuters as well.
The mountain life draws those who choose where they live and can bring their work with them, said Mike Thomas, manager at Wild Cherries Coffee House in Truckee.
As many as eight or more people using a laptop or tablet can be in the restaurant having a cup of coffee at any given time, Thomas said.
“A decent base of our clientele is either students or people working,” he said.
On most mornings at IV Coffee Lab in Incline Village, laptops are as prevalent as pour-overs.
“Consistently, people are coming in, bringing in their computers, doing what I assume is office work,” said co-owner Ally Thralls. “I think it’s nice for them to change the scenery.”
Local resident Gia White spent a few hours recently working at a small table at Wild Cherries. She ordered a coffee and a muffin, used the wifi and even held a meeting at a larger table in the early afternoon.
“I work here so I don’t get distracted by my house and piles of housework,” the single mother of two said. “I have to consciously break away so I choose a coffee shop where I don’t know as many people.”
CHANGE OF SCENERY
For many telecommuters and freelancers, the coffee shop work environment is a change of scenery from working at home, and thus, external offices and the traditional nine-to-five workday are giving way to remote work.
According to National Public Radio, 30 percent of the nation’s workforce works on its own. And research done by the International Data Corporation predicts the number of nontraditional office workers will reach 1.3 billion worldwide by 2015.
Currently, there are no numbers to reflect the number of telecommuters and freelancers in Truckee/Tahoe, but Truckee Assistant Town Manager Alex Terrazas said with the amount of people on laptops in coffee shops — as well as the success of Startup Weekend last March — more and more are choosing to be their own boss.
“It’s going on,” he said. “It’s going on probably in numbers higher than we think.”
Startup Weekends are 54-hour events in which developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.
To learn more about the inaugural Tahoe event earlier this year, visit htahoe.startupweekend.org.
FLEXIBILITY VS. A ‘REAL JOB’
Living the Tahoe lifestyle — taking midweek powder days to ski, or an extended lunch to hike or play disc golf, for example — appeals to freelancers.
The freedom and flexibility to choose schedules usually outweighs the lack of routine or financial stability, said Sarah Peet, a photographer specializing in destination weddings
She created Sarah Peet Photography in 2011 after many years of working for other people. Now she can’t imagine, she said, having what others refer to as “a real job.”
“I love being my own boss and making my own hours,” Peet said.
Splitting her time between San Francisco and Tahoe means more time on the road, but also means being closer to where she likes to play.
She often works until midnight if it means she can take a few afternoon runs at Squaw Valley.
“I love the flexibility,” she said.
WORKING ‘ROUND THE CLOCK
Because freelancers are never technically “off the clock,” many struggle to cultivate a work-life balance.
Always chasing the next job means always staying plugged in.
“You get out what you put in,” said Colin West, a filmmaker based in North Tahoe. “That’s why we feel this hunger to never stop working.”
Those who freelance and make their living from job to job find it difficult to turn work down. Considering that, Peet, aware of freelancers’ tendency to overwork, set some rules for herself.
“If I go to Mexico for a week, I don’t bring my computer, and I actually have to be on vacation,” she said. “It’s about finding that balance.”
Peet sees herself as a traveler and her life as an adventure. Although she’s not a homeowner and says she’s in no way set up for retirement, she wouldn’t trade the lifestyle she’s built for herself.
“I could never go into the same thing every day and have someone tell me my hours. I’ve spoiled myself,” she said.
AN INUNDATED MARKET
With the Internet allowing many workers to freelance or launch their own companies, people are able to work in areas where’ they’re more passionate.
West admits having the travel bug and knew that a life on the road would suit him best. When he started The Wineram Experience — an international wine-based film production company that works primarily in Australia and New Zealand — in 2011, West was securing the ability to travel and work for himself.
“Freelancing changes people’s outlooks and they begin to focus on the things that they love,” he said.
And with more opportunities for people to follow their passions, an inundation of the market does exist, he said.
Freelancers of all kinds are available for hire on websites like elance, peopleperhour or odesk.
“The capabilities to make your dreams come true has skyrocketed,” West said. “That’s great because people can do what they love but also the market is more competitive from a business outlook.
“It becomes much more difficult to define success in your business and that’s because competition has grown as well.”
Jenny Luna is a freelance writer based in Truckee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.