Turning the Train into My Mobile Office

How to be productive when your remote workspace is on rails

Courtesy Laura Mosher

The Journey

In early May, I took the virtual workspace ideology to heart and journeyed by train to RailsConf 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. So, you could say, I went to RailsConf… on Rails.

I boarded the Pere Marquette bright and early and took advantage of the onboard Wi-Fi to work remotely while traveling to Chicago’s Union Station. While working, I was able to enjoy the passing scenery from beautiful Holland, Michigan to the Windy City, Chicago, Illinois.

Once in Chicago, I took a break from working to enjoy the city. I ate breakfast at Yolk and then walked from Union Station to Millennium Park so I could visit the iconic Bean for a photo op. I also took some time to sit and enjoy the beautiful weather, the park, sculptures, and the Crown Fountain.

Back at Union Station, I connected to Wi-Fi again to start the process of making sure my laptop was ready to work the remainder of the train ride without connectivity. That included making sure I had repositories synced, stories copied, and any resources I would need available locally. Once we were on the way, I used my phone’s cellular service to look up questions and sync with the team as needed.

Overall, I worked a productive six hours on the train.

Working on the Train

Like any new experience, working on the train has its difficulties.

No Wi-Fi means no access to the team and the longest leg of my trip was without Wi-Fi. It was also during that same time that communication with my team was most important. While I was still able to be productive, and the client knew I was going to be hard to reach, it still felt isolating. Personally, I felt I could have been more productive. Plus, some of the rural areas the train traveled had no cell service either.

Privacy can also be an issue. If you are working on confidential projects, being able to maintain privacy is super important. This can be helped by using privacy screens and ensuring that your back is to a wall or your screen is pointed away from curious eyes. I used both and made sure there were no reflections in the train window. I also benefited from not having anyone in the seat next to me.

Fortunately, trains have a lot of perks.

Trains are a relaxing way to travel. It may take longer to reach your destination, but the trade-off in stress levels can be very worthwhile. Not only did I not have to worry about security lines or catching a fast connection in a large airport terminal, but I didn’t have to battle rush hour traffic either. However, there can be the occasional rail mishap when the train in front of you falls apart on the track.

There were also several hours between each leg of the journey which allowed me to eat healthy food, take a long walk, and enjoy the sights. Trains also allow the freedom to move around the car to stretch your legs, work as necessary, or simply utilize the observation deck to enjoy the scenery. Another added bonus? The dining car has a full kitchen with a variety of healthy food options.

It allowed me a lot of heads down time to work through problems. While I missed having someone to work with and bounce ideas off of, the train allowed me to focus on the problems at hand and get it done.

Where Will You Travel?

Collective Idea has chatted about having team members do pair programming on-the-go by train. So the idea would be to collaborate on the train and then enjoy the destination. Traveling from Holland, Michigan to St. Louis, Missouri is the perfect eight hour trip with a pitstop in Chicago. Plus, both trains have free onboard Wi-Fi.

Many short-distance Amtrak trains offer onboard Wi-Fi, making them awesome opportunities to work while traveling. Where will you travel?

Photo of Laura Mosher

Laura is enthusiastic about learning new languages, concepts, and tools in the software development industry. When she’s not working to build software solutions for clients, she’s developing and maintaining Collective Idea’s internship program.