Work from home: Slate staffers chat about working away from the magazine’s main offices.

What’s It Like to Be a Slate Satellite? The Pros and Cons of Working Long Distance.  

What’s It Like to Be a Slate Satellite? The Pros and Cons of Working Long Distance.  

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Sept. 10 2014 10:39 AM
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Where’s My Pizza? 

Three far-flung Slate-sters dish on the pros and cons of working away from Slate’s main offices.

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Jennifer Lai, Slate Plus: Some readers might not know this, but not all Slate staffers work in our New York and D.C. offices. In fact, none of you guys do! Rachael, you work from Cincinnati, Holly, you're in Atlanta, and Josh … you’re in Iowa, right?

Josh Voorhees, senior writer: Yep, Iowa City to be exact. Iowa, not to be confused with Idaho, where half of my friends and family thought I was living for the first year I was here.

Rachael Larimore, managing editor: I can see Kentucky from my house!

Holly Allen, Web designer: Yes, Atlanta for me. I like to call it Slate South.

Lai: But despite the miles and miles between us—all of you are just as “present” as the rest of Slate. And all of your jobs require you to be very involved with other people at Slate. How do you do it? Rachael, how can you be the managing editor of a magazine from Ohio?!

Larimore: As our managing editor, my big job is keeping the trains running on time: communicating with the editors as to what articles they are filing and when, and helping decide when they will run. Fortunately, Slate has always had multiple offices and a rich email culture, so people are used to communicating that way.

Rachael Larimore's desk at home in Ohio.
Rachael Larimore’s desk at home in Ohio.

Courtesy of Rachael Larimore

And recently we’ve adopted Slack—a very nifty IM-on-steroids tool—and a “ticketing” system that lets everyone put their edit plans online for all to see. I admit, I’m starting to feel a little bit like Marge Simpson in that episode where they moved to Cypress Creek (and she had fancy automatic appliances, no work to do, and so she started day drinking).

Allen: It’s funny. I sit at a desk in my living room making graphics, but I don’t feel at all “removed” from the group. That rich email culture Rachael mentioned is true. Coupled with IMs and Google Hangouts, and now Slack, it’s super easy to feel connected. One confession: At times I do feel a little foolish sitting in a room by myself laughing, but Slate staffers are really funny people to read.

Voorhees: During my first three years at Slate, I ran the Slatest, so I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of all the office action, at least the parts of which were happening over email. I was fielding requests and working with what felt like almost the entire editorial side: the politics reporters, the culture team, the homepage editors, and everyone else who keeps the site moving.

But since switching to my new beat earlier this year (writing about policy and politics, mostly), I now interact with fewer Slate-sters on an average day. Most of my email traffic is with either Will Dobson, our politics editor, or Josh Levin, who is my direct editor. But, as Rachael points out, we also now have Slack, which means more one-on-one chats with people (and our new automated overlord, Slackbot).

Generally, I don't feel the distance ... until I check our Slate Plus Instagram account and see photos of a robot bartender or an Old Fashioned station in the NYC office.

Lai: Holly—what are the challenges of being a Web designer when Slate’s entire art and design department is located in New York?  

Allen: The biggest challenge is not being able to crowd around a monitor and do stuff on the fly. But we have tools for that. We use screen sharing to talk through concepts. We also ship files back and forth using Slack. We use Google sites a lot as well. Technology has really made it very easy to design from afar.

Holly Allen's desk at home in Georgia.
Holly Allen’s desk at home in Atlanta.

Courtesy of Holly Allen

Larimore: Josh, among the three of us, you have the job that would be easier to do if you were on the scene. You have to do interviews and reporting. You're dealing with news-of-the-day topics. Is that harder, do you think? And do sources ever find it weird that you’re in Iowa, or is that not a big deal?

Allen: Do sources even know you’re in Iowa?

Voorhees: Holly, I’d say it’s probably 50-50. Iowa City’s in my author bio, so some people see it, and it might help me stand out a little. But I’m sure many just assume I’m working the phones from a D.C. newsroom like everyone else. I spent three and a half years in D.C. as a reporter, and obviously roaming the halls of Congress has its advantage when reporting about politics and policy, but news doesn’t often happen at a Capitol press conference—and when it does, it’s never difficult to follow along via a webcast.

I also like to think that being outside the Beltway bubble helps give me a slightly different perspective when it comes to what stories matter and what stories are just the D.C. press corps feeding itself. It also can help me spot important regional stories that haven’t yet reached Washington (or, at least, that’s what I keep telling our bosses!). And, of course, as we learned last month, the national conversation isn't always dictated by what happens on the coasts.

Allen: The phones are the only thing I think gives me away as not being in New York or D.C. I really sound like I’m from Atlanta!

Voorhees: Here’s a question for both of you: How long has it been since you’ve worked in a regular office/newsroom? And what do you miss most about it?

Allen: I’ve worked from home for Slate for EIGHT years now. For me, it’s the social aspect I miss the most. For instance, I’d love to go to lunch with y’all. Fun, right? Also the buzz of a newsroom.

Larimore: I worked in Slate’s Redmond, Washington, office when Slate was still part of Microsoft. When we joined the Washington Post in 2005, that West Coast office wasn’t needed, so those of us who’d been there were told we could work from home on a temporary basis. (Ssssssh. Don’t out me. I’ve got a good thing going here.)

So that makes it almost 10 years since I’ve been in a real office. I do miss the little inside jokes that develop when people spend eight hours a day together. And I do worry that some of my colleagues get stuck with a little of my work because it’s easier for an editor to get the ear of someone in the office.

Allen: What about you, Josh?

Voorhees: I made the full move to telecommuting about three years ago, after easing into it at my previous job at Politico (part of my job was writing a morning newsletter, so I would do that in the middle of the night from the comfort of a corner in my Van Ness studio). I moved to Iowa only a few months after joining Slate, so I only got a small taste of what it’s like to work in Slate Proper.

Josh Voorhees' desk.
Josh Voorhees’ desk at home in Iowa City.

Courtesy of Josh Voorhees

But, as a news guy at heart, I definitely miss the energy that flows through a newsroom when there’s a big story, something like the Boston bombing or a big SCOTUS decision. I can still feel some of that through the emails and conference calls, but it’s not quite the same as being in a room where everyone’s slightly frazzled but still pulling in the same direction.

Larimore: I get that, but I also feel that there is so much energy that emanates from a big story like the Boston bombing, or Ferguson, that it makes it all the way out to Ohio. Election season is a ton of fun, even remotely.

Allen: Good point! Prior to working from home I did graphics for WashingtonPost.com in the actual newsroom. I was there for many big news stories—9/11, never-ending presidential elections—and I'll never forget those moments. It was electric. But I agree with Rachael. Somehow Slate lets that energy travel.

Lai: So what are the perks of being a Slate satellite? (Working with your shoes off? Working in pajamas? No more sad desk lunches?)

Allen: All the lunches are sad desk lunches!

Larimore: I have happy desk lunches!

Allen: I love the perk of a 25-step commute in the morning.

Voorhees: Yes! The commute makes it all worth it. That’s an hour of my life I get back. Every day. That adds up. (And let’s me hit snooze a few more times.)

Allen: If I didn’t have to get the kiddos to school, I bet I’d wear PJs. But I think they’d frown on that in carpool.

Voorhees: I have no kids and live in a college town. So even though I push the boundaries of acceptable workplace dress, when I go outside I feel like I’m wearing tails and a monocle.

Larimore: For me, the biggest thing is that it gives me a little bit of flexibility with my family life. I can sneak out to do a carpool shift for swim practice or baseball practice. And since I’m working from home and my mom watches our kids at our house I see them way more than I would otherwise.

Lai: Rachael, isn’t there a story of how Slate once sent you a pizza to your house?

Larimore: Yes! I did get a pizza. I was on an email thread wherein the New York office talked about meeting for pizza for lunch, and I jokingly whined that no one in the Ohio bureau ever sprang for pizza. And I promptly forgot about my comment.

So when a pizza showed up at lunch that day, I was completely baffled. The driver had to explain that someone from New York called. And then we got on a Google Hangout and ate lunch together.

Voorhees: Well, that’s delightful ... and I’m in NO WAY totally jealous that the NYC office likes you more than they like me. (Hint, hint ...)

Larimore: Squeaky wheel!

Allen: Where’s my pizza?!