The other day at San Onofre, I observed something that made me stop in my tracks while climbing up the orange bluffs towards the shower. A woman, clothed in an expensive puffy jacket, sitting in a large lawn chair, was furiously typing away on her laptop. Her brows furrowed as she stared at her screen and considered the stock market, or something else equally boring, on this otherwise beautiful, sunny day.
The waves were gentle peelers with hardly a crowd on them, the wind licking up the smooth faces, a couple surfers walking back and forth on their logs in the rising sun. Did this woman see what everyone else saw? Was she in fact inspired by the scenery, and editing a surf film? Was she tweaking a few photos for a local zine? No, she was working remotely for a large corporation, making a nice, healthy salary all while seated comfortably on one of Southern California’s most historic surf beaches. And, in doing so, she was ruining the vibe for everyone else who chose to come to this surf beach to, you know, surf.
Remote work is on the rise, so, what I saw at the beach is likely to become more and more common. And with research proving that remote work is more efficient than working from an office, perhaps this isn’t entirely a bad thing, at least for the individuals working remotely.
For the rest of the population, remote work is harmless until it interferes with the public’s ability to enjoy themselves in an outdoor setting. Remote workers have the freedom to work, literally, anywhere they want. Working inside of a van? Fine. Working in a coffee shop? Fine. Working at home? Especially fine. But working on the beach where people are trying to picnic, hang out with their families, and enjoy their days off (because some people only get to go to these places on their downtime, and not during scheduled work hours)… not fine. Not fine at all.
Unfortunately, the van-life strain of remote workers love these spaces. For them, it’s perfect: a combination of the outdoors and a free place to park their rig, where they can catch rays for their solar panels while putting their desk outside to do their 9-5 in a more relaxed environment. But the lack of self-awareness here is concerning.
These places are nice for precisely the reason remote workers are drawn to them: they’re beautiful. They are relaxing. When you enter one of these spaces, you are not reminded of work. But when people start working in these places, not only those working, but everyone else just trying to enjoy their day, is now reminded of work, too.
Consider, as well, that many people make a trip to the beach to get away from their everyday worries. When someone starts working at the beach, now you have a not only annoying, but downright inconsiderate, action. This one worker’s remote bliss at the outdoor office is the ruined stress-free space of the other hundreds of individuals who came there to get away from their daily lives and catch a few waves before going back to work.
Furthermore, working at the beach hinders the overall vibe and the ability for people to enjoy a communal space. Typically, the beach is a place to gather and to connect. One of my favorite aspects of beaches such as San Onofre is that they are, historically, places to meet other surfers. Ever since the ‘60s, SanO was an “epicenter for California beach culture” and a “main gathering point for surfers on the West Coast.” Funny, I don’t remember gathering places involving people on their laptops, working with earbuds in.
We’ve all been to cafes where every table is taken up by a singular person, and you could hear a pin drop because not one person is talking to anyone else. This is a very real and scary concern: this same fate could be the future of outdoor spaces if we don’t stop this growing culture right now.
I know my opinion sounds harsh or unreasonable. But it’s not. While I can empathize with the decision to work in more public spaces as a remote worker myself, I recognize that it is a privilege to work remotely, and if I want to keep enjoying the places I love, it’s best to keep work and play separate, even if that line often blurs.
For example, over the summer when I lived in Indonesia and held down two remote jobs, I worked in cafes and restaurants –but never on the beach. I surfed and enjoyed my time in the ocean because I was in such close proximity to it, but I never directly mixed the two. I figured other people at the surf camps would not appreciate me using their vacation space as an office. We both paid money to be there, and it’s just not part of the scene to slave away at a computer in a space designed for fun and relaxation.
It is possible that this trend of working remotely outside, is due to remote workers realizing the pitfalls of losing the office space. Studies show that remote work tends to make people feel isolated. Remote work can also be more difficult to focus on without the structure of a work environment. For example, a woman in advertising anonymously complained to INSIDER that it was so difficult to work remotely in Mexico that she would never do it again. In this case, the complaints surrounding remote work were based around her experience: the lack of reliable Wi-Fi, scheduling issues, and losing her “fun” time to sit at her computer, missing out on the beautiful outdoors around her.
I get it. By it, I mean working remotely in public spaces: most remote workers don’t choose to work remote, it is simply the way the job is. Working from home every day gets boring. Most of all, ever since COVID, more and more jobs have shifted towards being remote, further increasing the number of people working outside of the office.
But at the end of the day, there are so many ways to be considerate and get your work done outside of your home or office. Work inside of your van where you’re not obscuring the view for those outside. Pick up a notebook and pencil and do your work the old-fashioned way. If you have reading to do, print it out. Work in a café and then drive to the beach. Just please, I am begging you, stop setting up an office on the sand. For the couple of hours a day where I’m in the water, I don’t want to think about work. I’m off my phone, trying to forget my worries and live stress free until I’m back online – away from the beach, in a café or library, of course.