When our Head of Production, Jamie Pigram and her partner decided to leave their Hackney flat in favour of living and working from a converted van, it was pretty big news. No one could have predicted their life-changing decision would have been overshadowed by a global pandemic and world economic uncertainty! Somehow though, their "vanlife" style of living has proven to be impeccably timed. In a few short months, the world has adapted to remote and flexible working. Suddenly living and working from the van, along with the freedom the rest of us house-bound remote workers crave, has become an enviable setup. We spoke to Jamie about life after bricks and mortar, how she manages to work from a van and most importantly, how she decides which enviable location to navigate to next.
What are your favourite things about working from a van?
The feeling of freedom. I find it's actually really inspiring to change location on a regular basis. Even when working in a city, or from home, it's nice to take a walk, go to a cafe or sit in a park to keep from stagnating in the same office chair. That feeling is magnified when your local park becomes a mountain range or a golden beach. Being in a van allows me to change my surroundings on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, as often as I’m in a picturesque location I’m also in a supermarket car park or on the side of a busy road, but I really enjoy that freedom. I still work my normal hours, so I don't set off on big hikes at the start of the working day, but to be able to have my morning coffee in the Swiss mountains before the day starts and take a swim in the ocean at lunch is absolutely fantastic.
What are the biggest challenges to working from a van?
There's nothing that can't really be overcome. As long as I've got signal and power, I'm all set. As a producer it's vital for me to stay in touch with my team and my clients, so even though I'm sitting with a view of an Italian lake, I'm always on hand. Similarly, if I've run out of fuel or have broken down on a motorway, I can still reply to emails or take a call. Obviously, the working space is a lot smaller than a typical office room, but that's actually part of the appeal. With the windows open and a decent view, it makes my working space feel larger and I’m enjoying the challenge of rearranging the space to look as normal as possible for Zoom calls.
Why did you decide to live and work in a van?
It's something my partner and I have always been interested in. We love the outdoors, seeing new places and hiking. At one point we rented a small van for a week and dragged our mattress into the back. We had a small camping hob and a frying pan, and spent the week in Cornwall. As a co-owner of a company you can gradually discover what works for you, and I couldn’t be luckier to have two business partners wonderful enough to support my decision. If emailing and calling remotely from Cornwall works, then why not from a quaint village in Corsica? We loved driving in campervans and parking in new spots every night so decided to make it a more permanent part of our life.
How do you power your laptop?
My partner and I both work from the road, so having enough power was a vital part of our build. It's all well and good packing up your life and driving to Zurich, but it's no good if you can't turn your phone on. We have leisure batteries, an inverter and solar panels. We can charge the batteries from the alternator in the engine whilst driving and can also plug in at a campsite when we need a power boost. Obviously, we don't have a television on in the background anymore and hairdryer use is carefully scrutinised!
Is there anything you miss about your previous work/life arrangements?
Of course! There's a good reason that most people don't live in a van, and it would be insincere if I said I didn't miss hot baths, unlimited water, big worktops and vast amounts of storage space from time to time. I think if the change had been sudden, it would have been too shocking all at once. We had gradually downsized our lives and had a few practice runs in rented vans, so knew what we were getting ourselves into. The things I miss the most are more related to the UK than living in a flat, like seeing my work partners and friends in person, beans on toasts and a regular supply of good oat milk.
How do people react when you tell them that you live and work in a van?
Most people think it's really cool. Lots of people tell me they'd love to do it or know someone that is planning to. I think ten or fifteen years ago people might have thought it was very odd because they hadn't heard much about it. Back then they would have imagined me sitting inside a cold, cramped metal work van with a small camping hob and a sleeping bag. Nowadays it's easier than ever to convert a van. We've got a fridge, freezer, oven, grill, hobs, heater, fans and it's all very comfortable. People are actually surprised by how comfortable it is and we even have a solution for warm showers now. It involves boiling a few kettles of water, a plastic bucket and a manual pump, but it gets the job done!
What do your clients think about it?
Most of them don’t know! With so many people working remotely, nowadays, I think it's assumed that lots of people aren't working in an office, anyway. Maybe some of our clients are also in vans, themselves, there's no way of knowing. With fast internet connections you really could be anywhere in the world. I've gotten the hang of scrambling around for a few minutes before a Zoom call to get my wet beach towel out of shot and brush the sand out of my hair, I think people may never find out. Until they read this, of course.
Will you do this forever?
We really don't know. With COVID and travel restrictions it's really made free travel challenging for the time being, but we are sure things will ease up. There's so much more of the world to see, and with the option of ferrying the van to Canada and America, we certainly like the idea of staying in the van and chasing the Sun. I'm sure there will be times when we consider renting an AirBnB for a few weeks, but while we're enjoying it, we'll keep on going.
What advice would you have to someone who wants to live and work from a van?
Do it! If it's something you're serious about then you should definitely do it. We doubted ourselves so many times in the lead-up, but we wish we'd done it sooner. It's important to do your research and not get swept up in the Instagram highlights and hashtags. It's still real life but it really can be a lot of fun.