On nice Friday afternoons in the summer, clients on Zoom calls with Michael Ancevic might be surprised by what they see in the background: It might be a marina, a beach, or even the open ocean — provided he can get a strong enough signal from his 30-foot Everglades fishing boat.
Before the pandemic, Ancevic used his boat to commute from Gloucester to the Boston office of his advertising agency, The Fantastical, a few times a week in the summer, but now that his company has gone fully remote, he just picks a place, fires up his iPhone hotspot, and stays onboard — either on the bow or below deck. And a strong interest in boat rentals during the week around the country shows that Ancevic isn’t alone in his affinity for a floating office.
“It doesn’t really matter where you work now, so you might as well work somewhere that makes you happy and productive and satisfied,” he said. “Being at home all the time or at a WeWork or whatever, you still need to shake it up a little bit.”
The definition of “shaking it up” varies widely, of course, but people with more freedom to work remotely since the pandemic loosened their ties to the office are getting creative about where they do their jobs. And for some dedicated boaters with the ability to do so, that means getting out on the water when summer arrives.
Freedom Boat Club, which has a fleet of fishing boats, deck boats, pontoons, and other motorized vessels that members can reserve around the country, including 43 locations in New England, started offering weekday-only memberships at all its clubs earlier this year, based on the popularity of a previous pilot program. Fifteen percent of new members in the first quarter of the year were weekday only, a rate that Freedom’s Brenna Preisser attributes to people’s increased ability to work remotely, the lower cost ($299 a month on average, with a $5,000 initiation fee), and a growing number of retirees with flexible schedules. Just as many people use boats on Fridays now as they do on Saturdays and Sundays, she said, which could mean people are treating Friday as a special work day on the water — maybe even giving them a head start on a weekend trip.
“It’s another nice place to get out of the office,” Preisser said.
It’s also a good way for people to stay healthy, said workplace wellness expert Laura Putnam. Anything that helps us move around during the day — “something that is sorely lacking for most Americans,” she said — is helpful. Being out in nature has been shown to improve people’s mood and reduce stress, she said, and the ebb and flow of ocean currents have a “positive psychologically restorative effect” that can disrupt negative thought patterns. Working on a boat, it seems, can actually create “a little oasis of well-being,” she said.
The only downside: “Wear your sunscreen.”
Getting out in nature is encouraged at Salesforce, said Brian Ferrara, regional vice president of commercial sales at the software company, who often reserves boats through Freedom Boat Club for late-afternoon fishing trips with his family during the week. Now that he works from home in Duxbury more often, it’s even easier to run out around 4 p.m. to pick up his sons and head to a marina in Marshfield or Plymouth. “You can make a few phone calls while the kids fish, and you’ve got pizza on the boat, and it’s like a really nice way to wind down the day,” said Ferrara, 40. “I’m still performing, but I’m outside, I’m by the water, which is a place I love to be.”
Lorne Basile, a fellow boat club member and residential mortgage loan officer who lives in Portland, Maine, also has a flexible schedule, and no need for an office — or a desk, for that matter. “I have to work wherever I am,” he said. “I could probably work on a laptop hanging upside down like a bat.”
So when he can, he reserves a boat, usually a 24-foot Sea Ray — sometimes to take a client to an island for lunch, sometimes just to prop up his laptop on the cooler and make some calls.
“You know the feeling when you’re sitting at your desk and it’s super nice outside and you can’t go,” he said. “This is a way to not have to feel that way.”
Basile, 56, usually floats near the coastline, where he has cell reception, and sometimes puts his fishing pole in the water. If he happens to catch a striper while he’s on a call, and he knows the person well, he may say: “I have a fish on the line. I have to call you back.”
Once, Basile saw a huge storm cloud rolling in while he was talking to a client in the process of making an offer on a house. He wrapped up the call, packed up his gear, and sped back to the marina.
His employer doesn’t care where he works, Basile said: “As long as you make money, they leave you alone.”
Walter Steenbergen of Woonsocket, R.I., has worked from Freedom vessels for years, but the former professional skipper, who now runs his own marketing firm, started doing it more when he was cooped up at home during the pandemic. Being on a boat — outside, alone — seemed safe, even if he didn’t leave the marina.
“I’d get kind of a strange look” from the dock staff, he said. “They’d say, ‘Where you going today?’ And I’d say, ‘Nowhere.’. . . It’s either sitting in an attic in my house, or on my boat smelling the sea breeze.”
Steenbergen often reserves dual-console boats, which have more seating areas to work from, at a few marinas nearby. In Warwick, he can even have lunch delivered to his boat from the seafood restaurant on the waterfront. Sometimes he’ll bring his dog and anchor near an island or a lighthouse where he knows he can get a cell signal.
The stigma of working remotely has lessened since the pandemic, he said, noting that he often talks to clients working from their ski houses or their Florida vacation homes. If they notice his surroundings on his Zoom background, and express interest, he might even offer to take them out.
Over the winter, he and his wife brought a client to the Bahamas, where Steenbergen skippered a sailboat around the Abaco Islands. The client was surprised to see him sending e-mails and taking calls when they were anchored, but Steenbergen was quick to remind him: “I’m on a sailboat in the Bahamas in February, I’m not really suffering.”