Gippslandia #3 - People - Peter Burgess

Meet Pete.

Are you tired of dragging yourself out of bed, into the car and then hauling your half-awake corpse into the office? What if you didn’t need to commute to work at all? Deep down you know you’d be more productive spending more time punching out work from your home office or even better, the flexibility of working on the road. Olivitek Founder and Managing Director Peter Burgess is a guru when it comes to working remotely .

When he contacted us from his enviable Fish Creek base we knew that Peter, who’s previously designed software for Nokia in Finland for telecom networks and developed systems for the European Commission, was going to provide us with some golden tips on how we can all work productively from our dream location.

Picture this…you wake up on a beautiful sunny spring morning in your cosy cottage in the bush. You make breakfast and walk your kids along a tranquil country lane to the school bus. Returning home you jump in the car and commute ten minutes to your office in Fish Creek, a small township nestled in the South Gippsland hills.

You make that first cup of tea for the day and crack open your laptop. Today there are several projects you need to manage and some code to review for clients in Melbourne and the Latrobe Valley. You’ll be chatting online via video conference with members of your virtual team in Traralgon, Sydney and Europe – all while working out of a small office in a town in the middle of nowhere.

A decade ago you – perhaps madly – moved out of the city and built a home made of straw bales and clay in the South Gippsland countryside. At the time you could only vaguely glimpse how you would make your move work. At times, in those early days it seemed like one big mistake; commuting back and forth to the city where you worked on a contract while snatching brief, often exhausted weekends with your young family.

At first it seemed difficult to work out how you would raise a family and support them in the bush with skills that you had developed in the city, but for which the market here in South Gippsland was very limited… This is a small part of my story.

It has taken a decade, but for me there is now a sense that, after a lot of trial and error, the practical challenges of remote working from the bush and running a viable, long-term technology business far from the city are at last being met.

As an IT professional (Programmer, Designer and Systems Architect) working in the city, moving to the bush to raise a family seemed like a big gamble. In my career, working on projects with organisations such as Nokia, IBM, the European Commission, Victorian State Government, the big banks and corporations in the city, I’d developed a lot of skill and knowledge in my industry. By moving to the bush was I turning my back on that history? Would basing myself far from the city mean that I effectively ‘dropped out’ of the market?

In retrospect those fears have been unfounded. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, it has eventually all made sense, the dots have most definitely started to connect looking backwards. Often we only find our way by taking a leap in the dark.

That philosophy of taking a risk and seeing where it takes you has been part of me for longer than I can remember. From scuba diving on a WWII ship wreck (The SS James Egan Layne) as a 17-year-old, back packing solo across Europe and America at 18 to building a house made of straw bale in one of southern Australia’s wettest regions at the age of 37, I’ve always been driven to stretch the envelope and do things that are uncomfortable.

Moving to the bush was in many ways my biggest risk. While we were eventually successful at being owner/builders of our home, what came after was far more challenging. With a depleted bank account, after a long building project, there was a need to earn money to support my family. During that first year in our home my wife, Hanna, went back to work while I mulled over my next steps. Starting a business seemed the obvious solution. But what type of business? And how would that business support us all? And where would I find the customers out here, far from the city?

In 2010, a few days after the birth of my daughter (our second child) Olivia I founded Olivitek Software (guess what inspired the name?). My initial objective for the business was to offer a broad range of software services including programming, web design, mobile responsive design and consulting to clients across the region. In those early days I worked for a diverse range of mainly small business clients, and supplemented with a lot of city-based contract work, we managed to keep our heads above water. But with a lot of driving back and forth to the city (often late at night) the pace was exhausting. At the time it was hard to see a sustainable path for the business though. The financial return for the hours and sweat invested was scarcely worth it. I was still heavily tied to the city – often needing to be onsite for days at a time.

The path to where my business is now finally opened up in 2013. Four years ago, my business won a number of longer term contracts in the Bass Coast and Latrobe shire’s that finally allowed me to work full-time from South Gippsland.

In my first six months full-time I worked out of my home office, connecting to the wider world via Telstra 4G and SkyMesh Satellite (at times struggling without a viable internet connection – especially in January when the 4G bandwidth disappeared along with the arrival of holiday makers on the coast). In 2014, I moved to a small office in Foster, before relocating to Fish Creek in 2016. Also, when in Melbourne I started to make use of co-working spaces in the city and Richmond.

From my small office in the bush I have worked with development teams and customers across Gippsland and Victoria. I have also been able to work with development teams in other states and internationally. With the tools and technologies available to businesses nowadays, many Gippsland businesses can now do the same.

I collaborate with team members (chatting online, sharing files and documents) using Slack and video conferencing tools such as Skype and Appear.in. I’m able to manage complex projects using cloud based tools such as Atlassian JIRA and Trello for task management. So far I’ve managed without a bookkeeper, doing all my basic financial admin (invoicing, expenses and keeping an eye on my cashflow) via Xero – another excellent cloud-based tool.

As Olivitek Software grows, we’ve also started to develop a business niche – building custom software systems that automate back office, sales, marketing, operations and finance for businesses. We’ve developed custom systems in many sectors; including utilities (including human resources, training and order management systems), real estate, education, training and the travel industry. We also occasionally work on startup projects. This month, for example, we’re about to launch a innovative new real estate portal for a Gippsland-based startup.

Over the last six years, I’ve proven that it’s possible to build a viable virtual business in Gippsland. As more and more workers look for balance in their work lives, Gippsland is set to benefit from an influx of skills and talents in the industries of the 21st century. With investment in infrastructure (the availability of NBN Wireless in Fish Creek being a game changer for my business) and the support of others who have trod this path already, working and living in Gippsland has never been more attractive for the knowledge or information worker.

The trend toward remote working is now unstoppable. Companies such as Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals – see their remote working video at 37signals.com/remote/video) for example, have developed multi-million dollar businesses with 75% of their workforce working remotely. Many startups now have a small core team and developers scattered across the globe. If you’re thinking of quitting that corporate job and going out on your own – perhaps even moving to Gippsland for a better work/life balance that it offers you and your family – there has never been a better time.

Should you wish to learn more, Peter is currently writing a book on how businesses can win back time and save money through automation – mainly via custom built & cloud based software – ‘Automating the Workplace’ is expected to be published in early 2018. To contact Peter, visit olivitek.com.

Gippslandia #3 - People - Peter Burgess

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