Lucas and Lee Brown, the twin brothers who founded the Seattle mobile marketing analytics company Tune, have found something else in the wilds of Alaska: a work-life balance that has taken them far from any crowded city and closer to nature.
It’s also taken them far from their employees, physically speaking, with the exception of the few who have visited to work in tents on a piece of land 10 miles outside of Valdez, Alaska.
But this week, everyone at Tune was invited to make the trek and celebrate Fourth of July in America’s 49th state. For those who don’t venture to Valdez, located nearly 2,200 miles from Seattle, Tune is providing another nice perk, offering the full week off to the entire staff.
A website set up to showcase the planned gathering, which started Saturday and goes until Wednesday, gives employees all the details on where it is being held, who is invited, how to get there, what to bring and so on. Outdoor activities ranging from fishing and kayaking to biking, hiking and climbing are planned — as are fireworks in a place that doesn’t experience a whole lot of darkness this time of year.
So what are the Browns doing up there, six hours from Anchorage, nestled on the eastern shore of Robe Lake at the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, as a Facebook description describes things?
“Geeks in the Woods” is an annual off-site retreat at Tune, where engineering teams gather in a remote location and unwind while also brainstorming. The Browns have taken that phrase with them to Alaska and it’s become “a movement.”
In fact, Lee Brown arrived at Tune’s northern tech outpost in the Alaskan wilderness in January, a time when temperatures typically hover in the low twenties. He now spends most of his time in Valdez, while his twin brother, Lucas, splits time between Seattle and Valdez.
Lee Brown connects to his Seattle team via Slack, and video conference calls.
A video on the new website is a mini-documentary showing what it all looks like, starting with the tents that serve as fully connected workspaces. Beau Sylte, a director and producer with Tune’s in-house production department, is also founder of a video production company called Alaska in Motion, according to his LinkedIn. His name was attached to a trailer for the video on the Geeks in the Woods Facebook and Instagram pages.
The video describes the effort as something very traditional for Alaska. “This is pioneering. This is ‘tech homesteading,'” Sylte says in a voiceover.
Lee Brown, who helped co-found the company in 2009, is the focus of the video and says that “the experiment is to help define ‘what is work-life integration?'” Subsequent images show helicopter rides over icy waters, bike rides, and video calls with workers via a laptop or smartphone.
Brown also shows off the “most important part about camp” as he stands in front of an electrical panel.
“Being software engineers, professionals … we have to stay connected. And we’re connected here in Valdez.” In order to power their camp, the Browns worked with the local power company on a workaround to run wires for temporary electricity. As far as internet connectivity, service from the local ISP in Valdez reached the Tune site and it’s reliable and fast enough for the work being done there.
A Geeks in the Woods Instagram account is loaded with images of quintessential Alaskan scenery and adventures. Some of the physical labor that’s going into developing the Tune site is shown, as is the behind-a-computer work that goes on in the tents. The images will surely make you want to leave your desk job — for a desk job in the wilderness.
About 10 Tune engineers from Seattle have had the the chance to visit and work at the outpost, back when there was snow on the ground. One worker in the video described coding in a windblown tent and then walking outside to witness breathtaking views of the nearby mountains.
“I learned that it’s extra motivating to get work done and focus when you know there’s immense beauty and endless options for exploration literally outside your door,” Sylte says in the video, as bikes are being loaded onto an SUV.
According to the July 4th invite website, about 40 people have signed up to check out the location in person this week.
Tune employs more than 300 people at nine offices worldwide.