Making It Here: The Island Telecommuter

Christopher Loder works for IBM from Chebeague.


After decades of painstaking planning, Christopher and Caroline Loder moved to Chebeague Island in 2013, intending to work remotely and give their three  children a life that wasn’t possible on the mainland.

But they got a surprise on move-in day, when Loder picked up his cell phone to make a call.

No bars. No service.

They refused to be disheartened.

“If you move to an island, you didn’t choose the easy path,” said Christopher Loder, 47, who works as an “offering,” or new, digital-product management for New York-based IBM Digital Group. “If you’re in the middle of the ocean (on a boat) and the head is clogged, you fix it yourself. It’s the same thing on an island. We’ve been to remote places in the world, and solved bigger problems than this.”

And they did.

He and his wife, an artist, designer and art director, installed a landline so they could make calls without worrying about dropped signals. To get cell service, they invested $1,500 to install a 27-foot tower with an amplifier. (now Axiom Technologies) provides the commercial-grade DSL service they need for internet access.

Among the islands, Chebeague was on the forefront of digital connectivity. The 10-year-old network was Maine’s first community-based broadband network.

“Part of the unwritten code of working remotely is that you don’t let connectivity issues get in the way of work,” said Loder. He spends four to five hours each day on conference calls, and about half of his work is done by videoconference. “Dropping a signal or a call in the middle of a sentence, let alone a dialogue, is unacceptable.”

If the power goes out or a connection goes down, Loder works from his truck at the end of the driveway that faces Portland, and tethers to a mainland link on his cell carrier. Not exactly “convenient,” he conceded, “but it does make for some interesting video calls.”

Monthly commuting costs, both family and work-related, amount to less than $100—far less than what the Loders would spend on gas or public transportation commuting in a big city. Most importantly, they don’t spend hours of their lives sitting in traffic.

“I can’t imagine doing that to your soul,” said Loder. After years of living all over the globe, the Loders cherish the sense of interdependence they feel on Chebeague. It’s a sharp contrast to the anonymity and isolation they often felt while living abroad in big cities like Munich, Germany, where they didn’t speak the language.

Loder loves that he interacts with so many of his neighbors in so many different ways. After all, with just 425 year-round residents, everyone on Chebeague must wear multiple hats.  

For instance, as a rookie volunteer for the island town’s  fire department, Loder reports to the fire chief, Ralph  Munroe. During the previous year that Loder chaired the board of selectmen, Munroe reported to the board. Munroe also works in the boatyard caring for the Loder’s 30-foot sailboat.

“We have four different types of relationships, the most important of which is friendship,” said Loder, who also serves on the town committee for tax-acquired property.

man sitting in car in rain
Loder sometimes must make telephone
calls from the cab of his pickup truck
to ensure a strong signal.

“Living in a small community, we’re able to move between those relationships fluidly, with respect, camaraderie, a sense of humor, and commitment to community as well as your own needs,” he said. “To me, that’s what’s missing in the world.”

The Loders also relish the education that their kids, who are ages 6, 8, and 10, are getting at the Chebeague Island School.

With 26 students of a wide-range of ages, “you get a very diverse set of learning and a sense of multi-age camaraderie,” Loder said. “We believe that education is a combination of experience and textbook learning. The social learning is frequently more important.”

Traveling for face-to-face meetings, which Loder does up to 12 times a year, is surprisingly less of a challenge than it was when they were living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. If he times it right, Loder can go from his kitchen to the Portland Jetport, within an hour. As a backup, he uses the water taxi, or gets a hotel room on the mainland.

The hurdles of telecommuting from Chebeague are the same ones Loder has had to manage no matter where he’s lived in the 17 years that he’s been telecommuting.

man sitting in lounge chair on laptop
“Dropping a signal or a call in the middle of a sentence,  let alone a dialogue, is unacceptable.”
— Chris Loder


Though he doesn’t have to fend off traditional office space nuisances, like chatty co-workers hanging around his cubicle, he does have to be extremely intentional about distractions, and reserve breaks for necessary to-dos like feeding the chickens and accommodating fuel deliveries.

“Life always interferes with work,” he said. “But when  you’re telecommuting, you’re the person who has to drive  the discipline.”

If there’s any challenge to living on Chebeague, it’s that any spontaneity requires careful planning. “Anytime you leave, you’re on a stopwatch,” he said. If he has an hour and 45  minutes to do two-and-a-half hours of work, “life becomes  an optimization algorithm with dynamic triage and real  time re-prioritization.”

That means sometimes you skip a to-do or wait for the  next ferry.

“And it means that movie dates often end before the credits role.”


Jennifer Van Allen is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Runner’s World,  Prevention, Running Times, The New York Times, The Portland Press- Herald, MaineBiz and other publications.  She also has co-authored four books about health and fitness, including Run to Lose: The Complete Guide to Weight Loss for Runners (Rodale, 2015). She lives in Falmouth with her husband and son.