What You Learn When Your Office Is The Side Of An Alaskan Mountain

When AT&T facility mechanic Brian Buck goes into the field, he could get buried in 64 inches of snow, face 80-mile-an-hour winds, and have to sleep in his helicopter for days. Here’s how he works smart.

What You Learn When Your Office Is The Side Of An Alaskan Mountain
[Image: Flickr user Dendroica cerulea]

About eight years ago Brian Buck and his team were snowed in on a mountainside along the coast of southeast Alaska. A lead facility mechanic for AT&T, he and his team are responsible for making sure the network doesn’t go down when a snowstorm hits.


The storm had him sleeping in his helicopter for two nights. On the third day the weather relented. The team choppered down to the nearest town–Pelican, Alaska, a coastside community of a little over hundred people. They were greeting with food, clothes, and hot showers. “It really made it feel worthwhile to keep those folks–our customers–connected like that,” he says.

Another day at the (helicopter) office.

For Buck, 52, the workday starts a lot like ours–getting to the office, checking emails, filling out paperwork. Then it gets unique: he makes a quick scan of any alarms among the 64 sites his team cares for in his southereasterly region.

Like all good leaders, Buck has to always be fully prepared. His team has go-bags ready with any necessary food or clothing. Within 10 minutes of stepping into the office they can be prepared to stay a night or two on site.

“Some of us have been around long enough that it was in its fledgling stages when we first started working here. Over 24 years, it’s gone from analog to digital world. Our equipment has gotten way better,” Buck says. “Our reliability has gotten way better, too. So it’s a personal thing to make the network stay that way–we pride ourselves on being reliable.”

In extremes, teamwork

Sounds like what’s true in entrepreneurship is true on the mountains. The more unpredictable your environment is, organizational psychologists say, the more flexible your team needs to be.

“You have to have teamwork in this extreme weather,” he says. “There isn’t a hospital around the corner when you’re on a mountaintop.”


That’s why everybody looks out for everybody when you’re on a dangerous job and why everybody on the team is trained in first aid. If there is an injury, treatment and resilience is built into the team. Because in these kinds of environments, he says, you’re only as good as the person traveling with you–good thing his team is top notch.

“Everybody knows what needs to get done and I, as the lead, don’t have to in the mornings say, ‘you gotta do this, you gotta do this.’’ Everybody knows what has to get done,” he says.

“We’re able to work in an environment where they just do it. They’re happy to do it. It’s a good job, one of the best in the world I think. We get to work in beautiful Alaska. When the weather’s nice, there’s nothing better than getting in the helicopter and getting to work on the network.”

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.