Mobility as a LifestyleAlex Fields
Last year I took a few months off from my job. As an engineer, I believe that planning is everything. So I figured I’d schedule my mid-life crises in advance and try to have it out of the way early, before I even hit middle-age.
During this time I did quite a bit of traveling with my wife. We walked on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (the northern route, which is more beautiful–and challenging–than the Frances, which has been growing so popular in the last few years). Next we lived for a few months in the Pacific Northwest, and ultimately we moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where we ended up staying for the better part of 2015 and 2016.
I still worked and earned money during most of this time. When I was traveling between places, I typically put up my out of office and treated that time as I would have in any traditional employment setting: it was “time off“–but when you are a contractor, this is a.k.a. unpaid time.
Then something crazy happened. I found myself back in Portland, OR for a few weeks, and I met some unique individuals who were apparently on a (permanent?) travel extravaganza. These folks were doing what I did, but without actually leaving their full time jobs in the process. One person in particular with whom I connected, remarked that he had only spent 22 nights in his own apartment within the last year.
With this one comment, the young man reminded me of something that is embarrassingly obvious–that we live in the 21st century, and that we have access to mobility like no other generation before us, with technology that basically turns us into gods compared to most of the humans who have ever lived.
Oh yeah, what the hell was I thinking? Out of office? My “office” travels with me wherever I go! I can work from any airport, hotel/hostel, coffee shop or wherever WiFi is available (which is almost everywhere with my hot-spot, I suppose).
Finally, it really dawned on me that mobile devices, connected to cloud applications such as Office 365, are slowly liberating us from the chains of our old thinking patterns.
For the rest of the year, I did all of my work on personal devices (not work-issued or domain-joined ones), and I switched most of my daily workflow over to cloud-based technologies such as Office 365. I lived in OneNote, OneDrive, SharePoint and a few others.
Did I have a commute? If you count the trip from my bedroom to my in-home office, or to my mountain-view porch, then yes. Did I have to fire up a slow and unreliable VPN connection into my workplace to get at shared files and programs? How silly of me–that was so last decade.
Here was a typical work day for me: I’d wake up, do a couple hours of emails, document creation/editing/collaboration, then promptly close up the laptop for 2-3 hours so I could enjoy a long mid-day break w/ my wife. We might go on a walk, run some errands around town, or have some tea while we looked out at the mountains, for example. Often I’d return to my work for 2-3 more hours in the afternoons for projects, billings, etc., but not always; it just depended on my workload and what we were up to that day.
That is to say, my average work day was probably about 4 hours long. Or less. And sometimes other things, such as family, were more important.
Were my customers any worse off because of this arrangement? No–I do not believe so. I was always easy to reach, and available when I was needed, or on reasonably short notice, anyway. I always had my deliverable items done on time and on schedule.
Was I any worse off for the wear? Bwhahahaha… No, no I was not–quite to the contrary, I must say.
OK–so maybe you don’t go gallivanting around the world like those working-travel gurus I mentioned–but what would it be like to start working, I don’t know–call it half–of your days from home instead of being at the office? How would it be just to eliminate the car commute? What does that do for your family life? For your pocketbook?
Or what if you picked… I dunno… Thursdays and Fridays during the summer–and committed to half-days of work? Maybe from a lodge or lake home a few hours outside the city… without taking PTO?
These are real potentials for your life. Seriously. It isn’t as if the technology for this stuff doesn’t exist. The only thing getting in your way (most likely) is you, and decades of old-world thinking, which is tied to workplaces-as-physical-locations, occupied during “normal” business hours (e.g. 8a-5p, M-F, etc.).
I think we should expect these structures to dissolve more and more as we move into the new era of mobility. And really, there is just no rational reason to chain yourself to a desk for 8 hours or more during the average day, with another 1-2 hours+ spent behind the wheel of car bringing you to and from this place. We know that this much sitting isn’t even healthy for us–so why continue to put up with it?
You have a cell phone don’t you? You get email and text messages and calls on it, right? Even video calls! So get out there–go biking, jogging, or just stroll around the city parks sometimes. Go ahead, take an extra hour or so of leave every day for starters, I dare you.
I certainly don’t deny that the normal day is still the working day (until AI can do more of our work for us, anyway) but with the new paradigm of mobility, we don’t have to accept the standard definitions for the “work-a-day” world anymore. We can do better. And we must.