My top tips for your first ‘nomad’ week

OK, so I’m not a ‘nomad’ but it’s a nice word and quite a trendy thing to be. It looks, a bit like an Instagram influencer life, like the kind of thing we all want: mixing work and play freely and loving every second.

It’s not quite all that – the cripling anxiety of potentially opening your emails in the morning and finding a flaming dog turd still means checking in on your emails in the afternoon when you’re supposed to be on the ‘life’ part of the fabulous new work-life balance you’ve found – but it’s also not all bad.

After my first week of attempting this fashionable lifestyle from an Airbnb on the hillside in Tenerife, I thought I’d report back like an employee to the boardroom with some of my ‘lessons learned’.

If you’re here from a Google search ahead of your first attempt on the fictional see-saw of work and life, then I hope this post serves as useful for you.

If you’re not well, then, get booking something to try it out.

Hand luggage is crucial

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My go-to hand luggage is a North Face rucksack. It serves me well for work where I hop in, out and about London – but for this trip it just didn’t have the capacity.

Being a proper ‘nomad’ requires space saving skills last seen on Changing Rooms and there are kit lists online from people who do this all the time. As the novice part-timer, though, if you’re anything like me then you’ll soon discover that nothing you have is optimised for travel and so the backpack is no longer enough.

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I scoured Amazon for weeks before finally finding exactly what I wanted: a wheelie suitcase, but with specific laptop storage and a (what I call) flappy accessy bit on the front by Exzact. Far better for getting items in and out at the airport and on the plane than a normal mini wheeled suitcase.

None of the plug sockets will be where you need them to be

Just bring an extension lead. Yes, it says on the page that there’s a laptop-friendly workspace but laptops have batteries – if you’re working for longer than a couple of hours then you’ll need power somewhere there isn’t any.

I forgot this bit. My work laptop lasts only about 3.5 hours on a battery alone. So half way through a phone call towards the end of my half day I was scrabbling about trying to find power and move myself to somewhere near a power socket.

I ended up squatting over a sun lounger and facing the wrong way like some kind of alien who needed instructions on how to lounge.

On the other hand, my PowerCube is amazing. Get one.

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Get the right tools

If working from anywhere is going to be anything like working from the office or from home then there’s some things you’re going to need. A wireless mouse, for one, because touch pads are terrible; a mousemat another – again, something I didn’t think of – because tables can (and often are) glass.

I also found a USB headset was an essential tool, meaning I could still have my GoToMeetings and thanks to more amazing technology, also use my work phoneline and make internal calls and conferences.

The headset I brought with me gives pretty good sound for both sides of the call and works well with both Mac and Windows, although after 3 hours on the phone one day it did make my ears a tad sore.

Other accessories included an endless supply of pens, post it notes and a big notebook. I love a bit of stationary no matter what country I’m in.

The WiFi at the place you’re going to will be awful

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I predicted this one, but it’s still worth nothing. When I heard the place had WiFi, I was happy. When I heard it was 4G WiFi I assumed it would be awful. I was, I’m afraid, correct.

But no matter – because I brought my own Vodafone 4G Mobile WiFi, and thanks to the EU (oh, yeah) my 50GB of data per month was mine to use. Spiffing.

It’s quite incredible to think that I used to struggle to get 56K in a house in the middle of Birmingham, yet last week I was getting 4mB/sec on the side of a volcano in the middle of the Atlantic.

It’s really tough to turn off work

I’ve often had a jealousy of people who are able to just turn off from work. People who work part time have to be strict with themselves and everyone else to avoid working a full time job without getting paid for it and my week of ‘half days’ while abroad was no different.

Working in Communications is a particularly tough job to turn off from anyway, and checking emails occasionally in the afternoon and evening was too hard to resist.

I’d rather wake up knowing where the fires are, than go to bed worriyng about where they might be – but it continues to pull on the fictional see-saw in the work direction.

I always knew work-life balance wasn’t really a thing.

You’ll have to explain to your friends, family and Twitter why this is a good thing

I’ve had to explain a lot of times why I chose to work while I was on holiday. There’s a few reasons but ultimately it’s selfish (I couldn’t face coming back to the backlog of problems to solve) and selfless (I didn’t want to pile on the pressure to other colleagues who I knew would end up picking up the slack).

why are you working on holiday!! tell him off @tmchmbrs— N13 (@N13London) September 27, 2017

Whatever your reasons are, they’re yours – and they’re right. You do you, and other such trendy phrases. But people will ‘tell you off’ for working on holiday and ask why – exactly – you’re doing it. Just suck it up. Some of us enjoy our work just as much as our lives.

It’s totally worth it

At the end of it all I’ve mixed work with life in the sun and ended up with a tan, had some time to relax and I’ve still got plenty of leave for more time off at Christmas.

I’d definitely do it again – taking my own advice, though, of course.

Shit. I’m taking a month off.

About three weeks ago, I started thinking about what I really wanted to achieve and the answer that came back from my head shocked me a little: some time out, before it’s too late to take some.

I think I’ve probably mentioned before (a few times) that at the moment I’m doing my day job and I’m studying for the CIPR Diploma in Public Relations. It’s a good thing, absolutely, but it’s also something I always knew would stretch my abilities – and not just my intelligence, but my time management skills too.

Juggling a full time job that’s a 2 hour commute away, life, and education is hard work.

It’s fantastic to be learning things again, even if sometimes they seem far away from the reality of doing the job, and it’s woken up parts of my brain that I’ve missed quite a bit. Not least, the bit that got me doing it in the first place: say yes, and you’ll soon find a way to make it work.

And it’s true: you will. If you want something enough, you’ll make sure you’ve got time for it, and if you don’t – well, there’s nothing like a looming exam deadline to drive you to actually do something.

I’m not going to lie – it doesn’t always work. There have been weeks where I’ve lived out of the washing basket rather than a drawer (clean, I will add), and I’ve had to skip going to things that I’d much rather have done instead. Equally, there was a non-marked summer project that I was supposed to complete, and although it was a perfectly interesting task I just couldn’t seem to find the energy.

But I think what is as equally important as the drive needed to do the stuff you really want is recognising when it’s time to take a break: and that time for me, feels near.

I maintain that work-life balance is a complete myth, peddled in much the same way as the people who have perfect lives portrayed in detail on Instagram.

By the time I’ve completed the course in April (I will do it!), I’ll have been doing ‘full time plus’ (plus either education or excessive commutes) for more than 6 years and I’m yet to discover where the balance is.

Either work is in order, or life is. I can’t seem to get both at the same time, and the course has just thrown an extra seat onto the see-saw that never worked anyway.

So for the last month or so I’ve been plotting a question: can I take a month off?

A month of letting my body clock be my body clock sounds wonderful. A month where I can pop into Waterstone’s and not have a feeling of dread at adding another book that I’ll never probably read to the shelf. Perhaps I could start a podcast, or volunteer?

The opportunities are endless, but I’ve been plotting it so hard that now I’ve been told I can do it, I’ve suddenly realised I’d not put any thought into how I might fill it.

And that’s quite scary. And that’s quite exciting. I said I’ve been rediscovering bits of myself lately, and that’s another bit I’d not had for a while: jumping into fear.

So that’s my side-project for now: fill a month full of stuff I love, because I might never be able to do this again, or face the consequences of being bored, alone and in front of Friends on Comedy Central for 4 weeks. And that’s terrifying.

What would you do if you had a month off?

My mission for 2016

It’s lovely to see houses and the office without all of the tacky decorations and things again isn’t it?

The end of pine needles in all of my socks, collections of well-meaning cards doing little but collecting dust and of the pressure to constantly have a glass of something or other in progress.

This morning, just like many other people, I peeled back the curtains on another working year. Back to the early starts, the commute and to ‘getting stuff done’ on a day-to-day basis.

It’s easy to fall into bad habits and the routine of not doing very much over the holidays, particularly extended ones like Christmas. Having bank holidays (forced days of non-achievement) far enough apart that it seems possible to get lots done, but close enough together that it’s actually futile, is a unique skill of the Christmas break to kill off any attempts at making plans.

Without work there would be no holidays though and I’m very much looking forward to what this week and beyond will bring. I don’t even mind the train journey.

At work I managed to end the year on a high – completing my ‘to do’ list on December 24th just as I planned. Last year was very much about rebuilding the foundations after a significant change developed into a massive one, defining a purpose and trying to keep up with doing things while we did.

This year is the year of building on that and ticking boxes with it. The team is in place, the ‘stuff’ is in place behind the scenes and even just looking at the plan for the first three months I am already seeing lots I’m excited to see finished.

What I’m most looking forward to this year is having the opportunity to put the plans I’ve made into practice, the chance to say no to being reactive and the chance to have a crack at not getting as frustrated with how things go.

At home, I’m spending my first year as a Fiancé – I’m going to have to learn all about pelmets – constantly declaring “I’m getting married next year” at various points during seemingly unrelated conversations.

I’m going on a cruise despite having a bit of a massive fear of water and boats, so I’m also spending the first three months of the year reading in great detail about what happened to the Costa Concordia and to Titanic.

Assuming we don’t capsize or drown, I’ll set a new personal best record of visiting the same holiday destination three years in a row.

And I’m going to start studying for my CIPR Diploma in Public Relations in April in an attempt to quench my thirst for some proper learning again.

I’ll be following my Aunty Karen and her partner Kate as they embark on their ‘Year of Saying Yes’ and put down roots in a new town, in a new country.

And I’ll be attempting once again to keep it “more of the same” as my New Year’s resolution.

If there was one thing I’d like to do differently this year though it’s to build on my realisation that resting doesn’t mean doing nothing, but that’s about it.

Happy New Year.

Can I work from home?

How do you deal with the question “can I work from home?” and do it well?

I think it’s a difficult one to get right, whether the person asking the question is a known and trusted colleague or someone new, asking in the middle of an interview.

The company I work for has a great reputation for flexible working, and it attracts people to come work for us but that perception can be different from reality for some people can make it a difficult question to answer.

Saying no to someone’s request can lead to anything from a few minutes’ minor upset to complete disengagement, while saying yes can also lead to anything from minor upset – when they realise how terrible it is being locked in a house alone all day – to complete disengagement.

As a manager of just 8 months’ standing, neither is something I’m wanting to risk.

The problem with ‘working from home’ is that everyone, and everyone’s situation, is different. Everyone copes differently, needs different things and has different things and those can all make working from home a terrible idea.

While I’m awkward enough to need a full desk, monitor, keyboard mouse and so on to be able to be productive, I’m also lucky enough to have just that setup at home. I’m also obsessive enough about the risk of unexpected hot-desking that I carry my entire desk around with me in my bag.

So, other than the obvious advantage of avoiding 4 hours of train journey into and back out of London, when I work from home I’m just doing that – working, from home.

So I love working from home myself and my team are clearly going to notice I’m doing it, so what to do? I reckon I’ve nailed it.

Faced with my self-devised rules, the true answer to “Can I work from home?” is actually just matter of self-discovery. Because not being very good at working from home isn’t very much fun and no one volunteers to keep doing something they don’t enjoy.

After all, all I really want as a manager is not to get moaned at (particularly by my manager) about what my team are – or are not – doing.

We’ve all had to deal with people who ‘work’ from home and don’t respond to emails, calls or much else until 8 or 9pm and only then to shirk things off until tomorrow. The people who treat working from home as an excuse to do less because they can’t be seen.

I can’t help but wonder why their manager lets them get away with it – and just like you, I don’t want to be that manager. I think the approach to answering the question ‘can I work from home?’ matters an awful lot, regardless of the eventual outcome.

That’s because I’ve noticed that wherever there are people ‘working’ from home who don’t seem to be, it’s because they’ve never had that conversation. Working from home wasn’t offered, it was expected – compulsory even.

With everyone still being different last time I checked, that is always going to mean some people who shouldn’t work from home are effectively forced to. People who should, during a conversation where they asked ‘can I work from home?’ have realised the answer is no.

To me, ‘can I work from home?’ is a question for yourself, of your abilities, and not of your manager’s tolerance for it. A manager’s job is just to lay down some rules and create an environment for the team to prosper.

So, here’s the deal I came up with: my team can work from home whenever they like, without asking or actively letting me know. They just have to follow just a couple of rules.

I keep to the same ones, just to keep things fair.

The rules
  • You must be able to complete the sentence “I am working from home because…”. I don’t care what the last word is.
  • You must be in the office more often than you are out of the office. Average it out how you like.
  • You can’t decline an in-person meeting because you’re working from home
  • If I need you between 9am and 5.30pm then you better be there
  • There must be a clear indication of where you are in your calendar

If you trust your team (and if you don’t, why are they your team?) then letting them find out – and judge for themselves – whether they can work from home means everyone will be much happier and focused on getting things done.

Cover photo pic by David Martyn Hunt. Some rights reserved.

There’s no such thing as work-life balance

It’s three years to the day (not date)* since I started working full time again after finishing my degree. It’s gone surprisingly quickly, but I’m pretty certain this work-life-balance thing people talk about just isn’t a thing.

The fact it’s taken me more than a week to find the time to finish writing this post only serves to further prove my point: we are all aiming to get something that doesn’t exist.

To think I sat down at my slightly wonky desk at the research company I worked for three years ago is to mock the fact that I still remember just what the shape of the stain on the carpet tiles reminded me of, that I still remember the frustration of that first week – not being able to just get on with it – and the way it shaped my own management style too.

Yes, reportees of the future: you can blame my first ever job for the fact that you arrive to about a hundred emails and calendar invites already in your inbox. Oh, and it was the bottom part of the Art Attack logo, actually, on that floor tile.

I suspect in reality it was just the mark of someone in the past dropping their mug of coffee when realising a massive mistake in a PowerPoint or something.

Since then, no matter where I’ve lived or worked I’ve spent most of my free time wondering where other people seem to get all of their free time from. All these people going to the gym, having hobbies and bettering themselves all the time are clearly using some kind of Bernard’s Watch to make it possible.

My day consists of getting up as near to 6am as my legs will allow, sitting on a train for a couple of hours, trying to remember that lunch is actually supposed to be a meal and then sitting on a train for a couple of hours immediately followed by attempts at remembering whether it’s the gas or electricity bill I’m supposed to have not paid. Or is it that I paid it twice? I don’t know; shall we have a Chinese?

I have got two theories about the whole work-life balance thing. Number one is that it’s a myth and, much like Instagram, is only done to make the rest of us jealous; number two is that these people who have a work-life balance are really just half-arsing a load of cool things to fill whatever 30 minutes they have left.

It’s a bit like when ‘The Administrators’ write to you after a company has gone bust to let you know that you’re getting 30p for every £100 the company owed you. It’s insulting but the best you’re going to get and at least you can Instagram the first few lines.

So, to find out – and celebrate my third anniversary of work – I’ve decided to sign up for a diploma course which takes about eight hours a week to do. For a year.

I’m already scratting about down the side of the sofa to see if I can find any of the 416 hours I’ll need.

If you’ve any tips of where to find them then let me know because I’m starting to get worried I might have to start doing something other than snoozing on the train.

As if to give this post some form of gravitas, it’s actually now a week later – but it was three years when I started writing. It’s just taken a while. Soz. My dog ate my keyboard.