In a world before Coronavirus and lockdowns I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a working sabbatical covering 89,010 kilometres, 31 countries and 33 time zone changes!
My journey started with the 6-day “Trans-Mongolian” train trip, which was the most extreme case of remote working during my time away. Despite having no access to a shower, I was able to work productively (albeit with patchy internet) during the 7,621km journey across 7 time zones! To get the most out of the experience, while also keeping up with work life, required exceptional planning. The following lessons were really helpful during my trip, which have also helped during the recent pandemic lockdown.
The value of a great team
My trip was only possible due to having an amazing team and forward-thinking CEO. A large part of many modern roles is interacting with customers and colleagues, so having a supportive team was (and remains) something for which I am extremely grateful. A “deal” soon emerged that in return for business updates I would send them photos, so they could travel vicariously too! Some of these are included here.
Time management, discipline and communication are so important
Being away did not mean outrunning deadlines and commitments so using pockets of time wisely was critical. Whether on a boat or waiting for a train, having a plan was even more essential than usual. Being significantly ahead of UK time and with active plans during my “daytime”, working in the evenings worked well for personal productivity. This also enabled me to communicate with colleagues in the UK during their working day, so time management was essential to keeping on track.
While away, my aspirations, task list, emails, phone and the wider business were still very much front of mind. As I wasn’t following my usual routine, I found myself working consistently throughout the week at strange times. Initially, I found the weekends were a great time to catch up but working at the weekend as well meant I had no downtime from the working world. This was not sustainable long term.
This may sound strange while travelling extensively but taking some “days off” really made a difference to my work productivity and personal life. My first real break came on a long weekend trip to North Korea, where my phone and laptop could not connect. Not only was this a fascinating and insightful country to visit, but the enforced break reminded me of the value of switching off to recharge, refresh, connect and achieve a good work-life balance. I sincerely believe this is incredibly important for us all over the long term.
Technology is essential
It is a testament to modern technology that having a laptop and a mobile phone can enable us to work from anywhere. However, I did become a little obsessed with my battery levels and re-charging! I found the internet accessibility and phone signal to be incredible in the most surprising places. Even in the remotest part of one of the least densely populated countries in the world, Mongolia, I was able to make several business calls while admiring the amazing, vast, beautiful landscapes. Another memorable moment is being on a conference call in the middle of the night, while being eaten alive by mosquitos in the otherwise stunning French Polynesia!
Remember the end game
Taking time to “disconnect” and appreciate the moment is crucial. Modern life is amazing, however there are many distractions and demands on our time, energy and emotions. This fast-paced lifestyle can sometimes limit the amount of quality time we take for ourselves, away from the distractions. Overall, my trip was blessed with good fortune, although I did end up being stranded in Tuvalu for a week due to cyclones! While frustrating at the time, in hindsight I can see this provided an amazing opportunity to think, plan, review and be creative which can often be a challenge. Such time is GOLDEN and so important.
One of the many reasons I love to travel is for an increased awareness of different lifestyles, cultures and ways of doing things and using these experiences for personal growth and to help others. This was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime adventure and I am very grateful to everyone who made this possible.
Returning to the office was amazingly smooth and easy because of the incredible team of people around me and my ability to remain connected to the business while physically away. During the lockdown, and as the UK currently eases some of these unprecedented peace-time restrictions, I see many similarities with our current remote working experience, and I look forward to us supporting each other as we move forward to the “new normal”.