Have Laptop, Will Travel

Stephanie TaylorRemoteness is a big problem for us home workers. Stephanie Taylor, a fellow UKOLN remote worker, has written a great post for us on her efforts to combat isolation, encourage creativity and keep fit! Enjoy!


It’s a sunny afternoon in early October. I’m sitting in the Cornerhouse bar in Manchester with a large Americano, enjoying the buzz of the city and the hum of the late-lunching crowds. And I’m working. I have my mobile phone, my laptop and a good wifi connection. What more do I need? Well, as it turns out, nothing. I’m quite busy and contented, living the roving remote worker dream.

It all started a few months ago, when I met up with my fellow remote workers at UKOLN. UKOLN, based at the University of Bath, supports the idea of remote working – where staff do not need to be based on site or even in the same county. I live on the edge of the Peak District, travelling down to Bath every couple of months for various project meetings. The rest of the time, I stay in touch with colleagues via Skype, phone and email for serious communication, and via various social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook for more frivolous chatter.

During our remote workers day, we remote workers discussed the ups and downs of being based away from our place of work. To many people, especially those who have a regular commute, I know I look like I’m living the working-from-home dream. Based in lovely countryside, able to see Kinder Scout from my windows (if you’re upstairs and crane your neck a bit), with a river flowing almost past my front door, just across the quiet lane. What’s not to like?

Kizzie at the train stationWell, ungrateful as it sounds, if it’s your every-day reality, quite a lot sometimes! I miss other people, I miss all the small pleasures of going out alone or with colleagues for a coffee or lunch or drinks after work. Sometimes, the splendid isolation gets a bit daunting. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m very lucky. Living where I do allows me to keep three dogs and to go out for walks where I can gaze at trees and watch curlews dipping over the moorland. But sometimes, when deadlines loom and tasks seem endless, I have times when I’d swap it all to be part of a bigger world for a little while.

And as we all talked, I found I wasn’t alone. The isolation of working remotely can be a real problem. Someone suggested that we should make an effort to get out more. I remembered that I live only thirty minutes from Manchester via a reasonable daytime train service. Why not go in to the city now and again to work for the day? The plans grew. Three of us could get into Manchester without too much trouble – maybe we could meet up? Then we started to embellish the day. Lack of motivation to exercise plus lack of the obvious benefits in the shape of the gym, the pool and various classes available to campus-based colleagues was another gripe. But if we went into the city, maybe we could find a class, join a gym, go for a swim?

And eventually, I got round to giving it a try. Although I had a map of free wifi hotspots, I wasn’t sure it would all work out. So I chose some project planning tasks to work on, figuring that if I couldn’t work online or my laptop blew up or some other technological disaster struck, I’d be able to work with a paper and pen. Providing I could remember how to write. I also chose work that didn’t immediately involve other people or tight deadlines. If I was too distracted by being out and found I couldn’t focus, I could make up the time later without inconveniencing anyone else. And I thought. For the first trip, I’d try an afternoon rather than a full day. Just in case.

Feeling I’d covered all possible disasters, I set off. My first stop was the Cornerhouse. I liked it so much I stayed there most of the afternoon. Waitress service meant I could set up at a quiet table and not have to risk leaving everything to order another coffee. The wifi connection was faster than at home. And the work – well, the work went very well. Spurred on by the lively environment, I found my brain went into another gear. I came up with more creative approaches to solve problems that had seemed insurmountable. I wizzed through my todo list and even managed to fit in getting a time sheet back to the admin staff at UKOLN ahead of the deadline – previously unheard of!!

Interestingly, I wasn’t the only person who set up a portable office as the lunchtime crowds thinned out. At one point, there were about five of us, talking into mobiles, tapping at our keyboards, but discreetly spaced so we weren’t bothering each other. Bliss! I also began to see how beneficial the free wifi was, and why the staff seemed so happy to have us taking up a whole table to work at. After lunch and before evening drinks, the café bar was very quiet. But we not only made the space look busy, we bought drinks, sandwiches, cakes, handing over money at a dead period. I’ll bet the five of us paid for the free wifi in one afternoon!

Tempted though I was to linger for a glass of wine or even a cocktail at the end of my working day, I had another experiment to try out. Searching online before my trip, I’d found that the Manchester Buddhist Centre offered a drop-in class in yoga at 6pm. A brisk work across town had me taking my last scheduled call of the day in their Earth Café before stowing my laptop and changing into yoga kit. I really enjoyed the class and was amazed and delighted at how flexible I was after well over a year of not really doing any yoga. Then I strolled back to the station and caught the train back home.

I’d spent a very productive afternoon, and I’m planning to do it again, soon. I also plan on chivvying colleagues into meeting up soon. On the downside, it did take me two days to be able to move freely after the yoga class. The flexibility I had when doing the class was a false dawn and I could hardly move the next morning! But with regular classes I’m sure that will change. 😉

Most important of all, I think I’m getting the balance right for me. Remote working is a very personal experience. It’s different for everyone, and you often only have yourself to rely on, so being motivated and knowing how to get the best out of yourself is crucial. Understanding that I need a change of pace now and again is very liberating, and I’m lucky that it’s easily within my reach, And that really is living the dream.

14 thoughts on “Have Laptop, Will Travel

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