Take a Remote Year!

Flicking through the weekend papers I found this interesting article in the Independent on a new company offers you to keep your job while you travel around the world.

Remote Year is “a one year program where you travel around the world with 100 interesting people while working remotely.“. Remote Year will go to 12 different locations, 1 month each. There will be 3 legs of the trip:

  • Europe: 1) Prague, Czech Republic 2) Ljubljana, Slovenia 3) Dubrovnik, Croatia 4) Istanbul, Turkey
  • Asia: 5) Penang, Malaysia 6) Ko Tao, Thailand 7) Hanoi, Vietnam 8) Kyoto, Japan
  • South America: 9) Buenos Aires, Argentina 10) Mendoza, Argentina 11) Santiago, Chile 12) Lima, Peru
By Giorgio Montersino, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Giorgio Montersino, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sound like exciting stuff, doesn’t it!!?

The Independent article explains that Remote Year costs participants “around £18,000 for the year – £2,000 paid upfront, and then £1,300 each month” and then follows the story of Cassie Utt who will leave her job in the hydraulics division Eaton and travel for a year.

Travelling and working remotely is on a lot of people’s wish list but few have done it. Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading about Lea Woodward’s travels – she writes on Location Independent and tweets her tales. I’m not sure I could work from anywhere long term…but a year does sound good! Now what to do about that Mortgage, those kids and that husband of mine….??? 😉


4 Things I Don’t Miss About the Office

gemmaAfter moving to Italy from the UK for a change of lifestyle Gemma Wilson began to miss her old marketing role back in the UK. She opted to join the rapidly expanding remote worker workforce and has agreed to share with us 4 things she doesn’t miss about working in an office.

Gemma writes and shares many posts on the Meetupcall (a tool which makes it simple to arrange conference calls with people anywhere in the world,directly from your calendar) blog. She writes from her home in Italy on real experiences that she has uncovered through working remotely.

If you have some “things you don’t miss about the office” then share them with us in the comments!


This year I decided to jump ship and try out the increasingly popular method of working; remote working. As I’ve already covered previously, remote working is certainly not all about sitting in your pajamas and enjoying daytime television.

However, one of the main things I’m happiest about is that I’m no longer confined to a traditional four walled office.The last thing I would wish on a person is having to spend decades under the glow of industrial lighting in a noisy office. Seeing as I’m a little cynical by nature, I thought I’d share some of the things that I don’t miss about working in an office and why.

Irritating Employees
You know who you are. No one wants to hear your life story or the current “woe is me” situation that you are dealing with for the millionth time. This is a workplace I am here to work, I am not your therapist. In fact, there is no one here that is medically qualified to help you. So please, go back to your desk and do some work, so I can do mine. You know, that thing we’re getting paid to do?

The Commute
Ok, I admit it, this is the easiest one. In my previous jobs I had a commute of 45 – 60 minutes per day. This isn’t necessarily bad, but that was nearly an hour of my day spent on driving. That meant I had to fuel up roughly £150 per month. Now that my commute is literally 20 seconds to my computer, my fuel budget is zero. That’s money that can be used elsewhere.

I don’t miss the smell of burnt coffee because someone is careless in the “how a coffeepot works” department. And for the last time, no reheating fish in the microwave! How many times do you need to be told? And what is it about offices that cause people to bring in junk food? I know sitting at your desk all day with some high calorie diet is a perfect combination, but I don’t miss it. Now that I work from home I decide what food is around me and it’s a lot cheaper making my own lunches than feeling obliged to have to tag along on ‘lunch dates’ while paying a small fortune per day just for a sandwich. Without junk food around me I am not tempted to grab a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps. I have even started going to the gym after work; especially now that I don’t need to spend money on fuel and office takeaways.

Take a pick from the fruit bowl!

Take a pick from the fruit bowl!

I don’t miss meetings at all. Previously, I used to have meetings about meetings. Or I was often collared into an irrelevant meeting just to fill chairs around a boardroom table. Nothing drives me closer to insanity than wasting time. Many meetings were simply that, at least in my case. Since working remotely in my new job, the meetings now actually have a purpose; but it’s once a week and to discuss important things, like the next project, or just a catch up on how things are going; and I appreciate that, especially being 1000 miles away from the office. Now it means I have more of my day to be productive and finish my tasks.

I’m sure there are many more things I don’t miss about being in an office, but these are the first ones that come to mind. This isn’t meant to say that working in an office is bad or shouldn’t be done, just that it’s not my cup of tea, especially now that I’ve experienced working from home first hand. Going through this exercise has also shown me that maybe I should post the things I do miss about working in an office. Surprisingly enough, there are a number of things, but I’ll leave that for another time.

If you work in an office, what drives you nuts about working there? What do you hate most about being in an office?

3 Good Reasons Why Remote Work is Booming

Despite many organisations moving away from remote working (see the recent demands from Reddit that their staff relocate – last year Yahoo did the same) remote working continues to become more popular. Monica Wells of BizDb reminds us why.


Remote work has during the last few years become an increasingly popular professional trend. More and more people are finding it easier to work from home, saving up on time and money that would otherwise be lost in commuting. Companies, on the other hand, can easily outsource their services and use cutting-edge technologies to communicate and collaborate in such a way as to render distance irrelevant and create a cohesive team.

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Here are the top 3 reasons the explain the present popularity of remote work from the perspective of workers and employers.


What workers love about remote work is its flexibility and the opportunity it grants them for achieving a great work-life balance, where they’re able to cultivate their passions and get a lot of work done in one day. Working from home, employees don’t need to feel stressed about their schedule and commuting – this helps them to stay productive and more satisfied.

One of the biggest perks of remote working is the ability to control one’s schedule. Gone are the days of a 9 to 5 job – mobile devices and cloud computing allow to work literally from anywhere and at any time, provided there’s an Internet connection. All this accounts for the increased satisfaction of workers, who have more freedom and so are more motivated to do a great job for their organization.

Workers And Employers Can Cut Expenses

When working in remote, employees not only save time, but money as well. Saving up on gas or public transport tickets is on the long run great not only for their wallets, but also for the environment – less cars on the streets simply mean less pollution.

Seen from the perspective of employers, remote work is a cheap affair. Companies are able to find qualified workers who provide similar talent and productivity to local workers, but at a lower cost. Apart from salaries, companies open to remote work additionally save up on office space and other facilities.

Companies Can Attract Talent

This is particularly relevant to sectors suffering from skill shortage or tough competition to acquire talented workers. Thanks to remote working environment, companies can benefit from skills of people who don’t need to be located near its headquarters, automatically rising the chance of finding competent and talented candidates.

In order to attract talents, employers need to come across as flexible and ready to accommodate skilled employees through a variety of employee-oriented policies. Companies can offer remote work to on-site employees too – it’s a great factor to retain them and boost their satisfaction.

Remote work still needs to be addressed as a potential challenge, but its benefits are simply worth the price. Communication is the biggest issue here – without proper tools and training, distance might affect the dynamics of team collaboration.

Needless to say, the management style employed in remote context will also radically differ from traditional one and could possibly require additional training. Without specific knowledge, managers will see the productivity of their team crumble under the pressure of distance.

Fortunately, there’s a whole wealth of technologies and cloud services that make collaboration and communication significantly easier. Other than that, companies interested in remote work can benefit from the expertise provided by specialized venture that deliver solutions for creating, managing and improving remote work opportunities.

Is remote work for everyone? That largely depends on the industry and company size. Following the steps taken by Yahoo, Reddit has just placed a new policy, which forces workers to either relocate to the company’s headquarters in San Francisco or face contract termination.

While remote might not work for those tech giants, it’s a perfect working environment for budding start-ups and mid-sized companies that know how to use technology to their advantage and employ it in order to efficiently manage remote workers and help them to collaborate as a team.

The Balance of Power

There was an article in this week’s Saturday Guardian on home working by Lucy Mangan (I’m a natural homeworker – I like a lie-down and a biscuit). Lucy is researching the matter for a Radio 4 programme called The Homeworker (11am, Monday 5 August – date for the diary).

Lucy often writes from a feminist point of view and talks about how home working offers the “freedom to tailor your working hours or location helps any woman who has children or is caring for someone sick or disabled“. This was a matter discussed in my recent interview for the Digital Epiphanies project. At one point we got on to how the government wants to be seem to support remote working as they desperately think up ways to get the increasingly smaller able-to-work population (versus the increasing aging retired population) into work. I’ve not found them to be making much of an effort in reality though…a different matter for a different post?

In her post Lucy comments on how:

most of the women I met spoke of putting in more hours than they were paid for because they felt so guilty and grateful to be allowed a semi-bespoke work life. New research suggests that the average homeworker “gives” their employer an extra 24 days a year, and I suspect that, were this broken down by gender, the female respondents’ figure would be substantially higher than the male.

Hmmm…I think I might have covered this point before in this blog!

She also raises another interesting matter that I hadn’t considered until recently – my changing fortunes have made me consider it – the matter of contracts and stability. She writes:

If, however, I was of a naturally cynical disposition – and goodness, if you are a regular reader of this column, you will know what a perilously large imaginative leap I have had to make in the service of such a hypothetical – I might be tempted to point out that all these arrangements work for individuals in the short term. In the long term, and on a macro rather than a micro scale, it might be very different.

Once we are all used to working fragmented hours, it is easy to foresee bosses – the unscrupulous first, followed by the scrupled, who will be forced to compete on the same terms – using that as an entree to zero-hour (zero sick pay, zero pension, zero protection) contracts. The balance, if not of power then at least of benefits, that had briefly tipped in favour of workers would tip back again, and more decidedly, to employers. There would be workplace legislation preventing this, of course, but then there is workplace legislation preventing a lot of things and still, somehow, the employment tribunal rosters runneth over with claims and bitter grievances.

It’s a hugely important point and signifies a significant shift in our working culture. I don’t think it needs to be doom and gloom as Lucy portrays it, but the move towards contract employment / self-employment / consultant staff (name it as you see fit) is something very real. I don’t feel it necessarily means a shift of balance in favour of employers financially, contract staff often make up for their decreasing benefits by charging more, but it does mean a shift in responsibility. If you a working as a consultant you probably/possibly charge more, work harder (needs must – how can you get future work if your reputation is lacking?) and have to take a lot more care of your work set up by organising insurance, pensions and the like. You are the adult now, not your employer. I quite like that shift, but I can see how for some that might be a terrifying prospect. Discuss?! 😉

Dress to Impress?

Business Beast by Betsy Streeter

My working life began at a very early age helping out in my parent’s restaurant. I can still remember the pinny the staff used to wear!

Since then I’ve had various jobs that involved a mixture of uniforms (retail, catering) and smart wear (teaching, library staff).

My first decent graduate job saw me working in a large multi-discipline Architectural firm. We were all expected to turn in up in smart business suits, a bit of a shock after my years in scruffy student attire. I didn’t really mind. At the time it was a good excuse to spend lots of money and it divided the line between work and play just nicely. (At the time play involved dressing up in spangly, shiny outfits in which I danced the night away in some random derelict warehouse or club.)

I started working at UKOLN in 2000. I can still remember the interview and the blue trouser suit I bought specially for the occasion. For 7 years I worked on-site at the university. Although academia doesn’t necessitate the wearing of business outfits (ulike much of the corporate sector) most people do still avoid very informal clothes. I think the look is officially called ‘smart casual’. I’m talking shirts and trousers for the men and skirts/trousers and tops for the ladies. No t-shirts with slogans, no jeans. Some people do dress down and go for jeans but they are definitely in a minority – or in the systems team ;-).

You are probably wondering why I’m reminiscing about the clothing I’ve worn over the years and what exactly this has to do with remote working.

Working at home means I no longer need to ‘dress up’. In fact I’m sat here now in my scruffy clothes, a scarf and my special fleece work jacket – it keeps me warm when all else fails! I actually don’t think I’ve brushed my hair, I definitely haven’t got any make-up on, hopefully people waiting outside school and nursery didn’t notice what I looked like. I’m a real scruff and yet I’m at work.

Me looking scruffy at my desk (on a warmer day)

I’ve never been very bothered about what people look like, in fact for me it was always the stranger the better. Conforming was never my thing and cosmetic surgery and over the top make-up make my blood boil! That said I do like dressing up. I’m always the first one in the queue for face painting or looking for a reason to put on some butterfly wings. I also realised last week that I actually like dressing up and making an effort for work too.

I had my appraisal on Wednesday and so had to head over to our base at the University of Bath. Attending conferences or meetings means digging out my ‘grown up clothes’ and catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror I was pleased to see myself looking quite smart.

I suddenly realised that this made me feel quite good, and quite it possibly it gave me a spring in my step that made me work just that little bit harder.

Some food for thought:

  • So does what you wear make a difference to your self-esteem? Many people believe so. The University of Illinois have an entire Web site dedicated to Dress Skills for Career Success.
  • Should organisations have dress codes (as is discussed here in this about.com article)? And if the answer is yes where does this leave remote workers?
  • Does looking ‘smart’ make any difference to your work outputs when working from home?
  • Do you dress up for conference calls?
  • Is it just about context (right clothes for a certain place)? Or is there more to it than that?

OK, so I’m not going to be putting on a suit to sit at this desk (I’d only have to spoil the look with a woolly hat!) but I will be looking forward to those occasions when I can make an effort. And tomorrow I might even brush my hair!:-)

Intrinsic Motivation and Unlimited Vacation

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is something that has always interested me. I was one of those youngsters who wasn’t very good at doing what they were told to do, I had to actually want to do it, or be bribed! I wasn’t lazy though, if I wanted to do it then I was away. Natural justice has meant that I now have a daughter who works in the same way. I spend many an hour thinking about how I can I make room tidying seem like a fun activity that benefits her in some way.

La motivation by Philippe Boukobza

I’m mentioning intrinsic motivation because apparently it’s a hot topic at the moment having been talked about by Clay Shirkey (who I recently met on a train!) at TEDGlobal 2010 in Oxford. I know this because Martin Hamilton recently wrote a thought provoking post (Intrinsic motivation – from Magic Trackpad to @psychemedia) where he explores this idea and what it means to employers.

So, what’s this all about? Let me frame it like this… Why is it that companies like Apple and Google consistently produce exceptional ideas, products and services? How can other organizations best learn from these firms?

Intrinsic motivation is all about doing things because they interest and stimulate you. This is in direct contrast to extrinsic motivation, which is principally about doing things because you have been instructed or coerced to – often with some implied threat of punishment for failure.

Martin concludes his post by mentioning Open University lecturer Tony Hirst. Tony is a bit of a god in the HE developer world. His blog ouseful is full of amazing ideas and exciting suggestions. Tony works as a robotics lecturer but he is fully supported in his role as an ‘idea creator’ (my words), to be honest his role isn’t that dissimilar from my team leader Brian Kelly’s. For a while Brian was funded as UK Web Focus and was just fountain of ideas, he still is but probably doesn’t have as much free rein these days. OK we can’t all be as creative as these guys but each of us has something we are interested in or a work area we’d like to do more of.

Martin ends his post with some questions about how we measure impact in a world of Tonys (and Brians).

So how would your organization recognize and reward (or even attempt to “manage”!) someone like Tony? Of course we can’t all be Google, but a useful first step is undoubtedly some level of self-awareness of the power of intrinsic motivation and the results that it can deliver.

One thing Martin doesn’t consider in his post is the current economic climate and the leash it will put on us having time to work on intrinsically motivated projects. The government might like to argue that cut backs will make us more creative, but the reality for most of us is that doing the day job (if we still have one) will become higher priority then innovation. So over here in the UK we won’t be creating any Googles or Apples of our own in the near future.

When talking about Google Martin mentions “Google’s famous “20% time” for personal projects, which gave rise to the likes of Gmail, Google News and Adsense“. That free time would be a serious luxury to most.

After reading Martin’s post I posted something about it on Twitter and a Twitter friend pointed me in the direction of this particular story on NPR – Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some.

The jist of it is that some companies over in the US are giving their employees unlimited vacation time. Unlike over here where this means redundancy 😦 there it is what it says it is! The theory is that flexibility makes people more productive and engaged. Not only that but the key is getting the work done.

some companies said as long as the work gets done and the productivity that we are looking for is achieved, you don’t have to track your time and you can take unlimited leave.

The article also points out that companies value workers who can manage their own time. Paul Boag’s recent post Work less, produce more touches on this. I liked his comment:

Participating in life beyond the web provides a valuable perspective that can be missed when you are constantly on the job.

How true!

My mother, who is Dutch, was recently telling me about the long holidays all my cousins have been having. I asked her how they’d got so much time off work. Her reply was that “they worked less hours and had more holiday time in Holland because when they were working they got more things done than the British did“. Now those of you who know Dutch people will probably agree with me when I say that they aren’t noted for their tact, but that they do normally tell it like it is! I don’t think British workers are lazy but we are a society that still doesn’t really get output driven working.

I think both Martin and Paul’s posts and the NPR article are saying something along the same lines. If an organisation gives its staff the space to be intrinsically motivated, it allows them flexibility and it also support an environment of output driven working then ultimately both the employer and employee will be better off. I guess you could say it’s all about respect and being given the space to have a clear head…

My big worry is that we are rapidly heading away from these ideals, or am I just a pessimist?

Why working at home is both awesome and horrible

It’s Friday morning and every one probably needs a little something to lighten the day. The Oatmeal is a one man band comic site. Yesterday he posted a set of brilliant comic strips on home working. It seemed cruel not to share them with you. I’m hoping I don’t get into trouble for reprinting these, I can take no credit whatsoever for them – all credit goes to the Oatmeal. All I can say is have a look at the site and as soon as they sell a poster with these on I’m getting it! You can follow the Oatmeal on Twitter.

Two of my favourite comic strips, there are plenty more on the site.

dedgregation of social skills

flexible schedule

Extreme Conferencing Survey

Have you ever dialled onto a conference call in your underwear, from a sun lounger in Las Vegas or whilst lying in the bath?

Remote Employment in conjunction with BT Business are running an Extreme Conferencing Survey which looks to uncover the most unusual conference call locations. Those who admit to the most interesting and bizarre locations will win £100 worth of Amazon vouchers.

I’m a pretty unadventurous home worker and tend to carry out most of my conference calls from my home office. Probably the most exciting tale I have to tell is my cat spraying one. However I’m sure many of you out there lead more thrilling lives than me and like to work beyond the office. Why not have a go at the survey (it’s only 7 questions long and should take less than 5 minutes), I’ll be interested to see what the winning answers are!