WORK GEOGRAPHY IS DEAD. LONG LIVE LIFE GEOGRAPHY.5 years ago
First off – This isn’t some Tim Ferris garbage about how you can live on an island and only work between 5:48pm and 5:49pm. If you don’t love what you do, this isn’t going to help you, stop reading now, as geographic location is the least of your worries.
I LIKE work. Hell – I LOVE what I do. I’m fortunate enough to have a good paying career in an industry that I love. I supplement my main career with a speaking career that’s quickly becoming a second full-time career – Finally, I consult to companies all around the world on marketing, social media, and customer service. So believe me – I’m busy. But the difference here, is that I’m busy from anywhere I WANT to be. That’s the ADHD version of this blog post – and what I hope you’ll take away from it: You too can work just as hard, or just as little – as you always have – But you can do it from wherever you want. Yes, you. YOU. Specifically. Yes. You.
Because to be honest, I can’t imagine anything scarier than waking up on my deathbed, wondering where my life went outside of the office.
I started my trip a few weeks ago in Omaha, Nebraska, keynoting a conference. From there, I flew to Miami to run the Miami ING Half Marathon, then, after a day of meetings in Miami, headed to Nashville, TN, where I spoke at another conference. From Nashville, I flew to New York City for one evening, and then boarded a flight from Newark to Los Angeles, where I connected on a Qantas flight to Sydney, Australia. I’ve just spent the past seven days down under, both for meetings and pleasure, and I’m now writing this on a flight from Brisbane, Australia, back to Los Angeles, where I’ll connect to New Orleans to cover Mardi Gras for 72 hours, then fly to Newark, onto Frankfurt, wake up on the plane in the morning to connect to another eight-hour flight to Bangalore, India, where I’ll be speaking at a conference. I’ll be home on or around the 23rd of February for about two days, after which, I’ll fly to Sacramento, CA, to speak at an SPSA event, then fly to LA for meetings with several film and TV agents. I’ll be home again Saturday, the 27th, to enjoy my first weekend in my apartment in approximately a month, prepared to defend myself against a 24-hour assault of “where were you? We’re hungry. Pay attention to us” from two overweight cats, looked after by both my wonderful assistant Meagan, and from time to time, my mother.
Over the entire month of this massive trip, I never once went into an “office” to work. Yet, I launched the new HARO, sold over $50k of advertising on the new site, accepted seven new keynote speech requests, two consulting jobs, and sent presents to three people, two for birthdays, and one as a thank you.
Additionally, I paid all my bills, from my rent and mobile bills, to my incredibly overpriced attorney. I signed my lease renewal forms (after negotiating a substantial rate decrease over the phone) and was able to have a prescription faxed to a pharmacy a block away from a hotel in which I was staying.
I didn’t miss an episode of 24, Burn Notice, or Dollhouse thanks to iTunes subscriptions, and I followed the Superbowl from 12,000 miles away on my Blackberry, getting as frequent updates as I would if I was in my office during the game.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Geography has officially died and been reborn. Let us mourn it briefly, and move the hell on. Good riddance to the old, I say.
Work geography is dead. Long live Life Geography.
What follow are the new rules of Geography – How to live, work, and play, while being as mobile as you want – from one day a month out of the office, to deciding to take four weeks and work from Whitsunday, QLD, as I’m contemplating doing sometime later this year.
Rule One: In 2010, no one gives a damn where you are, and rightfully so.
I had a phone call with a HUGE potential HARO partner while I was in Sydney. I held the conference call at three in the morning, from my desk in my hotel room, via Skype. My COO was in Scottsdale, Arizona. The only reason anyone on the call knew where I calling from was because they followed my blog. One of them said he was amazed I was on the call, to which I replied, “I’m surprised you’re in your office – I hear it’s snowing something fierce in Chicago.”
The rise of the mobile revolution has given us tremendous power. You think the Blackberry is an electronic leash, and the mobile phone a tool to keep an eye on you? You’re thinking about it totally, totally wrong. These are the tools of freedom, like a pick-axe or overturned verdict is to a convict. The fact is, the majority of bosses do not care from where you work, as long as the work gets done, on time, and exceeding the quality expected. One of my editors, Laura Spaventa, was producing the HARO out of her parents’ place in Philly. She’s since moved to New York City, living on her own for the first time. The only reason I even know this? Meagan reminded me to buy her a housewarming gift. She’s never slacked off on her work, her work quality continues to get better, and for all I know, she could be producing the HARO with Ariel, under the sea. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as she gets it done, which she does, perfectly. She has a Mac, a wireless card, and power. That’s all she needs. Location is irrelevant.
If your boss doesn’t agree with this, perhaps it’s time to find a new boss. Remember the wonderful quote: “If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you.”
How to convince your boss…
If you work for someone else, the key is under-promising and over-delivering. Your goal is to prove that you’re so valuable, your work so awesome, that it doesn’t matter from where you do it. In fact, you want to prove that you’re even MORE valuable when you’re let go from your office chains – You’re more creative, more aware of deadlines, more able to get done that which needs doing when you’re NOT bound to a desk in an office park. Some easy ways to ease your boss into it without him or her knowing he or she is being eased:
a) Start producing your work and emailing at different times of the day. Project due at 5pm on Thursday? Submit it via email at 3:45am on Wednesday. When you walk into the office in the morning, casually mention to your boss that the project is in his email, waiting for him.b) Start setting up more video calls, less in-person meetings. The more you can get people used to not physically sharing the same space with you, the less they’ll care when you’re not actually there, but rather, calling in from Pongo Pongo.c) Start small: Get an afternoon project out of the way in the morning, and spend your lunch hour in a spin class, or a run around the local park or gym. Come back a little bit later – End result is, the afternoon project was already done light years ago, right? Take your berry, but chances are, you won’t need it.d) Email, email, email. Instead of popping down the hall to Bob’s office, shoot a quick note, drop an IM, a BBM, again, anything that doesn’t require your physical appearance.e) This is key: When you DO make an appearance, make sure you’re noticed. Remember – You’re working just as hard as everyone else – probably harder –yet there will ALWAYS be some dumbass in the office that notices that you’re not there as much, and tries to give you hell for it. Your goal is to counter by again, over-delivering. Try “Hey boss, while I was skiing this weekend, I had a few hours by the fire to look over those financial statements and noticed a few spots where we could tighten and save the company some cash. I’ll email them over to you later – I guess a fireplace just makes it easier for me to work.”
You’ll never convince everyone that working out of the office is for them. Your job is to make it clear that it’s for you. Screw them.
Rule 2: Even the Aborigines have mobile broadband.
Mobile Internet is everywhere. I mean, everywhere. Next month, Continental Airlines is rolling out GoGo inflight internet, becoming yet another of a growing number of major carriers to offer Internet in the air. Laptop 3G and 4G cards are available on incredibly cheap plans, ($50 a month, give or take) and they work virtually everywhere, as well. What can’t you do from a coffee shop in Berlin that you can do in the office? Seriously. Tell me in the comments, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. The only answer I’ll accept is “shake someone’s hand” – and I’ll get to that later.
When I was in Asia last year, I discovered something awesome – AIM, Google Chat and the like, all work on your blackberry or iPhone. Just keep yourself logged in. Respond if you have to, just like you would at a desk.
Rule 3: You’re not as damn important as you think you are.
Rule 3 corollary: If your Blackberry is shut off for seven hours, the world will continue to spin.
This Australia trip was one of the first times I actually went truly off the grid for periods of time greater than the time it takes me to ride the A train from Columbus Circle to West 4th Street. It’s kinda hard to thumb while rappelling down a waterfall or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and so, for the first time, I didn’t. (I know at least three people who are jumping up and down right now and shouting praise to the heavens after reading that.) I got to the start of the reef tour at 7:15am (5:15pm New York time) and shut off my berry around 8:30am, when I lost signal. I didn’t turn it on again until around 5pm, (2am EST) – I had about 30 emails that came in during that time. I replied to the ones that mattered, and no one felt like they weren’t being taken care of because I took a few hours to reply.
Truth be told, this is probably the hardest rule to swallow, especially for die hard connected thumbers like me. If we can’t tweet it, it didn’t happen. If we can’t Facebook it, it doesn’t exist. If the email comes in and we can’t answer it within four seconds, it won’t matter.
To an extent, I still believe that – But I’m getting better. Just because I’m off the grid for seven hours or so, doesn’t mean I can’t post the photos, tweet the funny story, or answer the email the second I come back into range. I tried it on this trip. Holy cow, was it freeing. I mean, really, really freeing. You know what it’s like to not be afraid to get soaked by a wave from your boat because you don’t have anything electronic on you? IT’S FREAKING AWESOME!
Rule 4: If you really need to shake someone's hand, then armed with nothing more than a credit card, you can truly be anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world, in less than 29 hours, and usually, in much less time than that.
I left New York City on a 3:30pm flight to LAX, arriving six hours later. I had a three-hour layover (where I could email and work) and then a 15-hour flight to Sydney. 24 hours total, 21 of which I was incommunicado. Within a year, all airlines will have wi-fi, so those 21 hours won't matter anyway.
You need to be somewhere else tomorrow to solve a major crisis that just popped up? Doesn’t matter where in the world you are – if you need to be, you can be. It’s that simple. Show up at the airport, ask the first gate agent you see to help you plot a course – or – even smarter, have a credit card with a travel concierge, who will do it for you, for no additional charge, even before you leave wherever you happen to be. These people route other people for a living – They've gotten me connections that I didn't even know EXISTED. They’re like FedEx Human Transport – They can get you where you need to go, when you absolutely, positively, have to get there overnight.
The crisis that really isn't: When you snorkel and watch fish, you have a lot of time to think. I imagined a crisis brewing while I was out of contact. Let’s say it was 2pm. I’d be back on land by 4:30pm. If something happened, I could catch the 6:50pm from Whitsunday Airport, landing in Brisbane at 8pm, then I could work all night, and if I really, really needed to, could grab the first Qantas into LA the next day. And chances are, I could solve whatever crisis occurred from my hotel room, using Skype and email. Think about it – Really think about it – When was the last time your physical presence was truly, TRULY required to solve a problem? You see all the movies where the boss or head of whatever jumps out of the helicopter that just landed on the roof, and is being briefed as he’s walking down the stairs to the boardroom. If you’re really that important, chances are you have a full office on your private jet, and don’t need to read my blog.
Rule 5: A conference room looks the same, whether in Boston or Bali, Brisbane or Bangalore.
I know this for a fact. Based on the rules above, if you’re somewhere you’ve never been, take a few extra hours, hell, a few extra days, to explore. Why rush home? You’re already in the new place! Why waste it?! Full disclosure – I used to! I’d rush to the airport and head to the security of the President’s Club lounge – I felt safe there, wouldn’t miss my flight, etc.
What’s the point? Why not take a few hours and do something? Almost every city or town, at the very least, has a walking tour, a downtown tour, an anything tour – It’s something to do, you can learn a bit more – and you leave a bit more fulfilled then when you got there. At the very least, find a new jogging trail and go explore. The only thing I’ve ever learned at the President’s Club is which people talk the loudest on their cell phones.
Rule 6: Entrench yourself with the tools, and life becomes cream cheese.
These are my tools. They allow me to work anywhere in the world, at any time, day or night. You might use some, or all, or different ones. (If you have ones I'm missing, tell me in the comments.) Most of them are technical in nature, but not always. Some are basic things that you never associated with the way I’m going to explain them – some are common sense. For more specific tips on how I travel, see my post from last year: “Tools of my Travel Trade.” And of course, these are in no particular order.
a) Worldwide mobile phone with data and voice (AT&T seems to have the most decent coverage overseas for now.)b) Laptop that works everywhere, and is strong enough to put up with my daily abusec) World-wide current converterd) My Canon G10, Flip HD, and Panasonic HDC-HS3003) A Timex Ironman watch with multiple city settings. I always keep #1 on NYC time. #2 is where I am. It makes me feel like I’m never far from what I know.f) Ogio backpack and luggageg) Scott-e-Vest for travel and getting stuff through securityh) Skypei) $100 in local currency. This helps more than you could ever know – Will get you back to the airport quicker, too.j) FourSquare and Twitter - I met someone in Manly Beach, Sydney, that I never met before. We were in the same bar in the same hotel, and found it out via FourSquare and Twitter.
Bottom line? This can be done. You can work from anywhere. You can love what you do, and do it from a place you love. I’m living proof.
Do you do it? Have you done it? Tried to do it? Leave suggestions or stories in the comments – Top two win – One an Ogio bag, and one a Scott–e-vest.