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Home Office with a difference

A work-life adven­ture report by Chiara Westphal.

What ini­tially went through my mind:

  • Home Office gen­er­ally works sur­pris­ingly well.
  • Yay! You can travel rel­at­ively well with­in Europe again.
  • Unlim­ited vaca­tion – Yes well, but actu­ally my tasks and the whole devel­op­ment of the cur­rent pro­jects are much too excit­ing not to pur­sue them myself now.

Quiz ques­tion: what was I offered to write the lat­ter statement?

1. A pay raise.

2. No punches for a change.

3. Neither. I really feel that way.

Noth­ing, but we are a cult in dis­guise whose cri­terion for join­ing is some mani­fest­a­tion of insan­ity that leads to the con­ceit that work could be fun.

Chiara Westphal auf Motorrad auf dem Weg in die Workation

Headed south on the moped!

Res­ult from the above thoughts: I just com­bine everything and call it home office spe­cial weeks. No soon­er said than done. So I grabbed a friend (who is self-employed and has the flex­ib­il­ity to work remotely), a motor­cycle, climb­ing and moun­tain­eer­ing gear, booked a few week­end or half-day kayak tours, and headed to the Alps for three weeks.

Week 1: I am writ­ing up the daily plan of being able to use the prox­im­ity to the moun­tains as a par­tial suc­cess. The weath­er was crappy. An import­ant release was pending. That, to the chag­rin of my com­pan­ion, kept my work­load and time at a con­stant high. In addi­tion, there were small things I had not con­sidered. It is exhaust­ing for all involved when I par­ti­cip­ate in a web con­fer­ence from the com­mon room of an accom­mod­a­tion without a head­set. – I bought a new head­set. Like­wise, it is stu­pid when the accom­mod­a­tion writes that they have WIFI, but it is prac­tic­ally unus­able. – I took out a new cell phone con­tract with a lar­ger mobile data volume. The next few weeks went much better.

My con­clu­sion: these were def­in­itely not the last home office spe­cial weeks!

It is inter­est­ing at this point to think about everything that has con­trib­uted to this con­clu­sion. First and fore­most, of course, I had fun. All my hob­bies were wait­ing for me prac­tic­ally at the front door.

Before I star­ted, how­ever, I thought about how well I could cre­ate a bal­ance. The bal­ance between access­ib­il­ity and effi­ciency and, on the oth­er hand, games, fun, and joy. Of course, it has been expli­citly com­mu­nic­ated in the team so far that it essen­tially does­n’t mat­ter when and how much every­one works. The main thing is that the tasks are com­pleted and if not, that that inform­a­tion is com­mu­nic­ated appro­pri­ately. Nev­er­the­less, it’s an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment to see what hap­pens when you com­pletely ignore com­mon notions of core work­ing hours.

Even if the tim­ing was rather unfa­vor­able, I think that the first week with the release was very import­ant for prov­ing that we could fully rely on each oth­er. I knew it was import­ant, so I was there. From the second week onwards, I ten­ded to arrange my work­ing hours accord­ing to the weath­er. It’s quite  uncon­ven­tion­al to first com­mu­nic­ate when you’ll be avail­able the even­ing before or some­times even on the same day. On sunny days I only worked on import­ant and/or urgent tasks. Of course, this led to the fact that I worked less time over­all than I would usu­ally do in the office. Time and again, this led me to ask myself very con­sciously: is everything going as it should? Yes? Then I can take time off.

An exper­i­ment would­n’t be an exper­i­ment if you did­n’t also have doubts. It was clear to me that I also had to do small things that I would nor­mally have simply worked on with two hours more time. In this respect, one always weighs up in the back­ground wheth­er what one is doing is suf­fi­cient. Because one could achieve con­sid­er­ably more if one worked eight hours instead of four. It’s not just me who notices this, but every­one. The com­mu­nic­a­tion with­in the team was extremely pleas­ant: when in doubt, just ask if there’s any­thing left to do.

At this point, I would also like to say a big thank you to my friend Basti, who fol­lowed my ini­tially not-very-flex­ible work sched­ule for three weeks. He played a major role in mak­ing it such a great trip.

My cau­tious request for two spon­tan­eous vaca­tion days in the third week led to the cli­max of clearly notice­able trust/flexibility/responsibility for myself. The response was: “Yeah, sure. You’ll be able to assess for your­self if that works. Let me know if you still need help res­chedul­ing.” For the col­league, it was really good that I was so far away. Oth­er­wise I would have cuddled him to death in the sub­sequent rush of euphoria.

In sum­mary, I would rate the whole thing as a com­plete suc­cess. My col­leagues have been incred­ibly accom­mod­at­ing and under­stand­ing. Many thanks to you peers for that! It was also inter­est­ing to see how well I was able to con­cen­trate in any environment.

If you’re still in the mood for an excerpt of my per­son­al travel high­lights, below are my top 3 work vs. play experiences.

Third place

In week 1 (con­tinu­al mixed weath­er) the sun did show up for a while. Dur­ing this time, I was wait­ing for inform­a­tion from a col­league. It was about the go ahead to test the new status of a test instance. I asked anoth­er col­league to call me as soon as some­thing could be done. In the mean­time, I went climbing.
I found the exper­i­ence of hav­ing an offi­cial, albeit short, con­ver­sa­tion on the third pitch of a climb­ing route very exhil­ar­at­ing… I could not have ima­gined this com­bin­a­tion of activ­it­ies before.

“Hello?!…No, note tak­ing is bad right now…no, I can­’t even quickly grab a piece of paper…!”

Second place

Full-day work­shop from a pub in South Tyrol.It was loud. For­tu­nately, how­ever, everything was tuned so that my share of speech was min­im­al. Nev­er­the­less, con­cen­trat­ing on listen­ing deman­ded a lot from me. It got really good when oth­er guests found me increas­ingly enter­tain­ing. Basic­ally because I sat there with my PC and head­set and slurped (really great) pasta on the side. Through­out the meet­ing, I hap­pily declined four or five invit­a­tions to buy me a Grappa. (I know, unne­ces­sary. It would not have made the web con­fer­ence worse, after all. ^^) Dur­ing the work­shop, one of the wait­resses cheer­fully yelled across the room, “You work? No! Hol­i­day, holiday!”

When a guest then held his cell phone with a run­ning video call with his fath­er in front of my nose. He cheer­fully told me some­thing (neither of us spoke a lan­guage that the oth­er could under­stand, but it did­n’t seem to mat­ter). I thought it was an appro­pri­ate time to care­fully bow out of the situ­ation. (Unfor­tu­nately, I nev­er­the­less did not drink Grappa with the oth­er guests then. Because I still had a four-hour motor­cycle trip over the old Bren­ner Pass ahead of me).

Sat­urday and Sunday the weath­er was bor­der­line to mixed, which kept the ten­sion level quite high. Nev­er­the­less (or maybe because of that) we had a great trip. But were also very happy that everything had worked out and we did not have to biv­ou­ac some­where in the rocks.

First place

From Sat­urday to Monday, we toured numer­ous via fer­ratas through the Brenta. On Monday, only the des­cent remained. Since that was only sup­posed to take four to five hours, I made a busi­ness appoint­ment for the afternoon.The first part of the des­cent went faster than expec­ted. So we devi­ated from the ori­gin­al route plan and chose a path past a lake. Only two kilo­met­ers away, a lift was sup­posed to then take us fur­ther. We assumed that the new route should not take longer than planned.

Arriv­ing at the lift, it was easy to see that it was not run­ning. We had a brief exchange with an employ­ee of the sta­tion. He was of the opin­ion that the fast­est way for us to get down was cross-coun­try below the cable car.. Inter­est­ing sug­ges­tion. So we tried to run as fast as pos­sible down a slope inclined at about 60 degrees, through all kinds of wet brush.

One good thing was that due to the rather high veget­a­tion, we usu­ally fell rel­at­ively softly. Everytime when we stumbled into one of the numer­ous holes in the ground. Because this was so much fun, I decided to cross a hik­ing trail (instead of fol­low­ing it) and walk down­hill alone for about five kilo­met­ers in a partly wrong dir­ec­tion. My com­pan­ion and I arrived in the val­ley about three kilo­met­ers apart. There, both to find that there was no reas­on­able means of trans­port­a­tion (oth­er than a cab, per­haps) that could have got­ten us to the car. So we both hitch­hiked. It worked out by chance that we arrived at the car at almost at the same time. In the end we were on time (there was still this appoint­ment to meet) in the car on the way back to the accom­mod­a­tion. At this point I would like to quote my buddy, who reacted quite incom­pre­hens­ibly to my tense atti­tude: “What’s wrong? It all worked out, did­n’t it?”

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