A couple of months in to this new career (freelance, portfolio, self-employed, whatever etc.) I am learning about myself in ways, I suppose, I could have predicted (as usual I didn’t though). To be a little more specific, I am learning about how I like, can and prefer to work. By that I mean the actual performance of the activity of work.
I was an employee from the age of 22 onwards. Those of you who know me, or have seen me, will recognise that some time has passed since then. The passage of that time saw me become a seasoned and experienced office dweller. Open plan, small office, flexible working and hot desking have all been tried. A heady period saw me in three different glass panelled offices; the zenith, with with my own PA outside. These desks were in small technology companies, large corporates, public sector organisations and (whisper it) a global management consultancy.
I like to think that I know something of office life. I will not share much of that though because you all do too. Office life is well known, documented and equally well lamented. We have all spent so much time in offices. So…much…time…No need for repeats of the theme here other than to say it is not all bad . Much great work is done in offices and excellent relationships are formed. Weird though it might be, office life kind of works. Like an extended family staying over at Christmas, it can be tense and draining and fun and surprising.
When I was a dedicated company office user, I never quite found a comfortable mode working from home. Yes, there was the truth of “getting so much done without all those distractions”. There was also the truth of missing out on the serendipity and osmosis from all those distractions. As a team leader and manager there is a longer gap to bridge as well and remoteness still makes that bridge less reliable. Leadership is hard enough without the added handicap of absence. So, I faced the idea of freelancing and working from wherever with some trepidation. Could I do it?
It is early days so far but I think it might be OK. To qualify my situation a little further, I have chosen not to work from home as a default. I am typing this from home but WFH days are rare. I seem to like getting out of the house and respond better to the feeling of “going to work”. Despite my advancing years, flexibility may not be such a problem.
So far I have worked on client sites (my favourite, I think, with all those helpful distractions to hand), in cafes of course (scanning the environment for power and wifi like newcomer to a waterhole on the savannah), from a variety of spots at home, from the Biritish Museum (a kind of posh, remote office affair – arrive early to avoid a disappointing berth). Yesterday was something of an awakening, however. Thanks to the generosity and simple good sense of Michelle Parry Slater, I joined the #LndCowork group(?) at one of their monthly open gatherings of freelance folk and similar types.
Like an office day, we talked about work, the office, the commute, work, sandwiches, the weather, work and many, many ideas and thoughts. A good day for all those reasons. But also a very helpful day. I think a very helpful day for all of us.
These CoWorking spaces (we were at The Office Group in Holborn) are pretty common now, certainly in London. The office has been unbundled. The work many do can now be done from many locations. The tools we use are portable. The connectivity we rely on is pretty much ubiquitous. The people we work with are constantly, or mainly reliably connected too. There is little meed to commit to the whole office bundle to extract the important benefits. With tools like Slack around as well, a lot of the chatter is available as well. Both productive and less so. It is a little like iTunes without the bad software.
Now that I have unbundled my office(s) I’m not sure I will buy the full album again. I will however, subscribe to the social features. I like Slack and similar tools but not as much as I like spending time in the presence of people.