In this opinion piece, Michelle Cox (pictured below), global chief operating officer at Bastion Collective and a board director of Tourism Tasmania, explains how you can still deliver quality, impactful work without remaining in the confines of your office.
Cloistered rows of walled offices and sprawled farms of cubicles seem like quaint corporate relics of a bygone era now that many modern workspaces have evolved to resemble a cosy lounge room or cool cafe.
Activity-based working, hot-desking, cloud computing and the humble company-issue laptop have finally liberated us from the oppressive chains of our desks. Hurrah! We can now work anywhere – from home, the office, a cafe or an airport – at least in theory.
While Millennials wouldn’t have it – and haven’t had it – any other way, those of us who pre-date laptops and even mobile phones can find it harder to adapt without the creature comforts of a fixed desk address.
The new nomadic work style has spawned new dilemmas for workers stepping out from the quiet confines of their office cubicles into a noisy world with infinite distractions for the unwary.
As the global COO of marketing communications agency Bastion Collective with 18 years in the travel industry on my resume, I have been working on the move for over two decades and have a few pro tips on how to work efficiently and productively on the go while keeping distractions to a minimum.
I now happily roam between my Palm Beach home, Bastion’s Sydney and Melbourne offices, and an array of scenic destinations in Tasmania, and create numerous ‘offices’ along the way.
All my handbags are chosen to accommodate the size of a laptop, which means I’m good to work anywhere without lugging around excess baggage. The humble mobile phone also serves as a valuable work tool in areas unsuitable for setting up the laptop. As with offices divided into separate zones for activity-based working, I’ve found public places vary in suitability for anything from collaborative tasks to highly-focused work.
As a seasoned traveller, one of my favourite places to work is at airports – you just have to choose your tasks wisely. If you are waiting for news of your delayed flight in a busy departure gate, that might not be a productive environment to write that complex report that requires laser focus. However, it might be a good spot to catch up on emails before the flight or download anything you intend to work on while in the air.
Airport lounges can also be a great spot for working with limited distractions if you strategically get a table in an area with less traffic. Avoid tables near food, bathrooms or televisions.
Once you are on that flight, you have found the Promised Land for focused work. You now have the entire duration of the flight to complete highly-focused work in an environment gloriously free of phone or email interruptions.
I always opt for the window seat, which allows more screen privacy (you never know if your competitor is sitting in the seat behind) and less disruption from aisle traffic. Having your head quite literally in the clouds makes for a calming and inspiring backdrop. Once you’ve landed and get in the taxi or Uber, you can sync everything and get those emails out.
Working in a refreshing new environment such as a park or by the water can help inspire you with new ideas or allow you to find new solutions to problems you haven’t managed to tackle in the office. It’s easier to think outside the box when you are quite literally outside the box. Test it out by trying to do some creative brainstorming in an environment that inspires you.
Many a great novel has been written in cafes around the world, which might seem unlikely given they are usually a busy environment. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote The Sun Also Rises in the Parisian cafe La Rotonde, which was also a favourite haunt of other literary legends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot. In more recent decades, a strapped-for-cash single mum who later became known as J.K. Rowling managed to conceive the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh cafe.
If I really have to concentrate on a project, I find a noisy cafe and plonk myself right in the thick of it. The soundtrack serves as white noise, which makes it easier to switch off and get in the zone, especially as you don’t know those around you and they are not going to interrupt you with conversations. Decent coffee is, of course, an added bonus.
There’s actually some science to back up the virtue of a cafe as a productive work environment. The average cafe has around 70 decibels of noise, which is perfect to increase creativity and productivity, according to the Journal of Consumer Research. Background noise of 50 decibels is too quiet to inspire productivity, while loud noise around the 85-decibel mark is considered too distracting.
If you can’t get to a cafe but seek the caffeine ambience, there’s even an app for that. The pleasant drone of cafe bustle has inspired an app for the office deskbound who like to tap into that caffeine soundtrack on headphones. The Coffitivity app provides ambient cafe sounds at various levels from ‘Morning Murmur’ to the louder ‘Lunchtime Lounge’ and the more musical ‘Brazil Bistro’.
If you are one of the lucky few who don’t get car-sick, you can bust out the laptop on those long taxi rides for a highly productive work session en route. For those who do succumb to the queasiness of motion sickness, all is not lost. Car trips provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on calls or listen to podcasts. Working on the road is often more suitable for input rather than output.
For those who still prefer the basic comforts of an office while you are travelling, good clients you are meeting with might allow you a space in their office to get some work done. Or, there are the proliferating co-working or shared offices which offer cool office surrounds you can share with all the aspiring Mark Zuckerbergs in the process of developing a revolutionary new tech start-up that will change the world.