We say you can work pretty much anywhere in the
emerging world of Smart Working. The first half of
2014 has given me a chance to put this to the test.
Spending time in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and
Dubai dealing with a house move that left me
temporarily homeless, plus an unplanned eye
operation – it’s been an eventful and very mobile
few months. And it’s given me the opportunity to
test out ‘extreme flexible working’.
So what do you need to be able to work anywhere?
Andy's mobile kit laid out on the desk of a
My ultra-mobile kit consists of:
- Wheeled laptop bag – essential for
- Sony Vaio laptop
- Samsung tablet (and Tesco tablet case -
functional but not glamorous)
- Wireless dongle – a lifesaver in the UK
- Plantronics Savi headset
- Voxhub VoIP phone connection, with X-Lite
- Voice recorder
- A fetching man-bag for travelling light with
just the tablet.
Who needs an office with this kit to hand?
Working in England in China
I spent a month in China over Christmas and New
Year. Apart from the festivities and family
activities, it was also the time for some intensive
writing, plus finishing one project and beginning
Using home broadband and the almost ubiquitous
wifi in cafés and malls I was able to work pretty
much as I do in the UK. And I found a great
bookshop/workhub called Bookworm – check it out if
you’re ever in Beijing or one of their other
locations around China.
Fears about the broadband not being up to making
calls using the softphone and VoIP were not
realised. I conducted many hours of interviews,
meetings and conference calls, and people said it
sounded like I was calling from the next room –
clearer than people joining the meetings from UK
landlines, in fact. Good battery life on the headset
was important, and the noise-cancelling was
effective. If not there could have been interesting
sounds from the background perhaps – no one else was
able to hear the fierce winter wind rattling the
window panes and whistling around our 21st floor
north-facing (and extremely cold!) apartment.
I was able to use a range of conferencing
technologies - the in-house conference call system
of a large UK client (dialing in via my VoxHub VoIP
service) GoToMeeting, Lync and Skype.
And I'm a user of some cloud services too:
Office365 for email on the move syncronised with
Outlook, and websites I can update from
anywhereusing various services and software. Except
the Wordpress ones: the Chinese authorities block
the administrative features of Wordpress as well as
many websites based on it. LinkedIn works there, but
not seamlessly. No Facebook or Twitter, but I
haven't been using these for work purposes.
Back on the plus side, Beijing has a mobile
signal throughout the underground transport system,
putting it ahead of cities like London for
In Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai it was mainly a
question of working in hotels, which all offer good
wifi. And airports, of course. Mainstream stuff
Was it paper-free working? Almost, except for
notes made in interviews in my ever-present
notebooks. But I did very extensive reviewing and
proof-reading for articles and reports – it can be
done without printing off copies after all. Not
having a printer really helps to keep the paper
Homeless working in Cambridgeshire
Before Christmas our house sale seemed to be
petering out with endless problems from the people
buying from us, or rather the people buying from
them, and so on down the chain. This is common in
England. We didn’t have a house to buy at this
stage, but were looking to rent for a while till it
became clear which country we would most live in.
Suddenly the house sale came back to life, and
everyone in the purchasing chain wanted to move in a
hurry before it all collapsed again. So I moved out,
only to be told that the house we had booked to rent
wasn’t actually ready. So this meant staying with
friends for a while, and then a variety of hotels
when I working away with clients.
On the moving in date I collected the keys and
the house still wasn’t fit for habitation – repairs
not completed and the house in desperate need of a
thorough clean-up. With my wife back in China, I
refused to move the furniture in and went back to
hotel living, then spent the final couple of days
before going to Dubai on some sofa cushions brought
out of storage. Bed by night and piled up to make a
chair by day.
This was when the wireless dongle came into its
own, being the channel for work, phone calls via
VoIP and also TV in the evening. I’m far too old to
be doing this sort of thing, by the way. But though
my domestic life was upside down or in storage,
hopefully the work was seamless.
Then the hospital
With the house sorted out, superfast broadband
installed, home office set-up, everything was back
on track. The one morning I woke up with the vision
in my left eye blurry and obscured by a big cobwebby
‘floater’. A call to the optician, a trip to the
Accident & Emergency clinic and the next day I was
on the operating table.
I anticipated a lot of
waiting around during these hospital trips, and with
the prospect of being out of action for a while took
along the urgent work to do. And yep, I could do it
all from the patients waiting areas.
The procedure is best described as dentistry for
the eyes, with needles, probes, implements connected
to long metal hose things that looked for all the
world like dentist drills, and doctors leaning over
me with bright lights. After that – it didn’t
matter how many bits of kit I had: work was not a
possibility for several days, anywhere, anytime.
The moral of the story?
Really the lessons are twofold. I’ve been able to
travel more extensively, to live for a while in
other places by having the means to overcome the
constraints of distance.
But it’s also cultural. With the nature of the
projects I’m doing, writing about the future of work
and helping large organisations to develop
strategies and guidance for smart working, working
in this way is a natural way to do things. The work
itself becomes part of the awareness-raising and
cultural change process.
Then there’s work-life balance. Life became
somewhat manic and unpredictable for a while, but I
was able to manage work and my various other
responsibilities and interests at the same time.
And finally it’s an object lesson in business
continuity. Losing my base for work, I was still
able to operate effectively as a homeless
Perhaps you should try it sometime.