Embarking on our 5th year living on the Costa Blanca, leads me to reflect on one huge advantage of the online world, that I haven’t really written about before. It’s a situation I find dangerously easy to take for granted, even though as a ‘Generation X’er in my 40s I am far from being a typical ‘digital native’, and indeed spent many years working in a ‘normal’ office for somebody else.
Then when I first became a parent I was fortunate enough to find an opportunity to work from home – this was nearly 13 years ago, and I have never looked back. At first though in the new millennium I was very much in the minority in my industry and was seen as a bit of an aberration, the home office being viewed very much as a satellite of the ‘proper’ workplace one remained dependent upon and had to visit quite frequently for everything from line management to technical support.
Now however, the huge life-altering change is that I can work from wherever I want. As well as writing for Costa Blanca News I work for market research and social media clients across the UK and beyond, and still deliver an effective and reliable service to clients I may never meet face to face. I work with a team in the UK delivering research fieldwork and work collaboratively to them as we deal daily together with intransigent clients and crazy deadlines. We are the closest of friends and colleagues – but they too are scattered across the UK working from their own homes, and we get together for a team reunion only once or twice a year. A couple of years ago one of them had to spend several months in the States for personal family reasons and was able to carry on working in a way that was seamless for the rest of the business, just meant her keeping some odd hours locally – we are all very comfortable with the idea of work being what you do, rather than somewhere to go.
And what makes this possible is of course the technology, that simply wasn’t there a decade a go. I have a room in my house that my homeworking other half and I designate as ‘the office’, because it’s convenient to gather all the bits of paper and technology into one part of the house (or that’s the theory, though this stuff oozes and spreads all over) It’s also more convenient and comfortable to use a desk voip phone for prolonged periods, as well as a proper desk and chair, and to hardwire the adsl for videoconferencing – but I know that I can work literally anywhere I can get a usable wireless internet signal Most of the time I prefer more ‘work stuff’ around for comfort and convenience, but at the end of the day I can manage with my Macbook pro and a voip headset, as my portable office.
Lucky? Yes, I know I am, I feel incredibly fortunate to have business partners, colleagues and clients around me that supported my need to up sticks to the sunshine, and gave me a chance to prove it could work. Living the dream? Of course we are! This is just what we always wanted, to have a meaningful fulfilling career whilst watching our girls grow up in the climate and culture of Spain, having the freedom and outdoor lifestyle that we remember from a generation ago in the UK (when I am sure it was sunnier there too)
But when dreams become reality you have to deal with practicalities. My colleagues in the UK wonder how on earth we put up with the shakiness of Spanish internet, and indeed we currently pay for two service providers – slow steady landline adsl and a wildly erratic wifi service – because we cannot afford to be cut off from the internet, not ever (if the electricity goes off, then we are off to a nearby café as plan C – C is for caffeine and carry on and keep working!) We sometimes fight over whichever is being the better-behaved connection, especially if one of us needs to videoconference or transfer big files, and we change provider frequently to try and get the best service and deals – a hassle we could do without, but often one starts out good then deteriorates to unusable.
Also, that lovely digital nomad cliché, of sitting under a palm tree with a laptop? Doesn’t really work in real life. Perhaps the new mac retina screen will be the solution to the glare that makes it pretty impractical at the moment to actually use any backlit screen out of doors for any length of time, I find I am going cross eyed after squinting for half an hour (thank you so much Santa for the Kindle, beach reading is back!) Incidentally, elements like sand and chlorine are very, very bad for your gadgets and gear.
So living the dream in real life means doing similar work to that I was doing in the using a desk and equipment that any knowledge worker would recognise, even if the merge of life and work has got more interesting and flexible thanks to smartphones and tablets. Real life though is what happens when you close the laptop and stop working, and I feel extremely lucky that when I look up from the screen I can see palm trees waving against blue skies. That’s worth all the rubbish internet for me.
Next week we will look in more detail at how the online technology makes this possible.
Published in Costa Blanca News, 02-02-13