I’m writing this from 9,000m above the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve just spent a month in Miami, Florida.
When I started my career around 2015, I didn’t even consider working from home. My one requirement was that I wanted to work close to home, so I could always use my bike to get to the office.
When the pandemic hit, I absolutely loved working from home.
Now, at Switch, going into the office is a choice.
And my choice of office changes.
I started out small, working from a different location each day for a week. I quickly developed a list of my favourite coffee shops, and a list of places to avoid. I like being at my desk at home, but I also like being near the sea, or at a quiet museum when I’m working.
My next step was a trip to Spain, to visit my sister for a very important extra-curricular activity: cat sitting. August in Spain is unbearably hot, as I was warned, so I thought this was a great opportunity to work during the day and venture out in the evenings. This arrangement worked out perfectly – I enjoyed climate-control and the company of a cat during work hours, and later headed out to the beach or the promenade for some rollerblading. Win-win!
The Land of Opportunity
I’ve set up temporary workspaces outside of my home, outside of my country… how about outside of my time zone?
America. The East Coast. 6 hours behind Malta’s time zone. My partner was participating in a 4-month fellowship that took them to Miami, Florida, and they invited me to visit. After checking in with Switch management, I got the go-ahead to book my flights.
The decision to spend a month in America was a really big step for me. I had never been outside of Europe before, and had never experienced a long haul flight. Travelling in general makes me anxious, throw in a connecting flight and scary American border security? I was very nervous. But I went for it because I had the opportunity, and what is life if you don’t try new things?
The hybridisation of work-life
Work-life balance is important. And it’s important to Switch, as I’ve been reminded (many times) to switch off and enjoy my evening when I’m working late. I’ve found joy in going for an afternoon run, and continuing my work afterwards when it’s dark outside.
Because I have the option to work from anywhere, I can take my work with me while travelling. Sure, some people need an absolute break from work. Myself, I’d rather not cut off completely. It also helps that I really love my job – this is why I’m so pleased to take work with me while travelling. The hybridisation of work and life makes sense for me.
Flexibility is what workers demand today, and it should be built into the remote working environment.
To deal with the 6-hour time difference, I would start working at 6am which was midday Malta time, and finish at 2pm which was 8pm Malta time. I really enjoyed the solitude of waking up before everyone else in my apartment.
I got very familiar with the American coffee pot.
Working in darkness was peaceful and helped me focus. I didn’t really mind waking up super early for meetings, although I wouldn’t do another 3am wake up willingly. Working when everyone else’s workday is over was also really useful, because I found myself getting things done without interruption. I also had to decide what to prioritise in the hours when our workdays overlapped, and then get prep work done for the next day.
The practicality of ‘work from anywhere’
In a practical sense, working from anywhere demands significant attention to planning. Because of time differences, I found it very useful to look ahead at any meetings for the next day, and get prepared for these the day before. Headphones became my best friend, as I worked in the early mornings, and from different locations, where noise would sometimes be an issue.
The way we work at Switch made the option to work from anywhere less disruptive to clients. Because of the time difference, I could only attend meetings in the afternoon Malta time. My colleague Lisa was prepared from the get-go to step in if clients needed anything urgently while I was asleep.
I got really familiar with the “schedule send” button on my emails! It’s not that I mind if anyone thinks I’m crazy when they find an email sent by me at 1:38am Malta time… but I think it’s more professional to limit emails to working hours.
I kept my colleagues entertained with different backgrounds on my video calls – from an airport lounge, to a green lawn with deer in the background, to (my colleague Luke’s favourite) an enormous American closet.
Even a natural disaster can be managed with proper planning.
While I was in Florida, Hurricane Ian hit the state; the destruction was horrendous, especially in Western Cuba. I was visiting a friend in Tampa at the time, and the hurricane hit a little further south, at Fort Myers. Knowing that I most likely would face disruption once it hit, I got as much of my work done as possible and prepared some things that could be done offline. I also let all my colleagues know that they might not hear from me. After all that preparation (I really stocked up on cookies and other snacks), I only suffered a day of no internet.
Around the World
I’m not the only one at Switch who’s embraced the option to work really remotely. At this moment, we span the globe, from Malta and Gozo, to Spain and Romania, to Finland, and all the way to Brazil. This has its challenges occasionally, but we’ve actively found ways to make it work.
Just recently Switch has been nominated for the Best Workspace award from the MBA. I’m sure this news didn’t surprise any of my colleagues. With this flexibility, we all give our best because we know it’s worth it. We aren’t grinding just for a paycheck, I can see the satisfaction of my colleagues from doing a good job. We are proud of our work, and we work hard. We know we can rely on each other, and we celebrate individual successes.
As my flight is about to land in Frankfurt, where I have only 20 minutes to make my connection back to Malta, I feel a little panicked but not overwhelmingly so. I know that if I have to return to Malta a day later than planned it will be ok.