Musings of a Remote Worker

 Musings of a Remote Worker

How Escaping the Office is Easier (and More Exciting) Than You May Have Thought

For many of us, working remotely – that is working from home and ‘remote’ from the office – is nothing new; I, for example, have worked remotely for about a dozen of the past 15 years. But the viral pandemic now sweeping through our society has introduced millions of new people to the experience. And even though they may have been forced into it suddenly, and by ugly circumstance, reports indicate that many are finding the experience – the increased autonomy and flexibility, in particular – very much to their liking.

Many assume that when this state of emergency, and the compulsion to work from home, finally ends, all will return to normal. Personally, I’m not so sure. I suspect, that, for some at least, the temporary experience of working remotely may have instilled in them a desire to make it permanent. Indeed, I would go even further, and suggest that for some, once the restrictions in movement associated with this pandemic end, an even more radical thought might take hold: that ‘working remotely’ could encompass something far more life-changing than simply working from home. After all, if working remotely from your office is viable, maybe working remotely from your regular home is too? And if working remotely from your regular home is viable, then why not work remotely somewhere you really want to be – say, for example, from a villa in a tropical paradise?

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I trace my own path to working remotely back to a cold, damp English Christmas morning in 1965, shortly after my seventh birthday, when I found myself eagerly unwrapping a small box containing a Corgi toy model car. It was a version of the now-famous James Bond Aston Martin DB5 first featured in the movie Goldfinger. It was 4-inches long and gold (rather than silver, as in the movie) and looked just like this:

James Bond’s DB5

Five decades later, I realize – with not a little chagrin – that few memories can compare to the hours of unadulterated bliss I experienced that morning operating the toy car’s hidden machine guns at the front as well (of course!) as its famous passenger ejector seat. (I would say more here but am still bound by the pledge I made, per the toy manufacturer’s explicit request noted below, to never reveal the ‘secret instructions’ for these optional extras lest they “fall into the hands of SMERSH!”).

The manufacturer’s ‘secret instructions’

Back then, as a mere seven-year-old, the only Bond relationship I was aware of, or cared about, was the one he had with his Aston Martin. But even when, as a teenager, I finally saw the films and became, shall we say, rather achingly aware of the charms of Bond’s other relationships – with Honey Rider, Pussy Galore and Domino, for example – I still never felt the urge to model my life after his. Despite the fact that James had evidently managed to survive up to that point, I couldn’t escape the feeling that for all its obvious glamour, Bond’s lifestyle carried a disturbingly high risk of premature mortality.

Instead, by the time I reached college age, my focus of interest had shifted almost entirely from Bond to Bond’s creator: the novelist Ian Fleming. Certainly, I found Fleming’s background as a wartime naval intelligence officer, and later a senior editor at the London Times, hugely appealing. But among the details of Fleming’s fascinating life story, what appealed to me more than anything else was the impossibly cool image of him writing all of his James Bond novels from his Caribbean villa (named ‘Goldeneye’) in between snorkeling, spearfishing, chain-smoking, and cavorting with various married women.

 

Ian Fleming at his Caribbean villa, circa 1963

Though I was barely aware of it at the time, I now see that this planted within me a quiet, unconscious, unrecognized, desire to weave at least that part of Fleming’s lifestyle into my own.

Many of us, of course, have – at some time or other – daydreamed of living (rather than just vacationing) in a tropical island paradise – especially during the cold and gloom of winter. But like many of us I grew up believing that the reality of doing so was reserved either for the wealthy elite, or for starving artists, or for special cases like Fleming, who managed to talk his employers in London into letting him winter in the Caribbean every year, even though it rendered him virtually incommunicado. (There were phones, of course, but transatlantic calls were very new then and prohibitively expensive).

For us non-billionaire, non-artistic, non-special working stiffs, it seemed that the closest we would ever get to mimicking Fleming’s lifestyle would be by living thereafter our working lives were over, in retirement. As time has passed, however, the enormous technological revolution in communications has radically enhanced our ability to work remotely, and thus has fundamentally transformed that reality.

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My first taste of this altered reality occurred about 20 years ago when I was required to participate in a telephonic litigation settlement conference while vacationing in the British Virgin Islands. After the call and all the wrangling was complete, I hung up the phone, peeled off my shirt, and took a long refreshing dip in the pool. And as the warm evening sun dropped slowly over the tropical horizon, and all the tension left my body, I felt a powerful sense of euphoria. It then occurred to me that this, rather than feeling like an interference with my vacation, felt instead like an enhancement to it by making me feel productive, and filled me with a sense of what could be.
A few years after that, this flicker of potentiality grew into a full-blown fire when – after trading the daily office grind of corporate law for a criminal appellate practice – working remotely became my everyday reality. It didn’t take me long to realize that since I was now working remotely, I might just as well work remotely in peaceful seclusion at the villa in the Turks & Caicos Islands that my wife and I had recently acquired (especially as flights between TCI and mainland USA were direct and frequent).

Some of these were practical – such as getting the right paper and toner cartridge for my printer or finding the right replacement power cables. But even back in the early 2000’s, TCI had several business-supply stores, albeit with more limited choices than I was used to having, but with sufficient choice, nonetheless. Nowadays, supplies can be ordered online, just as we do back home.

Back then, Wi-fi speed and reliability, and the quality & reliability of the island’s phone service, were also less than ideal. However, the primary service providers in TCI (Flow, Digicel, etc.) have generally been responsive to the demand for first-rate service from the island’s substantial (and growing) community of expatriate professionals working there, such that service quality now rivals that in any north American city. And with reliable high-speed internet service, business communications services such as Skype, Zoom, Google Docs, etc., have all become staples.

In my experience, though, most of the challenges of working remotely in TCI were (and still are) the non-practical yet familiar ones that all professionals working remotely face: such as the need to create and stick by a sustainable & efficient routine that includes proper breaks and exercise; and the need to resist the constant siren-call of the refrigerator, and the fact that at 1pm “it’s 6 o’clock somewhere.” But – perhaps surprisingly – I’ve actually found these types of challenges easier to meet in the islands than back in the mainland.
For example, I often find myself less – rather than more – easily distracted from work when surrounded by magnificent views and climate, and rather more able to concentrate during those times I’ve allotted to working. I’ve also found that when ‘working out’ becomes ‘taking long walks on a miraculously beautiful beach,’ exercising becomes both a joy not to be missed rather than a chore, and also a highly productive and satisfying opportunity for deep reflection & creative thinking.

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All in all, then, for me, working remotely in TCI has been a blessing. Working remotely in the TCI has shown me that in this modern age it’s possible – even for a regular guy like me – to do his work in surroundings that would have made even Ian Fleming jealous.

The ‘gym’ beckons…

One other thought: Many of us grew up inculcated with the idea that a professional ‘white-collar’ career necessarily means decades commuting to & from the office followed, rather abruptly, by retirement and then by a dotage spent either at the allotment or on the golf course. But while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, a good number of us – given changes in work organization and practices, the massive advances in global technology & communications, and changing concepts of the optimal work-life balance – are starting to question its inevitability.

In particular, we’re seeing that it’s increasingly possible to reject this binary career structure (of working/not working) in favor of a more organic structure in which the shape of our working life can adapt to our changing needs and desires over the entire course of our lives. Following this new perspective, our career – and how and where we conduct it – can become a more seamless journey more in tune with the nature of life itself.
In my case, I’ve always gained great satisfaction from working (whether in entertainment, banking, law or, as now, as CEO to a company creating beautiful villas in idyllic settings). And as I now approach ‘retirement age,’ I find I cannot even imagine – let alone have any desire for – a future in which I’m no longer engaging in fun and absorbing work challenges. For me, then, retirement – in the traditional sense – has no appeal. But then, sometimes I look around and think that’s because I effectively ‘retired’ years ago.

Plus: I already have a garden in TCI to cultivate, there’s a first-rate golf course just 10 minutes from my door, and I still have that Aston Martin if I need it. 😉

Please feel free to connect with your own experiences working remotely abroad, or to get more inside scoop on doing so in the ‘beautiful by nature’ Turks & Caicos Islands.

Julian Biggs, CEO, Latitude 22, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands.

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