My Story – Anna Kiss-Gyorgy
During the first lockdown in Victoria, my partner and I found that we adjusted quite easily to working from home. We are lucky to both have full time jobs, and a home office with adequate screens, natural light, and ergonomic chairs. Our ability to work from home depended largely on these features and the availability of decent Wi-Fi. So we decided to do an experiment as the horizon of restrictions was starting to lighten to test the idea that if we could work from home, we could indeed work from anywhere.
The restrictions in Victoria provided good control lines for our experiment; we knew we couldn’t leave the state and we both agreed that a radius of about two hours’ driving time would provide an easy-to-roll-back option. We mused that as long as we had reliable Wi-Fi, space to work and were in a similar time zone, our work should go on as normal regardless of where we plugged in our laptops. I also campaigned for a coastal setting, to ease the feeling of having been shut in for the last few months.
We booked a small beach house in Port Welshpool, about two and a half hours east of Melbourne, after checking with the host that the NBN was working. We loaded up our two large screens, all our cables and laptops and chargers and drove down on a Friday afternoon.
Port Welshpool has a very small population, even in summertime, and now it was positively ghostlike. The house had a cosy bedroom, a large kitchen with ample bench space and a tiny desk in the lounge. There was also a fire place of which we made immediate and grateful use.
We spent the weekend relaxing, reading by the fire and walking along the eerily still Corner Inlet and back to the pub, where the fish was fresh and delicious, and the novelty of eating out snapped us back into a bubble of normal we had almost forgotten.
To avoid any expectations, we hadn’t told our respective employers that we would be dialling in from elsewhere, so come Monday, we set up – Jamie at the dining table, myself at the little desk and started our three-day experiment. We had chosen the three days simply as an arbitrary time frame, based on which calendar days we had fewer meetings and could test a good mix of productive work and meeting time.
We had our own expectations of course, and we talked about the ways these were met and unmet in the evenings after we finished our work. In terms of measuring success and failure, we had no hard and fast rules. We agreed to check in with each other regularly, and if something emerged that we couldn’t work around, such as uncomfortable working conditions or no internet, we still had the option of getting home quite quickly. The idea of failure certainly wasn’t an absolute and we both felt flexible in that we agreed to temper our expectations slightly, to allow for the novelty of being away from home for a while.
First, the negatives: ergonomically, the set ups weren’t as comfortable as home, but we took more intentional breaks, availed ourselves of the opportunity to crunch along the shore and look at birds, look at the ghostly shadow of the mountains of the Prom in the distance.NBN connectivity turned out to be not as great as promised, but we used our phone hotspots and didn’t lose out on any scheduled meetings.
The positives however, far outweighed any shortcomings in the little house. The simple act of changing the locational context of our work made it feel like a holiday even though both of us put in full days of work. The proximity of the water was a huge luxury.
Both of us considered it a successful experiment and have already chosen further locations to test our theory when this current lockdown lifts. There is of course no way to test the veracity of a claim of good internet, and these beach houses toward which we gravitate are not usually set up for working, but a change of scenery is worth testing the unknowns.
We are committed to continue these small experiments away from the rigid confines of our traditional workplaces and working hours. We have found that giving our brains and bodies a change of scenery, a foray along a wintry coast can provide fresh perspectives and an opportunity to reframe where we are.
Anna Kiss-Gyorgy is a writer by dawn and a change herder by day. She has inhabited her workscape for 21 years. She is a lover of words and cats, a seeker of belonging and a cheerleader for people.