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#36 “Working from home”

March 21, 2011

One of the very best things about aid work, especially for Expat Aid Workers, is the flexibility that this life offers. Job descriptions almost always include an “or other duties as assigned” – which is totally awesome, because if there’s a pet project that you’d rather work on than that boring report in ECHO format, it’s all good: You can just get yourself “assigned” to that “other duty” and summarily dump that reporting task on the desk of some other text-bitch. Or maybe you’re tired of your Blackberry and pining for a shiny new iPhone 4? Easy: multi-donor income-streams are almost always fungible. Take a little from here, move it over there… so long as those life-saving outputs are met and the bottom line doesn’t change, it’s all good.

In this and a myriad of other ways, the Expat Aid Worker life is custom-designed to be flexible (as it should be: we’re all nomads who don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow). But when it comes to flexibility, there are few things that Expat Aid Workers love more than the ability to “work from home.”

Most EAWs will tell you that the reason they like “working from home” is that they “get more done.” NGO offices, whether plate-glass HQs in DC or blast-fence-enclosed compounds in the “the field” are noisy, frenetic places with numerous daily issues that urgently require the direct, personal intervention of the EAW.  “Working from home” offers temporary reprieve. “I can concentrate better without all of the noise of the office…” or “when I’m in the office I never get anything done because people are always stopping by to talk…” are reasons Expat Aid Workers might give for “working from home.”

“Getting more done” is also very closely related to another EAW favorite: “multi-tasking.”

EAW usually pride themselves on being able to traverse diverse intellectual terrain; say, from operational to technical to strategic, simultaneously. They can manage a NFI relief distribution in country X, while using their smartphones to monitor incoming email about a life-saving meeting next week in country Y. Then, that evening, they’ll give feedback on a regional strategy (and accompanying budget) for somewhere in the other hemisphere, while waiting for pictures of that day’s distribution to upload to Facebook.

“Working from home” is one of the best multi-tasking-enabling behaviors there is:

Keep your devices close at hand and your chat window open, and you can probably get through a Yoga workout or finish off that library novel that’s overdue. Log onto Skype (make sure status is set to “online”) and then get your apartment straightened up for tonight’s wine-and-cheese gathering. Just check back every few minutes to make sure your boss hasn’t pinged you (and if he or she has, just respond with “sorry… on the phone… give me a sec.”). Use your home computer to update your blog or catch up on back episodes of “Off the Map.” Hit “pause” occasionally and forward key email messages from your work laptop to other people on your team with sentences like “FYI and action” or “Keen to hear your thoughts – see below” just to keep alive the impression that you’re hard at work, “getting more done,” safely insulated from the noise and chaos of the office.

“Working from home” is awesome!

Note: “working from home” should not be confused with “T-days.” Working from home is staying home and working, possibly from bed, “getting more done” while “multi-tasking;” T-days are when you shorten your lunch breaks on Monday and Wednesday in order to justify totally blowing off Friday.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2011 8:58 am

    And what is really unique is that working from home is only done by the ex-pats in the office. Local staff would never dream of not coming in, and I’m not sure even understand the concept.

    For me, working from home means that I can brew myself some decent coffee. I can also read through reports and papers much more effectively of course…

  2. March 21, 2011 5:48 pm

    Yeah, I’m working from home today and I’m getting loads done. Super-efficient now that I’m away from the office this morning. In fact I’m being so efficient that I have time to read and comment on this blog post. It’s awesome!

    • First against the wall in Beserkistan permalink
      March 23, 2011 6:30 am

      Great job More Altitude! You are a leader in our field – and when I say field I mean house. And when I say house I mean bar.

  3. March 21, 2011 7:04 pm

    I found this cartoon on my office desk a couple of weeks ago:

  4. March 23, 2011 6:19 am

    Also an excuse when the field office internet shuts down and one ‘must’ go to the nearest lodge with free wifi to connect with HQ.

  5. homeworker permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:10 am

    While you are correct that local staff wouldn’t ever not come to the office, it is also true that local staff aren’t on conference calls with the country South of Canada until late at night 4 or 5 nights a week, and that local staff don’t travel 50 – 90% of the time.


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