Balancing act: Connecting to work from afar can be necessary, helpful
I worked in many different places during my career as a newspaper reporter. For example, I recall taking notes alongside a snowy road while talking to a law enforcement officer at the scene of an accident, sitting in the balcony of a church to cover a funeral and walking a mall to complete some always dreaded "man-on-the-street" interviews.
Those are just a few examples. I could share many more.
I figured that was behind me when I left my career in journalism a few months ago, and that I would be a dedicated cubicle dweller in my new position. However, I wasn't taking unexpected family events and the wonders of modern technology into consideration.
But when my dad found out he needed to have one of his kidneys removed due to cancer, I knew I wanted to be there with him. Since I haven't earned much paid time off at my new job yet, I also knew that would mean squeezing in work when and where I could during the week I was away.
Frankly, I thought that would be a good thing. My travel plans and my dad's surgery would leave me with many hours sitting in airports, hotels and hospital rooms with little to do. And, since I'm a worrier by nature (a gift from my mother!), having something to pass the time and take my mind off my dad's health challenges would be helpful.
I don't have a laptop computer through which I can gain full access to all of my work documents, so I decided to depend on my company-provided smartphone for email and my iPad to surf the Web and do more in-depth tasks.
I spent a little time during the week before Thanksgiving preparing items I could take with me and had a plethora of different things to do as I got on the plane Saturday morning. Thus began a week of completing many different kinds of work in some unexpected places.
I did Web research on a variety of topics using the free WiFi connections in three different airports — but not Chicago's O'Hare, the miserly airport that charges for WiFi — as well as several hospital waiting rooms and patient rooms and two hotels.
I downloaded, listened to and took notes on podcasts as I lay on a sofa bed in a hotel.
I viewed and listened to a video presentation while my recovering father slept a few feet away from me in his hospital room.
I checked and responded to email on my smartphone as often as possible, no matter where I was at the time.
I wrote annual performance appraisals for several employees on the trip home the day after Thanksgiving, starting in one airport, continuing during a flight and finishing during a layover in a second airport.
None of these activities is unusual for the modern businessperson. Anyone who travels for his or her job has likely done the same, and many people probably have worked in more unique locations or under more unusual circumstances. (If you have an interesting tale to tell, please let me know, and I'll share some of your stories in a future column.)
However, as I looked back on the week once I got home, I realized it was quite productive, all things considered. I wasn't able to focus on tasks the way I can at the office, as there were several times I had to stop in the middle of something when a nurse or doctor came into the room to talk with my dad. But that was OK with me. Thanks to a little planning and some basic technology, I was able to be there for my dad, mom and sister when they needed me most while still completing the work tasks I really needed to do.
Though I'm a fan of the technological gizmos and gadgets that surround me in daily life, I've often complained about the connectedness to the office that I felt they forced upon me. But the fact is, technology is just a tool, and like any tool, it is up to me to use it correctly.
In this case, I feel like I found the right balance. I'm glad I was able to help my dad — whose surgery was successful, by the way — while still living up to promises I had made to my employer.
I guess the same technology that makes us cringe when our phone beeps and buzzes during dinner with the family sometimes is a wonderful thing. When we need to work at unusual times and in unexpected places, it's nice to know it's there.