Monday, January 2, 2012

Business Benefits Accrued from Life in the Bush

Sometimes, we encounter an absolute culture block about our life in Alaska.  Usually it is because the person perceives ours as a life of such privation, analogous to a New Yorker who can’t imagine living in New Jersey, or a couple with children who can’t imagine a home without them.  Another culture block is from those who can’t envision working remotely.  However, as more and more people do the latter (I read that 1/3 of all IT professionals work remotely),  we encounter less resistance from workers than from retirees whose life experience required a commute to an office in order to be paid.

This blog entry describes time management/business benefits we gained from living in the Alaska bush that we never expected, largely from something very simple: intentionality.  Another entry describes non business gains (physical, psychological, and marital).

 Work from home:       We may be off the beaten path, but we are not so different from other people who work at home, except maybe the visits by bears instead of by FedEx trucks.  All of us who like working from home tend to agree that we are more focused and efficient than in an office environment with interruptions by colleagues, low priority meetings, and inferior coffee.  We enjoy life-work balance as we briefly attend to laundry or dinner preparations in between projects, and when we schedule out of office time during the week (although my out of office time might involve fishing or target practice whereas someone else might  schedule a doctor’s appointment or a lunch reservation).  Finally, all work-at-home people love not having to endure whatever arduous commute consumes the hours, money and energy of our friends, and instead, using that time for additional work or perhaps, play.  I firmly believe that a short commute is a quality of life enhancement, and working from home, for some of us, is even better than that.     

Work time savers:       My husband is an extrovert and one of those men who wears his cell phone like a pacemaker.  During the day, it doesn’t leave his body, and he can flip it out of its holster faster than Clint Eastwood can draw his revolver.   As a result, Bryan was at the beck and call of anyone with a finger.  Largely because of Alaska’s location, he evolved a schedule of business communications that freed up an additional TWO HOURS PER DAY (in addition to no commute).   Like any efficient person, he can then spend that extra time on anything he wants – work or play.  I think the biggest business gain has been quiet periods for deep thinking and strategic planning (sometimes in a kayak) that many busy people find difficult to schedule if they are responding to "incoming fire" all day long.  Because Alaska is four hours behind New York and three hours behind the Midwest, and because he is naturally an early riser, he focuses on emails and phone calls in the mornings.  When other time zones wrap up their work days, communications slow down, and Bryan can utilize the afternoons however he chooses - usually by spending it outdoors on the lake or in the woods.   
City Husband
Bush Husband
1)    One enormous time saver was simply not answering every single incoming email and phone and text message as it arrived (obviously you don’t have to live in the bush to do this).  Simply by responding to most calls after a delay of 1-4 hours or scheduling calls for particular times, he was still rapidly responsive, but at his convenience.  This resulted in a number of benefits.   

a.     In some instances, Bryan returned calls that if answered immediately would have been a spontaneous, disorganized call or a series of them.  During the interim, the caller gained time to organize his or her thoughts and occasionally to send a preliminary email.  As a result, the phone calls were measurably shorter and more focused.   He noticed that all important calls were scheduled anyway, often with agendas and "to-do" lists.  In a way, he modulated the less important calls, so they could "behave" like more important ones, or filter themselves out.  

b.    Incoming solicitation calls that he would have answered in the city were funneled into voice mail for disposition at his convenience.    

c.    Many kind colleagues want to throw a bone to someone whom they can’t help directly with the referral, “Why don’t you call so and so.”  Often the meetings were couched as seeking advice but really were about seeking a job.  Bryan is still happy to take these calls, but for people not attuned to working independently or remotely, our distance filters out the peripheral inquiries, leaving those entrepreneurial spirits whom Bryan is best suited to help.

d.  Bryan works with a lot of innovative, early stage companies.  Those leaders who have another day job invariably want to talk with a financier after their work hours.  In TX, Bryan fielded those calls after dinner.  In AK, their evening is our afternoon.  

2)    The other time saver involved initial sales and service inquiries by people who wanted to talk with the head of the company.  In the city, Bryan enjoyed these meetings, often three per day, but only a minority yielded anything fruitful and most required follow up by someone else in the company anyway.  Because of Alaska, he simply apologizes for his inaccessibility (usually citing travel or vacation).  Invariably, the caller is pleased to be referred to a knowledgeable person in the company who is available right away.   This process turns out to be more efficient for the caller as well.  In cases where his presence is still important,  he utilizes group phone and Internet meetings for which relevant parties are prepared with a particular agenda and goal.  (see blog on the solar and wind, satellite and phone booster power tower)

c)    Long distance travel is always a bother, but connections from Anchorage to West Coast cities are very easy.  Traveling east is more difficult but the trade-off is that by scheduling 3-4 meetings per year rather than more frequently, he found that he maintained enough face time to keep relationships warm with colleagues, clients and friends without as many cancellations that assumed “let’s get together when you are here next month.”  In other words, being too available turned out to be a time waster.  Whichever of us takes these flights to "the Lower 48" travels with a shopping list accumulated during the preceding several months at the cabin.  Upon return to Anchorage, we shop and load up the float or ski plane to fly home.

In conclusion, it was by being intentional about communications, response time, technology and travel that afforded us the business benefits we derived.  Anyone can do this, but it was imposed on Bryan by the time zone in which he chose to live.  If we lived in a log cabin on the road system in the boonies of Wisconsin, he might have remained just as inefficient as before, or maybe, just maybe, he would have learned to turn off his phone for four hours per day, as many of the rest of you have learned to do without such a drastic life change!   

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