The Bordeaux ExperimentJun 14, 2022
Three things I'm learning from my Work From Anywhere experience in France.
Since last week, I’ve been incredibly lucky to work from Bordeaux, France. Initially, when my husband announced that he wanted to use his recent job change as an excuse to fulfill his lifelong dream of taking an extended sabbatical in France, I thought "yikes!" I've just launched my new business. I'm so comfortable being at home after five, pre-pandemic years being a road-warrior. And, France is kind of his thing, not mine (I love France; but for travel, remote wilderness adventures are my first choice).
Then I realized this would be a fantastic opportunity to test-drive this new "work from anywhere" (WFA – it’s got an acronym so it must be a thing, right?) culture that so many businesses are wrestling with. All of my current coaching and consulting clients are remote. Most of them are grappling with the new reality of remote work.
The result: I'm working for the next few weeks from France, currently from an apartment overlooking the Garonne near the center of Bordeaux. Sounds like a fantasy, right? It's actually challenged my thinking and working skills in a lot of ways.
Here's what I'm learning from this experience so far:
Working from a new environment requires an amped up Growth Mindset
Everything is out of whack and a little scratchy. Even remedial French is a challenge for me (my brain keeps flipping into Spanish). Everything works just a little differently here – plugs, light switches, traffic signs all take a lot of thought. Mealtimes are completely different (but I’m loving food culture by taking long, late lunches and drinks out before a long, late dinner.
Even driving is different. Smaller cars, narrower roads and I drove a stick shift for the first time in probably 20 years. It's not an intuitive experience. It was hard to remember the clutch/gear movements and the drivers here are little intimidating. After the 20km drive back from Saint-Émeilion I had it down! It was a good reminder that I can reconnect with old skills, even learn a few new things (like getting a feel for speed limits set in kilometers).
All of the energy needed to focus on otherwise hard-wired tasks means working through being frustrated at how much work these tasks require. The pandemic made my world so much smaller and I've gotten really comfortable in "how things work." My WFA experiment is helping reengage the mental muscles that help me reframe the frustration of the confusing and the unknown as "not yet," learning new things moments. Who knew correctly plugging in a portable fan could feel like such and accomplishment?
One trick I’m using to lean into the disequilibrium: I keep trying to identify something I like better here than at home. For example, Bordeaux has maybe the coolest, easy-to-use public transportation I've ever used.
A new environment can heighten focus and productivity
I often joke that I have the attention span of a small soap dish. It's been a lifelong struggle to stay on task and get thing done, especially if I feel the pull of some interesting rabbit hole of a new culture.
Nothing tests my focus and stick-to-it abilities like knowing there's some of the best food and wine and art loving culture in the world right outside my door. I've only ever been here on vacation, so my inclination is to take in every eating, drinking, walking, site-seeing experience I can.
To keep my promises to myself - to hit the productivity goals I need to hit this week - has meant a new set of tools and habits to overcome my innate "live now, work later" tendencies.
The first tool was a little reframing of the challenge: turning this adventure into a case study for work. Next, I systemized the work time. This means scheduling blocks of time for work, setting aside extra warm up time to navigate and settle into the new space (launching a every web page from Europe means a minute or two of acknowledge privacy rights), setting "office hours" that correspond to the nine-hour time difference with home, and including some culture breaks to ward off the inevitable FOMO of not being out exploring with Johnny.
So far, I've had some of the most productive and creative work sessions I've had in months. Works is more focused. The "play time" at the end of the day feels a little bit more magical.
Turns out it's not just me. A 2015 study showed a 13% increase in productivity among workers who opted to work from home. Nine months later, for people that decided to stay working from home, that increased to 22%.
I'm feeling at least 22% more effective during this very unscientific, week-old experiment.
Being immersed in a different world sparks creativity.
All of the above, plus the legendary beauty and culture and history hardwired into the environment around me (has my creative brain firing non-stop. I’ve found unexpected inspiration in the very social nature of meals in France and the many ways very, very old and cutting-edge modern coexist in Bordeaux.
I've written more, had a couple of great moments of clarity on niggling projects that had me stuck, and come up with two new ideas to add to my business down the road.
Oh..and at the end of the day there's an amazing meal and bottle of wine waiting at the bistro down the street!
Explore “Work From Anywhere:”
- Read the essay, “Our work from Anywhere Future," in the December 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review
- Listen to "Why Aribnb is letting employee work from anywhere," on The Journal (Podcast)
Try WFA in your own hometown
Don't have the resources or time to run off to France (or other favorite far away land)? Create a Work From Anywhere experience in your hometown. Plan a week working from a coffee shop or co-workspace in a different neighborhood. Anywhere other than your usually work space will do. The change can spark new focus, creativity and more than a little growth.
Want to explore the ways you can lead from wherever you are? Schedule a free, 30-minute spark session and let's talk about how to turn your strengths into superpowers!
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