Out Of Office.

Five lessons from fifteen years without a proper office.

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t ‘gone to work’ for fifteen years . I gave up a single, fixed office around the turn of the millennium when I quit my job as managing director to go independent.

I stopped going to the office, and the office came with me, wherever I went.

In those early days I remember setting an ‘Out of office’ email alert when I went away on a trip. Having received my auto response my friend David emailed back:

“What do you mean you are out of the office, you ARE your office!!”

David was right. I carried my office with me, and have been doing so ever since. In my life, work is a mindset, not a place I go to.

Of course not having an office is hardly jaw-dropping news, but back in 2000, before the availability wifi and mobile working, I felt like a pioneer out in the wild west.

If you’ve abandoned your office, here are five lessons I’ve learned in fifteen years without an office.

  1. Pick n’mix your workspaces. Having multiple places to work from beats having just one. In a typical week I work from at least six different places: a client’s office; a central London members’ club; my home workspace up in the attic; my kitchen table; my local coffee shop; the train. I organise my working life so I can pick n’mix the right space for the right task. Sending invoices? Up in the attic. Ideas for a presentation? A coffee shop. Editing an article? The kitchen table. Try apportioning your to-do list to different spaces. If you head to a coffee shop for a couple of hours make sure you have clear goals of what to achieve while you’re there.
  2. If your work life has no borders, create a buffer. Yesterday I worked at a coffee shop, sharing the table with my seven year old son who was on holiday from school. That was fun but sometimes it can be hard juggling a work-anywhere mindset with family life. Some evenings my wife and I do what we call a ‘hot seat changeover’ and I have to segue from writing a client report to looking after the kids. The only punctuation mark? A seven second walk down the stairs. That’s not fun. Make sure you create buffers — space and time — between work and family. If I have a morning working from home I make sure I go for a walk first, so that there’s space between breakfast and work, even if it’s just ten minutes walking the kids to school.
  3. Coffee shop working is great, but it can get distracting. I remember my first visit to Palo Alto in 2004, working out of the Printer’s Inc cafe, where everybody seemed to be working from laptops planning their early tech startups. That wasn’t so common in London then. Today coffee shops are full of people using it as an office, even those who have a regular office. I work a lot from coffee shops, I love the noise, I love that sense of community. Sometimes it’s great to work from a place where I feel like Norm in ‘Cheers’. Other times, I just want to get my head down and choose a coffee shop where everybody doesn’t know my name. Either way, choose your coffee shop carefully and bring headphones if you don’t want to be interrupted.
  4. Having multiple workspaces makes me better at my job. My value to clients is in bringing an outside point-of-view, my fresh perspective, delivering clarity and ideas. Most of us know we’ll never have our best ideas at desks and in offices. So I feel really lucky that I can work wherever I fancy: I choose wherever I’ll get my best work done. When my friend and I were writing our book ‘Zoom! The faster way to make your business happen’ we walked around the streets of Paris to devise the ideas and structure (check out my post, ‘Take your ideas for a walk’). If I get stale in one space, I just switch to a different one. Inhabiting multiple spaces makes me more creative and productive.
  5. Get organised! I use three connected devices for work: an iPhone 6, my MacBook Air and a desktop PC. That means I can’t work without the Cloud. I rely on tools like TeuxDeux, Twitter, Gmail and Google Drive to do my work. Although most of my work lives in the Cloud, I still carry around my office essentials in a bag: a Moleskine journal, a Muji notepad, Sharpies, Muji pens, post-it notes and Artefact Cards. Make sure your office and to-do lists go with you.

Thanks for reading! (I wrote this post in the garden).


Ian Sanders is a business storyteller, creative consultant, and author of ‘LEAP!: Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free.