Columns
Work while you surf
Yeoh Guan Jin 
Thanks to modern communications technology, you don't have to be physically in the office – 123RF
advertisement[x]

I step off the pier onto the deck of a multi-million-dollar luxury yacht. I strip down to my swimming trunks and take to the deck chair to work on my tan or dive overboard for a few laps. When I’m done with my exercise, I climb on board, whip out my tablet and respond to email or send out a memo. It’s just the start of another day at the office.

Off the coast of the Spanish island of Majorca, in the Mediterranean, a group of young Dutch workers have already vacated their cubicles in the city centre for the middle of the ocean. Well, to be more precise, they have moved their office on board a luxury yacht.

In recent years, the concept of the office has been upended. The three-by-five cubicle has given way to the coffee bar or a park bench. Some prefer to take their work home.

But hunkering down over a marketing plan or the next acquisition in the middle of the sea is like taking it to a whole new level.

Of course all this has been made possible thanks to modern communications technology. In our father’s days, taking the work from the office to the coffee bar just around the corner would have been nigh impossible.

Back then, the most technologically advanced communications tools were the fixed-line telephone and fax machine. You couldn’t carry those items with you even if you wanted to. And if the boss needed to run something by you, he’d have to send the office assistant to haul you back to the office.

 

Luxury yachts for rent

Now, with mobile communications devices, you don’t have to be physically at the office. In fact, any location can serve as your workplace, so long as you can get reception for your smartphone and tablet, and Wi-Fi for your laptop.

The team at Boatsters are just taking full advantage of such technological advances. Boatsters rents out luxury yachts to rich people who also have a lot of time to spare.

According to a Sept 22 article on scmp.com, the website of the South China Morning Post, managing partner Raoul Milhado of Boatsters, his business partner Nick Gelevert and their six senior managers also have an inflatable meeting room that enables them to hold their twice-a-week brainstorming sessions on the waves.

The scmp.com quotes the duo as saying they hit upon the idea one rainy day in Amsterdam. Instead of feeling bored in their office, they decided that they should “get a little closer” to the lifestyle they were selling.

There are many reasons to dispense with the office. It can save time, cut costs and take the monotony out of the job.

For those who are running a small business or just starting out, it makes economic sense to do away with the regular office. Prices of real estate have shot through the roof, particularly in major cities.

A small work space will set you back a lot of money each month. Rental rates for office space in the middle of Kuala Lumpur are as high as RM7.50 per sq ft per month. But you can rent a space on the first floor of a shophouse in a place like SS2 in Petaling Jaya for about RM6 per sq ft.

A more economical way is to rent a workstation – a 60 sq ft space that comes with the requisite work table, cabinet and a chest of drawers. That goes for about RM2,500 per month.

That is a lot of money if you’re just starting out and revenue has not even begun to trickle in.

Then there are the other hidden costs – utilities, equipment, maintenance and upgrades where necessary. Last, but not least, is your employees’ salaries and benefits. You may want to start as a one- or two-man show, but eventually you’ll need to get additional help.

These are costs that add up, and they have to be incurred whether or not you are getting any revenue from your business.

Under such circumstances, reducing your need for an office makes sense. In fact, many businesses have given their employees the option to work from home to reduce expenditure. With fewer people in the office on a regular basis, less space is needed, so the amount spent on rent should also go down.

In fact, depending on your job scope, many people don’t actually have to show up at the office. The sales guy ought to be out there anyway to woo potential clients. The reporter should be in the field looking for stories rather than sitting at his desk in the newsroom.

For the worker, the right work attitude is essential for him to be given such freedom. One could spend the day at home and report that he’s out there trying to make a sale, or meeting an important client.

Of course the office is not likely to be rendered redundant in the near future. Not just yet. There are administrative and confidential matters that should not be taken out of the office. The workers’ payroll and benefits would count among these.

Furthermore, a physical address is sometimes necessary to build confidence in customers and suppliers. For some people, a virtual address just won’t cut it.

At the end of the day, not every company can afford to start operating from somewhere in the middle of the deep blue sea.

Still, the waves beckon.

Yeoh Guan Jin is a veteran journalist. Comments: editor@focusmalaysia.my

 



This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 255.