Are you working on a train or on a plane?

Tomorrow I will take the train from Gothenburg to Stockholm with the rest of my department to visit our company HQ.

We ride by train primarily because it is cheaper than flying, but people often say that they like trains because you just get on the thing, find your seat and five minutes later you are on your way. It’s a calm environment (you can even ask to get placed in a silent carriage), you have access to phone, wi-fi internet and power outlets, and more space to stretch out than on a plane. And no disrupting co-workers either. In some ways, it is better than working in your office.

Why don’t people like working on planes then?

Well, for starters you have to get on the damn thing. Travel to an airport that can’t be placed in the middle of the city (unless of course, you fly from Gibraltar – the runway actually intersects the city center and you have to cross it to get from one part to the other, trust me – I’ve been there). Then you wait in line to check in and / or drop your bags, take of your shoes as you go through security (and you have to wait in line for that joyful experience), wait until the staff decides you waited long enough and lets you board the plane, wait in the tunnel to the aircraft since everyone wants to get on at the same time, wait while the guy in front of you struggles for ages stashing his enormous coat and hefty carry-on luggage (which he obviously bribed someone to get onboard, since that thing is massive) in the overhead compartment, only to squeeze into a seat that is slightly too small for comfort.

And then, finally, you get to open your laptop and get to wo…

“Sorry sir, no computers during landing or take-off”.

Ok, pick up your iPhone and…

“Sorry sir, no phones either. You have to turn it off.”

“But I have flight-mode on so it’s not connecte…”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Now sit through a safety demonstration demonstrating things you already know since you heard them a thousand times before – information that you probably never will have use for and if you do you certainly won’t remember to kick off your high heels before you jump down into the inflatable slide since the plane is now on fire and what shoes you are wearing is the least of your concerns right now (and yes, I always fly in high heels).

Takeoff! Now wait for the sign with the seatbelt to switch off. That is your sign that you can now start working. No seatbelt = work. Obviously.

Flip open your laptop, eager to get to work. Discover that you have no wi-fi, you forgot to charge your laptop so it has a whopping 8% power left (and you can’t plug in anywhere since all electricity is obviously used to keep the plane airborne) and you can’t call anyone (or even see if they called you). Now take out your pad and pencil and try to remember what you were supposed to work on, and struggle to remember facts that you could easily find the answer for in your inbox or by Googling if you only had internet access.

Then by divine intervention, mysteriously get into the groove and actually enter a state of flow where you are coming up with some of your best ideas ever (probably because of your retreat-like experience of media isolation on this airplane) – only to be interrupted by a stewardess asking if you want to have some bad coffee or some equally bad tea. Get your cup of useless coffee, look down on your notes trying to gather your thoughts again while chewing on your pencil, give up after five minutes and close your notebook in disgust.

Now, as a thought experiment:

Imagine that the plane is actually your office that is more than an hour away from your home,

the security check is all the times you need to swipe your card or show your tag to get inside,

all the waiting time is the friendly banter with co-workers that takes up half an hour at the beginning of each day,

the safety demonstration is the useless cross-department morning meeting that you have to attend each morning,

your undersized flight seat is your crappy office chair that hasn’t been adjusted to fit your work posture and should really have been replaced three years ago but the company was going through a rough patch that year so the chair budget was scrapped (and then management forgot to put it back in every single year after that),

the rule of no devices during take-off or landing is your company’s outdated IT policy that prevents you from using your iPad at work,

the lack of wi-fi is the routine update that your IT department performed last night that killed your internet access and won’t be solved until 4pm today

and the stewardess is that hypersocial girl from sales that ask everyone if they want to have coffee at 2:15pm each day and you feel obligated to drop everything and get in on the gossip to not get left behind.

So, are you working on a train or a plane?

Goodnight,

Mattias

PS. Next blog post: Snakes on a plane – how to survive in a hostile workplace… 😉

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3 thoughts on “Are you working on a train or on a plane?

  1. That was nothing short of an awesome post! Neat annalogy. And I can relate to 100%.

    Lately my problems differ slightly though. The other day I read a blog post about being a productive startup guy, you sent it to me many months ago and I finally read it (sorry for the delay). It was in the line of: make-sure-that-you-are-on-a-train-n-stuff. I actually think I am on
    a train, my problems relate to choosing the right ones and making sure to get on them…

    Actualy getting on the train is the hard one for me.
    Because when I am on the train I am.

  2. What I am trying to say is that it might be hard to be on the “train” when you work at a company (I know all too well) but it is easier when you are on you own; no one else is to blame. Ever.

  3. I’m now on a plane! But it is less than 10 minutes away from home so that part has drastically improved.

    Gonna make it a bit more train-like over the next few days, can’t do much about all the card swiping though – this place is like Fort Knox.

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