Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
Being on holiday while pretending to work: that sums up what I shall loosely describe as my “career”. Now I can invite to the beach bar some people with real jobs who are newly able to combine work with travel.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, “working from home” was often disparaged as a euphemism. But increasingly many enlightened employers accept that people whose jobs allow flexibility are often more productive. With a commute limited to bedroom-to-kitchen and more flexibility for family commitments, time is freed up and stresses are eased.
The natural extension for those whose work can be conveyed as hand luggage is “working from away”. As autumn decays into winter, the prospect of a bright backdrop for those online meetings becomes ever more alluring. Last weekend, speculation began about the options for Unilever staff, after it was reported that the Anglo-Dutch giant would allow employees to be anywhere they wished as long as they could return for an urgent meeting within 24 hours.
On the firm’s corporate website, I eagerly read that CEO Alan Jope believes in “a future where we focus primarily on what people produce, not on where or when they work”.
With many of us desperate to make up for lost travelling time, some dream destinations presented themselves immediately. While Australia will be off-limits to Brits until 2022 or even beyond, in time Perth is a possibility: the daily non-stop flight to London takes about 17 hours, so even allowing for a Tube snarl-up between Heathrow and Unilever HQ at Blackfriars, that 24-hour target looks achievable from Western Australia.
Except, of course, that being within a day’s commute is not the same thing as being on call with a 24-hour deadline.
The start of the countdown is not at the behest of the remote worker. Your boss will not be impressed if you are in, say, Oklahoma, when the summons comes in but the last eastbound flight of the night from nearby Dallas-Fort Worth has taken off.
So I started looking instead at locations with frequent flights to the capital. Right now, that means the usual European suspects – Barcelona, Milan, Munich etc – but also a trio of splendid eastern Mediterranean cities: Athens, Istanbul and Tel Aviv.
None of this would please my excellent colleague, Helen Coffey, who is defying gravity-defying aircraft in favour of terrestrial options. Amsterdam looks the best option, with one direct train a day and two rail-sea connections via Hook of Holland and Harwich in case the Eurostar timing doesn’t work.
Only on Monday morning could I clarify with Unilever the precise rules. Having staff stretched across the sphere is not exactly what the firm has in mind. You are expected in the office on at least two days a week and if you are employed in the UK you should live here too.
Even so, the options in the furthest-flung corners of the kingdom are commendable. For reasons of environmental sensitivity I will exclude flying and driving.
I calculate the far north of mainland Scotland could be beyond that 24-hour reach – should the call come to Caithness after teatime. Invergordon on Cromarty Firth is as far as you could reliably install yourself. But Belfast and the Antrim coast are manageable thanks to frequent ferries, as is anywhere on the spectacular rail network in Wales.
Top choice if you are relocating but need to stay tethered to London? It must be Morpeth in Northumberland, from later this month just 200 minutes from the capital on cheap and, I predict, cheerful Lumo trains. The Tulsa of the North, as Morpeth will henceforth be known.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies