Out of Office
There’s something to be said for proximity.
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” — Susan Sontag, 1977
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What’s the longest span of time you’ve been away from a familiar place?
A vacation of a week or two away from the comforts of your home? A couple of semesters apart from your loved ones while you pursue your education?
Or, in recent times, over a year away from that place we spend more waking hours than any other: the office.
In one sense, being away makes us appreciate what we’ve left behind. It makes us yearn for what we knew so intimately, creating a sense of heartache that affirms the adage that “home is where the heart is.”
As the business world debates the return to the office, leaders are grappling with dueling sensibilities: on the one hand, the safety and peace of mind that some employees have by remaining at home; on the other, the irreplaceable morale and relationship building that comes from interacting in a communal setting.
There are no easy answers, and CEOs must judge for themselves and their organizations what makes the most sense. The challenge, of course, being that one size most certainly does not fit all.
The Ultimate Odyssey
Can you imagine being away from those dearest to you for 20 years?
That’s exactly what Odysseus and his family experienced during and following the Trojan War, as told by Homer. The war itself lasted for a decade, and then Odysseus’ journey home took another decade.
And yet, we find that even after arriving home to greet his wife — who bravely and repeatedly delayed and deceived her suitors — and his son, Odysseus finds that he still yearns for the excitement and variety he derived from his sojourns.
In his classic poem “Ulysses,” Tennyson points out the true nature of Ulysses (Odysseus) is to follow his wanderlust, forever traveling:
“…for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.”
There are people who live to travel; they adore the variety of people, food, and scenes that the wide world has to offer. To them, traveling is life.
“There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1921
See the World Without Leaving Home
Yet in modern times, we have the world at our fingertips. Wikipedia is our sherpa, Google Maps’ Street View our tour bus, Instagram our scrapbook.
In his seminal Understanding Media in 1964, Marshall McLuhan presciently identified the degradation of the itinerant life by new media:
“Travel differs very little from going to a movie or turning the pages of a magazine… people… never arrive at a new place. They can have Shanghai or Berlin or Venice in a package tour that they need never open… Thus the world itself becomes a sort of museum of objects we have encountered before in some other medium.”
Of course we know that seeing something is far from the reality of experiencing something. Seeing our colleagues on Zoom calls over the last year doesn’t replace the experience of being in the same room with them.
The cocked eyebrow, the subtle glance, combined the timbre of a voice — all convey information and communicate to us more than a two-dimensional non-carbon copy does.
“Travel teaches tolerance.” — Benjamin Disraeli, 1832
If anything, being the in the presence of others, whether they’re family and friends, peers and colleagues, or complete strangers, makes us better humans.
We revel in the shared experiences. We marvel at the new and different. We gain appreciation for things we may have previously taken for granted.
“Out of office” doesn’t mean we’re disengaged.
Indeed, it may be that we’re more engaged than ever.
“A traveler’s chief aim should be to make men wiser and better, and to improve their minds by the bad—as well as good—example of what they deliver concerning foreign places.” — Jonathan Swift, 1726
A letter from 640 proves that banning travel during an outbreak has been a long-standing practice. Stay Home, All Ye Faithful. (Lapham’s Quarterly)
The ultimate paean to travel. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. (Poetry Foundation)
The lure of Capri: what is it about this tiny, sun-drenched island off the coast of Naples that has made it so irresistible for so long? (Smithsonian Magazine)
“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in
seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust, 1913
From battling traffic to burnout to wardrobes, navigate your return to the office. (Washington Post)
The virtual world is not forever. Five reasons offices won't go away. (SmartBrief)
The five-day workweek is dead. It’s time for something better. (Vox)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine, c. 390
🎧 Jason Moore has been exploring the world for the past 15 years and shares his tips on quitting your job and becoming a full-time traveler in a five-part series on Zero to Travel. He also interviews adventurers and includes tips on living abroad in other podcast episodes.
📚 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust follows the narrator's recollections of childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th century and early 20th century high society France, while reflecting on the loss of time and lack of meaning in the world. It is a classic that is also known by its first translated title Remembrance of Things Past.
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