Ruth Devenney Remote Working From A Boat

Ruth Devenney Remote Working From A Boat

When I joined Waterman Aspen in September 2013 I knew I’d found the company I wanted to spend the rest of my working life with and the idea of leaving to have the trip of a lifetime didn’t enter my head.

However, in June 2018 I gave up my full-time salaried role to become an hourly paid consultant and headed off with my husband and our two dogs to take our Dutch-Style Barge through the rivers and canals of Europe.  I thought working from home on a boat, sometimes in the middle of remote France, would be impossible so I initially committed to nothing, other than to help when I could.

I soon found that far from being cut off from the rest of the world, the use of mobile broadband with ‘same as home’ roaming charges meant that I was contactable 24/7.  I also found the perfect desk set up, where I opened a leaf on our dining room table in the morning to place my laptop and paperwork then packed it all away every evening at the end of the working day (usually calling out “Hi honey, I’m home!”).  I found that the practicalities were nowhere near as complicated as I had imagined and routine was key to ensuring my work and home life remained separate, even though both were being carried out within a 50ft x 13ft space.

A little while into our trip it became necessary for me to get more involved in the day-to-day running of the HR and Business Support team and I re-joined as a salaried member of staff on a part-time basis.  My challenge at that point was managing my team remotely with only 4 – 5 visits to the UK a year.

My role also requires me to have a good relationship with everyone within the support services including InTime, Accounts, Recruitment and Fleet.  Fortunately we have always worked well together and despite a few early hiccups it wasn’t too long before things settled down and with the help of fellow Directors and our amazing team of troopers I was back at the helm and on an even keel in no time (sorry, couldn’t resist some boaty analogies!).

In March this year, we happened to be in the UK on a pre-planned visit when France went into lockdown, quickly followed by the UK.  Lockdown meant canals and rivers were shut to pleasure craft so we decided to stay in the UK until we could get back to France and collect our barge……our home!

For me lockdown was just an extension of the remote working I had already experienced but the vastly increased workload (for HR) meant that instead of waiting until my permanent return to the UK this month, I resumed full time working in May.

Finally, we were able to return to France and start the journey back to the UK, via Germany, Holland and Belgium.  Now we are back in Essex and I am ready to return to the office and join my colleagues in establishing “business as usual” as quickly as possible.

So what did I learn?  The biggest challenge for me was managing the team remotely and not being able to support everyone as well as I would have liked.  I have always been able to spot problems and find solutions quickly, but this had always required me to be in the same location as my team.  It is almost impossible to observe things from afar but our Chelmsford team is full of enthusiastic, hard-working and caring people, so I was constantly kept in the loop about the whys and wherefores of team politics and the life challenges being faced by individuals at different times.

I can honestly say, without our fabulous team in Chelmsford I would not have been able to achieve everything that I have over the past couple of years.  By working remotely I have learnt a lot about myself and about how teams can thrive or fail according to the influences around them.  I am hugely proud of our team and am privileged to be a part of it.