The invention of the computer, and its sibling, the cellphone, has enabled all of us to leave the drudgery of the office once and for all.
I took advantage of the new work paradigm about five years ago. Why should we rent vastly expensive offices in Sandton, hack our way through the traffic each morning, and hack back in the evening, to houses which had been empty most of the day? Once I had posed the question, there was a simple answer. Take up some of the rooms abandoned by children who had fled the nest, and cut the overheads. Late last year I took the process a step further. Why should we live in Johannesburg when most of our family was elsewhere? Families are important in our lives, and it’s nice to be near them.
The arithmetic was simple. Johannesburg held one son in thrall; Cape Town a son, a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law, and a mother-in-law; and London a son and a daughter.
By active marketing we sold the Houghton shack; a feat which caused our friends to check our feet – “can you also walk on water?”, as one inquired – and, armed with fistfuls of money, set off for the Cape.
Reality came soon. Yes, house prices in the Cape had dropped. All that meant was that we could now afford something more than a Khayalitsha shack. With chagrin we rented a little house and moved from ‘active marketing’ to ‘active purchasing’.
Well, nine months after abandoning Johannesburg we shall finally move into a Cape Town house of our own. In the interim, work has continued as before. The ‘virtual office’ gives you the freedom to be anywhere in the world.
In spite of that freedom, it has been difficult to explain that you have not retired to the coast. So many of my friends assume that anyone living in sight of the sea has nothing better to do than sit and watch it. In vain do I explain that the virtual office is a reality, and that work continues as before. Our clients are happy, they get what they want, on time and within budget. It’s everyone else, all those who are not directly involved with what we do, for whom anything, other than an 011 area code, spells retirement.
And, indeed, it is a very interesting question.
If retirement means no longer going to an office, is it possible to retire from a virtual office? Don’t you retire when you set up a virtual office? The typewriter may have changed the world the way it did, but it seems probable that the computer will have a greater impact.
It will enable us to swap the drudgery of retirement for something more useful to ourselves and to society. You will only retire when you are tired of doing the things you enjoy. Clearly, accountants will retire early.
Doesn’t it make you happy to be an engineer?