Working from home

STANDARD PROCEDURE – FOR THE LAST 45 YEARS

Working from home remains a hot topic and everyone has an opinion to share, lauding the benefits, lamenting the disadvantages, longing to be back in the office or dreading the return to commuter life. Some profess to be excited about meeting colleagues in person once more, others sad to say goodbye to the days when dressing for business meant a smart top over loungewear. Inevitably there is disagreement: different people are affected in different ways and in any case, some people just like an argument and some people just can’t stomach change. I have heard it advocated that we should simply go with the flow, that we should take the path of least resistance for an easy ride through life, but not everyone does find it easy to spend their days ducking and diving, nodding meekly and tugging the forelock. It seems expediency is often the golden rule today – expediency in the sense that when you discover something good, you keep it close to your chest to avoid throwing fuel on the fire of envy and weakening the fabric of society. Too far-fetched? I feel the ghost of a smile crossing my face; does it show?
A flight of 20 steps, each 20 centimetres high, separates the white-collar world from the blue at Windpilot. Upstairs means intellectual labour, downstairs manual, and the four-metre height difference that separates the two means a change of focus (and a moment of exercise) every time I move between them – just as it has done for the last 47 years.
The decision to combine work and sleep under one roof back in 1978 didn’t feel especially momentous at the time. The arrangement certainly has its benefits in a business operated by life partners. I have noticed some downsides as well (including experiencing just about every variety of close combat there is over the years), but believe me when I say I can most often be found grinning from ear to ear about it.

We still had proper winters in those days too, which made the long commute in my cold and clunky 2CV (an hour or two every day, more if I forgot something and had to double back) even harder to enjoy. My brain prefers not to calculate exactly how much time I have saved over the decades but I feel I must have gained years. Actually I think I’d rather look at it this way: not having to travel to work every day has simply enabled me to make better use of my life. It came as quite a shock to realise this during a reflective moment in mid-December last year!

Ich wurde damals in meinem Bekanntenkreis ringsum für verrückt erklärt: „wie kann man nur so dumm sein, Wohn- und Arbeitsleben so eng zu verknüpfen?“I was roundly ridiculed when I first told my friends what I had in mind. “Are you mad? Why would anyone want to put their home and business under the same roof?” Of course soon enough those same friends thought nothing of dropping by to visit me in the workshop for help with this or that essential of the sailing life since – oh how very practical – I was almost certain to be at home.
Here a pulpit “You must have a bit of spare 25 mill tube here somewhere“, there a fitting, Maybe a HeliCoil for the cylinder head as wellI just need to borrow a couple of tools for a moment… Did all of this help or hinder the cause of friendship? My thoughts on the matter today run as clear as the mountain stream.
Disposing of the by-products was always my job: old containers full of used engine oil, defunct car bumpers and all the other waste materials produced were always left to me with a mumbled You’ll be able to sell that on won’t you? And as for the poor toilet and the abuse it took, well, it’s best not to think about it. Time and again I heard those famous words: And if you need a hand with anything just give me a call.

When the building works were under way in earnest during the 1980s and 1990s however, to my great surprise (as if), I was largely left to my own devices. There were professionals on site for the serious structural work of course though – and come to think of it my forklift truck was always there when I needed it too. As usual it is all about give and take. Perhaps some of us just have more to give and others have … (fill in the blank). Sharp elbows and a very short memory for favours: it’s enough (so the mirror tells me) to turn one’s hair grey.

Männerspielzeug


It is of course also very convenient to live at the construction site. Important delivery arriving at half five in the morning? Not a problem provided the alarm clock does its job. Pyjamas are perfectly good attire for unloading a truck after all – assuming it really is the crack of dawn and not nearly lunch time, when appearing in public in pyjamas might suggest to the suspicious-minded that whatever “ing” it is you’ve been doing at home that morning, it had nothing to do with work.
The other, far more practical alternative to sleeping in pyjamas (although possibly even more of a turn-off than pyjamas for certain other nocturnal activities with company), is to go to bed ready dressed in work clothes. That way, there’s no need for another costume drama in the morning and the time that would have been spent changing can be dedicated to other, more productive things. Finding the time is always the problem. It always has been. Even when I first went to sea as a teenager, the crew nicknamed me for my haste. 

My incessant (and consistently unsuccessful) struggle to fit everything I want to do into the hours I have available played a large part in my decision 19 years ago to make my 220th international boat show appearance my last.

The ratio of costs (travel, hotel, car rental etc.) to benefits (sales and access to prospective customers for the future) regularly ended up the wrong way around but with conditions not yet ripe for word-of-mouth to take off, the other options for throwing money at the problem were limited. Hand in hand with all the money spent though went time spent. A good few months of business might make up for the former, but it hurt me to acknowledge the latter was gone for good.

Teams and Zoom were not even a twinkle in a developer’s eye back then of course and the internet was still in short trousers. It was the Wild West as far as marketing windvane self-steering systems goes. Travelling for work did though have a certain allure for a young man in the early days: aeroplanes, exotic-sounding destinations, the risks and opportunities of selling face-to-face all over the world and the chance to meet interesting new people for reasons of business and (less successfully, if I’m honest) fleeting pleasures.
Even then though I was already laying the robust foundations at my home/factory/office that helped me hit the fast lane in international marketing when the time came. Hamburg airport is just around the corner (almost as close as the nearest good bakery) and, since we live and work under the same roof, the boss can always find me easily enough when she needs me without having to use the phone and push up our overheads. Our magic carpet ride continues.

Windpilot: right on trend just by carrying on doing what we’ve always done!

Best wishes,
Peter Foerthmann 


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