“A train is a plane without wings.” I remember that statement vividly from my first day at Bombardier. And as you hurtle down the East Coast mainline at over 100mph you can see the point. It’s an aluminium tube with seats, travelling at speed, with a drinks trolley and toilets.
I make the journey to London a lot less frequently than I used to. One of the joys of my job is working from home most of the time. However when I do commute the temptation is to make the most of the time – potentially adding a couple of hours or more to my working day.
Lots of people do it, particularly those travelling far longer distances than me. Often I get on the train only to find my reserved seat strewn with somebody else’s “homework”. Their irritation when asked to move their stuff is palpable and on some occasions has bordered on the aggressive. But that’s another story…
My concern when thinking about working on the move has always been “who is potentially sitting next to me?” It has caused me to adopt a personal set of rules about what I will and won’t work on while I am on the train. I am increasingly unconvinced others follow the same code.
In recent weeks I have sat next to everyone from recruitment consultants reviewing CVs, to people drafting sensitive presentations about key business decisions. I could have read any number of company’s management accounts and business plans. I seem to sit quite frequently next to HR people too – writing up everything from notes on disciplinary meetings, to drafting training plans. Recently a whole team of recruitment people were sitting at a table in my carriage openly holding the “wash up” for that day’s assessment centre.
While some of what they are working on is clearly innocuous, other material is highly sensitive. Do doctors and clinicians review patient material on the train? Do accountants work on clients personal tax returns? I suspect I know the answer. One of our team commented to me only last week that they’d sat next to someone reviewing medical case notes on their train.
Loud and indiscrete business phone conversations are another personal bugbear. However I personally don’t agree with “quiet coaches” and get annoyed by the zealots who complain immediately and loudly about fellow passengers using any technology more advanced than today’s Daily Mail or Telegraph. There are occasions when you need to take a call – even if it is just a quick and quiet “goodnight” to a small child who wants their Daddy home.
It seems to me we spend lots of time worrying about Data Protection in the office. However the rules go out of the window on the move. You hear all sorts of conversations; can openly see laptop screens and paperwork. A train may be like a plane but it isn’t an office.
By all means catch up on your non-sensitive reading. Write blogs and opinion pieces that will be public soon anyway. Write your own CV if you don’t care who sees it. What about the rest? Do it somewhere appropriate and discreet. Or simply get up earlier and finish the work before you set off, then catch up with your sleep on the move!