Women in FIFO Away Work: Part 1 – The Fierce Cub in the Oil and Gas Pride

As discussed in my ‘What is a Fly-In Fly-Out Worker?’ blog, away workers extend far beyond the realms of the FIFO community. Further to this, it is not just men who up and leave their partners, families and friends to pursue a career.

All industries that survive and revolve around sending workers away from their homes for extended periods of time, often to remote and isolated locations, owe their ongoing success to women in their work force. From the female leaders of organisations, experts in their field; women in technical roles, support services or trades; to the partners, sisters, daughters and mothers left behind – women are an integral part.

Women face the same challenges as their male counterparts while working away, as well as some additional ones that come with the territory of working in some male dominated industries.

I have asked one such woman for her insight into what working away from home means to her.

She is an inspirational woman. She has been an integral part of one of Australia’s largest projects for many years and has built and maintained the respect of her colleagues in every part of her working journey. She has successfully pursued her career in a male dominated industry with interstate travel, moves overseas and extended periods on a FIFO roster.

FIFO Australia

These are her thoughts:

I’ve worked as an engineer in the Oil & Gas industry for the best part of the last 10 years. During this time, travel has been a constant feature of my job in one form or another. I’ve made countless trips to locations all over the world to witness equipment testing in vendor factories, attend training courses, or participate in industry forums. I spent almost five years living overseas on expat assignments in Houston and in London and I’ve recently completed a two-year stint of working FIFO to a remote location on a two week on/two week off roster.

While all of this has made for a lot of adventure and excitement, it still meant that I have spent a lot of time away from family and close friends in order to pursue my career goals. However, I can without question say that the Passporttravelling I have done as part of my job has been incredibly fulfilling. In a purely professional context it has hugely broadened my experience and exposure within my company and given me real insight into how best to work and
interact with people from all over the world. This is something which has proven to be immensely valuable in such an international and multicultural industry.

In a personal context, the benefits of my work travel have been even more valuable. It has helped me to grow in confidence and independence as I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone. Moving unaccompanied to the other side of the world taught me that I could figure pretty much anything out on my own – that it wasn’t really that hard to set up a bank account in a foreign country, or to get car insurance, or to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Having to make friends in cities where I had none taught me to say ‘yes’ to invitations that I might otherwise have turned down. I have developed the skill of being someone who is willing to give things a try, which I think is an important part of growing as a person both in and out of the workplace.

I started working FIFO after a little over 7 years in the Oil & Gas industry. Having worked for so long in a male-dominated industry and having already done so much travelling I have to admit I didn’t think I would find it particularly hard to adjust to the FIFO lifestyle, but there are elements to the FIFO life that made it an entirely different beast.

For one thing, there really are not many women on site. There are certainly a few, and the numbers are increasing! But still nowhere near the 50/50 split of normal life, or even the 80/20 split of my Engineering course quoteat university. This means that women stand out, whether they want to or not. It took a while to adjust to the way that seemingly trivial actions would be noticed and commented upon. “I saw you buying an ice-cream last night!” or “I saw you going out for a run!”

While almost always meant in a friendly spirit, it was still an odd and uncomfortable feeling to know that I was being watched while going about my normal (and very unexciting!) business. The plus side, though, is that having such a clear point of difference made it very easy to be memorable. The fact that my face and my name stood out in a sea of male faces and names gave me an amazing opportunity to get my hard work and successes noticed by people who could help make a difference to my career.

Another unexpected aspect of FIFO life was that personal interactions with co-workers are very different on site. When working away it can be hard to stay connected to friends and family back home. I often felt isolated from the life I had left behind, and family and friends found it hard to understand what I was doing or to keep track of when I’d be coming home. Given these feelings of disconnection, the natural inclination is to lean on the people around you on site.

This can be a really positive thing in some ways. I became much closer to my colleagues and knew a lot more about them as people outside of work than I ever did when working in an office. This led me to forge some strong friendships and set up a support network of people who understood exactly what challenges I was facing and what I was going through. These friendships were predominantly with other women – while there may not be many of them on site, the ones there are tend to be good ones!

The downside to this, however, is that boundaries can far more easily become blurred, even if you don’t want them to be. I am an open and friendly person by nature – I like to form connections with the people around me. When working in traditional office jobs there is a much clearer distinction between ‘work’ life and ‘home’ life. I have never experienced any major issues in this environment, even though they have always been very male-dominated.

wonder-woman-comic-5-things-you-need-to-know-ftr

But people working FIFO spend at least as many evenings with their colleagues as they do with their families. They don’t automatically have that daily reinforcement and reconnection of going home to their partners every night. And once those feelings of disconnection set in, it is very easy once again to turn to the people around you and start looking for the wrong sort of connections there instead.

Also let’s be honest, it is much easier to cheat on your partner when you’re working FIFO – there’s no need to make up excuses for not coming straight home from work or to invent business trips away! So after a couple of very awkward encounters I found I had to become much more guarded in my interaction with some people on site so as to avoid giving the wrong impression.

The main thing that I took out of my FIFO experience, however, was exactly that – the experience. It is very common to hear people in my industry sneering at ‘office’ engineers who have never spent time in the field and have no idea what it’s like ‘in the real world’. To have the opportunity to prove that as a woman I am just as capable of working in a FIFO role has been incredibly valuable. Having earned my stripes in a site context has given me a credibility that I don’t believe I could have acquired any other way.

I have always felt respected by my colleagues and been confident in my abilities, but my time on site has made the difference between me sitting in a meeting saying “are you sure that’s right?” and me sitting in a meeting saying “no, that’s not right”. I am a more assertive and confident professional and a stronger person for the experience, which has made even the most challenging parts more than worthwhile.

Woman on a Rock

I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I did. I think this gives great insight into the challenges and rewards that can be achieved by women not only in this industry but across the board in away work.

Also, hopefully this is motivation and a great example for at least one budding female engineer out there to take the plunge and pursue her career ambitions through working away!

Do you know or work with some inspirational women in tough workplaces? I’d love to hear about them and am sure a lot of other people would also.

Until the next instalment, keep safe and stay connected!

19 Tips to Eat Well while Working Away

In my experience, staying fit and healthy is the key to getting the most from life. I know when I am feeling fit and healthy – the air is fresher, the sky is bluer, obstacles are challenges and there are more solutions than problems. The world is just such a better place.

A key to feeling healthy is eating right. This varies for everyone and is totally dependent on many factors such as age, level of activity, allergies, religion and even mood.

Maintaining a balanced diet that keeps you feeling healthy and vibrant is always a challenge and is one of the toughest things to do when working away. Having control of your diet can have sizeable roll-on effects to all aspects of your existence when away from home, including your mental wellbeing.

So, here’s 19 tips I’ve gained along the way that have kept me healthy and somewhat sane over my years of working away (in no particular order):

 

1. Anything is OK in moderation

Don’t beat yourself up over a binge or bad meal – you should have earned it. However, make sure you’ve earned it!

 

2. Limit your intake of gluten, prolamines and lectins.

This includes breads, cereals, grains, pasta and rice. It also takes into account legumes such as beans, lentils, corn and peas. Given these are some of the staples of the camp accommodation menu, if I do include them then it will be for breakfast.

 

3. Eat plenty of veggies!

This tip is at the very core of maintaining a healthy nutritional strategy whilst away for work. Whenever the opportunity presents, grab some broccoli, carrots, spinach, cucumber, beetroot, cabbage and cauliflower. You may have to go looking for them but it is worth it. On a related note…

 

4. Capsicums, Capsicums, Capsicums!

I could probably write a whole blog just about how great capsicums are! A capsicum a day got me through 2 Canadian winters unscathed and have sworn by them ever since.
Healthy VegetablesCapsicum boosts metabolism and strengthens immunity. Source: AWW

 

5. Set food goals, especially on long trips/rotations

Fish and Chip Fridays (proper battered fish, deep fried fish), Taco Thursdays, Roast Sunday etc. I find it gives me just another small goal for the week and something to make me train a bit harder to enjoy… guilt free!

 

6. Don’t over eat!

You’d be surprised how little you need to consume per day to stay healthy. Just because the food is free, don’t feel obliged to eat as much as you can as often as you can. And limit what you take to work for morning tea and lunch. If it is there, you will eat it.

 

7. Sourcing you energy from fats, not carbs

Some consider this to be Nutrition 101. Plenty of steak, chicken, fish, bacon when it is available with eggs and cold meat for lunch. (The type of cold meat that was cooked the previous night but I’ll let you source that).

 

8. Dessert time!

Now, this is a tough topic for me as I have real trouble with dessert. I have tried abstinence, have tried walking around the dessert bar, even tried going for dinner late so dessert would be cleaned up. The end result is… that I love dessert!!! So I figure that if I eat well and stay active, dessert every third night is OK…isn’t it?

 

9. Know what you are eating

Ask what is in the beef stew, lamb curry or the chicken korma. Most camp chefs are willing to discuss, just ask them nicely.

 

10. Keep a food diary for a few days

When I am feeling flat, despondent or just plain ordinary I can usually track it back to eating and/or lack of exercise. It’s helpful to know what you are eating in a day as you can sometimes lose track.

 

11. Create good eating habits across your home and away time

I find this helps keep my energy levels stay consistent and allows me to settle back into accommodation food and my work that little bit easier.

 

12. Limit alcohol consumption

Drinking can make me lose my appetite and even a couple of beers with work colleagues a few nights a week leads to one of two things. 1- I skip dinner and instead fill up on Doritos and beef jerky or 2- fill up on Doritos and beef jerky, go and have dinner and not sleep because I have a full tummy!! I don’t usually drink when on rotation but if I do I try to limit it to the cheat nights when beer and a BBQ sounds quite inviting. And while on the topic of drinking…

 

13. Drink plenty of water

I find this not only helps me feel healthy but does tend to kill my appetite a little also.

 

14. Always have breakfast

If I skip breakfast I am well and truly down by 900 and if I’m busy and don’t eat until 1100; grumpiest man in the world! For me breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

 

15. Enjoy eating

Eating should be pleasurable; after all you are refuelling your body. Take the time to sit and enjoy your lunch, take in your surroundings at breakfast. Given that I have my breakfast and lunch usually in my office, I always make sure at dinner I sit down quietly and enjoy my meal for what it is….the sustenance that your body and mind have earned after successfully negotiating another rotation of the earth.

 

16. Eat for your health, not your taste buds

There are plenty food diet distractions so this is a good general mantra to live by. Again, refer to point 1.

 

17. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring

Take flavour with you. I take coconut oil which goes with just about anything! Also take spices and herbs to sprinkle on my steak and chicken and it helps with the salads some times.

Coconut oil for flavour

Coconut Oil can increase your energy expenditure, helping you burn more fat. Source: Authority Nutrition

18. Watch out for sugar

Working in an office filled with administration girls, this goes beyond a teaspoon with my instant coffee. There is a constant supply of biscuits, lollies, cake and other food bought from camp and the shop for birthday, leavings or just because. It’s a trap, they are trying to fatten us all up!

19. Have a banana or two on hand

I don’t always have a chance to stop when I’m hungry so I try to always have a banana or two around to get me through the next hour or so.

Banana Food Health

Bananas are a great source of potassium and fibre. Source: Live Science

So this is by no means a gospel of eating but a beginners guide which seems to have kept me healthy and able to keep up with the rigours of quite a demanding profession. My diet will vary slightly depending on how hard and often I am training, which is also a big part in keeping my vitality levels up.

I think nutrition is an important part of an away workers lifestyle and am interested to get feedback and input from others away workers on this subject.

So, until the next instalment, keep safe and stay connected!

5 reasons why I Work Away…and it’s not the money!!

I was 21 when I first decided to work away from home. I accepted a job with the Electricity Supply Authority on the eastern outskirts of Central Queensland. The job location was only a 500km drive from my home town but with a population of less than 500 and no bakeries for 80km it was a daunting prospect!

I remember thinking at the time that I was neither excited nor enthusiastic about the move. In my head I had every reason not to go, but the words of my father still ring loudly in my ears: “If you don’t like it, you can always move back. What have you got to lose?”.

Well at the time, at 21, playing 1st grade Rugby and having a fantastic time in a big city; I thought I had everything to lose. But ever since that fateful day in January 1998 when I arrived for my first day of work, it has been the best decision I have ever made.

That experience really sparked my passion for adventure, challenge and continuous progression through work and travel. I travelled away from my home to work many times back then, even relocating overseas to work in numerous foreign countries. Granted I was a public servant in London and built houses in Canada, but nonetheless I was working away.

I have also been in jobs where I needed to leave my family and travel away from home for ad hoc work trips. Sometimes for weeks at a time and sometimes for five 3 days trips / month.

Now I am heavily entranced in the FIFO (TATH) lifestyle.

Many would argue that the biggest incentive for working away is the money. For me, this is not the case. Not all my work related travel was rewarded with a financial gain; in fact through most of my work career I could have been remunerated much higher working closer to home. But that would have been know where near as much fun and character building.

So what do I think are the benefits of travelling away for work? Why have I and why will I continue to choose this career path?

Here are my 5 reason to take the plunge!

 

1. It removes you from your Comfort Zone

Do you love to travel? Are you passionate about your career? Do you have a high tolerance for risk? It doesn’t matter if the answer to all of these questions is yes. Travelling away to work puts everyone in some way outside their comfort zone.

After all, you are away from your family, your friends, your house….your safety net. Weather travelling away to work for a week, a month, indefinitely or permanently; the decision is a brave one. Slowly you will move into a new comfort zone. You may choose to stay here for a while or jump from that one also!

Being out of your comfort zone, for me, is one of life’s great experiences and the feeling of fulfilment when you find steady ground again is almost overwhelming.

 

2. It makes you more Adaptable, Flexible & Tolerant

Working away exposes you to a vast range of people, culture and behaviour. The saying “you can’t choose your family or your work colleagues” rings true. Like the yearly Christmas lunch, you have to bite your tongue when dodgy Uncle Richo makes his speech and turns everyone off their lunch. Sometimes you have to just smile and nod.

FIFO Mining

You can never like everyone and everyone will never like you but any good work place is not build on fondness for each other. Great work places are built on respect. With respect comes tolerance and with tolerance comes adaption and acceptance. After all, you all have one thing in common. Your work!

 

3. Obstacles become Challenges

You face many obstacles in day to day life, both at work and at home. Small, generally unnoticed obstacles that we are so used to overcoming, we’re not even aware of them. When working away, many factors can cause these obstacles to become magnified; as well as new ones presenting themselves.

You learn very fast that if you want to survive in that particular line of work, you need to embrace these challenges as they are small yet golden opportunities to prove that you can do it. Eventually, you tend to be less reactive, the challenges seem less and your time away at work gets easier.

These wins are more fulfilling given the somewhat foreign environment you can find yourself in… Where is that comfort zone again??

 

4. You become more open to making friends with new people

When you choose the path of working away, especially for extended periods of time, two things tend to happen. You have to accept the fact that you will lose some of your current friends but you will also gain a few new ones.

I’m not talking about removing the weeds from your Facebook-friend   garden to add a few more seedlings.
Pilbara FIFO Mine Site

I’m talking about actual friends. Friendships that are formed under the  adversity of circumstance and challenges you both share. For me, close friendships formed while working away are rare but the ones I have made are strong and lifelong.

Another aspect here is that you become friends with people that you otherwise may never have been in the situation to meet or be exposed to. You are forced to be friendly with people who you could otherwise avoid.

 

5. It makes you more appealing to future employers

This might be an overlooked benefit of working away, but this sort of work experience is definitely something employers look for. This is especially the case if the employer has had similar experience with working away. How do I know this?

Because I have been interviewing and employing people for many years now and it is one thing I always look for in a CV, particularly if the job requires regular away travel for long periods of time.

resume-2-1616792-1920x1440

Having the experience and demonstrated ability to work away shows many characteristics. It tells the employer you are willing to go outside your comfort zone, consciously or not. It demonstrates the ability to be flexible and adapt.

It shows that you can overcome the obstacles that will definitely arise and it also gives the employer some kind of insight into your ability to make friends in a relatively unfamiliar environment. When I interview candidates for both crew and supervisory / engineering roles, this is a big focus.

It may not be obvious from the above 5 points when considered individually, but if you combine them it leads to a sneaky point number 6….Working away is EXCITING!!!!

My job is exciting. My previous jobs have been exciting. When I was safely in my comfort zone and the excitement faded, I changed positions to seek new challenges and intensity.

Take all the professions outlined on Blog 3. They are all the kind of professions that are high risk, different, fun, challenging, interesting, intriguing and…exciting. This is not to say you have to be some kind of crazy person  or adventurer, but I believe you have to want to take this path, and not feel that you have to.

These jobs can be demanding and you have to be prepared. They are also not the highest remunerated professions but for those who work them, they tick more important boxes.

I’d love to know what keeps you working away, or why you are thinking about choosing this type of career. What boxes does working away tick for you?

Until the next instalment, keep safe and stay connected!

Roster Calendar App

What is a FIFO Worker? Let’s crack the mould

Having been in the FIFO game for the last 6 years, working away from home has become part of my “normal”. Even to the extent that when I am home on R&R I am asked “so when do you fly home?” It’s a sad state of affairs really. But before my time as a FIFO worker, I used to travel away from home quite a bit for work; often for extended periods to all parts of Australia.

With the continually growing FIFO, DIDO, BIBO, FIBO (and other 4-letter acronyms people seem to keep applying) workforces, most of the attention around the ups and downs of working away has been concentrated on the resources sector. But working away from home spreads far beyond the Mining or Oil and Gas industries we hear so much about.

When I was searching for a solution to the problems I outlined in my first blog, I found a number of possibilities that partially addressed some of the issues, but no holistic answer.

In layman’s terms, ‘FIFO’ workers are on a set rotation and work in the resources sector: Hi-Vis shirts, Qantas Club and all that. But are these FIFO workers the only ones who are exposed to the effects of working away? Of course not. By definition, if you travel away to work, you work away!

So, what effects am I referring to?

Well, if you read any FIFO article, book or website, they all talk about the following adverse effects of the FIFO Life:

  • Missing your family and friends – feeling disconnected
  • Higher levels of stress and anxiety
  • Simple and limited accommodation and facilities
  • Issues with availability and variety of food
  • Long working days
  • Limited ability to stay in shape/fit due to working hour;
  • Possible drug / alcohol issues
  • And many many more!

All of the above are definite and tangible problems that most FIFO workers are faced with, directly or indirectly, and will be explored in future blog posts. But isn’t the same true for non-FIFO workers who travel away to work? Let’s spend some time exploring the spectrum of workers facing the challenges of working away…. And possibly revisit the definition of FIFO.

FIFO, but not FIFO…. Or is it not FIFO, but FIFO?

Most websites and publications promote the perception that FIFO (insert all other acronyms here) workers are the Blue Collar staff. They travel long distances on a regular rotation. They work on mine sites and large resources projects. I think this perception is largely driven by the media coverage of airports full of Hi-Vis and mine site photos that accompany many FIFO articles.

iPhone App

Take my current position for example.

Am I a FIFO Worker?

I am a white-collar worker on one of the world’s largest resources projects. I work a set rotation and fly a very long way to come to work. I wear Hi-Vis, work 12-14 hours a day and live in an accommodation camp at night. For all intents and purposes, I am a FIFO worker.

When asked what industry I work in, I can also respond with Construction or Commissioning or Oil and Gas, and all would be accurate.

But what about the guy who travels to site when required, from an equipment vendor to perform specialist work? He is construction, commissioning and Oil and Gas. Does this mean he doesn’t face the same issues?

Is he a FIFO Worker?

Another example would be those workers who directly support the resources industry. A very close friend of mine works in training and competency. He works across sectors from Oil and Gas, Electrical Distribution and Heavy Industry. He often travels away from his family for weeks at a time on no set rotation or schedule.

Is he a FIFO Worker?

What about the consultants or ‘resultants’ as some like to be called? I know one who travels overseas, regularly, to his office in Asia. Generally he does 10 days away and 4 days at home but this is flexible depending on plans he may have with his wife.

Is he a FIFO Worker?

I spend a lot of time flying and like to chat to the air hostesses about their rosters. There is not much else to chat about on the red eyes and it always makes for interesting conversation. The crews on these aircrafts do such a great job and also spend much time away from home.

Two, three, or up to seven nights at a time in towns across the country while their partners, kids and pets stay at home. A different bed every night and living out of a small suit case half of the month.

Are they FIFO Workers?

Or the interstate truck driver who spends long hours on the road, sleeps in his cabin and does so on long round trips to move much needed goods around our country.

Are they FIFO (or DIDO) Workers?

Other examples from my network of friends and colleagues are:

  • The father of two who travels works in remote Indigenous Communities three weeks a month as a boilermaker.
  • The husband who travels to far and remote locations for unspecified time frames to make a living as a pearl diver.
  • The deck hand on an offshore Salmon boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
  • The father of four who leaves his home in Switzerland, travels overland by train, flies internationally and then boards a helicopter to a drill rig ring off the coast of Brazil.
  • The military man who travels off for exercises in the far north, seldomly contactable to his three kids, wife and parents.

Are they FIFO workers?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines a FIFO worker as ‘someone whose place of work is sufficiently isolated from the worker’s place of residence to make daily commute impractical’.

By this definition, the answer to all the above is a resounding Yes!

They all travel for extended periods to make a living and sleep in different beds; often each night. They work long hours, miss their family and friends, and most of all, they experience a lot of the same stress, worry and anxiety as those that are usually classified as ‘FIFO’.

New FIFO Image

 

The new ‘FIFO Worker’ image. PHOTO CREDIT: The West Australian

I guess my point here is this: there is so much air time and visibility given to the stresses and negative effects of the Australian resources FIFO industry, that all the other members of the community who sacrifice equally and share similar experiences are somewhat forgotten about.

That’s what really stood out to me when looking to develop One Minute Closer. It’s not just set rotation workers that will benefit from this App. It is also those who don’t have set rosters, do adhoc travel, have extended trips, travel to remote places to work.

All people who work away need to feel more connected to home.

Maybe it is time to start expanding the widely held interpretation of the FIFO worker to include all who can benefit from current FIFO initiatives? Or maybe it is time to coin a new term (yes another 4 letter acronym) to include all works who travel away to make a living…Travel Away Travel Home (TATH) Workers.

What are your thoughts?

Until the next entry, keep safe and stay connected!

Let’s ask those who matter: What do you think about me working away?

In my first blog entry I touched on what working FIFO and away from home means to me. I noted some of the opportunities and challenges myself and most away workers face when they leave home to make a living.

For me there is no doubt these opportunities and challenges also exist in locally based work; I experienced most of them in previous career lives. But I also believe from experience many aspects of employment, positive and negative are magnified in the various FIFO / working away industries. Contributing factors here are the increased remuneration, diversity of career paths available, time away from home and inconsistent communication with friends and family left behind.

It is not my intention through these posts to complain about my chosen career path and current work situation. I am a firm believer in “if you don’t like it, you can change it”. This is a message I support and have passed on to many people, both who I have worked with and who have worked for me. My intentions in writing about working away are threefold:

  1. For those considering the change to away work: to give tangible, experience-based insight into what they may expect and to help them make an informed decision to embark on this journey;
  2. For those currently working away: to share my and others experiences in an attempt to lower the height of the hurdles they face and to know they are not alone in these challenges;
  3. For the families and friends left behind when the trip back to work starts: to create a forum to enquire more about the life of an away worker in an effort to bridge some gaps that may exist and help strengthen relationships.

It is this last point that I’d like to explore in this post! After writing my opening entry, I asked my sister to pen in her own words what my working away meant to her. I had never asked her this question before and honestly did not know what to expect.

Just some back ground before you read on. My sister and I are close in age; 2 years apart. Physically we are very different, but we share the same passion for life and enjoying all the fruits of it. She is extremely highly educated and one of the most intelligent people I know.

We are both very family orientated with a common love and admiration for our parents; along with the frustration that comes with dealing with Grey Nomads!

We have always been close. We lived together, travelled together; she was the groomsman at my wedding and my pillar through my separation. She is one of the most important people in my life and her happiness means the world to me.

This is what she thinks of me working away…

…My bro works away from home for extended periods.

I believe they use the term FIFO to describe him these days. No not the inventory term ‘first in first out’, but ‘fly in fly out.’ We have always been close, although not necessarily physically close.

He moved to western Queensland while I studied at University. He spent two years in London, then I spent two years in London, he spent some time in Canada, I spend one year in Tasmania. I travelled a lot for work and holidays, but there was always a constant, my brother was always there for a quick phone call day or night. A quick text, or when we were both in the country, pretty regular catch ups.

But then he went FIFO!!!

What changed you say? How can being a FIFO be different to being in different states?

Weirdly to me, it actually is. Why? Living in different states, we had no expectation to catch up regularly and when we did, it was a big deal. By a big deal I mean, if I was coming to town I would be on leave and he would take leave or clear his diary for some sister time. If he was coming to town, I would take leave and clear my diary to hang out! It was well arranged, it was exciting, it was special!

But now, he comes back after nearly 4 weeks for nine days at home. This means he is back every month craving family time as I crave bro time. But it’s different. On these nine days I am working. I am not on leave every month. My regular life that just keeps ticking over, it can’t be put on hold monthly.

When my brother comes back he is thrown straight back into family life, managing his non-work life that the rest of us get to do every other day of the month. I see him try to squeeze 1 month into 9 days.

We find ourselves making the best laid plans to catch up for coffee without the kids, a wine, or a trip to the park as many days as possible when he’s back. But no matter how well we plan, it ends up being once or twice for an hour here or there.

We don’t get the opportunity for extended chats about what he does, what life is like, who are his friends, who annoys him, who makes him laugh!

Like most people, my bro’s job makes him who he is; your job is part of your fabric, shapes who you are. Yet, I don’t really understand at the moment what his job is, how it is shaping him, which makes it hard for me to understand why he is doing it?

With the time difference, bad reception and non-regular access to his mobile, chats and even texting becomes challenging. I wake up to texts in the morning saying “are you awake?” And he gets texts from me saying….”so are you available?” I remember on Christmas Day I really wanted to get in contact with him, I rang his personal mobile – out of service, I emailed his personal account, no answer, I hunted down his work phone – not available, and I emailed his work account which bounced back.

It left me in a state of despair! It was Christmas Day and I couldn’t contact him to say Merry Christmas! So the usual means of communication that everybody else uses to stay in contact is rarely available where he is working.

So maybe we need a strategy or plan for regularly catching up via the phone… not sure that would work as we aren’t the “stick religiously to a schedule” kind of people.

So maybe we need to book 1 day a month as bro and sis day…this is tough as his days at home vary every month and I am constantly trying to remember his home days to coordinate with mine… and just when I think I have it nailed, he has to change shift roster or cover somebody going on leave!

Assistance please! I am open to ideas, suggestions, or strategies to help us ensure we make it through this life stage with an awesome relationship intact!!

As you can imagine, when I read this it was both a shock and realization that I had not communicated at all with my sister about these issues. I had failed to even consider the impact of me working away on her, yet openly recognize her and her young family’s importance in my life.

I’m sure if you are reading this, it speaks for itself. This is definitely a challenge for most people who work away and the opportunity is to take a lesson from my oversight (as I am) and work to close these gaps with communication and a little more effort and prioritisation.

Since receiving the above from my sister, we have planned a camping trip with her Husband, my nephews and my little ninjas. We have spoken openly about making a firm commitment to coffee, wines and chats EVERY time I am back. But most of all we have promised not to let our awesome relationship move forward in anyway but intact.

While fulfilling in many ways, choosing to travel away to work is a tough choice. Have you asked yourself and / or those close to you what they think….what they really think?

Until the next instalment, keep safe and stay connected!

What it Means to Work Away from Home

PHOTO CREDIT: Fly in fly out workers

Making a living working away from home… What does that mean? For some it means more money, for others adventure, or an opportunity to expand their career horizons; but for the majority of people it is a foreign concept or a journey that is only heard about on the outskirts of shared conversations with friends about their friends of friends.

The motivations for travelling away from home to work are many and wide-ranging. However, the one aspect all of the workers have in common is that they spend long periods of time away from at least one person that they miss for their entire trip.

Yes, I work away from home and often for extended periods of time. I am a project execution FIFO worker whose office is around 4000kms from my hometown and I only spend a quarter of my time away from the job site.

Although FIFO/DIDO workers are often the first and only workers that come to mind when discussions are had regarding away work, there are many other occupations and industries that provide the same opportunities and pressures as choosing a FIFO career; transport, travel and military to name a few. The stresses of working away from home are often downplayed and overshadowed by the potential rewards, but the strains of the job can have negative and sometimes tragic outcomes on the worker, their co-workers, family and friends.

One thing I have learnt from my time working FIFO in the Australian Oil and Gas Industry is that everyone has their own story, their own reasons for choosing this career. Me; I mainly do it for the challenges of the job, the environment and the people that come with it. I enjoy seeing the projects grow, milestones achieved, entire organizations change and adapt as the project moves through its life cycle and the interfacing with so many interesting people as they come and go; this to me is what work is about. Excitement, fast paced, high risk and high reward.

However, with every opportunity comes sacrifice. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about my three amazing, beautiful and adorable children at home.

What are the opportunity costs of my current career on the relationships with my kids, close family and friends? Am I setting a good example to my children, adding value to their lives; or am I simply putting a tangible price on my time with my family and friends? These are some of the many questions I am sure every away worker asks themselves on a regular basis and I am equally sure they are answered a slightly different way nearly every time.

Whether on an “Expat Roster” of 8 weeks on / 3 weeks off or a truck driver doing ad hoc trips over a few days, feeling connected to those you leave behind is extremely important to most and it is this lack of “feeling” connected that I find the hardest obstacle to overcome. It is all well and good to stay “in-touch” on social media, text and phone calls, but unless those away from home actually feel included, connected, supported and still part of the family/social fabric of the network they leave behind, the strain of being away can compound and possibly become overwhelming.

Since I have been working away from home in one capacity or another, there are three questions that are repeatedly asked of me by my close family, friends and even colleagues. In some way, shape or form, these three questions are:

  1. Where do you work and what is it you actually do?
  2. What roster are you on again and when are you back home/on R&R?
  3. How do you stay in-touch with your family given the time zones?

The Fifo WifePHOTO CREDIT: Like anyone else, a FIFO Worker needs a hand from his or her loved ones. 

Simply answering these questions as they are asked is fine, but given the industry, most of the information is not really understood and forgotten as soon as it is exchanged. No one really knows what a 5+1 Completions Coordinator, a Deep Well Sustainability Manager or a HV Network Operational Advisor is, let alone understand what he or she actually does. In fact, the people who fill these positions don’t really know what they do either.

Given the nature of the industries for which away work is a requirement of the job, some towns and cities where you travel are obscure and not well known, let alone the sites/locations where you work, and this is without even a mention of offshore sites.

For those who work away, not just on a set roster but ad hoc work-related travel, knowing when you will be home and getting used to the routine is not a hard habit to become accustomed to. But for family and friends, it is just one more thing to think about and plan for and so it’s way easier to keep on asking!

For me, my parents and sister are the worst offenders, even though we discuss it every month.

The fact that I am constantly asked these questions does not mean those who enquire are not genuinely interested in the answers; definitely not as my Dad, Brother in-Law and a group of mates live their alternate working lives through me. It just means they don’t have a single point of reference that they can turn to. Well, they do and that is asking me!

I have thought about this often. In times when I miss home the most, I think to myself ‘does anyone really know what I do, where I am or even when I am coming home?’ Realistically, the honest answer to that is NO!

Does this make me feel disconnected from home, from those I care about and whose time in my life is shortened because of my career choice? As you could imagine, the honest answer to that is YES!

I started looking at social media for an answer. Will posting more photos on Instagram, status updates on Facebook or updating my LinkedIn profile help me feel closer? Will a social media countdown to my R&R make people more aware of my return? The answer I came to was not really.

There is not one single App available that gives all my family, friends, work colleagues and other stakeholders in my life a single source of information, in layperson’s terms, on what I do, where I work, what rotation I am on, when I will be on R&R and what I will be doing; as well as allowing me to stay connected through messages and conversation in the same forum.

One answer became apparent when considering my options: Create this forum yourself. So began the task of conceptualizing a user friendly, simple, intuitive application that answers all the above, in one location, in real time and integrated across users. This is how the solution that is One Minute Closer, came to be.

I frame my time at work as “Every minute away is one minute closer to home”. This inspired the App’s name and also correlates to my vision for the App: To provide a one-stop lifestyle network for away workers and their network of major life stakeholders to effectively and proactively stay connected to each other.

I believe that One Minute Closer will provide an important conduit to and from those who work away. Along with my ongoing blog entries, OMC will provide a service that helps away workers, as well as their family and friends, to enjoy the fruits that this lifestyle offers while working to limit the potential downfalls created by the tyranny of distance and isolation.

No more need to ask or answer “How long ‘til you are home next?”, “will you be away for your birthday?” or “where do you work again?”. No more juggling photos / messages and keeping track of important dates through separate apps. Your loved ones will now have all these answers at their fingertips and can include your work schedule in their planning. All up to date and in real time.

So that’s what making a living working away from home means to me. What does it mean to you?

Are you the worker who leaves on a regular, planned or unplanned basis? Or are you the friend, partner, parent or child who loses that person to their job for an extended period of time? I’d love to hear your feelings, insights and opinions.

Until the next installment, keep safe and stay connected!