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!

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