I’ve been talking with a couple people recently about vacationing. I recently got back from a Disney cruise, and the experience left me feeling like I’d missed something. I had a similar experience when I got back from Australia and New Zealand, which was a package tour through Trafalgar. The countries were fine, but what I craved from the experiences was a bit more autonomy, which I’d experienced on a trip in 2009. This got me to thinking about autonomy at work…so yes, I’ll be talking about vacations today, but also about how we function in the workplace.
Corporate Travel/Corporate Working
If you’re vacationing with a large organization, they will put their tour groups on a high-density itinerary, making sure the participants get the most experiences for their dollar. To see as many visit-worthy sites as possible, that means they can’t afford to have the groups splitting up or individuals wandering off too far. Much of the sightseeing can happen on or from the bus with frequent stops. This keeps the group in one place and thus easily manageable. They need everyone on the buses at departure time to catch the next destination.
Large corporations, whether they’re tour operators, software companies, or something else, operate with a lot of structure. They have to because there are a lot of activities happening simultaneously and it’s important that all the participants are moving the company’s activities forward. The structures will include timelines, deadlines, chains of command, operational plans, contingency plans (in case the original plans don’t work), and physical and electronic infrastructure to tie everything together.
Self-Guided Travel/Freelance Working
Now imagine you’ve booked your trip by yourself. You’re responsible for arranging your own transportation (and that of your traveling companion(s). You are the primary decision maker on where to go. You might decide to stay an extra hour or day in one location or eat your meal at a place you pass while walking down the street. There’s no one to consult except your fellow traveler(s).
As a freelance contributor (writer, editor, other), you have a much smaller set of people and infrastructure to do your job with, like maybe your customer point of contact, subject matter expert(s), and business point of contact, and that’s it. Other, “corporate” functions such as benefits/insurance, payroll, information technology, purchasing, design, etc., you handle yourself as part of being “You, Incorporated.” As the primary contributor and decision maker in your one-person small business, changes and responses to them can be handled quickly because, again, you’re just one person. The content has changed or a meeting has been moved to another location? No problem.
Hybrid Travel Experiences/Project Work
There is a lot of middle ground between traveling with a large organization and going off on your own. You might book part of your trip in a group format, then arrange for some time on your own. There are also companies like Rick Steves, which operate with a much smaller tour footprint: one tour guide, 24 travelers (vs. 48 on a typical tour–the typical maximum occupancy of a bus/motor coach), and one bus driver. The bus is used for city-to-city travel and the tour is conducted mostly on foot. While some activities, such as tours of major attractions, are conducted as a group, the rest of the time the participants are free to travel about (walk) wherever they like until the next day, when it’s time to get on the bus to go to the next city.
Likewise, on a business level, there are many different business environments you might work in between solo entrepreneur and large corporation employee. You could work for a small or medium-size business where you have a small group to report to or reporting to you. You might be an individual contributor within a large, multi-party project, such as a government proposal. The size of the project usually will determine the size of the group, the amount of work to be done, the amount of equipment and infrastructure needed to support the activity, and the number of responsibilities each person or entity will have to make the whole activity successful.
As with your free time, so also with your work time: you need to make the decision about which type of experience works for you. You might prefer the excitement and teamwork involved in working with a large group. You might enjoy the autonomy and responsibility that come with working on your own. And you might have different preferences for your work time compared to your free time. The important thing is that you do your best to be in an environment that works for you.