Why the train is the new office

There’s a certain romance to travelling by train. Even if you’re heading out of London’s Euston for the Facilities Show at Birmingham’s NEC as I am this week, there’s a distant echo of more glamorous journeys taken on the Orient Express. There are quiet lounges to sit in if you choose to arrive early for your train, or unlike planes where you must queue for hours, you can simply arrive at the station and hop straight on.  The hiss of the train as it glides into the station is reminiscent of old steam trains. The slam of the door, the station manager’s whistle and the grind of the wheels starting to roll out of the station all feel incredibly civilised compared to waiting in a bright airport lounge or at a bus stop in the drizzle.

And once you grab that cherished forward-facing window table seat, plug in your laptop and phone, connect to the WiFi and spread out your papers, you’ve never had a better office. Whatsmore, you need never move. Whereas the tea-lady has long gone from most offices, the train catering trolley rattles down between the seats, catching the ankles of the unaware, but providing sustenance to those embroiled in reports and emails. And from lunchtime even that most treasured of items: the G&T. For while an open can of lager is frowned upon on London buses, thanks to Boris, it’s de rigeur to enjoy a little alcoholic refreshment on a train.

Even better,  generally terrible mobile reception means that most phone conversations are pointless, so you can work (and drink) in peace, safe from interruption both from your own colleagues and fellow passengers’ conversations with their office.

The train is one of the few public places where it’s also perfectly acceptable to fall asleep (though not to snore or lean on fellow passengers, so beware). And the soporific nature of the train means that while one minute you can be immersed in the last year’s sales figures, the next you’re gazing out of the window at the fields full of sheep rushing by and are quickly in the land of nod. Which, if you look at any of the research into working patterns, is hugely beneficial. A 10-minute power nap can leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated, it’s just a shame that it’s frowned on in the real office.

But there are of course downsides to train travel. It used to be the fearsome stench of the smoking carriage, where you could feel the cancer developing as you hurried through the smog. Even seasoned smokers would prefer to sit on the floor of the corridor outside rather than risk a Newcastle to London stretch puffing away with their fellow smokers. Now the most feared of travel experiences is the train loo. The glamour of travel ends the moment you reach the electronic door (which has a habit of opening an inappropriate moments) and the smell of what I hope is disinfectant but can never be quite sure.  No workplace is ever perfect.


Cathy Hayward