'Web Robinson Crusoe' moves virtual office to desert island to prove we can work anywhere

French businessman spent 40 days on deserted tropical island

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 5:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 8:10am


Have computer - and internet connection - work anywhere. So goes the cost-cutting corporate human resources mantra.

Even on an uninhabited coral island in the middle of nowhere?

To the dismay, perhaps, of office workers everywhere, Frenchman Gauthier Toulemonde has returned to civilisation to report that it is indeed possible, though not necessarily desirable nor cheap, to relocate "offshore".

Until six weeks ago, Toulemonde, a businessman, journalist and former banker, was inclined to agree with the received wisdom that workers, given the right equipment, can labour more or less anywhere.

Being adventurous as well as entrepreneurial, however, he decided to put the theory to the test and at the same time fulfil a childhood dream of living like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe.

But a year ago, fed up with commuting from his home in the northern French city of Lille to Paris, Toulemonde, 54, decided to relocate his job as the head of a publishing business to an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere for several weeks.

"I found myself in Gare Saint Lazare in Paris just before Christmas watching the continuous stream of people passing by," he said. "They had this sad look on their faces, even though they were carrying Christmas presents. It had long seemed to me absurd this travelling back and forth to offices.

"My idea of going away had been growing , but it was on that day, I decided to leave."

It took six months to identify a suitable island, a 700-by-500-metre island in the Indonesian archipelago (the Indonesians made him promise not to reveal its exact location) 10,000 miles from Paris, and a few more months to prepare.

On October 8, he left his home in Lille with four towel-sized solar panels, a windmill, a laptop, a tablet computer and two satellite phones. He was also carrying two tents to protect him, and the equipment from the humidity and the seasonal heavy rains.

Gecko, a borrowed dog, "rented" from a Chinese businessman came too to scare off local wildlife that included rats and snakes.

Toulemonde, who had a budget of €10,000 for the adventure, including €20 a day for internet, said he wanted to be the world's first "Web Robinson".

"I wanted to show how with solar energy and new technology, we can live differently and work from far away, cutting out all the time lost in commuting," he said.

He woke at 5am daily and went to bed around midnight. For a change of diet from the rice and pasta he had packed, Toulemonde fished in the sea and rooted out vegetables.

In between, his company Timbopresse was able to publish two editions of Stamps Magazine, to the same deadlines and with the same content.

Last week, on his return from the long distance 40-day "business trip", Toulemonde, was a changed man.

"Doing everything virtually has its limits. Working from a distance is doable … But I'd say 40 days is about the limit," he said.