Reflections from a corporate digital nomad
If you want to know about life as a "digital nomad" (I'm starting to find that phrase a bit funny and have to put quotation marks around it), there is an endless supply of blogs and articles purely dedicated to the subject. Great advice and funny experiences to learn from. Most of it, however, is focused on individuals doing their own thing. Freelancers, small startups, and bloggers.
My situation was a bit different. I’m working at a Swedish consulting agency where we can be flexible with hours and location, but as a general rule, we are at the office during office hours. So when I got on a plane to work from Bali for four months, nobody really knew how it was going to work. I shared my remote working setup back in October, and since I have now been back in Sweden for a month I thought it was time to share some of my reflections on it.
If one is remote, everyone is remote
This is probably the biggest obstacle for anyone wanting to do something similar. In projects where my contribution was limited and clearly defined, I could do my part without checking in for more information and it usually went smoothly.
But in projects where I needed to sync with my team members to move forward, it was more difficult. Not being physically present, meant not being included in quick talks and decisions that occurred in the hallways. Something that all in all leads to time spent on the wrong things.
- Everyone in the team has to think as if they were remote. It requires some effort, but it’s a key to making it work.
- Having scheduled stand-up meetings as often as needed, to just quickly touch base, is helpful. That keeps everyone up to date.
- Decide how to manage communication and documentation in the team. A Slack channel? A project on Basecamp? It's up to you but commit to it.
The small talk matters
I had scheduled meetings once a week with my manager and a colleague. Every time we managed to have these, it filled a purpose for me, even if we neither one of us had something important on the agenda. Touching base made me feel like I was still part of the team. When you go too long without actually talking to someone, it’s easy to feel disconnected.
Hanging out in the Slack channel and on Yammer helps, but it does require people to be active in these public channels. Not every company has that in their DNA, and we could definitely be better.
- Have meetings with colleagues on a regular basis. The social aspect of work is as important as the business talk.
- Prioritize these meetings, even when you are short on time and don’t think you have anything important to say.
- Get involved in the internal communications channels you have, both when you are at the office and when you are working remotely.
Use the time difference to your advantage
Being six hours before Sweden worked surprisingly well for me. During my mornings, when I knew my colleagues and friends were asleep and there was no risk of being interrupted, I had the luxury of complete focus. I wrote, I planned, I created.
Around 2 pm I opened my e-mail and could start my more communicative part of the day. Jumping into Skype calls and answering e-mails fairly quickly was rarely a problem since I could be flexible during these hours.
- Plan your days after your tasks. Do the things where you need to focus when colleagues are sleeping and let them know when you are available for meetings.
Internet is mainly an issue for phone and video calls
In Sweden, we are spoiled with an amazing internet connection. I knew this, but until you are having daily Skype calls consisting of endless “hello, hello, can you hear me now?”, you don’t know how to truly appreciate it.
The main issues were with phone calls and video conferences. A slow internet connection is manageable, but an unstable connection is a whole other story. And if you’re in Asia, it probably will be.
- Use a local SIM card with internet data. I bought the maximum in every country and it saved me from insanity on multiple occasions.
- Plan your phone and video conferences and book a room where you know you will have a stable internet connection.
- Invest in a good headset. If you are not able to be in a quiet location or have a bad connection, you want your recipient to be able to hear you as well as possible.
Find your perfect office
Since I depended so much on having a good internet connection on a regular basis, I usually stayed in areas with a co-working space. These places are great for a stable connection and socializing with likeminded and I’ve been to several in both Bali and Thailand.
- Do your research in advance and plan your destination after your needs. Nomadlist is a great resource.
- Don’t be afraid to try different setups and places. Some of the co-working places felt too much like an ordinary office for me, and I preferred doing my writing at my favorite cafe instead.
Remember why you are doing this
If you are in a similar position as me, you’re probably doing this because you need to recharge or get some distance from your routines back home. Remember your intention with being here and don’t get caught up in old habits. Read your books. Do your yoga. Go running. Take time for yourself and don't be afraid to disconnect.
- Dare to leave your phone and explore your surroundings without it. Something I was horribly bad at, and will definitely work on next time.
- Do things that you wouldn’t normally do. Talk to new people, try different activities. You're not only there to work.
Could you technically do your work from anywhere and want to spend some time abroad? Talk to your manager. Are you in a management position and have gotten this request from an employee? Say yes.
As with all new things, you have to test your way forward to see what works and what doesn't. Both from a career and a personal perspective, this experience has made me understand a lot about what I want to do, my weaknesses and my strengths. I've grown a lot these past months. It also led to making a tough decision a few weeks ago. But that's a story for another post.
If you are curious about remote working, here are some good reads on the subject: