Lessons From A Digital Nomad

The past few months, I have been able to live in Indonesia while working remotely at Agentum. Being my first time as a remote worker (or as many like to call it, a “digital nomad”), I was surprised by how easy it was to adapt to the new lifestyle and carry out my work in a reasonably normal manner from across the world. But I also learned some lessons about myself and about remote working in general, which I have summed up below.

Lessons for the remote worker

  • Your discipline will be tested.

Although I had confidence in my discipline before heading off to the tropical life, remote working showed me wrong. First, it took time to get used to the climate, the jetlag, the lifestyle, co-working spaces and the heat. Second, it took discipline to develop routines that worked in that environment. Getting there, life quality peaked and I managed to find a work-life balance while staying on top of both work tasks, my master’s thesis and surfing classes. Lesson learned: Don’t expect to be your normal, disciplined self the first week or two. Adaptation takes time.

  • Pick a place and settle down.

Remote working – great. But I do believe that all kinds of work require at least some sort of office; a calm place where you can focus, have your coffee and a functional desk (or at least a table). Coworking spaces and some cafés are great for that. But once you start to compromise your routines with a “I’ll finish this on the go” mindset, your work will start to suffer. Neither mind nor body understands how to travel, focus and experience a new environment simultaneously and especially not when it is supposed to be part of your ordinary life. If you want to travel or experience the surroundings while away, try to make it a vacation from the vacation. Lesson learned: Plan ahead and get things done before you go on adventures. Don’t underestimate the energy it takes to travel.

  • Understand the importance of efficiency.

You most likely don’t do remote working for the sake of the working, but for the change in lifestyle. Suddenly, there is so much to experience outside work that the importance of efficient working hours becomes extremely evident. As I didn’t want to compromise neither quantity nor quality of my work, every little pause became time that I could have spent at the beach or exploring the city. In other words – inefficient time was narrowed down to a minimum. In that sense, I believe remote working is actually more efficient than office working. Lesson learned: efficiency.

Lessons for the company

  • Communication is key.

Don’t cut down on communication while your employee is away. Although it might be easy to think in terms of ‘he/she is so far away, I’ll ask X instead’ – try not to. In fact, emails, phone calls, video chats and all other means of communication enhances discipline and efficiency for the remote worker. It makes us feel that we aren’t that far away. Constantly updating on the tiniest details brings us closer to our teams and more dedicated to our work. Use Google Hangouts, Teams, Skype, Trello or other platforms to communicate at least once per day, even if it’s only a three-minute call. Lesson learned: Communication is key.

  • Develop clear working policies.

Freedom to work remotely requires knowledge of exactly what needs to be done and in what timespan, so a clear working plan is essential. Further, the employer needs to lay down some policies for availability: what hours the office can expect to reach the employee, when to have team meetings or group chats and what exact time to expect the next delivery. Also – if you need to have a group meeting between time zones, the remote worker will probably be fine dealing with some inconvenient meeting hours in exchange for freedom the rest of the day. Lesson learned: Communication is key, again.

  • Give it a try!  

Finally – don’t be afraid give it a chance. If it doesn’t go well, your employee will have to return to the office. If it does work, both parties will benefit: the employee will feel more content and trusted, thus improving performance while create a lifestyle that he or she desires. The company will improve employee satisfaction and hence lowering employee turnover, attract talent that demands flexible work arrangements (read: millennials & gen Z) and gain more efficient working hours. As a bonus – if you can’t compete with the big companies’ salaries, remote working could be your hook: studies show that 36 percent of employees would choose the ability to work from home over a pay rise. Lesson learned: none, until you try for yourself.

Text by Alexandra Teorell, Project Manager and remote worker at Agentum

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