WORKING REMOTELY WHILE TRAVELLING THE WORLD - WHAT IT'S REALLY LIKE
A lot of people dream of being able to work virtually and travel the world while they do it. Considering that’s essentially what I’m doing now, I want to share with you what it’s really like.
For those of you that don’t know, I work full time developing content for the Cultural Intelligence Center. The job allows me to work remotely and I have taken full advantage of that by choosing to work from South Africa.
A Flexible Schedule
Virtual work allows you to create your own hours. While you still need to be self-disciplined enough to get quality work done on-time, I can’t deny I love having the option to adjust my work hours to fit my day-to-day adventures. If I want to meet some friends for brunch, I can shift my hours from 9am-5pm to 11am-7pm. If I want to take an evening hike, I just start my day a bit earlier than usual. The flexibility allows you to make the most of your time while travelling.
Every Weekend is like a Mini Vacation
Another awesome thing about travelling while working remotely is that when you’re work week is over, you have a couple days to explore an amazing place. I love spending weekends visiting local markets, strolling botanical gardens, and, of course, hitting the beach.
You can be selective about your work environment
If you need to work in total silence, make a nearby library your office. If you need a little white noise (that’s me!), make it your mission to find the best coffee shop in the city. If you want the comfort of your bed, that’s totally fine. Whether you need to work inside, outside, in a cool or warm temperature, at a table or in your bed - you can totally control where you do your work when you work virtually.
Your after-work hours have endless potential
Similar to your vacation-like weekends, after-work hours during the week are much more fun when you are living in a foreign place. In fact, I often find it motivating to know there is something exciting waiting for me after work, whether it’s trying a new rooftop bar or visiting a local movie theatre.
The cross-cultural stimulation enriches your work
My job happens to involve writing a lot of content relating to cultural intelligence (the ability to work and communicate effectively cross-culturally). So, as you can imagine, being surrounded by South African culture enriches my work on a daily basis. But this effect is not limited to people in my line of work. Studies have shown that exposure to diversity and new people and places is stimulating to the brain. This inevitably has an impact on your ability to think critically and creatively.
The Inconvenience of Time Differences
While one of the positive aspects I mentioned was the possibility of adjusting your schedule, one of the negative realities of working remotely in another country is having to adjust your schedule to meet co-workers or clients’ time zones. This past week I had a conference call at 7pm (Cape Town time) Friday night. That time frame obviously wouldn’t have been my first choice but it’s just a compromise I make for all the positives I mentioned above. Additionally, while conference calls may only happen once or twice a week, emailing happens daily and with the time difference I can’t expect to get responses immediately. In fact, while I love getting done with emails in the morning, most of my co-workers based in the US are not receiving any of my messages until my work day is wrapping up.
The lack of social interaction in a day
When you are working virtually you are working alone for most of your work hours. You may have the occasional phone or Skype meeting, but realistically your interaction with team members is extremely limited. As an extravert, I often find this draining. I have to work twice as hard to schedule social time outside of work or at the very least work in an environment around other people (i.e. a university library or coffee shop).
So much Screen Time
If you are working remotely, you are working from your computer. No surprise there. But, because you can’t share hard copies or hand-written notes with any team members you really are locked in to doing all your work on a screen. Today this is something most of us are used to. However, working hours on end behind my laptop has definitely made me more conscious of my screen time.
Most of the week you are at a desk, not out exploring.
This is something that would especially frustrate me if I was working in a place I hadn’t visited before. Since I have spent the good part of a year in Cape Town, I’ve hit the main tourist attractions and don’t feel like I’m missing out on something as I sit at a desk all day. If you are working in a destination you have never been to, even with weekends and after-work hours, you would need to spend much more time there than you might normally for a vacation because most hours of your week will be spent working. This is something people often neglect to consider when deciding they want to work remotely in order to travel the world.
Conference calls cannot replace in-person meetings
I mentioned that time differences make scheduling these a bit more difficult when you are working abroad but I didn’t mention that they also cannot compare to the value of meeting with a team member in-person. Over a video call, it’s just not as easy to have brainstorming sessions, exchange notes or materials, or even read the non-verbal reactions of the other people in the meeting.
THINGS I DIDN’T EXPECT
I still work very regular hours
While one of the positive aspects of working remotely is being able to adjust your schedule, I don’t actually do it all that often. I’m the kind of person that likes routine. So most days I just tell myself I’m working 9am-5pm with an hour for lunch. For me, it’s mentally tough to take a big break in the day and switch gears to do something totally non-work related. It’s of course always nice to have the option, but my reality is that I’m just most productive sticking to a schedule.
I sometimes miss the office environment
I assumed I would miss working with and around team members. I did not expect I would miss the office environment itself. There is something about working in the same physical space as other people working towards similar goals that aids collaboration and stimulates camaraderie. The environment also generates a level of professionalism that’s not required of me just sitting at coffee shop. Of course on certain days these are exactly the reasons I am grateful I’m out of the office. But other days it’s just a little frustrating.
When I do connect with co-workers I have to make it count
I expected the difficulty in connecting with team members in light of the 7-hour time difference, but I did not anticipate the resulting pressure to make those connections count. Most of my work day does not overlap with my US-based team members’ work days. This means that most of my day I can’t ask for help or input. This results in me putting extra time into my responses to emails and preparations for meetings or conference calls.
Overall I love the unique opportunity I have to work for a US-based company while living in South Africa. I don’t believe it’s something I would choose to do long term but for now it’s the perfect situation. I highly suggest this for individuals eager to immerse themselves in another culture rather than explore the tourist attractions of a foreign city seeing as when you are working remotely abroad you are more likely to be living like a local than exploring like a tourist.
Looking for a way to work remotely and travel? Check out this article from one of my favorite magazines: