Reflections on a year working remotely
At this point, I can’t really say if I’m coming or going: such is a life working remotely.
It feels like I’ve just walked in the door and already I’m preparing for a bigger trip to the other side of the world.
This year my laptop has followed me everywhere, resulting in a remote-work mishmash of journalism, website copywriting, German to English translation, online CSR research, occasional CatchMercurial blogs and so on…
And where was I working? Well, mostly in comfy pants in my office *cough bedroom cough* in Berlin, or the wonderful coworking space of Impact Hub Berlin (check out an interview with one of the co-founders here).
But also in the Cowork Central office in Lisbon, in buses, trains, coffee shops, hostels, lounges, my favourite bouldering gym, other European Impact Hubs and on the steps of Castillo de la Mota in San Sebastián.
Remote working is not a new concept to me.
As early as 2010 I’d written science articles from the Scott Base research facility in Antarctica, before working as a reporter for the Otago Daily Times, filing stories from the Queenstown bureau to the main office of Dunedin.
Some people call anyone combining this kind of work with travel a digital nomad. Obviously, such an arrangement has its benefits.
The flexibility to be anywhere that has a good internet connection either allows you time to get to know the local way of life at a slower pace, or simply to work around smaller trips. This way, I’ve been lucky enough to wake up in Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, France, Portugal, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Switzerland in 2016.
Many use it to live like kings, working for clients from rich countries while basing themselves somewhere cheap.
Admittedly, my travels in Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden kind of had the opposite effect…
But the attractions/distractions of working while travelling can make it hard to concentrate (on either of the two pursuits) and I sometimes wonder if the lack of day-to-day continuity can hold the career development of some digital nomads back, even if others have jobs they couldn’t dream of while working 9-5.
While I personally don’t travel enough for this to be a huge concern, I recognise that the time and energy I have available to look beyond my current work while on the road is drastically reduced, even if, ironically as a writer, the inspiration, ideas, contacts and stories that crop up while travelling are neverending.
Many digital nomads also turn to a burgeoning online community for support, networking and inter-continental catch-ups; filling the gap left by a disconnect with traditional communities of friends and family.
On this note, I’m not sure that idea of being a full-time digital nomad works for me. Labels aside, having a semi-permanent home base like the one I currently have in Berlin seems vital.
Being back here and connecting with flatmates, friends, a supportive coworking space and having a modicum of predictability and normality is lovely. And gives me time to appreciate what I have at both extremes.
Especially since I’ll be gone again in a month.
This time, it’s going to be Thailand, Laos, Australia and back to New Zealand.
And I’m excited. But happy to be staying put for just a little bit longer.
Which leads me to wonder what you guys think: What is more important — having a base in a place or rather, grounding yourself in routines, online communities and a moveable lifestyle? Does a remote lifestyle stifle or enable career development? I’d love to hear your thoughts!