Experience The World (While You Work): How to Succeed as a Digital Nomad

Digital nomads work from abroad, spending extended time in different places—a possibility for more people thanks to the remote work revolution brought on by the pandemic. Interrupt’s resident globe trotter shares how she and the agency have navigated “work from anywhere” (long before the big tech companies caught on).

Every Monday, I fire up my computer for our morning all-staff meeting. It is 2:45 p.m.

I’m signing on from Paris, France, where I’ve temporarily set myself up in an Airbnb in my grand work experiment as a digital nomad. For my colleagues, it’s 8:45 a.m. in Toledo, Ohio.

We’re an ocean apart, in different time zones and different cultures. But we’re able to feel as connected as if I was working remotely from my childhood bedroom (my home office for much of the pandemic in Toledo, where I could lock the door to escape my nephews’ Zoom-bombings).

When the job posting said “will consider remote candidates,” my boss probably wasn’t imagining just how remote that person could be. With a spirit of experimentation, we’re both able to be at our best at work and in life.

(They were one step ahead of Airbnb, which announced in May that they would allow their workers to sign on from anywhere in the world. They’ll open-source wins and solutions as their company tackles the positive side effects as well as the challenges that may arise.)

It’s an arrangement you or your team might be considering, if you are white collar workers who've discovered you can do most, if not all, your duties outside the confines of the office. To pull it off, you’ll need more than strong Wi-Fi—you need to think differently (and proactively) about how fully remote workers participate in a hybrid workplace. Here are some strategies I’ve discovered in my months abroad.

Make friends with your time zone calculator (and an extra watch).

You’ll feel discombobulated at times, living between two worlds, feeling like your day has just started when the people around you are heading home. But it’s important that you learn how to juggle the two—your home office’s native time zone, and the one you live in. Download a chart you can refer to that translates the top of each hour at a glance. Make sure your calendar is in your current time zone, so you don’t miss any meetings in the confusion of converting their 8 a.m. to your time. And be prepared to rethink your free time—what I used to enjoy after 5:30 p.m., I now do in the morning.

Secure a VPN.

Your IT person will thank you. Don’t hop onto any public WiFi networks without your VPN, which allows you to surf the internet safely.

Don’t wedge yourself into the in-person fun. Create new virtual experiences.

I couldn’t satisfyingly participate in the holiday office party remotely, watching via video conference as my colleagues clinked glasses and showed off their Christmas sweaters. But I could schedule my own live video tour of Madrid’s holiday lights, letting my co-workers dictate what streets I showed them in a choose-your-own-adventure experience that required nothing but my cell phone. Connecting meaningfully with your colleagues means figuring out how to take advantage of what you can do to participate in office culture (not lamenting what you can’t).

Co-work with your coworkers.

In the case of remote work, distance might make the heart grow forgetful. Book time on your colleagues' calendars to co-work—where you call in via video and just work, “side by side.” I get to interrupt with little stories, ask questions or get advice, and feel closer to my co-workers.

Have more adaptors than you think you need.

You need more than just good Wi-Fi. You need to consider how all the tech tools you have will be plugged into the exciting new outlets you’ll encounter, possibly simultaneously. (Extra points if you research in advance where you can find adaptors in your new city, in case the ones you bring don’t do the trick.)

Find your remote work hubs—co-working spaces, coffee shops, and more.

You want to work remotely, but you might not necessarily want to work from home day in and day out—a solitary experience that’s cozy and necessary some days, suffocating on others. I want to experience the rhythm of a city and be around other remote workers, so I hunted for coffee shops, co-working spaces, and libraries that I could camp out in. My particular favorite is Acid Bakehouse, which devotes a whole section of their shop to remote workers and where they crank up the music so it feels like a nightclub at 2 in the afternoon.

Have a back-up plan (or two).

What’s going to happen if shit hits the fan? Let’s say you discover you don’t like being in your new time zone, or your boss decides having you so far away is hampering business? It's best to get in front of the worst-case scenarios with at least a roughly sketched back-up plan that everyone agrees to.

Send snacks.

Let your office mates know you still care. For our annual Halloween party potluck, I asked a family member to deliver some baked goodies. Just because you’re distant doesn’t mean you can’t contribute.

Come back from time to time.

Building rapport in-person is an important element for even fully remote workers. Whether it’s an annual visit or multiple in-person check-ins throughout the year, it’s helpful to schedule face time (the real kind) with your colleagues.

Remote working from new locations is certainly not glamorous all the time—but it is an exciting project and opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world in deep ways that feel once-in-a-lifetime.

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