I am among the first to extol the virtues and benefits of remote work and have for decades. I am also quick to share the drawbacks. Virtual work is not as glamorous as it is often portrayed. The Covid-19 pandemic certainly proved the utility and versatility of telecommuting. The digital nomad lifestyle is now in reach for more of the work force than ever before. This is nothing short of an amazingly positive shift in workplace productivity and employee wellbeing.
For example, while sitting in a hammock to writing the next great novel looks delightful, the reality is it’s an uncomfortable place to sit while typing. This is the glamorous mistruth of the remote worker lifestyle.
Yes, there are exceptions, work can and is done from picturesque places by gorgeous people in focused isolation. I caution this not the normal state. If your goal is to work from home or be the ultimate digital nomad, prepare yourself for real challenges. Like you, I occasionally use Zoom and WebEx video conference backgrounds to mask my setting.
Preparation is Productivity
Obviously, the job and deliverables dictate the requirements of the environment. Before you jet off to the beach resort, figuring your co-workers won’t be the wiser, plan properly for what you do.
I learned quickly to do more research and be prepared to change plans as needed.
Internet access is ubiquitous, but not always high quality nor secure. Does your cell-phone have reception and a hot-spot data plan? Do you need travel router to help protect and share network access? Does the intended destination you plan to work from have the right resources?
A few years ago, I spent two days with hellish internet access at a sea-side “resort”. The advertised internet access was insufferably poor. Connecting to my employers VPN had hideously lagging data latency, creating constant authentication errors. My alternative cell phone and MyFi hotspots, with different providers, had no reliable service. I couldn’t make phone calls, hold or participate in meetings, or get or submit my deliverables. I had to leave, aborting my planned three week stay.
Are there legal or technical restrictions on where you work? Many companies have issues on work performed internationally, like what data you access and which laptops or cell-phones may be used on site or across borders.
I have limitations on where I can work beyond simple networking issues. While I am free to work remotely from almost anywhere, I have restrictions on international settings. I have co-workers with restrictions because of citizenship as well.
The glamour-shots of remote work always appear relaxing, inviting, adventurous, and peaceful. Is the place you plan to visit truly comfortable to work from? Is lighting important? Do you need to be free from interruption and noise?
It is disappointing to arrive at a new destination and find it is an unpleasant environment.
I can work with a little extraneous noise or minor interruptions, but I have teleconferences and phone calls that require privacy. I prefer to have a desk or table, but I can make do working from bed. I don’t like working in bright light, finding it hard to read and write on a screen.
There can be compromises. Last year I spent three days in a nice house, with warm and sunny days, working from a pleasant private room, and perfect network access. I also had only a folding chair and a TV tray to work from, having expected an office desk and chair. My options were to move to another room with constant interruptions and noise, or outside in bright sunlight. I chose to stay put, figuring it was the best compromise for overall comfort.
Pretty settings do offer the perception of great focus and inspiration. There is truth in this too. It is, perhaps, the biggest reason to work remotely. A home office, away from the corporate cube-farm, is as pleasant as you can make or want it. Travel destinations can be relaxing, rejuvenating, and motivating. The ability to control distractions, take breaks or lunch as needed, and surround yourself with personal touches to stay impassioned is powerful. This is a productivity super-power of remote work.
The art of focused work is easier in the home office setting, being a controlled environment. The digital nomad risks this super-power of telecommuting with every new destination. You may not get what you expect and gamble with your ability to concentrate. The beach is beautiful, until you settle in and hear the endless highway traffic behind you.
I have made errors and poor choices in work locations. I have discovered places more suited to raucous parties than relaxation, despite researching for the later.
Planning ahead and research will remove many obstacles to successful work spaces. Knowing what to bring and what is available is invaluable. If you travel enough, however, you will inevitably come to an impasse, and be faced with having to compromise or move. When this happens, it is best to know as soon as possible.
When arriving anywhere new I plan to work, as soon as I am able, I evaluate my work environment. I check where I will sit. I verify I have protected internet access, power, and cell phone reception. Do I have privacy for calls or video meetings? Can I minimize unnecessary interruptions? Do I need to replace my headset or batteries?
Knowing what to fix, replace, or where to relocate as early as possible is a path to success.