For the last few years, the terms digital nomad, nomadic freelancer, virtual and remote work have all elicited the same reaction from me. It is this sense of excitement knowing that these words could open up a world of adventure for me, without compromising on building a great career. It, therefore, came as no surprise when I left my office job in search of something that was more suited to my traveler’s spirit. I was fortunate that this search didn’t take too long. A year ago, I joined the team at Brown&co, and in turn, they opened up the world for me.
Joining a virtual design agency has meant no more morning commutes, no more waiting to have enough leave to travel, no more timesheets (a personal favourite), and being able to interface with people from all over the world. For me, those are all key parts of building a “dream job”. Within one year, I have spent about a third of this time exploring and working in about eight different countries. When I am not at my home in Cape Town, I have been able to work along the canals of Hackney, in a park in Brussels, countless cafes in the Netherlands, and (currently as I write this), on a bus on my way to Madrid. So long as I can find a decent Wi-Fi connection, the world is my office.
This year has also been a massive learning curve for me in mastering the fine art of digital nomading, especially true when considering my specific role as a project manager, which means that a key part of my day is interfacing with clients and creatives in meetings / briefings / reviews. These are both time sensitive (meaning I generally keep office hours) and require me to have a good internet connection for video conferencing. Basically, if you ever want to see me get riled up and stressed in under 35 seconds, cut my internet connection. Or, give me a great connection in a super noisy environment, or somewhere with no power outlets. All of these are the remote workers’ version of getting locked out of the office. And so, while I don’t believe there are any hard rules to being a successful digital nomad, there are a few lessons that have helped me along the way.
Lesson one – not all internet is equal
This seems like an obvious one, but this is the one that continues to hit me hard. Just because your accommodation comes with Wi-Fi, this doesn’t actually mean that this Wi-Fi will work sufficiently for your needs. The same goes for the difference between download and upload speed… you need both to be decent in order to hear and be heard on a call. Fortunately, you can always hotspot from your phone or find a coffee shop with a better connection. I would recommend getting a speed tester app on your phone. This way, you can test the Wi-Fi before committing to the space (if the upload speed is under 4mb/s, you will struggle to have a meeting).
Lesson two – the trifecta of “the perfect nomad office”
So, you have found a coffee shop with uncapped, super fast Wi-Fi, does this make it a great office? Sadly, no… For a place to get the coveted title of the perfect nomad office, it needs to tick three boxes. Fast (and stable) Wi-Fi is the baseline. You will also need plug points and a fairly quiet environment. You don’t want library levels of silence (no one wants to be the noisiest person in the room), but also not so loud that you can’t be heard in your meetings.
Lesson three – sometimes less is more
It is so easy to try and see as many different places as possible while travelling. This works perfectly when you are travelling full time, but less so when you are working full days. My first three months of nomading, I changed location once a week. This meant I had just enough time in a city to find the perfect office, only to leave a day or two later and start the cycle again. So, my advice (which I still struggle to follow) is to spend no less than two weeks per city. This gives you plenty of time to sightsee on weekends and get a real feel of what it’s like to live in said space.
Lesson four – balance work and life
This is something that should apply to everyone, everywhere. Sadly, it is easier to let work become your life at home. As a digital nomad, however, your afterhours become that much more precious. Of course, it is also important to make sure that work hours are spent on work and not skiving off to go exploring. Never forget, it is this glorious job that has allowed you to live your best travel life, so if you don’t bring your A-game, someone else will.
Lesson five – take leave
The final lesson ties in with achieving balance. I make sure that if I am work-travelling for a few months, at least one or two weeks of this is used for vacation. Taking time away from the office is weirdly more difficult when working remotely. This is because so many activities that were reserved for your two weeks of annual leave can now be achieved while working simultaneously. Leave is there for a reason. Take it and shut off for a bit, exploring full time is always fun.
A year in, and there is no looking back. Many friends and family have mentioned that this style of working is tailor-made for me, and I can’t disagree. I live for the challenges, the experiences and the chance to grow my career and my traveler’s spirit simultaneously.
The “Employer’s” Perspective
Everyone at Brown&co loves that Kaylee gets to build her work around her life, rather than being forced to have a life dictated to by her work. And why wouldn’t we? We love that she is continually inspired by new cultures and environments. We love that she is learning more about people and humanity. We love that she is open to being deployed wherever a project might need her. And we love that she is happy and engaged in her job – which rubs off on us all, clients included. It really is a win-win scenario!