In a world with constant connected technology where work can be done from virtually anywhere, why not take advantage of it?
It’s been six months since I packed my bags and decided to live a life of wanderlust. I’ve traveled from Fort Worth, Texas to Croatia -- over to Spain and across to Argentina, making stops in the many other cities I’ve called home each month -- all while working remotely for digital marketing agency PMG. In February, I joined Remote Year -- a program bringing together freelancers, entrepreneurs, and other professionals for a year-long journey to work, travel, and live in 12 different cities throughout the world. Despite my concerns, I’ve never looked back.
Back when I was in high school, I set a personal goal to visit 30 countries before I turn 30 years old. Since then, I’ve taught science in Mongolia, got a summer job in Nicaragua as a volcano tour guide, and traveled to Cuba the day after restrictions on Americans were lifted -- but I was still far from my goal because I always used my career as an excuse to not pursue it. Then, at 25 years old, I found Remote Year. I approached PMG about participating in the program, thrilled with the prospect of living life as a digital nomad. But my team members and I were concerned about the logistics of it working out. Sure, it would be a great experience, but the real question was: would my productivity or quality of work be impacted working thousands of miles away?
The answer was yes, but not negatively. The fresh, new environments have not only increased my productivity, but have also helped me generate new ideas and increase creativity.
Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist working on a scientific model of cities, claims that cities are facilitators of social interactions. By providing physical infrastructures that attract more people to migrate, cities allow different types of people to collide - resulting in more innovations and creativity. In my experience, Remote Year is proof.
At PMG, I help our clients digest a high volume of marketing data by providing them with easy-to-understand reports that illustrate marketing insights. Prior to Remote Year, my role was primarily focused on providing the numbers, but after being exposed to professionals that came from different industries and companies, my work style broadened drastically. Now, my role has shifted to also designing the reports.
There was one instance my first month where I was churning out a report as usual. One of my graphic designer friends happened to take a look at my work, and explained how I could better format and structure it to make it more visually appealing, and in turn easier to understand for my clients. It’s easy to develop tunnel vision when you’ve been in the same industry and surrounded by the same department for as long as you can remember, but being exposed to a diverse group of people (in every aspect, from professional to cultural to social) helped me push beyond my boundaries and be inspired to take part in professional roles I never thought I’d have an interest in. Since then, I collaborate with my Remote Year colleagues on a daily basis -- simply sharing feedback with one another helps us think outside the box.
Beyond the professional context, this experience has made me much more open minded to new customs and histories. I grew up in a conservative family, and admittedly there were many cultures I hadn't been exposed to before this experience. Now, I learn about different communities and cultures everyday, directly from folks who identify with those groups. I see fewer differences now between people, ideas, backgrounds, etc. and have so much more confidence that we as humans around the world can find common ground if we keep an open mind towards one another.
Remote workplaces also provides better work-life balance, allowing us to recharge. Remote life has changed my definition of work hours -- from leaving the office at 6:00 p.m. and immediately going off-the-grid, to not having a limit on where I work, how I work, and when I work. In the last six months, I’ve worked from a small beach in Croatia, the top of the fortress of Dubrovnik, a 100 year old ex-Danish embassy in Prague, and even the Sahara Desert. It’s counter-intuitive, but the change in scenery actually improves my focus, because I wake up every day excited for the day and with a renewed sense of purpose. The fact that I have more control over my work time also allows me to take a step back if I’m having a rather stressful day, or work longer hours when my productivity is at its highest.
Is Remote Year for everyone? No. Working abroad for a year takes more than an enthusiasm and love for travel. You may hit an occasional road bump, like getting homesick or time differences that make correspondence with your team difficult -- in fact, both happened to me. In my case, the time difference actually improved my communication and problem solving skills, as I was more open to confronting our dilemma and figuring out how we could fix it together.
For the remote culture to be successful, there needs to be trust amongst team members and motivation to make it work. It certainly requires effort in terms of communication, setting expectations, and delivering, but if these challenges can be met, remote culture will provide what is really needed these days -- creative ideas that solve problems, and work-life balance that’s conducive to productivity.
Yun Lim is a data analyst at PMG