A New Normal
I recently embarked on my digital nomad journey with Remote Year. The opportunity to work while traveling abroad made me feel like I had won the lottery – it’s literally the best of both worlds for me. Now a month in, balancing the excitement of being abroad and a full-time job brings interesting challenges.
One Week In
I survived my first week of remote work in a foreign country. Between some of the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had and immense jet lag, the transition to digital working was actually the easiest part of my first week abroad.
The internet was surprisingly good in both my apartment and my coworking space – after a week of calls, only in one did I have connection issues/inability to hear the other line. Ironically, the internet in my LA office completely cut out my first day of working remotely, so I was actually better connected in Croatia than my coworkers in LA were.
My working schedule is 12-9pm locally, allowing for a 6 hour overlap with the East Coast (where my clients are) and a 3 hour overlap with the West Coast (where my team is).
There are both benefits and challenges to the adapted work schedule – I’ve found myself more productive as my first three hours of work are completely uninterrupted – no emails, no calls – just the ability to focus on any projects I have at hand. I find sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you can work a full day just responding to emails and waiting for people’s responses without actually doing anything on your larger to do list.
Sometimes I’d have this in the afternoons in LA once my calls ended around 3pm, but at that time I would be so brain dead from a full day’s work that it didn’t do me too many favors. I’ve also tried to do this in the mornings by turning my email off for an hour, but given the nature of urgent client needs or early client calls, I hardly ever was able to take theory into practice.
On the downside, working until 9pm does mean that my brain is often a lot slower than others at that time – comparatively 12pm PT and 3pm ET. I often questioned myself if I’m making sense when writing emails at that hour (or later).
The catalyst for my journey as a digital nomad was a lack of work-life balance. Beginning work literally as I rolled out of bed at 6:30 AM in the morning, I’d often continue on until 9pm at night (with a short break for yoga in between). Outside of my hour reprieve in various different asanas, I’d completely be focused and engrossed in my work. I vividly remember going to dinner one night with a friend after work one day and it took me a solid 2 hours before I talked about something non-work related with the poor human. I’m not surprised that it took a solid four months for us to hang out again– I was no fun.
From that perspective, there’s been a huge benefit. My mornings are now free to explore the city – or to read- or to write – with a beautiful backdrop. Croatia brought me the Adriatic Sea and storybook old towns and Prague provides luscious parks with gothic churches. My mornings are spent outside – not at a desk or in a conference room – which is truly the biggest benefit to this and something incredible. I’m doing more with my 24 hours than ever before, which allows me to actually live life instead of move through life.
One Month In
Not being in the office day-day allows me to take a step back and realize that work is not everything. We are not performing open heart surgery. We are not solving the world’s problems. There is no need to take every situation personally. There is time to take a breath and analyze problems objectively. With the time difference, I physically am not responding to some emails until the next day, which provides a clear, problem solving mind to deciphering tangly emails and complex internal/external situations.
However, at this point, additional challenges arise. The honeymoon stage is over and the novelty has worn off. If I can’t get ahold of someone on slack or if we’re unable to get ahold of each other on the phone, then I can’t simply walk over to their desk to talk to them. Things take a bit longer. Added frustrations bubble up when things are misinterpreted over email or there isn’t the ability to talk things through face to face.
Perceived flexibility in schedule is huge. It’s difficult to fit meetings in the 3 hour overlap I have with my West Coast team, and team members felt pressured to do so. I needed to reinforce that I am available if need be past 9 rather than there being a rigid “Olga is offline” daily cut off.
It’s difficult to believe that I’m working when you can’t physically see me at the office. This, coupled with the photos that I post on Instagram of my morning adventures exploring the city that I am in also causes some envy or misconstrued perceptions of how hard I’m working.
That is probably the hardest part to overcome, because it’s a perception rather than a truth, but perception dictates a person’s reality. I definitely am working less hours a day than I was back home (average 8-9 hours a day abroad vs. 10-11 hours a day in LA), but I’m more productive with the time that I have at work. And outside of work, I’m using my free time differently – instead of watching Netflix with my cat after a full day of work, I wake up and explore the city that I’m in. I then am able to concentrate and tackle work in the afternoon with uninterrupted focus before jumping on phone calls with clients and team members.
It’s difficult to grasp the change in routine when that’s so different than what is perceived as the normal corporate work day. And furthermore, what the standard work norm is – prioritizing hours clocked in vs. output produced.
At the end of the day, I’m happier. That is a tangible difference, and work-life balance is actually real. The new normal is the normal I want.