From Cancún to Mérida to Cozumel and back again. Imagine visiting the most beautiful parts of the world while working. That’s the idea that drives digital nomads. But is it really that easy, and is the dream of a global workplace as desirable as Instagram photos with a laptop in a hammock against a white-sand beach suggest?
In just four weeks, our Social Media Manager, Jan Niklas Kahoun, planned his trip to Mexico. For one month, the foreign country was his workplace. The idea was to not only to explore the world on vacation, but also to experience a new attitude towards life during working hours. “We didn’t just have one stop but travelled around the Yucatán Peninsula – along the Riviera Maya, but also inland to experience life in Mexico first-hand.”
First of all, the employer has to be open to this flexible way of working, because the time difference factor means that some meetings can’t take place in the usual way. Since the coronavirus pandemic, working from home isn’t uncommon anymore. Employers are more open to flexible ways of working, be it working from home full time or in hybrid models. Once that hurdle is overcome, there’s nothing standing in the way of working in paradise, right?
It quickly became apparent that the preparation time of four weeks was not enough to take the first steps as a digital nomad. The idea was not to adapt to the time difference, but to more or less continue working according to German time. That meant starting in the evening, sleeping a few hours and getting up early again. There was time for a nap at noon, and then it was time to explore the country. “Looking back, I would schedule my appointments differently and work in one piece. For a few weeks, that split worked well, but it’s not a permanent solution. Not having a regular eight-hour block of sleep is draining.”
Planning is key: “Your workday needs to be managed well.” Free time also needs to be planned out, whether it’s snorkelling in Cozumel or street-food delicacies in Mérida – especially when time is limited, it’s important to plan trips well. That sounds less like a dream vacation with a laptop on the beach and more like a lifestyle for passionate adventurers who put a lot of emphasis on organization. “It comes with stress – but it’s positive stress.”
Despite all the planning, something can go wrong: “When it comes to Wi-Fi, you have to rely on the advertisements of the hotels or vacation apartments. That doesn’t always work.” The biggest difficulty, Nik was quick to note, was setting up a decent Internet connection – whether in tourist strongholds or secluded parts of the country. “Especially outside of tourist areas, I’ve waited up to two minutes for the browser to load for a simple Google search.” As a digital nomad, Internet is the most important resource and what makes traveling during working hours possible in the first place. Nik was able to use AnyDesk to establish a remote connection to his PC in Germany, where the Internet connection was a lot better. But it’s not just the virtual connection that counts. “From my own experience, I can say that you definitely need a suitable adapter.”
What does the future of digital nomads look like? It doesn’t look bad: in the U.S. alone, the number of people calling themselves digital nomads increased by 50% in 2020 compared to 2019. However, the lifestyle is not for everyone. Success also depends on the individual’s job and their personal definition of the lifestyle. For some, a few days in one place may be enough, but especially then, planning and organization must be paramount – at the expense of equipment. “In my job, a computer with an Internet connection is enough,” Nik says. That means having to refrain from using luxury goods that are good for health, such as ergonomic office chairs and desks. Nik sees a compromise in longer-term stays or in co-working spaces: “If you stay in one place for longer, you have a completely different approach. When I worked in Thailand, I worked in a shared office for a week.” Here, not only can office equipment and workspace be rented, but a wide variety of people come together to exchange ideas and make new contacts.
It is important not to lose touch with your team when traveling the world while working. Again, Nik cites planning as a keyword: “When it comes to communication, it’s all about consistent organization. You have to find ways to have spontaneous exchanges in addition to scheduled meetings when last-minute issues come up.”
No matter how you want to travel the world – the mix of flexibility and well-thought-out planning is what makes up the lifestyle of the digital nomad. It’s not a vacation on the beach with occasional email exchanges. Nik has learned a lot for the future and wants to try it again. “With a little more lead time and planning, I could see myself living this lifestyle for a longer period of time.”
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