In 2017, I left my home in the U.S. to embark on a year of traveling around the world while still maintaining my job here at Metis. I adopted a digital nomad lifestyle, or in other words continued to work while traveling and not retaining a permanent address. While my year-long journey may have ended, the experience taught me so much about myself personally and professionally.
As more companies begin to support some level of remote work, there are more opportunities for employees to work with more flexibility and control over their careers. As every successful remote worker will tell you – nomad or not – your responsibilities and career commitments don’t change, though your approach to meeting them does.
Here are eight things I learned in my year as a digital nomad.
Flexibility wins. There’s a certain level of stress that exists every day at work, no matter who you are. Whether it’s rushing to make in time for your first meeting, realizing your project is in danger of being delayed, handling an employee issue, or finding out your client is changing its entire strategy, you have to show up and work through the challenges to succeed.
Traveling amplifies this. Not only does your everyday life continue, but you are handling that while dealing with all-too-common travel delays, navigating a new commute to work, struggling to order a coffee in an unfamiliar language, learning new office customs, wondering how to do a load of laundry in a washer with too many options and so much more.
Experiencing new locations and new cultures – constantly – truly builds your emotional intelligence or EQ. It forces you to remain flexible in your daily routine and roll with the punches. All the little stressors that had a larger impact on you before, suddenly feel easier to handle, and you have more self-awareness of how you should react. You develop more empathy for others in different experiences. This mindset shift helps you grow and focus on what’s most important.
WiFi is your blood line. It doesn’t matter if it’s at an airport, your favorite coffee spot or a hotspot on a road trip, you can work if you can connect. Before I started working remotely, I remember stressing about not having a proper desk setup. How could I work without a mug of my favorite pens, a “business” phone, a file cabinet…the list of mostly unnecessary needs went on.
With a new view every few weeks, I quickly learned how easily you can sit down and work from any location or workspace as long as you have the essential tools: your laptop, headphones and WiFi.
When you only have a limited amount of time in one place, you want to get out there and explore. Trust me, you will find a way to get your work done faster so you can hit the beach, climb a mountain or jump out of a plane.
This doesn’t mean your work suffers – you still have the same goals and commitments to your job as before. You just force yourself to find ways to be more efficient and focus on the most important priorities each day. This practice sets you up for success for a lifetime.
Zoom, Google Hangout and Skype keep remote teams connected. There are so many options out there, but you don’t fully realize how easy web-based communication tools make global collaboration until you yourself have to make 100 percent of your calls out of country.
Being able to speak in an instant – and for free – over data or WiFi is amazing. It also made me appreciate every call that was proactively scheduled over the web, and to be sure to return the favor to colleagues or clients overseas now.
Time zones and daylight savings are a pain for global teams. As if coordinating calls or remembering what time it is on the other side of the world (which you should and be courteous to your team members in different areas) isn’t difficult enough, daylight savings time beginning and ending throws another wrench into scheduling. Not all countries follow it, and if they do, the dates it starts and ends is different in every country. Using a time zone converter and double checking when you’re scheduling meetings is essential.
You will always wear the same outfit. When your life needs to fit in one under-50-pound suitcase, your fashion options are limited. I never fully bought into Mark Zuckerburg’s outfit uniform argument, but now I’ve begun to understand it. Fewer options make for an easier decision. It may look like time hasn’t passed on your video calls, but at least you can point out a new background from your latest destination.
There’s a reason Uber dominates. Despite all of its corporate problems and protests from local cab drivers, Uber is a godsend for travelers. Not every city has a convenient taxi system, and in many places, it’s not regulated. It’s not easy to negotiate the cost of a ride, be sure you don’t get ripped off, or share your destination in a foreign language. Uber makes it easy with a consistent user experience across the globe and peace of mind that you can follow along with your route when you’re in unfamiliar territory.
The global experiences you have and lessons you learn are invaluable. Not everyone operates or thinks like you were raised to and traveling opens your horizons. The observations you make and stories you hear impact you professionally and personally for the rest of your life.