Reflections after Two Months of being a Digital Nomad
It’s a little over two months now since I packed my bags and decided to become a Digital Nomad. Together with my partner we moved out of the house and put everything in storage. We sold the house and the car and embarked for Europe.
Despite what it looks like from the outside, the being digital nomad is not an extended holiday. A holiday in Europe is an exercise in fitting as much as possible into the short amount of time in each place. Often you come back to home exhausted rather than refreshed by the holiday.
The initial desire to go out and see everything is very strong, but it’s not a holiday. Instead, it’s amazing work-life balance.
New experiences become normal. Going for a morning walk in a city that you’ve never seen before. Working at the AirBNB or co-working space and then going out for dinner (note: not every day). It’s an inspiring experience.
Being a digital nomad is a bit uncomfortable at first – it feels a little like skipping school. Like you’re being a bit naughty, irresponsible. It’s only a matter of time until an adult comes past and catches you. It also has elements of traveling for work. You may be on the other side of the world but for all intents and purposes you’re still working.
The work part of of being a digital nomad is important. It also peaks my ‘systems of work’ interests that Nigel Dalton, my former boss fostered. Work makes the travel sustainable, or at least that’s the theory (only time will tell). For me, at least, it’s working well so far.
I noticed a lack of distractions when working from the AirBnBs. The quality of the internet and workspaces within the AirBnBs has varied. Co-working spaces and cafes form a backup plan – without the distraction free benefit.
My previous employers had great perks, but those perks came at a cost to focus. Massage, Yoga and Soccer all make for great selling points for new employees, but they eat into the work day. Meetings, too seemed to suck the productivity and focus out of my day.
I wasn’t a particular advocate for quiet work space before I became I digital nomad. I quite liked having all the people around and a hum of activity. Now though I have a hard time imagining myself in an office. Focus is a crucial part of being a software engineer. Like many, I have struggled with focusing at the office in the past.
I enjoy the concept of open plan offices and ‘activity-based’ working. There is no denying that it has an impact on focus though. A constant stream of micro interruptions. They all stop you from settling into the deep focus that helps push out work.
There are distractions as a digital nomad as well. Places to visit and things to do. The difference is that because I’m not constrained by the 9 to 5 I can fit both in.
Companies make a conscious choice to sacrifice personal productivity for team productivity. Agile, lean and pair programming, all have their place in helping a big company not fall into a shambles. Selecting out of this and still working for big companies is impossible. This is contrary to the way that bootstrapped startups need to work though.
Instead, I’m focusing on learning. As explored in books like “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. The toolchest is different. It’s still important to approach the challenge with a set of tools. Work that planned months in advance and then split into ‘sprints’ is not it though.
On the flip-side coming away from corporate land has made me miss people to consult. Some of this is responsibility. If you make all the decisions then the buck always stops with you. But there is a lack of a trusted community. Whether it’s friday night drinks, or the company slack channel. A “tribe” with shared interests and values. Internet communities lack the trust and shared interest.
In a company it’s not uncommon to ask for a favour that isn’t in the persons job description. How far you get depends on your social capital. Internet communities lack this.
Discussions inside companies can be frank in a way that it’s hard to find outside. Honesty can still be hard when someone has poured their life into it.
Working as a digital nomad feels a little like what the future of work might be. There are still plenty of challenges to overcome, but it feels pretty promising so far.