In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people have transitioned to remote work this year.
Working from home (or abroad) can be a tough adjustment for those used to the structure of an office job, but digital nomads can help. Digital nomads are the laptop-toting, world-traveling entrepreneurs who chose the remote lifestyle long before a pandemic made it the norm.
“Working from anywhere isn’t just for freelancers or solopreneurs — entrepreneurs and employees can work from anywhere, too,” says Avin Kline, a longtime digital nomad and founder of eScale, an e-commerce marketing and web design agency.
That’s never been more true than this year, when legions of employees became remote workers practically overnight. Many major companies announced permanent remote work policies — some optional — and offices around the world became ghost towns.
Luckily, with more and more destinations — from Barbados to Aruba to Dubai — offering workcation perks and visas for travelers who wish to stay long-term, employees and the self-employed are realizing they can have their cake (reliable work and a steady income) and eat it, too (exploring the world on the regular).
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“It’s not a lifestyle for everyone — you have to know that upfront,” says Scott Eddy, a full-time traveler and the host of Lifetime’s Video Globetrotter series. “But there’s tremendous upside, if you can get it right.”
Whether you’ve chosen the remote work lifestyle, or are simply looking for tips on how to make your current work-from-home situation more pleasant, productive, and efficient, these veteran digital nomads have you covered.
1. Create a spot in your home solely for work.
Chase Dimond, an email marketing specialist who has worked from home for five years, stresses the importance of a work-life divide.
“I’ve found it to be extremely beneficial to have a spot in my house that’s specifically dedicated to working,” he shares. “I’m more productive when I repeatedly use a spot that I know is only for work. In the past, I used to work from my dining table or couch and would constantly get distracted, since I would use those same spots for other things. It was hard to draw the line between work and other activities.”
Aaron Nosbisch, a longtime digital nomad and digital advertising specialist, agrees. “Find a dedicated space for work, and avoid using the same [place] for recreation or other activities, especially sleeping,” he advises.
Another way to turn on your work brain without environmental signals like a commute and cubicle is to create a routine with your own triggers — yes, self-induced Pavlovian conditioning — to activate a productive, focused headspace. Try putting on a certain playlist, rubbing a citrusy or minty essential oil onto your wrists, or shutting doors and windows to block out distractions.
If you plan on working while traveling, you’ll need to factor this in as you secure accommodations. Don’t rely on coffee shops and other public areas for working, since you can’t control the environment and it’s not a sustainable solution. And don’t book a studio or one-bedroom, especially if you’re traveling with a partner who’s also working from home. It’s worth shelling out more money for ample room and separate workspaces, whether that’s in your Airbnb or — even better — temporarily joining a coworking space and meeting like-minded people.
2. Top-notch Wi-Fi is a non-negotiable.
“Get one of the better Wi-Fi plans possible,” says Dimond. “I initially opted for the basic plan, which worked fine for a while, but once everyone else started working from home and all the kids in the neighborhood started taking classes online, the basic plan no longer cut it.”
Others nearby can affect your internet speed, and now, with more people relying on web connectivity for their everyday lives — both personally and professionally — it might be time for an upgrade.
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“The bandwidth and usage on my basic plan were causing me to have very slow internet — sometimes even no internet — because all my neighbors were on similar plans and we were all (unintentionally) borrowing from each other’s bandwidth,” explains Dimond. “I upgraded to one of the higher-tiered plans and haven’t had any issues in a long time.”
If you’re working on the road, squaring away your Wi-Fi situation is a vital first step. You can’t rely on Wi-Fi from coffee shops or libraries, especially now that many businesses are closed, operating on different hours, discouraging extended stays, or not permitting dine-in altogether. So, make it a point to check with your hotel or Airbnb that the internet is speedy and reliable.
Before booking, don’t hesitate to ask for proof, like a screenshot from an internet speed test, confirming that Wi-Fi won’t be a limiting factor while you work on the road.
3. Make exercise a habit.
“Stay disciplined with working out,” recommends Nosbisch. “Physical exercise and mental wellness are directly tied together. It’s easy to slack when you’re nomadic, so find exercises or routines you can utilize no matter where you are and what the weather is like.”
Mark Miller, who has worked remotely for nine years, agrees. “Make sure you regularly set aside time for non-work-related physical activity. Get your heart rate up above 120 BPM every day for at least 30 to 45 minutes.”
Eating healthy is another essential element of being productive, but it can be especially difficult while traveling to unfamiliar places. Combat this by meal planning breakfast and lunch, so you don’t get hungry, distracted, and desperate during the workday.
4. Invest in proper equipment and equip yourself with the right tools.
Part of the joy of being a digital nomad is that you don’t need much more than the basics: a computer and phone should cover it. But if you’re going to do this for a while, or if your line of work requires reliable, high-performance technology, you should invest in tools that simplify your life.
Consider what software you use, too. “Build your ‘technology stack’ and stick to it,” Nosbisch recommends. “All the different online tools can be overwhelming, so identify what works best for you — and what integrates best with the other software in your stack — and stick to it.”
Upgrading your remote work experience doesn’t have to mean dropping loads of cash, either: You can make small investments that make a big difference. Nosbisch says that Krisp, a noise-canceling app, is an excellent tool for cutting out background noise while working from coffee shops or coworking spaces. You can get 120 minutes per week for free or pay about $5 per month for unlimited use.
Another popular tool is Slack, a platform that streamlines communication across teams. “Fully committing to using Slack communication across our teams made the transition to working from home much easier,” says Nick Shackelford, cofounder of Structured Social. “Clear channels with clear objectives allow for our team of 50-plus to stay in contact with ease.”
If you’ll mostly be working out of a home office, you can do even more to establish a workspace conducive to success. Eddy advises buying a good camera, lighting, and headphones, since video calls are now more important than ever.
Shackelford recommends a standing desk. “A standing desk, or just having the ability to stand and work, helped me transition and work from home or any Airbnb,” he says. “The ability to quickly change to a standing setup gives the right amount of focus shift.”
Miller advises buying good gear, especially if you’re going to be moving around. “Start with a rock-solid bag — backpack, messenger bag, or whatever flavor you like — and make sure it can hold all you need, but not a ton more than you need,” he says. “Find one that has security features for life on the road, like cables in straps to keep them from being cut and RFID-blocking pockets to keep passports and credit cards safe.”
He also notes the importance of being self-sufficient — and that includes not having to scour for an outlet at critical moments. “To be mobile and agile, make sure you have a really strong battery pack — enough for a laptop, phone, headphones, and whatever else you might need to charge,” he says.
A Wi-Fi hot spot isn’t a bad idea, if you’re visiting places where it’s difficult to arrange or ensure solid coverage. And whether you’re working from home or abroad, noise-canceling headphones are a must.
5. Keep time zones in mind.
You may not have considered this if you’re new to working from home, but depending on your situation, you may need — or want — to stick to the time zone of your home, office, boss, or clients, or else you’ll need to rearrange your days accordingly.
“If you’re going to work from anywhere in the world, you have to be willing to work on your client’s time zone as much as possible, even if that means 3 a.m. calls” says Miller.
Kline agrees. “Make sure your clients, team, or boss don’t feel out of sync or at a disadvantage because you’re traveling,” he stresses. Kline and his family have lived around the world while running U.S.-based businesses and are currently situated in Florence, Italy.
“Running a company based on the East Coast, I’ve kept my work schedule on Eastern time wherever I am in the world,” he continues. “I even keep my computer clock and calendar on Eastern time, so that I’m mentally in step with the people I work with. I’m intentional about making sure that my travels never need to put my team or clients at a disadvantage.”
And when you’re heading to a new spot, don’t forget to factor in the toll that crossing time zones takes on your body. “Do not underestimate jet lag, nor the need to give yourself a bit of time to adjust when on the move,” says Miller. “Make sure to bake in a day on both sides of any trip to adjust to the new world you’re visiting.”
6. Time management is everything — and so is unplugging.
Eddy stresses that time management must be self-enforced at the strictest level, if you’re going to be successful at working on the move. “Without having the office structure around you on a daily basis, it’s very easy to slack off, so having strict deadlines is always a good idea,” he says. “Having a to-do list and setting alarms on your phone can help you stay organized.”
Holding yourself to a regular work routine can be especially hard when you’re in a new place and eager to explore (after all, isn’t that the point of being a digital nomad?), but it’s worth ensuring that your lifestyle choice will prove sustainable.
“Show up to work every day, no matter what crazy adventures you’re experiencing,” Kline advises. “Kick off the work day at the same time every day — this could be a quick team call or just showing up to the computer — because being in semi-vacation mode isn’t sustainable and can be exhausting. Make the decision to show up to work every day, whether you feel like it or not, and then when you’re off, be off and enjoy your surroundings. For me, this often means working regular hours Monday through Thursday and taking a half-day on Friday. Then, I completely shut off work for a long weekend.”
Flose LaPierre, writer and creator of Write to Heal, a trauma-informed writing workshop that aims to encourage healing through therapeutic writing practices, offers similar advice. “Unglue [yourself] from your inbox,” she says. “Us digital nomads love our freedom, so it’s important we take advantage of it. If you’re choosing this life, start cutting the cord and don’t be afraid to let clients know when you’ll be off-line.”
She also recommends letting your computer tell you when it’s time to stop working. “Charge your computer until it’s at 100%, then unplug. Once it dies, close the screen and enjoy where you are,” she says. “The best part of being a digital nomad is the opportunity it offers to connect with other humans.”
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