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Tips for Remote Working On the Move: A Guide for Remote Workers

So you’ve been given the green light to travel while maintaining your full-time job, here’s what you need to know to make it work.

At ShieldGEO, we’re big fans of remote and flexible work. We allow all our employees to set their own hours, choose their ideal workspace (home office vs co-working space), and even encourage ‘workations’ which is essentially travelling while maintaining a full-time workload. This isn’t just sentimental either – we contribute an annual amount financially towards any workation in the hopes that our employees will take full advantage of this flexible opportunity. We love travel and want our employees to experience as much of it as they wish.

Last year, two of our employees, Stella Huang and Jacky Lee, went to Europe for six and three months respectively. Through that experience, both Stella and Jacky learnt a thing or two about how to make remote working on the move work for them.

We also chatted to Maya Middlemiss, CEO with BlockSparks OÜ where she runs an international remote team, and Associate with Virtual Not Distant whose been working remotely for 18 years. She recently took a Summer vacation while maintaining her workload and had an interesting experience.

With the rise of digital nomads and working holidays, we’ve gathered their best tips to ensure you’re in the know before heading off.

When booking accommodation – be realistic about what you need

While you may be used to replying to a few emails or finishing a few tasks from bed or the couch – full-time work really requires a dedicated space. Both Jacky and Stella recommend selecting accommodation that has a dedicated workspace or at least somewhere that can serve as such.

“Half the time we were just working out of our beds and if not we were working at a shared dining room table with one of us on each end,” Jacky says. “Sometimes we just needed our own personal space just to do our work or focus or just take calls.”

Maya tends to prefer Airbnb’s over hotels for the space and overall environment.

“Trying to work on a hotel vanity table can honestly be a little bit rubbish and actually it can sometimes feel safer leaving your gear [at an Airbnb] if you’re going to be travelling a few kms away,” she says. 

Airbnb’s will usually state their facilities and given the nature of the accommodation, the hosts know the spaces intimately. Get in touch before you book and ask questions.

If you must stay in a hotel, ask about their facilities before booking. Some may have a conference room for use or hire which could be the difference between a productive work day and a cramped neck from stooping over your laptop in bed.

Be proactive about finding WIFI sources

You may be used to finding free, reliable, WIFI at cafés while travelling but not every city in the world will offer this or even have a café culture that promotes customers working for long periods of time.

To find the best WIFI cafés, your best bet is to tap into local knowledge.

“If you have friends or contacts or networks that are living or working or studying there they’ll have the best idea of where these places might be, and that’s really helpful,” Stella says

“[Because] it’s still a little bit difficult to try and find a good comprehensive list of [cafes with WIFI] online.”

You’ve probably already made WIFI a priority when booking your accommodation but consider asking your airbnb host or hotel to run a quick speed test to see how reliable that ‘super fast WIFI’ really is.

Maya suggests upgrading your train tickets or purchasing lounge passes when they offer a better WIFI connection.

“If it means access to decent connectivity and peace … the cost benefit is obvious.”

Have the correct equipment with you

While it may be tempting to lower your luggage weight by only packing your iPad or leaving your mouse and keyboard at home, Maya is an advocate for having everything you need with you.

“I have to have the proper equipment with me. It’s so much easier than trying to faff around with a copy edit on your phone or something like that,” she says.

“Just because you can theoretically do something on a device doesn’t make it the right choice.”

She also suggests bringing all the right cords, hard drives and battery packs – you never know when they may come in handy.

Find out what works for you before you head off

“You just have to understand what conditions you work the best in and then say to yourself if I can’t emulate that in another country then I should really reconsider,” Jacky says. “If you can then there’s a 95% chance that it’s going to go well.”

It’s important to note that just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean your habits will automatically change.

“I personally really like working from cafés. I find myself really productive,” says Stella. In contrast, Jacky prefers a more focussed workspace.

“The glare from the sun, dogs yapping and people yelling at each other, the smell of coffee – how do you even focus?” he says.

As someone whose worked from home for nearly 20 years, Maya still finds her home office her most productive space. However, she knows she can work anywhere when necessary. For her, the key to working on the move is prioritising tasks and always thinking about different environments when planning out the day.

As a writer, many of her tasks are high concentration and require focus – not something that’s easy to come by in transit.

“If I have to, I can work in a train or a café or wherever – but it has to be tasks like editing,” she says.

“[And] communication is really easy from everywhere now keeping in touch with your team and clients its really, really, easy on every device, anywhere you can get online.”

If you’re worried about the change; Stella suggests trialling a period of travel closer to home to test out how you’ll go before committing to a long-haul trip.

“You still speak the language, people can come and visit you, or you can go home in that month. So you’re just changing a couple of variables, not all of them at once,” she says.

Remember work is your first priority

Not everyone has the chance to travel while working full time, but regardless of your situation – your work commitments should still remain your highest priority.

For Jacky and Stella, this meant five full days of work with the weekends free.

They found it best to keep travel days to the weekends because it was too much to do a full work day on top of moving from one city to another.

“It’s a lot of effort to move yourself and stuff from your Airbnb to the airport or the train station – travel – get to the new destination,” says Stella. “By the end of that journey, you probably don’t have much brain energy to be putting into work.”

In a similar vein – remember you’re not on holiday

In hindsight, Jacky would have liked to have been more realistic about how much time there was to explore. For him, two weeks on the Amalfi coast was more like two days when you account for travel and work time.

“Seeing it like that would help us to decide whether its worth it to go.”

The nature of living overseas means you have to take care of the mundane life tasks. You can’t eat out every night like you might on a two-week trip and that means planning grocery shopping and cooking into your daily routine.

“In Cinque Terra it was a 30 min drive to get groceries and then a massive steep stair climb to get the groceries from the car to where we were living, so that took a lot of effort and planning,” Stella says. “Rather than spending that extra half an hour or hour exploring the place you’re doing life admin.”

In hindsight, Stella would base herself somewhere for the full six months to maintain a good work and daily life routine and then travel for fun on the weekends.

Always have a backup plan

You can prepare as much as you like, but sometimes things just don’t go your way. The WIFI at your accommodation could be down or the café you hoped to work at is full of noisy distractions.

“Try to stay cool, when relatives turn out to have terrible broadband, after having assured you it was great! If they only use it for Facebook and games, it’s not their fault if you can’t easily make a video call,” says Maya.

Doing a bit of research on the co-working spaces available in each city you’ll travel through may alleviate some stress if things aren’t working out as you planned.

If you’re working with a team in your home country, consider giving yourself a buffer of a day or two on deadlines just in case something goes wrong. There’s nothing worse than completing a task but not being able to email it through when it’s due and making your teammates wait.

Consider purchasing a SIM card for an internet backup plan or Skype credits for contacting your team.

– Bree Caggiati

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