Technology has brought new meaning to the term nomad --and has helped usher the lifestyle into the 21st Century. Thanks to laptops, Wi-Fi, and host of communication apps, entrepreneurs and employees can work from nearly anywhere, anytime.
Though predictions of its rise date back to the 1960s, the idea of the "digital nomad" started to take shape in the late 1990s as the internet started to gain mass adoption. Predictions and possibilities about this lifestyle in which we could "live, work and exist on the move" were further brought to light in the book, "Digital Nomad," which was released in 1997 by authors Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners.
The evolution of the nomad
Today, the digital nomad has fully evolved. Now there are programs like Remote Year, Hacker Paradise, and We Roam that pair nomadic professionals with their cohorts, align them with workspaces, and accommodations.
These programs, which range from one month to one year, and one city to 12, are quickly gaining momentum. In fact, chances are you even know someone currently canvassing Instagram with photos of their latest escapade in some international location.
So what do you need to think about before uprooting for a year? What can you expect to gain from a year abroad? What should you pack? How do you ensure you don't disrupt workflow or communication with the team?
1. What inspired you to take part in the work abroad program?
I was already working remotely for Pagely. When I learned about the Remote Year program the logic was fairly simple: "If I'm already remote, I might as well be seeing the world."
2. How far in advance did you have to plan?
I didn't actually learn about the program until mid-March 2016 when a friend of mine who had already been accepted asked my input on it and about my current remote work arrangement with Pagely. While he was describing the program I became more and more fascinated with it. I applied immediately, was accepted about a month later, and left for Prague in late May of the same year.
3. How did you decide what to bring with you?
I over-packed (against all better advice from the folks who had gone on previous cohorts). I ended up bringing ridiculous stuff like a water purifier, and flint and steel -items that seem silly now in retrospect, but I come from a core survival tools mentality.
Ultimately I boiled everything down to a hiking pack and a hard 28-gallon suitcase. I'm intending to shed a bunch of gear when I go back home over Christmas. The items I've been really happy with are TRX workout bands, a Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad that allows me to make a standup desk wherever I go, and a pair of pants that morph into shorts via zippers.
4. How has it impacted you personally and professionally?
I was able to attend WordCamp Europe (which is a big conference for our industry) this year because it coincided with my time in Prague. But other than that there weren't any direct strategic advantages to being located abroad. If anything the timing of the call windows has required some adjustment so it's taken some work to make this arrangement fly.
The biggest thing it's done though is inject inspiration into my daily routine. I typically work from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Europe time), which leaves the morning to explore some of these amazing places I never would have gone otherwise. You can go river rafting or see a world-class museum all before lunch then go about your day.
The other element it has added is the tribal community aspect. Working remotely tends to be a lone wolf existence, but we're now a band of 75 people all in the same boat, often sharing a common workspace. You can imagine the level of camaraderie that naturally develops amongst travelers roaming as a unit, being exposed to all these unique cultural experiences for a full year. The decision to participate in this program has been hands-down the best thing I've done this past year.
5. How has it impacted communication with the team here? Has distance or time difference been an issue?
Our business is already entirely virtual, so it didn't change much from a workflow perspective. The time zone offset took some getting used to at first, but it's actually been nice to have the mornings for exploring the cities we visit. I switched my call hours for sales prospects to East Coast time and work late, which isn't a problem since I'm a night owl by nature.
Communication internally has been unaffected. We use Slack and Google Hangouts as our primary methods of communication. I opted to get a local SIM card in each place as a backup in the event my phone carrier's service had issues.
Quality of Internet connectivity was a huge concern going into the program as that could be a show stopper for my trip, but that has proven largely unfounded. Connectivity has been great.
There's an element of "safety in numbers" when you go with a group this large -- so many people depend on having fast internet to work effectively and the program knows that so it's highly motivated to vet things ahead of time and ensure connectivity is solid everywhere we go. They even provide backup cellular-based hotspots in the event the connection at the workspace goes down.
Bottom line: Do your homework
Maybe you are lucky enough to already be a remote worker. Maybe you need to find the best way to convince the higher ups that this is a good fit for you. Regardless, do your homework to find the right program for you and your company.
Aligning with the right one can provide character-building, culturally rich experiences, expand your network, and maybe even give you a revitalized, new perspective on your approach to work or life.