Nearly two years ago, I created a blog post called Working remotely from abroad: One month in Hungary. A year ago, my wife, our dog, and I spent two months in Hungary, and this year we spent another three months there. I worked for about one third of those three months. As someone who has worked with multiple clients from their offices, my home office, and abroad, I'm writing about the lessons I learned.
I recently watched a YouTube video of founder and CEO John O'Nolan, in which he answers questions about the digital nomad lifestyle and building a company (Ghost) on the road. He has been traveling since 2011, and, with few exceptions, he stays in one location for 2–6 weeks.
As he mentions, this lifestyle is not for everyone, and I can say without hesitation that it would be a bit too much for me.
On the other hand, if I were to go abroad for one week and work every business day, the traveling would feel quite pointless because I would have only the weekend to absorb all the interesting things that the location offers. Thinking about what I am missing could also harm my work morale, which is a big deal (more on this later).
Depending on your location, you might get a productivity boost from the climate, interesting restaurants, the cozy co-working space where you can meet new people, etc.
For example, I am staying somewhere more rural than urban, so I don't have access to co-working spaces, but the climate difference between Finland in April (0–4 degrees Celsius) and Hungary in April (>16 degrees Celsius) is a huge plus!
How to be productive
The same principles of productivity apply regardless of location: distraction-free environment, proper equipment, clear goals, productive teamwork, etc. Working somewhere other than home, however, requires a few special considerations.
In the previous section, I briefly mentioned that you should not get the feeling that you're missing out on something while working. Having a sense of missing out is a symptom of either working too much or spending too little time at your location. If you're constantly thinking that you could be exploring, then the work will not get done or you'll do it hastily. Reserve free time and be strict about not filling it with work.
Another thing to consider is that you don't want to do troubleshooting while abroad. Test your equipment at home and double-check that you have necessary items like chargers. Take "battle-tested" equipment, not things you buy just before leaving.
Getting a local Internet connection can be a bit of a hassle. I wrote about my Internet connection in a previous blog post. In European countries, roaming plans allow, for example, unlimited Internet access for 4 Euros per day. Sounds cheap, but it costs a bit too much when you're staying for months.
If you're looking outside bigger cities for accommodations with more co-working spaces, try to choose places that have Wi-Fi. Remember to use a VPN at all Internet access points.
Not all companies are ready for remote work. There are cultural and technical aspects to consider. Cultural problems include important information being exchanged during 1-on-1 discussions next to the water cooler.
Technical issues include encountering overly strict network policies, such as you need to use company network for accessing servers. If you're pioneering remote work in your company, you need to tackle these issues first.
To summarize the productivity tips:
- Remember work-life balance.
- Get familiar with and test your tools.
- Research Internet access.
- Make sure co-workers are on board with remote work.
If you've never worked remotely, I suggest starting from home. If you are used to working at the office with three external monitors, you might try a lighter setup at a local cafe and see how that works out.
I do understand the appeal of a multi-monitor setup, but dragging those displays to a different country is not always a viable option. If you're using an IDE, it is good to check on what is taking up the screen. IDEs like Visual Studio have so many windows open by default that you need to hide them if you're not using them 95% of the time.
For me, working from abroad works very well. You eventually get into a groove (especially when staying away from home a long time), taking things easy instead of being driven by sightseeing. Quite often, when you're on a two-week holiday you get the feeling "Okay, I am ready to go back home." This doesn't happen when you're in the right mode; you just live a regular life, which is an interesting mix of your normal life and local life.
I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on the matter! Maybe you have had the exact opposite experience, really disliked being abroad, and could not get things done.