Ever wondered what being a digital nomad means? For me, this rather trendy (and almost overused) concept boils down to something really simple: a person who’s providing value through digital channels but who doesn’t have a fixed place to work. Doesn’t have an office and most of the time doesn’t have business cards either (the new dial tone being twitter, of course). For a digital nomad the world is the office. This person can work in a coffee shop, in a library, in airports or train stations. In today’s post I’ll talk about my experience as a digital nomad for almost 2 years now.
Digital Nomad Work Places
Let’s start with the beginning: 2 years ago I sold my online business and decided to switch careers: instead of being a CEO with a nice office, I decided to be a personal development blogger without a real office. In the beginning, I worked from home. Redecorated an entire room, bought a desk and a nice chair, put some shelves around, and I was set. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t long until I realized I didn’t feel comfortable at all in this new setup. I traded a down-town office for a home-based office, but in the end all I got was still an office. And it wasn’t the location which was actually bothering me, but the whole concept of “office”.
So, I started to look after other locations for work. I did a lot of trial and error but in the end I come up with quite a nice setup. Here is breakdown of the main points I use for work now:
1. Coffee Shops
By far one of my favorite places as a digital nomad. Of course, the main feature of an appropriate coffee shop is the internet access: the fastest, the better. The second thing I try to identify in the first few minutes is the power outlet. I don’t usually work in chunks bigger than one, one and a half hour maximum, but a power outlet is absolutely necessary, because I may change 2-3 coffee shops per day and at some point I will need to recharge my laptop.
I prefer places near the wall, faced to some windows or the main entry. I like to rest my eyes looking outside or just randomly gazing at people going in and out. I drink a tea and sometimes I get myself a sandwich. Some coffee shops have a really nice music and sometimes this thing alone can make a real difference.
In coffee shops I tend to do a lot of creative work: writing blog posts, commenting on other blogs, sketching projects or partnerships.
2. Real Estate On Demand
This is relatively new, only a few months, but is a major shift. I don’t know if this concept is implemented in other places but it is in the town I’m living in right now: Bucharest. There’s a place called Bucharest Hubb where I can have an office (seldom the same) a chair, internet access and some privacy. I don’t have a specific room, I sit down at whatever office may be free. Being an advisor in Bucharest Hubb board I don’t have to pay for it, but even if I would, this whole setup is not more than 100 EUR/month.
When I’m at Hubb I’m doing a lot of meetings and administrative stuff. I meet new people, I provide advice and doing the consulting stuff. The business-like atmosphere make this a little bit more easier.
Later edit: a few years later after this blog post, I find myself working very often from my own hub, Connect Hub.
3. Back Yard
I switched the office room for my backyard. I can’t work there during winters, of course, but from early spring until late summer, I sit on a bench and just do my stuff while Bianca is playing around. Sometimes I leave the laptop on the bench and do some small gardening.
That’s the perfect place for doing research. Whenever I have to learn something new or have to dig in after some interesting concepts, doing this in my backyard seems to be the best way to do it.
Last year I traveled a lot and many of the trips were (very) long distance. Whenever I have to wait in an airport, especially if I was there before, I tend to use the time as working time. I prefer to relax in my hotel room or to sleep in the plane, but while I’m at the ground, I maximize my time by doing something useful.
Many of the posts I wrote last year were sketched in the airports. One of the consequences of being a digital nomad is that you’re exposed to a lot of new places and experiences and that makes for an almost endless source of blog post topics.
I remember that last year I wrote around 20 blog posts in airports only. Of course, the same territorial strategy from the coffee shops applies to airports too: hunting for the best seat and locating the nearest power outlet.
5. Public Libraries
I was doing a lot of work in the public libraries immediately after I sold the company, but I don’t think I’ve been there last year. In the beginning, it seemed like a nice, private and quiet place, but now it feels really dry to me. I love to hear people, to watch new faces and to be able to leave whenever I want, without signing out at the clerk desk.
However, I did some of my best programming pieces while working in a library so I might try this again pretty soon.
6. Random Places
A digital nomad adapts. I carry my laptop around almost all the time so every little pause or glitch in the schedule can be used as a time for work. For instance, I work in my car while waiting for a new meeting or sometimes even in the park, if there’s more than one hour between two of my tasks.
What Type Of Work Does A Digital Nomad Do?
Primarily, writing, at least for me. I think 75% of my work right now is writing (in the form of blog posts, blog comments or ebooks). But there is an important 25% which is made by consulting time, programming or interaction (email or social media). But I’m sure there is a lot of other type of digital work which can be done like this: from consulting to affiliate marketing or web development. You know, the type of work which requires only a laptop, a decent internet connection, some brilliant ideas or skills and, above all, persistence.
I find absolutely mind boggling that we can create value in a structured way while being completely free to move whenever and wherever we want. A digital nomad is by no means a “rejected”, or a “misfit”. On the contrary, I think being a digital nomad is the way of the future in creating and broadcasting value. Sooner than we think, digital nomads are going to outnumber regular office suits. At least, that’s what I think right now.
Our work is less and less tied up to a physical location. We can talk with clients while we’re visiting Japan, we can write blog posts while we’re trekking in Thailand or we can start to sketch some new iPhone apps while we’re on a remote island from New Zealand. All these are realities, not wishful thinking. And all these are fantastic way to enjoy life more.
The Very Very Short Digital Nomad Guide To Relationships
As you may already wonder, this lifestyle has a huge impact not only on work but on relationships too. Here’s a short guide on how to manage these changes.
1. Be Focused
Every time I have a meeting with a potential client in a coffee shop, something strange happens. First, in 90% of the cases, the client is completely defocused (because he’s on foreign land and, above that, on a place which he usually associates with leisure, not with work). Second, they tend to become too familiar and relaxed, so at some point they lose track of the conversation.
It’s fundamental to be focused and, while still keeping an informal style, be sure you’ll always walk out with a list of next actions. Otherwise you just spent two hours of your life pretending you’re doing business while in fact you’ve just happily procrastinated in a coffee shop.
2. Keep A Clean To Do List
Or whatever thing you use for personal productivity. Virtual relationships (your partners, your social media buddies, your remote clients) are as real as you are. Just because you don’t have a fixed office to ground you down, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep them informed. Keeping a clean to do list related to the tasks you have to do which involves other people (emails, social media activities, etc) is crucial if you don’t want to become a digitally isolated bump instead of being a successful digital nomad.
3. Use Digital Icons Of Your Closest Ones
You know the wife and kids photo on your desktop? Maybe some writing tools you got as a present from a friend long time ago? Or that clipboard you received at that very special business event? All these are icons which are giving substance to your real life desktop. These are making your workplace feel like home.
As a digital nomad you won’t have a fixed workplace. But you can make it feel like home ;-). Use wallpapers with your closest ones. Put your personal photos on a slide show using your screensaver. Keep a collection of movies handy on the desktop. And whenever you feel disconnected, take a break and enjoy your personal digital atmosphere.
4. Have A Ready Made Explanation
Many meetings I had in coffee shops went side-tracked by a wrong answer to the question: “why don’t you have an office?”. I used to tell a very long story about becoming location independent and being a digital nomad, but I realized this was hijacking the core of the meeting. Instead of being interested on the proposed topics, people started to ask more and more questions about being a digital nomad and so on.
Better have a quick and clean explanation of this and then move on. Avoid the trap of: “we’re going to set up this at my office” or alike. You don’t have an office, but the other guy doesn’t need to make a whole story out of it.
Your Life Will Never Be The Same
One of the guys who’s rising pretty fast in the blogosphere right now, Glenn Alsopp from viperchill.com said something really interesting: “I used to live around my work, and now I work around my life”. This summarizes pretty well the whole concept: the fundamental shift of this lifestyle design is to move from a work-centric perspective to a life-centric perspective. We’re all taught that we should have a work first, and then some life. Well, being a digital nomad reverses this situation: you have a life at the core of your existence and on top of it you build some work too.
This isn’t an easy process. And I don’t think it’s a process for everybody. Some people need more grounding than others. But some people, yours truly included, need a lot of variety and freshness.
Moving your life to the very center of your existence is difficult. Because it requires to answer some difficult questions like: “what do I really like to do?”. Or “if I wouldn’t have to wake up every morning at 6 AM to get to this stupid job, what time would I wake-up then? And why?”. Or, even something like this: “what would people think of me if I don’t have an office anymore? Wouldn’t I look like a pathetic jobless loser?”.
All these questions are normal questions. In order to function properly you need self-respect and a sense of social integration. Working strange hours and in strange places will not help you with that, on the contrary, will generate a very predictable alienation. But that’s a really small price to be paid once you get in the flow.
Choosing to be a digital nomad will impact your existence at virtually all levels. Leaving behind the security of a standard job and of a physical office will not be easy. You may feel confused at times or even depressed. But soon after the adaptation period something interesting will happen (again, if you are the type who needs a constant refresh of your life): you’re going to realize that the world is really your office. And that is not a joke.
You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. You can chose an “office” with a view to a sea shore, or you can chose an office with a nice relaxing jazz music.
You can enjoy your life while still providing value for others. And seeing the world in the process is a really nice add-on to this offer. 😉
photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vanz/33425809/