As I write this, I'm sitting at my balcony desk, watching the palm trees swaying on the wind and the waves breaking on the beach. The surf bar on the corner is enticing me with its menu of healthy food and smooth espressos. This is Tarifa, a little surfer paradise in the south of Spain.
How it all began
Over 2 years ago I decided to spend some time working remotely to chase another passion of mine: kitesurfing. My company is a remote-friendly place, with many DevOps employees working from home on a regular basis. A great starting point to take remoting abroad!
After I made up my mind, I approached my line manager and asked if I could work from home for 3 months in a row. His answer was: "as long as you get the job done and your team is OK, yes". To which I replied: "OK, so what if my home is in the south of Spain?". He took a while to get back to me, but he decided to greenlight my project. This was a big act of trust from my employer, which I reciprocated with hard work and good results.
As soon as I got back from my 3 months abroad, we had a debrief session. My line manager seemed happy. "When can I do this again?", I asked. "Whenever you want to", he replied. It looked like the formula was working.
Ever since I've been working from places such as Barcelona, Prague, Lisbon and even Brazil. It's gotten to the point where working from the European time zone is pretty much "business as usual" for me. It's only when I work further afield that I need to present a clear plan beforehand and conduct a retrospective afterwards. I would say that's fair.
There are many obvious upsides to remote working, if your company allows it. Images of sunny beaches or snow-covered mountains immediately spring to mind. Better work-life balance awaits the remote worker.
There's almost a feeling of vacation to it. My 9-5 belongs to the company, but in the evening I can go for a stroll on the beach, enjoy a sunset mojito in my local bar, or catch the wind in an evening kitesurfing session.
Depending on your destinaton, remoting is also a good way to meet people. Smaller towns make it easier to establish new friendships. Some locations have a digital nomad population, making it easy to connect with other professionals and enterpreneurs.
The drawbacks are not that obvious. The first one has to do with timezones. The syle of work in my team is highly synchronous and involves a lot of real-time communication. This requires me to adapt to the UK time zone wherever I travel. Most of my travelling has been in the European timezone (UK +1), but I've also explored Brazil (UK -3 and UK -4). This meant that I had to wake up at 5 am to be ready to start working at 9:30 UK time. This requires a lot of discipline.
Another important factor is the feeling of isolation from my colleagues. When I work remotely I miss out on the watercooler conversations and lunchtime discussions with the team. A lot of communication takes place on those informal occasions, so I miss some important information from time to time.There is also the danger of becoming too involved with what's happening locally that I become disengaged with what goes on in the office. In order to avoid this, I prefer my remote trips to last no more than 3 months.
Another important point is that remoting hurts your visibility within the company. Coworkers from other teams and departments still prefer to come and talk to you in person. Managers still have the habit of grabbing the first developer they can find to ask questions or demand extra features. If you're not in the office, you're cultivating an "out of sight, out of mind" mindset. If your intention is to climb up the corporate ladder, I would advise lots of office presence.
Additionally, there are the missed opportunities in terms of conferences and events. I recently missed out on an opportunity to go to London for a company conference, and had to give up on the chance of appearing on a live stream from one of our partners, a well-known cloud company. It's the price I have pay to be able to pursue other dreams and passions.
Finally, there are a lot of legal complications related to travelling and employment. I am a UK resident, and I make sure that I spend more than half the year in the UK for tax purposes. Depending on where you live, you need to watch out for the legal aspects of working and travelling. Many countries have not caught up with the possibilities of remote working. Being pessimistic when it comes to these things, I'm sure that countries will find creative ways to tax remote workers if they stay too long in one place.
After having successfully worked from Brazil for 2 months, I'm keen to explore the GMT -3 timezone. This includes Argentina and Chile, which opens up the possibility for stunning mountain landscapes.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever worked remotely? How did it impact your work? What locations have you explored? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments section below.