What is it like to work remotely in 2021?
MASCHA VÖLKER – GUEST BLOGGER
Ever since the pandemic started in 2020, I feel like the travel industry became turbulent and torn apart. People reconsider their travel options and behavior, not only because rules and regulations limit their options. Social media became a war zone, in which people criticize each other whether it’s ok to travel these times. Travelers receive comments addressing their privileges and ignorance towards this sensible topic, while regions and countries complain about the losses they made from decreased tourism. I’m not here to judge or criticize what people should and shouldn’t do. Neither do I intend to take sides in this discussion since both sides are valid for me.
I understand the importance of protecting people and hence limiting unnecessary travel. I understand people who live in fragile economies that rely on tourism as their source of income. This is especially the case for regions where governmental support is low and options are limited. I also understand travelers whose lifestyle isn’t about going from one tropical beach to another, but to find traces of connectedness that help addressing the issues of our capitalist society.
As my dear friend Shanna approached me and suggested to join her to Brazil, I instantly felt like excitement. Both of us planned on working remotely and becoming self-employed. She told me about her idea back in October 2020, where I found myself in a rather toxic environment and state. The last time I left Brazil back in 2019, I struggled to find friends in Recife despite loving the Brazilian culture. I thought it would be a shame to leave Brazil in that state, which is why I made all necessary arrangements to join Shanna. Fast forward 5 months and I am sitting in my hammock in Bahia writing this post. Here in this tiny village called Poças in the state of Bahia, we stay and work for two months. Here’s what I learned so far, one and a half months in.
Working remotely doesn’t require you to break a bank
My first hesitation to go to Brazil were the costs. I was worried that I couldn’t afford traveling but when I calculated the costs, I actually noticed that I saved money abroad. Renting our house is about 200 Euro/month cheaper than in Hamburg and so is my health insurance (about 400 Euro/month). I only plan on doing a hiking trip at the end of my stay, so I barely have any domestic transportation costs. Other than that, I have to make up for the traveling time where I didn’t work. I’d say the biggest financial downside of a freelancer working remotely is not being paid during the time you don’t work. That’s why it’s wise to pick one place due to transportation time and costs.
Be prepared to live in social isolation*
We decided to go to an isolated place near a beach with a good internet connection. There are surely plenty of other destinations, where you can go out and meet people. With the current pandemic in mind, it felt right for me to stay somewhere, where our contact/exposure to others is limited. Our “points of contact” are basically limited to our lunch place, our supermarket and the market next town where we buy fruits and veggies once a week. In Germany, I would usually go for a walk each time with a different friend and use public transport. For me, this lifestyle is perfect, but if you consider yourself a strong extrovert, working from abroad during a pandemic can be challenging. Your contacts may be even more limited.
*depending on where you’re going, of course.
Don’t expect to have your lunch breaks at the beach
While it sounds tempting, you might reevaluate how little one hour of lunch break actually is. If you’re used to working from home, you know that one hour is usually filled with preparing your lunch, eating it and having another 10 mins of laying on your couch or bed. It’s the same here, just that my bed is replaced by a hammock.
Keep the time difference in mind
I’d say that if I work from abroad again, I pay more attention to the time differences. I attend three meetings a week for work that start at 5:15AM Brazilian time/9:15AM German time. Once Germany changes to summer time, the meetings will start 4:15AM. This requires great sleep management, which I probably wouldn’t be able to have if I was living in a big and noisy city.
Especially in these turbulent times, be aware that flight schedules, currencies, entry/visa regulations are subject to change at any given time. Thus, you should be flexible in your work schedule. (Un)fortunately, you cannot plan everything 12 weeks in advance. Before I came to Brazil, I had to have a plan B in mind if things didn’t work out. For example: I found out one day before departure that I booked the last plane of my airline to Brazil before Portugal (my transit stop) closed its borders. My return flight to Germany got cancelled, so that I had to have the financial resources to book a new ticket while waiting for the refund of my old one.
Come with intention
As always, be aware of why you want to go abroad. Is it because you want to call yourself a digital nomad, tick off your travel guidebook recommendations or because your new photos on social media will be “lit”?!
While all these things may surely give you a quick ego boost, this current time reveals my motivation behind traveling: being closer to nature, limiting your contacts to the real ones (on- and offline), as well as connecting to my individual being and purpose by being semi-isolated.
Be aware of your privilege
In so many ways, the pandemic feels like a mirror reflecting the problems our society faces. One of them is the privilege of white cis-people. In terms of traveling, this means being able to continue to travel, while passport holders from other countries face further travel bans and restrictions. For me, this means appreciating all of what I’m able to do these times and reconsider where I cross the line and tend to take things for granted.
Remember why you’re here
There are plenty of reasons why you consider to work remotely and I’m sure that all of them are valid. One thing I noticed is how easy it is to get lost in your list of to-dos and errands. After a few weeks in, I had to postpone things on my to do list because I didn’t have time to simply enjoy my surroundings. I reminded myself why I came to Brazil: To reset and see how I feel about working remotely.
Was it worth it?
Absolutely! I learned, how much more energy I get from within than from peers. I was able to narrow down my career goals which seemed impossible two years ago. I came closer to understand my toxic patterns by not being surrounded by equally stressed collective mindset. I came closer to understand that everything ends sometime, so that I started to feel less attached to people, things or moments. I understood the privilege of having a home and people to return to which is why I wouldn’t consider to move abroad – at least for now!