Remote work usually means you are location independent. Yes: you are free to work from anywhere! Unfortunately it’s not all mojitos and sunset at the beach. Did you know palm trees often don’t feature Wifi? And as they say: with freedom comes responsibility. In plain English: it’s on you to figure this stuff out. And what you have to figure out depends on your lifestyle. At the same time, your team has to adapt, too. In our engageSPARK tech team of five we each happen to live our remote lives in quite a different way. That is fun—and it’s been educational. In this article, I’ll share how we live our location independence and how we cope as a team.

Remote working is sometimes used synonymously with the digital nomad type sitting at a beach. (Gasp, I used the trope above as well!) I suppose that’s because a beach is generally a nice place to be—so let’s begin at the beach.

The unstoppable nomad

My Hungarian colleague doesn’t have a home base and doesn’t want one either. He keeps moving from country to country, from city and town to beach and waterfall. At times he stays for a few days, at others for one or two weeks, but rarely more. He is unstoppable; the best you can do is slow him down.

Here is an example: He once managed to find a food place stuffing him with quinoa ball spaghetti, pumpkin burritos, fried burmese peaballs and a teriyaki bowl (not ball) … and he managed to move on. Seriously, if that doesn’t convince you to stay at a place, nothing ever will.

Pumpkin burrito, what else can one ask of the world?

At the beginning we tried to keep track of where he is at each moment. And then we gave up. These days I’m already proud if I know the country.

Work-wise we see him in a different café every day, almost never in a coworking space. The fuel behind this lifestyle is the thrill of change and the joy of finding new coffee places. And it suffers from the daily challenge of finding reliable Wifi. Quite often, Wifi actually isn’t amazing, there are no power outlets and meetings don’t happen because of sudden brown outs and whatnot. That’s his struggle.

On my end, I struggled with this uncertainty as well, with not being able to plan anything really. And imagine a German without a plan! Oh universe, have mercy! What this lifestyle then taught me is one of the corner stones of remote teams:

Outcomes matter.

And lo and behold: Work did get done just fine. With a bit of flexibility, meetings did happen. All is well, even if you’re German and there isn’t much of a plan.

The slow-traveling nomad

My Filipino colleague is combining a nomad life style with slow travel. He too lacks a home base and enjoys the good parts of Southeast Asia, but he’s doing it slowly.

Whenever we are finally up to date with where he is, boom, ninja move, and he’s in a new country. He then proceeds to find the most envy-inspiring coworking space possible and delights us with plenty a picture to share the experience. Having setup camp in the new place, he then explores the surroundings.

Coworking space directly at the sea. No windows just tables with chairs pointing at blue water and islands

My “Want to go” list on Google Maps is running long indeed.

Being in a coworking space, the infrastructure is usually fine. Maybe one challenge stems from the places and the people he meets there. I remember him being in Pai, Thailand, it was under the week and everyone went out on some fun adventure and nature experience. But for him it was still work. (Remote work is still work.)

The frequent traveler

On the Dutch side of the team, there is a place to call home—but it gets stale quickly. My colleague then takes a train and heads off: into the mountains, a city with different food, to the sea. When traveling gets old, he returns home to his routines and places of comfort.

Where he needs flexibility is with “train days”: the days when he is on the move from somewhere to somewhere, and is mostly offline.

Train Day!

What do you mean, offline? I believe very much in communication, particularly in a remote team. So, by default offline days give me shivers. So, what happened?

It turns out that being offline is good for focusing, like, really good. Who would have thought! After the first train day, I spent another day just reviewing all the good things that came out of that day, only one of which was related to croissants. Another lesson in “Outcomes matter” learnt.

Home is his castle—both of them

Our new Egyptian colleague also likes moving, but mostly between home bases in two different countries. In each base, he has his regular places to work from, his routines. Can’t say too much yet about how that lifestyle will play out, but travel days will be a thing and there will be a whole bunch of bumpy days when settling in into the new place.

My City is my Castle

And then there is me. I largely stick with my home base in Cebu in the Philippines. I love my routines, and those always get destroyed when I travel, so I don’t travel much. (I tried figuring out travel routines but so far they elude me.)

While I enjoy sleeping at home and waking up there, it’s near impossible for me to work a full day from home. I … go mad if I’m there too long. As the day draws on, I tend to become really fond of cleaning plates,
tidying up and doing all other kinds of very urgent chores. I’m sure, if I stayed longer, I’d end up like Jack Nicholson in the Shining. Apart from crawling the walls at home, I very much enjoy being around people during the breaks. That’s why I know the coworking spaces in Cebu quite well by now. 🙂 (Ask me if you’re heading to Cebu and need tips.)

My challenge is, when I do travel, to stay effective. Usually I’m also not as responsive as I or others would like.

The location types we’re lacking

Those are the types of location-independent lifestyles we have at engageSPARK. What are we missing?

Remote team work didn’t start at the beach—it started with home office. At engageSPARK we’re lacking someone with a real home office, who smugly shares pictures of a 2×3 matrix of monitors. We’re also lacking the seasonal nomad type: Most of the year they’d work from home, and then for example escaping the gray winter months.

Why this diversity is great

But so far so good: every single person is handling location in a different way. We’re surviving with the standard toolkit of remote work:

  • Trust
  • Async communication
  • Focus on outcomes
  • Few and purposeful meetings
  • Written requirements and documentation

We’re not perfect in any of those. The key is maintenance: You always strengthen what works and replace what doesn’t. And with that, the different lifestyles from above help immensely. Here is why:

Imagine a team where everyone works from the office except Bob, who works from home. Everyone is fine, except no one tells Bob what has been discussed offline, what happened at that outage yesterday or over beers after work. It’s not that everyone is mean, they just forgot. And it’s no one’s fault really; there is no real pressure to figure it out, just some pity for good old Bob.

Not so in a diverse fully remote team. Having these quite different ways of working and living creates lots of friction in the team. Because this happens naturally, a diverse team is a catalyst. Either you figure it out and make it work fast, or things come undone. If you love iterating and improving your team, this is awesome.

And it is awesome, it is fun. Which is why I feel like thanking my colleagues who are not only weathering the friction I just mentioned, which isn’t always easy, but who are also the main reason why it does works. Thank you all. 🙂