Around the World in 365 Days: Lessons on Remote Work

It’s no secret that Janice, Founder of Oblique Design and Kelly, Account Manager for Oblique, embarked on an incredible journey in 2019 as they traveled the world with Remote Year and had the opportunity to work remotely in 12 different countries. 3 months have passed since their Remote Year program ended and their return to ‘normalcy’. Since the New Year, they’ve been able to reflect on their experiences and digest the lessons they’ve learned while abroad. We thought it would be useful to offer you some tips, insight, and context for how to run a branding and web agency on the road.

How did you hear about Remote Year? Was it something you sought out or did someone bring it to your attention?

Janice: I was targeted through an Instagram ad asking 3 relevant questions: Do you work in a coworking space? Yes. Are you in a transition? Yes. Do you love to travel? Yes. And then I was hooked, and got Kelly on board.

Kelly: I had heard of Remote Year about two years before Janice mentioned it, as I had a former coworker who’d done it. When Janice told me she was considering joining Remote Year and asked if I’d be interested, my immediate reaction was “Of course!”

What about the program was most intriguing to you? Was it the travel, the ability to work anywhere, network with new companies, etc.?

Janice: All of the above. After speaking with the founders of RY, I was intrigued by their philosophy and mission of the company. Because AirBnB helped them with funding and ideation, I knew RY was a company I could stand behind. I knew we had the discipline as a company to balance living in a new country every month and being fully dedicated to our clients. All of our clients supported and encouraged us throughout the year, mostly because our working relationship is based on trust and getting things done.

Kelly: I’d dreamed of traveling the world for years, but I didn’t think my job would ever allow me to do so. I’d considered taking a sabbatical at some point to do so, but never got around to saving up the money. When I realized I could keep my job and travel the world it was my biggest dream come true. It’s so empowering to realize you can make money from anywhere in the world. Most people spend their weekends with the same friends meeting up in the same restaurants and bars. I wanted something different. I spent my weekends on safari in Africa, on hot air balloon rides and hiking through the Andes.

What was the most unexpected challenge you encountered when it came to meeting your clients’ needs and expectations?

Janice: While living in Hanoi, Vietnam, the entire city experienced an electricity failure. All power was out indefinitely. Luckily, because of the time difference, meetings were scheduled for midnight and we were able to conduct business as usual. After the initial panic, I came to realize that a power failure can happen anywhere in the world, even in the US. Another challenge we faced was load shedding in Cape Town. Load shedding is when the government periodically shuts off the electricity in different districts to preserve resources. However, we were able to work in a coworking office that had generators working 24/7 and everything worked out.

Kelly: Backpacking on what Janice said, the most stressful part of working remotely is also the uncertainty of wifi. Throughout my travels all over the world, I’ve shown up in hotels or friends’ homes, planning to spend a few days in that place, only to find out the wifi connection is subpar. This causes a huge amount of stress when clients are relying on you to get the job done. But there are ways to manage. That said, I take fewer vacation days now than ever before and that’s because most days are a vacation in some way for me. During the hours I’m not working, I’m out exploring a new corner of the world. This benefits my clients because I’m more available to them and I’m a happier employee overall. The quality of my work has remained the same if not improved, as a result.

As a company that has been working remotely, what challenges do you think people are likely to face as more and more people work from home?

Janice: I’ll just say this: Motivation, structure, prioritization, concentration, diligence, focus, and inspiration. Over the past year working out of “unconventional” office spaces has taught me a few tricks to keep me on track:

  • Make daily to-do lists so distractions at home don’t take priority
  • Leave the house, get some fresh air and new perspective
  • Find daily connection via video calls with co-workers, friend and family
  • Exercise (inside or out) during the day to refresh your mind and creativity
  • Keep a dedicated workspace in the house to increase productivity

What are some benefits you find working remote as opposed to in an office? What are the downsides?

Janice: A major benefit is the increased amount of flexibility in my day. I don’t like to be confined to when I need to be creative and where. For me, freedom is key for creativity, whether it’s on my mountain bike, my yoga mat or taking a hike… Every brain is different, and now I live a lifestyle that can accomodate how I like to work and think. Conversely, a major downside is that I miss working hands on and face-to-face with my clients and colleagues. We still get to work together, but I love physical connection. Let’s just say that I’m really grateful for video conferencing.

Kelly: A benefit I found is that I actually have a lot more time in my day when I don’t have to commute to an office, pack a lunch, shuttle my laptop and equipment back and forth, etc. I also love that being in a different time zone from my clients and many of my coworkers allows me to do a portion of my work each day without the distraction of emails flying into my inbox. I make a concerted effort to get into a workout and self-care routine and get ready for the day as if I were going to a conventional office space before sitting down to work.

What advice can you offer to people who are tackling the remote working lifestyle for the first time?

Janice: Create structure and routine with your clients. Have standing meetings daily, weekly or monthly to be accountable and connected. Create a schedule for yourself with daily goals to make sure things are getting done on time. Work with others as much as possible at coworking offices, coffee shops and at one another’s homes.

Kelly: Working remotely can be lonely. I recommend making time during each interaction with your team or your clients to catch up and socialize before getting down to business. This small step will make everyone feel more connected and helps humanize remote teams. Work is more fun when you know and appreciate the people you work with and it’s easy to lose that when you’re not working face-to-face with people.

These lessons have proved themselves to be invaluable during these currently unprecedented times. Maintaining focus and productivity during this scary, uneasy, and seemingly endless COVID-19 quarantine is not a small feat.

For those lucky enough to still be employed, work routines have shifted to remote work. Hopefully the insights Janice & Kelly shared on successfully taking a boutique, Boulder-based interactive design firm (Oblique Design, in case you didn’t catch that) on the road have been able to help this new way of everyday life seem less bleak. While traveling isn’t an option right now, maybe maintaining a remote lifestyle and traveling in the future can now seem like a possibility for you too. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you’re interested in hearing Janice talk more about her Remote Year experience, check out the podcast #justaddgratitude

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