How Remote Working Maintains a Far More Global Reach
Jess McMurray: a ‘digital nomad’ in PR & Content Marketing
I think it’s fair to say that most of us in the technology industry genuinely enjoy our jobs. The fast pace of technological change, the dynamism of industry players, the creativity and intellect that we’re exposed to on a daily basis – there are far worse places to be.
But some days work can really get you down. Maybe the commute is a nightmare – traffic jams, no seats on the train, another strike on the metro. The office is drab and dreary, and you’re tired of looking out of the same window every day. And now the boss has called another meeting that has nothing to do with you, but you’ll still be expected to sit in for the next three hours.
Yep, no matter how much you love your job, realistically there are times when it can get to be a bit frustrating. But what would you do to make life better? Research from ACAS indicates that the things people generally crave are more flexibility in terms of their working arrangements – both in terms of hours and location, a greater work-life balance, and more variety in terms of responsibility, experience and work-load.
A different way of doing things
Let me tell you about my working day. It starts without an alarm, getting up when I feel comfortable and sufficiently rested. My commute is different every day, but today it involved strolling out onto the beach, leaving footprints in the sand behind me as I made my way out for a quick dip in the sea to wake up. I did a bit of yoga on the beach – I’m hardly a Zen master but it brings a nice bit of clarity to the day and provides some head space for thinking about what I want and need to achieve over the course of the week, and how I can most effectively balance my work obligations with my personal goals.
I’ll dry off in the sun and catch up with industry news on my phone for an hour or so; I like to keep up with developments in the field of broadcast, ProAV, Robotics and AI.
For the middle section of the day – well, my lunch break involves far more than a sandwich at my desk. That’s the great thing about my working arrangements – I love my work, but I work to live, not the other way round, and I make sure that I schedule my life for maximum fulfillment and enjoyment. That’s why I’ve been in Thailand for the last three months; with a large proportion of my days filled with cooking courses, kayaking, reading, hiking, and… vegetable carving!?
Some days work does have to come first though – especially in the run up to tradeshows or client product releases. I’ll settle down to handling my social media accounts, working through press-releases or developing content. With a constantly changing backdrop – beaches, mountains, swimming pools, bustling bars, cool cafes – I feel constantly refreshed and inspired by new and unusual perspectives. For me, taking a break to clear my head is more than wandering over to the watercooler – it’s a stroll to the nearest streetfood market to eat a cup of crickets!
Yep, I’m what’s now referred to as a ‘digital nomad’, and over the past decade I’ve spent my time writing from terraces in Italy, mountain tops in Slovakia, and boat decks in Montenegro, to name but a few of my ‘business bases’. I’ll be on the move again soon – balancing my own personal travel ambitions with business trips to the States, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands.
It’s not all plain sailing
I absolutely love the opportunities I have with my work, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But it would be naive to pretend that it’s a perfect system, or that it can work for everybody.
The trade-off for being so flexible is that you’re never really off the job (but let’s face it, there’s a lot of people working the ‘conventional’ way that feel the same). So when other people are making their way home and curling up in bed, I might still be working at 11pm – though it’s less of a hardship with a beer in hand and a delicious Thai meal on the table.
There are other difficulties too. Travelling abroad is often a minefield of complexities – and it becomes doubly so when you have important work obligations to others that need to be honoured. Of course, with an increasingly connected world, even the back-end-of-nowhere offers you the potential to link up back with your home markets: but be warned, reliability will become a serious issue. Network coverage and free wifi are always risky bets when you’re away from home (even in the ‘civilised’ world – just ask anybody who bought the wifi package at NAB this year!).
In particular, there’s a steep learning curve when trying to find ways to connect – it took me three tries to get a SIM card (language and administrative barriers being the main obstacle) and I seemed to spend my life pacing the streets to find somewhere to top-up with credit: I fear that by not knowing the system I got well and truly ripped off on that front. Keeping electronics charged is also a constant issue when you’re on the move, and the risk of loss or breakage – and the difficulty in dealing with that when it happens – is twice as hard when you’re bouncing between trains, planes and automobiles. It’s taken a real ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ attitude to keep up with my work obligations when equipment is lost, broken or stolen.
Unsurprisingly, coordinating schedules across multiple time zones also becomes an issue – it takes rigorous organization to keep up with client calls, to make sure that emails are responded to in a timely manner, and that you stay disciplined enough to keep on top of the workload without the ever-looming presence of a boss breathing down your neck. It’s not suited to everybody – especially people who value structure and external sources of discipline.
Ultimately, being on the road whilst keeping up with a career carries with it a much greater risk of disruption (we don’t even need to go into the week I got Dengue fever…!), and you have to be flexible, resilient, persistent and diligent to keep it working in the face of technological, communication, transport, logistics and personal disruptions.
Benefits for everyone
I consider myself so lucky to have a wonderful employer (hi Fiorenza!) who takes a genuinely holistic view to what it means to be a responsible employer. I think it boils down to her Italian roots and her real belief in the ‘humanisation’ of PR, and business as a whole. She is a warm person who values the interpersonal above everything – so to her it’s simply instinctual to support and facilitate the dreams and needs of the people she works with. When I’d been out of contact because Dengue had me bedridden in fairly spectacular amounts of pain, her call wasn’t to berate me for going off-grid, but to check that I hadn’t fallen out of a kayak somewhere! Her levels of understanding when I explained that a tiny mosquito had wiped me out rivaled that of a family member – she wanted to know when I was going to feel better, not when I was going to be back to work.
But I don’t think it’s just Fiorenza’s good heart that drives her employment philosophy. As with all of Xpresso’s business operations, warm heartedness doesn’t mean soft-headedness, and there’s a certain shrewdness to her approach. She recognizes that we’re not automatons, and that satisfaction and happiness in life leads to more productive, more effective employees. Her commitment to my welfare, happiness and lifestyle choices in return foster a return commitment to her and to Xpresso – she knows that she can call on me to go above and beyond my contractual duties, and not be a ‘clock watcher’.
And whilst Xpresso might be something of a trail-blazer in some ways, we’re actually not alone in this field. This employment rationale is strongly supported by research in wider academic business literature – and borne out by a lot of the big technology companies that are now seeking a far more progressive approach to company culture (*cough* Google *cough).
Moreover, whilst I am the employee most ‘on the move’ out of all of us, Fiorenza’s general approach to flexible and remote working means that the Xpresso team maintains a far more global reach, with far lower overheads than most of our office-bound competitors. This means that the team has a really developed cultural sensitivity that allows us to meet the needs of our clients in a far more responsive and personalized way.
What about you? How well do you think your employers respect your needs, and would facilitate an ‘alternative’ way of working? What would you change about your work day if you could? Maybe you’re already working as a digital nomad – and maybe our paths will cross somewhere exotic in the upcoming years. In which case, the first beach bar beer is on me!