"You're living the dream," people have commented to me, after seeing the pictures that I post and hearing that I'm not on holiday, but that I'm actually still working full time. Yes, this is my dream come true, but that's not to say that it's easy, that my plans are foolproof, or that my clients are just as pleased with my adventures as I am. To be honest with you, that's actually not the case at all.
As a marketer on the move, I've come across quite a few challenges over these last six weeks (with about three more to go). I hope you'll learn from my mistakes, and take my challenges into account when you plan your next working adventure:
Challenge 1: Solitude
If you're past the hosteling years of your life, go on, skip ahead. But if you're not, and you thought you could balance the hostel dorm lifestyle with a 9-to-5, this one's for you: Do not take the sacred, quiet places promised by your hostel as a guaranteed.
My first hostel, for example, had a quiet common area for those of us who work, which is (obviously) why I picked it. Yet upon arrival, I see that that room is closed for construction. No problem, I think, it's a hostel; so many hidden rooms, I'm sure I won't have a problem. Yet as call after call was interrupted by hordes of screaming teenagers (since when do teenagers even go to hostels?!), I regretted my decision more and more.
So, if you're in need of solitude, you have three options:
- Be an adult. Pay for a hotel. As a working professional, you deserve it.
- Upgrade. If you absolutely can't graduate from hostel living, splash out some extra cash on a private room. After all, the few extra bucks, euros, or pounds that you're spending are nothing compared to what you'll be out when your company gets sick of those interruptions.
- Find a cafe with free WiFi - and definitely read the next section.
Challenge 2: Audio
While this isn't a challenge for everyone, if you spend even a little bit of your time on calls or in meetings (internal or client-facing, it really makes no difference) you'll probably run into this one. So let me ask you a question, How will you take your calls?
If you're thinking of those nice, little iPhone earbuds that came with your last edition, I'm going to stop you now. Don't. Use. Them. Make an investment. From what I've been told, those things have no noise-blocking capabilities whatsoever. So, if you're envisioning yourself taking calls from that cute little cafe on on the corner, chic as can be - stop. If anyone else finds it to be half as cute as you do, chances are it'll be full. Chances are high your fellow patrons will be deeply engrossed in conversation. And chances are highest that your colleagues on the other end won't hear anything you're saying. So rather than being the personification of chic, you'll be that person, shouting at the phone. Repeatedly.
Don't be that person. Invest in a quality noise-canceling headset.
Challenge 3: Internet Connection
Where do you prefer to work when you're traveling? While I generally look around for Free WiFi signs, it's never been a big concern. After all, you can just set your smartphone up as a Hotspot, and poof, you're good to go. Right? Well, not so much.
While free WiFi is still free WiFi, you have no idea how fast said free WiFi is. Maybe you'll be able to join your virtual meetings, or maybe you won't even be able to check your email. Both are distinct possibilities, and you need to be prepared for the worst case scenario. And that worst case scenario consists of minimal WiFi and no other internet connection. For while you may think those 60GB of data gifted to you by Vodafone gifted you as part of your Pay As You Go plan will allow you to check your email, every social network you're a part of, and still catch up on all of your Netflix on the big (laptop) screen, you might be sadly mistaken.
In many parts of Europe, you can't use use your phone as a Hotspot unless you have a contract. So, it's back to WiFi zones for you.
Challenge 4: Time Difference
Working with clients, I have some days where I'm in meetings from 9:30 am - 4:30 pm EST. That's a solid day of meetings regardless of your time zone. When I shifted over to PST (3 hours behind) for a few weeks, I kept most of my meetings the same, however I chose to spare others from dealing with morning me. Luckily, those clients were incredibly flexible, and we were able to get through the workdays. At the time, I loved that time difference; I started at my normal time, or even a bit earlier and (sorry to admit this), as nobody would be online after 3 pm my time, I didn't feel guilty if I left a bit early to explore the beautiful city of San Francisco. But at the end of the day, it worked. I made sure to make up my hours, and my clients (except for those forced to deal with me at 6:30 am PST) were happy.
Since that trip, I've gotten far busier. So rather than expecting to be frustrated with the few hours where nobody else was online, I relished it. Finally, I would have an opportunity to get through all of the emails in my inbox. Finally, would I feel caught up.
Yeah, right. Since my clients and coworkers would continue to speak up to five or six hours after I'd sign off, I found myself digging out every morning, only to feel behind again the next day. But at least I had a few moments of feeling caught up; those few hours of productivity before everyone else would wake were priceless.
Actually, the challenge came from my client meetings. For while I'd done my best to schedule them all in the middle of the day (favorable for both California and Europe - the joys of the East Coast!), there were some stragglers. Every other Wednesday I'd have a 9:30 pm call. And while, if I were a bit more disciplined might have been fine, after a 12 hour day I wanted nothing more than to hit the hostel bar (clearly, I'm not an adult) with my new travel buddies. Luckily, I did make all of my calls. And actually, the most frustrating piece wasn't those late calls, it was the one-off meetings that were scheduled; No, I don't want to have a strategic discussion with you at 10 pm on a Friday. But I grumbled, I did, and I learned that despite telling coworkers and clients that I'd be working a standard day in my time zone, at the end of the day it all came down to what worked best for them. So 10 pm meetings they were.
Challenge 5: Temptation
Before you think I'm getting all scandalous, you should know that it's nothing of the sort. Unless different cultural mentalities get you going... But, I digress. The greatest challenge that I've come across in my six weeks of working remotely is the difference in mentalities. In America, we live to work. It's the concrete jungle; corporate ladder mentalities drive us to work harder, work faster, work longer. And while that mentality does exist in Europe, it's certainly not the norm.
The norm was around 3 pm, regardless of the day of the week, I'd be sitting in a cafe drinking my after lunch coffee. All of a sudden the place would fill up with people ready for their afternoon pick-me-ups, or so I thought. Well, kind of. Apparently 3 pm is when happy hour begins; drinks would vary from shots to glasses of wine, pints of beer to G&Ts. And their energy, their joie de vivre, and their desire to talk to everyone, was infectious. And quite frankly, my last to dos began to seem so much less important than being able to present with those people, right there and then.
Can You Handle It?
I'll be honest. There were quite a few days where I came across some of these challenges, and I was ready to throw in the towel, defeated. I couldn't hear my clients, or worse, they couldn't hear me. I got thrown out of my meetings, damned WiFi. I was on calls till 11:30 pm on a Friday evening. But you know what?
I was in Europe! I was surrounded by new people, new places, and new adventures around every corner, which made overcoming these top challenges of working remotely a (more than) fair price to pay.