February 18th, 2019: I boarded my flight from Berlin-Tegel to Cape Town International Airport, with a return ticket for March 19th. Nice holiday destination, some might think. Others might say: four weeks off – what a luxury. And both groups would be right – and wrong at the same time. Because I just “moved” my “office” from Germany's vibrant capital to a small wine farm on the outskirts of Cape Town. And not much else changed. I just took the freedom of today's digital world to work from somewhere else than from the standard office - since the current projects did not allow to take a “classic” holiday.
Why did I do it?
Firstly, I work for a tech startup, my team's understaffed, I just love to work, and I have this tiny little problem with perfectionism. All of this is, in the long run, kind of an unhealthy combination, as you end up working long hours and tend to skip your weekends and holidays. Now, just to set the record straight – there is no one to blame for that but myself. But at least it is in my power to change my environment so that I feel like on vacation.
Secondly, Berlin can be so grey, cold and wet in the winter. It's just no fun.
Thirdly, you come across these texts, pictures, and videos on Facebook, Instagram, and even the news, and I started to wonder what this "digital nomad" thing would feel like.
So I decided to give it a try, selected some criteria to look out for (small time difference, good digital infrastructure, somewhere warm and nice, out in nature, but still close to town), spoke to my boss (who accepted immediately), and ended up on a little wine farm in Paarl, South Africa, called "De Kleijne Bos", and had a most amazing time.
What does it take?
If you also think about doing such an “experiment”, then it will take these 5 points to make it happen:
- A boss who supports the idea
- Some basic infrastructure: a good WiFi connection, a laptop, a mobile phone, a headset, and an adapter (I added a few more things to justify bringing a second suitcase)
- Self discipline (especially if your new "desktop" is located directly next to the pool and the sun is shining all day, providing 30° plus day in and day out)
- Some mental strength to (a) not share your background too often in a video call, and (b) not get upset at how many times your colleagues refer to you as the one that made it to the meeting just in time, but would have rather enjoyed another drink at the pool
- A place you have been before (to avoid the feeling of missing out, as you've seen the place already)
Some words of warning!
Now that I am back in Berlin, and having ended the experiment, I also have to mention some words of “warning”.
- It works. Or let's put it this way: It works really well. It's a concept I'd love to integrate in my upcoming years of working.
- I didn't change my style of working. But who would have expected that. Old habits die hard.
- Even if you work as hard and as many hours as before, it "feels" so much different – not looking at a wall in the office, the buildings outside your window, or out into the rain and fog, but sitting under a roof of grape leaves, feeling the sun on your bare feet, and enjoying fantastic wineries in the evening.
- It opens up new perspectives. Nature, the silence, the sun, the horizons, the stars at night – it just puts you in a totally different mood. It's like a vitamin shot for your creativity, that helps you focus and concentrate on important things again.
- There are some efficiency gains in being removed from the immediate and direct office atmosphere, which can at times be busy and hectic, with lots of interruptions from colleagues who “just have a short question". You still get those questions, and they are as important for them as they are for me, so don't get me wrong, but the channels of communication change. Communication becomes more structured and you regain some control. Plus, speaking of efficiency: your way to work is one instead of 20 minutes (which, by the way, is still great for Berlin!).
Or to put it another way: Where’s the repeat button?! ;-)
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