The Part Time Digital Nomad

I have a confession to make.

I’m not really a digital nomad.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. I need to travel. Staying too long in one place gets me itchy. I can’t even work in the same corner of the room for too long. I switch between living room and kitchen. Between city and country.

I sometimes work at my company’s office – mainly so I have regular face time with my colleagues. Which I value. But it’s not entirely necessary.

I absolutely have the freedom to randomly go and live in Spain for a few months. Or spend time with my family in Ireland, whilst still working and enjoying “normal” life with them.

Which is what prompted me to address this topic. Simply put…

…most digital nomad blogs put an emphasis on not ‘not having a home’. But there is such a thing as a ‘part time’ digital nomad. And, for the majority who want to enjoy location independence, this suits them just fine.

The point of being a remote worker and/or a digital nomad is that you get to choose where you live and spend your time. Some are very happy spending most of their time in their lovely little village in the South of England, thank you very much.

The whole point is the freedom to choose. And that’s what I focus on.

The (accidental) digital nomad

I remember going to a digital nomad meetup in Cologne, Germany. I went with my partner, who is a software engineer and works full-time for a company in London (he lives in Bonn, Germany). We were curious to meet others who might be living in Cologne for a while. To hear their stories, to experience different perspectives.

The vast majority of people there were ‘newbies’ – they worked at ‘stationary’ jobs. They were intrigued by digital nomadism and remote working (or perhaps just looking for drinking buddies – a most admirable pursuit).

Up until this point, I didn’t consider myself a real digital nomad. I spend a lot of my time in either Cologne or Bonn (they’re neighboring cities). And Ireland. And the UK…

Every single person we spoke to was… new to the concept, and curious. But that was when it dawned on us…

…we were the only ‘actual’ digital nomads there.

I visit family and friends in different cities/countries frequently. If it’s a long stretch of time, they’re usually working their day jobs and living their normal lives. So, I simply adapt my schedule to suit them.

So, how much “digital nomading” do I actually do?

At the moment… Not much (by my standards). Generally speaking, quite a lot. Life is something that should be focused on family, friends and following our passions. Work, projects, and writing are my passions – when I’m not doing those, I’m either spending it with people I care about. Or throwing myself into new situations, meeting new people and discovering new ideas/perspectives.

I travel as much as necessary. In practical terms, I like to get out of Cologne at least once a week. I like to get out of Germany several times a year. Some of those are holiday where I do very little work: many of those times involve visiting friends and spending time with them.

So, can you be a digital nomad and still have a permanent home?

Absolutely. So far, I haven’t seen this idea touted on many of the great blogs I’ve read. Which is understandable. They’re gunning for the big picture, the ultimate freedom. But what I have to say is…

…location-independence can also mean retaining the freedom to stay in one place – the placing of your own, personal choosing.

You can have a permanent home (or two, three… depending on your budget), spend a lot of time in one place and still be a digital nomad. You have that freedom. You’re location independent – it’s up to you to define it. Since every situation is different, the best thing you can do is speak to others who’re following the same dream of location independence.

Digital Nomad, Remote Worker… You NEED These Tools!

Digital nomadism and remote working would simply not be possible without the sophisticated tools that everyone carries around in their pockets these days. You cannot work for a company from home without a computer – or even Internet. Hustling for new clients and jobs while on the go as a digital nomad is also impossible, unless you have access to the countless freelancer platforms out there.

But just what are the main tools that digital nomads and remote workers need?

Surprisingly, you can be as minimalistic as you like. You can have as many or as few of them as you want… As long as you get the job done!

SIDE NOTE: I didn’t use a smartphone for YEARS. And it was perfectly fine.

The Bare Essentials for digital nomads and remote workers

A Good Laptop

It goes without saying, really, but a laptop is essential. Of course, if you’re the kind of remote worker who primarily works from a home office – you can easily get by with a desktop. But if you’re a digital nomad or a remote worker who’s fond of changing their physical surroundings regularly… You need a laptop that’s not only reliable, but that can also take a beating.

A Decent Internet Connection

You’ve got to make sure that your Internet connection is fast and reliable… Especially if most (or all) of your meetings are held remotely. AND – you should have an emergency backup. I would suggest getting a good data plan (you can scout for deals… though it may take a bit of time).

A Smartphone

For the first few years of my remote career, I eschewed smartphones and preferred to do my work ONLY when I was at the computer. These days, they’re pretty much essential: you can access work files and communicate from anywhere. Running late and won’t be in a meeting? You can keep up communication with a quick message.

And even if you use it for nothing else… Smartphones are simply miniature, mobile routers that can help you setup a quick hotspot if you’re caught somewhere without wi-fi. Sorted!

VPNs, or virtual private networks

There are plenty of ads online trying to sell different VPNs… Some of them are good, others not so much. Not only do they encrypt your data, but they also give you full access to the Internet. What? That’s right: your Internet access is restricted based on your location. If you live in the UK and use Google, your search results will be tailored to Britain. For digital marketers (especially SEOs), a VPN has become essential.

For everyone else… It just makes sense to encrypt your data as much as possible.

(Easily) Avoiding “Work from Home” Scams

The sad truth is that work from home scams are common. VERY common. They’ve also been around for a long, long time. Nowadays, there are more people looking remote and telecommute jobs… Which means that the online job scam marketplace is growing exponentially. Scammers have a lot of opportunities to prey on unsuspecting people… Even if they do have to work that little bit harder for it. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. A lot of this simply involves being aware and informed.  So, please read on if your remote job search to go as smoothly as possible.

Job scams are also common in the “real” world – although they’re a little more difficult to pull off.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s a little easier for scammers to fool even otherwise savvy people into falling for work from home scams. Naïve people exist everywhere. Sometimes, this is born out of desperate. We want (or need!) a job so badly that we’re almost willing to take anything. Ultimately, it becomes very easy for the scammer to take advantage of someone.

The telecommute job market can be particularly competitive. Which makes it tough… And emotionally draining. Sometime an offer comes along that’s too good to be true. And we take it because… Well, we’re fed up of searching.

One advantage we’ve got nowadays are remote job boards. These platforms are especially designed for those seeking remote jobs or who want to find an online job. These platforms do their best to “clean up” the job advertisements posted on their sites. Which protects applicants from scammers.

This shouldn’t, however, take the responsibility off the individual because…

…you should still be able to recognize a work from home scam yourself.

Evaluating a Work from Home Scam: What you should look for

There are a few signs which clearly point to a “job” actually being a work from home scam. As a general rule of thumb, if something’s too good to be true… Then it usually isn’t true. However there are also a few more signs that remote job seekers need to be wary of…

  • The good, old-fashioned “get rich quick” scheme. It’s a tale as old as time. Although it’s become more prominent in the online world. Sorry, but that’s not how the real world works. Unless you yourself are a (very good, nay, excellent!) and persistent scammer. “Get rich quick” and pyramid schemes definitely predate the Internet… And they’ve made a smooth transition online. So if a listing basically tries to guarantee you copious amounts of wealth in exchange for very little… Avoid! Avoid! Avoid! It’s a load of bullshit.
  • Never part with your money. Scammers can dress it up every which way – especially if they’re offering “freelance” positions. They’ll say you’ve got to pay for expensive “training”, “courses” or “software”… and that it’s part of your job to pitch in and pay for it. Nope, that’s not how it works. You’re there to provide them a service. So, bottom line? Never pay in order to work!
  • Read the job description very carefully. Is it written in a clear and concise manner? Do they seem to know the industry well? Do they seem to know exactly what they’re looking for (and if not, do they happily admit they’re not sure… But willing to try out with the right candidate?). Essentially, do you get the impression that the company knows what they’re talking about?
  • Check the URL! Simple, but effective. Scammers also try to rip off real companies. They even clone/copy a real company’s website. This is where a bit of deep research comes in handy if you’re unsure… So don’t forget to check their URL. Generally speaking if it directs to something like “unilever.com”, you’re in the clear. If the URL seems strange in any way… Then be very, very wary!

Work from home scams can be very elaborate. In a lot of case you’re usually fine if you’re trying to get a remote job from a medium to large company.

But another thing you need to keep an eye out is the types of jobs which are normally scams. Some of them seem like real jobs… At least until you take a closer look.

Remote “jobs” that are usually scams

Certain remote and telecommute jobs are, for the most part, complete bogus. The easier a job appears to be, and the higher the promised income is (for the amount of work you actually put in…) – then sorry, the less likely it is to be a real position. This is usually how work at home job scams catch people out. Although, some are getting a bit cleverer.

Some of the below “jobs” are positions that you should definitely avoid.

The Assembly “Job”

We hadn’t even heard of these until we actually did some research on job scams…  This type of “job” seems particularly mean (and depressing). The “employees” are sent starter kits to assemble craft supplies… And the products are then sold on by the company. Of course, the assembler gets paid… Not. It’s pretty obvious off the bat that this is a scam because… guess what? We’ve got machines to do that nowadays.

It’s simply not a valid business model. Forget it!

The Data Entry Job

Unlike assembly jobs, data entry is actually a valid type of work… And yes, a lot of people do it. You can actually find valid data entry gigs online which will pay you a couple of dollars. Honestly though, a full-time data entry is not only a) rare to come across and b) doesn’t pay very well. That’s because it’s quite literally grunt work. It’s the digital equivalent of stacking shelves.

Data entry is part of a host of other jobs. From VAs, secretaries to online marketers and programmers. All at different pay scales.

You’ll know that this job is a scam when you’re promised even a liveable salary.

Nope, forget it. These are usually bullshit as well.

So then what is the best way to get a remote job (without being scammed)?

There’s no magic formula to finding a remote job. It’s just like finding any other kind of positions. You need to have the qualifications and/or experience for the role you want. And during your job search, make sure you’re aware of the most common types of work from home scams. As well as any other kind of job scam.

Just being a little savvy will help you separate the wheat from the chaff… and get you the job you want.

 

Myths About Remote Work You Should Ignore

Remote work myths run rampant across the Internet. Some believe the set-up is too good to be true… Or perhaps because people just refuse to believe that an employer would put so much trust in a person.

Unfortunately, these myths about telecommute jobs still persist. If you’re current looking to work remotely, don’t let these misconceptions get in the way of your goal. The time for excuses is over!

Remote Work Myths: Telecommuters earn less money

It is true that a lot of freelancers who work from home earn less money. But this is probably one of the most common remote work myths out there. We’ve seen it countless times in the past. In fact, some companies do actually expect employees to take a pay cut due to their remote set up. Often, though, these are small, inexperienced companies.

Statistics from the Global Workplace Analytics reveal that three quarters of employees with a telecommute set up actually earn over US$60,000 annually.

Remote work is only for millennials

God damn… Millennials. The countless articles about the Millennial generation are getting tiresome. But remote work is one of the myths that is continually perpetuated by various publications. Of course, it’s pretty understandable: Millennials tend to be rather tech-savvy and rely heavily on mobile technology. And yes, quite a lot of Millennials prefer to work at home.

But in fact… The ease and flexibility of remote work often means that people of all generations embrace it. Especially older folks, who for many years suffered long and tiring commutes only to sit in fluorescent-lit buildings all day.

Remote working is for everyone!

We’re a pretty big proponent of remote work and the advantages it has for employees… as well as the companies who employ them. However, probably one of the most dangerous remote work myths is that anyone can work at home. Which is simply not true.

The best telecommuters known how to stay disciplined. They may not have to stick to a schedule, but they can still get work done. In time.

Clear, concise and timely communication are also huge factors. Remote workers also need to be able to take initiative and consistently prod people in order to get projects done effectively and in time.

Remote workers are ALWAYS on the clock

Well… yes and no. It depends entirely on the job. Certain jobs require their employees to be online during certain times of the day, unless stated otherwise. Absences simply need to be communicated. Essentially, many of them require a certain amount of “contact hours”.

But for the most part, a lot of remote companies tend to let employees set their own schedule. The most important thing? That the work gets done… within the set deadline. And of course, they should stay in touch often. Sometimes it means sending the odd email at the weekend. But that also depends on the nature of the job.

One of the biggest remote work myths… Loneliness

I’ve worked at home for most of my career. Many of my friends believed these remote work myths, but this was probably the biggest one. It’s not entirely untrue, either. But there are also plenty of remote workers who have very, very active social lives.

For the most part, this remote work myth boils down to the fact that a lot of people also use work as their main hub of social activity. You spend eight hours a day sitting at home, working and don’t see anyone.

This can certainly be true… If you’re not good at taking the initiative to have an active social life. Experienced remote workers often have a much more active social life than their in-office counterparts. Primarily because they have to take the iniative.

After all, having a flexible schedule means being able to pop out for lunch. Or take a few hours’ break to watch a football game, or stay out late and not have get up early for a commute… The list goes on!

 

 

Digital Nomad Myths – What You Shouldn’t Believe!

The idea of being a digital nomad is becoming very popular. Remote working allows us to do this… Which in turn has created a unique and fast-growing lifestyle that many want to pursue.

And as with anything that becomes popular, plenty of myths and misconceptions have made themselves known. With the spread of misinformation, its probably a good idea to clear up some of the false ideas that many people may have about digital nomads.

Being productive is difficult if you’re a digital nomad

Probably my favorite one because this myth also applies to remote workers. Digital nomads are often seen as flighty individuals who book plane tickets on a whim and disappear for months. On the surface, this seems to be true: except that for the most part, a lot of travel is actually planned painstakingly in advance. Visas are a thing, people!

That’s not to say you won’t get distracted by your environment. It happens. Everyone has on and off days. Some people are more prone to distraction than others. Interestingly, I’ve always found that having a bit of chaos around me actually makes me more productive. That’s why I like to do some of my work in noisy cafes (not all the time, though!).

If you primarily work from home, you may do so to avoid office distractions. Yes, offices can be very distracting places. Especially the disaster that is the open plan office. Not only that: office politics is often a big (and unnecessary) time-suck.

It’s impossible to build a successful career

Here’s a tip: It’s possible to build a successful career anywhere if you want to, digital nomad or not. It takes a lot of work, but humans are very good at overcoming the challenges that are thrown at them. For many, ingenuity and creativity are actually enhanced by lack of resources or major obstacles.

This myth also assumes that the only way of having a successful career is climbing the corporate ladder. Which is a load of crap. Successful careers are built on determination, collaboration, communication and a willingness to go the extra mile. That can happen in any work environment, remote or not.

It’s only for tech people!

I’ll admit I fell victim to this one for a long time. Especially when I was looking for remote work: I thought as a digital marketer/copywriter that my full-time remote work options were severely limited. Most of the remote jobs I saw were based in programming and tech… And while it is true that a significant number of digital nomads work in tech, and that many remote jobs are tech-based, plenty of careers can be worked from a distance.

As a non-tech remote worker or digital nomad, you may have to negotiate a bit more. Fight a little harder for what you want… But it is by no means impossible. In fact, customer service is one of the largest industries for remote work out there.

Digital nomads live a life of constant excitement

This is a non-work related one and I can understand why many believe this. After all, digital nomads travel constantly, meet new people and learn new languages. They also have new experiences are always up for an adventure… Well, maybe not so much. Moving countries constantly and acclimatizing to new environments is great. But it has HUGE downsides.

  • Loneliness affects a lot of people when they move away. Suddenly, you’re in a place where you have to be open to making new friends. If you still want social contact, that is. It can be quite daunting for a lot of people… And very much a skill to learn in and of itself.
  • You may have money problems. It’s always wise to have a “nest egg” to fall back on, but there will definitely be times when you have to scrimp and save. It may mean not being able to go for cocktails on the beach.
  • Let’s not forget homesickness and culture shock either… Newer digital nomads tend to be more prone to this than seasoned ones.

Conclusion

The nomad life is undoubtedly great, but its not all glamor and beaches. Every type of lifestyle comes with its ups and downs. And while you can read all the advice in the world, there’s nothing better than actually experiencing a lifestyle to see what it’s truly like!

Thoughts on Freelancing and Stability

I originally became a freelancer because I didn’t like working in a kitchen. The only other skills I had besides cooking were speaking English and being able to write. Since work as an English teacher was scarce, I turned to “writing for the Internet”.

old lady welcome to the internet
My first day on the job.

This really meant content mills – Textbroker, The Content Authority and MediaPiston (who were actually pretty decent, but it’s dead now so don’t get any funny ideas).

There was no guarantee of work, but I turned the computer on every day. I wrote most days – sometimes very little, sometimes far, far too much.

I read many resources on freelancing. How to get clients, where to find them and new places to find work. As time went on, I managed to pick up a few of my own who paid better and delivered more consistent levels of work. At the end of every month, however, I was still living hand-to-mouth.

peanuts
In being paid peanuts, it was sometimes all I ate (this may or may not be true).

I loved the freedom of being able to work from anywhere. I enjoyed being able to shift my hours so I could meet friends who usually worked night shifts in bars. I had a lot of fun adventures disappearing off to another city and still being able to make an income. Yet at times, I was wondering if I could pay my rent next month.

Instability and freedom, or stability and being chained to a desk

At some point, I realized that experience in a company might be valuable. So, I managed to blag my way into a job where I became a full-on online marketing manager. It was nice to have a stable salary, regular working hours and my own desk.

carol beer at desk
I tried my best not to impersonate this person. It didn’t always work.

Unfortunately, the charm wore off pretty soon. I went into the office every day. I sat in the same place. While I still appreciated the stability and loved learning new things, the feeling of “sameness”, of being trapped in one room for forty hours a week, began to creep in.

I started to miss freelancing, or so I thought.

In truth, I wasn’t missing freelancing at all. I had diverse projects to work on (admittedly within a very niche industry). I was constantly learning new things and training my SEO muscles. I was making lots of money from our affiliate partners. What I was really missing, in fact, I was simply the lifestyle I had been accustomed to. While my hours were flexible, my presence was required in the office because it was the done thing.

When it comes to freelancing, people often make the choice for two reasons. The first is having their own business, trying their hand at being successful and seeing how much money they can make. The other is simply freedom. This kind of freedom is traditionally not thought to exist in most companies.

However…

…these days, the online industry has made full-time jobs as flexible as freelance positions.

Things are different now. If you’re adamant about the option of working in your underwear (or in the Sahara or eye of a hurricane or wherever gives you the most “inspiration”), you don’t have to go at it alone. Remote jobs are plentiful – if a little competitive.

In essence: Things nowadays are not as clear-cut as “freelancing = freedom” and “employment = imprisonment”. There are freelance positions which require you to be on-site, and permanent employment contracts that let you work from anywhere in the world.

If you are looking for that kind of freedom, the key here is your perspective. If it is easier to find a freelance job, it’s best to build up long-term partnerships which can similar to regular employment. Forget about security for a minute and focus on regular pay. After all, you can still be fired pretty fast on a permanent contract. Though you’ll most likely receive some “I’m sorry” money.

So, what to do?

Research!

Have a look at your industry. What are the most feasible options for you? Do you mind going into an office maybe only once or twice a week, but having partial location independence? If so, you may luck out on finding a local job. Are you so utterly fantastic that companies and clients will come to your door, begging for your services? Then maybe freelancing is the best option.

There are a lot of possibilities out there. How much money you make and whether you can live on it also depends on how in-demand you are. Those with programming skills will make more in a shorter amount of time – SEO experts fall somewhere a little lower in the pecking order. Unfortunately, writers tend to be seen as the grunts (unless you’re so fantastically good that you’ve written for Vogue, or something).

So, what’s my secret? Well, I mix it up.

I have freelance work which ebbs and flows. However, I strive to maintain some kind of “basis” income. Theoretically I could get a job in a coffee shop, though since I prefer location independence I went for a part-time remote job. Having at least a guaranteed coming in every month covers my bases – train ticket, health insurance, candle supply (I light a lot of smelly candles).

So, when it comes to flexibility there is a lot of wiggle room. It just means that you have to add a dash of creativity to your work strategy. Which shouldn’t be a problem… We are creatives after all, aren’t we?

Working Remotely: An Employee’s Perspective

You could say I was a working remotely long before I knew what that really meant. I wasn’t fully remote, though: when I started freelancing, I taught English as a second language – mainly in big, boring German companies. Becoming a copywriter happened by accident. I discovered that I could write for money with many of the “content mills” that were trawling the Internet back in the day. I quickly learned to get out of that habit.

When I got hired to work at a company in Cologne, Germany, I was over the moon. It was what some of my friends called a “real job”. There was an office, a telephone, my own desk… It was new, varied, interesting and of course, came with a stable salary. Probably the most delicious temptation after spending years carefully tracking how much money is coming in every month.

cologne cathedral working remotely
Plus, Cologne is an amazing city.

That was all well and good. Until I started to dread getting up in the morning. Full trams were never the problem though. It dawned on me that for the rest of my time at that company, I would (probably) be sitting in the same chair, in the same room… Eight hours a day, five days a week.

I nearly went crazy although I managed to hold out for two years.

Arrangements for Working Remotely: Are they possible?

If you want to start working remotely, the general advice is this: instead of quitting your job and going after any freelance gig you can find, you should speak to your boss first. Remote working arrangements are available at a surprising number of companies these days: from Canonical to Dell to various start-ups such as Hotjar and Buffer (the latter of which operate entirely remotely).

It also depends on your company culture. Do you have team members based in offices in other countries? How much of your work involves meeting people? All must be taken into consideration. For those of us who SEOs, online marketers and programmers, pretty much all of the work can be done with a laptop and an Internet connection.

There are naturally countless arguments against it: employees may slack off, are less visible etc. However, this post isn’t about that. It’s about remote working from the perspective of an employee who started it.

Remote Working as an Employee: The benefits

The benefits were obvious to me. Since I spent most of my time in front of a computer anyway, it made sense to work where I was most comfortable and could concentrate. That usually means a bean bag or my sofa (not a fan of chairs in general). Once I started working remotely, things generally got easier. I did sometimes work longer, though I noticed just how much more effective I was. My boss remarked on it as well.

During my office days, I used to dread getting up in the morning, getting ready and going out somewhere. While I like a bit of fresh air and social interaction, it’s usually the last thing I want to do at 8 AM. When working in the office, I was usually one of the later ones (my company isn’t too strict on hours, being an online marketing firm). When working at home… Suddenly, I was up and working at 7. I had plenty of time to do shopping, washing, household chores and still get my work done.

I even noticed another benefit: I had more social energy. I’m not someone who likes spending all my time around people. I like to choose with whom I can do it. My work involves very little social interaction to begin with and, although my colleagues are nice people, we don’t get much of a chance to really spend quality time. It made sense to concentrate during the day on my work, and then get out in the evening.

Yep, I still really like working remotely

In conclusion, I would say that at least on a personal level working remotely is my absolute preferred method of getting things done. Spending time getting bits and pieces done in cafes also helps, though it’s not mandatory. Of course, some people cannot concentrate without being in an office environment. I have full sympathy. I’m not one of those people who advocate the abolition of offices completely, however offering employees a much more flexible system of work could make a huge difference on their general happiness and well-being – as well as that of the company.