by Chris Tonna
CMD Solutions Data Practice Manager
As much as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our lives, separated families and caused unheard levels of hardship across the globe, there is one significant work/life balance shift that has finally driven into the mainstream – working remotely.
I started to work remotely in 2011. As a father of a newborn son, based in Sydney but working on a global project centred in Spain, I have experienced this type of work style before. I have always enjoyed the freedoms and challenges that working remotely can provide. That said, I do also like to be in an office and close to my teams and colleagues as well.
This continued in a hybrid way until prior to the pandemic. Working from home a couple of days per week helps me with my parenting role and general work-life balance with my 11-year-old son.
Then, in March 2020. We suddenly had no choice. Everyone who could, had to work from home. Luckily it was pretty seamless. Technology and communication apps had moved ahead significantly so it was a simple transition.
So having been stuck at home for such a long time and suffering terrible wanderlust, when the borders opened in November 2021, I left the country and spent a month working remotely from Thailand. I had never done this before but had always wanted to split my time between Australia and a ‘somewhere’ else.
Luckily for me, Mantel Group and CMD Solutions are wonderful at supporting team members so I have had this great chance and thought I would share some of my learnings in the hope that it might inspire and help others. Every year, employees get a chance to create their own MyDeal with Mantel Group. It’s a two-way agreement where the employee sets out the goals they want to achieve for Mantel Group and CMD Solutions and in return, the employee gets to ask for something that suits them.
Prior to Covid-19, I asked to work remotely for a few months a year. Luckily for me, it was a good MyDeal and earlier this year, I was back in Thailand doing a second stint and have been encouraged to share some of my learnings about being a digital nomad and working remotely from afar.
Travelling Overseas In A Post-Pandemic World
Prior to the pandemic, travel was a pretty simple affair – book, pack and go! Today it’s a very different story. The best advice I can give is to research well, use reliable government sources for information and follow the entry guidelines strictly. Even in this digital age, I highly recommend carrying physical copies of insurances, bookings, tickets and most importantly, your negative covid tests and international vaccination certificates. It certainly makes it faster and easier to get through the airports and confusing array of testing regimes.
This trip, I came into Thailand via Singapore where I stayed for 12 days. I carried two sets of documents, held 2 insurance policies and had a myriad of booking and ticket copies. Fortunately, I had no problems anywhere except to find the nearest testing stations for the mandated covid testing post arrivals. I did 8 tests in Singapore and 2 more in Thailand. Not to mention the pre-departure test back home. I was also unlucky enough to contract covid over the Christmas period in Sydney which further complicated matters so I also carried the government clearance letter and the doctor’s certificates to prove my recovery just in case. Both Thailand (Phuket) and Singapore airports are very well organised on arrival and filter you into the testing stations very efficiently.
Today, restrictions have eased a lot so it’s much easier to travel with less testing and restrictions.
Where To Stay When Remotely Working
Whether you choose a hotel, an apartment or a hostel (good luck!) there are a few things I suggest you look for and of course, this is dependent on the country of your choice and your budget.
I chose Thailand for a number of reasons; my best mate lives here which is handy for me plus I have been traveling here for work and leisure for over 20 years so I am familiar with the culture and how to live like a local in Thailand. Did I also mention it’s attractively priced? You can get an apartment for a month for less than $1000 AUD and day-to-day living expenses are very reasonable given you can buy a nice local lunch for AUD$2-$3!
My personal favourite is the local pineapples which you can get freshly cut for around AUD$1.
Hacking Your Remote Office Setup
Before I scan reviews of rooms for wifi issues and noise concerns, I always scan images and room descriptions for a work desk and good chair. If you are working for 8-9 hours a day, a good desk and chair is the most important thing to look for.
As I write this article, I am suffering a sore lower back from sitting in a bad chair – so a good chair is very important. Some hotels allow you to rent a better chair but some just have them so make sure your working ergonomics are good to start with.
Check reviews for any mention of weak or poor wifi but most hotels have pretty good wifi. One of the things I look for is mentions of having to re-sign into wifi regularly. This is pretty annoying and I avoid hotels that have this issue. Pretty much every hotel I have stayed in has really good wifi. To stay connected when out, I also purchase a local data card which I use on a mobile hotspot device.
For AUD$90, I have a 3-month, limitless supply of 4G data which I tether to my Aussie phone so I avoid those nasty roaming charges. You can also get a local sim card but with your mobile number being so closely tied to so many things today, I find it easier to tether and not disrupt my settings.
Access To Food
Yep, food. You need to make sure there are food supplies close by and/or you have food in your room that you can eat. I try to get a room with a kitchenette to make breakfast and lunch as your regular lunch and breakfast times are probably not aligned with your colleagues back home.
For example, Thailand is 4 hours behind Sydney in summertime, so starting work at 5am (9am Sydney time) I get hungry by 6am and many hotels don’t even have brekky open by then so you need to have something with you. I am also in an apartment so it’s far cheaper to shop and have my own food than buy from the hotel.
I like to have lunch early around 11:30am so having the ability to cook is very handy for me, hence the apartment.
Managing Time Zones
Speaking of time zones, this is important as it makes or breaks your experience as a nomad. When Australia is in summer, Singapore is 3hrs behind which I found to be about perfect. Thailand was 4hrs behind which is definitely doable. When a work colleague was in Peru, that seemed to be a lot harder.
As an early riser, the 3-4hrs time difference is about the most I could do and to be honest, it is pretty ideal as you gain most of your afternoons and evenings to do what you want. The counter is that by 9:30 pm, I am tired and ready for sleep. So depending on your normal routine either behind or ahead of the Australian time zones may work for you.
Given that 2 pm Thailand time is 5 pm Sydney standard time, it also gives me time for an afternoon siesta to recharge my energy levels as by the end of the week, the early morning starts do take a toll.
Working in Public Places
As a rule, I work from my room unless I absolutely have to be somewhere when a meeting is scheduled. It can happen but I try to make sure I am in the privacy of my room. There are many reasons why:
- Working in public spaces is noisy and you cannot control the things around you. For example, one day I had to do a meeting in the hotel pool/dining area as my room was being cleaned and it was raining heavily so going out was not an option. Not only was there general noise from guests, but a couple came and sat directly behind me – even though I purposely picked a spot far away from where all the other guests were. Not everyone is observant or as courteous as me. So that’s why I work from my room.
- In public places, you don’t know who is listening to you or who can see what is on your screen. Most people don’t seem to care these days, but I have seen and heard important information about competitors and clients on trains and in cafes where people are too flippant about what they are working on or talking about. This applies wherever you are.
- See my earlier point about my sore back, in my room, I can get up and walk around while in meetings and still hear everything. You can’t and shouldn’t do this in public areas!
Why Should You Try The Digital Nomad Lifestyle?
The main reason I am working as a digital nomad though is my mental health. The prolonged months of lockdowns and being stuck at home really took a toll on me personally. When the borders opened and I could travel, I knew I had to get away and do something different. Being away from Australia and living differently for a little while really recharged my energy and made me feel alive again.
Dealing with a different culture, different language and different everyday challenges has been a great reminder of how resilient we can be and sometimes how a change can really do us wonders. That said, it’s not for everyone and nor can everyone have a situation that allows it. If you can and you want to, I recommend you do it at least once and see if it works for you as it has for me.