3 Months of Workation — India, 2019

In this blog post, I would like to share some comments regarding working remotely from India.

It was originally published on my blog: http://tomek.kaczanowscy.pl/2019/04/3-months-of-workation-india-2019/

Context

  • 3 months in India — Jan-Mar 2019,
  • “workation“ — a whole family trip; my wife and me working remotely, kids at school,
  • me working for a rapidly growing startup Talent Alpha,
  • my team mostly in Cracow, some team members working remotely from home ~2 times a week,
  • 4,5h of time zones difference,
  • my role — a little bit of everything — Product Manager, Project Manager, Agile-Smagile Coach, Organizational Development — oh, we are a startup, you do what is to be done.

My observations / notes / comments / rants:

  • Working remotely is not a problem but being in a different timezone than the rest of your team is a serious PITA sometimes.
  • The fact that there is, for example, 4h time difference doesn’t mean you will have 4h of uninterrupted work time with your teammates. You need to consider that the life (house, logistics, meals, etc.) of your family in X (whatever country you selected as your destination) will look differently than at home. In my case, I had like 2h of really good work with my colleagues.
  • You rent a house for your family, but there is a fat chance, it won’t be ideal for your work. The house I rented didn’t offer any kind of room I could use to separate myself from kids when they were back home. In general, you shouldn’t expect any room suitable for work.
  • To maximize my workation (to have both work & holidays) I often worked like: 2h in the early morning, then breakfast & taking kids to school, then 2h work, then some pleasures (yoga, swimming), then 2h with my team, then long break being with kids who returned from school, then 2h in the evening. It helps to enjoy life but it also means you are at work for the whole day.
  • Being the only one working in a different timezone means your team doesn’t feel what you feel, and they won’t guess what you need or what would be convenient for you unless you tell them explicitly about your issues.
  • It takes time to arrange in the new place — I spent the first week mostly on organizational stuff of various kind (phones, internet, bikes, school, logistics, etc.); if you have no kids then probably you need less time, but some things simply take time — e.g. in India it takes 2–3 days to buy a SIM card.
  • (India specific) No matter how many internet connections you have, from time to time they will all fail at once (e.g. telecom network issues + powercut).
  • Remote work is like normal work but when you need a break you spend 20 minutes swimming in the sea.
  • You need headphones with a microphone. You will work in various places and your laptop’s microphone will catch too much background noise.
  • 3 minutes of videochat is worth 20 of text chat.
  • Working remotely I feel I’m being much more productive for a few reasons. First, there is no social-noise (different time zone also helps here, as you don’t even get emails/chats for a few hours). This helps especially with some deeper topics that are hard to think through when being constantly interrupted. Second, knowing I have only 2 hours time window with my team (from the time they start working until my kids come home from school) forces me to prepare very well to the meetings. Third, if there is some super thing I would be rather doing then working (swimming in my case) then I have no time to f*** around. I just do what is to be done, and voila! — jump into the ocean. (technically, it is the Arabian Sea — but ocean sounds so much better to me).
  • I had a few very successful sessions with online tools, but probably not enough of them. Somehow it is much easier to have a short whiteboard session in the office than ask somebody remotely.
  • The time zone difference helps with asynchronous work, but seriously limits your synchronous work abilities (meaning: someone wants something urgently and you are not there, or vice versa — you need something and your team will be available in 4 hours).
  • It is hard to leave the office when all other people are in the middle of their work even if your colleagues don’t put any pressure on you. I often felt bad about not taking part in some discussions/issues and in the end, I jumped into the action sacrificing my “free time” (remember, 4,5h of difference — 3 pm at the office was 7:30 pm at my place). So having some clear rules regarding my work time would help me to get rid of my internal pressure. I can guess that in some other cases such rules would help with external pressure as well.
  • Some online tools are pretty immune to sh** Internet connections (e.g. gSuite) while some can’t really deal with it and you will lose part of your work from time to time (e.g. TypeForms, eh…).
  • Hard to find a decent computer service for MacBooks. My broke and I ended up buying an old Win laptop.

Perception

  • The worst thing about workation is people who ask you “how was your holidays?”. :)
  • Some people assume that if you have nice weather you probably slack off. Truly frustrating! I know some remote workers who do not publish their location or any pictures as they learned it makes their clients treat them worse (AKA “I will not pay for your holidays!”). Some sort of envy, I guess.
  • The mild form of distrust towards remote work in general is expressed like “When you come back and we will finally be able to [some task done together here]”.
  • On the other hand, some will cheer you and express their happiness when they hear you are cooperating with them from India. Which is very nice.

Would I do it again?

You bet I would! It is fantastic! :)