Innovation through remote work and travel (aka why I’m taking off for a year)

I’m about to go on a journey

It’s a journey to twelve international cities around the world, and it will take an entire year. I’m going with 64 other people, some tech-minded, some art-focused. Writers, developers, explorers of all kinds, ranging from early 20s to 50s. I’m doing this with a program called Remote Year.

You probably have a lot of questions. I did too. First of all, no, this isn’t a vacation. I’ll be continuing my work as Partnership Co-ordinator at Wistia, only now I’ll be working remotely. More on that later. Yes, I know where I’m going. You can keep up with my itinerary here. I’m most excited about Lima, Peru and Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’ve bought international health insurance, travel insurance, my first real adult luggage set, some gadgets I’ll probably never use, and a one way ticket to Croatia. I’m ready.

Photo by Jessica Tatham—can’t wait to meet you!

Why I’m going

You could say I have itchy feet. I’ve never lived in an apartment for over two years in my adult life. I have lived in three different countries, three different states, spent extended time in many more, and have visited 30 altogether. When I spend an entire week in one place without going on a small adventure—a short hike, a drive to a new town, a weekend away—I get antsy and cranky. Moving is crucial for my well being and content mental state.

Moving inspires learning. Intentional, voluntary moving forces you to open your mind to new experiences. Whether it’s a new language, a new way of doing things, new scenery, new food you’ve never tried, or a new culture altogether, being constantly barraged by new-ness allows you to build on your current experience, making you a more well-rounded, knowledgeable, and (hopefully) accepting person.

Before I applied to Remote Year, I wanted to move to Seattle. I had been in Boston for two years—the clock was ticking, and I was getting antsy. I applied on a whim, thinking there was no way I would get chosen. According to Remote Year, approximately 25k people apply for their program. As a marketer, I will say I don’t know how this is measured. What is an application? It can be as simple as requesting more information. Either way, the number caught my eye, and being someone who applies for vacation sweepstakes and influencer campaigns, I said why not?

I’ll skip the boring part about the interviews. Once I found out I was accepted, it was real. I had to make the choice. For people like me, moving is natural. It’s necessary. Although I may want to change my physical location, that doesn’t mean I want to change my job. I’m happy to work at a company that inspires me, challenges me, and most importantly, fulfills me thanks to the incredible people I get to work with every day. Thankfully, Wistia agreed to let me go on Remote Year while keeping my responsibilities at work intact.

Other folks weren’t as lucky. Some of my Remote Year cohort didn’t have companies that were sympathetic to allowing learning and growth through movement. Those folks had to quit their jobs and try to find other opportunities or freelance to make ends meet while on the program. Those companies? They missed out.

Remote opportunities are crucial for innovation

Startups use a lot of buzzwords. We hear them every day. Innovation. Disruption. Synergy. Experience. They’re words with power, but often, without actual impact. How often are you tasked with innovating from your same-old meeting-packed stressed-out, yet sometimes pretzel-laden office? How often are you burnt out beyond what a week-long vacation can solve? I’m not even talking to folks with 24/7 jobs in support, social media, or community management here—I see you and the constant all-hours work you put in.

Travel allows you to expand. You’re forced to stay on your toes. That feeling of being hyper-aware, constantly noticing and questioning what’s around you, taking in an experience that you’re not necessarily familiar with, allows you to truly remain inspired. This inspiration comes with you everywhere you ago. You begin solving problems you were never aware of in the past. You begin researching and optimizing for solutions you never knew existed.

Remote work allows folks in different areas, with different cultures and experiences, who see the world in different ways, to come together to solve problems. This creates diverse teams that are able to give so much more to your team, to your business, that in-office teams would not be able to see because of their incredibly shared experience. I hope that taking this year to move and grow will allow me to contribute to Wistia in ways that I am currently not able to.

It won’t be easy. Time zones will be different, activities will be giving me FOMO. I’ll be tired, pulled every which way. Thankfully, we have 24/7 access to a workspace with great Wi-Fi in each city, city managers to help us navigate, and most importantly, one another and our dedication. 15 other people in my cohort are working USA hours while on this journey. We’re determined to thrive in this environment, to exceed expectations. It won’t be a walk in the park—but I’m confident it will bring results that I wouldn’t have been able to show when kept stagnant.

There are so many other reasons for companies to be remote-friendly. Travel is just a tiny portion of them. To remain inside the scope of this article, I’ll point you to my post Going Remote—Why Remote Work Should Change The Future of Startup Culture.

12 months—6 goals

I’m a startup person, and I think like one, so naturally, I have outlined 6 goals for this journey. I have a Trello board for them which is already enormous and needs downsizing. I’ll list them here, partially to keep me accountable, but partially to show how much of an impact travel can have, and that planning for such a journey is essential.

  • Learn Spanish. I have a bit of a head start on this goal. I took Spanish in college and feel very comfortable with the language, although don’t ask me to hold a conversation. During this journey, I’ll be in Spanish speaking countries for six months out of the year. I’ll be taking lessons and pushing myself through immersion to come home fluent. Being fluent in Spanish will allow me to have more personal experiences with our customers and broaden Wistia’s reach. Expect beginner level Spanish videos.
  • Visit a customer in each city. I have a small lead here—one customer in Buenos Aires has raised their hand. If you’re a current Wistia customer and want to meet up while I’m in your city, please let me know. You can reach me on Twitter at @margotcodes, or just leave me a note in a reply to this post.
  • Host a Wistia global meetup. Depending on where we have the largest host of customers, I’m excited to start planning a meetup that’s not US-based. I’ll keep folks posted as this comes to fruition.
  • Learn a new skill. I’m thankful to be a part of a cohort that is so immensely skilled. We’ve got writers, web developers, data folks, graphic designers, and so many other talents in this group. I hope to learn a new technical skill this year that I can apply to my work moving forward.

And now, for a couple of personal goals:

  • Let go of fear. Fear holds me back. I can feel it behind many of the choices I make. Fear of getting hurt, fear of not liking something, fear of what-might-happen. This year, whenever I feel fear wrapping itself around me, I will do my best to unhinge it with trust. Trusting myself, and dare I say it, the “universe”, that everything will work out. Trusting that the learning experience is worth so much more than anything “not lost”. Fear leaves you with nothing to gain. Trust allows you to go forward in learning and growth.
  • Give back. I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to go on this journey. So few folks are able to travel the world while keeping their job (hopefully this is soon to change). Many who do travel end up in resort-like places, eating the same foods, having manicured experiences, and never give back to the people providing them. During this year, I hope to participate in volunteering and learning opportunities in each city, giving back what I can to the people living in those areas. Understanding what folks in other situations, places, cultures are struggling with is one part of the incredibly large puzzle of the human condition. Giving back and doing your best to help others is another.

This is going to be a wild ride. I leave in 31 days. Needless to say, I’ll keep you posted.

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