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My First Week as a Digital Nomad

My expectations of remote work vs the reality of remote work

Photo by Caleb Minear on Unsplash

For as long as I can remember I have been jealous of those people in cafes working on their laptops and doing work. And not just school work or writing papers because I used to do that all the time as a student but actual work, like with a salary and responsibilities to clients. I dreamed of the flexibility to just work from any cafe I wanted, to work from hotel lobbies, or airports, or strange locations around the world. In a word, the dream job was about freedom and self-actualization.

For the longest time, I thought this dream job could only be had by writers and other creatives. And so I have been waiting for my career as a writer and author to take off. But that is a notoriously hard nut to crack.

I finally got the dream job after two years in the food industry after dropping out of my philosophy PhD. It’s a fully remote position for a creative agency. All I need is a laptop and an internet connection and I can do my job. It’s amazing. The company, RebelMouse, is itself fully remote, with no central office location. There are about 45 employees and we are scattered across the globe in many timezones.

Funny aside about how I got this job: the CEO recruited me from Twitter because she liked my writing.

But back to the expectations of my dream job. I imagined remote work was going to mean all this freedom to run errands and get coffee and take lunch whenever I wanted. In other words, I imagined freedom in my daily schedule and I would just work whenever I felt like it.

That’s not what happened, however. There were so many scheduled meetings and calls and group-chats and things to do that I simply didn’t have time to just step out and run an errand for an hour. It was a fast-pasted, long, attention-consuming day. It was not this relaxing day-at-the-beach sort of mental vacation I had imagined remote work to be.

I was essentially in front of a computer Monday through Friday, 9–5, with only small breaks for lunch, snacks, and espresso. Without the distractions of an office, it is easy to sit down at your computer and just focus. I was able to get a lot of work done.

I don’t mean to over-exaggerate though. I did find time to run up to a coffee shop and work a few times this week. But when you have back-to-back meetings scheduled you can’t just step away from your computer to change locations or go grocery shopping. When your team asks you something you don’t want them to be left waiting.

For those wondering, my first week of work was mainly just learning about the company, our software, and how the product works as well as shadowing people to get a feel of how the communication flows. Which meant a lot of calls, meetings, emails, and chats. Our whole team uses Google: gmail, google calendar, google chat, google hangouts, google meet, etc. It all works pretty well! We also use a product called Jira for communication and project management.

I knew this going into my first week but it was impressive to see it play it in real-life: communication is everything. Our team is constantly communicating, checking in with each other, double-checking, using synchronous and asynchronous communication (e.g. face-to-face vs email), and generally just being all about keeping everyone else informed of what we’re up to.

At first it was overwhelming because there was so much information to read and digest and make actionable. But after a week I was able to place things into a better context and it didn’t seem quite as much like an avalanche.

Culturally, I feel like a great fit for the team. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming — I already feel part of the team dynamics rather than feeling like a worthless outsider. Our CEO and founder is amazing. She has SO MUCH energy and vision but was right there with the dev team working on technical solutions. She was everywhere the first week and everybody in the company, including me, has access to her at anytime. I don’t get the impression the company is very hierarchical — everybody seems to wear many hats and nobody is above getting their hands dirty in the sense that almost everyone contributes a little to the technical side of things.

The first week went by so fast. I can’t believe it’s over. And now I have an actual weekend! My previous job, pizza delivery, had me ALWAYS working weekends in these long boring shifts and now I have a dream schedule. Work during the day and enjoy my evenings and weekends. What a joy.

Remote work turned out to not be as glamorous as I expected. But it was still plenty glamorous. I’m still getting paid to mess around on my computer in my own home. Can’t beat that.