DigIO Australia
Published in

DigIO Australia

I work remotely from Magnetic
Island — any moment now I’m
sure I will wake up from this
dream

Rocky Bay. Me and the three little Howls.

Magnetic Island is 8km off the coast of tropical North Queensland. My wife and I, together with our three kids are lucky to call this beautiful place home. How does a person from the industrial town of Brierley Hill, England end up living on an island on the Great Barrier Reef where the sun shines for 320 days of the year? The answer: a lot of luck and a great company supporting me.

A long time ago …

In April 2012 my wife and I with, our then, two children made the life-changing move from the UK to Melbourne and we enjoyed several very happy years there. However, we always talked and dreamed about making a move north. There were a number of reasons for wanting to move from Melbourne; opportunity for the kids to grow up with more freedom like we did, more time with the kids, more opportunity to immerse ourselves in nature, less traffic, less commuting, warmer and more consistent weather.

Late 2017 I met with CEO of DigIO, Pat Eckel who was starting up a new technology company within the Mantel Group. We talked about joining DigIO, family life and other things. Throughout the conversation I mentioned that there would come a time when I would come to him and say I want to live and work from somewhere that wasn’t Melbourne, and Pat simply said we’d work on it when the time came.

In April 2018 I joined the DigIO family as a Front-End Software Engineer. It was exciting to be part of the vision of those leading and people already there — I had worked with many of these great people before. I didn’t join DigIO assuming my aspirations of remote working was a guarantee, but felt positive I was surrounded by a team of people who would do what they could to help me try to achieve it if they could.

Fast forward to August 2018. A family holiday to Queensland brought us to Magnetic Island and after just a few short days one thing was sure, we had fallen in love with the island; its wildlife¹, the climate, the people, the Mitre 10 (yes it has one!)².

We spent the next few months talking and dreaming like a lot of us do whenever we go somewhere different to our normal day to day life. After extensive research we realised it didn’t have to be just a dream and that it really was possible to build a life there. We looked at properties, the local school, the facilities and amenities and all the boxes were ticked. Only one thing left to do…

Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash

The (big) chat

In late November, 2018 I asked Pat to meet for coffee. I remember the morning very well, my family’s dream life hanging in the balance while we chatted at the new coffee shop near the Collins Street entrance of Southern Cross train station. I explained we had found the place we wanted to live and that after our research the goal was to try and move by the end of 2019, just in time for Christmas. My heart was racing as the words came out of my mouth and I waited to hear Pat’s response… “Yes, in principle. Let’s make this work”.

BOOM! (the BOOM was in my head, not part of Pat’s response!).

We agreed to catch up formally every month to work on the practicalities of what needed to be done in order to make this work. We were also joined by Caroline who heads up People & Culture and over a number of sessions we worked on numerous initiatives including:

  • A remote / client ready checklist. What I needed to work remote effectively and what the client needed to allow remote working.
  • Preparing to work remotely, which including working from home more often.
  • Researching tools for collaborating remotely with teams. We were already using Slack and video tools like Zoom/Google Hangouts but what about typically paper based rituals like Scrum retrospectives.
  • Case study to support remote working within DigIO and our customers.
  • A guide to working remotely.
  • A working from home checklist to ensure a safe and productive set up.

We also had the all-important go/no-go task of persuading a client to allow us to work for them remotely. You know, just a minor part of getting this off the ground! Luckily for me I had worked with my current client for quite some time and our relationship with some of the key decision-making people was fantastic. All that was asked of me by the client was that I proved I could work in my full capacity from home in Melbourne before leaving for sunnier shores. That stage of the process was a success.

One thing I have not mentioned yet, is the fact currently I spend 80–90% remote and the remaining time actually in Melbourne. In order to get this working, we agreed with the client that I would return to work from the Melbourne office for one week a month. This has now reduced to one week every six to eight weeks. My next goal is to reduce visits to Melbourne to once a quarter. DigIO is growing and undertaking work outside of Melbourne which is also putting me in a good position to potentially work on these projects where there is less emphasis on the physical presence of team members.

My Deal

My conversations with DigIO about working remotely happened to coincide with the start of an initiative called ‘My Deal’, a program that recognises employees have different goals and needs within the parameters of their working environment. On each anniversary of employment with the company, in addition to an assessment of your pay and objectives, you are invited to either take one of the deals on offer or propose your own, within reason, of course. Deals suggested include developing a product idea, having additional annual leave and working weekends instead of Monday to Friday.

Plans change

Our initial plan was to make our move to Queensland at the end of the 2019 school year but after securing a beautiful property on the island in February, plus the realisation that moving our Melbournian city kids to the humidity of tropical North Queensland in the middle of summer would instigate no end of whinging about the heat, we decided to ask DigIO if they were in a position to approve the start of my new remote working position sooner than we had discussed. At the monthly catch-up with Pat and Caroline in March I was given the green light. Yipee!

June 24th 2019

This is the date we left Melbourne and arrived at our new island home. Also known as ‘are we really doing this’ day. Leaving Melbourne felt like leaving the UK all over again, but only more heart-wrenching because we had a even stronger group of friends in Melbourne and it was the only place our kids had ever known as home. Like 7 years before, we had given away or sold most of our belongings so we turned up to our new home with camping gear for sleeping in those early days, and the kids’ treasured possessions. On day one my wife went to the local Vinnies (yes we have one of those, too) and got 5 forks, 5 knives, a few spoons, 2 plates and 2 bowls and until we had chance to visit the big shops on the mainland, we had to eat in shifts³.

Present day

As I write this we’re 7 months into life on Magnetic Island and I’m happy to say we don’t have to eat in shifts anymore. The kids are settled in to the brilliant primary school, they have made some great new friends, and my wife and I pinch ourselves every day because we can’t quite believe we are so lucky. We are no longer camping in the house following the arrival of new beds and furniture. We got around to purchasing a TV after 5 months without one (the freedom and outdoors lifestyle we wanted the kids to enjoy has meant they are hardly ever inside to watch it) and just before Christmas we finally received delivery of a sofa. An island postcode makes online shopping tricky to say the least.

Working remotely

After nearly 7 months of working remotely I am hopeful that I won’t ever have to go back to working full time in an office. I enjoy the perks of remote work and when I go back to Melbourne to work for a week, I long for my desk at home where I am much more productive and not having to suffer the daily grind of traveling for up to 3 hours.

Benefits of working remotely

  • More time with the kids. Most days I get to do the school run. I actually know what they are doing at school. I used to get home after 7pm and ask them what they had done that day at school, this regularly resulted in the response, “nothing”.
  • More time with my wife. I actually get time to sometimes cook on weeknights, too.
  • No travel time. Well, unless you count the seconds it takes to walk from the kitchen to my desk and open my laptop. I also didn’t realise how much of a bad mood traveling on Metro trains could put you in before entering the office.
  • I get my life back from the travel time. I run and do ZUU training, which often got pushed to very late on a week night or weekends.
  • Higher productivity with more deep work time because of less disruptions.
  • Overall, for me remote work fits more naturally with my life.

Downsides

  • More time with the kids 😆. By being at home more means I now experience more of the tantrums, fights, “mommy, he is looking at me” statements, but I’m in a better position to help than just hearing it on the phone.
  • There is definitely less face to face social interactions compared to working in the office, but I don’t mind this to be honest. This is where tools like Slack really help a lot.
  • The feeling you always have to be seen doing things to show worth and that you are working. This affected me earlier on, but now I don’t worry about it as I know I have proven myself.
Hawkins Point overlooking Nelly Bay

If you are interested in our experience of moving from Melbourne and settling on Magnetic Island, my wife has been documenting the ups and downs on instagram as @melbourne_to_maggie.

More information about Magnetic Island can be found here.

I’m going to also write up another Medium article on the challenges I experienced and tips for remote working. Stay tuned!

Jetty jumping (Picnic Bay). Finish work and go here for a jump when there aren’t stingers 😉

Thanks for reading 😃

Footnote

Me at the Forts. Just your average lookout

1. I’m not a fan of all wildlife on the island. Crocodiles, curlews, death adders, box and irukandji jellyfish are on my I’m not a fan of these critters list. Luckily, they aren’t that common, especially the sea based ones. On my I’m a big fan of these beauts list are wallabies, geckos, eagles, kites, tree frogs, sting rays and bat fish.

2. Australian building and garden store.

3. The reason we gave away or sold most of our belongings was two fold. Most of our furniture was quite old, found on hard rubbish (one of the best things ever) or cheaper IKEA items, and the high cost of transporting our existing furniture to the island.

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Software Engineering trends and insights from a Melbourne based digital business that services some of Australia's largest enterprise businesses.

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Ben Howl

Ben Howl

Just a developer

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