Go with the flow: tips for succeeding as a digital nomad

Stories from a lifelong remote worker

I have always been a nomad.

My first experience working remotely happened in the 90s, when I was taking care of Brazilian accounts while working from San Francisco, ICQ (IM service) and NetMeeting (VoIP and multipoint videoconferencing solution) both vastly used in the 90s. Seven cities and three countries later, here I am in Melbourne, Australia.

The magic of remote work happens not so much from moving around itself, but from being able to go with the flow of serendipity when choosing where to live. It is the possibility to stay open to what life has to offer, and embracing new experiences as part of the natural flow of one’s life.

The future of work is, undoubtedly, deeply connected to remote work and global mobility. According to Business Wire, IDC has estimated that by 2020, the number of mobile workers will account for nearly three-quarters (72.3 percent) of the U.S. workforce. While “work from home” has been a common model, the pervasiveness of digital nomadism has changed the face of global work patterns.

Policies like ‘Work From Anywhere’ (WFA) have been designed to cater to the reality of digital nomadism. For example, at Envato, every full time employee is entitled to work anywhere in the world for up to three months per year. Even for those who choose to work from the same city as Envato HQ in Melbourne, there is a well-defined and mature Work From Home (WFH) policy, and whenever we are about to start a meeting, we never know if attendees will walk in through the door or join the Google Hangout. Digital nomadism is part of our daily lives, and it is here to stay.

I see more and more people living digital nomadism successfully — people to whom location is not a geographical limitation, but instead an open field of possibility.

Choosing where one would like to live is, to me, a beautiful exercise of personal freedom.

We can see this freedom in the mobile lifestyle we can observe in our Envato Stories: Unipen, a creative duo based in Macedonia, Muhammad Haris in Pakistan, Sharon Milne in England, Calin Teodorescu in Austria, and so many other members of Envato’s global community of 8 million+. While a portion of individuals have ‘day-jobs’ in their cities, a significant amount of our community has the freedom to choose where to live, according to personal preferences, while making a living via their online presence.

There are many reasons to celebrate remote work as a positive trend that impacts workers, their families, and the community, but it requires specific elements to make it viable and effective. The possible downsides of these policies, such as a drop in productivity (or the perception of a drop that comes from less face to face interaction), or lack of control, are very low in comparison to what has been gained from it: a work culture that is based on trust, rather than fear.

Humans beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. In a historical moment, where everything is political, and we keep hearing references to “walls”, “bans,” and all sorts of restrictions that try to inhibit a person’s mobility around the world, our Work From Anywhere policy becomes a symbol of another kind of world: of another way to live and work together. It is an example of what is possible when we have trust in each other and in our communities. Trust is the basis of our company values, and culture; it is the oil that makes our engine run smoothly.

“Humans beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self determined and connect to one another.”

How can we make nomadism work? From an organisational perspective: clear boundaries, delivery rhythm, and agile retrospectives are good examples. From the perspective of the remote worker, I’ll summarise what I think are the most important elements for successful remote work:

1. Deliver consistently — so nobody is worried if you are wearing pyjamas.

2. Over-communicate to compensate for lack of water cooler chat.

3. Have well-defined work agreements that anybody in the team can feel encouraged to call out.

4. Use online collaborative tools for working on shared documents.

Digital nomadism is a trend that will impact the micro-level of individuals, and their families, the macro-level of company engagement, and ability to attract talent, and the ever-expanding digital grid that will enable anyone to live, and work from remote areas. This will affect traffic, schools, parenting, and all other aspects of life. There are different ways to think ahead and prepare to make nomadism a reality in your life, but in my humble opinion the best start is simply to ask the mirror: “what is my talent, and how can I make this talent mobile within the digital world?”