Finding Peace in Remote Work

A couple of years ago I read this article in New Yorker – a story about a man who makes an emergency 911 call, and appears to be in distress. He confesses he works from home. The operator is not surprised and then proceeds to ask the standard questions to gather information while the Emergency Medical Team is on its way. She asks about what he is wearing, if he had shower and lunch, and what he needs to achieve that day as if she is talking to a person who is about to commit suicide. In the end seems like she manages to help him get his shit together.

At first, I found the article very funny. I even imagined that it could be a nice episode in some comedy or a TV show about ‘digital nomads’, until it actually dawned on me that it was a real deal for a lot of people around the world: working from home (aka remote work) can make you insane. This can be a serious issue because, in the next 10 years, one-third of the workforce on the planet will be remote. 

The rapid change from traditional office work to remote working makes Running Remote, the conference that is happening in Bali in June 29-30, even more essential. Dojo is one of the Event Sponsors of the conference, half of our team from Dojo and Hubud are going to be there, our Founder is going to participate in a panel discussion, so, as a partnership manager, I am supposed to help our partner create awareness about the conference. Dojo Blog is the perfect platform to promote any type or services, that might help members of our community evolve, improve their skills or inspire our readers, who live ‘traditional life’ with regular jobs and have never been to Bali to join our tribe here. I attended the conference last year and was very impressed with the quality of speakers and the companies the organizers managed to attract. So, I thought: “An article about remote work? Easy peasy”. Well, maybe not so much…

When starting to write this article, I imagined I’d gather a very colourful set of narratives from my friends and our members from all over the world, and everyone would be cracking up reading the humorous stories. The article would go viral, me – famous. I thought about stories like: “Every Wednesday we have a conference call with the board of directors, and the dress code is ‘smart’. To avoid upsetting those on my team calls, I use a white sheet as a backdrop because I live on a tropical island, and my ‘office’ is actually an authentic villa in the jungle. I usually just wear a Zara jacket, and most of the time I wear no pants for these calls because… why bother? or because I can!” Then something happens. The backdrop falls down, some exotic bird or a Komodo dragon appears in the scene, she screams, jumps on the table and everybody sees the whole picture… The board of directors are outraged and devastated. Then, everybody laughs, and she gets the company’s “Shine Award” for the best joke of the month and everything is back to normal. Cut.

Turns out my article will not be as funny as I saw it. First of all, I have a number of good stories, so one article turned into few (means more work for me), and also I don’t have that many humorous stories, one of them is even a bit upsetting…

Going remote for a business of any size may be a brilliant idea, simply because it cuts a lot of costs, including office rent, employee benefits and health-insurance. Hiring freelancers and consultants can be an easy task: contract is done – keep them or drop them by one click on Upwork – up to you.

The flexibility people get in exchange for working remotely allows you to start living your dream-life: In July, you are in Hungary working from that beautiful library in Budapest; in September, you are in Bali working from a coworking space with the infamous monkeys in Ubud, or work right by the beach in Canggu; in January, you spend your time in South America doing some yoga teacher training while juggling sales and marketing efforts for your upcoming digital marketing conference back in Bali at the end of the year (like my former colleague, Lisa).

There are a lot of pros and cons of remote work and you can find a plethora of information about it out there. Just say: “Hey, Google, tell me about remote work!” and it will tell you and show you all sorts of things you never knew about this growing trend.

Everyone seems very excited about this freedom of working from anywhere, taking pictures at the beach — highlighting coconuts strategically set next to their Macs. (I actually did that for the website of a former client, and my picture is still there. Aw, such a cliché). Working from paradise island, what can be better?

However, there is a little catch. If you look at Maslow’s Pyramid (see image below), you can see that one of the main things people need in their lives is the sense of love and belonging — a connection to a group of people. If they don’t have it, they cannot move towards the most important need of the human spirit: self-actualization. After few weeks of starting their remote journey, the majority of people complain about the substantial drop in their happiness level because they spend a lot of time alone, working long hours from home or cafes without talking to anyone. They might also having trouble adapting to the new environment, struggle with discipline, not balanced nutrition, which in more than 70% cases lead to depression and anxiety. If you are an introvert, lack of  interaction with people may have zero impact on your life (you avoid people anyway), but if you are a social butterfly and love taking selfies with your colleagues while having a casual Friday drink after work, this lifestyle can be detrimental to your health.

Wearing your PJ’s 24/7 and spending most of your time roaming between your laptop, your fridge and the toilet will never make you happy until you discover the holy grail of balancing your life and work as a remote worker. This holy grail can be a yoga mat, a dog/cat, a membership to a cool coworking space, a gym membership, meditation or productivity app, a meeting planner, a super effective team communication tool, a long list of community events, masterminds, salsa lessons and surfing, a therapist, a coach, a mentor, breathwork workshop or all of the above. Unless you find your own holy grail, you are screwed.

This location independent movement — remote teams and ‘digital nomadism’ (the word we hate here at Dojo) — has opened a Pandora’s box and we haven’t even figured out yet how to deal with all the shit that comes out of it, good and bad. Thankfully, we have insightful conferences like Running Remote where we can actually see that people can not only survive, but actually thrive, while managing or being a part of remote teams. At the very least, they are trying their best to turn their teams into happy, productive and highly satisfied tribes.

Although I spent few years as a remote worker, I now have a full-time position at Dojo. My experience gives me an advantage in that I have learned to work independently and I also relate to my friends who are mostly remote professionals from all over the world. I get to see all their struggles and wins, and have an understanding of what they’re going through.

Last week, I did a shout-out on my facebook page asking my friends to share their remote working stories, and it helped me extract very interesting material, which I have separated into mini-stories, that I am committed to publish every week.

So, let’s go.

Remote Rock-n-Roll

Mike Lane has been my mentor for more than 2 years and he and his wife Ellen are very important people in my life. Mike is a business strategy consultant who advises a diverse clientele that includes the entertainment, technology, and sports industries. He has pioneered many of the new media marketing strategies in the music industry and created and implemented some of the first successful entertainment-related Internet marketing campaigns. He has held key positions at music trade publication Radio and Records and artist management/consulting firm The Left Bank Organization. He is currently a partner at 4 Entertainment, a marketing and business strategy consultancy. He brings much experience to the table, and it always feels like he maintains a young spirit. He loves mentoring and hanging out with people of all ages, and every interaction with those who want to achieve more for themselves gives him energy and provides inspiration for his own business.

Here is his story:

“As my company’s business became global, our physical office space in Los Angeles became less strategic. I had also realized that 80% of my work week was spent on the phone or email. This led to an epiphany: I could be working from anywhere! (At least anywhere that had an internet connection).

Six years ago, I made the decision to travel and work remotely. My wife, who is an artist, decided to go to Bali while I toured with a rock band (one of my clients) to meet with prospective sponsors. It was four months on the road in America, and I was beholden to whatever wifi and workable mobile coverage were available. So, working out of hotels, or while driving along the highway, became the daily routine. It was a good test to see if working remotely was feasible. The only time there was an issue getting online or making phone calls was when I was in a remote area of state of Wyoming in the United States: The tour bus took this opportunity to suddenly break down. It gave a new definition to the term “remote working.” So, it became clear there is no remote working in remote areas if there is no mobile or wifi access to internet. To be without access was unsettling but, fortunately, I survived being cut off from the world for half a day. 😊

After the tour, I joined my wife in Bali. I had planned to stay in Bali for only a few weeks – mainly because there was limited access to decent internet. However, when I landed in Bali, my wife met me at the airport and told me there was an event at this new space called Hubud. So, after 21 hours of air travel, I drove immediately from the airport directly to Hubud. There, I found a Bali-themed office buzzing with “digital nomads” working on all sorts of projects. More importantly, I found bandwidth. Hubud had the only decent Internet connections in town. The entrepreneurial vibe was invigorating. I was sucked into the Bali vortex. For two years, Hubud became my exclusive remote workspace in Southeast Asia.

One of the advantages I have as a remote worker is that I have business partners who cover some of that 20% of my work that requires a physical presence when it is unrealistic for me to jet somewhere for an event or meeting. Maintaining a presence in America while working remotely is a challenge. Several of my American clients hire my company because of our presence in Los Angeles, and several of my international clients hire my company because of our presence in the U.S. So, working remotely sometimes meant having to sustain the appearance of an ongoing presence in these locations.

For the most part, working remotely while appearing to be working locally went well. Early on, my partners were not very happy about me being out of the country for long stretches of time. But I had mastered the remote/local issue, and I had decided to avoid informing my partners about my travels. For the most part, it worked. But every now and then, the background noises of Bali would give away my location. I am no longer perpetuating this ruse, and I have found letting my partners know my whereabouts makes time zone differences more manageable and respected – especially when scheduling conference calls and making deadlines.

My clients rarely know my location. Sometimes I am in Los Angeles, sometimes in New York, sometimes in Europe, and sometimes somewhere in Southeast Asia. For most, it’s not an issue. But for those clients who expect a significant presence in Los Angeles or the U.S., it is too complicated to explain that a physical presence isn’t necessary for success on their projects.

So, I would almost never mention my location – whether in an email or on a phone call. But then there was the time I was introducing a client to a good friend & former colleague via a conference call. My friend knew I was in Bali at the time and the first thing he said on the call was, “How are things in Bali?” My client was surprised and responded, “You’re in Bali?” Of course, I responded I was, indeed, in Bali – but was traveling back to Los Angeles “soon.” After the call, my friend said, “I wasn’t supposed to mention that you are in Bali, was I?” Of course, my location is no longer the big deal it was years ago. Working remotely has become much more accepted in the business world, and my ability to produce for my clients has made working remotely unimportant to a project’s success. Still, out of habit, I refrain from mentioning my location unless specifically asked”.

Bali is now home for Mike and Ellen, and he works quite a lot, many times sleeping only 4 hours a day (he says he doesn’t need more). His work is never boring. Sometimes I get to be one of the first viewers of his clients’ new music videos, or I find out about a memoir about contact with aliens that was discovered by another one of his clients, and there would be a new sci-fi movie cooking up. Or, he is preparing a release of a new Jazz album by Grammy-winning musician Ted Nash, or he tells me a story about a new band that needs some legal advice on their contract with a recording studio. Mike has access to all the juicy stuff in the entertainment industry in his home country from their nice villa in Ubud. Never boring, like old-school Rock-n-Roll, but mostly remote.

If you want to learn more about how to run your remote business or be a part of a happy and successful member of a remote tribe – grab your ticket for Running Remote Conference here.

To be continued.  

Cover photo: our awesome members Tiff Ng and Francesca Ruvolo are enjoying their remote work experience from Dojo.

 

1 Comment

  1. Mike

    Beautifully written, Dinara. You are an inspiration to everyone around you! This article will bring some perspective to the daunting decision to be a remote worker.

    Reply

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Dojo Bali

Dojo Bali is a coworking space located on the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia. Dojo Canggu is open 24/7 and located at Echo Beach, Canggu offering a collaborative and relaxing coworking environment. New locations are coming soon. Stay tuned to find out where the next Dojo will be set up.

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PT Dojo Bali Coworking Registration No: AHU-3570685.AH.01.11.TAHUN 2015

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