New Way of Working

A life as a digital nomad - dream or nightmare?

Today Berlin, tomorrow Paris and next month Stockholm - or maybe just straight to Bali. That's how many people imagine the digital nomad's life. Working from anywhere and not being tied to a fixed workplace. This summer our columnist Markus Sekulla tried digital nomadism for a second time. The results were disillusioning.  

Self-determination and freedom

To me, life as an employee never seemed desirable. Why? The fixed office hours. Requirements from employers. Fixed vacation days or even worse, fixed working hours. Most of the time you have to show up in the office between 8 and 10 o'clock. Meetings and fixed appointments determine the work rhythm. On the other hand, there is often more financial stability involved as money comes in at a constant pace.

Freelancers, on the other hand, are freer to organize their working life. You can decide when and where you want to work and how, as long as the tasks are fulfilled. I've been a freelancer for pretty much my whole working life and have always felt comfortable with it. Unfortunately, I am not a programmer or SEO specialist. For them it’s much easier to do project-work from anywhere as well. Although like many others you can still do dropshipping excellently from everywhere and sell even more products online that actually no one needs, but I don't feel that is desirable whatsoever. There's a great long read on this on Wired.com that I highly recommend here: Inside the weird, get-rich-quick world of dropshipping.

I'm a communications consultant, and you need face-to-face contact more often than not, especially when initiating projects. At least that was the common opinion. Then Corona came along and almost all meetings took place online. Even the initiation of new projects went surprisingly well and so I thought about trying to work from another place - a nicer place - than from my desk in Düsseldorf.

So just recently I was on workation in Sweden for three weeks and combined vacation and work there. I could enjoy nature, sit with a beautiful view in our cozy camping chairs or on the jetty of a small lake, and do some professional tasks to boot. Sound’s good in theory. 


Motivation, the Internet and the climate

But life as a digital nomad is more sobering than one might think. Nature, cultural offerings and new people tend to tempt you to break out of your work routine, causing your motivation to screw away at PowerPoint presentations to plummet. People always imagine it so great, sitting in a beach cafe at a surfing spot in Bali and taking down cool projects. But most people forget one thing and I learned this year the hard way: You don't really feel like working in nice places. So it doesn’t even matter after all, if I were a SEO, coder or writer.

As I talk to other digital nomads it becomes clear that it's not just me "suffering" from these motivational bumps. It's seems a challenge for many remote workers. What to do about it? For me, it helps to establish fixed routines. For me, it has become a normality to set myself fixed blocks of time to work. That way, I always work in rotation. First, I work for 1.5 hours, then I take a break for an hour, and then I continue working. Little gadgets like time trackers help me to keep full control.

Another important topic: The Internet. An indispensable part of the life of a digital nomad. Now, many will say that Germany is not exactly known for the best Internet in the world either, because we all struggle more or less with minor Internet problems every day. On the whole, however, I consider it stable. In many other countries of the world, it’s way different. Especially in remote places in the world it can happen that the internet connection breaks down or is not available at all – and there is some beauty in that too. Satellites can be the solution here.

However, I would like to mention one negative aspect. It is the CO2 pollution. It is a factor that should not be underestimated, because most digital nomads travel, and not necessarily by train, but mainly by plane. For example, I made my first attempt at nomadic living a few years ago in New York City. That didn't work out for various reasons, mainly because it used to be more necessary to meet people face2face than it is today. And flying back to Germany for every new customer appointment would have been absolute nonsense. But since it was no longer possible to attend the really important meetings (over coffee or lunch, for example) with existing customers, it was also difficult to keep these customers in the long term. And without projects, the most ambitious digital nomad is just a tourist.

tl;dr

If the nature of your job allows it and you can motivate yourself well – even in beautiful places- then there few things better than life as a digital nomad. My tip: Just give it a try without breaking down all your tents right here. Rent a nice apartment for one month and see if you can or want to work at the place of your dreams.

Text: Markus Sekulla