This website and blog are based on my latest project. Currently I´m a participant of Remote Year, a group of professionals working remotely while traveling the globe. For the next few months I will be 1 of 26 participants of RY’s community Bolivar.
While working remotely, I will reside in four different cities and travel throughout Latin America. I will get to experience life in Santiago de Chile, Lima/Peru, Medellín/Colombia and Mexico City. Join me on my remote work experience and enjoy exploring!
Working from home or even remotely is a way of life
and for millions of people around the globe a deliberate choice. In times of Covid-19
a lot of people are forced into home office and some are not comfortable with
it. I embraced home office already during my time as an employee and took it a
step further as I became a freelancer and started to work fully remote. For me it’s
a choice and a blessing, but I can relate to people who cannot imagine working
away from the comfort and familiarity of their offices and co-workers.
In the US remote working is already very common, recent surveys show that approximately 5% of the US total workforce already work location independent (see also my previous post). The “new work” concept only slowly arrives in other countries around the globe – something that might change in the near future given the current circumstances. And a lot of people might want to hold on to it. The reasons are not surprising. A survey of the jobsite www.monster.com states that a better work-life-balance, increased productivity/better focus, less stress and to avoid a commute are the main drivers for people to favor working from home.
Communication is key
But how can you be your best working from
home? From my experience self-motivation, self-discipline, time management and most
importantly communication are some key factors to be successful. I figured that
I’m much more productive working on my own terms with no distractions and the
chance to really focus on the task at hand. And you get tech savvy if you
cannot just quickly walk over and chat to your colleague or boss. You learn to
use tools (from logging your time to communication) and you also streamline
your messages. Keep it short and clear and don’t spam your co-workers’ inboxes.
No matter if texting, skyping, emailing
or meeting your colleagues online – cut out the noise!
My advice is do not stop doing what you would
do in the office. Have your brainstorm sessions over your lunch break, use the manifold
technology available to stay in touch and most importantly deliver! Face time
with your team is even more important when you’re not present physically. Be accountable,
proactive, engage and pick up the phone rather than sending an email. But also
make it a habit to be responsive – even if it is only a short reply like “I got
this covered” or “I will be back with an answer today/tomorrow”. Schedule regular
check-ins with your superiors and keep them updated on your progress or on what
you’re working on.
Keep it professional
Another important thing is to keep it
professional – no matter if you work from your kitchen table or at a desk in your
home. Have a dedicated workspace and don’t be tempted to do your work-out
sessions during working hours or switch on the TV. Behave as you would in an
office environment. Therefore, also set your working hours: Schedule your
coffee and lunch break and switch off your computer and your phone at the end
of the day. The downside of working from home or remotely is that you tend to
forget when it’s time to stop. Your working hours and your private time are blurred,
and it is easy to mix both.
To master these challenging times and the new
way of working – don’t lose your stride and get shit done. Great work can be
done from anywhere!
Here is a list of tools I use to be
productive no matter where I am on this planet. There are many others out
there, but I liked these the most:
stable internet connection that can cope with long conference calls
As much as the current situation scares people, it can also change the way we work. Covid-19 could have a permanent impact on how companies operate, or people work. It´s a blessing in disguise I´d say. As much as I vote for new work, I also see the problems that arise with it not being a choice for most but them being forced into working from home.
Speaking to several IT savvy friends just recently they also pointed out
the difficulties for some companies who are not prepared for it. Systems will
crack they say, it will be a problem especially for companies whose employees
are usually safeguarded by corporate networks and have to connect over virtual
private networks now. This might cause a real problem for the IT infrastructure
of most companies. Furthermore, internet providers might not be able to supply
the bandwidth needed. Peak traffic will increase and with schools being
suspended as well, there will be even more internet users during the day. Time
will tell if we (or the internet providers) are prepared for this.
One good thing about the whole situation – besides that people really
start to care about each other and support each other – is the opportunity for
companies and employees alike to build a remote work culture or at least some
more flexibility. And companies like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Trello and a
few more have already reacted to support remote work and offer some of their
services for free for the time being.
I’ve been working remotely for a few years now and I
do love the flexibility and productivity that comes with it. And to be honest,
the most important thing is that the work gets done – within an office or at
your desk somewhere else. The key to be successful with location independent
work is to be organized, structured and to have your communication right. Speak
to your co-workers and to your boss on a regular basis, like you would do in
the office. Keep up the casual conversations and the chat in the coffee corner.
But most importantly: Keep spirits up and get your shit done! Don’t see remote
work as a ticket for being sluggish because nobody is watching.
I will share some tips and tools shortly that helped me a lot to
structure my remote work life. Stay tuned.
Have you ever been in South America? If so, you
know what I’m talking about. If not, I highly recommend you visit this part of
Four months into my remote work experience here
in South America I’m having trouble imagining going back to a world with less
music, less dancing and less of an easy going, chilled and laid-back attitude,
not to speak about the weather.
Despite all the hardship, the obvious disparity
and the resulting social and political unrest the people are facing in this
part of the world, they have a much more positive approach to life than the
average European has.
All of the countries I had the chance to live in
for a while are struggling with a huge disparity between rich and poor. But nevertheless,
they never seem to lose their smiles and optimism.
Viva la vida!
Medellin/Colombia for instance – the City of Eternal
Spring – has transformed from a violent past into a hub of entrepreneurship and
an up and coming tourist destination. Colombia was seen as dangerous and
conflict-ridden, a country known for drug wars, violent crime, poor
infrastructure and corruption. Spending a month in Medellin I have not had a
minute where I felt in danger or uneasy. Colombia still has problems, no doubt,
but it is rebranding itself and I would not hesitate to return to Medellin, to
its music, to the incredible landscape, the variety of birds not found anywhere
else on the planet, to the rich literature culture and last but not least the modern
and lifestyle hub it has become. Viva la vida!
The same is true for Santiago de Chile. A city that has been making international headlines for the last few months with people taking to the streets to raise awareness about an insane disparity in income. As I learned, the minimum wage in Chile’s private sector is approximately 350,000 Pesos, less than 500 Euros, and employees in public sector companies’ bag in millions of Pesos – some senators in Chile earn more than our German chancellor Angela Merkel…
But it’s not only about the money, it is about opportunities – be it in education, health care or equality in general. A message the protesters (most of them students) plastered around the city in countless graffities. They express their anger, their frustration, but also the hope for a new Chile. A blooming and economically stable country that wants to leave the past behind, especially the not so distant past during the cruel Pinochet dictatorship and its violation of human rights, tortures and disappearances. The people of Chile are fighting for a country where dignity is a habit.
And as far as I can tell, they have not lost their hope and optimism. I’ve hardly ever came across a nation that is distant and reserved at first but once you’ve cracked their shell is welcoming and warm hearted.
Pursuit of happiness
Having spent the past four months in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile and now Mexico I got a taste of freedom, a taste of what is really important in life and especially a taste of what the ease of being can mean. Far away from our European or American way of life of buying things to be happy, I found my happiness in just being. Life is more lively here, there is more life to be lived there, the pursuit of happiness is not just an empty phrase.
I also have to admit that living out of a suitcase and sharing my accommodation with at least one or two other people contributed to it. I always thought that having more, is making me happier. That collecting possessions and making a lot of money defines who we are. It’s not. It is how we connect with other people, it’s the meaningful conversations, the walks in a city that you have never seen before, the experiences and the pure joy of being that makes a life happy. At least for me.
“Oh, are you German?”. Have you heard this question as many times as I
did? Does it also drive you up the wall to be recognized as a German the moment
you open your mouth? Not that I’m not proud of my German heritage, but when it
comes to language an accent free pronunciation is a big advantage – especially
being fluent in English and having lived in English-speaking countries for most
of my adult life, I did not seem to be able to get rid of that undertone in my
pronunciation which immediately labeled me as a German.
Can you imagine my joy as I found out that one of my fellow remotes is an accent reduction coach. With her company Parker Accentuation she helps non-native English speakers to gain a standard American accent and to improve their speaking skills for interviewing, presenting, or public speaking.
Can I finally
get rid of the annoying (to me) or charming (as others call it) accent?
I jumped on
the opportunity to be one of Nicole Parker’s students. Once a week she sat with
me and not only did I learn a lot about the history of the English language but
also how to move my tongue, my cheeks and my lips to give the sounds I’m making
the typical American color. Lots of laughter guaranteed. Believe me, it needs
practice to move your mouth, lips and tongue in a way that you are not used to
or to make sounds your throat just does not seem to be built for.
But with regular practice – make sure you’re locked away somewhere where other people cannot hear you or they might think you’ve gone mad – progress is inevitable. If you really put some effort in and spend at least 30 minutes to an hour a day on your pronunciation, you will see rapid results. I improved my accent by more than 60% within a few weeks. And surprise, surprise, people who meet me for the first time now, cannot really tell where I’m from. They spot an accent, but not the German accent anymore. I was recently asked if I’m Australian :).
As I started this new project – working remotely from South America – friends and clients alike were, to say at least, irritated. For my European clients, the concept of working for them, but not being in their office frequently was an alien thought.
But is it that different?
People’s perception is changing – also in Germany. In the end, it is the result that counts, not how you achieve it. Great work can be done from anywhere. As long as you have a stable internet connection there is no hindrance for working remotely. At least this is the experience I’ve made and the feedback I get from my clients.
Recent surveys show that
the concept of remote work is getting greater support by the minute in Germany.
The motivations for the so-called new work model are multifaceted: Be it the
dream to explore the world, following your partner who works abroad or having
to take care of your loved ones at home without losing your job. “New work” means
more flexibility and freedom for a workforce that puts a greater emphasize on
work-life-balance than previous generations.
A recent survey of flexjobs.com highlighted personal freedom and an increase in the health of people who did work remotely. Companies like SAP, Deutsche Bahn or several German startups realized the benefits it has for their business as well. In a very spirited job market, companies that offer flexible working structures are much more competitive than companies with a conservative structure, not to speak about the boost in productivity, reduced turnover, and lesser organizational costs. A recent survey by “Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (IW)”, support these statements.
Embrace remote work
In the US remote work is almost common nowadays and most of my fellow remotes do have full-time jobs with US companies. It is a growing trend, 43% of US employers said they plan to allow their employees to have more remote working opportunities over the next year. Only 9% said they plan to offer less.
One explanation for this is highlighted in recent research of Harvard Business School. Prithwiraj Choudhury, an associate professor in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School, and fellow researchers who compared the outcomes of flexible work arrangements at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Read the full story here.
Let’s talk about Germany and some companies that embraced remote work and its benefits again. As an example, for Mirco Hellekes, HR-Manager at Giant Swarm GmbH offering remote work is a huge competitive advantage. “We can hire the best talents from across Europe”, he says. For him, this kind of flexible work is the future and they have practiced it for five years already. He continues “Remote work for us means that all our employees create the work environment that makes them happy and successful”.
Speaking from my own experience, I can live and work from places I might have never been able to see. I can explore the world while working full-time and so far, my clients are happy with the results. To me, this adds true value to my life and even more so to the work I’m doing for my clients. I enjoy getting up in the mornings and starting my workday because I know that I’m able to see Machu Picchu at the weekend, go for a lunch break in a traditional restaurant in Chile or go out in the evenings to improve my Salsa skills in Colombia.
New Year’s Eve or Silvester as we call it in Germany is usually the biggest party of the year. You go out, dance on the streets and marvel at the countless fireworks at midnight. Not here in Santiago de Chile. At least not this year. Because of the unrest in recent months, there was no official firework and private fireworks are not allowed. It was an unusual sight to walk the streets in Santiago after midnight and not spotting a single soul.
Nevertheless, celebrating the start of a new year and a new decade here in Chile was memorable. In this part of the world festivities like this are a family affair. Being very family orientated, the Chileans prefer to have their parties at home with family and friends. Something I admire. And if they go out – as we discovered during our NYE dinner show at a reputed restaurant – they include the whole family. We had four generations sitting at the table next to us, obviously having an amazing time together and interacting with each other, chatting, laughing, dancing – no mobile phone to be seen. Unfortunately, in our yet so modern world, we do not see this very often anymore. Actually, pretty sad.
Interesting to see was also that NYE parties here in Santiago only start after midnight and it’s mostly the younger generation that turns night into day and party until the sun comes up. So, the people here in Santiago de Chile certainly do know how to party – they just do it in a more family orientated way.
To stumble upon a piece of Germany was the least I expected as I roamed the streets of Lima, one of South America’s largest cities with a population of close to 10 million. But there it was – a tiny café tucked away from the major roads of the busy metropolis.
This cafe is wonderful, it has a beautiful
interior and is a place to relax and enjoy quality time with friends. This cozy
place, run by the German Christiane Pfuhl, has become one of the favorite
places for those who want to relax with a good coffee or German food such as a
The highlight for me was to find German
Christmas cake there – Christstollen. A blessing at this time of the year.
Life happens, even when you travel and work remotely.
Seemingly minor things like a cold or a flu that life throws at you at this
time of the year becomes a different dimension when you’re on the road. At home
you just suck it up, snuggle up in bed with chicken soup and hot tea and try to
get better… when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Well, you do the same while working remotely – the big
difference is that you might miss a big part of your experience. Because being
on the road also means that you stay in one place only for a certain amount of
time and if – like in my case – you spend a week of your four week stay tucked
away from the outside world, 25% of your local experience in this particular
city or country is gone.
It’s not that I bathe in self-pity now and count all the
things I might have missed, but admittedly there is a tiny taste of melancholy
and the wish that I could turn back time. But as I said earlier, the tough get going,
and I just need to do the exploring the Chinese way now.
In any case, it was also a great experience as it
showed me how caring people can be that you’ve only met a few weeks ago. I was
well looked after by my travel family and got more loving care I guess than
And it was a good example that no matter where you are on this planet or what you do, your life continues to happen: The big wheels are turning.
It’s said that working remotely gives you the freedom to work at your own terms and to work wherever you feel most comfortable. That much is true, but it is also challenging. You have to be disciplined, organized and structured plus as with any job – you need a certain routine. It took me a while to find mine. A routine not to just find the right balance between work and explore but also to figure out the best working hours and where I need to set up my office to be productive.
In contrary to most of my fellow remotes I prefer not to work from the Selina Co-Working space in Medellín. I choose the quiet of my apartment over the lively open plan office we’re offered at Selina. Despite missing out on the energetic vibes and the occasional chit-chat with my fellow remote workers, it gives me the freedom to be a bit more flexible in my working hours – and that is crucial as I learned in my first week.
Never underestimate the time difference!
I really underestimated the challenge of working across
time zones – especially if your clients are six respectively nine hours ahead
of you. When they fire up their laptops and enjoy their first cup of coffee, I’m
fast asleep dreaming of new adventures. And once I get up in the morning, they are
busy making plans for their evenings.
Lucky me to have understanding clients who share my passion for remote work or at least allow me the freedom of doing so. One of them even postponed a scheduled conference call from 9am to 12pm so that I can be part of it without getting up at 3am in the morning. Nevertheless, I still sat there red eyed and with my video camera switched off – 6am is still tough for a serious and productive conversation. But that’s nomad life and a small price to pay for the flexibility and freedom that I enjoy working remotely.
When you think your Spanish is proficient enough to master the friendly chat with your doorman or the casual conversation with your Uber driver and figure out in the end that they are just too polite to tell you that what you meant to say is not what you actually said… I’m in Medellín for a little bit over a week now and I’m still lost when it comes to speaking Spanish, not to speak about the Colombian Spanish. But the good thing is that I’m confident that all of this will change soon. Spanish lessons are in full swing and I do make it a habit to have these little conversations on a daily basis, no matter how bad they might me. They are always good for a hearty laugh.
Love at first sight
Other than that, Medellín already stole my heart. It was love at first sight. And I cannot even tell what it is – is it the landscape with its incredible views, the life loving and welcoming attitude of the people here, the somewhat Caribbean vibe on the streets or even the admittedly dark history? Anyways, Medellin is definitely a place I’d like to explore further and even more so Colombia. Next week I’ll have the chance to learn about the coffee culture, get some exercise while practicing Bachata and Salsa, take a day trip to Bogota and Guatapé and hopefully dive even further into Colombia’s past, present and future.