Twenty years ago, living and running a business in Waterford, Ireland, I opened the first of a series of what we called “Local Offices.”
Like Live and Invest Overseas, the business I was running at the time covered the world. We needed to find a way, we decided, to have access to real-time updates from the scene in key markets of focus.
We’d open Local Offices, my team and I agreed, in the eight countries at the center of our radar, starting with Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, and Panama. This way, from our Waterford base, we could stay in touch and therefore keep our readers in touch in a boots-on-the-ground way.
For the next 10 years, we managed those Local Office staffs remotely, feeling our way through time-zone differences, misinterpreted emails, unreliable developing-world internet and communications infrastructure, and isolation syndrome… which we eventually came to refer to as Local Office Syndrome.
For the past couple of years, since we’ve repositioned part time from Panama to Paris, Lief and I have found ourselves on the other end of things. We understand better now the challenges our Local Office Managers faced, spun off on their own in a vacuum.
We’re six hours ahead of our Panama HQ. I’m a morning person. By the time our team is at their desks in Panama City, I’m on the downward side of my daily cycle.
But I want to stay as in touch as possible, so I stay online, checking emails, Slack, WhatsApp, and Skype, until 8 or 9 p.m. every day.
And I’ll admit it… like our local office managers years ago… I now find myself wondering when I don’t hear back instantly regarding an essay or an article I write and submit. Maybe they all think it’s no good and are reluctant to tell me… I fear…
We’re fortunate to be a virtual business with decades of experience working and managing staff remotely and long distance. You may be facing these challenges for the first time.
Or perhaps you’re not facing them yet… but your plan is to take your life on the road, earning an income as you go. The Digital Nomad lifestyle has never been easier… but, again, it’s not without its downsides.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned after 20 years of experience working with people who are somewhere else that might help you navigate the brave world of working from home:
- Set a routine. My original boss and mentor Bill Bonner used to tell me often that “success is the result of heroic habit.” The older I get, the truer I find this to be.
Now that I’m working indefinitely from home and unable to go out, I’ve established a routine that has me rising at 6 each morning, brewing a pot of English Breakfast tea, turning on the news in the background, then downloading emails from overnight.
Emails sorted and sifted, I eat breakfast, shower, dress, and sit down to write for two hours. Then I take a break for 15 minutes and look around the 112 square meters of my apartment for something to do that will give my mind a rest and my muscles a stretch. I carry on working for two hours at a time with 15 minutes breaks to vacuum the rugs or change the bed sheets until 6 p.m.
Then Lief and I cook dinner, drink wine, play Scrabble, and (here’s my true confession) watch an episode of “All In The Family,” which we’ve recently rediscovered, before calling it a day.
I recommend, if you’re working under lockdown right now, as so many of us are, that you set this kind of formal daily program for yourself. Some days you won’t want to get out of bed early and other days you won’t want to work past lunch. A routine that evolves into what Bill referred to as “heroic habit” can carry you through.
- As much as possible, create physical separation between work and life. Paris apartments are notoriously small. We don’t have a separate office in ours, so, first thing each morning, we convert our dining room to a work space. Then the last thing we do each afternoon before shutting down our laptops is to put away all the office paraphernalia. I hide the notepads, print-outs, and mouse pads… and set the table for dinner.
- Don’t read emotion into text on a screen. Emails and texts today can be littered with emojis indicating the emotional state of the sender. But, when the person writing to you doesn’t include a sad face to give you reason for concern, don’t imagine one. As much as possible, stay in touch with fellow workers or clients using video chat. Facial expressions and posture go a long way to helping us understand each other. However, when all you’ve got are the characters on a screen, take them at face value. And give the sender endless benefit of the doubt.
- Don’t apologize for your life. Working from home right now is more challenging even than working from home typically… because, right now, if you’re locked down at home… your entire household is likely locked down with you. If your daughter interrupts you to ask if she can bake brownies or your dog runs behind your chair while you’re on a video chat, don’t be embarrassed. It’s just life.
- Remember time differences. Our daily conference calls and video chats include people from Panama, Ireland, Baltimore, Paris, the UK, Slovenia, Thailand, Brazil, Portugal, Colombia, Mexico, Belize, and beyond. It’s not unusual for some of us to get the time wrong. We try to minimize the time zone confusion with help from TimeAndDate.com.