On being a digital nomad

I’ve been location-independent for more than four years.

When I left my desk job, I was looking for a role that supported my development as a full person. I deeply value getting new perspectives by putting myself in someone else’s shoes, so I wanted a role that let me be in different locations.

I found that at Automattic, one of the world’s largest distributed companies.

For just over a year, I’ve been taking advantage of this to the fullest by splitting my time between Austin and Berlin. This year, I’ve been to eight countries and spent more than a third of my time away from “home” (Austin).

Beyond getting to be in different places myself, working in a distributed company means my coworkers are distributed as well. On a daily basis, I’m talking to folks in New Zealand, Poland, South Africa and San Francisco. I get the pleasure of hearing diverse perspectives in a way that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Just a few of the tidbits I’ve learned:

  1. It feels drastically different to start your day with a meeting vs to end your day with it: Because of the time zone difference, my schedule in Berlin is quite different from Austin. My teams are global, so meetings are scheduled to maximize overlap between Europe/Africa and the US. In Austin, that means morning meetings. In Berlin, that means late night meetings. I am almost an entirely different person, because the time-of-day difference means a meaningfully different brain space. That gives me empathy for my colleagues who are in a different mental state because of their time zone.
  2. Different countries have different holidays: I knew this on an intellectual level, but until hitting the streets for May Day in Berlin, it didn’t fully sync in. Especially for times where round-the-clock coverage matters (customers support, marketing tech during sales), it’s important to check-in about these holidays, or you can accidentally put someone in a tough position of choosing between celebrating their culture and doing their job. (Thanks to @ValDeOro for pointing this out)
  3. *Everything* is backwards in the Southern Hemisphere: Summer is winter, school years run from January to December and so much more. Working with a team that included folks in South Africa and Australia helped me appreciate how much of our communications and planning ignores half the globe – ‘back to school sales’ in September don’t make sense for South Africans, for example. (Thanks to @JobTex for this)

Tortuga Backpacks is another fully-distributed company, and I recently spoke with Jennifer Sutherland-Miller from their team about my experience as a digital nomad. Read all about it.

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