While working from home used to be an option you’d score occasionally while sick or only under extreme circumstances, nowadays, some 63 percent of companies in the U.S. have remote workers, and nearly 4 million workers did their jobs from home at least half the time last year. (Globally, about 70 percent of people work from home at least once a week.) It’s become so appealing an option to ditch the office that many employees now require the option of working from home to be a nonnegotiable perk, as they save commute time and hundreds of dollars on gas and lunches annually, and can concentrate far easier in their own self-appointed spaces without unnecessary distractions next to other workers.
Naturally then, the next frontier of remote work is finding out just how remote that remote work can be.
To that end, an increasing number of remote workers are taking the work with them not just across town, but on vacation — all around the world, combining their travel-ready jobs with actual travel, participating in work-travel programs designed specifically for those interested in working while seeing the sights in far-flung locations. Companies such as Remote Year, Selina and a growing handful of others offer a combination of travel, living and working spaces (to varying degrees of luxury) across the globe to appeal to digital nomads who want to treat the world as their office.
“We open up the program to as many people as possible, because we really want to build on the concept that the future of work is remote,” explains a program consultant for Remote Year, a work-travel program that books in up to 12 cities across the globe in four-, six- and 12-month excursions for digital nomads. “Come with your job and a suitcase,” the copy on the site reads. “We’ll take care of the rest.”
“Each person has an individual conversation [while applying] to walk through exactly what they’re looking for in an experience working and traveling, and aligning that with what we’re offering,” the spokesperson continues. Essentially, potential applicants really only need to figure out two components. “Are they doing something fully remotely, and can they do it while traveling?” she says. “We want to ensure that each individual has something they can bring to the community.”
Remote Year will finesse the approval from the worker’s company for them if needed, by helping them understand how to see the position as remote, and how to address issues ranging from worker’s comp to reliable Wi-Fi and video conferencing, to securing the proprietary information being exchanged.
With approval, these workers/tourists will travel around a region or the world with a group of anywhere between 40 to 80 other people, sharing a room and ultimately a 24/7 workspace always within a 20-minute walking distance of their accommodations.
The challenge is that when you’ve just arrived in Lisbon and want to head out to the bar with your 80 new best friends, it’s easy to forget that you still need to do your job. “Creating that balance can be challenging, especially at the beginning because you feel like you’re on vacation, and then you realize you’re not,” Remote Year says.
What’s more, some of the Remote Year participants, or “Remotes,” as they call themselves, are adjusting to different time zones and scrambling to make sure they have enough work to foot the $2,000 a month bill to cover the flights and accommodations Remote Year charges each month. “I wasn’t working normal hours,” explains 29-year-old Lauren Bernal, a copywriter who did a 12-month world stint with Remote Year in 2016, and then a second six-month program to Asia afterwards. “I was a matchmaker for a while, then I picked up a few odd jobs, but all of it was over the internet. Even in weird time zones I’d be on calls at three in the morning sometimes. You do whatever you need to do to make money.”
Matt Rudnitsky, a 28-year-old New Yorker who traveled a year with Remote Year in Bernal’s group, says that it was easier for him to get work done before hitting the sights because as a freelancer, he was already used to it. “It really depends on the person,” he explains. “Whether they work for themselves and can work on their own schedule, or if they’re tied to a time zone. I didn’t have much trouble, but I saw some people quit their jobs, and some get fired.”
The success in Bernal’s case was largely based on finding those within the group who shared her West Coast work schedule even when in Thailand or Morocco. “A lot of people had normal 9-to-5s and could just work a certain amount of hours,” Bernal says. “In Europe, if they were on West Coast or the Central Time Zone, they’d maybe work from 1 or 2 p.m. until later with other people from that time zone. But the camaraderie was really nice when everyone had to work from say, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Then we’d all go eat dinner and go out after that.”
Remote Year says finding that balance with the program really depends on where you’re traveling. “If you’re in Latin America, most people will be working U.S. hours,” she explains. “If it’s Europe and Africa, they’re six to nine hours ahead, so they do whatever they want during the day, and then might not start working until 4 or 5 p.m., until 1 a.m. So much is situational, but that’s the beauty of the Remote Year program. You can create the experience you want based on what’s productive for you.”
Though, like Rudnitsky, Bernal says she saw people lose their jobs and leave the program when working remotely didn’t pan out, Remote Year claims that the outcomes are much more varied. “I’ve seen people say, ‘Wait, I actually want to do something else now,’ and transition to something else,” the spokesperson says. “But I’ve also seen companies founded, and people who realize how much they love their company while abroad go back and be promoted.”