Same Same but Different: Digital Nomad vs Working From Home

I’ve been working online for almost a year now, so when the world started to shut down earlier this year and WFH became an overnight sensation à la Justin Bieber on YouTube circa 2008, people assumed I already knew the WFH drill inside out, backwards and forwards. I initially thought I did because of the whole freelance-from-anywhere thing, but, spoiler alert: I did not.

Sure, I’ve gotten the administrative part of remote work down. I know how to organize all my projects efficiently in handy project management apps, and then how to transfer it all into my Moleskine planner because I’m a writer and I realized that I actually enjoy physically writing things down. I can manage my time so that none of my tasks are ever late, work emails get answered at the drop of a hat, and I can create functional daily work plans. 

Still, WFH is not the same as remote work, and it’s definitely not the same as the occasionally-glamorous digital nomad lifestyle. Since being stuck back in my childhood home in Montreal, I’ve been lucky enough to continue freelancing, a business I started on the road last year when times were so much simpler and I could bounce around the globe with relatively little care, caution, or mask-wearing.

So, dear reader, since I’m positive you’re teetering off the edge of your seat in anticipation, I’ve taken the liberty of outlining all the ways WFH differs from working as a digital nomad.

Let’s start with the obvious: the workspace

To give you an idea of how being a digital nomad is different than WFH, here are some examples of places I’ve worked while digital nomading:

  • Cafés 
  • Hostels
  • Bars
  • Restaurants
  • Rooftop co-working spaces with views over the beach
  • Beach bars
  • Just a beach chair
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • The backseat of a moving car (never again)
  • Poolside
  • Bougie hotel lobbies
  • Airports (remember those?) 
  • Basically anywhere a router can go, I can go too

And now, for comparison, places I’ve worked from while working from home:

  • the small bedroom my mom turned into a makeshift office 
  • bed 

See what I mean? 

On the bright side, having a work station at home is definitely easier. I have an ergonomic chair, I never have to awkwardly ask for the WiFi password or politely fight for access to an outlet and then carry around a mess of different adapters. The room is always temperature-controlled, and no one is blasting any annoying Spotify playlists except for me. 

WFH setup includes a furry co-working buddy who helps with absolutely nothing.

Still, looking for places to work from for the day was part of the charm of working while traveling. I normally wouldn’t go to higher-end restaurants or cafés while traveling on a budget, but if I’m earning money while sitting somewhere, I didn’t see a problem with indulging in whatever overpriced delightful treat sat in the dessert display.

Some might think that working while traveling would be more distracting than working from home, and to those people, I say: haha nope. Distractions when working from the road work for you (see section below on motivation), whereas at home they work against you. There’s a cute cat, fully-stocked fridge and baking supplies, familial distractions, time that does not exist, etc. Working from home is a trap. 

That being said…

Fast and reliable WiFi is both a blessing and a curse

Do you know what you can do with quick, reliable WiFi? Damn near anything. 

Watch Netflix? You got it. Book a flight? Not that anyone is going anywhere right now, but sure, no problem. Fall into a YouTube black hole for hours on end? Absolutely, go right on ahead. 

Do you know what you CAN’T do without quick, reliable WiFi? ANY OF THOSE THINGS. Which essentially means procrastination is impossible. 

If you have 4 hours to work, you will likely spend 1.5 of those hours trying to get the internet to connect, and the remaining time working without breaks like your entire livelihood depends on it, because it kind of does. 

I know, I know, your average digital nomad is always on the hunt for a perfect workplace with both the strongest coffee and WiFi signal. It’s super annoying to have to reconnect to a fading internet signal. Trust me, I get it, I’ve been there. But my god was I ever more productive when working with limited internet strength because YouTube simply doesn’t even load, but you know what does always loads? A Google Doc. Always. Loads. 

If you pay for it, you better use it

Speaking of WiFi, did you know it’s scientifically proven that you work faster when you’re paying for every minute of internet?

I distinctly remember working from a beautiful co-working space in Arambol, Goa, where they had a delicious café where they baked homemade bread and pastries on the spot (oh the smells). The space was divided into an air-conditioned floor (a rarity for those parts) and a breezy outdoor shaded rooftop overlooking palm trees and the Arabian Sea. 

I long for those times. 

Anyways, I paid for a daily high-speed internet pass (an even rarer rarity for those parts), which was set to expire one night at 10pm. I sat on the rooftop, enjoying the sound of the waves and the gentle rustling of palm leaves, and uploaded my assignment that night at 9:59pm. Not because I was on a time-crunch or stressed (I’d like to say that I hadn’t even broken a sweat, but this is India we’re talking about and it was almost 35 degrees at night time so I was almost definitely sweating), but because I’ll be damned if I don’t get my money’s worth when I’ve paid for something. Maybe that’s the Jewish in me, but I see it as kind of like when you go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. I know that no sane person eats this much for a regular meal, but dammit, I paid for this ENTIRE buffet and I’m going to pile mountains of food onto my plate like it’s my last meal on earth. Same concept, but with high-speed internet. 

Ok, let’s talk motivation 

If jumping into that pool isn’t motivation to finish work, then I don’t know what is.

Judging by all the memes, I KNOW I’m not the only one struggling to stay motivated when working from home. This was definitely something I worried about when starting off as a digital nomad, but I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be as big of a problem as I thought. 

Confused? Let me explain.

The mentality of a digital nomad:

I need to finish this article because (choose one)

  1. the power’s going to cut off soon 
  2. I’d rather go explore
  3. I want to go to the beach
  4. I want to sample everything at the street food market
  5. I’d rather be doing literally anything else
  6. I’m planning on being on an island next week where there’s no internet and I’m just gonna be diving every day anyway, so I’m being responsible now instead of later

Surprisingly, it’s not hard to find motivation when you’re surrounded by dozens of other things you’d rather be doing. Fascinating, right? Of course, motivation becomes a lesser problem when faced with issues of discipline, but if you want to be able to, you know, continue traveling or eat or pay for accommodation, then discipline becomes easy too!

WFH mentality:

What is time? Today is yesterday is tomorrow is next week. The days have no meaning. Each one is the same as the one before and the one after. It doesn’t matter if this assignment is due in two days because I have nothing on my work schedule for tomorrow and my social calendar is clear until 2022 so I can just do it tomorrow or literally an hour before the deadline, right? 

Though this was much more of a problem towards the beginning of pandemic life when no one knew up from down, I hate to admit that even after spending ages breaking out of my university habit of finishing essays mere minutes before the deadline, I was back to square one. 

Hello procrastination, my old friend. 

Schedule? Don’t know her

To better illustrate the differences in my schedules, I’ll give you an example of what a typical workday looked like for me when I was traveling:

  • 8:00am: wake up, hardly ever pressing the snooze button because I usually slept in hostels and I’m not an inconsiderate animal. Occasional morning workout or yoga sesh, but usually not.
  • 9:00am: figure out where to work for the day and get there.
  • 9:30am: work hard, no breaks, super serious, I got this.
  • 1:00pm-3:00pm: work done for the day! Let’s do fun things!
  • 8:00pm: sometimes, if I did too many fun things or have a lot of work to catch up on, I worked at night too, usually in the company of a local beer or two.

I’m not going to give you the same rundown for my current WFH life. I prefer not to say when my daily alarm goes off each morningish, and yes I absolutely abuse the snooze button. But, what I will tell you is that my cat, a creature whose job is literally to sleep 12-16 hours a day, has gotten increasingly annoyed with my laissez-faire attitude to her AM feeding schedule. Oops.

Same same but not really

I won’t lie. I miss the digital nomad days. The early mornings getting to a co-working space before all the other nomads came to clog up the internet speeds. The promise of a busy morning and a lazy afternoon in the sand and sun. The excitement of using work as an excuse to sample every cozy-looking café and Insta-worthy restaurant in town.

Cake and coffee: two of the best reasons to work from a café.

I’ve learned how to manage my new working-remotely-but-from-one-place life, and while I know it can be better, can’t we all same the same thing about 2020 as a whole? 

Disclaimer: if you’re a recruiter or potential client reading this blog post, you should know that it’s all a lie. I actually wake up early every single day, I almost never take breaks, I work sunrise to sunset, and in fact, I’m available 24/7 365 days a year. Email me!

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