ca­reer

How the In­ter­net could help you ditch the nineto-five.

Elle (Canada) - - Contents - By Sarah Tre­leaven

aborn over­achiever—she earned her MD at 25— Dani Gor­don had not one but two near-burnouts in her 20s. The first, when she was work­ing 100 hours a week in med­i­cal school, sowed seeds of doubt about the de­mands of her field. Yoga and med­i­ta­tion helped her get by, but the sec­ond in­stance, which oc­curred a few years later, while she was work­ing as a pri­mary-care phys­ician in Van­cou­ver, ce­mented her sus­pi­cions that even a 60-plus-hour work­week wasn’t for her. “I felt pres­sured to see 40 to 50 pa­tients a day at the clinic, but I didn’t feel like I could meet their needs for is­sues that don’t re­spond well to pills— like stress, fa­tigue, in­som­nia and anx­i­ety,” says Gor­don. And so, at the age of 27, she fled with her now hus­band—a yogi and hyp­nother­a­pist—to Thai­land for a six-month sab­bat­i­cal. They lived in a small hut with no flush toi­let and be­gan an in­tro­spec­tive process of re-ex­am­in­ing their prior­ities. When she re­turned to Canada, she started to re­make her life by be­com­ing cer­ti­fied in in­te­gra­tive holis­tic medicine.

Last year, the now 32-year-old and her hus­band moved to Ubud, Bali, for a year. Gor­don spent her days coun­selling “burned-out Western­ers”—some based in Bali but most back in North Amer­ica. She took ap­point­ments via Skype at an open- air co- work­ing space called Hubud, where she paid a mem­ber­ship fee for shared ac­cess to the workspace and Wi-Fi. She now splits her time be­tween Bali and Bri­tish Columbia and is plan­ning to open a holis­tic-well­ness cen­tre in a re­tail space in Ubud, but she still does the coun­selling at Hubud. It’s just five min­utes from where she prac­tises yoga. Some morn­ings, she watches lo­cal women spend hours ar­rang­ing rose petals in jugs of wa­ter. “I feel that this path has given me free­dom,” says Gor­don. “Liv­ing in Bali has also al­lowed me to ex­plore many cre­ative hob­bies that I would never have a chance to en­joy if I lived full-time in Van­cou­ver.” She spends some of her spare time learn­ing Ba­hasa In­done­sian, de­sign­ing clothes and mak­ing jew­ellery. NO­MADIC TRENDS Gor­don is part of a grow­ing com­mu­nity of “dig­i­tal no­mads,” or wan­der­ing work­ers who aren’t tied to any par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion. Up­work, an online free­lance mar­ket­place, h

de­fines dig­i­tal no­mads as work­ers “em­pow­ered by tech­nol­ogy to break free of the con­straints of the phys­i­cal work­place.” In 2014, the com­pany com­mis­sioned a sur­vey of 847 dig­i­tal no­mads. Ninety-two per­cent of those sur­veyed said they are hap­pier since aban­don­ing a tra­di­tional nine-to-five of­fice.

Dig­i­tal no­mads seem to be the next gen­er­a­tion of telecom­muters: work­ers who are no longer con­tent to work from home in iso­la­tion while wear­ing their py­ja­mas. In­stead, they are seek­ing out Wi-Fi-con­nected co-work­ing of­fices and even work-friendly va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tions around the world that give them greater con­trol over when, where and how much they work. Some dig­i­tal no­mads work their way around the globe for ex­tended pe­ri­ods, some take mini “worka­tions” and oth­ers only go so far as to work in co-work­ing spa­ces in their home­towns or when they travel for busi­ness. They come from a di­verse range of back­grounds, but some jobs are more por­ta­ble than oth­ers: tech ex­perts, mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als, life coaches, jour­nal­ists and en­trepreneurs.

It can be hard to nail down spe­cific num­bers on a re­mote work­force—in par­tic­u­lar for those who call them­selves dig­i­tal no­mads. Telecom­mut­ing has been on the rise for some time. The most re­cent data from Sta­tis­tics Canada shows that one in five univer­sity grad­u­ates works from home—a num­ber that is grow­ing. A 2013 study by BMO found that 23 per­cent of Cana­dian com­pa­nies now of­fer telecom­mut­ing or re­mote work­ing. FlexJobs, an online ser­vice for pro­fes­sion­als seek­ing lo­ca­tion-in­de­pen­dent work, just re­leased a list of 25 ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions—in­clud­ing IBM, Aon, SAP and Dell—that are ac­tively re­cruit­ing work­ers for re­mote po­si­tions, from nurse prac­ti­tion­ers to soft­ware engi­neers.

LO­CA­TION IN­DE­PEN­DENCE

Daph­née Lafor­est-Sabourin, a 26-yearold mar­ket­ing pro­ject man­ager from Mon­treal, re­lies on co-work­ing spa­ces both at home—she likes the café-like at­mos­phere at GAB, a cof­fee-shop/cowork­ing space on Saint-Lau­rent Boule­vard as well as La Gare in the Mile End neigh­bour­hood—and when she packs up her lap­top to work in San Fran­cisco or Paris. Ear­lier this year she spent two months work­ing at Nest, a co-work­ing space in Playa del Car­men, Mexico. “I was re­ally pro­duc­tive,” she says. “I would work all morn­ing and then snorkel in the af­ter­noon.” She typ­i­cally buys mem­ber­ships— ei­ther by the week or month—that en­ti­tle her to a float­ing desk. (Prices can range any­where from $12 a day to hun­dreds a month, depend­ing on what ser­vices and how much net­work band­width you use.) Lafor­est-Sabourin did take a stab at con­ven­tional of­fice work—she worked as a co­ordin­ator for an artist-man­age­ment com­pany— but found that the lifestyle didn’t suit her. “I’ve never been ex­cited about nine-to-five,” she says. In­stead, she set off to travel and found her­self on

a beach in Goa, In­dia, with an iPad and a 3G net­work—which set off sparks about the abil­ity to work re­motely. None of her child­hood friends in Mon­treal clas­sify them­selves as dig­i­tal no­mads, but she says she has met plenty of peo­ple aged 18 to 35 on the road. “Gen­er­a­tion Y is def­i­nitely try­ing to change the rules,” she says. “The goal is not at all about work­ing on the beach; it’s about hav­ing more flex­i­bil­ity and the pro­fes­sional free­dom to work the way you want to.”

Co-work­ing spa­ces are pop­ping up glob­ally from Bos­ton to Ber­lin to Bali— and so are “workation” ho­tels, like Co­conat, a re­treat just out­side Ber­lin with both in­door and out­door desks and cabin and tent ac­com­mo­da­tions. (This is not your stuffy ho­tel busi­ness cen­tre filled with suits—most guests are ca­su­ally dressed and split their day be­tween lap­top time in the com­mu­nal work­rooms and re­lax­ing at the nearby lake.) Johannes Voelkner, a Ger­man online mar­keter who works re­motely and runs Web­work­travel. com, has even ar­ranged the site’s firstever “dig­i­tal no­mad cruise,” from Spain to Brazil, in Novem­ber. The web­site is part of a grow­ing online com­mu­nity of­fer­ing tips on the work lifestyle, from how to deal with visa is­sues to the best job boards to the best com­mu­ni­ties for dig­i­tal no­mads. His top des­ti­na­tions in­clude Costa Rica, Spain and South Africa. (Another online re­source, No­madlist. com, of­fers a city rank­ing based on cost of liv­ing, avail­abil­ity of co-work­ing spa­ces, cafés with Wi- Fi and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties; its top three cities are cur­rently Bu­dapest, Chi­ang Mai and Phuket.) Voelkner finds that most dig­i­tal no­mads—typ­i­cally in their 30s—come from North Amer­ica and Europe. In Au­gust, Lafor­est-Sabourin at­tended DNX Global in Ber­lin, a mas­sive semi-an­nual rov­ing con­fer­ence about lo­ca­tion-in­de­pen­dent work that’s part of a self-de­clared “free­dom revo­lu­tion.” “It was re­ally great to meet like-minded peo­ple,” she says. Lafor­est-Sabourin is now work­ing on build­ing her own site—Tech­no­mades. com—which she hopes will be­come a hub for fran­co­phone dig­i­tal no­mads.

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL OF­FICE SPACE Ubud is per­haps best known as the Ba­li­nese par­adise made fa­mous by El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert’s Eat, Pray, Love. But Hubud, where Gor­don works, is help­ing broaden the va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion as a bit of a hot spot for entrepreneurship. Peter Wall, a Cana­dian for­mer jour­nal­ist, and his two busi­ness part­ners opened Hubud—“hub in Ubud”—in 2013. The open-air co-work­ing space, with high-speed Wi-Fi, pri­vate Skype booths and a juice bar, has close to 300 mem­bers. It’s al­most at ca­pac­ity, so Wall has plans to move into a larger space.

The 40-year-old moved his wife and three chil­dren to Bali in 2010 and quickly fell in love with the is­land’s charms, from his kids’ bam­boo school to the mon­key­filled for­est next to his house. His wife h

found work as a yoga teacher. But he wanted more struc­ture for his pro­fes­sional life. Hubud is now a key des­ti­na­tion for dig­i­tal no­mads from around the world. “The cost of fail­ure is lower in Bali,” says Wall. “We have lots of mi­cro-en­trepreneurs fo­cused on a spe­cific prod­uct.” That in­cludes one Is­raeli woman who man­ages a soft­ware busi­ness with 20 em­ploy­ees who work all over the world and an Amer­i­can hu­man-rights lawyer who man­u­fac­tures a sleep mask.

There are more Cana­di­ans too. Ly­dia Lee, from Van­cou­ver, fre­quently works from Hubud and says it’s the per­fect place to share ideas as she re­makes her pro­fes­sional life. For Lee, 32, the life-al­ter­ing mo­ment came in 2010 dur­ing her sixth busi­ness trip in as many months. “I had a com­plete melt­down in Rus­sia,” she says. “It was the dead of win­ter in Moscow, which is a for­mula for de­pres­sion, and I was in a lousy ho­tel with gross car­pet­ing.” Lee, who worked in mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, de­cided that she was done with the six-fig­ure salary and the gen­er­ous va­ca­tion pay­out for days she never had time to take.

Lee de­cided to take a sab­bat­i­cal in South­east Asia, land­ing first in Malaysia. “I read a lot of books about find­ing your­self—which is what you do when you’re hav­ing an iden­tity cri­sis,” she says with a laugh. She also met en­trepreneurs, lap­tops in tow, as they trav­elled around the world—this planted the seed that she could work from any­where.

Lee re­turned to Van­cou­ver in 2011, where she purged her be­long­ings un­til all that was left were two Rub­ber­maid con­tain­ers she could store in her mother’s garage. She bought a one- way ticket to Cam­bo­dia and then later moved on to Ubud—“Ev­ery­one here is look­ing for their Javier Bar­dem,” says Lee, re­fer­ring to the Eat Pray Love movie with Ju­lia Roberts.

Lee is still based in Ubud and has rein­vented her­self with a new busi­ness ven­ture: Screw the Cu­bi­cle. Over Skype, she coaches stressed ex­ec­u­tives in Toronto, New York City and Hong Kong, all look­ing for en­cour­age­ment to ditch their daily grind and pur­sue a pas­sion. She has been cer­ti­fied as a True Pur­pose coach. She av­er­ages about three to five clients a month, giv­ing them one-to-one coach­ing in ses­sions over six to 10 weeks. Be­yond be­ing a workspace, she says, Hubud acts as an “ideas ex­change with like­minded peo­ple.” And when she’s not work­ing, she sim­ply gets on her scooter and drives, vis­it­ing Bali’s idyl­lic beaches or moun­tain hide­outs where sweet straw­ber­ries grow wild. LIFE ABROAD Of course, life on the road as a dig­i­tal no­mad isn’t all ar­rang­ing- rose- petals- in- jugs- ofwa­ter bliss. Gor­don says that set­ting up a busi­ness in another coun­try has many chal­lenges. “Life is not quite as lin­ear and sim­ple here in Bali,” she says. “Rules and reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing immigration rules and fees, change all the time for seem­ingly no rea­son.” And while many dig­i­tal no­mads are keen to find a per­sonal and pro­fes­sional net­work, co-work­ing spa­ces can present a unique level of dis­trac­tion—es­pe­cially when you’re in the mid­dle of a mon­key-filled jun­gle. “If you aren’t a fo­cused or dis­ci­plined per­son, you may get dis­tracted in an open, so­cial of­fice or you might strug­gle with cre­at­ing your own sched­ule each day,” says Lee.

There are also more per­sonal strug­gles—with home­sick­ness, for ex­am­ple. “In the be­gin­ning, I was trav­el­ling on my own and I got lonely,” says Lee. “Hubud has helped, but some­times those friend­ships can feel tran­sient. Af­ter two years here, I have found a core group of friends who are mostly ex­pats.” Even in Mon­treal, LaforestSabourin hosts a bi­weekly meet-up for no­mads in need of hu­man con­nec­tions. “It’s im­por­tant to find a com­mu­nity wher­ever you are,” she says.

It’s also worth not­ing that many dig­i­tal no­mads head to des­ti­na­tions where the cost of liv­ing is lower and ev­ery dol­lar earned stretches much fur­ther. Lee says she could live in Van­cou­ver on her earn­ings from re­mote coach­ing but def­i­nitely en­joys perks—like more dis­pos­able in­come for travel—while liv­ing in Bali. Ditto for Lafor­est-Sabourin, who says that she al­lows her­self roughly the same bud­get ev­ery­where she trav­els—which means a much smaller and less glam­orous apart­ment when she’s rent­ing in Europe ver­sus Mexico or parts of Asia. In Bali, Gor­don has “helpers,” in­clud­ing two per­sonal as­sis­tants, a part-time chef and a vir­tual as­sis­tant in the Philip­pines—none of which would be af­ford­able in Van­cou­ver. When she re­turns to B.C. for part of the year, she works at a med­i­cal prac­tice on Salt Spring Is­land, which en­ables her to top up her in­come. THE EVO­LU­TION OF WORK But be­yond the cost-of-liv­ing cal­cu­la­tions, there is a broader so­cial cur­rent at play. A 2013 joint United Way Toronto and McMaster Univer­sity study found that nearly half of work­ing Cana­dian adults face some de­gree of work pre­car­i­ous­ness, mostly as a re­sult of con­tract-based em­ploy­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, the num­ber of self-em­ployed work­ers across the coun­try in­creased al­most 45 per­cent be­tween 1989 and 2007. As a re­sult, con­tract work—typ­i­cally

“If you aren’t a fo­cused or dis­ci­plined per­son, you may get dis­tracted in an open, so­cial of­fice

or you might strug­gle with cre­at­ing your own

sched­ule each day.”

de­void of ben­e­fits and con­ven­tional job se­cu­rity—is on the rise.

At a time when many work­ers feel both dis­pos­able and overex­tended, a dig­i­tal-no­mad lifestyle can be a re­sponse to both job in­se­cu­rity and how tech­nol­ogy has made us ac­ces­si­ble and ac­count­able to the boss 24-7. “For at least a gen­er­a­tion, there has been a bro­ken prom­ise that if you work hard and pay your dues, you’ll move up,” says Sean Lyons, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of or­ga­ni­za­tional man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Guelph. “But af­ter 10 years of work­ing, there’s an in­creas­ing sense that all of this hard work does not nec­es­sar­ily pay off. So why put in all the hours if it’s not go­ing to lead any­where?” Still, there are ca­reer im­pli­ca­tions to be­com­ing a dig­i­tal no­mad. Lyons says many peo­ple worry about switch­ing to full-time re­mote work be­cause they’ll be at a disad­van­tage if they miss im­promptu meet­ings and im­por­tant gos­sip. “It’s less risky to ‘go no­mad’ later in one’s ca­reer,” says Lyons. “Once you’ve built the con­nec­tions nec­es­sary to work more in­de­pen­dently, it is gen­er­ally eas­ier to main­tain them.” Plus, he says, be­ing a no­mad can present great net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Lafor­est-Sabourin says that her mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion ac­cepts that they’ll change jobs many times over a ca­reer. But she points out that dig­i­tal no­mads don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to give up all the perks of a tra­di­tional salaried po­si­tion. She just scored a full-time gig with Hu­man Made—a dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ment agency where all the jobs are re­mote— to work on No­mad­base.io, a real-time global lo­ca­tor for dig­i­tal no­mads.

“We used to have a cul­ture of pre­sen­teeism, the sense that you’re miss­ing some­thing if you’re not in the of­fice,” says Lyons. “The tide is turn­ing on that as Gen Xers slowly move into man­age­ment po­si­tions.” Lyons says that work­place ex­perts have told many em­ploy­ers that lo­ca­tion in­de­pen­dence will at­tract younger work­ers. One 2014 sur­vey by the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada found that 70 per­cent of full-time work­ers aged 18 to 29 would pre­fer to telecom­mute. Com­pa­nies, he says, are fi­nally start­ing to pay at­ten­tion.

While dig­i­tal no­mads aren’t ex­actly trad­ing their un­com­fort­able of­fice chairs for gen­tly sway­ing ham­mocks, Gor­don says the de­lin­eation be­tween work and life has changed: “I now feel like I have free­dom per­son­ally, pro­fes­sion­ally and ge­o­graph­i­cally.” Lee says that work­ing from any­where in the world is a plea­sure, but she em­pha­sizes that the dig­i­tal-no­mad move­ment is about more than just avoid­ing a cu­bi­cle. “The free­dom to wear no pants while work­ing is great, but the work has to have pur­pose.” n

The Hubud co-work­ing space in Ubud, Bali

Mon­treal’s Halte 24-7 co-work­ing space

The Surf Of­fice, a workation re­treat, and the nearby beach in Gran Ca­naria, Spain

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