OUT OF OF­FICE:

Free­lance writer Eu­logi Rheeder dips a toe into the re­mote-work­ing trend while get­ting in a bit of sight­see­ing too – in Am­s­ter­dam!

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Eu­logi Rheeder

Acou­ple of years ago, I quit my full-time job at a glossy mag­a­zine to pur­sue a life­long dream of be­ing a free­lance writer. I left my open-plan of­fice desk for the ro­man­tic idea of liv­ing that Car­rie Brad­shaw life – mi­nus the trite ‘I couldn’t help but won­der’ mus­ings and the ex­ces­sive shoe shop­ping, of course; I wouldn’t even be able to af­ford fake Mano­los on a free­lancer’s in­come. Rather, I was ex­cited about the flex­i­bil­ity of work­ing from wher­ever I wanted.

But be­fore I knew it, I was in the thick of self-em­ployed life (hav­ing landed a few re­tainer clients) and the only part of my free­lance ca­reer that looked re­motely like Car­rie’s was the fact that my desk was also po­si­tioned in front of my liv­ing room win­dow, which over­looked the city. The most ex­otic places I worked from were my bed on a cold win­ter’s day and my favourite cof­fee shop around

the cor­ner on a glo­ri­ously sunny af­ter­noon.

Then, one morn­ing at the start of the year, a cal­en­dar no­ti­fi­ca­tion popped up on my desk­top: it was for my fort­nightly Skype meet­ing with one of my clients who is based in Kenya. Next an email popped up, invit­ing me to a We­bex meet­ing with a client based in Dubai. A few min­utes later, an­other client ap­proved con­tent via What­sapp.

It was amid this sym­phony of no­ti­fi­ca­tions that it dawned on me: most of my busi­ness was con­ducted elec­tron­i­cally. And it wasn’t just me and my clients: many of my friends work for com­pa­nies that en­cour­age them to work wher­ever – and when­ever – suits them, in an ef­fort to al­le­vi­ate traf­fic con­ges­tion, cre­ate more favourable work­ing con­di­tions, ease the de­mand on work­ing par­ents’ sched­ules and to cut down on un­nec­es­sary of­fice over­head costs.

In fact, a 2017 global sur­vey by Di­men­sion Data re­ported that of the 73 South African com­pa­nies in­ter­viewed, 42% have em­ploy­ees who work from home full-time (this was ei­ther their ac­tual home, a cof­fee shop or a re­mote of­fice desk); 35% of the 73 have em­ploy­ees who work from home on a part-time ba­sis; and, in­ter­est­ingly, 49 of the 73 com­pa­nies were hop­ing that their em­ploy­ees would be work­ing re­motely on a full-time ba­sis within the next two years.

If busi­nesses and their full-time em­ploy­ees are suc­cess­fully man­ag­ing the work-re­motely phi­los­o­phy, what was hold­ing me back from work­ing fur­ther afield than my lounge and the neigh­bour­hood cof­fee shop – es­pe­cially as much of my busi­ness was al­ready done re­motely?

So in March this year, I fi­nally de­cided to do what I had in­tended to do when I left my full-time job: I booked a flight abroad, af­ter tak­ing into ac­count a few con­sid­er­a­tions…

FIND THE RIGHT LO­CA­TION

When it comes to de­cid­ing where to work re­motely from, it’s a lit­tle more com­pli­cated than just pick­ing a ran­dom des­ti­na­tion

from your bucket list of must-see places. One of my main con­cerns was that I wanted to be con­tactable in real time by clients; I wanted to avoid the frus­tra­tion of wak­ing up to a num­ber of emails sent overnight by a client in a dif­fer­ent time zone or hav­ing to wait a whole day for re­verts. So that nar­rowed my list to coun­tries lo­cated in a sim­i­lar time zone.

I was also trav­el­ling by my­self, so I didn’t want to visit a place where I wouldn’t be able to com­mu­ni­cate with the lo­cals eas­ily. I’ve vis­ited coun­tries like Turkey and Mex­ico where English isn’t com­monly spo­ken and had first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of how stress­ful that could be.

When I started re­search­ing coun­tries renowned for their re­mote-work­ing con­di­tions, Am­s­ter­dam came up right on top. And with good rea­son: it’s a mul­ti­cul­tural city filled with global cit­i­zens, most of whom un­der­stand and speak English; it’s easy to nav­i­gate and the cost of liv­ing is fairly af­ford­able (even trav­el­ling on the rand); there’s no sig­nif­i­cant time dif­fer­ence with SA; and, most im­por­tantly, the re­mote-work­ing life­style is em­braced there. Aside from sev­eral shared free­lance of­fice spa­ces and work­ing-space cafés scat­tered through­out the city, a num­ber of lead­ing tech start-ups like Uber and Book­ing.com have set up ‘re­mote’ head of­fices in Am­s­ter­dam for their global em­ploy­ees to work from. (Their of­fices are also lo­cated within a shared-of­fice build­ing.)

Am­s­ter­dam also hap­pened to be quite high on my bucket list of cities to visit, and there are of­ten great deals on flights to the city – I bagged a re­turn ticket for only R6 000!

LIVE LIKE A LO­CAL

One of my main ob­jec­tives for work­ing re­motely was to live and work as I do in Cape Town. And since I don’t live in a ho­tel, it didn’t make sense to do it in Am­s­ter­dam (at nearly R16 to the euro, I wasn’t go­ing to be able to stay for very long).

I booked a cute lit­tle Airbnb apart­ment in the heart of Haar­lem, a small vil­lage about 20 min­utes out­side of Am­s­ter­dam Cen­tral. Ac­com­mo­da­tion in the city cen­tre can be ex­pen­sive, so many lo­cals opt to live in towns out­side of Am­s­ter­dam Cen­tral and com­mute

in ev­ery day – Hol­land is renowned for its ef­fi­cient rail­way sys­tem.

The apart­ment was cen­trally lo­cated on the banks of a canal and a seven-minute walk to the sta­tion where I could catch a train to Am­s­ter­dam Cen­tral ev­ery 15 min­utes. It also came with all the crea­ture com­forts that made me feel right at home: su­per-fast in­ter­net, a de­li­ciously warm fire­place (it was March and it was freez­ing!), a comfy lounge and a fully kit­ted kitchen where I could cook.

Morn­ings rou­tinely started with a freshly brewed cup of cof­fee and a stroop­wafel (or three) while I worked my way through the to-do list I had cre­ated the evening be­fore. One of the key things I learned in my first two days was that plan­ning your work­day is cru­cial for stream­lin­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity and build­ing in sight­see­ing time.

At mid­day, I’d head into Am­s­ter­dam Cen­tral to work from a café – like a real lo­cal. On my sec­ond day there I dis­cov­ered CT Cof­fee & Co­conuts in De Pijp dis­trict, a movie-the­atre­turned-café bustling with cre­ative lo­cals who were work­ing, hav­ing meet­ings or sim­ply get­ting their caf­feine fix. I wanted to keep my ex­pe­ri­ence fluid, so I opted to work from cafés rather than a re­mote work­ing of­fice where you need to book a desk for a month at a time.

Late af­ter­noons would draw me to one of the wa­ter­ing holes be­side the canals, where I would make like a lo­cal and en­joy an ice-cold beer while watch­ing the sky light up in glo­ri­ous red-or­ange rays. Trav­el­ling alone can be daunt­ing, but I soon dis­cov­ered that some­times all it takes is ask­ing the ta­ble next to you for their menu to strike up a long con­ver­sa­tion with a group of fun-lov­ing Ital­ians.

Af­ter sun­set, I would make my way back home, but not be­fore stop­ping by one of the many cheese stores to pick up kaas and brood for din­ner – ev­ery evening I would try a dif­fer­ent cheese and bread com­bi­na­tion.

SIGHTSEE LIKE A TOURIST

I didn’t only want to work re­motely from a dif­fer­ent city; I also wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence it as a tourist. But find­ing the bal­ance be­tween a full day of work and sight­see­ing re­quired quite a bit of plan­ning.

I booked an Am­s­ter­dam City Pass that al­lowed me to by­pass the long queues to the most fa­mous at­trac­tions, giv­ing me more time to see the sights af­ter a day’s work. Pretty soon my days started tak­ing shape: work morn­ings fol­lowed by touristy af­ter­noons. I spent hours one af­ter­noon soak­ing up the art of Rem­brandt, Ver­meer and Frans Hals at the Ri­jksmu­seum, fed my in­ner punk one evening at the Banksy ex­hi­bi­tion at the Moco Mu­seum and sought refuge in the post-im­pres­sion­ist world of the Van Gogh Mu­seum one rainy day. I also ex­plored Rem­brandt’s home and work­shop.

Other week­day af­ter­noons were spent walk­ing the trendy canals of the Jor­daan dis­trict, en­joy­ing a spot of sun­shine and fri­eten (fries) with mayo (hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it) in Von­del Park, and en­joy­ing what was ar­guably the best ap­ple pie of my life at Winkel 43 in No­or­der­markt. I at­tempted to cy­cle through Oud-West, made my way through the Red Light Dis­trict (pre­tend­ing not to stare and fool­ing no one), sam­pled kaas at the Cheese Mu­seum (true story), and bought tulips and fridge mag­nets from the Bloe­men­markt.

Week­ends were spent wan­der­ing the cob­ble­stone streets of Haar­lem. The Grote Markt, Hol­land’s most im­pres­sive food mar­ket, takes place in the town’s his­toric square ev­ery Satur­day: think cheese, bread and pas­tries, cold meats and fish, veg­eta­bles and fruit – and wine…

They say a visit to Am­s­ter­dam isn’t com­plete with­out smok­ing a joint in one of the many cafés or cruis­ing down a canal. So on my last day I weighed up my op­tions and set­tled for a boat ride; get­ting high by my­self didn’t seem like much fun. And as I cruised down the canals and past the nar­row houses, I found my­self won­der­ing where next…

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