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!
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…