It doesn’t look much but down the graffitied back lane in Downtown Auckland is a gem I’ve been wanting to check out: a split-level warehouse that’s been transformed into a cafe, bar and restaurant.
I’m not here because I'm overly interested in the coffee. I’m searching out Everybody’s because it has a growing reputation for welcoming those who like to suck-up as much free WiFi over one beverage as humanly possible.
I order a pineapple juice, open my Mac Book and get ready for a day at work. This will be my office for the next few hours. And I’m not alone – there’s about six of us transforming a table for two into a work station for the morning.
Two days ago I was working on the beach a few hours drive from here. The week before I was camping in a far nook of New Zealand. And the month before that I was working out of Byron Bay in Australia.
This is the increasingly popular world of digital nomadism, a growing movement that’s changing the way we approach work. And the latest figures suggest that by 2035 there will be one billion of us working remotely.
I’d spent five years working in a newsroom in Sydney before exiting the doors for the final time ten days before Christmas in 2017. It came after a decade of working in newsrooms in Sydney and the UK. I was ready for 2018 to be my year to explore this new digital nomad world.
When I talk to fellow remote workers, their trigger stories are all different. For me, I’d returned from maternity leave to an office that had been restructured with new bosses and fresh KPIs. I had to prove my worth once again.
I was faced with a decision: use that energy I reserved for work to prove myself worthy of a position I’d done successfully for the past few years, or use it as an opportunity to finally springboard into a new life as a freelance writer. I decided to make the jump.
In my mind, I pictured a beautiful life balance where I could write a few stories, play with my toddler son and have afternoon beers with my husband as we roamed with wild abandon. And for the best part, it did initially roll out like that.
Our belongings went into storage. A flight was booked to New Zealand and a two month road trip around the country flashed past quicker than you can say, “Can I get the WiFi code?” It was a dreamy start and one that I wrote about for Refinery29 early last year.
But the thing about being a digital nomad and having a husband who likes his line of work and a toddler that actually likes daycare is that we soon needed a base. We came to a compromise and rented a £190 a week tiny home on the waterfront a few hours north of Auckland.
For the next 12 months, I worked as I travelled all around New Zealand, visiting Queenstown, Wellington, most destinations in the North Island, while also splitting my time between New Zealand and Australia, writing from Sydney and Byron Bay.
I’ve worked in libraries, cafes and WiFi hotspots next to the beach. I’ve worked from camping grounds and out in the bush, thanks to the tech joys of tethering from my phone. And sometimes I can be found on the side of the road doing an interview as I’m halfway to my destination.
Often it will be just me, my laptop and my phone travelling around for a day or two. For bigger trips, like a recent road trip of Australia’s East Coast, I also take my two-year-old son. And then sometimes my husband comes along when he has a lull in his work as a painter.
Flexibility is a word most bandied about when it comes to being a digital nomad and it’s undoubtedly that. But there are also a few others I always hear, like it being tough to actually make a living and most of all: it’s not a real job.
In the last twelve months, life has been busy. I’ve had 140 articles published internationally, within magazines, newspapers and online. I’ve written chapters for a travel book in the U.S. and I’m currently ghost writing a book for release next year. I’ve earned more almost a quarter more than when I was working in an office.
A magical thing happens when you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of picking an OOTD, the application of makeup, the commute and then nine hours (plus) in an office. And that magic is finding an extra four hours a day.
Just to put that into perspective, that’s 20 hours a week. That’s 46 extra days in a year. And that’s just because I’ve shaved off the processes that go with working in a structured office.
Anyone who has worked in an office knows that large parts of the day are spent talking about procedures. It can be anything from the introduction of hot desks to changing the brand of biscuits in the kitchen.
But each of those tiny tweaks take up so many emails and so many meetings and then before you know it it’s time to go home and really, nothing’s ever done. There’s a reason why the meme “another meeting that could have been email” circulates so often on social media.
Instead, my emails are limited to conversations with editors (instead of 3000 emails a day from PRs). I work at an international level so that means there’s many one-eyed midnight reads about content ideas or how copy needs a tweak. But really, I’m a working mum with a toddler who hates sleep so most of the time I’m up anyway.
But it isn’t just about slashing away that unproductive time. My approach to work is structured and strict. The digital nomad life works just perfectly for those self-motivated souls that keep an eye on self-improvement.
I make sure I still have a boss (myself) and she is little tough on her staff (only me). I always remind myself that the absolute non-negotiable outlook to have is that this isn’t just an adventure but a career.
That means I’m a penny pincher, putting away a third of my money for those rainy days that have yet to come but which I anxiously await. I also don’t travel unless I have a commission, which means expenses are paid. And I no longer treat that time as a holiday but as work.
Being a digital nomad gives you a freedom. I get to write what I want, when I want and where I want and make an earning from it. And I never take for granted that I’ve one of a few careers that allows me to use modern technology to work anywhere. After all, you can hardly do open heart surgery on a beach in Phuket.
But I’ve learnt in the last year that to maintain that freedom, I also have to be diligent about my professionalism.
Every time I feel tempted to ditch the deadlines and float the afternoon away in the sea, I just remind myself that if I fail at digital nomadism, the punishment will be the loss of four productive hours a day, trapped in a badly lit room while reviewing the introduction of herbal tea into the kitchenette on level six.
A truly sobering thought that never fails to keep me working hard in the wonderful wall-free office of the big wide world.