Hybrid Working and Digital Nomadicy
Peter Cordwell reflects on his first overseas hybrid working holiday
With South East Asia and the Pacific just a few short hours away, and the rise of hybrid working as a result of the COVID Pandemic, digital nomadcey is more accessible now that at any other time. Once the realm of digital content creators and web developers, even office workers can now entertain the idea of diving with rays, sharks and turtles in the Cook Islands before starting their work day, or finish their day in Australia just in time to grab a cơm gà for lunch in Old Town of Hoi An, Vietnam. Mixing travel, work days and leave days can provide workers with the opportunity to extend their time away from home and their relaxation without emptying their leave balance or taking un-paid time off.
Before planning your trip overseas you should make sure you do your research on the following:
- Work restrictions such as ability to work without paying tax in both the country you are visiting and Australia.
- International roaming with your carrier and internet connections
- Finding work-friendly spaces in your hotel, Airbnb or near where you are staying
- Time zones where you are going to ensure that you can make critical deadlines and meetings
Before flying to a destination, I always make sure that:
- I am able to work in the country without needing a modified visa
- that I am not incurring additional tax burdens overseas or in Australia by working remotely
- that I am not attracting any additional liability or labor mandates which my employer would need to meet
- that my line manager is aware of my changed working conditions
By and large, if you are working for an Australian company, being paid in Australia, and are not working for or with any foreign entity, your taxation obligations do not change. The ATO does have resources which can help determine if you are going to hit any triggers which might affect taxation or migrant status in Australia.
Foreign embassy websites can be used to check any local labor laws, or whether you have to nominate for a different visa class if you intend doing any paid employment regardless of whether for a local or overseas employer. Similarly, there are countless resources on the Internet and social media if you just search “digital nomad visa in X Country”, though I would always cross reference these with a government website. Of the countries which I quickly surveyed in Southeast Asia, a determinative factor was being engaged or paid by a local company or client.
International roaming with your carrier and internet connections
If you are going to work remotely, you should do your utmost to ensure a reliable Internet connection. In my travels there is usually a shared working space in most population centers, but if not, you should consider checking that where you are staying has got reliable WiFi. Another good option is in enabling roaming through your Aussie carrier. You should first check that your carrier has roaming in that country, and that you have roaming enabled by your carrier prior to departing Australia.
Similarly, you might need to check where the critical tools you use such as e-mail are geo-blocked. For example, BigPond automatically blocks IMAP and pop requests from certain internet providers in Vietnam, meaning you may struggle too access emails.
Finding work friendly space
Most major centres of populated areas do you have shared working spaces, similar to the we work model where you can pay to play. Alternatively, you can often find shared workspaces which double as cafes which might mean the only cost is that of a beverage or meal. These can also be great places to meet locals, or even other travelers, having similar experiences.
Many large hotel chains also offer business centers where you may or may not have to pay to be able to work. Equally, a lot of chain hotels do offer a basic disk space in all but the most budget conscious rooms. To ensure you have access to some discs facilities it is always best to check with the hotel you are staying at.
Airbnbs also offer a cost effective and flexible way of staying outside of Australia. While at present Airbnb doesn’t offer a desk space or office filter, they do offer other useful filters such as whether it has Wi-Fi, type of abode etc. You may also be able to deduce if there is adequate work space and light from pictures posted. Finally, if necessary you can always check with the host.
Do not be afraid to pack any of the following you can fit in your suitcase to make your working overseas easier:
- Australian-destination country adapter;
- An Aussie-plug powerboard to plug into this (personally, I would consider something with individual outlets switches as well as surge protection);
- an Aussie plug extension cord of at least three meters; and
- Lightweight, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse
A final consideration, the one you should consider before even booking, is the difference in time zone between you, your office, as well as any key clients. This may be second nature to you if you regularly do business with other Australian cities, or any people in other countries. However, it is worth stating if it saves one reader from showing up to a meeting on time because they forgot to tick a box in Outlook to take into consideration time zones.
As a good rule of thumb, before traveling you should think about your earliest and your latest meetings. If you’re from the East Coast, a meeting at 5:00 PM is 8:00 PM Nuku’alofa, but a 5:00 PM in Perth is 10:00PM. Similarly, if you’re getting up for that daily stand up at 9:00 AM when you’re watching a Test match in Galle, you will be getting up at 3:30 AM local time. This may limit your shared workspace options or make you unpopular with adjoining rooms in a thin-walled establishment.
We had some additional questions for Peter from his experience as some of the team consider this hybrid working holiday in the future.
How has working remotely on holiday in another country differed from your usual working remote experiences?
Working remotely while overseas did mean getting up at 5:00 AM local time to commence work. But it also afforded me the opportunity to finish at 1:00 PM, meaning that I was able to have lunch and explore my destination, or just relax by the pool, in daylight hours. It also meant that I was able to enjoy warmth, sunshine, and humidity – something which is not necessarily available during a Melbourne winter.
Most of all, heading overseas for a week or two seemed much more approachable in terms of not depleting leave, while also making that airfare seem reasonable.
Has it been easier/harder/more/less distracting?
If anything, I feel like working from another country was probably easier and less distracting done working from home. I was less likely to get distracted so it particularly motivated to complete my tasks and meet my outcomes so that I could venture forth and enjoy my holiday destination. Similarly, if I found myself getting distracted or procrastinating it was easy to give myself a short break and have a quick experience I couldn’t have in my Home Office back in Melbourne, such as taking a dip in the pool, eating some tasty street food from a passing vendor, or get a good sweat up with a quick walk in that tropical heat and humidity.
Have you noticed any differences in the work (or work/life balance) habits of other people working in Vietnam compared to Australia?
I did notice a sense of expediency and trust which might not be as present in Australia. An example would be when I needed to get onto a different flight as the one I was booked on had been oversold. While in automated, electronic and heavily regulated bidding bot costing millions of dollars might have queried other domestic airlines to find their capacity and price, and feed that into a Python script which would transfer extract my details from a CRM and push them to another airline’s reservation system based on whether the timing and price was acceptable to the airline, in Vietnam I was given a signed slip of paper and sent from the Pacific airlines counter to her cousin at the VietJet counter who was then able to accommodate myself and four other passengers, based on a hand scrawled-note and a signature. This simple, cheap and effective solution (if not thoroughly documented and transparent) did just as good a job.
Have you had a good balance of a holiday with work? Or has one overtaken the other?
As exciting as it is to jump on a wide-bodied aircraft to go to any far off destination, I did find that some of the relaxation and rejuvenation that comes automatically with being in a foreign destination did not hit me fully until I had finished my last day of work on the trip. I was still relaxed and rejuvenated, just not to the same extent.
It did, however, encourage me to make the most of all of my free time on my holiday. I definitely made sure that I wasn’t postponing activities, or eating at particular restaurants, or enjoying particularly particular experiences “’cause I still have 9 days left here”. Instead, I found myself thinking “You should make the surrounding restaurants and not just order lunch at the hotel” and pushing myself to go out and explore once my work day back in Australia was completed.
Is this something you would recommend to others?
I would highly recommend talking with your employer about a hybrid holiday. It can maximize your time away, reduce the amount of leave it takes to do so, and even increase your productivity all while still delivering the same outcomes.
Having said this, I feel that not every destination would be suitable for a hybrid holiday. As outlined above, considerations such as time zone, working rights, Internet connectivity and even finding appropriate working spaces should be considered to ascertain whether destination is suitable
Would other international holiday destinations be on your list to try remotely working from?
Absolutely! I feel that Southeast Asia is very approachable for a hybrid holiday due to its proximity to Australia, excellent Internet speed, and wide range of tourist infrastructure which can support you in setting up a temporary office. I would love to explore the Pacific more, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, but feel I may need to limit my destinations to places with sub-sea cable communications rather than satellite communications, such as Fiji and Vanuatu. Or wait until those cables are operational.