So, one way or another, here we are in the penultimate month of Remote Year, and the last country on our itinerary – Argentina. As expected, time has flown. What I wasn’t expecting as we touched down in Córdoba, was for it to also jump backwards 20 years. Don’t get me wrong – unlike Cuba, Córdoba’s an entirely modern city – but as it’s also one of the biggest university towns in the country, I couldn’t help but relive my student days. Right down to the footwear, in fact, since (bizarrely) platform shoes of a height not seen since the likes of Baby Spice graced the cover of Smash Hits are en vogue here. It’s like the 90s never quite let go.
Moving on quickly (before I show my age too much), what the 100,000-plus students bring to the city is a real sense of energy and buzz. The streets are lined with coffee shops, bars and winding galerias full of fairy lights, craft beer, record shops and vintage boutiques. Parts of it wouldn’t feel out of place in Shoreditch and the city centre is small enough to walk everywhere easily. That young energy also shines through in the workplace, with lots of new ideas and start-ups emerging. So much so that one of the fledgling companies operating from our workspace had a visit from the Argentinean President while we were there, coming to see their innovative technology for himself. Which doubles the number of heads of state I have met (OK, been in the same room as) this year!
However, since I’ve got another month yet to explore the country – our 12th and final city is Buenos Aires – I’m going to hold fire on all things Argentinian for the time being. Instead, as the year is rapidly drawing to a close, with everyone around me simultaneously reflecting on the past 11 months and frantically making plans for post-RY life, it seems like a good time to try and sum up the RY experience and try to answer some of the questions I often get asked about it.
Cutting straight to the chase, would I do it again? Well, there are a two ways to interpret that question. Did I make the right decision to join RY? Absolutely. There’s no doubt that it’s been a real rollercoaster, with days where I have questioned my sanity, others when I have been unable to believe how lucky I am and everything in between. But overall it’s been an incredible experience, teaching me to think outside the box and that very little is really impossible. If I can deal with everyday life in a language I don’t speak, live with 70 people who I’ve only just met, move every four weeks and do my job, then it feels like there’s not much I can’t adapt to and make a good go of.
But would I do it a second time? No. At least not in the foreseeable future. As much as I’ve loved this year – and am so grateful to have been able to do it – I think being a digital nomad is not sustainable for me in the long term. What surprises me is that it’s not my job that leads me to that conclusion (see below), but just the strain that this lifestyle puts on me. It is exhausting (mentally as well as physically) trying to get your bearings in a new country every month – you have to figure all the minutia of daily life out all over again each time, from working out how much the million peso note is actually worth now (ok, I’m exaggerating, but they have been mostly different types of pesos the last 6 months!) to where to buy milk (and a jug for said milk if, like Colombia, they only sell it in plastic bags). RY does its very best to help you with all of that, but there are some days I really miss the familiarity of surroundings that I know like the back of my hand. And inevitably, given that each home is only temporary, everything feels transitory – like “real life” is on hold. I’m about ready to hit the resume button! However, I have to recognise I’m in the minority here – most of the other “remotes” are planning to continue travelling in one form or another.
And what of remote working? Well, unexpectedly (at least as far as I’m concerned) this has been a real success. Starting out last September, I was nervous that the practicalities of not having access to my files or just not being in the same building (or time zone) as my colleagues might prove to be significant problems. As it turns out, if anything I think I’ve become more efficient – partly thanks to the time difference (here in South America, I receive virtually all emails first thing in the morning so once I’ve dealt with them there are few more to distract me from the task at hand) – but also because I’ve been forced to delegate more.
It’s just possible that in the past I might have been referred to as a control freak once or twice – doing everything myself rather than hand it over to someone else once I’d provided the technical input. Not because I thought I could do it better myself, but because I didn’t want to add to anyone else’s workload. Working remotely, I just can’t do half of those extra tasks, and so I’ve been forced out of this bad habit. In a way, it’s been a bit like one of those trust exercises I hear big corporations make their employees do during bonding “away days”, where you have to fall backwards with your eyes shut and hope somebody catches you – and in this case they certainly have (huge thanks to Sophie, Chris and the rest of the team!). So I’ll certainly be trying to keep hold of some elements of remote working when I am back in the office. But, that said, I can’t wait to be able to scribble on prior art documents again.