Remote Work, Telecommuting, and Digital Nomads, with Tamara Murray

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. On today’s show we’re discussing location independent jobs and how you can become a digital nomad.

Our show is brought to you by Mac’s List, your best online source for rewarding, creative, and meaningful work. Visit macslist.org to learn more. You’ll find hundreds of great jobs, a blog with practical career advice, and our new book, Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond.

Let’s turn to our topic this week. Walk into any coffee shop today and you’ll likely see a customer typing out a report or an email on a laptop computer or perhaps talking on a cellphone about a project or a business deal. These are probably telecommuters, people who have full-time professional jobs typically with large organizations, but they work outside the office for one or more days a week. In fact according to The New York Times, as many as thirty percent of all Americans may telecommute one or more days a week today.

What would your life be like if that coffee shop was your workplace and what if your dream was to never go to an office instead do the work you enjoy when you want and from anywhere in the world and not just one day a week but five days a week? Increasing numbers of people are doing exactly this, and they call themselves digital nomads. They live what they call location independent lives. They travel frequently, and they work remotely often as freelancers or contractors.

According to Wikipedia digital nomads are people who use telecommunications technologies to perform job duties and conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Even professions you think would be completely location dependent such as healthcare can now be performed remotely.

We’re going to talk a digital nomad and an expert on the field, Tamara Murray. She for the last two years has worked full-time while traveling the globe, but first let’s check in with the Mac’s List team.

Joining me as always are Ben Forstag, managing director of Mac’s List, and Cecilia Bianco, community manager of Mac’s List. Ben, Cecilia, how are you two doing this week?

Ben Forstag:

I’m doing great.

Cecilia Bianco:

Doing good, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Remote working… You both make the trek to downtown Portland where we have an office in a building that went up before World War I. In fact our offices have doors. They’re about as far from remote working as you can get though now we are moving to working at home on Fridays. Tell me what do you two think about remote working?

Ben Forstag:

I’m someone who really likes coming into work and having an office and separating the home life from work life, but I do like having the option to work from home when I’ve got a contractor coming to the house or I need to watch my son during the day. Having that flexibility is really nice.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah, I agree. I definitely enjoy having a flexible schedule, and if Comcast is coming one day, I can sit and work at home and wait for them without having a problem. It’s definitely a bonus.

Mac Prichard:

Good. As an employer I have to say I see that people who work at home are often more productive and having that flexibility is something I think that makes not only for an attractive workplace but makes it easier for employers to hold onto great people.

Let’s move on to our regular features. Every week Ben searches the nooks and crannies in the Internet looking for blogs, podcasts, and other tools you can use in your job search. Ben, what have you discovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

Mac, since we’ll be talking about remote working and telecommuting this week, I thought I’d find some resources for people who want to explore these options for work. Today I’ve got two blogs I want to share with our listeners. The first, number one, is the FlexJobs blog. That’s F, L, E, X jobs.com/blog. FlexJobs is a job website that specializes in telecommuting, freelance, part-time, and flexible job opportunities. Have you ever heard of the site, Mac?

Mac Prichard:

It’s a new one to me.

Ben Forstag:

Okay. It’s, I think, a very kind of niche site for a certain type of jobs. The one specific post I’d like to steer our audience towards is the 100 Top Companies With Remote Jobs in 2015. FlexJobs keeps track of all this stuff based on the number of job posts from these companies that talk about remote working, and every year they come out with a list of the employers who offer the most flexible remote work opportunities in their organizations. The URL for this blogpost is really long. I’m not going to repeat here. If you go to the flexjobs.com website and type in 100 top companies, it will pop up there. I also include a link to this in the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

For those who are listening are there any surprises on that list?

Ben Forstag:

There are. Most of these companies are large national and multinational corporations, the companies you’d expect to see the Intel, the Apples, the Amazons, organizations like that. There are some companies you might not expect. For example there’s some government agencies there that are listed as being particularly open to flex working, the Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior. There are some nonprofits as well, Teach For America and the American Heart Association. The interesting thing here is according to their research they’ve seen a twenty-six percent increase in the number of remote jobs over last year. This is becoming an increasingly common thing for employers to offer, and the areas where they see the biggest growth is not in the technology side where you might expect but in the fields of medical and healthcare, sales, administrative services, education, and marketing. This is a growing option for many different industries.

Mac Prichard:

Coincidentally I had lunch with someone last week who is an Oregonian and just moved back to Portland. He works for the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is a huge organization. He was able to bring his job with him because he’s now working remotely from Portland doing national work for the federal government. I was surprised that an organization that large would be open to that idea. In fact it’s a pilot project, but I think it’s a sign of a trend that is not only popular but is growing.

Ben Forstag:

Especially an organization as large and as racked with inertia as the federal government.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, things do move slowly in the federal government.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. The second blog I wanted to talk about today is called the Life Listed blog. It’s lifelisted.com, and this one is really cool. It’s written by a guy named Danny Dover. He was an entrepreneur who did the start-up get rich thing but then decided that instead of optimizing profits he really wanted to optimize his own personal happiness. He started traveling the world and working remotely to check items off of his bucket list. The Life Listed blog shares strategies and actionable items on how to complete your own purposeful life list, again, what we might call a bucket list. Since working is typically a part of life or at least a necessary activity to fund other adventures, much of the site is dedicated to how to work remotely. I particularly suggest the blogpost they have on the best tools for working remotely. This lists a bunch of different hardware, software, and services that are really useful for digital nomads.

The interesting thing about this post is I think even if you work in an office there’s some tools there that you might find really valuable to work more efficiently, more happy, and just do a better job with your work whether you work in an office or in the coffee shop. Again, that’s the Life Listed blog. It’s lifelisted.com/blog, and as always we’ll have links to these resources in the show notes.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Thanks, Ben. I know that when we speak with Tamara, she’s going to tell us about what life is like working full time while traveling overseas or through the United States. I’m getting from your conversation that many of tools that you’ve just described could work for people who simply want to work from their home in the same town as their employer.

Ben Forstag:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Thank you. If you have a suggestion for Ben, please write him, and we may share your idea on the show. Ben’s email address is ben@macslist.org.

Now it’s time to turn to Cecilia Bianco, our community manager. She always has her ear to the ground wanting to know what you, our listeners, think. Every week she brings us one of your questions. Cecilia, what do you have for us this week?

Cecilia Bianco:

Thanks, Mac. Our question this week is how should I address a travel sabbatical or a year abroad to a potential employer? I think the best way to address time abroad is to demonstrate the skills you gained while traveling and how they might add to your professional value.

We actually had a guest contributor write a blogpost about travel sabbaticals, and she gave some really clear examples on how to do this. Her and her husband traveled for over a year to several different countries. Her husband was an accountant and managed the bookkeeping throughout their trip. This is obviously not a small task when the currency is changing every couple of weeks, and he was able to show how his sabbatical improved the skills that he needed in his field because he did this. Similarly, she was an urban planner. She still is an urban planner. She did research in advance and made plans to visit planning and development organizations while they were traveling. Then when she came back and talked to potential employers in interviews, she had a lot to say about what she learned about her field while abroad. Overall I think the most important thing to do is think about what you did on your trip that will improve your hire ability to an employer based on the field you’re in.

Mac, I know you and Chris, your wife, go on trips abroad almost every year. Do you have any suggestions for ways to show the benefit of time abroad?

Mac Prichard:

A number come to mind. I think many employers are impressed by people who regularly travel overseas because I think it indicates that they’re open to new experiences, new ideas. I think even if you’re taking a short trip … it could be a vacation of two or three weeks, there’s benefit to you as a job candidate or to your employer by taking advantage of that opportunity to show that you are looking for new experiences. Simply listing on your LinkedIn profile or your resume some of the foreign trips you might have taken a small step can be an important one.

For people like the couple you were talking about who are spending several months or a year or more overseas they have an opportunity to document what they’ve done whether it’s a volunteer or paid work that’s a valuable experience and being specific about how it relates to the work that you do or want to do will always pay dividends for you as a job applicant.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah, I definitely agree. Ben, do you have any suggestions?

Ben Forstag:

I’ve taken a lot of international trips, and I’ve never had a trip that goes off without a hitch. There’s always a reservation that falls through, or you miss the train, or something else awful happens. I think international travel can often be framed as an exercise in flexibility and responsiveness and emergency management. Those are skills that I think any employer would be interested in.

Cecilia Bianco:

Yeah, definitely. Those are great suggestions. If you’re planning a trip or considering taking a year to travel, there’s things you can do to make sure that this is supporting your resume. You could start a blog about your trip or network while you’re abroad like our blogpost contributor did. Look for opportunities to meet colleagues in your field and maybe even set up some informational interviews if you can.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Thank you, Cecilia. If you have a question for Cecilia, her email address is cecilia@macslist.org, and she would love to hear from you.

These segments by Ben and Cecilia are sponsored by the Mac’s List Guides publisher of our new book Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond. The Mac’s List Guides give you the tools you need to get the job you want. We reveal all of our secrets there showing you how to crack the hidden job market, stand out in a competitive field, and how to manage your career. The book has eight chapters, and in each of them experts share secrets like how to hear about jobs that are never posted and what you can do to interview and negotiate like a pro. To download the first chapter for free visit macslist.org/macslistguides.

Now I’m pleased to introduce our guest expert for the week, Tamara Murray. She’s going to be sharing her insights on becoming a digital nomad. Before we get started let me tell you about Tamara. She’s a social change communications consultant and lifestyle design geek. She spent the last decade helping social change nonprofits get their message out, becoming a vice president at a communications agency before age 30, and it was her dream career until nine-to-five blues, a TED talk, and a conversation with her financial planner sent her on a different course. These days Tamara and her husband, Chris, are digital nomads. They freelance while they travel North America full time in a minivan turned camper that they’ve named Red Delicious.

Tamara began experimenting with remote work while on sabbatical in Latin America where she conducted conference calls via Skype in the jungles of Costa Rica. She’s the author of Awesome Supervisory Skills, Seven Lessons for Young First Time Managers, and she blogs regularly about career breaks, the digital nomad life, and inspiring individuals to help give others the courage to take a leap. Thank you for joining us, Tamara.

Tamara Murray:

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Let’s hear your story. What inspired you to travel and work remotely? What was your aha moment?

Tamara Murray:

As you mentioned actually when you were sharing my bio, I watched a TED talk a while back by a gentleman who runs a design studio in New York City. One of the fascinating things that they do is every seven years they close the studio for one year. It’s really funny. There’s an email autoresponder that says, “Thanks for emailing. We’re closed for the rest of the year, but we’ll get back to You next year.” It’s very funny. He talks about just how time off is really important and how especially people who work in creative professions can really benefit from taking a breather, getting exposed to new ideas. I thought gosh, could I make that happen for me.

Mac Prichard:

A lot of people have that thought, and they ask themselves that question. What did you do next, and how did you do it?

Tamara Murray:

My path is a little bit unique in that my husband and I we first started just by talking about it with each other, which is something important for anyone who’s considering doing this to do is to talk to the people in your life about this and make sure you’re all on the same page. We both talked about it. We were both feeling the same way. We did something a little different which is that we actually just fully took the plunge and actually quit our jobs entirely to go on sabbatical and try and figure out how we could rebuild our lives in a way that offered more flexibility while still being able to earn an income.

Mac Prichard:

When you made that leap, the idea wasn’t to travel full time. You thought you would take a year off and then return to full-time work.

Tamara Murray:

That’s right. We did think that that was a possibility although one of the things we really worked to do during our time was to figure out hey, how can we make this sustainable; how can we travel full time in a financially sustainable way over the longer term.

Mac Prichard:

Is that something you learned along the way, or did you put some time into doing homework, talking to others, reading books? How did you prepare for that, Tamara?

Tamara Murray:

Definitely did a lot of reading. There are a couple of folks that I would definitely suggest that your listeners look into. The first person, her name is Nora Dunn. She has a great website called the Professional Hobo. She has a lot of great advice. There’s another gentleman named Matt. Nomadic Matt is what he goes by. They both have a lot of tips about how to travel in a financially sustainable way. Doing a lot of research, knowing that other people have already done this, and to have ideas that you can learn from that’s a really important place to start.

Mac Prichard:

Some of the misconceptions that you’ve run across both during your preparation for hitting the road and since you’ve been doing this full time … for example, is there a common type of person who’s a digital nomad?

Tamara Murray:

Yes. There are a few misconceptions out there. A lot of people think that digital nomads are these young millennial dudes who are full-time coders. They’re coding from their laptops on the beach in Thailand while they backpack and go from hostel to hostel. Those people do exist, but there are lots of different types of travel and there are lots of different types of work.

Another common misconception is that you have to be rich to do this, and nothing is further from the truth. In fact I am making probably about half of what I used to earn, but by reorienting the way that I live my life, the way me and my husband live our lives we are having a much richer experience. Those are a couple of things that a lot of people think immediately but are actually pretty far from the truth.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. In many ways when I talk to people about this, about digital nomads and traveling full time I think the original nomads were full time RVers. I have an older uncle and aunt who spent fifteen years living in an RV driving around the country and also going to Mexico and occasionally parking the RV and going to Asia and other places overseas. They weren’t working, but they were part of an extended community of what are called full-timers among RVers. It’s not in many ways an original idea or a new one. It’s something that’s been going on for decades in America, and obviously some people have been on the road forever.

Tamara Murray:

That’s absolutely right. The way that work is changing especially because of how widely available Wi-Fi is and especially how widely available it is now abroad it is much more feasible now for people to do work from pretty much anywhere they have an Internet connection. I will say that, that is typically limited to knowledge jobs, right?

Mac Prichard:

Mm-hmm.

Tamara Murray:

It’s tougher to be, say, a coffee barista traveling from place to place just because it requires a brick and mortar establishment for you to be at. Although if you wanted to get really creative, you could imagine someone with an RV who makes a really amazing cappuccino going from place to place, but for the most part it does tend to be folks in the knowledge fields whether they’re doing consulting or some kind of tech work, coding, graphic design, freelance writers, photographers, and so on.

Mac Prichard:

I know you do consulting with people who’re considering taking a sabbatical. What is the most common question you get, Tamara? Again, is there a typical kind of person that you hear from or is there a variety?

Tamara Murray:

I hear from folks from all different walks of life who are interested in doing this, and there are a few topics that come up. One is just how do I find a location independent job. That’s a really important first start. There are really two ways to do this. The first is to look for employment, to find a job with an employer where it does not matter where you are. The second route is to go the more entrepreneurial route, which is to either become a freelancer or to start your own business. It’s hard to say exactly which route is best. It really depends on things like your industry and your skills.

I’ll share one example that’s close to home. It’s about my husband. He has a background in accounting. He used to work in city government as a budget analyst, something that you would not imagine being able to do from anywhere, right?

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Tamara Murray:

You need to be employed in one place.

Mac Prichard:

Right.

Tamara Murray:

One of the things he really asked himself is what do I know how to do. What are my skills that could be transferable to a location independent job? Really when you look at what a budget analyst does, what an accountant does … The reason why he was drawn to it is because what he really loves doing is analysis and taking a look at data and looking at trends. That’s really what his skillset is when you break it down to its bare parts. For him, he was like okay, what types of careers that are location independent … where is the connection there?

That’s how he got into search engine optimization, which he now does on a consulting basis. As part of this we’ve surrounded ourselves with other people who are trying to do this, and he learned about how to set up stores and sell products on Amazon, which is also very reliant on doing research. He was able to take a skill that worked in one career and transfer it to a location independent career.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. People who are considering this should do an inventory of their skills and think about either what might be directly sellable to employers or transferable to other jobs or projects that might be on demand and can be done remotely.

Tamara Murray:

That’s right.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Over the years I’ve met a number of people who have done what you and your husband, Chris, have done going on the road. What’s impressed me has been the variety. There’s a fellow that I met with recently who has just returned from a sabbatical in Argentina. He and his wife and their two grade school age children moved to Cordoba for a year. They didn’t have jobs, but they lined up volunteer opportunities, and their goal was to as a family have an experience overseas and master Spanish. What would you say to people who might think well, I’m too old for this, or I can’t take the kids? In your instance I know that you and your husband traveled with your dog, Holly, for some time as well.

Tamara Murray:

Yeah. We actually traveled for a year and a half with our dog, Holly, and that surprised a lot of people. The thing that I’ll say is it’s possible to travel either on a sabbatical or while you’re working in a number of different scenarios. The barriers that you might think of whether it’s we’ve got kids; we’ve got a mortgage; we’ve got a dog those things are not the barriers that you might think they are. They just require a little bit more planning. For instance, when we were traveling with our dog, we had to plan anytime we were going to cross international borders. We had to look into the paperwork requirements. Folks who are traveling with kids … there are people already all over the world who take their kids on sailing trips for years at a time, and there are options for educating them while on the road.

Things like a mortgage my husband and I have a mortgage, and we rent out our home while we’re gone. I know another couple that while they travel … they actually have a duplex and what they do is they rent one of the units out to a full time tenant and use the other unit that they rent out via AirBnB so that they can earn an income from it while they’re gone, but they also have a place to stay when they’re back in town. There’s a lot of options. Don’t think that those challenges are insurmountable. They just require a little more planning.

Mac Prichard:

Right. Some of those barriers like a house might actually be an opportunity for raising a new source of income.

Tamara Murray:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Great. We’re coming to the end of our interview in a few minutes. Anything else you’d like to share with our listeners, Tamara?

Tamara Murray:

There’s a lot of logistics involved in becoming a digital nomad. You have to think about where am I going to work; how am I going to find workspace and reliable Internet access; what is my travel going to look like; what am I going to do with my stuff, but those things are all logistics. They all have solutions, many of which are a lot easier than someone might think.

One of the things I find though that is the bigger challenge is the risk taking, that it is scary to do this. I can completely understand. I felt the exact same way. One of the things that someone once told me that I will share with everyone listening today is that you have to be willing to take a chance and get outside of your comfort zone. At the worst if you try this and it’s not working; it’s too hard; it’s not making you happy the way you that you wanted it to, you can always go back and go back to your old life or the industry that you were in where you are going back to an office every day. You already know how to do that, and you can do it again if you need to. Challenge yourself to try something that you don’t know how to do because that’s where the growth really happens.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Thank you, Tamara. How can people find you online?

Tamara Murray:

You can find me online at helloimtamara.com. I interview other digital nomads and have travel advice there. I encourage folks to go there for any advice.

Mac Prichard:

Thank you. That’s Tamara Murray, and thank you for joining us.

Tamara Murray:

Thanks, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back with Cecilia and Ben. We had some great insights from Tamara about how to be a digital nomad and what life on the road is like while working full time. What did you two think?

Cecilia Bianco:

I thought she had some great tips. The thing that stuck with me the most is that she said the biggest problem people faced is the risk taking and the fear. I totally agree with that because it really is all just logistical, and the harder part is saying I’m actually going to do this and it feels like a big risk. I thought that was her biggest point for me.

Mac Prichard:

I would agree, and I think there are a lot of objections or obstacles to doing this. The big takeaway for me was that if you consider them one at a time, there are solutions.

Cecilia Bianco:

Mm-hmm.

Mac Prichard:

It may be that those aren’t the right solutions for you as an individual thinking about this, but what she has seen not only in their own experience but in the people that she meets on the road there are others who have not only done this but are leading a thriving personal and professional life on the road.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, it’s really interesting. I’ll be honest it’s one of these things that I wish I had the guts to go ahead and do sometimes, but with a wife and a son and a mortgage it does seem like a real big challenge. I really admire the folks who are able to be on the road three sixty-five.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Cecilia Bianco:

I thought she had some great tips about what you can do when you have a mortgage. She’s obviously dealt with it, but her tips felt really doable. Like thinking through it myself like oh, where would I put my stuff she just had some really practical knowledge on it.

Mac Prichard:

Where are you going to move to, Cecilia?

Cecilia Bianco:

Nowhere yet. If I do, I’m definitely going to look at her website and figure it out.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. I’m expecting either one of you or both of you to come to me soon with a proposal for a remote office. If you had to pick one place where you would like to live and work from, what would it be? Cecilia, do you have a wish list?

Cecilia Bianco:

I’ve always wanted to live in Italy sometime in the very distant future, probably Italy.

Mac Prichard:

That would be a wonderful spot. Ben?

Ben Forstag:

I don’t know, Iceland maybe.

Mac Prichard:

Reykjavik?

Ben Forstag:

Even farther north, I like the big open desolate places.

Mac Prichard:

If I had to pick a spot, it would probably be Madrid. I can’t think of a better city, and it’s just a magical place to be.

Ben Forstag:

I’ve actually lived in Madrid for two years, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

We’re going to have to compare notes.

Ben Forstag:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Thank you for listening. We’ll be back next week with more tools and tips you can use to find your dream job. In the meantime visit us at macslist.org where you can sign up for our free newsletter with more than one hundred new jobs every week. If you like what you hear on our show, you can help us by leaving a review and a comment and a rating at iTunes. This helps others discover our show, and we appreciate you listening.

Being a professional no longer necessitates going to an office every day. People are increasingly able to do remote work, using telecommunications technologies to stay connected with their companies and colleagues.

This trend is happening in nearly every industry sector–even fields like healthcare and education. According to one estimate, the number of jobs that allow for telecommuting, remote working or flex scheduling has grown by 26% in just the last year.

Some people have taken remote work to the next level, by becoming digital nomads. These adventurers maintain a professional career while traveling the world, full time. Their office is the closest coffee shop, beach, train car, or even a run-down van.

This week’s guest is travel-sabbatical expert Tamara Murray, who has fully embraced the digital nomad lifestyle. Since 2013, Tamara has maintained a successful communications consulting business, while touring North and South America with her husband and 15-year-old dog. She will share her story and highlight opportunities for how you too can become a digital nomad.

This Week’s Guest

Tamara Murray is a social change communications consultant and lifestyle design geek. She spent the last decade helping social change nonprofits get their message out, becoming a vice president at a communications agency before age 30. These days Tamara and her husband, Chris, are digital nomads. They freelance while they travel North America full time in a minivan turned camper that they’ve named Red Delicious.

She’s the author of Awesome Supervisory Skills, Seven Lessons for Young First Time Managers, and she blogs regularly about career breaks, the digital nomad life, and inspiring individuals to help give others the courage to take a leap.

Resources from this Episode