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Tech Voices

8 November 2022 - 8 minutes

Tech Voices: Travel, Surf, and Remote Work

Learn how to find that work-life-adventure balance with Nico Spijker

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You're reading the next installment of our Tech Voices series! We want to make sure we share diverse voices from the Ironhack tech community so you, as a budding tech professional, get to know your peers and learn from their experiences.

Tech Voices: Nicolaas Spijker, Growth Marketer at Rock

Starting your first remote job opens up a lot of exciting opportunities in terms of personal and career development. After graduating from university I got a fully remote job in a globally distributed team. We have no office and people across 7 different time zones.

My name is Nico and I work for Rock, a San Francisco based tech start-up with a globally distributed team. The team works together across continents and time zones by adopting an asynchronous by default work style. This allows me to travel the world as a digital nomad while keeping a full-time role.

Here, I will write about what working as a digital nomad can look like and what skills I think you should invest in to succeed. I’ll also add in some personal productivity tips to get the most out of your work day.

What working as a digital nomad can look like

Working for a startup is super exciting, but learning how to stay organized and productive is crucial to also make sure you have enough time for the fun stuff.

When working remotely, you have to reimagine what collaboration with team members, freelancers, clients, and partners actually looks like. Interactions must become more intentional without the convenience of casually bumping into someone in the office, or meeting over coffee.

Creating a flexible work schedule with asynchronous work

Within our team we follow the philosophy: “Communication should be asynchronous by default, and synchronous when really needed”. This comes in response to a corporate culture where meeting is often the default, causing people to burn out more often and be less productive.

In response to this, our team tries to prioritize asynchronous work. We minimize the number of meetings and communicate more through tasks, messages, files, and notes. This opens up our schedule to maximize deep work hours. Additionally, it gives work flexibility and allows us to work from any location or time zone. 

What does this look like in practice? Well, my schedule typically has about 5 meetings for the week, and the rest of my day is spent on day-to-day tasks.

Pick and choose where you want to work from

Because my job is remote and my schedule is flexible, I can work from any location or time zone. Earlier this year I worked in San Juan del Sur for a few months. It’s a quaint little surfer town near the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. 

I would often wake up at 6 am, get in a 2-hour surf session, and start my work day afterward. Alternatively, as you can’t really control the tide, I would sometimes surf from 3 to 6. Work flexibility allows me to wrap up my work day by starting earlier or adding another hour after surfing.

Currently, I’m working from Lisbon, Portugal. Because I only have 5 meetings a week and they are not our default communication channel, it was easy to reschedule most of them. This means that while the time difference is a staggering 7 hours, my work day has barely changed.

Future locations I’m considering include South Africa, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. As you can see a lot of these countries are in different time zones. Thankfully, our team communication allows me to pick any location without negatively impacting my productivity.

What skills do I typically use in my remote work job?

There are a few different skills you can already start leveraging if you’re looking into a remote marketing or growth job. I’ll quickly walk you through a few I leverage on a daily basis for my different projects.

Project management

Mastering project management was naturally part of my job as Rock is an all-in-one messaging and project management application. Understanding the basics of project management is crucial in any remote tech job, even if you’re not a project lead.

If you’re new to project management, it basically consists of juggling different communication channels (i.e. messages, task management, files, and notes) in order to move a project forward. There are a few frameworks such as Agile and Waterfall that you can use to structure the phases of a project. 

Following these frameworks is often easier said than done. Fully understanding them takes time. Nevertheless, once you master them, you’ll see more and more projects crossing the finish line in time.

Digital Marketing and SEO

As a growth marketer, I leverage different digital marketing and SEO skills to get more brand visibility and ultimately get new users to sign up for our platform. You don’t need to be a full-fledged expert with over 10 years of industry experience to start making an impact. 

Typical activities include ideating new content that fits with the interests of our audience, configuring the SEO of our website, working on backlinks with corporate partners and so much more!

Fear not if you have no experience with digital marketing or SEO yet. Nowadays there are digital marketing and SEO bootcamps that can already position you in a great way if you’re trying to break into tech marketing.

Data Analytics

I have a data analytics background from my university studies. It’s important to measure the impact of the different activities you do on a day-to-day basis. Throughout growth projects, I have used tools such as R, Tableau, and Python. 

It’s important to understand what metrics you are trying to improve, how to measure them, and how to properly interpret the data. How does seasonality affect your data? Is there bias in your data or interpretation thereof? 

While data analytics can come off as an intimidating or daunting skill to build up, I have found that there is a steep learning curve once you get started. It also doesn’t have to take years or a full bachelor's degree to set up a strong data analytics foundation. Some data analytics bootcamps can already set you up for success within weeks.

Some personal productivity tips

Now, there isn’t really a playbook on how to stay productive while working remotely. Some people like to work from home, others from a coworking space or a cafe. There are also early birds and night owls, and different workspace setups.

In the following section, I’ll discuss a few habits and activities that have helped me stay productive while working remotely. 

Say no to meetings

Is it relevant for you to attend the meeting that has just been added to the schedule? If the answer is no, then you might want to consider declining it. It’s not common business practice but really should be. 

Of course, you shouldn’t just cancel and not communicate with your team. Ask the person who invited you what to expect from the meeting and what you’re expected to bring to the table. 

If the person struggles to understand what your role in the meeting is, they will most likely agree with either canceling the meeting or hosting it without you.

Document as much as possible

Documentation is key if you are looking to work remotely and asynchronously. Make sure that information and updates are easily accessible to anyone. This allows team members to find project details or track your progress without having to personally ping you.

My two go-to’s for documentation are a task board and file integrations. 

  • A task board allows you to see what work is on someone’s plate. With filters such as assignee(s), labels, priority, and due/start dates it’s easy to keep track of who is doing what and what the progress is.

  • File integrations: I store loads of information on Google Drive but it can often become tricky for team members to find information back. By adding relevant folders and files to spaces or individual tasks, it becomes easier for team members to find back important information.

Keep a small to-do list

Looking onto your task board and seeing 30+ tasks being assigned to you can be daunting. Instead, I like to add a few priorities for the day to a weekly to-do list. 

Our application has a unique feature for this, Set Aside. I can move any message, task, note, or file to this dedicated panel and check back on it later. Once I finish the activity I remove the object from the panel in order to make sure there are not too many items on it. 

My preference is between 5-10 items max on the panel. If there are more items, I try to reprioritize my activities in order to stay within the limits. This gives me a clear picture of what to work on in the short term.

This can also come in handy when I have to answer someone but need to think about my answer a bit more. Adding it to Set Aside means I don’t have to scroll across spaces or chat history to answer this message as it’s directly connected to this panel.

Stop context switching too much

A remote setup can quickly get confusing with too many apps open while working on different tasks. Context switching is the practice of continually changing between tasks, tabs, or different platforms in order to get work done. 

It’s hard to focus if you have to think about two tasks at the same time or navigate different user interfaces across apps to communicate with your team. Try setting up communication strategies that are more streamlined and don’t require you to switch between platforms too much. Keep communications centralized so you don’t have to constantly switch between messages, tasks, notes, and files.

I personally keep all my communications on Rock and integrate my video, cloud storage, and design files to the space so I can easily switch how I communicate with my coworkers or people outside of my team. 

Last but not least: set up a good tune list

I spent vast amounts of time on Spotify listening to different playlists. I often find myself switching between deep house, techno, rock & indie, or pop tunes depending on my mood. 

Trial out a few different playlists and see what works for you. I find it much easier to get into a productive flow when the correct playlist is on. Setting up a good playlist makes it easier to zone into a task while reducing the noise of your environment.

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