Remote work sounds like the dream, eh? Especially when your Instagram is oozing with “Digital Nomads” and “Wanderlusters” boasting a daily office of pristine beaches.
When you’re daydreaming in your cubicle, that all sounds pretty legit.
We thought so too. So long story short, we quit our jobs, started our own company, and moved halfway around the world to Taiwan (check out our song about Taipei here). And for the past year, we’ve been successfully consulting for our clients from our lovely 600 sq. ft. apartment in Taipei City. Not quite as elegant as a beach in Thailand.
And while the benefits of flexibility in remote work are certainly present, there are also a handful of realistic drawbacks. Actually, let’s not even call them drawbacks. Let’s just call them “realizations.”
These “realizations” are meant to be practical takeaways for remote work from Taiwan. Things we’ve learned, things we discovered, things we didn’t expect. If you’re thinking of working remotely in Taiwan (or any country abroad!), check out these realizations to help guide your way:
1. Coffee shops don’t open in the morning
This is specific to Taiwan and something we really didn’t expect. Most coffee shops in Taipei don’t open until 1:00pm. Coming from America, this is one that I will never get used to. But it’s true: Taiwanese coffee culture is about enjoying coffee in the mid-afternoon, not the morning. Due to this realization, we spend a lot of time at Starbucks. I’m not one to promote global domination, but Starbucks has nailed consistency for the remote worker anywhere around the globe: Open at 6am. Solid wifi. Standing desks. Decent drinks. Accessible outlets.
We spend so much time at coffee shops that ordering coffees is really all we can do in Chinese. Hey, at least we learned something!
RECOMMENDATIONS: When you first arrive in a new location, stick with Starbucks (or co-working space). It can be exhausting to find quality coffee shops that meet your needs. When we first arrived, we wasted tons of valuable time wandering around the city looking for good coffee shops. And that just put us in a bad mood for the rest of our day. If you have a lot of work and need to get things done, stick with Starbucks first, then branch out once you’re familiar with your surroundings.
2. You spend a lot of time by yourself
I’m all for heads down work with no interruptions. That productive feeling of checking off a to-do list item fills every inch of my body with joy. This style is certainly helpful in certain situations. But realistically, humans are social creatures. Collaborating and communicating with others is essential for emotional well-being.
With friends, family, and clients all 15+ hours behind us, the feeling of isolation can be real. It’s made me definitely re-consider the benefits of having an office of people to interact with on a daily basis. Even those trivial conversations about your co-workers cat helps to fuel your emotional energy to be more productive.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Schedule weekly calls with your clients. Communicate frequently with your friends and family back home. And as much as possible, try to meet new friends and connections in Taiwan.
3. Creating a solid routine does you wonders
Research shows again and again that routines help increase productivity. And it’s much easier to establish a solid routine when you work in an office environment. Your alarm is set for the same time every day. You eat the same breakfast. You drive the same streets. You have the same weekly meetings.
When you’re flying solo, you have to force yourself to set an alarm. You have to think through which location you’re going to work. It’s also essential to write a schedule for yourself. What are you going to accomplish today? I’ve continued the practice of writing down a to-do list to hold myself accountable.
RECOMMENDATIONS: When starting off, think of your daily work as if you’re still going into an office. Set an alarm every day. Drink your coffee. Eat your oats. Head out to a Starbucks (or a co-working space) bright and early. These are essential for getting your morning off on the right foot. Create a written to-do list for the day and check off things as you go through the day. Start by being overly detailed about your routine and add in flexibility as you go.
4. Make sure you have a “plan B” for work contracts
This one is rather self-explanatory but a very important lesson. We’ve worked our tails off to find remote work and maintain as many relevant projects as we can. With most of our clients being based in the US, we’ve kept the project-spark alive consistent and meaningful projects to keep us going. But no joke, it can be STRESSFUL not knowing where the next opportunity will come from. We’re constantly networking, emailing, and building skills to make us the best fit for potential clients projects.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Build relationships in-person. No one is going to randomly hit you up and hire you to work remote from the other side of the world. Before you leave your home country, set up coffee meetings. Go to networking events. Connect people together. Build as strong of relationships as you can. These relationships will be essential for continuing success working abroad. You can also browse for jobs and opportunities on Upwork, Remote.co, We Work Remotely, and Freelancer.com.
5. Your workspace matters
And our house is tiny. Extremely tiny by Colorado standards. Moderate by Taipei standards. We’d go crazy if both of us hung out in the apartment all day. There is no desk or office. Our dining room table (about the surface area of a nightstand) functions as our sole workspace to trade off using.
With a small environment to share, it can be a real challenge to stay creative and productive.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Whether you’re in Taipei or Barcelona, apartment sizes are going to be significantly smaller (on average) than the US. If you’re in a small living space, leave the house as often as possible. It’s easy to feel cooped up or restless when you spend the entire day in one small home. Go work at a co-working space or Starbucks (I promise this post isn’t sponsored by Starbucks, they just do so many things well).
6. There are SO many people here
I really should have seen this one coming. Taipei is a large, metropolitan city in the middle of Asia. Of course it’s going to be packed with people. What I didn’t realize is population density in Taipei City is 10,000 people per 1 sq. kilometer. And WOW do you feel it on the day to day walking down the street.
It can be overwhelming trying to walk down the street at lunchtime or go on a run on a Sunday afternoon.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Do your best to embrace new culture and people, even if it feels overcrowded and uncomfortable. If you’re looking for quiet spaces, go to a co-working space, a library or forested park. It’s important for mental health to connect with nature from time to time. Take deliberate actions to take weekend trips out of the city and have some time to relax and unwind.