Being a Digital Nomad at UpBuild

This past September, my girlfriend and I decided to leave Chicago winters for good and find ourselves a new home. So we packed our car with all our belongings, including our dog Morris, and began our year-long cross country road trip. We got rid of our apartment, sold our belongings, and secured Airbnbs along the way. Making this trip happen took a lot of effort, but let’s make no mistake, our ability to go on this adventure was made possible by one thing: remote work.

Remote Work

As UpBuild puts it, “We want to support all of our Builders so that they can learn and grow, always do work they’re proud of, and lead a balanced life.”

What I love about UpBuild is the understanding that we all have lives outside of work. My work life is important to me, but not as important as my personal life. So when the idea of traversing the country for a year became a reality for me, the UpBuild team didn’t blink an eye. 

From the start, UpBuild has been a remote company, with team members located across the country. Our ‘offices’ are whatever we want them to be; couch, kitchen table, bed, or yes, even a van. As long as we are able to get our work done, and do it well, we can decide for ourselves how and where we work.   

My partner and I are not #VanLife YouTubers, earning a living making 20-minute videos on our custom-built Mercedes Sprinter conversion (although I must admit, I enjoy watching these videos). While my partner runs her own graphic design business that lets her set her work goals completely independently, I have a “normal” job that depends on me to get my work done on time, and done well. 

Many people strive to get out of their 9-5s, leave the rat race, and make enough money to live and travel the world before they retire. There’s even a movement called FIRE, whose main goal is financial independence and early retirement. However, at UpBuild, we can do it all: have the great jobs while we pursue the lives we desire. 

Flexibility

So far, UpBuild’s flexibility has allowed me to work on couches in 10 different states, in apartments, condos, friend’s houses, parent’s basements, and poolside. I’ve been to five National Parks, seen Kacey Musgraves live in Nashville, hiked up Max Patch trail in North Carolina overlooking the Smokey Mountains, got engaged while fishing in Tennessee, hiked through the Sonoran desert, and camped in Flagstaff. Let’s not forget getting locked down in Los Angeles when COIVD hit in March. 

Speaking of flexibility, UpBuild’s office hours, a five and a half-hour window where everyone on the team must be online and available, has allowed me to structure my day in a way that works for me, no matter what time zone I’m currently in. This has given me the ability to have breakfast when visiting friends in North Carolina or a late lunch at a winery in California without worrying about work. As long as my work gets done and it’s not within office hours, I can go about my personal life the way I choose. 

None of this would have been possible without the flexibility of working for a company like UpBuild. Not to mention the 4-day work weeks afforded to us when we want a long weekend. 

How to Be a Nomad

While being a digital nomad for the past year has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, I must admit it’s not for everyone. Here are some tips for those who want to live a nomadic lifestyle while still getting your job done.

Be comfortable working from any type of surface

If you need a dedicated workspace, office, or even just a desk to do your job, forget about it!

For the length of this journey, I’ve worked from more kitchen tables than offices and more couches than desks. If you need dedicated space, preferably with a door, you may be out of luck. I’ve had the pleasure to work from a variety of spaces and almost none of them had offices. Make sure you’re able to do your job wherever your journey takes you, even if it’s working on the floor of a 400-square_foot studio. You have to be on your A-game wherever you find yourself.

Have internet providers on speed dial

Be comfortable being your own tech support. When working in new and unusual spaces, you can’t necessarily count on the internet to comply. Many vacation rentals are intended for short-term visits from people who want to escape work — and the internet connection quality reflects this. Look for listings that provide internet speed test scores, or simply message the hosts and ask them if their internet connection is fast enough for video calls and all-day work.

Set boundaries with your partner (if traveling with one)

If you’re lucky enough to have a partner for a journey like this, make sure you set boundaries. Two people working from home can be difficult enough (many of us have figured this out during COVID). However, working with your partner while also traveling with your partner makes it all the more difficult. For example, communicate working styles. I, for one, need absolute silence when working whereas my partner would like to recreate an office setting where conversations abound. This was very difficult in the beginning, but once boundaries were created, we are a stellar co-working pair. She talks to our dog about problems in the office (mostly me) and I continue to work in silence. 

Additionally, you’ll most likely be each other’s only friend during the journey, so take some space apart. If possible, work in separate rooms, go on separate walks and don’t spend every waking moment with one another. 

Focus, Focus, Focus

Traveling is exciting and new and full of surprises. But when you’re working on the road, you need to make sure you can still focus when you need to. On the weekends, we made sure to explore each new destination to our hearts’ content, spending time hiking, sightseeing, and eating. Lots and lots of eating. However, when Monday eventually came around, we got focused. You need to be able to put your adventures in the rearview when your clients need your attention and your projects have deadlines. Don’t let the excitement of your adventures take away from the quality of your work. 

My year-long adventure is almost at the end, but hopefully not the only wild experience I’ll have during my tenure at UpBuild. Being able to travel has always given me energy, excitement, and most of all fulfillment. But being able to travel while I have an amazing job is even better. I truly believe I’m a better person and better at my job for being allowed the flexibility to do things like traveling the country. Who knows where my next adventure will take me? 

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