What really happens when wanderlust meets work? Welcome to Digital Nomad Diaries, where we ask women to get real about the joys and challenges of remote work. Because even though this lifestyle is definitely a privilege, that doesn't mean it's not without its challenges and trade-offs.
Name: Francesca Morfini
Industry: Marketing & PR
Countries/Cities You've Worked From: Italy, Greece, Jordan, Sarasota, FL, Mexico City, Morocco, Austria and Vancouver, Canada.
When did you first start working remotely? Did the pandemic make this possible for you or were you way ahead of the game?
I’ve been gradually going more and more remote since I became self-employed, but it wasn’t until 2021 that I went fully remote. My whole family is based between Greece and Italy, so it was important to figure out how to spend a few months of the year with them.
By working with brands as an external partner or consultant rather than an employee, I have more say in things like location. That said, pre-pandemic, I was worried that by not being in the same city, I would miss out on projects which, at the time, relied heavily on offline meetings and events. So I never spent more than four or five weeks away.
The pandemic definitely made working remotely easier. Everyone is more set up for it and generally, a lot of marketing and PR is happening online. It’s just a different mindset, from both companies and the people you’re trying to target (customers, media, influencers, etc.).
What were the practical considerations of remote work? (Did you sublet your place, have to find a pet-sitter, make any arrangements with your workplace?)
My first longer remote trip was in the spring of 2021, when I spent two months in Vancouver. It came together within 10 days of my flight out, so it was too short notice to find a subletter. I had just joined a fully remote company, where my CEO happened to be based in Vancouver. I was already planning on going for a shoot that month, so it ended up working out perfectly. Thankfully, I also had a really chill roommate who helped with incoming mail and other adult stuff at the condo back home.
Ahead of a trip, I made a list of all the stuff that needed to get done and planned out mini deadlines for each piece. That way it didn’t feel like one big project, but rather daily, smaller tasks that amounted to a larger goal.
What was the time difference adjustment like? Do you pick your destinations with this in mind?
Yes and no… I specifically chose destinations in North America because of the time difference and distance as a whole. But with my family split between Italy and Greece, and my boyfriend’s family in Jordan, the seven-hour time difference is hard to escape.
After years of practice, I have found the best routine when working from Europe/Middle East is to bulk all calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays (that way I have free evenings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when people on EST/CST/PST are still working). I generally have a slow morning and do all my deep, solo work before everyone in North America wakes up, have a long break midday and reserve my evenings for calls.
It’s definitely an adjustment and not an easy one. It requires lots of organization, to be on top of the time difference and figure out your best schedule to get things done. Google Calendar has an option to see more than one time zone—that’s been godsend. The set up has forced me to re-evaluate my best working hours, refine my schedule and be flexible.
I always remember that it’s my choice to work remotely and therefore my responsibility to figure out. I had to give up my usual 9-5, but honestly, I much prefer this new rhythm.
For you, what are the costs of working remote? (Rent, co-working space, flights). Would you say that this cost you more than working at home, less or about the same?
The main expenses are phone plans and flights, these apply regardless of location.
Outside of the US, phone plans will cost around $20 a month, plus a few top ups if your WIFI is not working and you need to tether to your phone. I still need to keep my Canadian number active in order to receive texts for two-factor authentication with accounts there, which costs me around $30 a month.
In the US, I rely on WIFI lots. Luckily it’s everywhere, so it’s easy to make it work.
Flights vary—I always try to book as far in advance as possible but it’s not always possible. A combination of points and credit card perks has supported the flights, though they are by far my highest expense.
If I’m visiting a new place and getting my own apartment, costs are about the same as working from home. I’m pretty conscious about eating out only a few times a week—it’s so easy to go all out when you’re traveling. Actually, buying produce and cooking locally has turned into one of my favourite ways to explore the places I visit. It also helps to keep consistencies within a routine where I’m traveling all over.
If I’m visiting family or a friend, costs are always much lower. I’m saving on rent utilities and, depending on the set up, also food.
Last is credit card expenses. Grossly overlooked! I try to pull cash before any trip to avoid these, as they can add up without realizing.
Another expense is simply the mental capacity of organizing everything—people don’t talk about this enough. I’ll have no more than a few months planned by way of location and that took time to get comfortable with.
Any unexpected costs?
Topping up phone plans to tether my computer to my phone when WIFI isn’t working. This was particularly challenging in Mexico, though luckily top ups were pretty reasonable ($20 for 5GB).
What are the best parts of working remote?
The best part for me was feeling like I was in control of my life and wellbeing. Between the bad weather and extreme restrictions, spending the better part of the pandemic in Toronto took a major toll on my mental health. My 2-month escape to BC was almost accidental, but it didn’t take long to realize how much more active I was, and how much better I felt. Another piece is knowing I can decide how much time to spend with my family abroad. Most companies offer no more than two to three weeks vacation, and that’s just not enough time to see family that lives in a different continent. Last, it’s about being conscious of how you’re spending your time. Because I’m actively choosing to be in a place where I can do more than work, I make sure my time working is really productive and thoughtful, whether it’s solo work or meetings—there aren’t any dead hours of inefficient work. I plan my working hours around my life, not the other way around.
What about the worst parts and frustrations?
My frustrations are around adjusting and having lots of uncertainty. It looks great from the outside, but I still struggle with moving my schedule around to make sure I’m showing up for my clients and teams in different time zones. And sometimes this means taking meetings at 1 a.m. or not knowing where I will live three months from now. Another piece that’s been a challenge is solo work, which is why I prioritize projects where I can work with a team. Remote work can be really lonely, like we have discovered with WFH, and I learned being part of a larger effort is a big personal motivator. Last, it’s challenging to work in new environments where there isn’t a designated working space or routine, and it’s up to me to make it work. People thrive off repeatable, predictable routines, regardless of personality, so I’ve created habits that I take with me anywhere. That’s meditating, journaling, moving based on what’s available (running, climbing, hiking, pilates or yoga) and eating home-cooked food more often than not.
Did you find that you were fully able to enjoy being abroad while working?
Not when I first started—it took a lot of practice and knowing which boundaries to set for myself. This was especially when I first started working around my family. It was in a setting that I had previously experienced as for vacation only, and let’s get real, families are demanding (at least my Italian one is!). Coming from a place where I was only responsible for myself, I now had to consider their schedules in how I planned my day.
Now, prior to travel, I set a general parameter for my day to day. This provides the structure and routine that gives me peace of mind wherever I am.
How does remote work affect your productivity?
In the beginning, I used it as an excuse to procrastinate, but I quickly realized that it’s my choice and therefore my responsibility to make it work. Ironically, the best thing I did for my productivity was to plan activities outside of work, be it an afternoon of climbing or a long weekend trip. Commitment to other plans forced me to be super productive during my working hours so I could hit my deadlines and do the fun stuff I said I was going to do.
With all of your experience now, what are your current thoughts on remote work? Would you do it forever/indefinitely?
Hard to say, it’s been so long since I’ve worked in an office, I’m not sure how I’d react to it. I’m currently working with companies in both North America and Europe, so it’s unlikely that it will be a reality for me any time soon. In an ideal world, I’d love to have week-long spurts where I’m working with a team IRL, then spend the rest of the year working remotely. Spending that time together is so effective for relationship-building and coming up with big ideas. It would be hard to give up remote work—the pros are just too compelling, especially now that I feel closer to figuring out a system that I’m comfortable with.