If you think that you need to quit your job to see world, think again. Today we go to Emerald Hub – one of the biggest and best-equipped coworking spaces in Phnom Penh, and the office of choice for the guys taking part in the Remote Year program.
We meet with Meredith Dreman, community manager at Remote Year – the US startup that organises group itineraries for digital nomads, offering this new breed of professionals the possibility of travelling hassle-free around the world while working remotely. If you consider yourself a footloose employee, pay close attention to what Dreman has to say:
Tell me about Remote Year. How did the company get started?
Greg Caplan, who is the founder, was living in Chicago and had a remote job. He realised he could be travelling the world instead of staying in just one place, and asked a group of friends if they would join him. No one was interested, except for his roommate.
Together they created a very simple website to see if anyone else was interested in joining them and traveling while working remotely. Greg had this idea of doing 12 countries in 12 months. They thought maybe they’d get a couple of responses. However, they received thousands of emails from people that visited the website and were interested.
That’s when they realised it was a good business idea. The first Remote Year group met in Prague in the summer of 2015.
How many groups have there been so far?
The company started just over a year ago. So far, only that initial group has been able to complete the whole year. There are six other groups currently running. Each one has a different itinerary and slightly different sizes.
I work with the fourth group, whose name is Magellan. There are about 50 participants and we are in our seventh month. We started in July in Valencia. From there, we went to Lisbon, Rabat, Sofia, Belgrade, Hanoi, and now Phnom Penh. Next week we travel to Kuala Lumpur, then Lima, Cordoba, and Buenos Aires.
Why was Phnom Penh chosen as a location for your itinerary?
We have a team of city scouters who choose each location very carefully. The chosen cities have to meet a set of criteria. First, they have to have the infrastructure to support the Wi-Fi needs of our participants, or “remotes” as we call them within the organisation.
We also look for cities that offer good networking opportunities. We want to connect our remotes to interesting locals, and we want them to experience and be a part of the local culture as much as possible. We avoid overtly touristy areas. We want to give them the experience of what it would feel like if they were expats living in these cities.
You mentioned infrastructure, networking opportunities… Any other reasons why Phnom Penh was selected?
Yes, the social entrepreneurship. There are so many entrepreneurs in this city striving to do work that is socially meaningful. Then, there is, of course, the tuk tuks, which make it extremely easy for our participants to move around the city. Anything that makes transportation easier for our remotes is always a plus.
What are some of the activities you’ve done in the city as a group?
One of the highlights has been working with Tiny Toons, a local NGO that trains marginalised youths in breakdancing and other dance forms and artistic expressions. We met with the kids, watched them dance, and even did a little breakdancing of our own. We have also hosted a lot of dinners, where we split our group and sent them off to different local restaurants. We look for restaurants with a social cause, like Friends International near the National Museum. Recently, we also held a networking event at D22 in Phnom Penh Tower.
Tell me about the local partners that you collaborate with in Phnom Penh.
In each city we work with a number of locals who help us plan our stay. In Phnom Penh, particularly, we have a very strong city team. What’s cool about Remote Year is that the local staff shows you around, so it feels like you’re visiting a cousin in another city, as opposed to just being a tourist.
One of the cool things about my job is getting to have co-workers from all the different places that we go to. They help us with everything, from programming to inviting their contacts to our networking nights so that we have a good mix of locals. And they bring you to the best restaurants in town!
What makes a successful remote? What do you need to have in you to make the most out of this program?
Being open-minded, that’s the big one. And being able to appreciate differences, whether they are cultural differences or differences in your routine. There’s a certain level of adaptability that needs to be there for someone to join a program like this; a little bit of “going with the flow”. Patience definitely helps.
Can you share a specific story of someone you know who has changed profoundly personally, professionally or both – as a result of taking part in the program?
All of our remotes report having changed significantly at some level as a result of this program. It just changes your mindset. For example, we have a guy who came into the program as a corporate lawyer and is now is running his own company providing personal training services online. It’s been inspiring to watch his journey from a corporate lifestyle to a more unique and creative way of life; to watch him gather the courage to pursue his passion.
What is the biggest reward people report having had by partaking in the program?
Self-discovery: you learn about other places, and you learn about yourself from reacting to those places. A lot of people also develop a lot more confidence. I’ve seen people who started off being incredibly shy and are now comfortable giving speeches in front of big audiences.
I’ve seen people who came in with their regular jobs and after a few months developed the courage and confidence to pursue their passion projects, whether as a side thing or full-time. I think doing Remote Year reassures people that they can travel while working remotely. It proves that it isn’t just a phase that people go through, but a way of living that is sustainable.
This interview took place in December 2016, when the Magallanes Group of Remote Year was visiting Phnom Penh. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.