In today’s business world, it’s rare to find someone who isn’t familiar with the phrase ‘the future of work’ or ‘digital nomad’. Anyone with an Instagram account has probably seen one of those pics of a MacBook balanced carefully on the edge of a pool with the caption #myoffice!
Evidently, the future of work encompasses numerous elements but at the core, the concept reflects a desire for greater flexibility and work-life balance. One month ago, I joined this movement and now call myself a ‘remote worker’.
Why leave Melbourne when the coffee is so good?
When I finished my MBA, the concept of continuing my career from Cambodia would have made me laugh. However, as 2017 came to a close I started to re-evaluate the lifestyle I was living in Melbourne and realised something was missing for me.
I moved to Melbourne in 2013 from remote Northern Territory to change my career and essentially break into the business world. Five years later (and a highly stressful MBA behind me), I woke up exhausted and in a pretty unfulfilling weekly routine. Gym, work about 9 hours, eat on the run, networking event, wine, finger food for dinner and then bed by 10. Rinse and repeat. In addition, my competitive salary was still not proving enough to provide a financial safety net as I approach my mid-thirties. It’s the common income/lifestyle trap and I was in it!
Cambodia? Hmmm…isn’t that near Thailand?
In 2012, I took some time off from my role as a literacy coach in remote NT and landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The aim was to volunteer for two months at a charity run school in a small village. I was to coach local teachers in their practice and help with curriculum design. It was a pure cliché but it was a life changing experience. As I said my goodbyes, I always knew that I had a place to come if I ever felt lost or needed a break from ‘western’ life.
Siem Reap is a tourist town which hosts the famous Angkor Wat just 20 minutes away. It is also full of NGO’s that fill the gap that governments and the private sector can’t. Cambodia is still very much in recovery from the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) in which up to a third of the population perished under a repressive regime. The realities of life here are pretty grim for most and confronting to all.
So… how does it work?
Due to Cambodia being only 3 hours behind Melbourne and the fact that I am a morning person, I start work about the time most people are sipping their first coffee. I schedule meetings after 11am EST and run them via Zoom (which we would often do in Melbourne if the journey across town meant too much time wasted). My team can get me on Slack, WhatsApp or Skype at any time. So far, clients love the novelty of it and have been very supportive.
What are the best bits?
Due to the lower cost of living, I do not need to work full-time. I have been able to move to a 4 day a week arrangement and use the 5th day to volunteer and work on other passion projects. I am reading more, eating better and engaging with a different type of community. I now socialise among NGO leaders, teachers, pilots, entrepreneurs and business owners from all over the world. Everyone has a story as to why they live here, each one as unique as the next. One thing we all have in common though is the unavoidable sense of gratefulness we feel for being born where we were. There is no shortage of compassion here and it runs deep, regardless of what your job is. Everyone wants to help in some way.
If it isn’t hard then it’s not worth it
Another term widely used in places like Cambodia to describe expatriates who have abandoned their corporate jobs for a simpler life is ‘corporate refugee’. The challenging part for me is that I have not left the corporate world, I am straddling both. I still work a full day as a consultant, feel the pressures of a start-up life, have client deliverables and ambitions that still align with the Australian education system. It is too soon to tell if I am asking too much… All I know at this stage is that I don’t regret the move for a second. I feel energised and motivated to craft a more connected and balanced life!