I recently had the opportunity to work remotely for my company Gusto—which is based in San Francisco and Denver—from Auckland, New Zealand for about a month’s length of time.
I’ve been in a year and a half long distance relationship with a kiwi—a local reference for a New Zealander—and we’ve been periodically visiting each other’s home cities of Auckland and SF. Since he had last seen me in the US and was busy with school at the time, my managers and I made an arrangement for me to work remotely from Auckland in February and March. I had visited New Zealand a few times the year before and had some remote work experience under my belt, so I felt prepared to give this venture a shot.
What I expected
I was sort of hoping I would be coding amongst the cute sheep on the majestical hills of New Zealand.
What I got
I mostly worked from my partner’s flat situated in the suburbs on the north side of the city.
What I learned
I realized something important from this experience and that is
whether you are working from home or far away, the challenges of remote work are very similar.
The habits, practices, and emotions I normally experience while working from home did not differ much from when I was working in New Zealand. Zoom meetings, async conversations over Slack, having a flexible work schedule, feeling a mixture of freedom and isolation, and coding from the same location the whole day made me feel like I was only a 1 hour commute away from the office as opposed to a 13 hour flight.
As exciting as New Zealand sounds, a large part of my day was pretty mundane and was more similar to working from my home in the Bay Area than I thought it would be.
WFH vs WFNZ
There were a few major discrepancies between working from home and working from New Zealand that I’ll address.
First there was the time difference. I was 21 hours ahead in Auckland at the time (equivalent to 3 hours behind, but 1 day ahead) which put me on a Tuesday – Saturday, 8am – 4pm-ish work schedule. From a remote standpoint, this is not bad at all since my colleagues were online most of the time that I was. As not a morning person, the biggest hurdle was waking up to attend daily 8am (and sometimes 7am 😭) meetings.
Second, there was the cultural difference. I felt a bit out of place in New Zealand at first since I was outside the Silicon Valley bubble and spending time with people who weren’t as deeply entrenched in tech as me. This got better over time as I became more adjusted to the culture, but I missed having conversations about IPOs, APIs, and other extremely geeky topics.
Me: “Isn’t it interesting how there are VC firms dedicated to funding ex-Airbnb employees?”
Kiwi friend: “Ah yeah… but, hey, so good the Blues won last night.”
Last, I had to embrace that the only source of communication to my team was through the internet. When I work from home, it’s usually once a week and thus I can sync with anyone I need to in person at the office the next day. I obviously didn’t have that option in New Zealand. One day, I indirectly gave feedback to a coworker in a team meeting over Zoom that came across as awkward and a tad passive aggressive. I apologized over Slack after the incident, but I was desperate to say sorry in person so that I could better convey my remorse. It pained me to have to wait to do so.
What you should know
If you’re interested in working from New Zealand or remotely in any other capacity for an extended period of time, here are some insights I gained from my trip abroad.
1. Be clear with your team about how you will handle communication 🤝
One thing I’m glad I did before the trip was I asked my manager if it was okay for me to be a bit noisy on Slack and over-communicate with him. He said that was fine and encouraged me to be vocal about questions and that I should create Zoom meetings if I felt like we needed to have more in depth conversations. Since we were the two main engineers on my project, setting this expectation broke down barriers around feeling guilty about bothering him too much and enabled swifter development.
2. Stay in touch with your work community 🙋♀️
Whether this is your coworkers or a group of people in a similar career field as you, interacting with colleagues periodically about the things you care about will keep you sane and motivated. I believe my experience would have been a lot less isolating if I had been in better contact with my team and people who had the same work-related concerns as me. I found out later in my trip that we have a #remote Slack channel at Gusto specifically for this purpose.
3. Switch up where you work from 🚗
I spent way too much time working in the same room and was struck hard by cabin fever by my second week in. My restlessness was alleviated when I started going to more diverse workplaces such as my partner’s school campus and various coffee shops in the city.
4. Build up to longer remote trips ✈️
Prior to working from New Zealand, I had a fair amount of experience working remotely for shorter periods of time. I was used to working from home, I had worked remotely from Vermont once, and I also had worked from Xero’s office in Wellington for 3 days on one of my previous trips when we were building our US payroll integration. I felt like a month away was a good amount of time to test a longer endeavor.
Was it worth it?
To get to be with my partner after 3 months without seeing him? Sh** yes. I am very grateful that we were able to reunite and that I was supported by my team throughout the trip. In saying that, the experience of working remotely was definitely more challenging than I expected. I felt so removed from the impact of my work at times that it felt like what I was doing was disappearing into the ether. When I returned, I checked with my manager to see how he perceived my performance. I was surprised to hear that he thought my output was just as good—even a bit faster—than my usual pace. It was nice to know that I had accomplished a lot while I was away, but I was relieved to be back in the office.
Would I recommend it?
For anyone curious about living the nomadic dream and has the opportunity to do so, I would say go for it! There has been plenty more written about how to improve remote working, so do your research to ensure an optimal experience. With remote working becoming more popular, it’s important for people to gain an understanding of what it is like and to build practices that will make collaboration from anywhere robust and accessible.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge the fact that I was in New Zealand when the attack on Christchurch occurred on March 15, 2019. My heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims, Muslim and other underrepresented communities, as well as all others affected by this tragic event. Your solidarity and ability to step up as a nation is inspiring and I am honored to have witnessed such strength first-hand.