Four months ago, Ray Velez was added to the long list of inspiring individuals challenging the regiment of a 9 to 5 office life by becoming a “digital nomad”. He negotiated a remote work agreement with the Sydney advertising agency he’d been employed by for less than 18 months, sold his personal belongings, and headed to the Philippines to live the dream. But is it all carefree and cocktails? Apparently so…
SFC: I’m sure you daydreamed about this lifestyle long before it happened – how does the reality fare up to what you’d imagined?
RV: It first entered my mind back in 2007 whilst on a sunset parow (sunset boat ride). Could I do creative design work from a remote island paradise for 6 months? The sun was setting, it was a balmy 30-degree day and we were drinking beers cruising along a stretch off Boracay. The thought of working remotely was still a distant idea, and to be honest, I couldn’t visualize how it might happen. All I could see at the time was sitting on a deck chair, drinking beers and cocktails. Basically, a holiday. In any case, I asked the question to 5 of my closest friends that I was holidaying with at the time. I guess I took that question a lot more seriously than I expected.
The reality is, half the time I’m still sitting in front of a laptop. But it’s at a coffee shop, a resort or on a beach. Yes there’s sand between my toes, a tropical breeze and often a cold beer or cocktail. But I think, most importantly, there’s an open mind to problem solving.
SFC: Your situation is a little unique in that you are still employed by an Australian company. If you put yourself in your employer’s shoes – what are the pros and cons?
RV: It’s really weird. I thought that because I also have a few freelancing gigs, I would have the courage to work remotely with no strings attached. But that wasn’t the case. I still found a way to get my full time employer to agree to keep me on. One of the major pros for them is that they’re getting numerous solutions to problems that might previously have been bogged down by varying factors sitting back in the office. Sometimes, being in an office can be very limiting. I hear everything that might affect a decision, from the client’s perspective, to budget issues and time management. Now I feel I’m not as limited by these factors and can freely suggest numerous solutions to any problem, in my own time and still to the client’s deadline. The main con for them is not being able to speak to me personally at every instant, but for me, that’s definitely a pro.
The entire setup is not a guessing game. I approached my employer with a rigid game plan, a contingency plan and what they could expect from me day to day for the next 3 months. It’s a process that is continually being tweaked. It’s definitely not a set and forget operation.
SFC: Is it a struggle to find motivation to work when there are so many places to go and people to meet?
RV: Yes and no. I find inspiration everyday because of the new places I’m visiting and the personalities I meet. This gives me motivation and a tonne of fresh ideas. The struggle is acting on these ideas. I read the blogs of The Art of Non-conformity, Ramit Sethi, Altucher Confidential, Tyler Tervooren and Sam Harris to have their real life examples to reference from.
SFC: Let’s pretend everyone in your office felt inspired by what you did and attempted to up and do the same – is there any practicality in that or would the business crumble?
RV: It really depends on the type of work. Client facing people would find it hard, that’s for sure. People dependent on being connected to a software system might also find it difficult. But if all you need is the Internet, then I don’t see any limits to how a business can operate. I’ve met so many entrepreneurs and digital workers collaborating on projects whilst traveling. Four walls shouldn’t have to define your working environment.
SFC: Now that you’ve been doing this long enough to have perspective and hindsight, is there anything you miss about the 9 to 5 office life?
RV: I’ve tried really hard to think of something I miss. I actually can’t think of anything!
SFC: Many people look at lifestyles like yours and say it isn’t “real life”. How do you feel about that?
RV: I think they’re right!
SFC: So. Do you think this is this the way of the future? And could you see yourself living like this forever?
RV: This is the way of the future. Albert Einstein once said, ‘we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’. The world has new problems and they need to be solved from a new perspective.
Back in 2007, I met a 20 something girl here on Boracay whose family had brought her up amongst the islands. Her background was Australian, but for her entire life she was island and country hopping in South-East Asia. I don’t know if I’ll stay completely nomadic when it comes time to raise a family, but knowing that it’s completely possible is a good reference point to have.
Great story, wish i had his courage and vision.