I tried remote working from this subtropical island. Don’t get too jealous

“What languages do you have?” the German asks the Dutchman. “Python,” he replies. Looking up from my keyboard, I realise they mean computer code, unfortunately not something I’m fluent in.

I have temporarily joined a co-working, co-living space populated almost exclusively by software engineers, programmers and developers. Both Big Tech and small have embraced remote culture, with Google and Airbnb announcing they will allow employees to work from anywhere. In the small print, most companies specify a period of under a month, as working abroad for longer can have tax implications.

The trend has led to a flock of start-ups offering communal offices and accommodation. Santa Cruz-based Outsite, which launched in 2015, has opened 25 new sites in the past two years. One is on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The village of Ponta do Sol rebranded itself as a destination for “digital nomads” last year, hoping to attract workers after tourism collapsed in the pandemic.

I fly out one Thursday morning from Gatwick and get a taxi from the airport. At Outsite, I let myself into my room — white walls, a desk and a balcony — then find my way to the co-working lounge. Before I’ve even opened my laptop, I am met with introductions from fellow workers.

Shane Sibley, a Canadian who works at a travel agency that takes bookings in crypto, arrived two weeks ago but has been travelling for almost a year. “I went on vacation and never came back.”

The people are friendly, remote-work evangelists, but they are almost all young, unattached or travelling with a partner. A Slack channel run by the local government advertises yoga, whale watching and life coaching. But I am not convinced everyone could thrive here. “Tech bros don’t do well on their own,” a hacker, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells me. “For computer dorks, work is the only socialisation they have.”

The co-working space offers tables indoors and out, but I soon discover that working in the sun is impractical: the chairs aren’t ergonomic, light reflects off screens and devices overheat. Inside isn’t much better, as the set up is uncomfortable, more lounge than office.

“Does anyone get any work done here?” wonders Terri Tiemann, a tech recruiter. She’s a veteran digital nomad, having had no fixed address for years. “The only good thing to come out of Covid… is companies have to let people work remotely,” Tiemann says. Workers I speak to say they chose Outsite as short-term rentals such as Airbnb were fully booked, too expensive or too remote.

Flexibility can boost employee wellbeing, with one survey of nearly 12,500 global respondents finding remote workers were 20 per cent happier. Academic studies on productivity are mixed, but one small study from Cambridge found that remote workers spent more time in “low quality” meetings, translating into less productivity.

“I don’t even have to tell work where I am,” says Lucie Zajíčková, who works for a European tech company. She fills her spare time trekking, surfing and volunteering. I join her for yoga by the sea one morning and think about the time I waste each working day that could be spent exploring.

While I lie in corpse pose, my alarm buzzes: my team’s morning meeting. My colleagues are jealous of my sunny backdrop. I assure them I’m working hard, but I’m not sure they buy it. In truth, I miss the face-to-face exchanges, the routine and separation of home and office. Emails pile up as my productivity flatlines. After four days, I’m relieved to fly home.

Cristina Criddle is a technology reporter at the FT

Source: Financial Times