OrangeTrail Interview Series — Chisanga Mukuka

Our blog series on all-things-remote continues, this time with a spotlight on one of our own OTers. In this interview, you get to meet Chisanga. She started at OrangeTrail back in June and has just come back from a one-week ‘workation’ in Croatia. In an async chat with our colleague Theodora Negrea, she describes her experiments with flexible workdays and shares some of her tips for combining work and play.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background, what do you do in your current role, and how long have you been with OrangeTrail? And, where you are writing us from? 😊

I have a multidisciplinary background — I studied architecture before going into media and working as a content writer for a few years. I then developed an interest in tech, innovation, and experience design, and this led me to OrangeTrail and my role as a Digital Transformation Consultant. We help organisations improve their collaboration and engagement, and leverage technology to work smarter. I’m based in Amsterdam, but currently in Split, Croatia, where I’m trying out the whole “workation” thing. I’m here for a week and working remotely while doing as much exploring and relaxing as I can.

How has the week been, and what were the highlights?

It’s been great! I thought I’d struggle to get work done, but this hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve enjoyed a lot of things but hiking through the stunning Plitviče Lakes National Park stands out!

I also know that you’ve been working a slightly different schedule this week to better take advantage of being there. What does that entail and how is it going for you?

Yes, I chose to start my days earlier and free up my afternoon, so I’m working from 7 am — 3 pm. It’s going surprisingly well! I’m not a morning person, so I wasn’t sure if I would wake up on time or have the energy to get going so early. But I’m wide awake before my alarm goes off every single day. I also feel a lot more productive, probably because I have a few quiet hours to focus before the rest of the team is online, and I’m eager to get out and explore later.

Is this your first experience of remote work (excluding WFH) or of working a flexible schedule?

No, I freelanced remotely for almost two years before joining OrangeTrail, but that was all asynchronous work. I didn’t have set working hours, just assignments and due dates. It was a great travel opportunity; I was a digital nomad for the first three months of 2020 and visited Kigali, Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar Es Salaam, and Zanzibar.

For you, personally, what are the challenging bits of working while travelling in a different city or country?

The week in Croatia has gone very smoothly, to be honest. The biggest challenge is choosing activities that fit my work schedule. I won’t get to do everything, for example, an island-hopping tour, but I just see this as a reason to come back.

And the advantages?

Working from a different place is so refreshing; the change of scenery and pace, and the new experiences give me a lot of energy! It was also great to plan a break without worrying about how many leave days I’ll have left. This has encouraged me to plan more breaks like this, instead of waiting to take a long holiday once or twice a year.

There are different ways to combine work with travel. Some people choose to move around all the time, while others spend longer periods in one place and take in their surroundings at a slower pace. Others still opt for having one main base and only travelling and working a few weeks a year. On top of that, of course, come the requirements of employers and the different degrees of ‘hybrid work’. Which model would you say suits you best and why?

I think having a main base and travelling and working a few weeks a year suits me best. While I love exploring new places, my routines, relationships, etc., would be hard to maintain if I was constantly traveling. For example, being close to a dance studio with instructors that I click with is very important to me, and that would be a challenge. So, a week in Croatia is perfect because I get to experience a different part of the world, but it doesn’t disrupt my current set-up for too long. The next best option would be spending longer in one place. This was the case in Nairobi, Kenya. I spent six weeks there, got into a routine, and started to get a sense of what it would be like to live there. I even found a dance studio with an amazing instructor!

Finally, what lessons or insights will you be taking back with you from this week’s experience?

Lesson one — Stay for at least two weekends, this allows you to do more full-day activities. I’m in Split for a week (Friday to Thursday), and there are few things that I can’t do because I’m only free from 3 pm.

Lesson two — Plan and schedule your activities for the week. I think a big motivator is knowing that I have something to look forward to at the end of my workday, whether it’s a tour, a museum visit, or a reservation at a scenic restaurant. This makes it so much easier to get up and be productive, and to shut down the computer when the workday is over.

Lesson three — If you’re working different hours like I am, make sure your colleagues know when you’re available. Block your free time in your calendar so that you don’t end up in meetings when you were planning to be on the beach!

Lesson four — Work from local cafes and restaurants, and make sure the wi-fi is reliable! My accommodation has great Wi-Fi and a workspace that I really like, but it would have been great to spend some time working in a local spot. I’ve tried this once but the wi-fi was temperamental, so it feels much safer to work from the apartment. A bit of research beforehand would have helped!

Lesson five — Experimenting with your work hours can give you a lot more time for yourself, even when you’re not travelling. I knew this in theory, but I’d never tried it. I made excuses (e.g., I’m not a morning person), but having a fun reason to give it a shot has made me realise that it’s not that hard to do.

 

This is a part of our series on ‘Pioneers of Remote’, where we aim to translate personal experiences of professionals with a record of remote-first & distributed work into tangible lessons for leadership, teams and employees. If you are interested in this series, follow us for more! Read our previous interview here.

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