How to work remotely and thrive in the world’s hottest digital nomad destination: South East Asia

Working remotely from Southeast Asia while your company is 16 timezones away may sound exciting but comes with its own challenges.

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So you decided to pack your bags and travel through Asia. Better yet, your boss is happy for you to work remotely. Congratulations! Being able to work from wherever you want in the world is something many people dream about.

On the surface, it may seem like the ideal scenario, but digital nomads face challenges every day. From keeping lines of communication open to setting deadlines and appropriate working hours, these things can be hard when your headquarters is far away. 

The ability to work your own hours is one of the main benefits of working remotely. But it can be troublesome if you are not organized and disciplined.

Table of contents

    Avoiding burnout as a remote employee

    Many remote workers admit they usually end up overworking. Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report shows that remote workers find it very hard to unplug after work.

    It’s easy to understand why. When you work in an office environment, you are usually there for the duration of the workday. It is easier to leave tasks in the office when you leave at the end of the day. When you are working from home or remotely, it can be much more difficult to disconnect. This inability to unplug can easily lead to burnout. 

    The best way to avoid overworking is to establish a strict timetable for yourself.

    Managing timezone differences when working remotely

    Let’s say that your company is in Seattle and you are working from Bali. That’s a 16 hour (or eight hours in the other direction) time difference! By the time your coworkers arrive at the office on Friday morning, you will be already on your way into the weekend.

    It’s not all bad, though, if you are prepared. An effective way is to split your workday into AM and PM sessions. For example:

    • AM session (6–10 am Bali / 2–6 pm Seattle)
    • PM session (2–6 pm Bali time / night time in Seattle)

    This division would allow you to plan synchronous communication for the morning sessions. You could also get some uninterrupted work done in the afternoons, with a long siesta during the day to enjoy the island life!

    Creating an effective work environment as a remote employee

    With the freedom of creating your own schedule, it can be challenging to focus on specific tasks. Imagine yourself working at a beach bar in Vietnam, complete with all the distractions such an idyllic location has to offer. 

    A modern office itself is not a distraction-free environment either. Working in the middle of a crowded open office can actually be detrimental to getting work done.

    You may discover that after a few weeks working from cafes, you start missing the office. Not the commute or the dress code but the fact that once you enter an office, you transition into “work mode.”

    Working from a coworking space

    You can create a similar environment by renting a table at a coworking space. This can also help prevent the feeling of isolation, as working remotely doesn’t necessarily have to mean working alone. 

    An even better alternative is to get a desk at an Emerhub office. It comes with an HR who can handle any issues remote workers may face. For example, visa runs, help with local contacts, or opening a local bank account.

    These solutions also reduce the likelihood of internet connectivity issues which could impact your productivity. Another solution is to proactively invest in a reliable mobile internet service, so you have access no matter your location. 

    How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote

    Remote teams often communicate by writing. It’s asynchronous and doesn’t demand participants to be online or even awake at the same time. The main problem is that what you write does not always mean the same thing to others. That can cause misunderstanding and create extra work.

    How to build a strong culture with a remote team

    Scott Berkun wrote in “The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work,” that one of the problems with remote work is that the loss of “passive data” that comes with sharing an office: body language, habits, and mood, or knowing when is the best time to interrupt.

    Establishing a few loose guidelines around how you communicate as a team can combat the lack of familiarity that comes with being in different locations.

    • Work with your coworkers about being attentive to tone in emails and messages. Start with yourself, of course.
    • Make sure you are as clear as possible, particularly when setting tasks or direction.
    • Set up a channel that allows for more casual talk. It should still take place even if you are in different timezones. Always be careful with the wording.

    Remote communication should not just be limited to work discussions

    Most companies that allow remote work also have physical offices. But this means anyone who works remotely may not take part in social engagements and casual chats in the office environment.

    To avoid this, set up ways for staff to communicate as if everyone works remotely:

    • Hold meetings on Slack (or any other chat software). It keeps everybody in the loop and allows people to respond when they have time. Many businesses find physical meetings are often not the best way to get work done anyway.
    • Set up internal communication tools to announce any important events. This may include new employees, quarterly performance updates, new initiatives, etc.
    • Try arriving for conference calls 5–10 minutes early. Use that time to catch up with your coworkers about their lives or what may be happening where they are.

    You may not be able to instate rules for the whole company to follow depending on your position. Start with the people you directly work with. They will soon notice that working “remotely” can be a great productivity booster.

    Working legally as a remote employee

    Most countries in the world don’t (yet) have a dedicated visa for digital nomads. The world is still catching up with the idea that work can be done remotely.

    Visit any expat cafe or coworking space and you’ll probably find a handful of digital nomads. Most of them work on a visa on arrival. In most Southeast Asian countries, that would mean you are breaking the law. An exception is Cambodia (where they provide business visas on arrival).

    This is one of the untold stories of remote work: thousands of illegal workers sipping coconuts while getting work done. All on a tourist visa.

    Local Immigration officials know it too, and they often conduct raids to target illegal workers.

    The solution? Your employer needs a legal way to hire you in the country you work from. That is easy if you work for a company that has offices in your desired tropical location. Most likely though, your employer doesn’t have an office in Cebu to issue you with a correct work permit.

    That’s why Emerhub created the Employer of Record service. Our company employs you while working full time for your company.

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