Van life remote work in Ayungue Ecuador
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Everything You Wanted to Know About Life as a Corporate Nomad

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If you’ve always wanted a life of travel AND a corporate career, your star is rising. The age of the corporate nomad is upon us. This is how I became a corporate nomad, what I learned along the way, and how you can be a corporate nomad too!

I became a corporate nomad just before the business world was forced to consider what it would be like to have its workforce permanently out of office. 

Before the COVID pandemic, there were a handful of companies offering remote work positions, but it was hardly mainstream. People wanted their corporate positions filled by someone who was going to be onsite. Someone they knew was working because they came into the office every day. In 2018, nobody wanted their accounting staff to be somewhere in the Peruvian Amazon Monday to Friday.

But in 2018, fed up after grinding for six and a half years in a ‘Big Four’ accounting firm, that’s just where I wanted to be.

I was greedy, I didn’t want to make the tough choice between a life of travel and a great career, I wanted both.

So, I set out to find not just any old job that I could take on the road but to identify a career move that would support the life I wanted. One that would continue to build on the solid platform I had sacrificed to build and ideally continue me on the career trajectory I had worked so hard to set.

It was ambitious and it wasn’t easy. I struggled for ten months to try to find a job, all the while watching my savings dwindle, unsure if I would ever be able to find a way to replenish them. It was stressful. There were tears, temper tantrums, and a lot of intense self-doubt. During those ten months, I considered begging for my old job back, taking a big step back in my career, and even changing careers altogether. Thankfully, I rode it out.

Fast forward to 2022, I have a fantastic job that I love, perfectly in line with my skill set and expertise, working with a great team, and a company that supports me as an employee and a corporate nomad. I have been working from the road for three years, and today I am working from my little sailboat as I sail along the coastline of Croatia.

Kelli working from a boat as a corporate nomad
Working from a boat is amazing, but it doesn’t come without challenges

So, life is a beach now right? Well, not always. Besides the struggle to get where I am today, becoming a corporate nomad isn’t the end of the journey but the beginning. Sadly, your troubles don’t end the day you walk out of the office building and set off into the great unknown clutching your hotspot. In addition to the multitude of advantages that come with this lifestyle, there are also a number of challenges, some that are obvious but many that I never would have considered.

This is everything I have learned about becoming a corporate nomad and living as a corporate nomad.

What is a Corporate Nomad

Two laptops and two cups of coffee set up at a table in a cafe. the life of a corporate nomad.
Digital nomad or corporate nomad, what’s the difference?

Once I started working remotely and for a long time after, I was under the impression that I was a digital nomad. After all, I worked from my laptop as a digital nomad, sat in cafes like a digital nomad, and traveled full time like a digital nomad.

So why, when I read the blogs or watched the videos about other digital nomads, did I not feel like I was a part of this clique of web developers, bloggers, photographers, and graphic designers.

Well, I didn’t have the tats, the mac book pro, or let’s be honest, the laid-back, carefree attitude of a true digital nomad. Instead, what I had were directors’ meetings to attend, to-do lists to make, and technical memos to write.

Recently the Harvard Business Review published an article titled The Rise of the Corporate Nomad and it clicked into place. I had never been a digital nomad, I had been treading a different path, the path of the corporate nomad.

A corporate nomad is someone who leverages modern technology to work for (or with) a corporation in a fully or mostly remote capacity, and who utilizes that flexibility to be location independent. They differ from their digital nomad sistren and brethren who carve out a path completely in the digital space, using their skills to win jobs and contracts and deliver computer-based deliverables via the internet. Rather, corporate nomads work in white-collar professions such as law, accounting, or finance. They work as a part of companies just like their more firmly anchored counterparts do.

Naturally, as part of working in an organization, corporate nomads often need to collaborate with people and work in teams as opposed to the independent work and individual contributions that are required of the digital nomad. Corporate nomads usually have regular and routine responsibilities in a company, making the need to be consistently and reliably connected even more crucial.

Why I Became a Corporate Nomad

To be honest, when I quit my job in 2018 I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had no plan to become a corporate nomad or to take my life on the road.

All I knew was that I was fed up with the 60-80 hour workweeks for little pay and less appreciation, picking up the slack in my team, only to be rewarded with more work and responsibility being pushed down the pipeline.

It happened in a moment. One day, in the middle of a particularly brutal run of 17-hour days I looked up from my desk, I told my colleague I was done. I picked up the phone and called HR and asked them how I could start processing my resignation.

I could still see my end goal, grinding up the ladder, making partner within eight or nine years, but in an instant, it stopped holding any appeal for me. The idea of sitting at this desk, in this stifling environment, working my ass off for the next three decades suddenly made me feel ill.

I walked out without a job, without a plan, and without a clue what I was going to do next.

how I became a Corporate Nomad

Woman standing on a road, next to a van in the desert. Andes mountains in the distance.
The beginning of a long journey

The first thing I did after I walked out of my job was to enjoy my newfound freedom.

It was summer, and I was living in Amsterdam. I could walk through the canals, enjoy the bars and cafes, and lie out at the park reading a book.

So I lived it up… for maybe three hours.

By midday on the first Monday without work I was panicked. I was bored of reading, walking, and sitting, and I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do for the rest of the week. My life as an accountant may have been grueling but it had never allowed me a minute to sit and reflect on just what I was supposed to be doing. Now I had that time, and it was frightening.

So I needed a goal, a non-work-related goal. I decided I would travel. Eddie and I settled on a plan to fly to South America and buy a van. What better way to gain some perspective and workout out what I would do next than on this quintessential vagabond journey.

I threw myself into the task of preparing for the trip. Destinations were researched, plans were drawn, and extensive lists were created. I researched where we would go and how we would do it. I learned all about the process of buying a car in Chile as a foreigner. I made an extensive spreadsheet to manage our finances to a level that would have made my former directors proud.

Finally, it was time to go.

After just a few weeks of van life in South America, it became clear that traveling full time was something that we both could see ourselves doing, at least for a little while. Equally quickly, it became apparent that travel by itself wasn’t enough.

Yes, traveling is great, fun, and exciting but after a few months on the road, all play and no work began to lose a bit of its sheen. I felt unproductive, invalidated, and a little too untethered.

How I Found a Job as a Corporate Nomad

Corporate nomad working in a van
working places in tiny spaces

I knew I needed a job, but I didn’t necessarily set out to become a corporate nomad. I started by looking at my options.

As an auditor, my entire career had been in the corporate world, and I didn’t really know anything different.

My hobbies were not going to land me a new gig. My interests in reading books and going to the beach were not going to bring in any cash or give me the sense of fulfillment and purpose I was looking for. I knew I was unlikely to reskill and become a photographer or graphic designer. Plus, truth be told, I enjoyed my work as long as I wasn’t working 60+ hours a week for weeks on end.

So I set about the difficult job of trying to find an organization that didn’t mind if their accountant was working from the office or out the back of a van parked up on a beach in Colombia.

At that time, there weren’t a lot of people talking about this idea at least… not publicly. I started to enquire with everyone in my network. After working in the US and Europe for a global company, and with many colleagues that had come and gone from the firm, I had a strong network of accounting professionals around the world.

Most people, when I brought up the idea of working remotely full time while I traveled to different time zones thought I was being ludicrous. After exhausting my personal network, which offered plenty of location-based opportunities but very little fully remote and nothing that would let you travel freely, I changed tactics.

I started looking for remote opportunities on LinkedIn. Again, at this time fully remote opportunities were few and far between. Months of trawling the web and applying for jobs, even outside my specialty resulted in only a single interview which went well and resulted in a verbal offer before the recruiter ghosted me, never to be heard from again. I was reaching the end of my rope. I was becoming increasingly worried about how everything was going to play out. The self-doubt as to whether I had just committed career suicide had well and truly set in.

Next, I started looking online for consulting and independent contractor roles using the Upwork platform. Upwork connects professionals in a variety of fields (finance & accounting, sales & marketing, and legal to name a few) with companies or individuals looking to fulfill these needs usually on a temporary basis. There were lots of general accounting jobs, but few that suited my skill set. Most posts were from small businesses looking for help with bookkeeping. Naturally, larger businesses already had their own in-house specialists or used external accounting firms.

But I persisted. Finally, 10 months after I had walked away from my career, I managed to find a FinTech that needed a bit of help on a temporary, part-time basis. They were offering way less than the industry rate but hey, what is Upwork for if not to avoid paying the industry rate. Nevertheless, when I did the numbers it was still a lot more than the hourly rate I was making as a cog in the wheel for a Big Four in a European office.

From here, my foot-in-the-door moment, my corporate nomad career began to build momentum and eventually snowball.

In my first job, I was able to cement myself as an essential member of the team, and after a while, I was able to negotiate an increase in my hourly rate and win a more comprehensive statement of work. Eventually, the colleagues that I had been reaching out to over the previous 10 months, slowly started reaching out to me when they reached their capacity and needed an extra set of hands.

Suddenly I was an independent contractor with a growing number of clients. One thing lead to another until, finally, I had more work than I could handle. From here I was able to negotiate a more stable ongoing statement of work to become an independent contractor for a single company, one which also dangled a pathway to move toward a permanent (but still fully remote) position.

Today, however, you don’t just need to be an independent contractor to take your career on the road. The discussion is now out in the open. COVID has forced companies and society into a global experiment regarding the advantages and disadvantages for both the employee and the organization of remote work. While the results might still be being debated, one thing is clear, the world didn’t stop turning.

In my (obviously biased) opinion, the businesses that continue to embrace this change and leverage this information will have an edge in attracting a new generation of independent, self-driven employees that don’t require an office environment to deliver results. These are the businesses that will thrive. And the organizations that cling to the nine to five, Monday to Friday, office-based model of work will be left with a much shorter list of candidates to fill their brick buildings.

Life As a Corporate Nomad

Van life remote work in Ayungue Ecuador
As a corporate nomad, I have worked in some pretty epic locations, but there is a dark side to this ‘idyllic’ lifestyle

So what is life like now? Well, for the most part, it is pretty great. I have the income, stability, and satisfaction that come with being part of a high-performing team AND I get live life where and how I want. Right now that’s on a boat, next year it might look completely different, but when I make that decision, I won’t need to factor in office location or weekly commuting time.

That being said, living as a corporate nomad doesn’t come without a specific set of challenges.

A Week in the Life of a Corporate Nomad

I live a pretty ordinary life during the week, aside from the fact that we are on a sailboat somewhere in the Adriatic. I work on my job, work on personal projects, and exercise. We cook at ‘home’ during the week and don’t really do much ‘travel’ per se.

I like to get an early start each day around 5 am or 6 am. Right now I am in Europe and my colleagues are in the US which means I get a full day’s head start on the team where I can make sure I am on top of my workload. I use the mornings to catch up on emails that have come in since Friday (since I don’t work Fridays). I work best in the mornings, so I also use this time for research and writing memos.

By 10 am I like to set aside work tasks to focus on something else. Monday to Thursday generally means putting time into personal projects like this blog or our vlog, exercising, or moving from where we spent the weekend, slowly toward our next destination.

By 5 pm my team is arriving at work so my evenings are dedicated to meetings. I don’t work best at night, but this is a sacrifice I have had to make to be in Europe for the summer, and right now, the pros outweigh the cons.

As a rule, I generally try not to work on Friday. Of course, part of being in a team is making sure I am on deck (so to speak) when the need arises. But normally, Friday is when this lifestyle comes into its own. Right now, I am in a sailboat, moored just off the coast of Croatia, and come Friday we can set sail to our next travel destination. I don’t need to be online and I can disappear off-grid for three days.

By Sunday night we need to be back in reliable cell service, ready to work the next day.

Advantages of Being a Corporate Nomad

Woman working in a van with computer and microphone
Working from a van comes with some obvious and not so obvious advantages

Lifestyle

The most obvious advantage is that my job flexibility allows me to live in an extraordinary way, traveling full time, without sacrificing my career or the benefits that come with that.

Built-In Work-Life Balance

One not so obvious benefit is that work-life balance becomes an unavoidable side effect of this lifestyle. I couldn’t work 60 hours a week living this way even if I wanted to. Time differences, the limitations of connectivity on a sailboat, and the endless list of odd jobs and chores we need to keep this lifestyle going mean I don’t have to worry about maintaining boundaries or balance. I simply do not have the opportunity or the spare time to overcommit to work.

Savings

I can save most of my income. While the highlight reals might look like we are living some sort of dream vacation 24/7 and must be burning through cash, the truth is we live very modestly. We travel to places that are cheap, we travel by van or, now, sailboat, which means our accommodation costs boil down to a couple of campsites or marinas and a few loads of laundry each month. Other than that we wild camp, in free campsites and public anchorages.

Monday to Friday morning we don’t really do too much and our entertainment on the weekends is comprised of exploring with a couple of bars, restaurants, and wineries thrown in. All up my day-to-day expenses (exclusive of costs like airfares and upfront costs like buying and converting a van) cost less than I spent on rent living in Amsterdam while working in a location-dependent position.

Challenges of Being a Corporate Nomad

Odd Hours

Since I started my journey as a corporate nomad I have worked in South America, Mexico, Australia, and Europe. My team, frustratingly, remains in the US. This sometimes means I need to connect with them at odd or inconvenient hours. I set aside time each week specifically for meetings at a time that is convenient (or at least manageable) for my team, even if it is inconvenient for me.

Right now traveling in Europe, I have meetings between 5 pm and 9 pm each night, which is less than ideal. On top of this, my job sometimes requires me to participate in meetings and discussions outside of my own allocated meeting times. This can result in some late nights, or ungodly early mornings, a real challenge for me who requires a lot of sleep.

The other drawback of operating at different hours to your colleagues is that you don’t have as easy access to them when you need them. Got a question you need an answer to at 9 am? You’re out of luck until they log on hours later.

Limitations of Technology

The rapid development of video conferencing has been accelerated even further in the wake of COVID. Supported by an equally rapid expansion of internet connectivity, it is now possible to have real-time video meetings from almost anywhere on the planet using nothing more than a smartphone with a hotspot.

Unfortunately, video conferencing is not (yet) equivalent to in-person contact. Virtual meetings can limit our ability to establish rapport and trust and can be an obstacle to developing deeper connections with our colleagues and managers.

It is also more difficult to maintain and grow our network without access to in-person industry conferences and training events.

And then there are the technical issues. It’s all fun and games when everything is working well. But when the connection gets spotty during a presentation to the c-suite, the panic is real and the feeling that you are letting down the people that took a chance on your crazy idea can be hard to deal with.

No Dedicated Work Space

Depending on your lifestyle, being nomadic can make it more difficult to create a dedicated workspace. What I wouldn’t give for a quiet, airconditioned office with an ergonomic chair, adjustable desk, and dual monitors! Well, I guess I wouldn’t give up what I have, but still …it would be nice.

There Isn’t Any External Motivation

You will need to have a high level of self-drive and self-motivation to make it as a corporate nomad. There is no manager hovering over your shoulder, no weekly progress meetings. It’s sink or swim out here and if you don’t deliver as much as (realistically probably more than) your location-bound counterparts, it will be hard for an organization to justify their spend on a globe-trotting vagabond.

How do You Become a Corporate Nomad?

  1. If you are happy in your current position, ask if your organization will let you go remote and, importantly, location independent.
  2. If they say no… quit. If you do not remove the safety net it will be more difficult to transition. Even after quitting, the impulse to try and get my job or a similar job back was incredibly strong, if I hadn’t quit first, becoming a corporate nomad may not have been possible.
  3. Take a look at your resume. Most importantly, update your objective. Make it clear what you are looking for. Don’t hide your intentions to find fully location independent, remote work, or you may end up in a company also not showing all their cards.
  4. Reach out to your network, now is the time to look up everyone you ever met along your corporate journey from university colleagues to old bosses, shake the tree hard and see what falls out.
  5. Hit LinkedIn and connect with businesses and recruiters that are hiring.
  6. Consider ‘gig’ jobs in your field. While decent corporate roles might be hard on gig economy websites, you may just find a diamond in the rough.
  7. Remember that while you are not starting your career over, you may still need to prove yourself as someone who can work remotely and location-independent before anyone will give you a real chance, be on the lookout for ‘foot in the door’ opportunities that may lead to worthwhile opportunities or connections.

Tips to Help you Become a COrporate Nomad

Deciding that you want to take the leap and hit the road will likely be the hardest part of becoming a corporate nomad. However, know that the timing has never been better. Employees everywhere have had a taste of the freedom and lifestyle that remote work can offer, and many won’t go back into the office on a full-time basis. As a result, companies today wanting to retain the best talent there is will need to consider adopting flexibility for remote and location-independent roles. So get out there and see what opportunities are available and swing for the fences.

Here are a few practical tips that can help you approach this challenge.

#1 Be Patient

Becoming a corporate nomad might not happen instantly. Even businesses wanting to embrace new flexible models of work can face challenges, especially with regard to location independence. With the rapid evolution of remote and hybrid work models, governments and businesses are still trying to grasp the taxation and legal implications for location-independent work, and that can complicate the issue. Nevertheless, there are always ways around the bureaucracy and more doors are opening every day as countries and organizations respond to the changing employment landscape.

#2 Do Your Own Research in Advance

Being a corporate nomad comes with its own particular set of challenges, complications, and limitations. Before going to your current or prospective future boss with a plan to go remote, do the research. Understand the concerns that the business might have such as your productivity, availability, and the burdens of an employer’s tax compliance risks, and be prepared to allay those concerns.

#3 Be Flexible

Your idea of a corporate nomad and your company’s idea of a corporate nomad may not always align. For example, when I first started working for one corporation, they wanted me on site for a full month. While this was not ideal and didn’t completely fit in with my plan, it was a worthwhile compromise in the end. One that allowed me a lot more flexibility in the long run.

how to Succeed as a COrporate Nomad

A woman cheering, standing on a cliff in the Atacama Desert looks out at the Andes
It’s not easy but the payoff is worth it!

Landing a gig that will allow you to be a corporate nomad is only half the battle, nailing your corporate life on the road is the other bit. Here are a few tips for working on the road that I have picked up since becoming a corporate nomad.

#1 Be Indespensible

Out of sight out of mind, cuts both ways. When it’s time for heads to roll, you don’t want to be first on the chopping block because your manager doesn’t have to look you in the eye as they let you go. As a corporate nomad, you need to make your presence felt by the weight of your contribution to the team, day in, day out.

#2 Schedule “Office Hours”

As a corporate nomad, there’s a possibility you are not going to be working in the same time zone as your colleagues. Make sure to schedule “office hours” where you will be contactable and available for meetings. This gives your organization a sense of stability. It also allows you to leverage a pretty good excuse to funnel meetings into a small window, allowing you to carry out your tasks without distraction. It’s important to be consistent and reliable with these times, and appreciate that sometimes you may need to show some flexibility for an organization and a team that has given you so much of the same.

#3 Network

If you want to continue to be successful in your career even as a corporate nomad you will want to maintain your network. This will become even harder on the road as you lose the face to face contact and are likely not in a position to attend conferences, lectures, and other networking events. Maintaining your network, however, is important as you define and develop your career. This might mean traveling for work-related meetings and broader industry events from time to time or making a concerted effort to take advantage of virtual networking opportunities.

Another great way to network with other corporate nomads is to visit coworking spaces. Coworking spaces are cropping up all over the world from charming colonial towns in Mexico like San Cristobal to ski resorts like Bansko in Eastern Europe and everywhere in between. These coworking spaces often have networking and community activities for digital and corporate nomads to build a sense of community within these spaces.

#4 Remember This is a Working Lifestyle, Not a Holiday

Taking your job on the road to explore your bucket list destinations is an incredible privilege but it’s not the same as exploring on holiday. In a lot of ways, it is better. You need to slow down and spend more time in places so that you have enough time to complete your work and see and experience the destination you came for. In this way, I often feel I get a deeper sense of a place than I might on a weekend trip or week-long vacation.

The flip side is that you have to be diligent about completing work, even when there are some pretty special places waiting to be explored. It can be a challenge and a distraction, trying to balance your work with travel. Of course, this can also work to your advantage. I personally find it pretty motivating to know that if I get up early and finish my work by mid-afternoon I can hit the beach in Mexico for a couple of hours and enjoy the sunset with a margarita.

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