How one digital nomad developed a tool to make remote work easier while traveling
November 15, 2021
It seemed like the perfect chance. The spike in COVID cases died down at the same time back-to-office orders got further delayed. Patrick Erichsen saw his opportunity.
Hungry for a change of scenery after months of lockdown, he ended his apartment lease in 2020. Along with his girlfriend, he began 2021 with a ski trip with no definite endpoint.
Erichsen, a senior software engineer, figured he could spend a few months escaping the frosty Minneapolis winter while enjoying the perks of other travel locations during his downtime. Instead, he embraced a long-term nomadic lifestyle that fits his corporate job and stumbled into a business market niche he’s now trying to fill.
Work from home or work from anywhere
Three months after he first set out, Patrick injured his back snowboarding. He spent most days hunched over a cheap glass kitchen table, programming for his corporate job. Everytime he or his girlfriend stood up, the laptop extension cord came unplugged. They took turns deciding who got to turn their cameras on during team video calls because the spotty WiFi couldn’t support them both at the same time.
“I was sitting there thinking that I just didn’t understand why this is so bad,” he said. “We're working full-time jobs and are willing to pay more for a home that lets us do our jobs effectively, but there were just no options”
In all their travels over the previous months, where they had gone to Oceanside, Calif, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Seattle, he had problems finding a rental property that was truly conducive to remote work. He wanted to make sure he didn’t have to suffer long work hours at another bad AirBNB that claimed to have a workspace it didn't. Although he’d filter property searches for WiFi and workspaces, they didn’t account for the quality of either of those.
Instead of heading back home, he started working even longer hours at that bad glass table — but spent some of those hours developing a business idea that would fix the problems he and other digital nomads face finding a place to work while traveling.
Developing a solution for digital nomads
Patrick started working on the side business that would eventually become Offie, a Chrome extension that allows people to search rental properties on AirBNB to see if they are truly remote-work friendly. Offie evaluates the data provided by the hosts, but scrapes data from reviews that mention positive WiFi connections and other remote-work amenities.
Each property gets evaluated on its WiFi speed test information, has information about its workspace, and analyzes its reviews for keywords related to remote workers.
Eventually, Patrick plans to upgrade Offie into a booking platform as well.
The new digital nomads
The post-pandemic digital nomads aren’t like the hard-to-pin-down freelancers that many may think of when they think of remote workers, Patrick said. Instead, they’re professionals that interact regularly like they would in an office setting, and need to stay connected even when working remotely.
“We’re working at corporations and we don’t have transient relationships. I have very strong relationships with teammates and I need a space that is professional,” he said. “I need to be able to do focused, deep work and focus intensely on a problem without interruption.”
On Offie’s website, he pokes fun at the standard-issue stock images of remote workers who sit in a lounge chair on a beach in a bikini with a laptop. Instead, he snaps photos of the strange set-ups he and his girlfriend create to make the remote working lifestyle work - like when he kicked her out of the main room so he could do a video call and she had to sit in the bathroom on her laptop, or when he propped his laptop on a tall water bottle to get a better WiFi signal.
When his corporate job decided to make his job remote permanently, Patrick decided to invest in his nomadic lifestyle for the long haul. He signed up for an Earth Class Mail account so that he wouldn’t have to continue asking his parents to manage the mail he receives. He doesn’t get much, but he did appreciate having an official business address to use when he registered Offie as a company.
As he continues his job and developing Offie on the side, he has continued his travels, although he comes back to Minneapolis during the holidays to see family. In the last year, he visited Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington state, and others where he’s visited national parks, snowboarded, hiked, and skied. The best part? Many of those places he didn’t have to take vacation days to enjoy fully.
Although he said he enjoys visiting foreign countries, meetings with his team require being in close time zones, and so traveling the world may have to wait for actual vacation times.
How to travel while working
AirBNB lets property owners declare if the rental space has a workspace - and that definition is pretty loose, only requiring something as simple as a kitchen table.
It’s difficult to find a rental property with designated separate office space, but aside from that, here’s Patrick’s list of what he looks for when booking a spot to work from:
Stable WiFi: A strong, fast connection so that Patrick and his girlfriend can focus on their work and not who has a video call when is essential, he said.
Desk instead of a table: A kitchen table can work in a pinch, but if you’re going to live in a rental property for a few weeks or months, it’s nice to have a place to separate your eating from your work life.
Comfortable chairs: An ergonomic chair - or at least one that wouldn’t irritate his back in the midst of his recovery - can be difficult to find when looking at rental properties.
Monitor: Depending on the type of work you do, having the ability to focus on your work with a larger monitor can make it easier. If a rental property had this? One less thing to lug around!
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