Cuenca High Life logo

Expat Life

Bandwidth is the new ‘black’

While Baby Boomers migrate south in search of high fiber breakfast burritos, their tech-savvy offspring migrate in search of a different kind of fiber: strands of glass carrying high bandwidth internet.

Tired of that open office? Suffering from cubical cramps? Maybe you should pack up your laptop and ramble.

In my retirement travels I’m finding professionals of all ages who have discovered the cultural and economic benefits of working (very) remotely. As I wander through Mexico, Peru and Ecuador I continue to meet skilled individuals who turn on, log in and drop out.

Initially, this phenomenon seemed limited to programmers such as the young woman I met who was launching her second web startup while sitting poolside at an AirB&B in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. She was Ruby on Rails personified. No office needed: Her collaborators were scattered around the globe.

An indigenous woman on her cell phone.

Is she the vanguard of a mass cube dweller exodus? Probably not. In spite of their potential mobility, most knowledge workers aren’t racing off to remote islands or mountain tops. And most organizations aren’t as supportive of remote work as they pretend to be. “Working from home” is still wrapped in air quotes.

I once had an employee, one of my most productive, that I saw twice a year. It takes a lot of trust to manage someone you don’t see daily, trust that many companies and bosses can’t muster.

Working (way) remotely isn’t limited to the young and the restless. I recently met a sixty-something COBOL (remember Y2K?) consultant to a Texas hospital chain who lives and works abroad six months a year. Every time he’s tried to retire the mothership raised his pay rate to retain his hard-to-find skills.

The opportunity to work from increasingly remote places isn’t limited to computer jocks. “Have WiFi, will travel” applies to soft skills as well.

I recently met a twenty-something English teacher who lives cheaply and wakes up early in Ajijic, Mexico to tutor China-based students online. She’s a certified middle school teacher who left low pay, high rent and long commutes behind. Given the reduced cost of living, she claimed to be making more and stressing less in Mexico than she did in the States.

A therapist I overheard (ok, I was eavesdropping) in a small village in the Peruvian Andes charges $50/hour for Skype consultations with American clients which is far less than a stateside shrink. He only needs one client a week to make rent. The second client covers his remaining expenses, the third is gravy. I don’t know if he was rich or poor, but he seemed pretty relaxed.

So what do these inter-general knowledge nomads have in common?

In my observation, these remote working wanderers share a combination of marketable skills, supportive management (or clients), cultural curiosity and a strong desire for independence.

Are you one?

Back in the late nineties there was a book predicting breakthroughs in telecommunications (e.g. the internet) would result in “the death of distance.” Since then, our tech and collaboration tools have rendered distance obsolete even as our organizations keep us glued to our shrinking cubes.

If you’re already connected 24/7, do you really need to report in to the office next Monday?

Happy travels!
___________________

Credit: Boomer Cafe, www.boomercafe.com

R.S. Gompertz is a native of Southern California who currently lives and writes in Seattle. He recently completed a tour of Mexico and South America during which he spent several weeks in Cuenca. His most recent book, “Life’s Big Zoo,” is available on Amazon. For more information about his life, work and travels, click here.