It's 8:30 in the morning. I've already scanned my work emails, completed a blistering hot 20- to 30-minute outdoor run, and mixed together my morning oatmeal. I'm not overly tired, obnoxiously stressed nor irritatingly grumpy. I'm not fretting about which dry-cleaned suit to wear to the office or hastily slapping together a "grab-and-go" sandwich to gulp down in between meetings.
Instead, I'm relaxed and feeling refreshed. Then again, who wouldn't be if they were in my shoes?
For the past three years, I've been able to manage a relatively flexible work schedule - work when I want (within reason) and, more importantly, where I want. For me, that "where" has often been in a small Costa Rican beach town.
I'm the first to admit that sitting down at my computer and earning my keep isn't always easy -- especially when I'd prefer to be sprawled out in a hammock on the beach. However, if I can't be on the beach, I can at least get a glimpse of the ocean every so often from my apartment balcony. For me, that's not such a bad tradeoff.
But, not everyone has the discipline to remain productive outside of the office. While coworker chatter and endless meetings may be a thing of the past, distractions - albeit of a different kind - are still present.
As you might guess, working from this small Central American country has its share of perks and pitfalls. And, while my patience and sanity have been tested more than once, I've learned to accept a more unstructured work environment. For the typical office worker, it's unlikely you'll encounter any of the following during your 9-to-5 day:
10. Crowing Roosters - while technology has made it possible to hold online meetings with individuals around the world, the technology is only as good as its end user. Unfortunately, that end user is me. While logging on to a WebEx meeting with attendees from Germany and the U.S., I neglected to consider the outside theatrics going on around me. I was slightly embarrassed to realize that others could hear the "cock-a-doodle-dooing" of my early morning (and incredibly loud) neighbor.
9. Random Power Outages - although storms in the U.S. can cause power outages, usually the problem is rectified within a matter of minutes. Not so in Costa Rica. Power outages can range from a few minutes to several hours. And, although some are scheduled in advance, rainy season is known for its spontaneous light twitches and lapses in Internet. When this occurs, it's best to embrace the phrase "Asi es la vida," or "Such is life."
8. Four-legged Distractions - having an "outside" office means howling monkeys and crowing roosters can turn into a constant distraction...but they aren't the only ones. A squirrel cautiously walking across the power lines as if it's on a tight rope or horses grazing on the grass below can easily turn your attention from the computer screen to the happenings below.
7. Coffee Shop Air Con - one of the perks of living in Costa Rica is the warm sunny days. One of the downfalls of living in Costa Rica is the warm sunny days. When deadlines loom and the heat begins to weigh on your eyelids, it's time to replenish your energy with some caffeine...and the ever-sacred air conditioning. The coffee is great, but the air conditioning is heaven.
6. Dropped Calls - for office workers, reliable phone connection is almost always guaranteed. As a foreigner, however, my ancient Nokia flip-phone runs off of pre-paid minutes. In my case, calls aren't dropped because of poor reception, but rather due to insufficient funds. Embarrassing? Only if I admit my mistake.
5. Casual Friday...and Monday, Tuesday, etc. - most workplaces in the U.S. have adopted casual Friday's. Employees are allowed to swap their business suits for clean-cut polo shirts and a nice pair of jeans. And, while it's a nice perk, it's even nicer when you can do it every day. With Costa Rica's heat, anything more than a t-shirt and shorts would be torture. And, since all contact is done via phone or email, who really cares whether I'm wearing a pair of stilettos or flip-flops?
4. Office with a View - typically, the coveted window offices are exclusively reserved for influential executives in the U.S. After all, having the ability to look outdoors rather than at gray walls really is a perk. Fortunately, whether I'm working outside from my balcony or inside from my favorite coffee shop, I get a view no matter where I hunker down.
3. Vitamin D - with a typical office work day of at least eight hours, most workers are lucky to catch a few minutes in the sun. Some might manage a 30-minute walk during their lunch hour...but that's only if the weather is cooperative. Yet, life in Costa Rica, especially by the beach, is all about being outdoors. I've traded in fluorescent indoor lighting for a dose of sun-filled vitamin D.
2. 2-minute Commute - my little beach town is all of a few thousand people. As a result, any type of commute that I have - from my apartment to my "coffee shop" office - is a few minutes by bike. Increase that number to 10 minutes if I'm on foot. And, if there is a traffic jam, it's most likely caused by meandering cattle rather than car congestion.
1. Gloating Privileges - of course the biggest difference between working in Costa Rica and the U.S. is the ability to gloat about my location. While I of course must do it within reason (my coworkers and family had snow in MAY!), I can't help but brag about my ability to work from a beautiful beach location. While others are stuck inside (or buried under piles of snow), I can pound away on my computer while sitting outside or take an afternoon break by dipping my feet in the ocean.
Yet, working remotely isn't always a fairytale. And, of course, it's not always possible. But, if you're open to the possibility, it is an adventure that you won't soon regret!