Why I advocate working from anywhere

Nicolas Cava
Nicolas Cava

Nicolas Cava

15 minutes read
Why I advocate working from anywhere
Picture by Johan Mouchet

I can't say I had a linear life the last 12 years.

Advocating working from anywhere is not being against office work. An office is a part of "anywhere." Working from anywhere means being location-independent. It's finding your most productive place while taking care of your well-being. This place can change depending on your age, month of the year, or time of the day. It can vary depending on your family situation, personal goals, or vision of life. As a worker, your outcome is relevant. Anything else is meaningless. In the end, you want to seek fulfillment to be the best version of yourself.

I will talk about my history to explain how working from anywhere was the option that changed everything for my family and me. I hope you can find connections with your history or that it will also give you the desire to try the adventure to see if it also impacts your life as it did to mine.

Uprooted

Bouncing back from the 2008 crisis

The origins of my story to promoting remote working started during the 2008 economic crisis. France was not at its economic pinnacle, but the crisis didn't help. We ended with a lot of job losses, especially in the countryside.

In my twenties, I moved from my village, where all my family and friends were, to Paris to start my career. There were no jobs in my region as a software engineer, especially junior. Nobody wanted to give me a chance. So I had to go to Paris where the businesses were. A few friends from my studies did the same, unfortunately.

It was a short, intense, and challenging experience for me. It was not the first time I lived in another city, but my installation was littered with bad luck. I was almost alone, in a costly town with no money, and I had issues with my rental, and my job also had problems paying my salary. I was in a precarious situation.

I stayed four months in Paris until my wife transferred to Toulouse. I had to find a company in Paris that had an office in Toulouse, and with a bit of luck, I found one. I was pleased to leave Paris. Funny side notes: with my brother, we moved my stuff from Paris, so we made a round trip with a truck between the south and Paris. Eighteen hours drive in one day. Intense.

Revelations in Scotland

Finally, we settled in Toulouse with my partner. It was a good city, with a friendly big village culture, and great food. It was also relatively close to my hometown (1 hour more or less by car). It was also my first remote experience working with coworkers in Paris.

In the meantime, we traveled to Scotland, and it was a revelation. It was the first time I traveled outside France (and Spain), and we did it with close friends. We loved it so much.

Scottish people are so great; I remember how they helped and welcomed us to this country.

After that, this travel was every time in our head.

I hope I can come back again one day.

Edinburgh

The necessity to move abroad

We worked and lived in Toulouse for two years and a half, and we started to think about leaving France for another country to start a new journey. That's when we decided to go to Canada. It was not the first clear choice (we thought about Sweden, Denmark, etc.). Still, eventually, it became the natural one for our next journey.

In the meantime, we found a community of people with related interests. We joined it and hosted many WHV (Work Holiday Visa) events in our home. We created relationships with future expatriates. It was a lovely time in our life.

In the beginning, we wanted to settle in Vancouver. It was a great city with an excellent reputation worldwide at the time. Our friends in Toulouse told us to try Quebec instead like them, and because it's easier to move where you know people, we changed our mind.

I found a job in Quebec City when I was still in France (in a job event in Paris), and we finally left for Canada in September 2013.

Country of adoption

Country of adoption

As if we had always lived here

We quickly feel at home in Quebec City. The people were amicable and welcoming. We had support even from people that barely knew us. It was enjoyable.

We found that one of the reasons we left France was because we grew to hate the country. Especially the incivism around us. Interacting with respectful and optimistic people led us to appreciate humanity again. So we ended up hating our origins, which is terrible.

We also were blind, especially me. Driven by the great experience so far of my exile and my hate for France, I ended up creating my bubble of positivism and leaving behind any criticism for Canada. It was hard for me to find any downside to my life here.

Even winter, which is very intense here, was magical. I mean, I knew snow, but not this amount of snow. I made mistakes, I felt in danger sometimes by this violent winter; it was a unique experience for me. I learned a lot about the relationship between humanity and nature and how we are meaningless against it. There were no such challenges against nature in France (unless floods sometimes in my region).

The job was good. I grew in my career quickly. Working with French coworkers was not uncommon, which helped the integration. It's always easier to have people that can relate to your past and current experiences. I understood why people tend to regroup in communities while being abroad.

The security feeling was also enormous. I left the doors of my house open at night without even worrying about it. In France, we put walls between each other. In Canada, gardens are open (you are not free to trespass, but it looks open). Feeling secure where you live is so game-changing, especially with kids.

Finally, we had the chance that several close friends from France joined us to live in Quebec City. It's infrequent, and I feel blessed for this, even today. Being an expatriate means you cut yourself off your support network. If your support network follows your journey, the sky is the limit.

Quebec

Founding a company while having a daughter

In fall 2015, I co-founded a company with former coworkers. We started in a garage, like the usual Silicon Valley stereotype. My daughter was also born three months after. No need to say I was struggling with all the stress that came simultaneously.

I worked very hard, and I made the mistake of taking only three days of paternal leave (when I could have taken five weeks). I was invincible with all these new projects, life, and family. The possibilities were endless as long as we put the right effort into making intelligent decisions.

The company culture was great, a lot of laughs every day, and I built some great friendships. The freedom I experimented with was unchallenged compared to my past professional life. I started being remote-first and working with a distributed team around the world. I learn so much.

Then I burnt out.

One-month-old flying abroad

The last several months of our life in Canada were terrible for me. After my burnout, everything was wrong from my point of view. It influenced my decision to leave the country because I wanted to go back to my roots, heal, and leave this mess that was my life.

Our life was not a mess. We had challenges, but nothing we couldn't fix. It was not critical thought; I needed arguments to convince myself I would be happier in the country I grew up in. Also, we had less fun during winter; we were mainly supporting it without enjoying the experience. Also, my business was progressively dying; my partners and I had to fire most of our people to survive. The saddest part was that I lost a few great friends. Mixing business with close friends or family is always a double edge sword. Yes, it's fun and exciting to build something with people you love. Still, once challenges come (and they will come), your business will put your relationship on edge.

Financially, it was hard. We bought a house, my business was going down, my revenue did the same, and it was unexpected. We had difficulties paying the mortgage. It did not help the situation.

So we decided to go back to France. I found the arguments for my partner and convinced her, even if she wasn't a very fan of the idea at the beginning. I needed to go back, whatever the consequences. We sold the house in a rush and lost money on the way. I also made some accounting errors that put us in difficulties two years later. I wanted to get out as fast as possible in the hope of better.

It was also when my partner was pregnant with our little boy Liam. Now that I think of it, she also had to live through considerable stress. My boy was born one month before we took the flight home.

Struggles of the return home

Coming back to my roots

I came back to France in 2018 to have my kids be closer to my family in France, in my childhood town. I also burnt out, which may explain why I wanted to return to my hometown.

My roots
My hometown in the south of France

Reverse cultural shock

We didn't like living in France again, and we had to find another place to settle in Europe.

It was the first time I experimented with reverse cultural shock.

I was blocked mentally: I refused several opportunities in a few different countries. I eventually landed a job in London but wasn't ready to start a new life abroad.

Working remotely unlocked the situation for me. I could have stayed in my hometown to avoid breaking the current comfort zone that I needed while working for an excellent company—the best of both worlds.

We continued to scout Europe searching for a new home for our family. We tried Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, and England. We couldn't decide on a place. We decided to talk to a psychologist specializing in expatriates. She unlocked the situation in 3 sessions where we were struggling for one and a half years by ourselves. My advice: see a good psychologist as soon as you have mental blockers or issues. When everything goes well, we should also see a psychologist to check up (same way as physical healthcare).

Thanks to this new improvement, we finally decided to settle in England. We were always close to the UK. Scotland was our first country to fall in love, and England was a good place for us: we had friends living there, and it's a great country working in the tech industry.

Unfortunately, Brexit then COVID axed our project. It was too many difficulties to handle in a country we knew close to nothing about installation logistics. We decided to go back to Canada because we were nostalgic of this time and also because it was the path of least resistance for living abroad. We knew the country and the life there, and we still had our friends.

Going back to Canada

Finally, it was tough, and we had to return to Canada, again, leaving our family a second time behind us.

In 2021, during the worst case in human history for traveling, we decided to come back to Canada after two years and a half of turning around the pot in Europe.

I sometimes wonder what my decision would be if I were alone. I was happy to be close to my family, and the rural life of my hometown was also good. I rebuilt my patterns (restaurants, people, landscape, etc.). This time, maybe my partner wanted to go back to Canada more than me, but the idea was also tempting, so I decided to follow her lead on this. I had several arguments for staying because it was my hometown, family, and people. Still, I can understand it was not the same experience for her. It was unfortunate to leave my family again, but it was good for my kids and partner.

However, this time we decided to go to Montreal for infrastructure and ease to move and try the urban life. We wanted to try it already with London, so why not again. We wanted to learn from this lifestyle. But, Montreal was never a city close to our heart. It was just very convenient for us at this time to go there.

So, a new life starts here, strong from all we learned. The way we see Canada and our expatriation is very different now; more mature, more balanced.

Going back to Canada

What we learn from our past

What if we decided to stay in France?

The economy and future in France were not for us. Still, maybe while being fully remote, we may have another perspective. If our close friends were around, we probably wanted to stay.

What's weird is that this time I'm much more critical against Canada than I was. I guess I am growing more mature and balanced in my vision of life and my expectations in general. I also don't hate France anymore, and I'm even proud of it, game-changing for my well-being. I can now assume my history and culture, which are composing me. I'm proud of my origins, accent, and Spanish ancestry. All of this makes me who I am. I think I learn to appreciate my story and to assume myself.

Uprooted generation

Thanks to various crises, our generation was the first to experiment with uprooting from our support network quickly and brutally (2008).

The worst thing that makes me the saddest today is that our generation is way more uprooted than the previous ones. Friends and families are scattered, and that's terrible. I want to allow the maximum of people to visit their friends and families when they want and live where they want to live while having an acceptable quality of life. Today, all my close friends are scattered around the world. I now have the chance to have several close friends from my young life around me, but because I'm fortunate.

That's why I'm building Meet Crew. I want to give chances to people to meet to reunite communities as often as possible. I want to make this kind of logistics and planning easy and fun. Also, it's an opportunity to meet coworkers regularly while staying settled close to their loved ones for people already distributed and working remotely from their hometown or region.

Both everywhere and nowhere

Overpriced cities and one salary for a family of 4

We loved many places, but they were overpriced, and I needed to work close to big cities to find jobs that could feed my whole family and have my wife start a new career. We might have stayed in a country if we had the opportunity to work in the countryside.

Traveling more often and for longer to attenuate the impacts of expatriation

My absolute goal is to freely join our family when we want without impacting our professional life or my kids' studies.

Tortillas
Tortillas from the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid

I'm thinking of a home project to invite friends and family for multiple weeks or months. Like a home base in Canada but composed of small units of tiny houses to provide space and privacy.

Fewer ties to stay mobile

Semi-nomad

I love my country of adoption, but I also love my country of origin and blood. I also love a few other places like Scotland. I feel everywhere, but I also know you need to settle somewhere, especially when you have a family. The answer is to balance: Settle but unlock the freedom to travel. See the world. Reconnect with your support network.

I have a nomad's heart; my head is everywhere. Canada is a great place to put foundations for family life, but my future resides in traveling. At least, I learned things can change (sometimes quickly).

Building our mold

Remote work enables freedom of movement. Both lead you to be free to choose your lifestyle according to your own story.

Before being an employee, I started being an entrepreneur because I always wanted to be free and find my way to operate my professional life.

Financial humility

From a modest family

I'm also from a modest family that migrated to France from Spain in the 70s. My mother was a housekeeper, and my father was a winemaker. We are a family of 5 brothers and sisters.

From no electricity to working in startups

I always remember a discussion I had with my father's cousin. When they were young, with the famine that struck south of Spain at this time, they had to eat banana peels from the ground to survive. My parents lived their childhood without modern electricity. And thanks to their education and support, I made my career in software, keeping and only working remotely. Imagine the gap. It's incredible. I always keep in mind this story because it helps me relativize a lot. It also built on my habits to live a more humble life, trying to leave with less stuff, and instead focusing on the journey instead of the ends.

Remote work means fewer costs

Being remote helps me find the balance I want from a cost perspective. Because I can adapt my lifestyle however I want, and I'm not tied to any location where I need to work.

Letur
The small village of Letur in the south of Spain

Learning life as a family

Traveling open mind for kids

I'm also glad that my kids traveled this much during their first years. My boy, for example, traveled, I think 7-8 times, with all types of transport from flights to boats. We did that because we had to scout for a place to settle in Europe, but the upside was clear that my kids could see so much in a few time frames. It's incredible. I'll never forget a photo we took of my boy in a renowned pub in Dublin. We were so casual with all these travels that my boy was in pajama in a pub, and the local people were very friendly to him and us. That's the kind of experience I want my kids to live. That's what describes us the most—simplicity and experiences with family.

Dublin
Liam is wearing a pajama in a pub in Dublin

I'm so proud of the adaptability capacity of my kids. Traveling a lot in the first years of their lives was an excellent experience.

Global instability

Increasing resilience and adaptability

The world is becoming more unstable. While enjoying a good quality of life, I think you need to become resilient to changes, stay outside of your comfort zone, and break routines. This way, whatever the new crisis that comes, you can adapt.

Being remote is one of the ways to be less dependent on things.

Kicked from your hometown to seek jobs

I'm also sad to see young workers being kicked out from a bottled water factory near my region because of the current world economy that drastically reduced operations. These people had bought a house to live close to the factory. That's terrible and brings a lot of stress. I don't know how you can anymore pick a mortgage of 25 years when you can't project yourself far more than 1-2 years ahead. Not all jobs can be remote. Maybe it can be an opportunity for some to keep their house wherever they want without impacting the local economy.

Climate change

Freedom of movement also often means pollution generation. I'm concerned about ecology. Freedom of movement forces you to own fewer things, balancing the carbon creation from traveling. You can travel using sustainable public transport solutions and technologies that will reduce travel pollution drastically in the upcoming years (hopefully).

Being remote allows the quest to find sustainability in life. Because you can adapt your lifestyle the way you want and depend on the place you live, you are not forced to make decisions against personal sustainability.

I'm biased but stopping to travel is not the immediate solution to change everything. People are investing too much energy in marginal things. Same with reducing showers. Real change will be brutal, like lowering 50% of our meats consumption with all the consequences.

Revert rural exodus

Also, I grew up in a small village in France where winemakers drove the economy. I saw the rural exodus to the cities to find jobs where everything was slowly dying around us, especially after 2008. This rural exodus transformed the landscape. We saw a lot of wines snatched.

Remote work is one of the ways to redistribute the cards and see a reverse effect. People will want to go to the countryside where everything is less expensive. This will help populate the territory and balance a country. It will reduce population density and pollution.

Vineyards
The vineyards surrounding my hometown

City exodus

City exodus is terrible, especially for downtown shops; I understand. But in my opinion, that was unbalanced. Hopefully, those downtown shops will adapt and find their customers where they live and not where they work.

What's next

I'm building a business to solve these issues while also giving financial freedom to my family. We are in a quest to build a semi-nomad lifestyle for the family, and for this, we need space to move and operate as we want to. Having a business is one of the ways to gain this required freedom.

We also are approaching our expatriation with a more critical vision, more mature and balanced. We are also closer to the history and culture of our native country. We learn not to hate but to appreciate the good parts.

Finally, we try to simplify our lives as much as possible and align our everyday and long-term decisions towards our goals. Having a simpler life will help us focus on what matters and give us the mental space to travel without worry.

As a consequence, I swore to help solve the following challenges:

  • Aligning work according to any lifestyle.
  • Helping people decide where they truly want to live.
  • Increasing overall freedom and well-being.
  • Distributing work to the countryside to revert rural exodus.
  • Reuniting colleagues, friends, and families.
  • Extending traveling opportunities.
  • Enabling digital nomadism to everyone.
  • Significantly reduce the cost of living and doing business.
  • Enjoying more time with people you love and combat loneliness.
  • Building resilience to global instability.

Let's discuss building better companies.

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