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This summer I worked remotely – not at a coffee shop in town, or even across a state line, but 5,000 miles and 6 time zones away from my co-workers – in Cairo, Egypt.

Cairo from above
Flying over Cairo – it’s as hot and dusty as it looks…

Working this remotely presented a number of challenges, forcing me to solve problems with different resources, and pushing me out of my comfort zone. Ah, how I missed my large second screen, my comfy desk chair, and the ease of communication with coworkers, not to mention my furry 4 legged companion! Being remote presented many new challenges, but maybe that was the point. 

Practicing Resourcefulness

My trip forced me to be creative with my time and resources. While I waited for files to download on my slow connection, I worked on other projects. Instead of dual screens, I adjusted my work setup to be more efficient using just my laptop screen. My new environment forced me to work with the resources that I had around me. After feeling hamstrung with the slow speed of my apartment’s internet, I figured out that when I needed to access large files, I could temporarily switch over to my smartphone’s 3G hotspot which was – to my surprise – much faster. With a little problem solving and good old-fashioned perseverance, I was able to be productive, and occasionally, make new discoveries in the process. 

Waiting…and more waiting

Working remotely forced me to wait, which is something we don’t like to do in America. But it is an inescapable reality around the world. Wait for the electricity to come back on. Wait for a file to download. Wait for a seemingly lost taxi driver who doesn’t speak your language. But often, we need to re-set our expectations, and understand that waiting is an important part of life.

Those moments of boredom or empty space can allow room for reflection.

Learning to wait pushes back against the culture of instant gratification and our me-first attitudes. Waiting for that taxi allowed me to study an interesting mosaic across the street that I had never previously noticed. Waiting for electricity forced me to put down my electronics and pick up a neglected book. Those moments of boredom or empty space can provide new opportunities, allowing room for reflection and the possibility of seeing things we ordinarily overlook. 

Looking out my apartment window in Cairo
The view from my apartment window in Cairo.

Learning Flexibility

My time abroad also forced me to be more flexible. In Egypt, the weekend is Fri to Sat, and the local time is 6 hours ahead of our DC office. Instead of 5 eight-hour days, I worked 6 days with more sporadic hours, to be more available for work while still trying to maintain a good work-life balance. The time change was problematic for communication with coworkers, so I made myself available for late phone calls or quick message updates to avoid being the bottleneck slowing work down. It wasn’t always convenient, but it did force me to re-think how I communicate effectively and focus on doing what was necessary for projects to move forward. 

A challenging, worthwhile experience

Working remotely forced me to be at times more resourceful, patient, and flexible. However, it wasn’t always productive. Sometimes it was downright frustrating, with slow internet bogging down the process or time zones disrupting the flow of collaborative work. I wasn’t always inspired by my new surroundings to new heights of design creativity. But the experience did give me new challenges with the potential to learn and grow. 

It’s these kinds of risks that can be avenues for growth.

So, would I do it again? Yes! And I would recommend that you try it too. It will throw you off your rhythm and force you do things differently. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If you’re like me, it’s easy to get in ruts where you continue to do things in the same way just because that’s how it’s been done in the past. Taking a step out of your comfort zone can shake things up and offer you a chance to evaluate your everyday processes from a new angle. It’s these kinds of risks that can be avenues for growth.

Josh Cutherell Photo
Josh Cutherell
Josh enjoys getting into the weeds of design - from small user interactions to the perfect font pairing - and strives to unite beauty and functionality.