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drive your life by diconium – Route 3 | Southern Europe

What is drive your life actually? We wanted to prove that Hybrid Work actually works – under the motto "it doesn't matter where you work, it matters how you work", we enabled 3 constellations of drivers to take a unique trip through Europe: including extraordinary encounters, technical highlights, exciting accommodations, office visits and, of course, lots of fun – without missing a single day of work. Over 1,000 applications, both external and internal, had to be screened. Deserving winners Lisa, Eric and Jennifer chronicled their experiences in our drive-your-life blog. Eight weeks of Hybrid Work in Europe, eight weeks of life-work balance. That was drive your life.

Our third and last tour took our colleague Jennifer and her friend Theresa all the way from Stuttgart to Lisboa. Final destination: Our amazing office there as well as a little visit of the WebSummit conference. On this page you will find a summary of their experiences. Have fun reading!


...or 
check out straight away what Jennifer & our Managing Director Anja had to talk about in Lisboa about new work and drive your life in general:

drive your life: Jennifer meets Anja

 

 

HI :)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to choose your living location, working environment and working hours as you please? Then you’re totally right here! Follow our journey through Southern Europe where we visit cities like Paris, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Porto and Lisbon to show you our view on what Europe has in stock for digital nomads and how you can hit the road too.

HI :)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to choose your living location, working environment and working hours as you please? Then you’re totally right here! Follow our journey through Southern Europe where we visit cities like Paris, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Porto and Lisbon to show you our view on what Europe has in stock for digital nomads and how you can hit the road too.

 

Who We Are
I’m Jenni – I recently finished my Master’s studies in Media Informatics at Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich and my add-on study program in Technology Management at the Center for Digital Technology in Munich. Although, I joined diconium data as Data Analyst only 5 months ago in our beautiful Hamburg office, they generously offered me and a person of my choice the unique opportunity to experience diconiums hybrid working model to the fullest. Together with Theresa, who used to be my housemate during my semester abroad at UC Berkeley, you’ll catch us chasing Wifi hotspots, crashing house parties and sometimes cycling through town while laugh-crying :D – I’d describe us as unconventional... but is this not exactly what life is all about?! Let’s Drive Your Life!
Hello there! I’m Theresa joining Jenni from Oakland, California! In my free time, I enjoy running, swing dancing, frisbee, commuting with bike and public transportation, and any sort of minimalist activity including dumpster diving. I studied civil engineering in college with the dream of having a positive impact on communities and the environment. I now work at an environmental engineering company doing consulting work in land and water. This DriveYourLife Tour is an exciting opportunity for me to explore sustainable transportation systems and vibrant public spaces in European cities!

Arrival
Our first stop of the trip: Paris. While Theresa flew in from San Francisco, I took my flight from Hamburg and we met up in our hotel close to the Notre Dame. We haven’t seen each other in person for 8 months and therefore our reunion was long overdue. As it was already dark outside, we couldn’t do much anymore, so we just strolled through our new neighborhood and had a late dinner at a Lebanese street food place. We were amazed to see that, although it was a Sunday evening, many people were still out and about enjoying life and hanging out with their friends.

 

the next day
The next day started with a little bit of chaos: My work week began as per usual, but we also needed to check out from our hotel and check in to our Airbnb in the afternoon. To bridge the time of having no wifi connection, I left all my luggage in the hotel, found a Starbucks close by, had my usual morning meetings and looked up different working locations. I ended up going to the Centre Pompidou, as it contains a very spacious public library with lots of working desks for focused studying. Still, it was so quiet in this library that I felt highly conscious about taking my meeting calls in there and thus took my portable office outside to the floor of the balcony – I guess – besides my shaky internet connection - my colleagues and clients didn’t even notice anything out of the ordinary... or did you ;)?!

During our week in Paris we met up with a couple of friends and went out for dinner or had after-work drinks. With Oskar, who I met during my time at UC Berkeley and who later replaced me as Theresa’s other house mate, we explored multiple museums - like the Austrian embassy, Petit Palais, and the residence of the préfet of Île-de-France. As we had the 17th September, aka heritage day, all the national museums were open to the public (still, expect long queues and/or pre-registrations).
 
Later that day, Oskar took me to some get-together aka soiree at one of his friend’s place, while Theresa headed to a huge swing dancing event. We played a game - similar to truth or dare - where everyone wrote questions and dares on paper scraps and threw them into a bowl. The bowl was then passed around and people had to read out loud what was written on it and answer the question/dare, e.g. “Which 3 characteristics about person XXX do you value most?”. I was surprised how thoughtful but also entertaining it became and can highly recommend playing these games with your friends too.

The highlight of my week was our visit to the UNESCO building to meet Hélène Sobral from the startup Noocity. The startup has made it their mission to equip homes and companies with everything that’s required to set up vegetable gardens. Company gardens are not only a great way to spread awareness for local and seasonal fruits and vegetables, but are also an amazing opportunity for team building events, as nature naturally recharges our mental batteries and provides room for creative thinking.

Paris is famous for its large offering of beautiful cafés and restaurants. Bear in mind, that not all of them are suited for focussed working as they can get crowded, don’t offer wifi or play background music. This is probably also the reason, why you won’t catch many Parisians working from such cafés but rather use them for in-person meetings or lunch dates.

Still, I’d recommend spending some time in these cafés if you’re working on repetitive tasks or brainstorming new ideas, as you do get inspired by the diversity of people walking by and a change in location will make you feel more awake as it automatically triggers different sensory stimuli in your brain.

For more quiet deep-working time I’d recommend looking for public libraries or co-working spaces, such as:

BnF => www.bnf.fr/es/francois-mitterrand 
BPI => www.bpi.fr/en/the-library/ 
Sorbonne University (BCPR) => www.sorbonne-universite.fr/bu/decouvrir-nos-bibliotheques/la-bibliotheque-de-biologie-chimie-physique-recherche

The week in Paris passed by quickly. On Sunday morning we packed all our belongings and carried everything to the garage where the DriveYourLife van was already waiting for us. Our next destination: Montpellier.

Theresa was taking over most of the 8h drive while I was mainly trying to get some rest. On our way, we learned the ins and outs of driving the van through France - sometimes with the help of strangers. For example, charging our hybrid vehicle wasn’t as straightforward as we thought and at one point accidentally ended someone else's charging session early. The owners of the other car most likely received some notification, as they happen to come by and tell us about our mishap. So sorry, we know better now ;)!

 

 During our time in Montpellier, we were making use of our van more frequently. We drove to different towns nearby, like Aigues-Mortes or Le-Grau-du-Roi, where we were strolling through the streets and got inspired by the little shops which display the most up-to-date fashion items. Here I also spotted a cute little smiling Homosapien peeking out amongst the vines and was able to take a quick picture before she scurried back into the bushes.
 
 

The wifi connection in our Airbnb was rather slow and that's why we decided to work in a co-working space. Here's a small list of pros and cons, based on my experience working in different European co-working spaces so far. Disclaimer: my experience is highly limited and therefore highly biased.

Pros:
usually fast wifi and all kinds of office supplies like e.g. a printer
kitchen with a fridge where you can store your lunch or groceries if you come more often
great opportunity to network and meet other internationals but also locals who are highly supportive and willing to share their insights


Cons:
you pay ~25€/day
if you don't have a permanent membership, you won't get an external monitor

digital nomads are still rare; most people in co-working spaces are regular visitors and therefore already know each other; it's challenging to form meaningful connections if you're only staying at a place short-term

Hola :)

As we crossed the Spanish border and arrived in Barcelona, we straight away went to a board game language exchange meetup at a bar and experienced a little bit of the culture by witnessing how passionate the Spanish got about certain Uno rules. Such meetups are a great opportunity to get to know locals and ask them about other cool events that might happen that week!

During our week in Barcelona, we also happily welcomed Theresa's cousin Elise. I got to know her during my time in the Bay area, as she visited us in Oakland a couple of times and we got to celebrate Thanksgiving with the entire family. She recently moved on from her job as a bioengineering postdoctoral researcher at Stanford and is currently considering moving to Switzerland. Her presence made our week definitely even more joyful and we desperately tried to convince her to travel with us further but unfortunately, she already had promised her friends in the UK to spend time with them.

With Elise, we walked through the narrow alleys of Barcelona's famous city grid to look out for promising bars and restaurants with the goal to dive deeper into the culinary diversity of Spanish cuisine. As Theresa and I did deliberate research the days before - aka met locals and internationals to give us their best food recommendations - we already had a list of places to go. We even got to show Elise our favorite restaurant, where the waiter already welcomed us as regulars. Go and check out 'Les Quinze Nits' at the Plaça Reial too, it has the best Sangria in town ;)!

How to meet new people as a digital nomad

It can be highly challenging to make new friends while traveling through a country where you barely speak the language. Luckily you're not alone, as there are lots of other internationals who are facing a similar dilemma. Here's some inspiration for you to get the ball rolling:

Find public meetup groups on e.g. meetup apps, facebook events, university websites
Attend after-work events in co-working spaces (they are mostly in English, and lots of other internationals will be there)
Ask the people you're meeting if they can add you to local sports groups

In comparison to the other cities we have visited so far, Valencia seemed much more relaxed and calm. The beaches are wider and provide lots of space for everyone to find spots with some privacy. Especially the number of public parks makes the city highly liveable for young and old, as they offer many cultural events with live music but also opportunities for children to play and adults to pursue sporty activities like practicing for their next marathon or playing soccer. We also became active and had a game of tennis at one of the tennis courts near the beach. We felt really old-school, as most people occupied the pedal courts. 

By the way, the appearance of Valencia being a quiet city tarnishes at night, when all the Erasmus students are coming out of their study caves. The city is a major hotspot for lots of international students, who like to mingle in their Erasmus corners. They gave us great tips of hiking trails near the city and activities to do on the weekend.

What is a hybrid workplace?

diconium offers us a flexible hybrid workplace. This means all employees can choose whether they want to come to one of our many offices, e.g. in Stuttgart, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Lisbon, or even work from somewhere else. If you are employed in the EU, you can work and live in any of our European countries for at least 6 months.


Benefits:

- provides autonomy to employees, as they can adapt their work schedules to their personal preferences
- access to a broader talent pool, as more people can be reached geographically
- better for the environment, as employees who stay at home reduce their daily commutes to the office + office spaces and the resulting utility usage can be downsized


Pitfalls:

- face-to-face collaboration is severely reduced and could therefore weaken bonds between colleagues
- higher burnout risk for employees who primarily work from home, as they might take fewer breaks and struggle to find a suitable work-life-balance
- due to the so-called proximity bias, people who are visiting the office more often are more inclined to receive career benefits than their remote colleagues

Madrid - the flagship city of Spain and with almost 3.4 mio people, the second-largest city in Europe (Berlin is still No.1). Once we arrived there, we got off to a bumpy start, as we had communication issues with our Airbnb host. Long story short: I totally forgot to check my Airbnb inbox regularly, thinking everything ran smoothly while he was assuming we were not coming anymore. The back-and-forth messaging escalated and he almost didn't even want us to stay there. Finally, we could ease things out and settle in. Lucky us! The Airbnb was gorgeous and located right in the city center - perfect walking distance to all the important sights.

Madrid was for sure the most vibrant of all cities so far! The streets were packed at night, and everyone seemed to be in a cheerful mood. We were amazed to see that even the traffic lights for pedestrians picked up on the socialness of the Spanish - two green people holding hands, so fitting!

Incorporating the outside into your workspace

Research has shown many positive mental health effects when people spend time in nature. Spending lots of time in green environments is a natural anti-depressant and additionally reduces your risk of getting it in the first place. One study shows that people who spend at least 120 minutes a week in nature (this is less than 15 minutes a day) are healthier and have a greater sense of well-being.

Here are some easy hacks to increase your daily dose of green:

- Schedule some of your meetings and tasks to the outside. If you know your meeting doesn't require you to share your screen, why not go out for a walk?
- Put lots of plants in sight of your workplace. If that's too much work for you, or you don't like them as they collect dust, you can also place pictures of plants there instead. Research has shown little to no difference in the resulting effects between these two options.
- Have your lunch break outside in a park instead of having it indoors. Wherever you are located, I'm sure there is a nice green spot close to you ;)!

 

Olà :)

My parents came to visit us in Spain and further stayed with me in Porto, as Theresa decided to walk the Camino de Santiago. Spending time with my parents had definitely some perks: I didn't have any expenses that week, didn't need to do any cooking or grocery shopping and even had my mum do all my laundry and ironing for me. They couldn't have made me any happier. ;)!

We walked through the city a lot and visited some of its multiple ancient buildings. But what made Porto really special to my mum and me: Looking at all these beautiful hand-painted tiles you can find in these tiles shops throughout the city and getting inspired by them.

The week in itself was rather relaxed. While I was mostly working from the balcony of our Airbnb, my parents were going out for walks or spending all their time trying to find their favourite bread or other groceries. Food and nutrition are such an important part of my family as my mum is Chinese and my dad graduated in food technologies. We found some really authentic Portuguese seafood restaurants with open grills very close to where we lived in Vila Nova de Gaia. Give it a try, it's a great experience and also highly affordable.

[Theresa] I almost decided not to walk the Camino because of the dismal weather forecast that basically said there was a 100% chance of rain every day, and as a Californian that barely owns one rain jacket and a cyclist that has never had fenders, the thought of getting hit by rain brings an unnecessary amount of fear. However, fortunately, I decided to go and was very happy I did. The occasional ‘being one' with the rain (i.e. shoes filled with water and soaked to my underwear) was definitely worth the resulting immense gratitude I felt for the rainbows, fresh air, green vegetation, cozy hostels, and dry pairs of socks.

How to balance your life during a multi-stop workation?!

By now, I'm working remotely for 6 weeks. Here's my take on the journey so far:
While I really enjoy travelling, meeting new people and exploring foreign cultures, I still find it highly exhausting from time to time. As an introvert, settling into a new environment every other week depletes my batteries for social interactions. That's where one of our core values at diconium #mindfulness kicks in: Every time I felt drained during our journey, I simply stayed at home doing nothing or went outside and took a long walk.

Before you start planning a workation trip with multiple stops, like we did, remember to check in with yourself and your personal needs: "How long do you need to get familiar with a new location and which environments do you prefer to live in?"

Try to answer the following questions for yourself in order to plan your trip properly and ensure a great work-life balance at each location:

Do you prefer to live in more crowded/touristic cities or calmer ones? How "easy" will you meet likeminded people in the chosen location? Do you need a dedicated working environment for deep working sessions, or are you able to concentrate from wherever?

In November, our tour ended in Lisbon during Websummit. The perfect occasion to meet with diconium managing director Anja to talk about our hybrid workplace, individual benefits and the future of working. We not only had the nicest weather but also met at a magnificent destination: the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT).

The WebSummit came to Lisbon and we definitely didn't miss out on the chance to explore different events and also celebrate diconiums value days in Lisbons coolest district: Alfama.


With Lisbon we reached the final destination of the DriveYourLife trip. We couldn't be more happy to stay in our beach house in Costa da Caparica - it's a 30min drive from the city center and therefore the perfect escape from the usual city buzz.
I loved working from the beach, going on long walks and just watching the surfers try to catch the perfect wave. As one of our Uber drivers claimed, there's probably no guy in Costa da Caparica who doesn't surf. Surf 101: Watch out for these nasty riptides and stay in areas where there's lots of whitewash ;)!  

Eight weeks of travelling and remote work have passed and we're looking back at a range of new experiences which, on one hand, led to a new understanding of what differentiates and unites us across European borders and, on the other hand, allowed us to get to know ourselves more deeply and strengthen our friendship. 

A huge THANK YOU to the entire DriveYourLife team and our diconium management for making this trip possible! I know you have put in so much effort to make all of these three trips unforgettable and unique. I'm beyond grateful to got offered this opportunity and will cherish this experience for a lifetime.

Theresa, I couldn't have wished for a better friend to join me on this journey. You've been nothing but generous to me with your patience, your drive to explore the unknown and your endless reservoir of positive energy. I love that you are cheerful, quirky and just unapologetically authentic to yourself. Living and travelling with you gave me the aspiration to free myself from external judgement and live my life more truthfully. Thanks, for all these memories we share, the amazing people I got to meet because of you, and for knowing that I can always count on you!

[Theresa]
I am sad to say goodbye to this trip and to the best travel buddy. I am super grateful to Jenni and Diconium for inviting me to join this awesome “Drive your Life” campaign! Jenni, you were such a joy to travel with, I’ll never forget all the time we shared laughing and getting excited over the simplest of things, and most importantly, never getting tired of each other! I am so grateful for all the sweet people we met along the way, including strangers, friends, and family. For all the beautiful nature and cities we saw, the architecture, the culture, the art, the beaches, the street performers, the language exchanges, the fancy Airbnbs, the time to relax and reflect, and the time to enjoy life!   

[Theresa] It was time to say goodbye to Portugal so we locked up our Airbnb and headed to drive our van away at 7 am. I was a little stressed about our timing so I stepped on the gas pedal. Shockingly we were greeted by the sweet sound of spinning tires. Neither of us had been stuck in anything before and our skillset in the area didn’t go beyond calling AAA roadside assistance (thanks dad), but we were lucky enough to have a shovel and junk pile right next to our non-mobile van to give us hope. We dug some sand away and put some sheet metal under our tires. We then tried driving out but were still stuck. So we tried again and again each time, putting in a little more effort and either sinking further in or almost making it out. An hour an a half later of close escapes, this nice lady came by our way and helped us find some big rocks that we could put under our tires. That indeed launched us out of the sand pretty quickly. We were so happy to finally not be stuck in the sand. And looking back at the experience it was kind of exhilarating to be fully living in the moment and using the adrenaline to give us extra force in shoveling the sand. Later that day we told the story to a Belgium girl who just returned from her trip to Canada... Her reaction summarizes it quite well: “It happens to the best of us, eh?” 

How diconium's leadership shapes the hybrid working model

I'm beyond grateful to work for a company where great leadership is truly lived from top to bottom and from bottom to top. It doesn't matter which position you hold at diconium, everyone can stand up and lead a client project, an initiative or even a team. We're all continuously learning from each other, and that's what truly matters in my eyes.


With Daniel Rebhorn and Anja Hendel, who happened to visit our Lisbon office too, we have two exceptional role models at the top. They both extrude such a welcoming aura that you just want to talk to them and share anything that's on your mind, knowing they will listen and consider your opinion. 

The grounded nature of our top management ripples through all hierarchy levels and creates a highly trusting and transparent environment at diconium. And that's exactly why the hybrid working model works for us: Our management holds an innate trust that everyone is capable to execute their best work results within the given guidelines. We create these guidelines within our teams and set due dates for our deliverables. Every other decision regarding our work environment is up to ourselves and our own preferences: As we showed you with DriveYourLife, we are able to work from literally everywhere: the car, the library, the ferry, the café, the beach, the co-working space, or simply one of the multiple office locations. This new digital era, we're living in right now, provides us with the freedom to choose. Not just the location and our working time but also the people and the cause we want to work for.

Jennifer