Early December 2020, I went to Sénégal with the intention of working remotely for part of my one month trip. I had my laptop, chargers, portable wifi modem, and workspace carved out. I was ready. Then I got in the country and automatically lost all motivation and drive to work. This blog post will be simple and to the point: my top 5 realizations about working remotely in Sénégal. Let’s get to it.
1. There will be a lot of background noise. I was in my house by myself for the week that I worked remotely so I figured there wouldn’t be any noise to distract me or my conference calls. I was wrong. Cows, chickens, goats, sheep, little children joyfully playing outside, neighbors greeting each other… you name it! There’s no shortage of noise that your coworkers will hear in the background and inevitably ask you about. And if none of that is true for you, there will certainly be the neighborhood call to prayer!
2. Don’t plan anything else on the day(s) you need to work. The team I work with sits in Seattle, WA. The time difference was 8 hours so I did the math and figured I needed to logon around 4PM local time in Senegal. I thought — heavy emphasis on the THOUGHT — that I could get one or two things done in the morning/early afternoon before logging on. To my unpleasant surprise, I learned that the notion of time is very different in Senegal. I can’t plan for anything at 9AM because that ‘thing’ probably won’t start until 10:45AM (that’s being generous). That means I will finish late and anything else I planned will subsequently be shifted by a few hours. Thus, I can’t start work at the scheduled 4PM time. I quickly learned to just sit my a$$ down until 4PM with nothing planned in the morning…unless I had a strong desire to have anxiety attacks while sitting in heavy Dakar traffic. I’ll stop there.
3. Your focus will be off. I mentioned in the intro that I had my equipment and workplace set up. Let me tell that is not enough! BEING in Senegal calls for something other than being laser-focused on conference calls and to-do lists. If you live there full-time and know this is your daily life, it’s fine. But if you come to a short period of time and try to squeeze working into your schedule, it just doesn’t flow the same. You go from talking about the upcoming baptism or baby shower… or concert … or drinking a nice glass of ataya to talking about project deadlines and roadblocks. It just doesn’t work. I was not as productive or efficient as when I was home and it had a lot to do with the fact that the environment around is not on the same wavelength as you are. It’s not good or bad; it just is.
4. You’ll have to help your Senegalese family understand why you’re working on vacation. One thing about Senegalese people is when they are on vacation, THEY ARE ON VACATION. Being in that space and dealing with responsibilities back home isn’t the most harmonious situation! So be prepared to explain why you’re a semi-workaholic and how what you’re doing is the watered down version of your life, everyday back home.
5. You realize what’s really important in life. We run, run, run every day that we’re working these intense jobs. We have hectic schedules and relish in that busy feeling; it makes us feel important or useful sometimes. But for me, I stripped that feeling when I was back home. You could say I stopped to smell the roses. I learned that there is so much more to life than what we often chase after and to be quite frank, none of us are performing brain surgery by ourselves. Truly stepping away is necessary for our happiness, our mental health, and our physical wellbeing. Burnout is real.
All in all, my biggest takeaway when it comes to working remotely in Sénégal, is to avoid it if you can. It’s one thing to visualize how you could make it happen; it’s another to actually make it happen. Between the less than ideal internet connection, the sounds of animals in the background of every meeting you have, and the vast difference in speed of life, it just is a recipe for disaster! But more importantly, I learned to appreciate the tiny moments that make you miss home THAT much more when it’s all said and done. Although it was a challenge to work remotely, it just made me realize that I should leave my baggage at the door when I go to visit my homeland, pays de la Teranga. There’s no room for checklists 😉
Pro tip: get a portable modem while you’re there for continuous connection! It’s a small, Orange box that you can recharge and connect your devices to!