Zsolt from Hanno – Building routines to stay productive all over the world
February 11, 2015

Zsolt visited Surf Office in the beginning of 2015 while working remotely for Hanno. Even though he started to travel as a digital nomad only recently, he’s catching up quickly and has something to say on traveling, productivity and doing UX design on the go.

When did you start with remote work?

I have been working with Hanno since 2013 and I started traveling in 2014. First, I visited Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Kuala Lumpur then headed to Palo Alto and New York before going back to Budapest. It was my first major travel experience and it lasted almost three months, which had a huge effect on my life and on my way of thinking.

I always felt uncomfortable with the 9 to 5 kind of jobs and I have an entrepreneurial personality. Luckily, I always had the freedom to work from home. For me, it’s obvious that remote working is the best way to rapidly improve professionally as well as personally: it forces you to build up routine quickly so you can have a high output and challenges you every day. There are also many other reasons why our team thinks that remote working ‘feels like cheating’.

Of course there are situations when in-person meetings make things faster and obviously the best way to get to know each other is through personal interactions.

How often do you move from one place to another?

I wouldn’t say I have a routine for travel. Usually I like to spend at least 2-3 weeks in a location. This is minimum time required to get familiar with the city, locals and neighborhoods. As I am working full-time, I have to pay attention to organise the weekdays around my job and only do sightseeing and exploration on the weekends and nights.

I like to try and experience different places. Also to connect with like-minded people – almost every person I’ve met during my travels has been very open-minded and easy to get along with.

Do you have any ‘behaviour patterns’ when you’re in a new country?

I usually start the procedure by withdrawing cash and acquiring a sim card at the airport. Having an internet connection makes you feel more comfortable.

I prefer public transport because it is always a great way to have a small piece of that new city.

I prefer using Airbnb.com for accommodation. After I get to the flat I like to discover the neighborhood, just walking around to get comfortable with the area I am staying at; this is also a good time to use Foursquare to discover good places to visit.

Another thing which I usually do on my first day is to buy groceries. I know it sounds boring (you just arrived to some exotic destination), but hey, this isn’t a vacation and having prepared for the next days and being able to take care of yourself is important. Ultimately, you need to work the next day!

What was the biggest challenge in digital nomadic lifestyle and remote working you’ve experienced so far?

I prefer complete freedom, traveling with a one-way ticket and figuring out where to go next. You need a lot of planning to organize and book everything for your next destination – which is kinda time and energy consuming.

As I mentioned before, building up a routine is quite important to be productive. The problem is that you build these routines for only a few weeks. So you have to figure out what works best for you and maintain that during your stay. Then destroy it, move to the next location and build it up again. I find this quite challenging.

Does living in different countries influence you in some way?

For sure! Food is a big one. Now I appreciate this a lot more than before and I’m always looking for highly-rated restaurants on Foursquare.

I like hearing about what people do and how did they end up where they are today:

  • I met a guy who successfully managed to raise $1m on Indiegogo and just moved to Hong Kong to get things moving
  • Uber or Lyft drivers usually have amazing stories
  • I met a surfer from Switzerland who just bought his ticket ten hours before the flight
  • A new friend turned out to be Steve Jobs’ former neighbor

In general I feel more flexible and open to the world – I believe this is an effect of travel and using shared economy services like Airbnb, Uber or Lyft – which just connect you with more and more amazing people.

Do you have any routine you follow on your travels?

Usually I am not working on weekends, and my goal is to work 40 hour workweeks (or to aim to, at least!).

If I am at a location where I can surf I prefer having a surfing session during the day. For me, it feels good to have a bigger break during the day and split my day into two sessions with a surfing session in the middle of the day. And that’s why I love Surf Office.

The team you work for looks like a dream job probably to many aspiring nomads.

Besides the fact that the team is entirely remote, with people working with almost freelance freedom within the team, you guys go regularly on team trips to places like Valencia and Hong Kong…

How do these trips look like and what do you do during your visits?

To give some context: Instead of having an expensive office in some Western country we are dedicated to remote working. This allows us to keep our operational costs lower and do 1-2 team trips a year. Sounds like a good deal to me!

The country/city is a team decision and we sort out all the bookings and flights about half a year prior the trip. We go to the destination and dedicate our time to internal projects. Last time we redesigned our website, this time we are going to run two design sprints in two teams. Of course, we don’t just hide in our temporary residence, but go out actively and explore the city and the local tech community (meetups)!

For me, this is going to be the first company retreat, but I heard the previous ones were great.

Speaking of work, can you share any personal productivity tips or hacks?

Work a few hours, then go out surfing for a couple of hours, then do the remaining hours. Coming back to the real world: I need to learn a lot about productivity and reading good articles helps a lot.

Working in a design team closely with clients, daily “standups” work quite well to hit our daily goals. We also do a lot of pairing which I believe is ultimately great for the quality of output and you can also learn a lot. I work notification-free, I still can’t believe people have it either on their phones or laptops. It’s the worst productivity killer and you should turn it off.

We are also killing emails from our communication – I love email but honestly, there are much greater tools for your organisation. Hanno’s communication stack includes Asana for managing projects and personal task lists, Slack for team chat and Basecamp for wider discussions.

How does your work look like from the creative standpoint?

I don’t consider myself to be a super-creative designer, and since I’m a UX designer, most of my job requires to be more analytical – I do user research, understanding the needs of users and the business and try to translate this into a technically feasible solution – and then build it and test it and iterate until we hit the goals. It is an ever evolving process and the creative part comes in when you try to improve your process, your skills and your wireframes.

Your 3 favorite coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces:

  • Hubud, Bali – the 100% bamboo villa next to a rice field in central Ubud with an amazing community
  • Surf Office, Gran Canaria – surfing and working, oh, c’mon, that’s way too awesome! Not to mention the great community you can find here!
  • The Hive, Hong Kong – an epic coworking space on the 21st floor between HK’s skyscrapers; I also have to mention the community, which was really great!

What’s your hardware / software setup and favorite work tools?
  • 15” MacBook Pro
  • Laptop Stand + Mac Keyboard + Logitech Mouse + Mousepad – this makes working more comfortable; if you design, a touchpad is a bit painful.
  • I use Sketch and Sublime Text because I believe you should design in your browser.

Working remotely, having a decent portfolio, travelling to US, Asia and across Europe… What’s next on your bucket list?

I don’t really have a list like that. I will keep focusing on my personal and professional improvement in a short and medium term and see how things will work out.

If I had to say something, I would say “to become a better surfer” — since I really enjoy it, I want to go and ride bigger waves.


Where are you headed next?

Thailand and Philippines are the next ones on my list – and right afterwards other countries in Asia. There is a huge number of expats there and these countries in general seem to be perfect locations to live and work at the same time.

The life there is also significantly cheaper than in Europe, the food is excellent, the people are super-nice, the internet is fast and the environment is amazing.