Central America is fast becoming a hotspot for digital nomads and remote workers to enjoy their lives in tropical bliss while still learning a living. But what are the best tools for remote workers to stay productive?
Are you still on the remote work bandwagon? The pandemic might be over and offices might be open again, but that doesn’t mean people are returning to them yet. After shutting down workspaces and sending everyone home for two years, many companies now find it’s not so easy to bring them back.
Despite return-to-work mandates, many people have become used to not commuting to a cubicle and find they’re more productive at home. There’s a definite sense of conflict between many employers and employees, where the tides ebb and flow in one direction or another.
In 2021 and much of this year, according to Forbes, employees had the upper hand, as the reopening economy found companies needing talent and happy to acquiesce to work-remote demands. Now, thanks to the deteriorating economy, it’s flipped the other way around, and companies find it easier to tell people to come to the office.
But still, many companies abandoned their offices altogether in the pandemic and went fully-remote.
Despite lower numbers of remote workers than a year ago, the toothpaste is, to coin a cliche, out the tube and it’s never going all the way back in. Remote work is here to stay.
And making the decision to carry out said remote work from a tropical spot that isn’t your local Starbucks is also here to stay.
Which is great news for Costa Rica and Panama who both initiated remote worker visa programs as a result of the shifting tide during the pandemic. Both countries programs allow remote workers to enjoy extended time as long as they can fulfill the minimum earnings requirements ($3,000 in each country).
But you don’t need a digital nomad visa to work remote somewhere cool. Indeed, there’s a school of thought that they’re not necessary, and overly cumbersome for many people. Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua don’t have them. and it’s possible to hang out in any of them for a year or three and do what you gotta do.
As long as you have the best tools for remote workers, that is.
Whether you’re down south in Central America on a remote work visa or winging as a tourist, to be productive as a remote worker there are certain things you need.
Of course, there’s the obvious. You’ll need decent internet. That goes without saying. Central America doesn’t have the fastest internet in the world, and some countries are far better than others. But overall, everywhere, things are better than they were even two or three years ago. Check our semi-regular guide to Central American internet speeds to stay in the loop.
And then you’ll need the hardware. You know, laptop, cell, etc. Make sure you bring these down with you, as buying electronics in this part of the world is super super expensive. Think at least double the price. If you’re planning to work down here, don’t put yourself at an immediate disadvantage by spending a fortune on your gear.
One advantage of going the remote worker visa route, at least in the case of Costa Rica, is that you’ll be exempt from paying duty on any equipment you need to work. But if you’re traveling with just a laptop and phone as a tourist, you wouldn’t need to pay duty anyway. Unless they find twenty laptops in your luggage, of course.
So we’ll assume you have all your gear and you’re set up in a place with excellent internet. What else will you need to make your remote working experience in Central America productive?
We look at some of the more popular online resources and tools for remote workers below.
Our favorite tools for remote workers in Central America:
Whether you’re working for yourself as a freelancer, managing your startup, or working for the man back in the cold north, swapping corporate life for something more tropical while keeping the same duties, you’re going to need a decent tool to help manage your projects and keep your left hand knowing what your right hand is doing.
Trello is perfect for that, especially if you’re more “visual”. With its system of cards that you move from one section to the next depending on the process of the task at hand, it’s a super simple project management tool for anyone.
Travel. Work. Save. Repeat. 🔁
— Trello (@trello) September 27, 2022
Jira is another project management tool cut from the same cloth as Trello. It’s more suited for larger teams than Trello is, so it’s something your guys back at the office will give you to use if you’re a remote worker rather than a digital nomad (the loose assumption being here that a remote worker works for someone else and a digital nomad is a freelancer). I’ve been using Jira a lot this year and find it super helpful.
Another tool I use all the time. Slack is a communication tool with both chat and voice options. It’s great for larger companies because you can divide departments into “channels” so, say, marketing have a channel, finance has a channel, and so on. Think of it like WhatsApp groups. For a company with employees working remotely, spread out wherever, Slack is useful for keeping everyone together. HR departments will love it, as it reminds them of everyone’s birthdays and so on.
Working in Slack isn’t just more productive; it’s also more courteous. #DF22
💭 What’s your favorite way to create a better work environment in Slack?
— Slack (@SlackHQ) September 22, 2022
The pandemic favorite. This video conferencing tool was unheard of before March 2020. Then by April 2020 your grandmother was using it. Zoom saved businesses and families over various lockdowns all over the world. The perfect way to conduct business meetings with a shirt on up top and nothing but underpants down below.
This one’s pretty obvious but needs a mention. Get yourself the whole Google kit and caboodle for your email (gmail), content creation (Google docs suite), calendar, chat, the works. You have this already.
As a writer, I love Evernote. If you’re a writer, I hope you love it, too. I’m writing this on Evernote right now. I write everything on Evernote, from articles to reminders to recipes or whatever. It works for me as a place to keep all my rough drafts together before polishing them up for publication somewhere. Actually, I do and keep everything on Evernote. Invaluable.
If you’ve been bitten by the literary bug and are planning to join this year’s #NaNoWriMo (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month) challenge, check out our complete guide to completing the challenge with Evernote here: https://t.co/Y93CIWEIWh pic.twitter.com/1HaOkmjqdT
— Evernote (@evernote) October 13, 2022
Every Time Zone
Every Time Zone is a handy tool if you’re working with people all over the world. You know what time to set up a meeting your guy in Malaysia with this tool at a glance.
Dropbox is a file hosting service if you’re looking for something different to Google Drive. I’ll admit that Google Drive is fine for me with what I do, but Dropbox offers you a ton of storage space for anything you need, from documents to images. Essentially, they’re both cloud storage systems with their own pros and cons that you can check out here.
If the security of your files is more important than ease of access and sharing capability (although both Dropbox and Google Drive are secure), then a virtual data room might be the way to go. Learn more at Firmex about the virtual data room for startups and if their mode of storage is best for your needs or not.
Dropbox Standard plans include new security features to safely access, store, and collaborate on work. https://t.co/kadtfJAZL8
✅ External sharing reporting
✅ Dropbox Passwords
✅ Dropbox Backup with external drive support
✅ Web session management
✅ Device limit settings
— Dropbox (@Dropbox) June 13, 2022
You might not think a meditation app counts as a tool for remote workers, but let me tell you something. When you’re working on a tropical beach in board shorts and tank top, the chances of procrastination increase in a big way. At least for me they do.
Working outside an office, whether in Central America or on your sofa, can be hard. It can be tough to get into the moment, to focus. This is why so many employees still find themselves unsure of the whole concept of remote work.
Finding a way to get your head into gear, to focus on what you need to do, is crucial. For me, that way is practicing mindfulness and Headspace helps me to do that. For you, it could be something else. But if you’re making the move into remote work, you’ll need to make it as productive as possible, so do what you gotta do.
Looking to get in the zone? Try a mindfulness exercise, like identifying five sights or sounds in your surroundings, to ground yourself before anything from a workout to a work task.
— Headspace (@Headspace) October 13, 2022
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past two-and-a-half years, few of the above tools will come as any surprise.
Chances are you used most of them during your enforced work-from-homes and lockdowns. But it’s always worth collating a few of these things together, especially for newbies who might not have ever worked remotely or even online before. This article is for those people.
If you’re down here in Central America living the good life and staying productive with your work, let us know how you’re doing and what tools for remote workers help you. Living down here while working remote is definitely one of the best life hacks you can have in the 2020s, so you’re ahead of the curve already and we welcome you.
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.