By Alejandro Salazar
There is no denying that the pandemic upended our convictions and beliefs. Some aspects that consumed most of our time (especially work and family) suddenly changed and well-established routines now required adaptation and more than a healthy dose of creativity.
For some lucky ones like digital nomads, the “new normal” didn’t ask for a lot of magic. They are veterans of working from less traditional places like cafes, parks or couches. For others, there is still a large group for whom the concept of working remotely was difficult to imagine: the locals.
I live currently in Bulgaria. The capital, Sofia, is home to around 1.2 million people and is a well-developed city with access to fast Internet making it ideal for remote working.
Shifting to remote work in Bulgaria
As a foreigner working in IT, who has lived abroad and faced cultural challenges more than once, – including new experiences and a need for adaptation – the shock of the changes brought by Covid-19 was lessened. Don’t get me wrong, I still needed to come up with new ways of doing my daily tasks. I still needed the good old trial and error to find better and more efficient ways but there was less anxiety for me.
I started to wonder beyond my own reality and that of my circle of friends (many of them foreigners) and I set out on a quest to find the views and opinions of Bulgarians regarding remote working. I spoke with Bulgarians who work in different industries and not only in IT, so I could have a broader sample and also I tried to talk to people that have children because their conditions are vastly different than those of people without them. Fortunately, I was able to find a group of subjects that were eager to participate in my totally unscientific experiment and answered my questions.
Facing unexpected remote work challenges
Tsvetan Marinov has 7 years of experience as the leader of a team of tech-support engineers and the shift to remote working was not easy at the beginning.
“I was quite sceptical about how this will work, how we will do our job properly. I’ll miss the direct contact with my colleagues!”
Many were happy to try remote working. Eliminating commute time, saving on food and clothing and being able to do quick chores at moments of low workload was so appealing that they dove in headfirst when the possibility arose. Even so, the challenges didn’t take long to appear.
“I constantly have to convince the management that I am still productive and beneficial for the company when I am working from home,” Galina Noncheva told me, an HR specialist for a financial company.
I found that many of them are actually working more hours than before, they stay longer to “send another email” or “answer another client”. Sometimes they cut their breaks to the minimum for fear of being seen as “slacking around at home”. Communication has changed for some. Sometimes they grind to a very slow pace waiting for an answer in a chat when before it was just a quick question to someone sitting next to you.
Space and human connection reimagined
For many who I spoke with in Bulgaria, it is interesting to see how their views on their physical spaces changed. If you are not a gamer or someone who thought carefully about spending long hours in front of a computer, chances are you don’t have a desk or a comfortable chair with the right height. They now notice that their homes are not well equipped to deal with several hours sitting with a laptop or in front of a monitor. Turns out ergonomics are important after all!
Isolation also entered the equation. When I asked Galina about the pros and cons of working remotely, she quickly answered: “Losing closeness with your teammates is a big con”. We don’t notice the effect that sharing a coffee in front of the machine has on our mental wellness. After months where some have very limited contact with others, or maybe they only see their family members, the need for a connection started to weigh heavily. The adage that says that human beings are social animals has never been more accurate. The invisible effect of our closeness to others is a defense against depression and stress.
Keys to a better remote work life
Where there are challenges there are also new ways to overcome them! Resourcefulness, communication, creativity and time management are keys for a better remote work life
Almost all interviewees found new ways to communicate more effectively. Some departments established daily calls. Voice chats are now very common. I was happy to hear that parents report more family time. Parents working from home now have more energy to spend with their children, since they are no longer drained by long commutes to and from work. Tsvetan for one is happy about this increased family time: “For a guy with two kids like me, I understand that the most important thing is the time spent with your family in places you want to be”.
Also, many of them have started learning new things. Their use of personal time seems to have shifted towards things they consider important. They became more serious about the things that made them happy: “I take more walks outside, out of the city when possible, more fresh air whenever I get the chance. Started shopping in local businesses to support them, made new friends, found other ways to socialize. says Galina Zlatanova, a treasury manager residing in Sofia.
I found that few have considered a coworking space, but some said they are willing to try.
As any other country began to in Covid times, Bulgaria is walking at a steady pace towards remote work and I happily welcome this change. It may be a blessing in disguise, or it may not, but maybe it’s just too early to say. I’m optimistic this will change!
Written by Alejandro Salazar: I’m a freelance writer from Caracas, Venezuela living in Bulgaria with my lovely wife and several cacti that seem to like when I tell them stories. Most of the days I’m fueled by soda and passion for research and sharing my learnings. Sometimes that thirst for learning new things takes me to unexpected places and experiences but that’s the best part, those are the memories worth telling and the things I want to write about.