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Charlie Ellington – working remotely in Ibiza and connecting locally20th April 2021

In the past few months, I’ve met more and more people who can work anywhere in the world and have chosen to move to Ibiza for our outstanding quality of life. Curious as to how this works in practice, I caught up with my friend Charlie Ellington, who’s been working remotely in Ibiza for a few years now.

Charlie runs a successful design studio designing interfaces for mobile and web apps and doing product design. His clients are based in New York, Australia and New Zealand and have globally distributed teams. Charlie’s own team works remotely from locations all over the world.

As he told me last time we spoke, his work is, ‘as remote as can be’.

Charlie, I know you were scouting for other locations in which to live before you came here. What made you choose Ibiza in the first place?

We looked at other beautiful places, for sure. But, for me, it’s the fact that I can step out of the office or my house for a walk here and be in nature right away. I don’t have to drive out of the city. If I feel like it, I can stop at a beach on the way home and decompress. Now I’m working remotely in Ibiza, I know I definitely made the right decision.

When you’re talking to people in high pressure environments, do you notice the difference?

I’m definitely a lot more laidback than people who work in cities.

And are you open about the way you work with your clients?

I tell people exactly what’s going on with my life. I want to set an example. I work with a lot of startup founders whose mindset is very much working long days, sometimes up to 16 hours, and not taking care of their health.

I believe if I’m open and say ‘Hey, I work fewer hours a day and go outside or to the beach when I feel I need to’, this might have a positive impact and influence others.

cala San vicente ibiza
Cala San Vicente Ibiza

Many of us who work remotely, especially if it’s for ourselves, find that we’re actually working longer hours, including on weekends, and that it’s harder to switch off. It sounds like you don’t have that problem.

No, because the number one principle for our business is health first. One of the ways we do this is to make sure we have a healthy work/life balance. For me, that means the time to exercise. I won’t start work until I’ve done some. I’ll also cancel client calls if I feel I need that time to exercise.

My attitude is that, if I haven’t taken care of my health, what’s the point of working hard in the first place?

Other people on our team will prioritise family because that’s what’s most important to them.

So, working remotely in Ibiza, you don’t have to hustle for work as hard as if, let’s say, you were in a city?

Just by living here and having an office close to where I live, I’ve taken back a lot of time that, if I was in London, would have been spent commuting.

I do feel that I’m in a place of privilege and I’ve had plenty of luck. But I’ve also put a lot of hard work into getting to where I am now.

When I first moved here, I was flying back to London to work every couple of weeks and not really having the time to enjoy Ibiza like I wanted to. Then I made the conscious decision to work and earn less but have more time.

My work is also structured to not waste time I could be spending doing what I want.

I believe in the principle of doing deep, concentrated work and not overworking. If you’re in an office, much of your time can be wasted. I work for myself and want to get the work done as well as I can, as fast as I can, rather than feel I’ve got to be in the office between 9am and 6pm.

Is your business impact-driven in any way?

Definitely. Not so much in terms of choosing who we work with but more in how we guide by sharing our own values. A big thing in our process as a design studio is to help influence the nature of work.

Our organization is structured to be skill specific. People come into projects because they have a particular skill. They only work for as long as they’re needed.

We believe that if our clients, and the people who work with us, see how well this approach works, they’ll adopt it and influence others.

The other aspect of what we do is environmental. We were among the first to pioneer remote product design workshops, which have now become commonplace, because we didn’t want to contribute to environmental pollution by flying.

The pandemic has ushered a remote working revolution by default. Judging by your clients, do you think it’s here to stay?

Our clients are usually ahead of the curve. We work with many early stage start-ups already very very used to distributed teams. They’re used to working with the best talent globally because it’s not so easy for them to find the people they need locally.

They also need to be much more flexible in their hiring because they can’t compete with giant companies like Facebook or Google who pay considerable salaries and offer mouthwatering options packages.

In my industry, remote working is just going to accelerate.

Generally, more traditional companies, especially the larger ones, will head back to the office. This is already happening in London, where banks are ordering people to come back in. But, in time, the new world order of working remotely will take over because, if they can, people want to work where they like.

Look down, you’ll love it

There’s been criticism of people who are benefiting from the ‘Zoom boom’ taking their big city salary to desirable locations, inflating property values, pricing out locals, and contributing nothing to the community. What would you say about that in relation to working remotely in Ibiza?

First of all, I’d say that salaries will slowly shrink as supply catches up with demand and people already living and working in the areas ‘Zoom boomers’ are moving to realise they can also work for the same large corporations. But that’s more of a prediction right now.

As for integrating into communities, I would say it’s up to the community to welcome people and offer an infrastructure that encourages integration and connection.

One way to do this, and it’s already happening in Ibiza, is to create coworking spaces and places for people to meet each other.

There’s a place called The Hub which is reopening in May and Project Ibiza, where I have my office. This isn’t a coworking space, but it has a big central exercise area where people can meet.

How do you feel about the way people coming to a place like Ibiza can make it too international and stifle the local culture that helped make the island so appealing in the first place?

I can really relate to that. As an expat, it can be tempting to migrate to places that offer certain creature comforts with which you’re familiar while ignoring local culture.

But you could argue that the stifling of local culture is partly down to Ibiza’s government. I recently read in Diario de Ibiza that there’s criticism of the government for not doing enough to protect the traditional beach shacks with plastic chairs and tables that offer delicious sardines and a beer – the kind of thing I was looking for when I came here.

This is because they offer licenses for these places up to the highest bidder. So, if a foreigner with a lot of money comes in and thinks ‘I’ll bid for that spot, make it chic and upmarket and cater to tourists’, locals are priced out.

The article in Diario de Ibiza said that on Formentera, interestingly enough, they’re doing the complete opposite. They’re encouraging local families to keep their beach shacks and even open year-round to help create a community and culture.

Ultimately, people who can do so are always going to migrate to beautiful places. It’s up to local government to protect culture and not just look at the financial side of things.

Charlie and Tim out walking

Changing the subject, it’s perfect walking weather now. How are your organised walks going?

It is perfect weather for a long hike followed by a swim in the sea, yes. The sea’s freezing but not so cold you can’t bear it and there’s enough infrared in the sun to dry you off. We’re incredibly lucky to have this.

I’m doing organised walks once a week or fortnight. The idea is to take people on adventures outside in nature, normally groups of five or six people. It’s not a business venture. I’m doing what I can to build up a community and encourage friendships.

And it’s working. People come on a walk, get a feel for it, and invite their friends. The overall group of people that know about the walks is growing. There’s always a nice mix on every walk.

In the future, I hope to offer cycling and paddle board excursions.

If you’d like to go hiking Ibiza with Charlie, and I really recommend his hikes, get in touch with him on WhatsApp. He’s happy for anyone to join the group.

Written by Tim Stacey

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