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Remote Working in Cambodia: Getting It Done A World Away

Oct 18, 2019

6 min read

By: Shanae Vander Togt

We recently had one of our own move to Cambodia for a new adventure. Meet Kate, one of our Map Designers and Customer Support Specialists, who is helping us redefine what a remote worker looks like at Mappedin. Kate is also an artist by trade, and wanted to share with us some of her experiences from moving halfway around the world.

How did this all get started?

This year I decided to commit more seriously to my passion for travel, and I made the move to Cambodia. Mappedin helped me make this happen. Now I work as a map designer and a customer support specialist in Phnom Penh. In this post, I’m going to share what it’s like living in Cambodia, and how my job at Mappedin has helped me explore this new city. 

Before I jump into the details, though, I’ll start by telling you a bit about what I do. 

As a map designer I use AutoCAD, Illustrator and the Mappedin CMS to create digital 3D maps for clients, and developing new designs for pilot projects.

The other half of my role at Mappedin is Customer Support Specialist, where I support clients that use our software in this timezone. Most of the clients I support are in Australia, Europe, and the Philippines. 

Now that we’ve got a basic understanding of the roles I have, let’s look into how this has impacted my life in Phnom Penh!

Going on an adventure

As I spend time in the city, I am becoming much more aware of small details that make me feel like I am a lot more close with the city. I believe that having an eye for design contributes to this experience. When I see and think about the city with my design eyes on, it allows me to fully engage in what I am seeing. I find myself not just existing in the spaces here, but investigating them - trying to understand what exactly makes spaces here different. For example, noticing how sidewalks become a whole new type of property here. They are used as parking lots, living rooms, shops, shortcuts; they are rarely used for walking.

Typical sidewalk in Phnom Penh

The navigation aspect of map design has also helped me explore. While it is not required that all mappers have a good sense of direction, I believe this job does improve it! We have to think about space in terms of the most efficient routes to get somewhere, and need to orient ourselves in Google Maps for each new location we map. We must learn how to understand context with limited information. This skill has been really valuable in helping me to learn, navigate, and explore the city. 

Customer support 

As with mapping, in customer support you often have to understand issues with limited information. Part of this is being resourceful, and part of this is learning how to ask the right questions to get the information you need. A natural part of this role is navigating language barriers due to the international customers we work with at Mappedin. The main part of this challenge is not only about learning to understand, but also about learning how to communicate differently so that you can be more easily understood. 

Customer support is about empathy, understanding, and problem-solving. All of the skills mentioned here are ones I am continually improving upon through my customer support experience. My everyday interactions and communications here have allowed me to bring new insights and empathy into my customer support work, and vice versa. 

Sunrise at Bakheng Temple

For example, when I find myself in the midst of a language barrier in Cambodia, first, I ask myself, “How could I have communicated that better?”, rather than putting the onus on someone else for a lack of English. I am in their country after all! What words would it have been helpful for me to know in Khmer (the Cambodian language)? Could I have used Google Translate, or pulled up a picture? Were my hand signals clear? 

Before working in customer support I doubt I would have been as reflective in these situations. Ultimately, each communication experience here helps me grow and find ways to better acclimate to this new culture. Just like in support, you take the feedback from each mistake and learn how to tackle the situation better the next time. 

Life in Phnom Penh

Moving to a new place means lots of exploring, which has already lead me to some amazing local spots. My favourite places to visit are the markets and restaurants (maybe the odd skybar too!).

The markets can be a sensory rollercoaster. Ladies sit atop platforms, towering over their vegetables and meats. The stalls are full of food I had never seen before moving here. Longans, custard apples, and mangosteens are just a few.

Sometimes I get so caught up in looking at all of the food that I forget to watch where I’m stepping - fish and crabs are known to escape their buckets! 

Fish Amok with a coconut shake at Eleven One Kitchen

There is no shortage of restaurants in Phnom Penh. During my wandering I often stop at new ones to grab a meal, soak up the distinct Cambodian restaurant atmosphere, and escape into the air conditioning for a little while. The local food is an adventure unto itself. Whole fish grilled on a spit, sticky rice with mango, beef with tree ants - there is something for everyone here. While I do like trying new foods, my go-to order is the national dish of Cambodia: fish amok. 

Moving and Mappedin

Moving was a big change for me, but also meant a big change in my work. My roles have been valuable in helping me explore and navigate my new surroundings, but the company as a whole has helped me enormously throughout to work remotely. 

Making such a big move impacts me of course, but it also affects the team and my managers. I’ve been so lucky and grateful to have managers, a CEO, and a People Ops department that were keen to take on this challenge with me. The company has been proactive and supportive right from the beginning. From taxes to time changes, everyone involved in this process of helping me transition has had to learn a lot. 

But we did it! 

And each day we continue to learn how to navigate working; a world away.