Home Office Life: Dionne Verdonck – Director of an NGO in Peru/ travel agent

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Dionne Verdonck is 25 years old and originally from the Netherlands. Since February 2017 she’s been living in Cusco, Peru and making the world a better place.

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What is it you do?

I do several things at the moment. My partner and I run a small NGO in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cusco. Apart from working directly with the kids, I do the marketing, administration and volunteer coordination from home. Currently finishing our website!

Apart from that I am an online travel agent, to be able to make a living. I work for a Peruvian travel agency and my clients are mainly Dutch and Belgian. I handle the customer contact and create personalized itineraries.

I’ve also done some translating/interpreting projects that I found on a remote job website and I’m currently trying to find more clients for translating and copyediting (English/Spanish/Dutch). I’ve always loved languages so I would like to do more of these projects.

How long have you been working remotely?

I joined my partner (who founded the project) in June 2017 and started to work as an online travel agent in September 2018.

Are you employed or a freelancer? If employed, what is your arrangement and how did you convince your boss?

I was very lucky that I didn’t have to convince my boss at all! It was difficult to find a job here locally that paid enough and that I could combine with my tasks at our NGO.

My current boss is a friend of my partner and his previous Dutch speaking travel agent had just quit so he needed a new one. I speak the language and had experience in tourism from previous jobs in Peru, so it was a good match.

He currently lives in Germany and all his agents work online mostly via a sales platform, so the job offer was actually remote. I can decide when and where I work, as long as I respond to and call my clients in time and get their itineraries done. All I need is my laptop and decent Wi-Fi. I work on commission, so I don’t get paid hourly, only per sale. It might sound unstable, but Peru is a very popular destination and it’s a better income than a local full-time job.

Any project you want to share?

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Our NGO is called Corazón de los Apus. This means heart of the mountains and Apus in Quechua also refers to the protectors of the people from the Inca times. It’s an after-school program for children up to 15 years old, where we help them with their homework, English classes, food, fun excursions, creative and educational activities and most of all we try and provide them with a safe and loving environment where they can play and just be a kid.

It’s just the two of us with the help of volunteers and about 70 kids (30 to 55 kids daily). We also offer accommodation, Spanish classes, tours and Salsa classes as a way of financially supporting the project as we receive no governmental help at the moment. Our website www.corazondelosapus.org will be launched within 2 weeks hopefully.

If there is such a thing, how does a normal workday look for you?

I honestly don’t have a normal workday, which is also something I like. It depends on the amount of work I have every day what time I get up. Sometimes I have loads of clients to call and write so I can fill my day with that, sometimes I have some administration of upcoming volunteers, I work on our website or I have to pick up a volunteer from the airport… It really depends.

I try to start around 9 am or 10 am in the morning (I’m really not a morning person but I guess that’s the benefit of remote work) and I go to our project 3 to 5 afternoons a week from 3 pm to about 6.30 pm to help with the kids. In the evening I sometimes work as well, depending on my workload and how much I got done during the day, and some nights I teach salsa in a local bar.

Sometimes I like to sleep in and I would catch up with work in the evening. I mostly work at home or sometimes go to a café to have a change of scenery. The 9 to 5 office routine is not for me, so the fact that I can decide when and where I work is perfect.

Can you think of a time you were really happy to be working remotely?

When I got to travel with my mom around Peru for almost 3 weeks when she was visiting for the first time here. I just brought my laptop to be able to do some work as needed and to be available for my clients. We had an amazing trip!

What’s your biggest achievement/ milestone regarding remote work?

I would say my biggest achievement that I am now able to sustain myself completely with my remote job. I must admit that I live in a country where living costs are lower so that makes it easier, but I have several ideas and plans for the future to be able to travel or maybe live in other countries working remotely.

What is your biggest struggle with working remotely?

I think that is my focus. I’ve always been distracted easily but working in an office with a manager looking over your shoulder, that’s a very different situation. When working at home it’s so easy to think, “oh I’ll just watch one more episode of my series…” or to get distracted by house chores that need to get done while I should be working.

I’m a pretty chaotic person and doing a lot of different types of tasks requires quite some organizational skills to not forget things and to get everything done in time. 

What do you do to deal with it?

When I know I have a lot to do I make lists, so I don’t forget anything. Or sometimes I even make a week planning to have a better overview.

How does working remotely affect your stress levels?

On the one hand, it makes me more relaxed because even though I might have a lot of work and a lot of different tasks to juggle, I get to choose when and where I do it. My boss also gives me a lot of freedom in my work.

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If I feel that I need to take a break and do something else, I can without a manager breathing down my neck. When I want to go on a trip somewhere and work from there, I can take my laptop and go. If I’m not feeling well, I can stay in and work from my bed, without worrying about taking a sick day or losing money. This freedom relieves a lot of stress.

On the other hand, when your home becomes your office, it’s hard sometimes to stop working and get out and do something else. I worked at a lot of different companies and it has always been like when you leave the office, you leave your work there and continue the next day. My free nights or weekends were me-time.

Working on commission from home means the harder I work, the happier my clients are, the better the sales become and thus the more money I make. And as I don’t have any set hours it can sometimes feel like the work never stops. Same for our project.

Although it is not about money, it is something I do for myself because it’s something I’m passionate about. There is always something to do or improve and then there is that fear of ending up without volunteers to help us. Although I generally don’t have an issue closing my mailbox and opening Netflix at the end of the day, this feeling never seems to go away.

Was there a specific reason why you wanted to work remotely?

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Yes, so as I mentioned before our project was one of the big reasons I wanted to start working remotely. It was difficult to find a local job that I could combine with that. Also, travelling is one of my biggest passions and I would love to travel long term in the future, so I would like to be able to sustain myself financially in that situation.

What’s the most important skill that helped you make it?

Difficult to pick just one… I would say it’s a combination of things that have helped me on the way. Perseverance, because when I want to do something I will find a way. Communicative skills, which I acquired over the years in different jobs and during my studies, these are important in my current job. And flexibility, I’m willing to work different hours every day or week, I don’t mind having to respond emails in the evening when it’s needed and I can manage doing completely different tasks varying day to day.

Are there any essential apps or tools you use daily?

Spotify for the essential music while working. Microsoft office I need to use daily for a huge part of my work. I like to use Buffer for my social media planning, which is free if you don’t have too many accounts and easy to use. I have to use Whatsapp a lot for work to communicate quickly with my boss, clients and volunteers and Facebook is a huge source for us right now to find new volunteers.

Apart from your computer, what’s the most important item in your office?

My phone. And of course, my moka pot and milk frother for the best homemade cappuccinos!

What’s your favorite 90s jam?

Oh so many. Mostly Salsa! El Preso by Fruko y sus Tesos definitely scores high on my list.

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