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Q&A: Remote Year participant Emily Mitnick on her month in Lisbon

Stylus’ New York-based strategic account director talks us through month three of her year-long working adventure around the world, which continued in the Portuguese capital.

What’s it like to change your office and your country – sometimes even your continent – every month? Well, our very own Emily Mitnick knows. She’s just completed month three of Remote Year in Lisbon, a city of cobblestone hills, mosaic tiles and incredible sunsets that she totally fell in love with.  

We caught up with Emily en route to Japan, where she’s just begun month four of her working journey around the world. Here’s how she’s been getting on…

So, month three of Remote Year has been and gone. How was it?

“I closed the door to my beautiful apartment in Lisbon and knew I would return to Portugal again. I absolutely fell in love with Lisbon. The city is a classic, authentic, European city but it also sits along the coast, surrounded by beaches and mountains. I’m a New Yorker at heart but also love the beach and hiking, so Lisbon was a perfect fit for me.

“Besides its location, visually I was constantly inspired. The buildings are covered in colourful mosaic tiles, there’s local wall art around every corner, the weather is perfect year-round, the sunsets are incredible and you can always find delicious wine, fresh bacalhau and grilled octopus – staple Portuguese meals.

“Lisbon also has alarmingly steep cobblestone hills – very much like San Francisco – which wind down through the city. At times, I would find myself holding onto the side of buildings for support. Reflecting back, I now realise those slow walks down actually allowed me to stop and appreciate the unique details that make Lisbon so special. I may have missed these if the streets were different.”

What was your office like?

“Once again, a beautiful co-working space was arranged for our group. Remote Year builds its own offices in some of the cities; they’re branded ‘WIP’, which stands for ‘Work in Progress’. The office was a five-minute walk from my apartment. For the past 10 years living in NYC, I had a 30 to 45-minute Subway commute twice a day, so you can imagine how grateful I was. The short commute opened up my mornings to go for runs, explore the city or have coffee and a pastel de nata in my favourite park. 

“The office was tucked away behind a courtyard so it felt very private. We had great natural light with high ceilings and roof access, where we occasionally took coffee breaks and held group dinners. We have published a lot of new research here at Stylus about the importance of natural light in an office space. According to our research, natural light actually is proven to boost our health. I’d have to say, I’m quickly learning I agree with that.

“The interior was really funky. There were mismatched chairs and rustic handmade wooden desks in the main room. The furniture was built by a local Portuguese designer, which made the space more special. The words ‘Kiss Today on the Mouth’ were painted in large block letters on one of the walls. You can only imagine how many Instagram pictures were taken!”

How did Lisbon differ from Prague and Split?

“While each city was unique, Lisbon is somewhere I could actually see myself living. The locals were so warm, diverse and humble, which was very different from Prague. The Czech people, at first, seemed a bit cold and guarded. In Lisbon, for example, a barista I had just met introduced me to her personal masseuse because she could sense I was struggling with severe neck pain. This level of kindness was always present in Lisbon. I think a lot has to do with each country’s deep history. For example, I learned that in the 70s there was a military coup in Lisbon – the Carnation Revolution. Not one shot was fired, which I feel is a demonstration of the loving and peaceful mindset of the Portuguese people today.

“Looking back, while I loved Croatia, Split felt very much like a vacation town for me. We were based there in August during the high season and it was also our first month. I just didn’t connect with Split on a cultural level like I did with Lisbon and Prague.

“Professionally, I also feel Lisbon inspired me to think a lot about our research. At Stylus, we are tracking brand authenticity by highlighting the likes of Charity: Water and Patagonia – organisations that have a strong purpose and mission. Portugal, overall, reminded me of these soulful brands. For example, I noticed that store owners aren’t pushy – they let you walk into their stores and just enjoy your time.

“While tourism in Prague and Split boomed about 10 years ago, Lisbon is just starting to take off. With the annual Web Summit and celebrities like Madonna and Harrison Ford moving in, the city is becoming trendier. I hope that over time the locals maintain their soulful spirit – Stylus should track Lisbon these next few years and see how the community reacts to tourism. If they can maintain their authentic values, perhaps companies can learn a few things about brand strategy from the Portuguese locals.”

With Japan up next, do you feel like you’ve ‘done’ Europe?

“I’ve had 10 new stamps in my passport since August. It’s hard to process that in just three months I’ve travelled to Croatia, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, the UK, Portugal, Ireland, Morocco and now Japan. While I’ve definitely taken full advantage of my time in Europe, there’s still so much I didn’t see – like Italy, France and Greece!”

Asia next, starting with Kyoto. You must be pretty excited?

“My cousin told me: ‘Prepare to go to another planet. Japan is another world.’

“From the moment I received my itinerary back in June, I have been looking forward to November. I’m just so curious about Japanese culture because I’ve heard it’s so unique and special.

“I’m fortunate because while I’m there I am going to spend a few days in Tokyo and work alongside our Stylus Japanese team – an opportunity to experience another side of our business first-hand. My colleagues, Mori and Shu, have already arranged to pick me up on Monday morning at precisely 9.10am from my hotel, scheduled my dinners (first checking if I had any food allergies), and invited me to present our new Work/Life Revolution Macro Trend to their internal marketing summit. I haven’t even arrived yet and I can already feel the consideration and civility of Japan. 

“My time on Remote Year is flying by. Is there a futuristic device in Japan that slows down time? I’ll have to keep my eyes open – if I find one, I’ll make sure we feature it on Stylus.”

Emily is currently in Kyoto, Japan, from where she’ll​ travel to Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Lima, Medellin, Bogota and Mexico City.