Remote working, working from home, working in pajamas: call it what you want, it’s still work. And one of my biggest challenges is not just getting traditional employers to understand that, but my peers.
I recently told a friend about a 100% remote company I work for, and how it’s great to work with others who understand the nuances of a non-traditional office. The friend started conjecturing about what an all-remote workforce means, describing employees in the same way South Park portrays its World of Warcraft guy — a complete stereotype. Here’s everything traditional 9-5ers need to understand about remote-work life.
1. No, I can’t hang out at the beach.
I’m working from home, I …
Oh, perfect! Come to the beach with me!
No, no I’m working. I have a meeting in 30 minutes.
Working from home means I’m actually working. Most of the time, longer hours than if I were in an office. While sometimes I may be able to sneak in a lunch, coffee, or other get together around meetings and deadlines, I’m going to have to make up those hours later.
2. I’m not glamorously typing away in a coffee shop in a foreign country.
Ok, sometimes I’m in a coffee shop (I like to pretend the baristas are my coworkers). And sometimes I’m in a foreign country. And sometimes I’m in a coffee shop in a foreign country.But most of the time, I’m in my home office that looks much like my cubicles have looked like at past jobs (only more spacious and my kitchen is a few steps away). Cafes are often too loud for meetings, and the Wi-Fi isn’t always reliable (and sometimes doesn’t exist).
3. I’m also not typing away in my pajamas.
Working remote 100% of the time, the novelty of being able to wear whatever you want wears off fairly quick. Unlike when I worked in an office full-time and would have the occasional work-from-home snow day, working remote all the time, at least for me, requires a similar routine.
I get up, I shower, and I get dressed as if I was going to an office (a casual office, but an office none-the-less). I’ll make coffee and head to my office — the room in my house dedicated to work. Sometimes, when I don’t have meetings until later in my day, I’ll walk to one of my other offices: the library, a cafe, or a remote work space. Wherever I’m working, it’s important I can focus because …
4. I have actual deadlines. And actual meetings. And an actual paycheck.
The concept of remote work is still foreign to a lot of people. In many minds, what I do is a hobby or something to fill the time, but not real work. But, in fact, I’m a real employee on a real team for real companies with a real payroll; the physical location doesn’t matter. What’s important is I get my work done on time.
I am getting paid by each one of my clients to produce something, whether that’s a content strategy, a headline, a blog, or any other product. I’m not making up clients or volunteering my time. If I have a meeting at 4 PM on the East Coast, it means, because I live in Germany, I have to be dialing in and ready to go around 9:50 PM. It’s very much real work.
5. I work wonky hours.
Working from Germany for primarily East Coast-companies, my hours aren’t 9-5. And that’s not just because I freelance and can often set my own hours. Many of my clients, while non-traditional in the sense they work with freelancers and remote employees, stick closer to 9-5 hours.
While I’m not getting paid by any of them to lock myself to my computer from 9-5, it’s easier to overlap some of that time so I am available for on-the-fly questions.
Depending on deadlines and meetings, I may work 9-12, and 3-11 on Monday, 12-4 and 7-10 on Tuesday, and not at all on Wednesday (who am I kidding, that never happens), etc. The hours fluctuate with work and schedules.
6. Planning a social life ahead of time isn’t easy.
This one is for my peers who don’t hold full-time jobs or get off of work at 6 and are done for the day. My previously described wonky hours are mostly a product of unknowns. Some of my clients plan ahead of time. For example, I have a 600-word blog post due on August 20. I can plan around that since that date is locked and won’t change.
But, with other clients, schedules are more guidelines.
A website I’m rewriting is scheduled to begin on September 5, but that’s pending client approval of wireframes so it may not begin until September 10. Another project is due August 3, but we’ll meet with the client the next day to review and they may or may not have changes large or small, which may carry the project into August 4, 5, and beyond.
So, while I have a meeting from 6 to 7 PM, I can’t plan dinner because I may have more work after the meeting — I won’t know until after the call. As a freelancer, I don’t have paid time off, so it’s hard to set vacations when client project timelines inevitably bleed into my “off” days.
7. Working remote doesn’t change my job.
I do the same exact work remote as I’d do if I were in an office (only I end up doing a lot more of it!). The only thing that changes is how I communicate with my coworkers, and even then, it’s not much different than an office. Every company I’ve worked for has a chat client they use for instant messages. Even in an office, I could go days without seeing people that sat apart from me.
Now, I simply use more methods of communication, depending on which method may work best. Typing a really long email? Maybe I’ll call my colleague instead. Chatting through copy changes with a designer? We’ll probably use Skype or another video service that has screen-sharing capabilities. Need to send a new line of copy to a designer to flow into the design? I’ll use an instant message if we were just chatting about it, or send an email if I know they may be busy with other tasks.
So, why do I freelance?
With my husband’s job moving him anywhere in the world every three or four years, remote work is an essential for me. I miss the social aspect of a traditional workplace, but that just means I work harder and find new ways to form bonds with my colleagues. As a copywriter, I can do my work from anywhere — it’s a matter of finding companies that understand that or are willing to test that promise. It requires extra hustle and adapting to new ways of working, but it’s doable. That’s important to me, should my husband ever lose his job or want to leave. And I like the challenge.
Questions about remote working?
Leave a comment below! Though my answers will be specific to my experience, I’ll do my best to provide any additional insight into what this non-traditional work life is like.