5 lessons I learned after one year of remote work

Being a remote worker is more than lounging at the beach with a laptop and a drink.

Remote work is all the rage right now. Flexible schedules. No commute. Working from anywhere in the world. Sounds great, right? If you’re still working a traditional 9-to-5 you might be wondering — is it really as amazing as it seems to be?

When I quit my office job in December, 2017, I had been working remotely on the side for a year and a half. So I had plenty of time to realise that remote work isn’t hanging out on the beach with my laptop and a piña colada.

Working from home takes as much time and effort as a regular job. It has its own unique set of demands and challenges. And even though I had a realistic set of expectations about my future life as a remote worker, other aspects of it took me by surprise.

So here are five lessons I learned after working remotely for a year.

You’ll miss interacting with coworkers

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

You might be counting the days leave your noisy office and those endless meetings behind.

I know I was.

But even the most hardcore introverts will miss some personal interaction from time to time. In fact, 21% of remote workers struggle with loneliness.

As an introvert, I found office life draining. However, my coworkers often challenged me to do better, think faster and be more creative. They questioned my ideas and improved upon them to build amazing campaigns.

If you’re more of an extroverted type, you probably cherish the friendships you find at an office. Getting together after hours for drinks, sharing birthdays and special dates with coworkers is a way for you to connect with others.

So, how can you work remotely and still get the human contact you need? Well, this will depend on your personality and style of work.

Are you extroverted and love hanging out with people most of the day? Consider signing up for a coworking space! It’s a dedicated work space for freelancers with plenty of opportunities for water cooler chats, networking and making new friends.

Introverts will be just fine with changing scenery from time to time. For example, you might want to spend your afternoon working from a café.

Also, get hobbies that let you interact with other people. Meetup, Eventbrite, Internations and Facebook events are perfect to look up events in your area.

You’ll hate your coworkers (sometimes)

Or maybe you won’t hate them, but you will definitely have your disagreements sooner or later.

A myriad of factors play a part in teamwork: from personalities to work cultures and communication styles. Collaborating requires patience and compromise from everyone involved.

So, what happens when personalities clash and teamwork goes wrong?

In this case, the distance might be your ally. After all, it’s easier to cool off when your coworker is not in the same room or even the same timezone.

Let’s say you find your dream remote work. But after a few weeks you find you don’t get along with one of your coworkers. They complain about doing all the work but refuse to delegate, and even say negative things about you to other team members.

For starters, never get in touch with them when you’re angry. Without body language and tone, it’s easy to misinterpret the intent or tone of the email. Talk to your coworker by phone or video conference, if possible. And if you must communicate by email, don’t hit ‘send’ immediately. Let it rest for a few hours and reread in the morning it with fresh eyes and a better mood.

Another way to reduce friction is to not jump to conclusions or assume ill intent. Don’t assume your coworker is actively trying to hurt you. Instead, find a common ground before you start the conversation: a common interest, a passion for your job or even a sense of empathy are a great place to start.

Finally, take every opportunity you get to build a strong work culture with your team. Don’t shy away from video calls and annual meetings–this helps build rapport and understanding with your teammates.

Expect the best, plan for the worst

When we travel, we don’t want to think about what can go wrong. But when we travel, we’re exposing ourselves to all kinds of uncertainties.

Computers break. Internet can be unreliable. Flights get cancelled or delayed all the time. Log in to your email account from a strange location only to see it get locked.

Of course, that may not happen to you at all. It has happened to me, though. And because I didn’t plan for it, I’ve had hurry and scramble to to deliver some projects on time.

After that, thinking about the worst case scenarios doesn’t seem like fatalism. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to make sure my trip goes as smoothly as possible. So every time I travel I make a contingency plan–a list of what I need to get me working again, what could go wrong and some alternatives.

For example, I take my computer to the shop before long trips to make sure it’s in top condition. I plan my deadlines around my flight times and get as much work done from the airport as I can during long layovers. Also, I research my destination to find cafes and libraries and places with reliable internet to work from.

As the saying goes: expect the best, plan for the worst. Having a plan B for some unexpected situations may be a life saver when you’re away.

Travelling isn’t as glamorous as you’d think

Arriving to a new place is always exhilarating, right? With so many new places to discover, you’ll be eager to use all your free time sightseeing and meeting new people.

But no one talks about how exhausting it can be, especially if you move around often. Once you get familiar with the city and start making friends, it’s time to leave and start over somewhere new.

Travelling is exciting until you start missing the friends you leave behind in every city, the places you loved and a sense of stability.

Of course, some people thrive living on the go. But for many of us, saying goodbye can be exhausting. That’s something you won’t often see on glamorous Instagram stories.

So what can you do about it? One way of dealing with this is to extend your visit to each country as much as possible. Instead of staying one month in one country, try to stay for as long as your visa allows. Travelling at a slower pace will make your experience less stressful and give you more time to explore and make friends.

You might struggle with focus and productivity

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Getting distracted at work is easier than ever, isn’t it?

When you work in an office, you might feel tempted to get up for that fifth cup of coffee and a chat with a coworker for a bit too long, or you might find yourself reaching out for your phone every few minutes.

When you work by yourself, though, you have a whole different set of distractions.

You could clean up your whole house instead of finishing that report.

Organising your files can be more fun that making the changes your client requested.

You might be deep in work and then you remember you need to go to the shop to get more coffee.

The worst is, nobody’s stopping you. You’re on your own.

Even the most disciplined remote worker can struggle with focusing with work. And while it depends on many factors, it’s important to be self-aware enough to notice these patterns and try to fix them as soon as possible.

For example, if you find you’re procrastinating because you find the work boring or repetitive, you could ask for different assignments. Changing the environment may help, too. If you often work from home, going to a cafe or a coworking space can help you get into a more productive mindset.

Another way to keep you productive is to track your time for a few weeks. After that, notice if any patterns emerge. You could find when you’re at your most productive and when it takes you longer to finish your tasks, when you get more distracted, and what kind of distractions get to you.

Staying focused and productive is not always an easy task. Be kind to yourself and set realistic expectations, but also make as many adjustments as possible to up your productivity and make work more pleasant.

You are a business owner

Many of us start searching for a remote job with the mentality of an employee. After all, how many of the important decisions can you make at your company? Can you choose the type of work you do? With which clients you work? On what kind of projects to work?

My guess is, even if you can negotiate those situations, in most cases you’re stuck executing other people’s decisions.

This is not the kind of mentality you want to bring to remote work.

In fact, if you’re a freelancer or even if you’re on a contract with a company, you’re a business owner. You’re providing a company a service. Changing your mindset will help you make the transition to remote worker a lot easier.

Think about it. Remote work does not only give you more flexibility: it allows you to choose your projects. Feeling more in control of your professional life will help you provide better services, continue improving your skills and find more opportunities.

One way you can start changing your mindset is by writing a business plan. In a Word document, write a paragraph or two to answer questions such as:

  1. What problems do you solve for your clients?
  2. What services do you offer?
  3. Who are your clients?
  4. What are your core values?
  5. What are your financial and professional goals?
  6. How do you plan to reach those goals?
  7. What do you need to reach your goals?

By answering these questions, you’ll narrow down your mindset and keep you focused on providing the best possible service.

In short, enter your remote work life from a position of equality, from one service provider to another.

You might change your mind

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Digital nomad gurus advertising their secret to work only two hours a day and still make money to travel. Their ads show them happy, fit, in exotic locations you can only dream of visiting.

If only it were that simple.

By the end of the day, you’ll still have deadlines, meetings with your team, invoices to send, and bills to pay. Working remotely is not going to make your professional life perfect. As you now know, it comes with its own set of challenges.

So, before you embark on your remote work adventure you need to be very clear on why you’re doing it. Whatever your reasons, make sure they’re tied to your growth as a person and as a professional.

Doing it for the glamour or because it looks easy will not sustain you long-term.

After reflecting on it, you might decide your 9-to-5 is fine. Maybe you like living in your city and don’t need to travel that much. Perhaps you don’t want to say goodbye to your friends. Maybe you find comfort in going to the office day in, day out. And that’s fine.

Are you thinking about working from home? Or have you already got a remote job and have more insights to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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