I never felt completely comfortable in a typical office environment. Looking back at my early 20s, it was probably foolish of me to leave a stable, well-paid journalistic job to pursue an uncertain life of a freelancer that would enable me to work with a flexible schedule and be my own boss.
Back then, remote work wasn’t such an established buzzword, but it was essentially what I’d been doing and gradually continued to do full-time ever since. Firstly only tentatively for clients who were located in the same city, later for clients hundreds of miles away.
I love working remotely, and I’ve spent countless hours talking to other remote people finding out what is it about remote work that makes them tick. Now I decided to take a step back and look at the things I didn’t expect to learn while working remotely.
Setting boundaries can be harder than you think
After working in an office with a specific schedule, suddenly you have to set your boundaries and decide how much work is too much. It’s easy to become overworked when you don’t have others around you to compare your load. Setting boundaries is important for both your health and your work motivation. For me personally, this is one of the few aspects of remote work that I still struggle with every now and then.
Sometimes a simple chat (online or in person) with a fellow remote colleague can put things into perspective, other times you just go with what feels right. But since remote workers are generally known to work harder than their office-based counterparts, slacking off isn’t something you usually get to fight.
You may be glad for a routine
When I talk with people who are eager to start working remotely, I get to hear often that they hate routines and the predictability of their usual work days.
I’m personally not entirely big on routines and like to break them once in awhile, but I found that having some sort of a routine or a ritual to detach from work is helpful as much as structuring your working time.
My workday usually ends with a quick 30-minute workout ― it makes for a nice transition from thinking about the job to become relaxed, and also this way I’m sure I get some daily (or almost daily) exercise. After those 30 minutes I’m ready to turn on the resting mode and enjoy the rest of the day.
It’s not about being left alone all day
If you’re like me, you’re quite happy being on your own and don’t really long for contact with others. Bad news is, working from home does not guarantee minimal contact with other people. Quite the opposite. Even if you’re an introvert, you’ll have to learn to become more extrovert in both, online and offline world.
I found that the community around the location-independent lifestyle is one of the greatest benefits this lifestyle has. Whether you have a problem that needs solving, need another opinion or want to change a job, fellow remote professionals are the best way to get it sorted.
Community also helps you to feel like you belong somewhere, which might be tricky if you work alone most of the time. Facebook groups and Slack chats like Buffer community and #nomads are best places to look for fellows with a strong community feel.
Constant traveling is a productivity killer
You’ve probably heard those aspirational stories of people who move from country to country every couple of days, living the dream life of a digital nomad. The truth is, being productive while constantly traveling is a myth. Or a very demanding lifestyle that can’t last for very long.
Being always on the move, having to deal with accommodation, poor Wi-Fi, fatigue and dropping energy levels make all work to be something you don’t really look forward to.
Having a long-term base (though “long-term” can mean different things for different people) is much more beneficial to your productivity and enables you to feel more local.
Meetings can be helpful
I’m from the generation that happily prefers online chat over other means of communication, so this one might come in as a surprise, but remote work made me realize that calls and meetings can be, in fact, productive sometimes.
Online chats tend to make our communication brief and concise, which is generally good, but a lot of details may slip. Calls make people chattier so you get to know the bigger picture and exchange ideas easier. And however digital our age is, personal meetings are still the best way to grow relationships. An honest handshake, a direct look into someone’s eyes or a situation joke help you build a unique bond and those just can’t be emulated online.
It’s all a very nice bubble, but a bubble nonetheless
Many people from “outside” won’t understand very well what you’re doing or how is it possible that you don’t work in an office. Over time you get used to doing a lot of explaining ― to your family, friends, potential clients… it might take time for them to really get your work, and some may not get it at all.
Being constantly from head to toes in the remote community makes you think that everyone understands where you’re coming from and that things that are normal for you are normal for everyone. Think ability to work without a boss in the same room, collaborating exclusively online, planning your own work schedule, etc.
It’s important to keep in mind that our work realm coexists with other work realms and remind ourselves to be more down to earth.
You will not want to go back
Once you get used to the location-independent lifestyle and start enjoying the benefits it brings, it’s incredibly hard to go back. Talking to others and interviewing people from the remote community I’ve never heard anyone say, “Yeah, I’ve returned to being office-based and it feels great.”
So yes, the life of a remote worker definitely lead to some out-of-my-comfort zone moments and surprising situations, but I know now that I wouldn’t change a thing.
Follow Simona on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sim_vanco