First, let me say, much like skinny jeans, remote work is not for everyone. Sure, the idea sounds great, and you know you could rock those skinny jeans, but in reality, not everyone can rock a pair of skinny jeans, and just as true, not everyone can be productive and (more importantly) happy as a remote worker. This article is not a guide to negotiating remote work, or a how to be the best remote worker possible tutorial—however if you read carefully you will be able to identify what has helped make me to be a successful remote worker for nearly a decade now.
when that autonomy did not exist, I did not thrive, nor last long in that position.
Many, many years ago, I worked for a small agency (<10 people). I went to this job every day, but had a very minimal commute, we are talking 10-15 minutes. I worked this job for many years and it felt like the longer I was there, the more hours I would work – coming in earlier and staying later. Of course, I was single and a new professional and the hours I was putting in helped to make me the professional I am today. In this position, I was given lots of autonomy and I did not abuse it. This would be a pattern that would follow me throughout my career, and when that autonomy did not exist, I did not thrive, nor last long in that position.
Eventually, I felt it was time to leave the nest of the small agency and head into the big city and work client-side. I was staffed in the e-commerce group of a rather large financial institution. So I went from flip flops and shorts to shirts and ties virtually overnight. The dress code did not really bother me, it felt nice to look nice every day (for a while), but one thing that did bother me a bit was the commute. I went from 15 minutes tops, to over 90 minutes with a train and a bit of a walk from the train station. At this point in my life, I was also a husband and father to two small children, so I decided I would go into the office early each day (arriving by 6am) so I could leave at a decent time each day to be home with the family.
Well, my “supervisor” was not very excited about me being the “4:30 guy”. Never mind that I was putting in nearly 12 hours, with my commute, by the time 4:30 came rolling around each day. Needless to say, this lack of autonomy plus the commute did not keep me in this position for very long.
At this point, I found myself back for a second tour of duty at the small agency. It was great to be back, but something was missing. I was starting to grow and the agency just wasn’t quite there. Long story medium, it was time for me to go out on my own. This is where I learned the necessary skills for being a remote worker for a later phase in my career. I ran my own freelance/solo-preneur agency for 5 years. I had a great work ethic – probably too good, we will touch on that later.
Let’s fast forward to now, 3-years into my role as a remote worker.
IS it a sitcom?
Most of us know a remote worker. We think they roll out of bed two minutes before the first morning call, sit there in their underwear all day and get away with cleaning the house, doing the laundry, running daily errands and more – all while on the clock and during the 7.5 hour work day. They are living the dream. The television is on or they are down at the coffee shop “working” and meeting with all their other remote working friends.
I can pretty much guarantee that if that was my remote worker experience, I would be looking for a new job back in an agency setting where I head into the office every single day! I am pretty sure the fantasy version of remote working would not really work in the real world.
Confession time, I do pretty much hate pants and shoes and truthfully, that could be my single biggest benefit of remote working.
Confession time, I do pretty much hate pants and shoes
Or is it reality television?
The reality of remote work for me, and I am sure others is straightforward. I get up early every day, just like when I made the commute to the city. I do this because it is quiet in the mornings – both in my house and in the company. I have found that my commuting counterparts don’t even get into the office until after 9am! One great thing about remote work, no need for headphones! One of my first activities each morning is to set the tone for the day with a great selection of music for my home audio system. Since I can control it with any of my devices, it is quite easy to reduce the volume when calls come in.
Another huge reality about remote working – no water cooler and no water cooler chatting – all the time. I have found when I am in the office, the volume of non-work related chatter is incredibly high. Trust me, I am only pointing this out because it is in direct conflict with the “common perceptions” I have encountered about remote workers. Bottom line, we don’t have co-workers next door to chat with, so typically, we are head down and working. A coffee break for a remote worker is a quick walk to the kitchen and back. In fact, as I type this, I think it is time to change the channel, where is our remote working hero?
The summer hiatus (or the new chaos as I call it)
We left our remote working hero in a bit of a cliff hanger there. What will happen to our hero? Well, we will have to find out after the summer hiatus.
Yes, the summer is when remote work is the most difficult for me. Let’s face it, any work is difficult in the summer time. However, when you are a remote worker, the temptations are right there in front of you all day long! The weather is nicer, your kids may be home from school for the summer and with everyone taking vacations, professional traction is very hard to come by. If you have young children on summer vacation from school, all of a sudden, you get the water cooler time that you thought you had avoided by being a remote worker.
The summer is a great time to focus on your healthy routines as a remote worker.
Hopefully you have a door on your office and your finger is always on the mute button during conference calls. I cannot speak for all remote workers, but personally, my productivity takes a bit of a hit over summer break. Now that my kids are getting older, things are a bit more manageable, but challenges still exist.
The summer is a great time to focus on your healthy routines as a remote worker. I have found that I get up from my desk and walk around more in the summer months. This type of behavior should carry over away from the summer months too. You might find that you exercise more in the summer, spend more time with friends and family during the summer months – we should be doing this year round! Bottom line, it is good for us, remote worker or not.
Being the executive producer, lead writer and the production crew
As remote workers, we are pretty much on an island. We are on an island socially because we are not in the office with coworkers, but we are also on an island technologically speaking. We use our home internet connections to remote in, and I am sure most have VPN tunnels we are required to use, as well. This can create some interesting technical challenges and internal tech resources are not always equipped to offer the best support for remote workers.
When you are a remote worker you have to be fairly well versed with the technology you are using, or at least you should have someone close by that can help with connectivity and/or compatibility issues. In my experience, it has helped to always have access to a personal machine that does not network through the corporate VPN. This has saved me on many occasions. For example, there are times where you just have to re-locate to another venue if your home office is without power. So knowing where to get the best WIFI in town is also a good thing to know as a remote worker.
The hero doesn't always win
If you work in an organization where there is a mix between traditional and remote workers, as a remote worker— plain and simple— you have more to prove. If you aren’t a rock star, or the hero, how the heck are you worthy of remote work? So you come in early, and since you have no commute, you stay later. You are more productive because you don’t have many in office distractions (unless your kids are on summer break). If you are anything like me, the work ethic you have cultivated throughout your career requires you to be always monitoring your work-life balance.
Sure, there are traditional workers that are always checking work email and responding, but if you are a remote worker I think it is a bit easier to feel that near 24/7/365 availability is part of your job description. Remember, if you are working on a mixed team, you may feel like you have more to prove, but just let your expertise do the talking. Maybe don't put in so much of the overtime. But trust me, I do get it. Sometimes to get the job done, you must put in the time. Don’t you wish everyone felt that way?
Fade to black
As a successful remote worker, you may find yourself being awarded additional responsibilities, your projects might be bigger and longer term which may make it even more difficult to find time to take your earned vacation time or just to take care of yourself in general. Even if the “glamorous” role of our remote working hero is starting to look more and more like the role of the underdog, you can always flip the script—call for a plot twist.
Remember, there are tons of benefits to be had through remote working and, for the most part, our colleagues already think we are living the dream. You are in charge of your entire story, you can write it any way you want, but you have to remember that and take charge of the remote control.