By Maureen Latta
From small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, a growing number of forward-thinking
employers understand that workers don’t necessarily have to be physically present in the company office to get the job done. Remote work (also called telecommuting or telework) is a growing trend partly due to an increasing shift to contract work and partly due to apps that make meeting online easy.
Career Sense interviewed three remote workers based in Powell River who work in the Writing/Design and Information Technology sectors. These are a few of the sectors in which telecommuting is common because most work is computer-related and can be done from any location with a good Internet connection.
We asked Melany Hallam, Aaron Pinch, and Emma Larocque about the benefits and challenges of working remotely. They shared their experiences and their advice for anyone thinking about working remotely from Powell River.
Why Work Remotely?
Anyone who lives in Powell River knows what “the Powell River lifestyle” means. The phrase evokes mountain hikes, ocean adventures, beach picnics, affordable living, and the relative tranquility of a small haven far from the madding crowd. Many people want to live in Powell River and yet not be limited by the local job market. Working remotely is a viable option.
“The good thing about it is that you can go off for a walk in the middle of the day and no one can look at you and say, where are you going?” says Melany Hallam, who has been working remotely in the desktop publishing field for the past few years.
“It allows me to be in Powell River, plain and simple,” says Aaron Pinch, who works for a Vancouver-based IT company (www.clio.com). “It allows me to have the Powell River lifestyle, to be able to afford a home, and be able to go into the outdoors and backwoods.”
How to Get Remote Work
Generally, people who are successful at transitioning to remote work already have in-demand skills and solid experience in their field. The number-one piece of advice: network.
“It sounds really cliche, but networking is huge,” says Pinch. Nearly four years ago, while Pinch was operating Powell River Microsystems, a mutual friend introduced him to the founder of a small IT start-up. Pinch ended up becoming a senior employee of Clio, which now has more than 100 employees, including 70 in its Vancouver head office and four working remotely from Powell River.
“All of the jobs that I’ve gotten remotely, with the exception of Vegan Mainstream, have come from contacts that I have personally,” says freelance writer Emma Larocque. Working for Vegan Mainstream has become her main job, and her connection with the US-based company was the result of a “cold call.” Larocque wanted to do some writing related to her personal interest in a plant-based diet. She started writing blogs and the work evolved into managing the company’s cookbook club Google Plus page and producing training materials.
Hallam landed her first remote client after a friend forwarded her a Craigslist ad in 2008. But she notes that most of her jobs come from personal referrals. “You can’t be a stay-at-home shut-in. You have to talk to people to get work,” says Hallam, who in 2009 started Maywood Design, a desktop publishing and design business.
[Beware of answering work-at-home ads. Most such ads are actually scams. Learn more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_at_home_scheme]
Communicating with Clients and Colleagues
One of the biggest differences between working remotely and working in a company office is the way colleagues communicate with each other.
“One benefit and challenge, all at once, is the fact that you do have the disconnect from the rest of the staff,” says Pinch, who works primarily from a small office on Marine Avenue shared with three other Clio employees. “So that’s really good if you need to put your head down and put your nose to the grindstone and work without interruptions. It’s a heck of a lot easier to do it when you’re in a small office where you can close the door than in an office with 70 people. The flip side to that is when you’re looking for people to move projects along, you don’t have the ability to walk around the office and find them or walk to the meeting rooms and wave at them from the door.”
Telephone and Internet-based meeting tools are a must-have for remote workers. Telemeeting tools range from free services, such as Skype and Google Hangout, to more elaborate applications, such as GoToMeeting, that charge a monthly fee and allow large group interactions.
Hallam says it’s important to her to meet with her main client, the Potters Guild of BC, in Vancouver at least once or twice a year. “It’s a better working relationship if you have personal contact,” she says.
If you work for a company in another country, in-person contact might be impossible; but lack of physical meetings is not necessarily a drawback. Larocque says she’s never met anyone from Vegan Mainstream in person, yet she considers her employer to be a good friend.
Pinch points out that commuting by air for the occasional Vancouver meeting is easy. He can leave home at 6:30 am to catch a flight, and arrive at head office before a coworker who left home at the same time from Langley or Surrey.
Lifestyle Benefits and Challenges
Want to trade in those office pumps for Birkenstocks? People attracted to the remote worker lifestyle typically want greater freedom in their lives. Remote work is generally associated with flexibility. Many remote workers can indeed set their own schedules, although it depends on the type of work and your employer’s needs. There’s little requirement for business apparel, and working in sweatpants (or even pyjamas) is kosher.
Hallam says, “It makes it a lot easier to do the things you want to do in your life.”
For Hallam, the lifestyle benefits and challenges are the same. “You can work whatever hours you want, which is a benefit, but it’s also a challenge.” For example, she’s not a morning person and prefers to work later in the day, but on the other hand she doesn’t like being out of sync with friends who work more normal hours.
And while the freedom to take walks during the workday is possible, deadlines still have to be met, and that can mean very long hours tied to the computer. “That’s the thing with contract work,” Hallam says. “You have to do the work when you get it.”
Check out this blog for productivity tips: The Best Six Tips for Being Super Productive While Working Remotely
The costs of equipping oneself for remote work are modest. A good computer, a telephone and/or teleconferencing application, and Internet access are sufficient.
“The Internet is critical for any business, but it’s that much more critical when your entire business is online,” says Pinch, whose employer pays the office expenses because there are multiple remote employees in the Marine Avenue office.
Both Larocque and Hallam work from dedicated office space in their homes. Larocque points out that there are telephone, Internet, and power bills associated with working remotely, but typically these are bills she’d have to pay anyway. “It’s fairly low cost because it just kind of melts in with your home expenses.”
Self-discipline is probably the number-one personal quality needed to be a successful remote worker. Hallam sums it up: “Are you going to be disciplined enough to do the work when there’s nobody looking over your shoulder?”
Attitude is a close second. “Your attitude when you’re working on your own remotely makes a huge difference in whether clients want to work with you,” Hallam says, “You have to be someone who’s reliable and easy to work with.”
Here’s some final advice for those who are tempted by the benefits of remote work.
“I think the biggest thing is to not sell yourself short,” Larocque cautions. Aspiring remote workers who search the Internet will find that a lot of places advertising for people to work remotely are not interested in paying very well, she says. In an effort to build a portfolio, it’s easy to get snared by companies promising that their poorly paid gigs will lead to better opportunities. “Don’t do anything for free,” Larocque says. “Find your experience some other way. Find it by working where you live.”
Keep track of your time and money, Hallam advises. “Make sure you have a method of determining whether [a job] is worth your time. Don’t spend a lot of time on things that don’t make you a lot of money, unless it’s something you are passionate about.”
Be tenacious, says Pinch. “Companies are embracing the work-remotely, work-at-home model…Try to identify some companies that do support remote workers.” Pinch added that Clio is continuing to hire skilled staff, some of whom may be remote workers. Visit http://www.goclio.com/careers/.