Remote work: What do I need to know?

REMOTE

By Melany Hallam

I’ve been working from home for many years now as a graphic designer/writer and I wouldn’t want it any other way. However, I do still struggle with some challenges, most recently dealing with FOMO on social media (“fear of missing out” – yes, it’s a thing). Before I disappear down that rabbit hole, let’s go over a list of the pros and cons of remote work, telecommuting or telework, as it’s sometimes called.

The Good

This is the reason we home-based workers have organized our lives this way:

  1. I get to set my own hours. As long as your work gets done, there’s absolutely no reason to work at specific times during the day. Alarm clocks are an evil invention that cause me to begin my day feeling anxious and out of sorts.
  2. I’m learning new skills. When I was an employee, there were other people who handled computer problems, billing, dealing with clients, etc. Occasionally, I attended courses and professional development workshops paid for by my employer. Working at home, I’m responsible for all of that administrative stuff as well as developing new skills and processes for my core work. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy figuring out how to solve problems, both technical and business-related – an unexpected benefit of working remotely.
  3. I don’t often have to speak to people face-to-face. One of my former co-workers used to corner people in their offices on a regular basis to chat and tell stories. He’d had some amazing life experiences, but it could waste a lot of time. I don’t have to worry about this kind of distraction when working at home.
  4. I get to take recreation breaks whenever I want. It’s the nature of creative work that sometimes you get stuck for ideas. Getting out for a hike or a kayak adventure can recharge my batteries, relieve stress and get me back on track – without having to worry about clock punching.
  5. I can work anywhere with an internet connection. When I worked in an office in town, I had to be in that office daily to get my work done. Now, I can be in contact with clients anywhere – even out on a hiking trail, where I much prefer the view. Technology-wise, I use phone and email to communicate with clients and suppliers, and supplement that with the occasional use of FaceTime or Skype. I used to exchange electronic files by email or USB stick only, but more and more people are getting comfortable with online sharing sites such as Dropbox. It’s a brave new world out there!

The Bad

Notice something about this list? It’s exactly the same as The Good list, and here’s why:

  1. I get to set my own hours. I have a dedicated work space in my home, but I have found myself going back to work after dinner and keeping at it till midnight or later to meet a deadline. The danger of setting your own hours is that it’s very easy to become a workaholic.
  2. I’m learning new skills. It can get exhausting to be constantly reinventing yourself and your work processes.
  3. I don’t often have to speak to people face-to-face. There’s a real danger of becoming a hermit or a shut-in when you work from home, but the real risk is in losing touch with current and potential clients. I’ve found that meeting people, at least initially, is very important to establishing a connection and an understanding of the work. In the age of internet trolls, even the best people stoop to treating others badly online just because they don’t know them personally.
  4. I get to take recreation breaks whenever I want. It’s very easy to get distracted when working at home and there’s a real danger of giving in to procrastination and calling it “a creative break”. In addition, I’ve found that some friends and family assume that because you’re at home they can call to chat anytime they feel like it. I do sometimes find myself wondering if they think I’m not working at all just because I happen to be at home.
  5. I can work anywhere with an internet connection. At times it can feel like I can’t physically get away from my work. Smart phones and laptops are great inventions but can also turn any location into an office. You have to learn to unplug!

Here is some really good advice on how to balance The Good and The Bad to be more productive when you’re working from home. (https://hbr.org/2017/09/how-to-stay-focused-when-youre-working-from-home)

How do you get started in remote work?

I hadn’t given this topic much thought before because my transition to working at home happened quite organically. However, I recently watched a YouTube video from a young couple who both work remotely as part of a company team, rather than as contract workers. They’ve very succinctly described the process as it unfolded for them and have some great advice for anyone who has remote work as a goal. The key is to get work experience with a company (in person) and then work hard and build up trust so that an employer is willing to accommodate you when it comes to an alternate work situation. View the video here. (https://youtu.be/ivJSXW7JjGg) (Warning: these two live in a van!)

Building a remote work business

Building up trust with clients is effectively what I did when transitioning to remote work, although this wasn’t deliberate on my part. It began when a former co-worker in Vancouver hired me to do a graphic design project on a contract basis after I’d moved to Powell River. She knew me and my work and could trust that I would deliver. Starting with that first contract, my business slowly grew from a (very) part-time side gig to my current full-time business.

Three things are key when building a successful remote work business. One is networking, of course. For a more detailed discussion on networking, see our Career Sense article here. (https://careerlinkbc.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/networking-its-about-connection/)

But two other essentials skills sometimes get lost in the discussion of technology and work conditions. They are: (1) do good work, and (2) be reliable. Here is an in-your-face article (https://oliveremberton.com/2013/how-to-win-your-first-clients/) by someone who started working for free and became a very successful web developer by utilizing all three of these key skills.

Remote work web design

Most recently, I’ve begun designing and maintaining websites – another learning curve! Web design is especially suited to remote work, but it may surprise you to learn that clients still like to meet me in person, get referred by a friend or know that someone they trust has recommended me via testimonial. No matter how much work takes place online, the personal connection builds understanding and clear communication in any business relationship.

I’m quite enjoying the website design process, although the volume and range of technology out there is a bit mind boggling. Every website project brings a new problem to solve. If you’re interested in reading more about web design as a career – working remotely or as an employee – we’ve put together some fast facts here (https://careerlinkbc.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/fast-facts-career-of-the-month-nov-2017-web-designers-and-web-developers-noc2175/).

For more tips and personal stories on working remotely in Powell River, read our Career Sense article here. (https://careerlinkbc.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/want-to-trade-that-business-suit-for-birkenstocks-and-adopt-the-remote-worker-lifestyle/)

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing you out there in the virtual work world!

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