Updated: Apr 17
Remote work is what you have always dreamed of. Open your favorite social media and search #remotework. You'll find an enormous amount of pictures showing people living their dream life. If you are doubting about whether working remotely is for you, please don't because remote work is the future. Social media show you that you'll miss out if you don't start working from your favorite beach right now. What social media really show you is a big lie!
After 15 years of working remotely and looking at how the job market is evolving, I also believe that remote work is the future and a healthy evolution of our approach to work. I can't agree more with the fact that location free work presents some benefits like being good for the environment, allowing people to save a lot of time, being cheaper and healthier. But I also notice a huge misunderstanding about the life style of a remote worker and how people need to evolve to keep up with the evolution of the job market.
I am then going to debunk a few myths about remote work to offer you a more realistic image of what remote work really is about and the difference between in-house and remote work. Furthermore, I will tell you what exactly you need to improve in order to succeed as a remote worker.
Let's start by taking a look at what remote work looks like through the lenses of some myths. I will tell you where the misconception arises and how, instead, remote work really looks like.
Myth #1 - Remote Work Is What You See On Social Media
Have you noticed how many people on Instagram claim to work surrounded by heavenly landscapes...while using their computers in the most uncomfortable positions? Let's be serious for a moment. Would you really work sitting on a rock with your pc on your legs? I am not talking about sending a message to your friend. I am talking about focusing and getting work done. I don't know you, but after 20min of sitting like that my butt would go numb and my back would start screaming at me, imploring me to stop pretending to be comfortable. Another amazingly recurrent picture shows a remote worker sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, feet in the water, pc on his legs. Now, you know better than me that water and electronic devises are bitter enemies. Why would a remote worker risk to lose his most precious tool? Would you really work so close to the water?
Social media are promoting remote work in their own way. This doesn't mean that the image they advertise is necessarily realistic. I'm also not trying to discourage you from working on your favorite beach. The point is that there is a stereotypical image around remote work that is quite far from the truth. Working remotely doesn't necessarily imply travelling or working from a coffee bar. Remote work simply means that you don't need to go to an office and physically be where your colleagues are. You can then work from wherever you feel at ease. Some people feel like travelling, some prefer to work from home. Every scenario is equally dignified and you can build your own customized experience.
Working while travelling has it's own challenges like being able to find a reliable Wi-Fi and an environment where you feel comfortable to work. Some digital nomads spend around one week to adjust to a new city. They need to first explore several coffee bars and co-working spaces before they build an efficient routine. If they don't have a reliable internet connection, they might miss an important meeting and if they don't find a suitable environment where they can productively work, frustration, laziness and depression can soon arise. These are real practical problems that can't be overlooked.
Myth #2 - Remote Work Means Freedom To Work When You Want For As Long As You Want
Working remotely comes with a certain amount of flexibility and more free time. These two advantages are usually mixed together and what emerges is the misconception that a remote worker can work whenever he wants for as long as he wants. Well, no, that's not true at all. Let me explain you why.
When it comes to have more free time, a lot of experienced remote workers will tell you that they have more free time than in-house workers. Think, for instance, to the amount of time they can save by skipping commuting. We are sometimes talking about a 2 to 4 hour commuting each day. Then, think about lunch breaks. When you work remotely, you can cook and enjoy a healthy lunch with your beloved easily within one hour. This means that you are claiming 3 to 5 hours back! It's a huge benefit.
Often, a detail as little as an elephant in a glass shop is not mentioned because it's taken for granted: you can work flexibly withing that 3 to 5 hour time frame. Working flexible hours doesn't mean that you can work 12 hours today, 1 tomorrow and 8 the next day. It means that you can shift your working schedule a bit. For instance, if one day you need to sleep a bit more, you can definitely wake up one hour later taking advantage of the of the time saved on commuting. Remember that you will work in a team and the amount of work that you produce will directly impact the quality of work that the rest of the team will generate.
Myth #3 - I Only Need Myself A PC And A Wi-Fi To Successfully Work Remotely
The word "only" is what makes this myth so dangerous. It's true that some of the basic ingredients to work remotely are you, your pc and a good Wi-Fi. But a lot more ingredients are needed in order to thrive. First of all, chances are that you are going to work in a team. This means that communication, open-minded attitude, flexibility and creativity are some of the most important skills that you have do strengthen. Working in a team means that you will still have deadlines and meetings. There will still be rules that everybody will agree upon and they won't perfectly fit your life style. You will still need to compromise a bit. Even if you are a freelancer, you will need to deal with different time zones, cultures, clients and deadlines.
Realizing that you are a part of a much bigger organism will allow you to live in symbiosis with the rest of the parts. You aren't disconnected from the rest of the company as much as you aren't disconnected from your clients.
Myth #4 - I Can Apply A Couple Of Tweaks And I Am Good To Go
We are surrounded by life hacks. They might work pretty well when it comes to something practical, but they will give some awful outcomes when we talk about abstract topics like communications, productivity, creativity, awareness, concentration and patience. People are as different as the meaning they give to abstract concepts. If you really want to be a successful remote worker, then you need to understand what's in your way. Every person will react to similar inputs very differently. So, stop looking for tips and hacks and start working on whatever is really holding you back.
You need to evolve in your role and take advantage of the new challenges you are facing to grow at your pace toward the direction that you choose. Learning from our past to change the way we respond to external (and internal) inputs is difficult, but it's vital to achieve true success.
Difference Between In-House And Remote Work
I am now going to explain in detail the difference between in-house and remote work and how differently the two job set ups impact your life. At first sight, you can think that in-house and remote are only slightly different. At the end of the day, you only need yourself, a pc and a good Wi-Fi connection and there are a lot of people who succeed at remote work, take a look at Instagram if you don't believe me! You are right, we just debunked those myths, so there must be something deeper if a lot of people struggle working remotely.
Difference #1 - Structure VS Discipline
The first important factor that distinguishes in-house from remote work is that a in-house job comes with a well defined structure. At the office, you have a well arranged schedule and possible last minute postponements are minimized. You are constantly in touch with the rest of the team, just a couple of steps away from the colleague who can give you a hint for a solution. This creates a feeling of belonging and inclusion that fulfills your need for a healthy social life. You are probably going to get invited to a party or you will give a wise opinion about an interaction between other colleagues that didn't take place in front of your eyes, also known as gossip.
When working remotely you have to say goodbye to the very well tested structure. You may be physically alone, far from gossip and nobody will check on you between meetings. And if you think that you have the solution because, in the end, you can work whenever you want for as long as you want, remember that I devoted an entire section to debunk your solution.
While it's true that you are still going to have a schedule for a lot of activities, it's also true that now it's up to you to fill the gaps. You need to develop a lot of discipline and proactivity to keep up with productivity and still be a pillar for the team. If you get bored, you can't immediately share it with a colleague and support each other to overcome boredom. You can only rely on yourself and that's scary, I agree with you. It's scary to be alone, but it's also a wonderful relief to realize that you probably just feel lonely. And feelings can be addressed and reshaped. Strategies can be built to overcome certain feelings and transform them into a great opportunity to boost creativity.
As an example, think about the last task that you performed and sparkled boredom. Then ask yourself why the task was so boring and what would have been more interesting to do instead. Let your mind wander freely and start drawing a mind map about what solution you could come up with to perform the task more efficiently in a fun fashion.
Difference #2 - Work-Life Balance VS Integrating Work Into Life
When you go to the office, you know that all the job needs to be done in a location that is totally separated from your private space. As soon as you step out of the office, you feel justified and entitled to forget about whatever happened during the past 8 hours. Can you really think about the office as a black hole that keeps those 8 hours sealed from the rest of your life? Several people continue to ruminate on the work day. So, even though leaving the office behind might feel like leaving work behind, truth is that a clear cut between work and life is very difficult to achieve.
When you work remotely, the boundary between work and life is even thinner and a lot of overlapping occurs. Remote workers struggle in keeping family and friends at bay during the working hours and the whole day seems to be spent avoiding distractions. It seems that those distractions don't have the right to interfere with getting some work done. The point is that work and the so called distractions are part of your life.
Your whole life consists of several ingredients. You need to find a balance among all of them to be efficient, productive and flourish as human being. This doesn't mean that you have to indulge in checking every notification or every call from your friends and family. Creating harmony between the different aspects of your life means integrating them in one big picture. And to obtain a satisfying degree of integration, developing a vision is one of the best strategies. When you develop a vision, you need to be crystal clear about your values. Thus, you will be able to discover who you are and who you need to become to bring harmony in your life.
Difference #3 - Fixed Hours VS Time Management
Let me highlight a difference between working in-house and remotely that has a lot to do with Difference #2, but it's worth giving its own section because it deals with a hot topic, time management. I am sure you have a good idea of how structured working in-house is. You also probably followed a training period to know how things work at the company. You will know everything about what to do in case of what. You will have deadlines and you can rely on a team to ask for help if you fear not to be able to deliver in time.
When you work remotely, chances are that you won't follow any training and you need to already know what your role is and how to perform the tasks you are asked to accomplish. Of course, your team will be there for you via zoom or slack, but the overall feeling that you will probably experience is loneliness.
For this reason, time management and more generally resource management is an important building block for success. You need to know where and how to direct your resources (I'm talking about time, energy, focus, knowledge) wisely in order to give a valuable contribution. A healthy way of using your resources is to rest when needed. Being able to unplug means that you developed that wise voice that tells you when you need to unplug otherwise you are going to burn out.
Difference #4 - Gossip VS Healthy Communication
Relationship with the team is another hot topic that I need to address to exhaustively explain you the difference between in-house and remote work. When at the office, you not only might receive some support, but you more often than not are involved in some gossip. It's inevitable. You are a human being and you react to external stimuli creating a chain of reactions that need to be processed. Confronting a colleague directly is difficult so it might happen that either you decide to process a disappointing event by yourself or you talk to another colleague. Gossip is a way to also create a bond. Without going to much into the details of how unhealthy gossip can be, I bet that you know how unpleasant can be to be the victim of gossip. And if you gossip about someone, you can be sure at 90% that someone else is gossiping about you.
Gossip is dramatically dampened when working remotely. You have to learn how to mitigate your reactions during a video call and keep in mind that there is no coffee time to talk about what just bothered you with a colleague. Typing is slow and arranging a zoom call to steam off can be cumbersome. So, what do you do? You learn how to efficiently communicate. You might not have a second chance to process an unbalancing event so you need to address your colleague's behaviour that annoyed you so much. And you need to know how in order not to compromise the relationship. Remember that there are no coffee breaks to repair a misunderstanding.
Communication assumes a complete different meaning when interactions are exclusively online. Learn how to communicate and your remote work experience will improve exponentially.
What Do You Need To Improve In Order To Succeed As A Remote Worker?
From what I explained you so far, I am sure that a couple of things are clear. The first is that remote work is not what it looks like. The second is that remote work has a lot of benefits, it comes with a good amount of freedom and with quite some responsibility. Remote work is a fairly new idea that is now beginning to spread. A lot of people are really excited about taking advantage of the awesome perks that come with location free work. But how many of those people are ready to take full responsibility in mastering a brand new skill set? How many people are willing to take action to become expert communicators, resource managers and team players to fully enjoy freedom, creativity, productivity and success?
What you really need in order to have an amazing remote work experience is to become a person who knows how to communicate even the most uncomfortable truth without hurting anybody else, keeping the enthusiasm high. You need to work on your vision to be able to understand where to invest your resources minimizing distractions and maximizing productivity. You need to learn how to integrate work and life and how to really be a team player. And you are a team player even when you understand when to rest!
What's Your Very Next Step?
One very important point needs to be clear: with the boom of startup companies and the high digitalization of all sectors, look at how huge the dependency of all industries is on computer science, data analysis and AI, remote work is here to stay. More and more companies are deciding to save a lot of money by going remotely. You need to be ready for the work of the future. A very near future. You need to be ready to build strong relationships with your team mates when interactions are on-line only and to wisely manage your resources. You have to take real action in mastering the skill set that will allow you to to boost creativity, productivity and general well being to be competitive in an already highly competitive job market.
Reach out to me by booking a case study session - we will have a very relaxed chat where you can explain more about your situation and I can tell you how exactly I can help you. You have everything to gain! At the end of the session you will know exactly what you need to work on to become a successful remote worker.