9 Truths We Have Learned in Our 12 Years of Remote Work
For many people, remote work is the dream. Wouldn’t you love to end the commute, drop the wardrobe expense, and leave the land of fluorescent lighting behind? How great would it be to work on your own time? To see all of your child’s track meets without worrying about the boss? Wouldn’t it be lovely to travel as a digital nomad, tethered only to a laptop and strong wi-fi signal?
Paul and I work remotely, and have for over 12 years. We love the freedom of working from home. We love the fact that we get to walk downstairs in the morning and fire up the laptops. Neither one of us has spent money on “professional clothes” in over five years. Paul has coached all of his daughter’s community basketball teams. And I have the freedom to help my son with homework whenever he needs it. Remote work also gives us the freedom to pick up side hustles to make extra income along with our main hustle.
In a few years, when we embark on our poker pilgrimage, we hope to transition from home remote workers to digital nomads. We look forward to travelling the country without worrying we will run out of money along the way. We can continue to work part-time as we travel, continually replenishing our travel budget.
But working from home is not a great fit for everyone. Yes, there are many benefits, but there are potential pitfalls as well. If you are considering working remotely, you should be aware of the pros and cons that come with the lifestyle.
Positive Aspects of Remote Work
Working outside an office environment pays off in many ways.
Flexible Hours – Flexing your hours to fit your lifestyle is likely remote work’s greatest benefit. You can plan around your children’s school and sports schedules. If you’re an early riser, you can start work at 6am and be done for the day by 2:00. If instead you’re a night owl, you can work until 2am and sleep in the next day. You can work less on weekdays and make up the time on the weekends. As long as you meet deadlines and your client’s needs, any schedule is up for grabs.
Cost Savings – The cost savings of remote work can be quite significant. Spending on work clothing, commuting, lunches with colleagues, child care, and more declines substantially when you’re not in an office. The costs of maintaining an “office job” can be hundreds to over a thousand dollars a month. Magnifying the impact, due to the effect of taxes, you have to earn up to $2 to make the equivalent of every dollar you save. Most of those costs vanish when you stop walking into an office.
Time Savings – Remote work allows you to recapture hours you can use working on other parts of your life. Add up the number of hours that you spend commuting, preparing for work, and purchasing and maintaining your work wardrobe. You’ll find that you lose ten to twenty hours of your week in work-related activities that don’t generate any income. There are 168 hours in a week. If you assume that we sleep 7 hours a night, then we only have 119 waking hours. To spend 20 hours engaged in transitional activities that yield neither pleasure nor money is an enormous drain.
Remote work allows you to run errands and make appointments in low volume hours. This can add up to significant time savings. For example, on Tuesday morning at 10am, you’ll find the grocery store empty (I certainly do). Tuesday morning shopping can take nearly half the time of Sunday shopping when most office-bound employees are forced to go to the store.
Minimize Distractions – Remote work removes office life distractions. There are no all-staff meetings. You never have to go to the break room to celebrate a birthday of someone you barely know. And you won’t be caught up at the coffee maker discussing last week’s episode of Billions. While remote work has its own distractions (and we’ll get to those), office distractions can cut your work productivity considerably.
Work-Life Balance – Working from home can help you reach that holy grail of work-life balance. For the reasons listed above, remote work will allow you to earn more money in less time. Also, the attendant savings mean that you need less money overall to pay your bills. This opens up possibilities for pursuing a hobby, travel, or just being fully present for your children.
We’ve had some lovely working vacations at great locations (Vegas, or Atlantic Beach, for example). We’ll rise early in the morning, work for four or five hours, and and then explore our surroundings the rest of the day. Sure, we don’t get in a full workweek. However, we are able to travel more often because we are not forced into the dichotomous choice of “vacation” or “work”.
The dream, of course, is to ultimately make these vacations our full-time existence. Five years down the line, we hope to evolve into digital nomads and make every day a working vacation.Wouldn't you love to end the commute, drop the wardrobe expense, and leave the land of fluorescent lighting behind?Click To Tweet
The Pitfalls of Remote Work and How to Avoid Them
Remote work does hold a number of potential pitfalls. If you are not careful, these pitfalls can erase many of the benefits of working outside the office.
Too many distractions
One of the most dangerous pitfalls results directly from all of that newfound freedom and flexibility. You are no longer confined to a cubicle with a boss either figuratively or literally looking over your shoulder. Instead, you have the freedom to do your work and run your errands on your own time. You also have the freedom to sleep in, read the New York Times, and watch Netflix. If you’re not careful, you can find that your entire workday has gotten sucked down the Facebook rabbit hole.
There are a number of methods to avoid losing your day to distractions:
- Shut down your email – Or at least set limits on when you allow yourself to check your messages.
- Block social media – Several free apps are available that will block social media for set times. StayFocusd is a Chrome extension which makes it easy to keep you on task. We also use a great extension called RescueTime, which tracks ALL computer activity to see exactly what your internet weaknesses are (mine is the Washington Post). For a monthly fee, you can block yourself specifically from the sites that are killing your productivity
- Pomodoro – The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to increase your focus on a given task. Using this technique, you commit to work for a given amount of time (say 50 minutes) without distraction. You set a timer to enforce this restriction and to let you know when you are due for a break. At your break, you can check your email, wash the dishes, or dance to your favorite Imagine Dragons song.
- Plan your day – At the start of the day, you know what errands, chores, or activities you need to do. So begin by making a schedule. Build in your work time, your exercise time, and your other tasks. This way you are not constantly distracted by the things still undone.
Lack of boundaries on work time
Putting some boundaries around your work time is as important as freeing yourself from distractions when you work. If you love your work, you can easily find that it is taking all of your time. Working from home makes it particularly hard to distinguish work time from downtime. But working 24/7 is the quickest route to burnout.
Some methods for putting boundaries on your work time include:
- Designated work space – Make sure that you have a physical office or designated work-space. During the time you intend to work, use that space. During your family time or downtime leave that space. Resist the temptation to sneak back in on Sunday afternoon and finish up that “one thing.”
- Resist the email – Protecting yourself from work creep means leaving those emails behind. There is nothing so important at 7pm that can’t wait until 7am the next morning. If you look at that email now, it will be in your head. Don’t make friends and family fight for your attention during time that should be theirs.
- Schedule, schedule, schedule – Officially designate your work time and your free time. The more physical reminders you create to remind you that you are off the clock, the more likely you’ll stay off the clock.
If your remote work is happening at your kitchen table, you may go days without seeing another human being. Some types of remote work offer plenty of social interaction. Others (such as writing and data science) can leave you feeling like you live in a universe of one.
Paul and I are lucky enough to be working remotely together. If you find yourself out there alone, there are measures you can take to find human interaction:
- Join a group – There are plenty of ways to find groups that meet weekly or more often. Through Meetup you can find a networking group, an exercise group, or a book group. Meeting folks who share your hobbies is a great way to break through the isolation of remote work
- Reach out – Don’t lose touch with friends and family. Remember that one of the perks of your remote work is flexibility of schedule. Invite a friend to lunch in the park, call your mom, or throw a pot luck dinner.
- Take a class – Taking an in-person class to learn a new skill or update old knowledge can also serve as a networking boon. Even better, if you find a work-related class you can write it off on your taxes!
- Don’t forget those errands – If you’re feeling isolated in the middle of your work day, running errands can be a life-saver. Head to the grocery store or the library. It will feel good to get out of the house. Even minimal social interaction in the checkout line may brighten your day.
Lack of exercise
It is easy to become sedentary when you are working from home. There are some days when I get up, walk down to my desk, and don’t go much farther.
It is incredibly important to make exercise a regular feature of your remote work lifestyle.
- Take a walk – Build some time into your day to get outside and take a half hour walk. The health benefits of walking are clear. And a little Vitamin D will benefit both your physical and emotional health.
- Exercise at home – If the weather is just too extreme to get outside, make sure you have an at-home alternative. Buy a used treadmill, download a free exercise app like Sworkit, or build some heavy housework into your day.
- Join a league – Whatever your sport of choice, you will find adult leagues that offer social time along with your exercise.
- Schedule it in – Exercise, like so many things, can fall through the cracks if you do not plan for it. Again, design a schedule each morning and make exercise a part of it.
We have learned these nine truths of remote work the hard way over our last 12 years working at home. While we love the freedom that remote work has given us, we are always struggling against the obstacles. Consider both the benefits and the pitfalls of a remote work lifestyle before deciding whether it is right for you.
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