The Challenges of Working Remotely
This past summer I was lucky enough to be able to intern with two employers at the same time. One of those employers provided me with the opportunity to work remotely, the type of job oftentimes held by digital nomads. Although I loved being able to work from afar, having such a job brought with it a host of unexpected challenges.
Going into it, I pictured having a relaxing day, working a few minutes here or there without really thinking about it and arriving at the day's end having accomplished all necessary work. Obviously that is extremely idealistic in every sense, but this type of lifestyle is certainly possible for those with remote jobs. However, I found that more often or not life got in the way. Working in an office, everyone is there for one purpose: to do work. The same can not be said for a home, coffeeshop, library, or really any other space. While this certainly creates a more relaxed atmosphere, the ability to devote one's entire attention to the task is limited by the countless other interruptions likely to pop up.
Although working a first job full-time during the day didn't ease my workload, all remote jobs can be different in that without someone there to monitor you, you may end up being expected to work until the task is complete, rather than when a given work day or session was supposed to end. Thankfully my boss did not run things that way, but it is a challenge you could run into.
Another aspect that is important to note when considering a remote job is the nature of the aforementioned job. That might sound natural, but there is a significant difference between work such as writing, which is often at your own pace with some general goal at the end, and more typical business type work with smaller deadlines and product expectations to be met on a more regular basis. Of course this is a generalization, but you get the picture. For in-person jobs, this creates some differences, but they are magnified in a remote environment. If your job is more free form, you might be able to take a week off to spend time with your family on their vacation, whereas someone with regular deadlines needs to be turning in work every day, even if the time of day is flexible due to a team spread around the world.
Further, adapting to company culture presents its own host of challenges in a remote environment. Whereas with standard jobs, you can try and read the mood of the room when making such determinations, remote work forces you to explicitly ask about such topics. When a team does not meet in person and exchanges no more than a few emails per week, each interaction becomes increasingly important as they accumulate relatively more and more significance.
Ultimately, it is important to consider that just as there are countless types of jobs in the traditional marketplace, there are numerous types of remote work. Some might require you to complete 300 tasks a month, but it acceptable if you group those tasks to a day or two. Other jobs will prefer you finish a regularized amount of work each day in order to produce results at a familiar pace for the client. Neither way is inherently better or worse than the other, it is just important to consider what type of work you will be doing as opposed to only thinking of where you will be doing it.
Remote work opens up lots of doors which could enable you to more thoughtfully design your life, but with that comes added responsibility. Before quitting your desk job to say, try and work remotely from a beach in Hawaii, you should probably consider if you would still be able to focus on that report you have due while immersed in an environment with such differing priorities. That being said, remote work can be very rewarding and I would highly recommend you try it out. Although I got off to a bit of a rough start, I eventually learned how to effectively plan for deadlines in a remote environment, and with some patience you can too.
Photo is of Boston Logan Airport, the city in which my remote employer is based. Took the photo on the way back from the Microbiomes course in Woods Hole, MA.