Things I've Learned After One Year of Working Remotely
I recently hit my one year anniversary of working remote 100% of the time and I wanted to reflect on what that experience has been like. Once I realized that one did not have to be confined to an office to do their job, it became my goal to make that be a part of my life. As I applied to jobs that allowed this perk, it felt like I'd never get that flexible life that I so craved. Until I did! In June 2017, I was hired as a social media producer for a travel media company and have been so lucky to be able to do that for the past year. Along the way, I've learned about what makes for a good balance when living life as a digital nomad, and what does and doesn't work when it comes to traveling while working.
When you work from home or abroad, you have to find a place and technological set up to get your work done. Everyone is different, but at the heart of it, a laptop on a desk in a quiet-ish location is the ideal. Going into this lifestyle, I didn't know how much I would really need a good set up to feel my most productive. I bought a refurbished 11-inch MacBook Air on Amazon right before I became a remote worker, thinking it would be the best travel laptop because it's so tiny. While it's an amazing little piece of hardware, the screen is super small and about 4 months into my remote life, my eye started twitching for weeks and my eyes got much worse than they usually do in the course of a year. I didn't realize how important a bigger screen was for not only my eye health but even for doing visual work like photography and video editing. When I'm staying in one place for a longer time, having a second, larger monitor is my favorite way to go. Obviously, this isn't something I can take with me when living out of a suitcase, but many coworking spaces have this available, which is something I'll have to consider in my future journeys. Speaking of coworking spaces, in many places in the world, they are crazy expensive! I guess it sort of makes sense since you're renting a space to work, but that's a big expense to add to your monthly bill. I would be more open to using a coworking space if the prices weren't so high, but in some places in the world, they are more affordable, so it's about finding a balance. For me, I can get my work done just sitting on my laptop from my hotel or hostel room or finding a chill cafe. I've even worked for hours out of McDonald's around the world, so there's no wrong or right way to work, as long as you can get your work done.
On Time Zones
Working from around the world is a blessing, but it also means figuring out how to adapt to the time zone you're in and making it work without driving your coworkers crazy. A job like social media is based more on the in-the-moment news and last minute changes that many freelance gigs, so it's been odd sometimes having to figure out how to shift my sleep, tourist time and work hours to fit the need. In the USA, it's easy to work from PST or EST because that's when the majority of my coworkers are online. I go to London and Europe a lot, and while it's not impossible, there's a bit more strategy for getting things done when I'm 5-8 hours ahead of most of the staff. And this fall, I'll be in Asia and Oceania for 2.5 months, which will be a real task. This will definitely require me to have odd hours, but I've allowed for that by taking a slow travel route which means I can be up in the middle of the night for work and sleep more in the daytime without feeling like I'm wasting time I could be out doing touristy things, since I'll have more days I'm there to take my time.
As an introvert, I was so excited to get to not have to go into an office and have my own solitude most of the workday. I underestimated how nice it is to have the social aspect of an office. I actually need the force of needing to leave my home every day to actually feel the need to go out. The past year has been sort of lonely. Not in a bad way, just in a different way. I had so many days I felt that there was no need to put on clothes and just get work done and then spend the rest of the day watching Netflix. I would get invites to go out but felt like there was no point in getting dressed to just go out late in the day. If I had already been out all day for work, then it didn't seem like that much of a stretch to just stay out and visit with friends or go see a show. But being home alone all day became a habit and not something I felt that much need to fix, except when traveling. I could've been better about reaching out and being better about trying to see people, but that should tell you how introverted I am. I like being alone, but being lonely feels a lot sadder. I'm still learning how to deal with this and am sure it will be something I eventually figure out.
The best part of my job is that I am allowed to travel and work at the same time! How dreamy is that? Sometimes I've been overwhelmed with how much freedom I have so I'm like where do I even go next? Since starting last year, I have been able to spend a lot of time in Europe and London, finally went to Japan (with a stopover in China to see the Great Wall), met my coworkers at our retreat in California, went to Egypt, and had the ability to move back to the Pacific Northwest so I could be in a show at the Seattle Opera for the summer. I don't know of many jobs that would allow for that. Of course, I would've loved to travel even more this first year, but I had just re-signed my year-long lease literally just 2 weeks before and was committed for another year in New York City, so I had to make due with what I could afford while also paying rent. But my travel experiences were a mixed bag! Half of the trips left me getting sick during them and making it hard to enjoy. And as independent as I thought I was, I was also missing my boyfriend like crazy while I was away. However, I did have the time of my life in Egypt and went to London 4 times, which is more than I had ever gotten to visit when I was working an office job. And the end of this year will lead me to back to Japan and adding new countries to my list like South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand, so I'm happy.
On Extra Work
When I first got my remote job, I thought this meant extreme freedom in taking on all the freelance gigs and trying to do them at the same time to make hella money. I found out that this is what leads to burnout. I was writing for a celebrity gossip website while doing my normal job and it left me never wanting to be a full-time writer again. I shifted from that to just trying to write 2-8 articles a month for other sites for some extra cash. While that was a nice little extra income, I realized I was giving away all my best ideas to someone else and didn't have much leftover for my own blog, so I pulled back on that as well. I got offers for part-time social media gigs, but I turned them down because I didn't think I needed an extra 20-hours a week doing what I was already doing for my main job. Basically, I realized that sometimes just having one job is enough, especially if it pays your bills. I don't need to be rich or a mogul, I just want to have enough money to enjoy life, which is what I have. However, I did get cast in a show at the Seattle Opera, which is a paid opportunity. This is in a different realm from my job, so it's not tiring or distracting to do work like that, which I think is how to make it mesh together in a healthy way.
As I mentioned before, my eyes have been through a lot of strain due to my tiny computer screen. Thankfully this isn't the worst of things that can happen to a remote worker, but horror decided to strike anyways. The unfortunate side of being a contracted employee is that you don't get normal company benefits like health insurance. As someone who thought they were pretty healthy, I really didn't mind this since I never visited the doctor. But of course, because the universe works in ironic ways, the first time I don't have health insurance in years is when my body decided to betray me. There's a long story here that deserves to be told another time, but basically, a very tricky autoimmune disease I caught out of the blue decided to hit me at a stressful time in my life and led to expensive ER and doctor's visits, and a rush to get a domestic partnership so I could get an insurance plan in the middle of the year. Yeah, not fun. I should've just sucked it up at the beginning of the year and purchased freelancers insurance, but didn't think that paying $200-400/month made any sense. I've learned from that mistake and will now be taking my health more seriously and hoping this disease stays dormant at least for awhile so I don't have to worry about it too much on my future travels.
I love working remotely. I love the freedom it gives me and I love that I get to do my dream job. It would be really hard to convince me to go back to an office workplace and I don't intend to do so anytime soon. I love my boss and coworkers and the vision of my company. I love that I became the success story that I used to read about others achieving. I truly can't wait to see what happens over the next few years and how remote work evolves and what tools will become available to assist this growing style of working. So many people want this life and that means more companies will have to adjust to allow for that, so in the future, it's likely that remote workers may not be so rare to see and attaining a job like that will become the norm.