Working Remotely

When we first meet someone, it’s natural for them to ask about what we do (for money) as a way to break the ice. If you happen to be a business owner, chances are they will ask you about your workplace (when you work from home), and if you tell them you have a home/virtual office, they are less likely to take you seriously (until of course, you share some numbers about your business). For them, if you are a business owner and you don’t have an office with payroll, then they are likely to think less of you. In their minds, if you have your own business, it’s a given that you need office space, staff, etc. at the very least — if nothing else but to appear “professional” (whatever that means for them). They have a misguided belief that having people and space adds to their credibility, regardless of their skills or service.

Today, with the improvement in communications technology, it’s easier than ever to work remotely with clients and customers across the world, particularly for free agents with service businesses. Some of us have been doing it for years and cannot imagine living (and working) another way. I know of several indie consultants (free agents or freelancers) who work out of their home, and have been doing it for years. Sure, they have worked with clients on-site, but they have cut down on their work travel and find themselves increasingly working solely from home (or remotely). Over time, they have come to realize their value is in their advice and not in their presence.

Then, there are some successful business owners (freelancers) I know who work out of coworking spaces. Sure, they pay a monthly fee, but they don’t pay for the extra overhead that comes with having your own office space. They work out of these spaces to create boundaries for themselves (between their work and personal life) as they are unable to work from home. I suspect they crave the structure that they learned from their experience of working in organizations before, which might contribute to their distaste or lack of discipline when working from home (remotely). They like the idea of going to a coworking space because it is a way for them to connect with a community of professionals with similar values.

Even if you work nine-to-five for a traditional organization, it’s possible to work remotely by negotiating with them, but that requires them to be the kind of organization that understands and practices this philosophy. That said, I don’t blame these organizations entirely because it’s hard to change things that have been done (out of convention) over many years, especially when it seems to have worked well for them thus far. Why fix if it ain’t broke?

I have long believed in the idea that you don’t have to be at a certain place to work with others. You should be able to do the work you do from anywhere any time. Once you let go of the idea that you don’t have to be at a place to work with someone in person, then that gives you a lot of freedom. It frees up all that valuable time (and money), which is otherwise wasted in commuting and whatnot. Remember, time is the only non-renewable resource there is, so we must use it well.

For the last few years, I have been working from home independently, but everything I say below still works the same regardless of my location.

The number one reason I prefer to work remotely is because you have control over your time, which is true wealth. You can finally stop commuting your life away (and that includes commuting to coworking spaces too). Not only do you save your own time and energy, but you save your client’s or customer’s time as well. If you’re using your time well, you don’t have to work more than four to five hours a day (which is the amount of time we spend working anyway in a 40-hour work week or beyond).

Working remotely gives you the freedom to live and work from anywhere. You can work from the comfort of your home or a hammock on the beach (as long as you have reliable WiFi). You can work with clients or customers worldwide without being at the mercy of a certain country or economy if it goes bust.

There is no extra cost (overhead) involved, such as leasing an office space, payroll, etc. (apart from your usual living/travel expenses). I know of several freelancers with seven-figure businesses who work out of home; some of them don’t even have a website, but that’s beside the point.

To share an example, I have worked remotely with my editor for over five years through email, and I find it both incredible and strange that I have never met him or even spoken to him. Yet, he is someone I have come to rely on as a partner for my (remote) working team.

That being said, working from home or remotely certainly has its own challenges and drawbacks.

Here are some challenges with working remotely:

One might think when you are a freelancer working remotely, you can work any time you want. That may be true to an extent, but without any structure (constraints) in place, it won’t work very well. It would serve you better if you have some structure to prevent your day (and week) from turning into total chaos, while having the space to be flexible. There needs to be a balance. Too much structure or flexibility won’t work. Not enough of either also doesn’t work. Not everything can (or should) be planned, and not everything can remain unplanned either. Remember, self-discipline is freedom.

Setting boundaries at home can be a challenge when you are not going to a physical space outside of home to work. If you are living with others, you have to create your own work space at home where you go to do the work. Other times, you might escape to a coffee shop in the afternoon for a change of pace in your work. If you happen to travel, then you can create a virtual space anywhere, meaning you can work from anywhere (without having to create a dedicated space). In some ways, it’s easier to work when you travel than when you’re home simply because you don’t have to deal with the same distractions.

It’s easy to spend more hours working remotely than you would otherwise in a typical day job (or as much as that), and while you may even enjoy all of your time working, it’s not in your best interest to do so. Remember, work is only one aspect of our lives and it cannot come at the expense of the time we give ourselves and our relationships. We alone are responsible for managing ourselves in the time we have.

Here are some ideas for working remotely:

Plan your week in advance, then plan for each day the night before depending on what has changed (if anything). I think if you spend a solid four to five hours a day (20-25 hours a week M-F), then that’s all that is required. It’s a given that you work in solitude without distractions/interruptions. Working in sprints has worked well for me. For instance, most weekdays, I spend a couple hours doing creative work in the morning, followed by a couple hours of consulting work in the afternoon, and around an hour for some admin work. It seems to have worked well for me thus far.

It’s easy to over-plan for things on a given day/week and under-plan in the long term, but it would be best to have two or three big things planned for each day. Remember, we can do a few things better or many things poorly, but the choice is always ours.

Writing morning pages is by far the best 30 minutes I spend each day first thing in the morning. I write about things that have my attention so I can set them aside and move on with my day. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. Try it for a week (and thank me later).

Use the power of morning and evening routines to bookend your day. No matter how busy things get during the day, you know how you are going to start each day and how you will bring closure to it.

I find it best to work daily in terms of energy levels — high to low. For me, that means creative work happens in the morning, consulting work in the afternoon, and some admin work to wrap up the day. Creative work requires the most energy, which is why it’s the first thing that happens. Consulting work requires less energy, and admin work requires the least. You have to figure out what works best for you.

You don’t have to have a business to work remotely if you can find an organization with remote culture. If working remotely is something you value, then you should talk about this with your employer, or find one who will let you do that. In fact, there are job boards available on the web that are dedicated to hiring knowledge workers remotely. But, if you do plan to work for yourself, you don’t have to wait to start your own business. Build it over time as your side hustle while you keep your day job. The time to quit the nine-to-five is when you start making more money from the side hustle than your day job.

Once you let go of the idea that you don’t have to be at a certain place to work with someone in person, then that frees you up in every way. It frees up all that valuable time (and money), which is otherwise spent in commuting and whatnot. Remember, time is the only non-renewable resource there is, so we must do our best to use it well.

I believe working remotely is the only way you can make the most of your time. You can always make another buck, but you can’t make another minute. The work we do every day is only one aspect of our lives that gives it meaning. We also need to take care of ourselves and others. None of the three areas should come at the expense of the other. Working remotely helps us spend more of that discretionary time with ourselves and our loved ones.

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