The outside world seems to look upon us with envy. We look back with confusion. The truth is, working remotely is often very different from the idea those on the outside have of it. There are peaks and troughs, like any job. The peaks and troughs are just very different. For those who have tried the remote life before, you might relate to much of what I say here. To those who haven’t, the following will I hope help you decide whether it’s the life for you. Often it is the weaknesses of a given lifestyle that can become its greatest strengths.
Sometimes I actually dream about going to work to find a team around the table ready for discussion. The valuable feeling of working with and around real people is often elusive for the remote worker. This isn’t true of everyone of course: co-working spaces like WeWork have aided the solitary worker by providing for her a team of people who are often working on interesting things. But for those who don’t have the luxury of shared office space, life can get a little lonely, and the odd conference calls often leave one with a sense of missing out, especially when you see everyone else on the screen sipping their coffee and joking with one another.
But often the coffee-sippers are envious of you – and for good reason. It’s only lonely if you make it lonely. You get the luxury of choosing who you spend time with throughout your day. When it comes to co-working spaces, you get an unparalleled access to new ideas and perspectives that have the potential to shape your own work. The best part is, you get to choose whether or not to incorporate such people and ideas into your daily life, unlike those at the office who often don’t have a choice but to interact with the same people every day. Loneliness then, when working remotely, is mostly a product of poor time-management, paired with an unmotivated mind. By committing yourself to spending time with friends at least several times per week, you mitigate the possibility of feeling lonely. And the best part is, when life gets overwhelming (as it often does for us nowadays), you can spend as much alone time as you wish. In this regard, the remote life can act as a remedy for the stress of modernity. It’s certainly played that role for me at several points.
How am I supposed to set my own schedule when I can barely get out of bed in the morning without 12 alarms? When you’re the boss of your own day it takes strength to structure it with precision. I’ve found it way too easy to lapse into a book, or to hit the snooze button one more time when there’s no manager there to punish you when you get to the office. You’re on your own time, right? Just hang out and get the work done when you can. Well, no. This mindset leaves one only feeling unmotivated, and as task after task gets pushed back an hour, a day, a week, productivity tanks and the mountain gets ever larger. This is a common feature of remote life at the beginning, and it’s where having a physical boss present is actually a blessing.
Instead, see the remote life as an opportunity to tailor your day to your own schedule. Remote work is the ultimate freedom in this regard. I highly recommend writing down (writing, not typing) a schedule and sticking it on your wall. There’s only one rule: stick by it religiously. Wake up earlier than you’re used to. Have a set morning routine that, at the very least, involves spending a few minutes making your bed. I’d also recommend meditating, followed by several minutes of reading something that has nothing to do with your work, like a novel. Then a healthy breakfast, and you’re ready for the day. I strongly believe that what you do in the morning will shape the rest of your day. Extend this routine to the rest of your day however you see fit. This kind of structure will, without a doubt, boost your overall productivity and get you motivated to take on the day. Since working remotely, my routine has remained the same each day (bar one exception). I attribute my stark increase in both productivity and happiness to my routine. Try it. All you have to do is stick to it. And at the end of the day, when you do things like hang out with friends or go surfing, you feel all the more rewarded. Such playtime, you’ll soon notice, will also contribute to your overall productivity, since they become incentives that you begin to look forward to throughout the workday.
Out of the loop
Of all the downsides to remote work, this was the hardest one to grapple with for me. No matter how connected I was to the rest of the team, whether it’s through Slack or regular conference calls, I never quite felt as much a part of the team as I did when I was actually with them. Perhaps this is inevitable, since the physical presence of a team can bring with it an unspoken bond that in turn facilitates connection. Today more than ever it’s easy to be tethered to a team across the country, or even across the world. But everyone who’s gone remote for a even little while understands this loss of a certain dynamic, however subtle. This is why remote work is often temporary. It is arguably the unique connections within a team that determine that team’s success. And how do you make up for that?
One way to look at this problem is that, just as important as the bonds within the team is the ability for us to connect with others in general. So if you can’t tap into those connections on a daily basis with your own team, one solution is to seek out those connections elsewhere. For some, this might be through a co-working space. For others, it’s all the more important to find those friends with whom you can run by ideas over lunch or coffee. Feeling out of the loop and craving the conversations was a big problem for me early on. I can attribute the recovery to setting up two weekly meetings with friends who are happy to talk over ideas. Ironically, I also noticed that after making this change my process of ideation wasn’t only stronger but that I was happier overall. When you’re remote, messaging channels are helpful but they’ll never be able to recreate the flow and energy between two people talking face to face. Even if you’re not talking through these ideas with other members of your team, making time for conversation in which your ideas are examined and deconstructed by the person sitting in front of you will make a world of difference. See for yourself, and let me know how you get on.