With the explosion of freelance work and the gig economy, in a culture that is prioritizing freedom more-and-more over the security of “traditional employment,” working remotely can seem like a dream job. It means no more commute, no more awkward office parties and no more coworkers microwaving fish in the breakroom. But at the same time, there can be drawbacks. Is remote work really the liberated lifestyle we’re lead to believe? Before you swap out your khakis for sweatpants, take into consideration some of the pros and cons of working remotely, and find out who truly excels in this kind of environment.
First, what type of person does best in a remote work role?
Are you a self-starter? Can you stay organized on your own? Or, do you thrive in prescribed structures and rigid routines? If you’re of the latter category, don’t pack up your desk and wave bon voyage to your coworkers just yet.
Turning a spare bedroom into your home office brings plenty of perks. It also means the distractions of home are now within earshot. There are pets to be snuggled, dishes to be done, laundry, and before you know it, your family is coming home and you’ve barely put a dent into your workday.
Those who thrive working remotely are people who are disciplined, organized and can turn on and off their “work selves.” Some people, as the great philosopher Lady Gaga would say, are born this way. Others may have to work at building the discipline and structure to allow them to succeed in this autonomous environment. If you aren’t already a self-starter or have a burning desire to become one, working from home may not be for you. If you are, you may shine in this type of environment.
But what about work-life balance?
In the same way that one can find themselves accidentally three episodes deep into a new Netflix series without blinking, so too can you find yourself hunched over your inbox at midnight. You’re innocently thinking you’ll just answer a couple more emails—potentially with a seething partner in the other room.
Since your office is your home and your home is your office, it’s vital to draw a line between your work and the rest of your life. Setting specific “office hours” (even if your office is your bed) and designating a “get sh** done zone” in your home is helpful. You may not be your own boss, but you must be your own supervisor.
When your pet fish is your only co-worker
There are probably a few things you thought you’d never miss. Maybe those little water-cooler chats and the happy-hour gossip. They are huge in giving a sense of community, and the opportunity to socialize. People’s workplaces are often the center of their social circle. When you choose to work remotely you’ll usually need to find another way of creating camaraderie.
I personally have a rotation of my local coffee shop in the morning, then move to a coworking space in the afternoon. Though I am almost 100% of the time plugged into to noise-canceling headphones, the simple presence of other people working around me gives me about as much of the “coworker” vibe as I need. Others though may be less of an introvert than I am. Some sage advice I’ve heard from various remote workers is to find local meetups, join a club, or pick up a new hobby that will give you fresh faces to interact with on a weekly basis.
Working from… wherever
The most-noted benefit of working remotely is the ability to take your work with you wherever you go (as long as it has internet). No more worrying about how to stretch your time-off to meet your lofty travel aspirations. Instead, you can go where the wind takes you — just remember to bring the proper outlet adapters. If you have kids and a mortgage that keep you in the same area code most of the time, you’ll no longer have to worry about who’s taking the kids to soccer practice or dropping them off at school. You can start doing your errands in the middle of the day, without having to fight the after-work crowd at your local grocery store.
Speaking of rush hour, you can say goodbye to your dreaded commute. You might even be able to downsize and get rid of your car, depending on your location and situation. According to a 2018 report from EducatedDriver.org, the average American spends 4.35 hours a week commuting, and over $2,500 in estimated commute-related costs.
Spend less, save more
You may not notice it, but your eight-hour-a-day obligation to make ends meet has plenty of baked-in costs. Beyond the transportation fees, how often do you roll out of bed late and opt to grab coffee and breakfast out? Beyond the nickels and dimes of day-to-day luxuries (which do add up), some remote workers are able to reduce or eliminate daycare and after-school childcare costs. All due to the fact that they’re no longer bound to a nine-to-five lifestyle. The domino effect can be tremendous — how many times are you totally worn out from a long day at work, and go out to eat or have something delivered for dinner? The dividends of having more time and freedom to navigate daily tasks will not only be a boon to your bank account, but also your overall health.
The 9-to-5 becomes X-to-Y
For the majority of people, their job dictates what they can and can’t do, where they can go, when they have to get up, and when they must call it a night. That’s not the worst thing; I imagine most people function quite well on a Monday-to-Friday existence. But why not live a little? Start a couple of hours late on Wednesday without worrying if the two (or four) margaritas you had at Taco Tuesday are going to decimate your morning meeting. Working extra on Thursday allows you to do a half-day Friday. Working remotely doesn’t mean that all your time constraints necessarily disappear. You may still have meetings and time-based obligations, but it certainly gives more wiggle room. It allows you to live a little, to be spontaneous. To go somewhere last minute — no need for notice — just grab your laptop and hit the road.
The cold hard stats
According to 2017 statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, over 3.9 million employees work at least half the time from home. This amounts to nearly 3% of the total US workforce. Employers are seeing the savings, with telecommuting saving employers over $44 billion in 2015. While only somewhere around 7% of employers offer a work-from-home option, that figure has grown 40% in the last five years, and will only continue. In 2015, over 24% of employed people worked at home in some capacity, while 68% of young job seekers entering the workforce said that the ability to work from home was important in determining what companies interested them. Employers are paying attention.
Just as the casual office environment influenced by startup culture swept through offices in the late 00’s, working remotely seems to be the next wave for American workers. It’s truly a win-win scenario: employers and employees save, gain added flexibility, and forge a new-found work/balance that yields to greater output overall.
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