The year is coming to an end, and paid holidays are around the corner. Your siblings have invited you on a two-week cruise to the Caribbean in December. Piña coladas and a blissfully calm ocean breeze fill your imagination, but then you remember you used most of your paid time off when your kid got the flu back in February and when you visited your hometown for a high school reunion in June. You regretfully decline the invitation and spend the Christmas season in your usual business casual, sitting in a cramped cubicle and hating that you’re not at a beach.
You’re not alone. From an online survey of 14 thousand people, about 76% of the participants who work in a traditional office setting said they don’t like their jobs. However, 45% of the participants who telecommute said they love their jobs. Maybe these results aren’t surprising for some, but as I consider that so many telecommuters love their jobs, I’m left asking: What is it that makes working from home more enjoyable than working in a traditional office?
The Blessings of Remote Work
While there are probably many factors, one popular reason employees choose to work remotely is the flexibility in schedule and location. Lark Ducoeur, a successful freelancer based in Utah, frankly expressed her reasons for quitting her desk job as a French translator five years ago. Although her current freelancing pursuits have higher pay, she said, “It wasn’t just about the money. I’ve never quite liked going into an office every day and clocking in and out. I wanted my time back.”
With more control over her schedule, Lark feels more freedom to plan how she spends her spare time. This time could be dedicated to lunch with a friend, yoga at 10 am, or art classes in the afternoon, instead of her free time being limited to early mornings or late evenings.
Since most freelancers and remote employees can work from almost anywhere with a computer and Internet connection, another huge advantage for Lark is that she can travel more easily. “That’s the really nice thing—you don’t have to worry about paid time off,” she says, “If you want to take off for a long weekend or a week or a month, you are really free to do that.” For instance, Lark took a vacation to Italy, where she worked on a project in the mornings and spent the rest of the day sightseeing. On other trips, she decided not to work at all, treating it as a full-time vacation. “It’s really how you want to play it. You can tell your clients, ‘Don’t bother me,’ so you can get there and enjoy yourself, but you need to make sure you have a means of communication if you want to make money while you’re traveling.”
The Curses of Remote Work
Along with this freedom, however, is a serious concern. If you can work anytime and anywhere, how do you know when to stop? Kate Herrick, an editor and writer with both freelance and remote work experience, said she also loves the freedom to work from home and to travel without restraints from her job.
However, this blessing is also a curse. As a mother of two young children, Kate spent quite a while trying to adapt to a home workspace. “It’s awesome being flexible. I never have to worry about vacations. But at the same time the work is always there, and if I don’t finish everything, there’s a feeling that I’m not done with work.”
This hints at a paradox that many remote employees face between freedom and constraint. Although research hasn’t proven whether remote employees are more or less productive, there is evidence that some employees may be more stressed by telecommuting. According to an article in the Atlantic, remote employees may feel the need to work harder and overtime in order to prove they are devoted to the company in spite of not working at headquarters.
At the same time, this unsure feeling about when to stop may have roots in time management. Kate explains that “time management is very different when you get to go to an office and you have a desk and all day to work and get your stuff done. When I’m at home, I feel like no matter how I schedule my time, things come up. I haven’t always protected my work time like I should, so my methods had to change a bit as well. It’s nice because there’s a lot of flexibility to find what works for you, but it takes some time to figure that out.”
Are You the Right Fit?
Control over work time and location is very attractive for adventurous folk, but how do you know if you are the right fit for a remote job?
In Forbes, Mark Murphy recently analyzed the results of the survey “Is Your Personality Suited to Working Remotely or in the Office?” He deduced that an ideal remote employee is a self-motivated go-getter that hits deadlines and isn’t fazed by being away from colleagues. Murphy then offered employers two key questions they should ask while interviewing potential remote employees:
- “Could you tell me about a time you made an important decision without the help of a supervisor or boss?”
- “Could you tell me about a time you got tough feedback from a boss?”
According to Murphy, if you have experiences that let you answer these questions confidently, you have the self-motivation and grit needed to work effectively wherever and whenever.
Tips from the Experts
Even if you ace the interview and get the job, you still have to face some real-world dilemmas when it comes to remote work. Like Lark, you may need to decide when to actually take time off for vacation and when to work while traveling—a question that may come with backlash if you are on a trip with friends or family. Or, like Kate, you may feel consumed with constant projects encroaching your personal bubble, even though your work hours are more flexible.
In an article published by the Globe and Mail, the vice president of Citrix Canada (a global company that enables mobile work) offered several suggestions to help remote employees avoid potential pitfalls and overwhelming stress. Of those suggestions, two are particularly applicable when traveling. The first is to “make sure the lines of communication are always open. Whether you need to participate in a conference call from a hotel room or view your team’s project status in real-time,” you should take advantage of modern technology to stay connected to your colleagues or clients.
The second is to know when to log off. The article suggests, “Establish set hours in which you plan to work—and stick to them—to help you fully disconnect when your work day comes to an end. . . . Dedicating time for family and personal life is important to a happy and healthy mindset at work.” This way, remote employees will still perform well on their projects without burning out or losing the benefits of working autonomously.
So if you’re sitting at a cubicle in a crowded office this Christmas, maybe it’s time to look in to remote work instead of missing out on piña coladas and sandy beaches. If you’re one of those self-motivated and resilient go-getters, who’s to say you can’t regain your freedom?