If someone had said to me one year ago that I would be working remotely for the fastest growing accounting firm in the UK, I wouldn’t have believed them. But, as I type this from the sunny shores of Belize in Central America, the idea of “living the dream” has become a reality.
Remote working is when a business allows an employee to complete their job role away from the office. Essentially, for the remote worker, everyday is a working from home day. For many, having the ability to work remotely may sound enticing, but as with any role within a company, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
How remote is remote?
After deciding to leave my hometown of Brighton, I gained a visa to work in Canada and chose Vancouver as my new stomping ground. Whilst moving to a new country was exciting, I saw the opportunity to take a break from the rainy West Coast of North America to travel through Central America – all whilst continuing to work for Crunch.
Being a remote worker – or, as some people say, ‘digital nomad’ – means you can actively fulfil your job role anywhere in the world. As long as there’s a stable WiFi connection, you’re pretty much set up and ready to work anywhere you desire.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve travelled from Vancouver down to Belize City via San Francisco and Houston. I’ve also spent time on a tropical island 21 miles from the Belizean Coast, surrounded by palm trees and crystal clear waters. From there, I caught a bus down south to a remote fishing village and managed to pick up enough signal to continue working. The internet is a truly wonderful thing. After Belize, I plan on visiting Guatemala and the South of Mexico.
The main thing I’ve learnt about being a digital nomad is that it takes a lot of planning to ensure that you’re able to hook up to a decent internet connection when you need to be online and reachable. Second to this, you need an acute sense of willpower not to be lured away from your bedroom into the 30-degree sunshine to frolic with your newly made friends.
Remote working can be as remote as you’d like. Whether you live a one-minute walk away from the office or are telecommuting from 10,000 miles away, remote working takes organisation and planning.
Flexibility vs routine
Luckily for us remote workers, staying in contact with the office has never been easier. Thanks to communication tools such as Slack and Google’s myriad of web apps, keeping in touch and, more importantly, keeping a finger on the office pulse is made simple. Slack effectively allows me to be in the office when I need to be, and a monthly Skype call with the boss is usually as effective as meeting face to face.
When I moved to Vancouver, I left behind not only office chums, but my whole network of closest friends and family. And when you only know a small handful of people in someplace new, things can get very solitary very quickly. The main downside of being a nine-hour flight away from the office is the isolation.
Working from home can be an incredibly lonely experience. Days can pass without talking to another human being and before long you begin to question what the outside world holds. It’s like self-imposed imprisonment, only with more cups of tea. Oh how I miss water-cooler moments and general office chit-chat.
To combat this, I make sure I leave my apartment every single day. Whether that’s to go for a run, attend a yoga class, get a slice of cake somewhere, run a few errands, pop to the shops, etc. Leaving the house daily ensured that I didn’t spent eight hours glued to my computer for work and then a further few hours aimlessly browsing through Netflix until it was time to go to the pub.
Working remotely does allow you a certain degree of flexibility. Got an important, non-work related meeting in the middle of the day? Catch up on that hour later in the evening. Friend needs a lift somewhere? Make up the time later on.
Which is better? A routine or limitless flexibility? Neither. Working the two together harmoniously is an ideal balance. You have the motivation to get up in the morning by having a set schedule, yet can flex with that should you need to.
Organise the hell out of your life
As an employee of Crunch I’m expected to be available at set times that coincide with when the rest of the team are online. When I’m at home in Vancouver, I usually get up around 6am and work through until around 3pm PST in order to offset the time difference between Vancouver and England.
Personally, I think that this setup works as the perfect solution between the remote worker and the office. You’re available when the business needs you and can then plough on through without office-like distractions when everyone else on the other side of the world has gone home.
Working this way takes a lot of organisation. You’ll need to stay on top of your game and adhere to copious early nights in order to make that 6am alarm. Planning my weekly workload around numerous deadlines is also something that I’ve had to be aware of. More often than not, a new piece of editorial work will come through with a tight turnaround. Being able to plan and structure your weeks so you’re meeting all business requirements takes a lot of thought.
Focus, focus, focus
You’re at home, distractions will happen. From your flatmate returning home from work to the lure of social media, staying focussed on the task in hand is tricky. Whilst it might seem tempting to aimlessly browse the web or bake a cake instead of doing any real work, the only person you’re ultimately kidding is yourself.
Throwing my headphones on and submerging myself in all things Crunch works best for me. I start my day by checking emails and speaking to colleagues on Slack before reading relevant news stories and articles, as well as catching up on our social media activity. I get stuck into work before taking a short lunch-break and then getting back down to business.
Allowing an employee to work remotely puts a lot of trust and autonomy in the worker. Break that trust and the golden ticket of working from home is torn up and destroyed. Concentrating on the task in hand is easier than doing dribs and drabs over the course of the whole week and ensures a better quality of work overall.