Remote work has been around for a long time. It’s popularity, however, has only really grown in the last 10.
I’ve been working remotely for most of my professional life. At least, ever since I got out of the restaurant/odd job business. Even then, I wasn’t fully remote. When I started freelancing, I taught English as a second language – mainly in big, boring German companies.
Not long after (read: a month), I discovered I could write for money on the Internet. Back then, “content mills” had their heyday and were everywhere. They were a start but thankfully I gave up that life-sucking habit.
After several years of freelance copywriting (earning an okay living, might I add), I got hired to work full-time for a company in Cologne, Germany. I was over the moon. Some of my friends even described it as a “real” or “grown up” job.
There was an office. There was a telephone. There was a desk of my own. The job was more than just writing: it was digital marketing, SEO, a bit of graphic design, translation, project management (i.e., anything that needed to be done).
It was a novelty for me and the job was interesting. The stable salary was also the biggest plus. Definitely the most delicious temptation after spending years carefully tracking how much money was coming in every month.
That was all well and good. Until I started to dread getting up in the morning. Full trams were never the problem though. It dawned on me that for the rest of my time at that company, I would (probably) be sitting in the same chair, in the same room… Eight hours a day, five days a week.
That’s when I began to think about working remotely again. In fact, I started to yearn for those days.
What does “working remotely” really mean?
First things first: remote work or “telecommuting” is not a job or a field of industry. Rather, it describes a type of working environment. An office is a work environment, a restaurant, a bar, a warehouse. “Office worker” is not a real job description, in the same way that “warehouse worker” does not describe what you actually do for a living.
Working remotely can and is done by a vast range of different professions. Those professions can also vary wildly. Copywriters do drastically different work from HR professionals. An accountant and a web developer’s day-to-day tasks are in no way the same.
Remote workers come from a vast array of different fields. Some are graphic designers. Others are business consultants. Quite a fair few nowadays are even medical professionals. What all of these jobs (for the moment) have in common is that they are generally “white-collar” jobs in the knowledge economy.
Which brings me to the main point: in these professions, you are being paid for your knowledge and expertise and not for your presence. If your job is done on a computer, it can theoretically be a “remote job”. Of course, we have to make the distinction because most “computer” jobs are, by default, carried out in offices.
The reason more people don’t work from home isn’t because they don’t want to. The real reason is fearful management, worried that they cannot “check up” on their underlings. Fear in the main reason that most people can’t or won’t telecommute.
Remote Work Arrangements: More possible than ever
The good news is that setting up a telecommute arrangement isn’t as challenging as it once was. Many companies already offer working from home at least one day a week. That’s fine for a lot of people, however not enough for many.
These arrangements are also surprisingly common at larger companies: from Apple to Amazon to dell. Various other start-ups, such as Hotjar and buffer, have an almost completely distributed workforce.
At my nice job with the stable salary, I realized that all of the work I did was on a computer. Sitting in the same desk every day and commuting was getting old, so I thought…
Why not just ask?
It was as simple as that. For many other people, it isn’t that simple. Those who work in more “tech-like” industries tend to have an easier time of getting work from home arrangements. Programmers and IT professionals in particular have the most choice when it comes to remote jobs.
The good news is that more companies are wising up to how remote working can benefit them. The challenge for us as employees is mainly finding a company that will allow a remote work arrangement.
Remote Working as an Employee: The benefits
I’ll admit that I started my career arseways. While I did travel to companies to teach classes, I didn’t spend all day there. While teaching, I also spent the entire time interacting with people. That’s very different to go into the same office every day and staring at a screen for three hours.
However, my “remote work” experience began when I started working as a copywriter. I would spend entire days either at home or in a café working away and dealing with clients.
Fast forward three years and suddenly I was in an office. Every. Single. Day. It was an interesting change at first but soon became very suffocating.
Once I started working remotely again, things generally got easier. I did sometimes work longer, though I noticed just how much more effective I was. My boss remarked on it as well.
During my office days, I actually used to dread getting up in the morning. While I like a bit of fresh air and social interaction, it’s usually the last thing I want to do at 8 AM. When working in the office, I was usually one of the later ones (my company isn’t too strict on hours, being an online marketing firm). When working at home… Suddenly, I was up and working at 7. I had plenty of time to do shopping, washing, household chores and still get my work done.
My social battery also improved. I don’t like spending all my time around people. However, I do need to spend time with them – more specifically, people I actually want to have quality time with. My work involves very little social interaction to begin with and, although my colleagues are nice people, we don’t get much of a chance to really spend quality time. It made sense to concentrate during the day on my work, and then get out in the evening.
Yep, I still really like working remotely
In conclusion, I would say that at least on a personal level working remotely is my absolute preferred method of getting things done. Spending time getting bits and pieces done in cafes also helps, though it’s not mandatory. Of course, some people cannot concentrate without being in an office environment. I have full sympathy. I’m not one of those people who advocate the abolition of offices completely, however offering employees a much more flexible system of work could make a huge difference on their general happiness and well-being – as well as that of the company.