Tackling Remote Work’s Biggest (Personal) Challenge

I love remote work. It lets me be me, without getting in the way of a career I’m passionate about. Plus, the money is nice.

While I took to it like a duck to water, the same cannot be said for other people. Sure, there are benefits but it also comes with quite a few downsides.

If you’ve sat in an office for most of your professional life, switching to a work from home position is a big change. You’ve got issues with communication: forget about sauntering up to your colleague’s desk or nipping down the hall. You have to call them  (sometimes on a phone! ) or at least send a message. Even then, they may not reply but you need an answer NOW…

If you work in a globally distributed company, you may have a few time zone issues. Of course, that’s something any half-decent project manager can work around.

You may, however, be very easily distracted by housework. That certainly brings some people’s productivity down.

To top it all off, in spite of the “freedom” remote work brings… you may end up grinding more than your in-office counterparts.

But wait, there’s more!

Telecommuters find that working remotely can increase loneliness.

This affects even those of us who strongly prefer working from home.

I guess I’m a bit of an odd fish in this sense. Working on my own usually means I’ve got far more social energy than I would if I spend every day in an office, surrounding by people. Once I’ve closed my laptop, I can’t wait to get out into the world and spend some good, quality time with people.

beer hand
…and booze.

However, not everyone is wired the same way. Work often becomes a large part of most people’s social lives. In some cases, it more or less is their social life. I find this very strange because I prefer to hang out with people different to the ones I work with, but each to their own.

So, when you’re suddenly thrown into a “remote” environment and all your interactions are done via email, phone or video call… It can get very lonely very fast.

Since many of us are creatures of habit, its often difficult to break out of the cycles we find ourselves in. Suddenly, you realize you haven’t left the house or physically interacted with a single person all week.

What, then, can telecommuters do to ensure they get regular, healthy social contact? Coworking spaces can ease the burden but let’s be realistic: there might not be one near you. Or it might be ridiculously expensive.

Unfortunately, this means taking your social life into your own hands. Luckily, it’s not as difficult as you think.

Creating and maintaining a healthy social life

The good news is that maintaining active social contact and putting yourself in a position when you regularly meet new people isn’t at all that difficult. It does require that you have a bit of confidence in yourself, though. You should at least be comfortable talking to new people.

NOTE: If you want a wealth of ideas and tips on improving your social life, check out these experts tips on how to make new friends.

 

So how do you make new friends? Well, you can…

  • Join specialist interest groups. Look for Meetup groups in your area and make a commitment to actually attend them. Preferably go to groups centered around a topic that interests you. And yes, that topic can just be “drinking” if you’re as devout a barfly as I am.
  • Attending networking events. This isn’t just great for your social life. It can also do wonders for your career. Remote workers tend to be physically isolated and have fewer options when it comes to networking. This is something you need to take into your own hands.
  • You can still do a lot of it online. I’ve mentioned how digital nomad communities can help you make new friends before you arrive in a new destination. These online groups centering around remote work and the nomad lifestyle shouldn’t be your only source of networking but rather, they should complement it. Additionally, these communities are great for making contacts in your new chosen destination.

Again, don’t forget to check out the expert tips above as well! Different techniques work for different people. Additionally, consider your online networking/socializing as a complement to getting out there and interacting with the real world.

The Key to Expanding Your Social Circle: Stay active, be patient

Making new friends and connections is a lot like applying for a remote (or any!) job. You could get one tomorrow but it is more likely to take a while. It has happened to me but hitting things off with someone straight off the bat doesn’t always occur.

The key here is remaining patient and knowing that good things are around the corner. You just have to sow the seeds yourself first.

What Can Digital Nomad Communities Do for Me?

For the introverts among us, the following is unfortunately true: people need people.

Human beings are social animals. Even those of us who prefer limited social contact need it sometimes. That’s why online communities have always been popular and will always remain popular.

That’s also why online communities based on specific niches and interests do well (if that niche is big enough).

For the working globetrotters among us, online digital nomad communities serve to fulfill that need. These platforms let you chat with other nomads, exchange ideas and can even be used to network (important even if you have a permanent remote job – even more so if you’re a freelancer). On top of that, they’re a handy place to make new friends.

bloody hands
Don’t let the above picture alarm you – meeting strangers off the Internet is less risky these days (though a hint of caution is ALWAYS advised).

Believe me, as a digital nomad you’ll need to learn how to make friends. Not everyone can just wander into a bar and start chatting to people. Starting friendships online offers a way of easing you into the process (not very different from online dating – just with fewer dick pics… we hope).

With all of that said, probably one of the biggest advantages of digital nomad communities is…

…the ability to contact other nomads already living in your new destination.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of this particular type of community and see how exactly they can benefit you as a nomad. Maybe you already had an idea – but now its time to execute it.

Networking: Speak to other nomads in your industry

With the rise of remote work, it’s easier than ever to network without having to go to boring business meetups. Social media allows for a fluid exchange between people in the same industry – and that’s truly a blessing. Especially as a freelancing nomad, you should always be on the lookout for new gigs and opportunities. This means cultivating relationships.

The likes of social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can help you network with professionals in your industry who may or may not be nomadic. However, digital nomad communities will get you in touch with those who are not only in your industry, but who also know the nomadic life. Your unique experiences may very well help you land a new gig, part-time job or full-time remote position.

Get the lowdown on your new home, before you travel there

Are you currently living in Strasbourg, France but looking to move further east – like Berlin, or even Kiev? Sure, there are a lot of ways you can find out about your new prospective home before your plane even touches down. Plenty of travel sites and blogs are available – you can look at cost-of-living stats and even connect with expat and international groups in the major cities of that region (which I would highly recommend).

Online digital nomad communities can offer you that – and more. If there are a few nomads living (or who have lived) in your next chosen destination, you can strike up a conversation and ask them what it was like. They can give you insight specifically unique to nomads (such as how easy it is to find affordable, low-cost accommodation) and how much coworking spaces cost.

Make friends before you arrive

Okay, I wouldn’t call complete strangers “friends” just yet – but digital nomad communities can give you the opportunity to connect with people in real life. If there are any nomads living in your destination city, simply hit them up and see if they’d like to go for a drink, show you around etc. It can be a good way of combating the loneliness that often creeps up when you arrive in a new place for the first time.

And of course, meeting a new person can cause a chain reaction and get you introduced to others.

So then, what are some good digital nomad communities?

You can find a good list of them digital nomad communities here. However, the following are what I’d consider my “favorites”.

Nomad List

You could say that Nomad List is more than just an online community for digital nomads. It’s also a tool – a database of 2000+ cities from all over the world. In addition, it offers to connect users with 100,000+ digital nomads who live in these cities. Additionally, Nomad List offers a remote job board. There’s a basic, Slack-style chat room that you can openly see and sign up to. Topics are segregated by a hashtag (#) under names like “#Toronto”, “#Crypto”, “#United-States” and “#Startups” (there’s obviously FAR more than that).

To actually participate and chat, you have to create an account and login. Luckily, you also get access to their other features. This can be great for scoping out new places to live.

Global Digital Nomad Network

There are also quite a few not-so-great digital nomad communities out there… Often what makes them bad is simply the fact that there aren’t many active members. That’s what’s great about the Global Digital Nomad Network (from WebWorkTravel). What’s more, they’re on Facebook. Yes, Facebook is still relevant in a lot of cases!

Flylancer

The focus with Flylancer is on meeting people “offline”. So of course, you can create an account, login and chat to people. Not everyone on Flylancer is a digital nomad: but many of them are freelancers and remote workers. What does this mean for globetrotters? It’s means that there are some excellent options when it comes to networking.

Meetup.com

Meetup.com has been going for quite a while. Unlike other communities on this short list, it’s not specifically geared towards digital nomads. However, you’ll find interest groups of almost every type here. Looking for friends? See if there are any social activities happening in the city you’re currently living in.

And… if there’s a demand for something, you can create your own group as well!

Conclusion

If you just want to meet new people, its important to pull out all the stops. Networking and gathering new contacts for job and business opportunities may require you to join a different type of community whereas expat groups may be good for just meeting friends. Whatever the case may be, you need to understand your own needs before choosing a community.

 

Setting Up Your Mobile Office

A mobile office is probably one of the most essential tools for a digital nomad. You need to be able to whip out your laptop and work – from almost anywhere. Especially if you want to practice the art of efficiently working and traveling.

In most cases, this means getting a travel-friendly laptop. One that has enough processing power for you to complete tasks (especially if you work with videos and/or other graphics). It must also be light so that you’re not dragging a weight around – and must fit any bag you carry.

Of course, setting up a mobile office goes far beyond buying a laptop.

There are a couple of other tools that make the set up even easier.

The basics of a mobile office

Choose the right laptop

I’ve just said this, but I’ll repeat: the core of an efficient mobile office is a good laptop. You must able to (easily) carry it around. Make sure it fits snugly into your shoulder bag/backpack. Make sure the screen is big enough (some people can work with small screens, others go crazy).

antique typewriter 400x
Typewriters are cool and retro… but would you really want to lug one around?

With regards to size and compact portability, Dell and Acer have some pretty nice models. Acer’s TravelMate range, in particular, is designed exactly for what it says on the tin. Size-wise, Apple’s computers aren’t terrible either.

Have your own power supply

Ideally, wherever you work should have power outlets available. Having trekked through cafes in various European cities, I’m aware that this isn’t always possible. Especially on trains. If you’re working 10+ hours without an outlet, you need to have a backup supply handy. Plenty of power banks are available nowadays.

potatoes
Delicious and nutritious but not a great source of power. Seriously, invest in a power bank.
Note: Make sure you find a power bank that can charge laptops! There is a difference!

Bags!

I’m not very fancy when it comes to bags. My current office holder is a cheap Ikea design – yet its perfect thanks to the various compartments it has. A lot of bags these days have a special pocket specifically designed for laptops, so make use of it. In addition, make sure there are separate compartments for USB cables, plug adaptors, your phone, etc.

Plug Adaptors

For a mobile office, these couldn’t be more important. Even in Europe, there are differences between plugs depending on whether you’re in the UK or on the mainland. Tuck a few necessary plug adaptors into your bag and leave them there. It will seriously throw a spanner in your plans and leave you scrambling to go to the next electronics store if you forget.

Headphones

If you have regular meetings, you should really conduct them in a quiet space. It could be your bedroom or a bathroom… Noisy cafes aren’t advisable. That being said, headphones are still a plus. Not just in terms of having a meeting, either: you may simply want to drown out the surrounding noise and concentrate on your work!

Setting up a mobile office really is that simple… Although it can be as elaborate as you like. The main point is that you want to be able to whip it out and start working wherever you are.

Becoming a Digital Nomad – How Do You Make It Happen?

Becoming a digital nomad is often a slow, steady process. You don’t wake up one day and suddenly decide to start traveling and working remotely. For many, it happens gradually, step-by-step. Sometimes there are a few lucky accidents. For the most part, it is planned. The best part is that there are plenty of ways to switch over to the location independent lifestyle. For those interested in beginning this new adventure, there are several important points you need to cover before you jet off.

Any major lifestyle change takes a lot of mental and emotion energy. The nomad lifestyle is no different.

You can read all the blogs and articles you want on digital nomadism. You can follow the many well-known nomads on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc… But if you don’t actually take the steps yourself, you’ll still be sitting in that open-plan office.

If you want the nomad lifestyle, you need to be honest with yourself. Do I have the right skills to travel and work remotely? If not, do I have the attitude and initiative to learn them – and overcome the obstacles that may be presented to me?

And what are these skills?

  • The ability to put up with a high level of discomfort and frustration. As a nomad, you’ll travel a lot. You’ll plan trips that go awry. If you’re freelancing, you’ll deal with the trials and tribulations that it brings. You need to be incredibly stress-resistant. The same can be said for physical comforts: get used to sleeping on sofas, futons and having to use your mobile data efficiently.
  • The ability to be alone. Being a digital nomad means being alone sometimes. You’ll go to a new place, make lots of great friends and then leave again. Sure, you’ll stay in touch with them. Maybe meet them again occasionally. When you move on to your new residence though, you’ll need to make a whole new group of friends. And that’s not to mention the reduced contact you’ll have with friends and family in your home country.
  • The ability to work independently. You’re not just a digital nomad: you’re a remote worker (whether freelance or employed). You need to take your work seriously. You need to be proactive and disciplined: your clients and your company are counting on you. They won’t be looking over your shoulder. Additionally, they won’t accept many excuses for not handing in work on time or being communicative.

You must either have these traits or be willing to develop them. If you’ve never traveled much, then this lifestyle will be a big change from what you already know.

The first (basic) steps to becoming a digital nomad

If your job ties you to one place, becoming a digital nomad is impossible. If you work as a nurse in a hospital, for example… Well, they kind of need you there. You can’t fix bandages and take blood tests without being present. Not yet, anyway. If you work in a shop – the same applies. And a great many other places.

For some, switching to this lifestyle also means changing careers. And that can be a HUGE leap.

On the flipside, you may have an in-office job where you don’t leave your desk. Literally everything you do is on a computer. You’re surrounded by colleagues and you travel to that office daily. Good examples are accountants, programmers and even project managers.

The change here won’t be as big, but you may have to argue your case with your employer. Which brings us to the skills of remote working. And I would say…

One of the most important telecommuting skills is communication. Effective remote working is sloppy at best without consistent, clear communication.

When switching to a remote work environment, you must make sure…

  • You’re GOOD at clearly and proactively communicating over text, voice call, video call and email… Whatever method of communication your clients/employer needs.
  • If you must change careers, see how many of your skills can be transferred to a remote work environment. Are you a good copywriter? A visionary graphic designer? Or are you a diligent account? All of these are standard, well-paid remote jobs.
  • Know what you are looking for in a remote job (not just the other way around). In truth, it’s not that different from finding a regular one. You’re just not going to be physically present.
  • If your current job can theoretically be done remotely, see how easy it could be to make the switch. Your current employer may surprise you.

Remember: Having a remote job (whether employment or freelance) is an integral part of being a digital nomad. If this is unfamiliar territory to you, get learning!

Beyond work, know what the digital nomad lifestyle entails

You don’t truly know if you like digital nomadism unless you try it.  But let’s just say you’ve managed to become location independent. You work from wherever you like: your home, a coffee shop, whatever. You’ve got a full-time remote job, or perhaps a couple of steady clients. What then? Well, now it’s time to move.

This means being organized. You have to book flights. Take care of visas. If traveling to a country that doesn’t speak your language, you may have to learn a few words and phrases in a foreign tongue.

Becoming a digital nomad is about becoming a traveler. For many, it’s their first step on the path to becoming a global citizen. It can a beautiful, enriching and exhilarating experience. But you have to put the work in.

Europe Remotely – A Jobseeker’s Review

I decided to do a review of Europe Remotely for one simple reason: I live in Europe.

Germany, to be more specific.

During my job search, I found plenty of telecommute positions located in far-flung places. The United States, Canada, Australia… Even New Zealand (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).

I have no problem working for a company in a different time zone. I’m quite happy to compromise occasionally and work a few odd hours during the week. However, certain remote companies do seem to have an issue with me being in Europe.

How do I know?

Well…

’Remote – US & Canada Only’ frequently appears on job advertisements.

Not all of them, mind you – but this notice appears enough for it to get tedious. So I dedicated part of my job search to finding jobs specifically located in a European time zone.

When it came to platforms focusing on Europe… It was slim pickings. Then, I found EuropeRemotely.com.

Is Europe Remotely any good then?

I guess it depends on your definition of “good”. As a job board, it’s laid out in a pretty standard manner. This is the first thing you see when you log on:

europe remotely first page

I mean, it’s pretty much what you want. A list of remote jobs based in Europe… No fancy frills, nothing. As a job seeker, I didn’t really give a hoot. I scanned the list and looked for positions in my field (namely, marketing/copywriting).

And damn… There are a lot of tech and software jobs.

Which is good news for software developers, web developers and IT people. Seriously. If this is your industry, and you either live in Europe or don’t mind working for a European company then keep this platform in your bookmarks.

Scrolling down a little further though, Europe Remotely showed me this:

europe remotely first page 2

Ah, so they do divide it into categories. That’s handy.

After that… There’s not much else. Well, a blog with three posts. Thankfully, the jobs are regularly updated. Even for techies though, they are rather minimal. This platform’s definitely worth a look now and then but don’t rely on it!

The Burning Question for Writers: Should I work for content mills?

Getting paid to write on the Internet – sounds like the best gig ever for some people. And I’ll admit: there were times when I really, really did feel like I had it all. I could set my own schedules, and everyone I worked with was behind Skype and/or email (no one used Slack in those days… I think).

As a budding copywriter, I needed somewhere to hone my skills. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first place I started was at so-called “content mills” or “content farms”.

To be honest, I don’t really like the sound of the name. They sound a lot like “puppy farms” or “kitten farms”.

puppies white background bone
And no, puppy farms are not as pleasant as this picture. Look them up if you have too… I won’t be held responsible for the ensuing tears.

Tell us this much then… what are content mills?

In the broadest sense, content mills are money grabbing bastards who suck honest workers dry a business that makes most of its money selling content. This could be content for SEO, press releases, advertising copy, blog posts… You name it.

In essence, the business model is pretty sound. The client pays big, fancy monies for a batch of articles – the more well-written they are, the better. The company then gets money and, of course, pays the writers. Some many content companies/agencies that also hire writers full or part-time and given them stable hours and pay. How nice.

But this particular breed of company, known as a content mill, will almost exclusively outsource all of its writing to freelancers. Not necessarily a bad thing.

But then we get to a rather touchy subject…

How much do content mills pay?

Yuck. The truth is, the vast majority of these word farms (in my experience) pay very, very little. It’s pretty normal to be paid US$3.50 per 500 word article (bear in mind, these articles are churned out one after the other… And fast. Although I don’t do it anymore, I could still easily churn out five or six basic, 500 word articles an hour).

So, in theory, I could be making US$10.50 per hour. Convert that to euro and I’m getting… About 8, almost the same as “minimum wage” jobs.

I’ve also written for platforms which paid upwards of 12 euro (yes, euro!) for a 500-word piece.

And of course, it depends on the content farm itself.

A decent few pay pretty well – but normally at the higher levels (depending on the score you get in their test… which many will give you). Often these companies are more than just content mills, though. They usually have their fingers in many pies.

So, should writers work for these companies?

Let’s phrase the question differently. Ask yourself: What will I get out of it? This is business after all, and you’re a business if you’re looking to do freelance work. If there’s a healthy supply of articles most of the time and you can do them with an average level of effort… Go for it. When I started getting real clients, I kept the content mills for slower times (interspersed with TEFL training work).

The real danger of content mills comes from when you’re earning all your income from them: and have no time, space or energy to find other clients/jobs. But that’s a danger that goes far beyond copywriting – all freelancers are prone to this trap.

I work full-time now, but I run my own projects on the side and pick up the odd bit of freelance work here and there… When I have the time and energy. I would absolutely do some work for a content company again – but only if it were a bit of easy money for a few hours work here and there. Never again will I write for $3.50 an article.

Ever.

Remote Career: 4 Entry-Level Jobs to Kickstart the Career YOU Want

I check out a lot of freelance and remote job boards with an unholy level of regularity. I do this so I can keep abreast of how the telecommute “industry” is doing. Even though I have a full-time job, I’m always on the lookout for new challenges.

At the same time, I spend a portion of my time checking out various online communities. I want to see what kind of questions people are asking and how they are being answered.

One of the most common questions that “newbies” (I use the term lightly) pose to the “remote work community” tends to go along the lines of…

…how do I find an entry-level remote job?

From that, it’s easy to deduce that they are simply looking for a position they can work remotely, without any prior experience of working remotely. That’s understandable, except there’s one thing you should probably realize…

…’working remotely’ is not a career path.

Just like “office worker” literally does zero to describe your profession, “remote worker” says nothing about your job. The only thing “remote” means is that you can do that job (whatever it is) from anywhere you like.

So, here’s a little secret for all you seasoned, mid-and-late career professionals who are wondering about “entry-level” remote jobs:

…there’s no such thing!

If you work in any job within the knowledge economy (i.e., primarily done on a computer) then you have telecommuting experience. I am willing to bet you have telephoned people, emailed people, used Slack/Skype/Telegram/MSN messenger (in the Olden Days)… all while sitting in the office. Maybe you were contacting people in the office next door or halfway around the world. It doesn’t matter, you were doing exactly the same thing that thousands of remote workers do every day.

The only difference? You’re sitting in an office and they’re at home/at a coffee shop/on a train.

For seasoned professionals, if the desire is strong then getting a remote job shouldn’t be a problem. Your core skills and experience are more important. “Telecommuting experience” is little more than icing on an otherwise well-rounded donut.

pink donut
Delicious

“Entry-Level Remote Jobs”

Now, if you’re only just starting out in your career… That’s a different story. You may want to do something, anything – as long as you can do it remotely. So, you may be wondering what industries you ought to start off in.

Well, you’re in luck. There’s a crapload of them. Some can lead to great things but they aren’t necessarily the most well-paid (at least not at the beginning).

The greatest advantage is that they allow you to get started building and expanding your skillset. When beginning anything new though, you need a starting point. For those who want a telecommute job, it can seem intimidating. It may seem that these jobs require years of experience, high qualifications and impressive portfolios.

And of course, they do… if they offer a high wage. But many companies are also willing to hire absolute beginners and train them.

So, what I’ve done is compiled a small list of the four most common remote jobs that can be done at entry level. These are essentially “foot in the door” options. At the very least, they can still be a wonderful way of gaining experience. You’ll very quickly learn about what you really want… and what you don’t want.

Content Writing & Copywriting

old typewriter 500x

Writing of any kind is more than just a skill. It is a craft to be shaped and honed over many years. However, professionals with basic writing skills are needed for a number of tasks. Namely, writing content. These “entry level” jobs are posted online with a high level of frequency and are the perfect place for any aspiring copywriting to practice their skills, becoming a persuasive wordsmith.

Copywriting was in fact the first every remote job that I had. I worked as a freelancer back then, simply selling my words. It wasn’t paid well by a long shot – at least, not at first. But that was more to do with the places I was looking.

If you have a passion for writing and just want something to kickstart your career – content writing could be the perfect introduction.

Content Moderation

facebook social media

Content moderation requires a lot of attention to detail, and a lot of speed. You are essentially “cleaning up” the content of a brand’s page. For example, if a company has a Facebook page promoting something, you probably don’t want to have too many rude, negative and sexist comments on it. That’s where content moderation comes in: essentially, you ensure that content (often user-generated) adheres to specific guidelines. Offensive or irrelevant comments are deleted.

While this job often doesn’t require previous experience, you do need to have a good eye for detail. Another challenge is working fast and ensuring that a page or a channel is spanking clean – and lives up to community guidelines.

Virtual Assistance

alone botanical casual virtual assistant

Much like content writers, VAs can command a high wage and many companies wanted experienced people. But again, there are plenty of smaller companies and start-ups that are willing to hire someone with little to no experience. Virtual assistance can involve anything from simple content management (posting stuff on a website, updating Facebook/Twitter posts) to doing general admin: organizing cloud files, booking hotels or answering emails.

Customer Service

woman yellow phone customer service

Customer service jobs exist online too. Many “call center” jobs can and are done from the employee’s home: depending on the company. But customer contact also takes place through the medium of writing. Which can mean answering customers’ emails and queries, or replying to them through social media channels.

In fact, this type of job can be very versatile. Even though it isn’t the best paid (at the start), the salaries for customer service reps tend to be on the stable side.