Remote Work Life abroad: What's it Actually Like?
It's been 6 months on Remote Year. 6 months of traveling the world and working remotely while I do it. But, actually, I'm realizing that I've been a remote worker for a lot longer than that. I started a part-time remote gig in October 2016 and I've been a full-time remote worker since August 2017. It's almost been a full-year!
And I feel like I can finally speak to what being a Remote worker is like. What are some of the misconceptions? What are some the benefits? What are some of the pitfalls? Well, let's talk about it!
Misconceptions about Remote Work Life.
It doesn't necessarily mean freedom of schedule. This is really really important to consider. Many of the remote workers on this trip and in my Remote Year community, they are working US time zones. Mostly Eastern time, but for some they occasionally have to work Pacific time hours. Not a super difficult feat when we were in Latin America, but definitely much more interesting now that we're in Europe. Oftentimes, they don't start their work day until 2pm and they're on the clock until 10pm. Easy when we were in Lisbon and the restaurants and nightlife extended into the wee hours of the night, but not so much now that we're in Prague. The European workers in our group had the opposite experience when we were in Latin America. Working early morning hours, sometimes as early as 4am, and finishing their day in the early afternoon. And don't get me started on the work hours of some of the Aussies in our group - it's madness. But the bottom line? Depending upon your job, remote
work doesn't necessarily mean freedom of your schedule!
There are some companies that are primarily remote workers. It's actually been super interesting seeing the diversity of job types! Some people had to fight tooth and nail to get their companies to agree to the remote working life, while others were already remote works. In some companies, it's just the natural order of things that people work from home. Obviously, remote work is less common in the sciences, but in some worlds and fields, remote work is as common as water cooler talk in corporate culture. ;-)
Pitfalls of Remote Work Life.
Freelancing can be unpredictable and unstable. Myself and one of my best friends on this experience are both freelancers. There are other freelancers in the group and though my girl Kaarina is making it work unbelievably well, we've both had plenty of "scares" this year from the financial security department. It's just hard as a freelancer living this life, unless you've been freelancing for longer and you have some much more stable clients. This is where my friend benefits. She's a little older than me and has been freelancing much longer, so she has a much more established base. For those new to freelancing, it's difficult to find enough security in the income you have coming in and, from that perspective, it's definitely unpredictable from a financial perspective. And with doing Remote Year? The costs of remote life are admittedly a little bit higher than they would be if I were doing solo travel.
Self-employed persons don't necessarily benefit from the tax deductions. This was a huge bummer when I realized this, but person's who are self-employed, contractors, freelancers, etc. don't necessarily benefit from the tax deductions that are usually associated with nomadic life. There is a tax law in the US that says if you're out of the country for >330-some days out of the year, you get a HUGE tax break. Self-employed persons? If it's going to save me any money, I'm not going to notice much because I still owe my 15% self-employed tax. Womp womp.
It requires a lot of self-discipline. This has probably been the biggest pitfall for some regarding the remote, digital nomad lifestyle - it requires a lot of self-discipline, especially if you're self-employed or a freelancer, but even if you're a remote worker working for a company. You just don't have a boss lording over you making sure you get things done when you're a remote worker, which forces you to have the discipline to show up and do the work regardless. Obviously, the threat of being fired is still there so for most person's working remotely for a company in our Remote Year community, showing up and doing their work hasn't been an issue. The self-employed perspective is a little different. I had a friend of mine in the program remark to me that he was impressed that I'm as diligent as I am about showing up and working my business. Admittedly, I'm a self-motivated individual, so doing that isn't difficult for me, but, of course, I have my moments. I have my weeks where my motivation sucks and I just don't get a lot done. And that's the nature of the beast. So, if you're considering working remote, don't consider yourself to be very self-motivated and are self-employed, you're going to have to find ways to cultivate that discipline while you're working remotely.
Benefits of remote work life.
The ability to leverage your travel for your business (if you're an entrepreneur). I'll cut to the chase on this one - social media is GREAT for travel posts. Instagram loves a good travel photo and I've found that by posting about my travels and my day-to-day, location-independent life, the scenic, amazing travel photos just help me to grow my following and leverage my business. And the fact that travel, adventure, hiking, etc. are part of my lifestyle and my brand make leveraging my travels and location-independence even more important.
The ability to be location-independent. This is the best part of being a remote employee and obviously is the whole implication of the word "remote". You don't have to commute to an obvious. Depending upon the stipulations of your job, you don't have to live in a certain location and may even have the opportunity to travel. And though you'll still have to put in the work, do your job, grow your business, etc., the freedom and flexibility spend your evenings and weekends enjoying other cultures, seeing new things and experiencing the world is the whole point and one of the best parts, in my opinion, of remote work life. It's the whole reason I joined Remote Year. To spend those hours where I would otherwise be watching TV, doing mind-numbing tedious things exploring, touring, and traveling. But, what's most interesting to me is that the digital nomad life has demonstrated to me that I can have this same life at home. My weekends don't have to be spent how they were before, doing stupid, monotonous things. I can spend them hiking, road tripping, adventuring. It doesn't have to stop when I return from my travels and that's exciting.
The potential to have time-flexibility. Again, this is contingent on the type of work you do and the type of company you work for. But some, I might even say most, remote positions have some element of time flexibility meaning that you don't necessarily have to work a set 8-hour block of time. And I love that! Not only because it gives me the flexibility to change my schedule around my day and my plans, but it also means I don't have to work in a continuous block! I personally work best in the morning and in the late afternoon to evening. Having time flexibility allows me to chunk up my day into a morning work block and an evening work block and that is wonderful. Plus, when I move back home, if my friend wants to go on a midday or morning hike or I want to go for a walk with my dad, I can do that for the most part and shuffle my to-do list and the time I spend working around that.
The networking opportunities and professional development. This might be something that is specific to Remote Year, but what I've really appreciated so far on this experience is the ability to network and benefit from professional development. We had a Biz class where we learned from the marketing, branding, etc. experts in our groups. We have a Growth Tribe for personal development opportunities. We have gotten connected to Impact Hubs and start-up incubators in different cities. We periodically have branding seminars and seminars on how to establish partnerships with companies and brands. It's incredible for growth and though it's probably something you could have equal access to in any big city back in the states, the ability to do that in multiple cities and potentially all over the world I believe not only expands the breadth and depth of education and development you receive, but also expands your network! Win-win!