Remote work / working from home have to be two of the internet’s hottest terms right now. As we moved into 2020, the COVID-19 crisis fused our private and public spaces. Working from home transitioned from a rare privilege to a necessity almost overnight.
But let’s be clear, most of us are NOT working remotely.
Working remotely before COVID-19 meant the freedom to choose where you set up your office, whether it was at home, at a coffee shop, or even in another country. Remote work is a lifestyle choice, it is not choosing to stay home once in a while when you’re bored of the office, or when a pandemic is forcing you to be in the house!
I write this from the confines of my partner’s bedroom in Toronto. I’m trying to drown out the sound of the neighbour mowing the lawn by listening to Simon and Garfunkel at full blast. I’m wearing sweatpants, haven’t worn regular clothes in days, and I’ve been getting cramps in my neck from sitting awkwardly on the bed whilst typing. Due to travel restrictions because of the pandemic, I currently live with my partner and his parents. There is no other room in the house where I have the privacy to work. So my bedroom is now my office, my homespace is my workplace and, frankly, this is not what I signed up for.
This is NOT the way I normally work remotely.
2020 marked my tenth year of working remotely. In that time I hadn’t had any office to report to, but I’d set up a great working space in my house in the UK. My remote job allowed me the freedom to sometimes work from home when it suited me, and sometimes work from a beach in Thailand.
Working from co-working spaces by day, sunbathing on the beach at lunch. I used to spend my mornings in a coffee shop, drinking cappuccino whilst catching up on work emails. At 30, it seemed I’d finally found the work-life balance I’d been searching for. I’d never been happier to do my work.
Covid-19 changed everything.
In March, stay-at-home orders became the norm across most major countries. For many of us that meant sheltering in place, following the rules of quarantine, adapting to new travel restrictions, and dealing with limitations on our time outside of the home. For me it meant moving from Asia to Canada so I wouldn’t be separated from my partner under new travel restrictions.
As we struggled to adapt to this new normal, the lucky ones of us who could work from our computers quickly retreated to our homes. One by one, all my office-going friends landed what I’d always viewed as the ultimate gig: working from home. But this was far from a ticket to a lifestyle of freedom. Something was very different. And it didn’t take long for people to start complaining.
“How did you do remote work all these years? I’m going crazy cooped up here at home,” one friend told me over a Zoom call back in March.
It was hard for me to believe that people might not like working from home. I had always loved it so much. For me, the change in my work situation was due to government restrictions, not my actual working style.
Remote work was getting a bad name. The terms “remote work” and “work from home” became blurred. But, let’s face it, to work from home, under strict government orders to ONLY work from home, is not remote work. So before you lose all hope in remote work, here’s a few reminders of just how different remote work and working from home actually are.
Working from home difference no1: The Environment
Work at home or don’t work at home: flexibility is the key with remote work
When you work from home, the name says it all. You are literally working from your home. Depending on the type of home you have, that might be a good or a bad thing. Many remote workers choose to work from their home, but it’s just that: a choice. For those remote workers who have a good setup at home – such as a quiet space, a desk, and no family members around to distract them – working from home can be great.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a home big enough to double as an office, you can end up in a compromising situation. Suddenly your living room is your makeshift office, and your dog is the annoying coworker disturbing your work flow.
And that’s where working from home and working remotely have their first difference. As a remote worker, you can literally work anywhere. For example:
Coworking spaces can pretty much be found anywhere these days, from Panama to Poland. They generally offer uninterrupted internet, a sense of community, and an office-style environment without the disruptions, hierarchy, and competition.
The benefits of working from a coworking space are similar to those of working in an office. Except that if you hate your colleagues, you can always leave. Also, added benefit: your boss doesn’t work there.
Coworking spaces also tend to go out of their way to create the kind of social atmosphere that you might find in a regular office. Events, conferences and other activities are usually part and parcel of your coworking membership. The main benefit is that you can use these social events as an icebreaker to meet other remote workers, or as a business networking opportunity.
Coffee shops are usually touted as the poor man’s alternative to coworking spaces. However, as long as you can resist the constant temptation of lamingtons and lattes, working from a coffee shop can encourage a little fresh inspiration. You can also switch up your environment each day, trying a different coffee shop for each day of the week.
As a remote worker, if you choose to work from home, you’ll have the freedom to switch up your location when it suits you. So under normal circumstances (as opposed to pandemic ones) you can always go to a coffee shop if your internet cuts out or if your neighbour is mowing the lawn.
Many remote workers work from home and this may be harder to imagine for those living in smaller spaces in the city. When looking at this as a long-term lifestyle shift, one of the major benefits of not having to go to an office is that you do have options to live further away from the city. Living in the suburbs, or perhaps even further away, means you will get more bang for your buck. If a home office is out of your reach right now, would this perhaps be something that would be possible if you moved further from the city?
If you’re not planning on moving anytime soon, there are also things you can do in your home to ensure you have everything that you need around you. A comfortable quiet space is key. I do also suggest switching things up regularly and making use alternative workspaces once or twice a week to get fresh inspiration.
Working from home, under usual circumstances, might offer an opportunity (or have a mandatory policy) that you need to go to your office once in a while. As a remote worker, there is no obligation to show up to an office. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have an office though.
If co-working spaces feel a bit too busy, and coffee shops a bit too buzzy, there’s always the option to set up your own office. Sometimes a few remote workers might agree to rent an office space together, to separate home from work. This allows you to keep a regular routine of gossip by the water cooler and perhaps a small commute, whilst negating all the pressures of being in an actual office.
At the end of the day, when you work remotely, you have full control over your workspace. The vibe is yours to create, however you want it. You are in charge of organising the feng shui. And you are responsible for picking and choosing the team that you want around you during your working day. Is your partner talking loudly on a conference call? Go to a coffee shop. Internet down at the coffee shop? Jump into a co-working space. You can’t beat that kind of flexibility!
Working from home difference number 2: Flexibility
Working from home before COVID-19 was something that you did once a week to get a change of scenery, whilst spending the rest of your time in the office. You were expected to work at the same time as your team members, and there was no change to your hours or workload.
Working remotely is a little different. If you’re working from home right now for a company that has never done this before, it’s likely that you’re not getting much flexibility.
For more established remote companies, things tend to work a little differently. Since there’s usually some variance in the timezones of a specific team, many remote workers find their hours more flexible. Ultimately it is up to you to organise yourself. So if you prefer to start your workday at 11am and finish up at 7pm, then very often, you can.
When you work from home, you are expected to come to the office whenever required. When working remotely, you are under no obligation to be in any specific location. One of the major benefits of this is the ability to travel. Forget saving up days off for two weeks of holiday a year. If you want to you can go and spend five months in Thailand. Or you could visit friends on the other side of the country for a few weeks. Whatever and wherever you want to be, the only limit is your internet connection. Given that most of the world has no problem delivering high-speed internet, the world is your oyster.
Working from home difference no 3: company culture
None of us could have ever predicted what happened to us in 2020. Most companies were forced to let staff work from home quickly and without preparation. For many companies, this meant that they were simply not ready for the challenges of creating a positive remote culture.
The thing is that without consideration to remote culture, it’s easy to experience a breakdown in communication. This can leave staff feeling confused or even isolated. It is simply not enough to just expect employees to work in exactly the same way as they did in the office.
Steve Jobs once famously said “creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”
Jobs was referring to the kind of meetings that happen when people are in the office. But these spontaneous meetings do happen for remote workers. Even better, these meetings aren’t limited to just the office. You might meet an entrepreneur in a coworking space in Costa Rica who offers you a perspective you hadn’t considered yet. Or, from the comfort of your own home, you might feel more confident to express your ideas in a Zoom meeting.
For companies who don’t want to lose the spontaneity of idea-sharing that can happen when staff are offered the opportunity to freely chat, it’s important to build a creative culture of communication amongst remote workers. Automattic, the billion dollar remote company that boasts not using offices or emails, features a clear company culture statement on their website: “Communication is oxygen for a distributed company.”
Many work-from-home companies are still learning how to navigate their new tools of virtual communication.
So what’s the good news?
2020 gave us an accelerated leap into the world of remote work. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter have already claimed that in the future their workers may become permanently remote. So if you feel you’ve been getting the worse end of the deal by working from home under lockdown without reaping the benefits of remote work, then life is about to change. The demand for remote workers since the start of the pandemic is growing faster than Netflix’s profit margins. So if you’ve always dreamed of remote flexibility, there’s never been a better time to land yourself a dream remote job. Head on over to our job site and see what’s out there. Lockdowns are coming down and the time to get the golden ticket to remote work life is now.