When it comes to being a remote employee I qualify in every sense of the word. I live on an island twelve miles out to sea in a community of barely 400 people. We have a single grocery store, a solo gas pump and a ferry that leaves just three times a day. And for my job? I work remotely from home as the Community & Content Manager for eCommerceFuel.
It wasn’t always like this for me. I worked as a writer for giant corporations for the past ten years before finding the job that allowed me to work from home. I tell people that being a remote employee has saved my relationship, my health and my sanity. If you’ve ever fantasized about what it’s like to work as a remote employee, here are some of the myths (I do not work in pajamas) and the truths (I kinda miss work parties) about what it’s like to have a laptop for an office.
My “Corporate America” Lifestyle
To be fair, I never disliked working in a corporate environment. It had a lot of great benefits. Employee banter across cubicle walls, paid vacations, a reason to get dressed in the morning. Over ten years ago I got my first full-time job working for a magazine before I had even graduated. Five days after donning my cap and gown, I went to work full-time.
Since I was saddled with student loans and a pretty measly salary, I lived at home for over a year, taking a 2-hour round trip train ride in and out of New York City. I usually got home after dinner and went right to bed, then I’d wake before the sun so that I could be back at my desk in time to start the work day.
I left the city life behind and moved to Maine, but my working situation still wasn’t ideal. This time is wasn’t a commute, but a long distance relationship with my lobsterman boyfriend that made things complex. His fishing grounds were on the island, and my job was located hours away. There was no option except to live apart and visit on weekends.
Something’s Gotta Give
After almost two years of living like this, we got engaged and something had to change. Since I was a writer by trade, it started to dawn on me that it was silly that I went into an office every day. My lobsterman didn’t really have a choice about where he could work, but I did. I decided to make the decision to leave my cushy job, my work friends, my employer-contributed 401K and go freelance until the right remote job came along, if such a thing existed.
Lessons from My First Year
Spoiler alert: the right ecommerce job did come along. I was hired not long after giving my notice from my corporate copywriter gig as the Community Manager here at eCommerceFuel. I’m currently typing this from my home office on the island. There’s a breeze blowing through the window. I’ll probably take a break in an hour to walk the dog on the beach. This morning I woke up early and did some yoga, without stressing out about clocking in to work at an exact time. And I’m fully dressed in normal clothes and not still in my yoga pants. For a remote employee, this is a good day.
But let’s not kid ourselves. I was at my desk by 8 a.m. sending new welcome emails and organizing an overflowing inbox. I hopped on my first phone call at 10 a.m. to try and work out logistics for eCommerceFuel Live 2015, our private forum conference I’m planning for 100+ likely attendees. Now I’ve got to finish some copywriting, work on a new email campaign, respond to members in the forum, attempt to finish this blog post, moderate the forum some more, desperately try and cure writer’s block by making a smoothie and try and cram four more hours of work into the day without any further distractions.
But I’m not complaining. Life as a remote employee is awesome, but as with any job, it has its downsides too.
I take better care of myself
I don’t know if I successfully packed more than ten homemade lunches in my ten years at a corporate job. I was constantly running out to grab a fast food salad or just subsisting on snacks throughout the day. I didn’t feel healthy. By the time I’d get home from work, the last thing I wanted to do was hit the gym or go for a run. Instead, I just wanted to plop myself on the couch and relax.
Now I exercise every day. I eat healthier because my kitchen is downstairs. And on days where I do feel like being completely lazy, it’s okay, because I can pull out my yoga mat in the morning and make it up to myself.
I was worried that working from home would cause me to be a lazy bum, but it’s had the opposite effect. I don’t have the benefit of a gym at the office anymore, but I never used it before anyways.
I can set my own hours
For the most part, I’ve got flexibility when it comes to how I put together my 40-hour workweek. If I want to catch an afternoon ferry or grab lunch with a friend, I don’t have anyone at the desk next to me asking me where I’m going.
I’m a major early bird too, so powering up my computer at 7 a.m. feels more natural to me than waiting for coworkers to show up after 9 in the morning so I can get started. I’m someone that needs an afternoon break and I look forward to going on a walk around my yard or running to the store. Now I can tailor how I work based on how I can be more productive.
There’s a terrible standard set in many corporate environments that you need to be the first one at your desk and the last one to leave. And as with all jobs, there’s the inevitable down time. Now when I have it I go on a run or treat myself to two (or ten) viral cat videos. But I don’t need to just sit at my desk pretending to be busy anymore.
I get more time with family, friends and husband
Most people that work in an office have a commute, strict hours or a stringent schedule that impedes on time with their family and loved ones.
Without a position as a remote worker, I’d probably still be living away from my husband. Now I get to see him every morning and every night. We eat dinner together, which is something I still get excited about.
And we’re finally able to have flexibility with where we live. Though we’re tied to Maine in the fishing season (which is the best time to be here anyways), we can now leave in the winter to escape the cold now that my home office is portable. Last winter we spent five weeks in Barcelona. Not too shabby.
I’ve become a better problem solver
One dilemma that consistently came up at past jobs was waiting around for a problem to be fixed. Whether it was waiting for a decision from an analyst about what subject line to use in an email or waiting for supervisors to approve a headline change, there was always a constant bottleneck when issues would arise.
Now I’m forced to figure out how to fix any issues that arise on my own and I’m encouraged to do so. When you’re part of a remote team, there’s an innate sense of trust from your employer that you can get things done without handholding. As with any job, it’s not physically being at your desk that signals you’re doing your work, but the confirmation that a task actually gets done.
Working hours are suddenly way more productive
Remote employees are still held accountable for daily and weekly tasks and as part of a remote team, I find that I’m even more available to my coworkers than I ever was in an office environment.
In the past, 50% of my time in the office was spent in meetings. Depending on the day, I’d often stop at my desk just to grab lunch in between meetings. Not only did this kill productivity, but many of the meetings seemed like a genuine waste of my time. Plus, I’d find people waiting on me or find myself stalking someone’s desk, waiting for them to get out of a meeting because I had a question only they he or she could answer.
Now when I hop on a Skype call with Andrew, it’s to go over a list of talking points we need to touch base on. Before it would be commonplace for me to sit in a two-hour meeting and not say a word. Now I find myself spending a few hours a week discussing super topical points or pinging someone on Skype and getting an almost immediate answer to something.
I have no friends
At least not at work. Sure, Henry the cat is purring behind me and Dutch the dog is often curled up by my feet, but I do miss human interaction on a daily basis. Even the time I spend with my coworkers on Skype is not the same as sneaking out to get a coffee with a cubicle buddy.
On days where I have a serious case of writer’s block, sometimes I wish I could just turn my chair around and bounce ideas off a fellow copywriter. Henry the cat is way less helpful in this department.
And don’t get me started on happy hour. Drinking alone is pitiful. When I want to unwind with a beer at the end of the day, it’s really just me, myself and I until a friend stops in or my husband comes home.
The loss of big corporate benefits
There are some really great perks to working for a big corporation. I miss my employer contributing to my 401K. I miss the office gym and even the office cafeteria. (Never thought I’d admit to that.) I miss having an excellent health care plan that was way better than the one I’m paying for now. At one job I even had paid “outdoor days” where I was paid to spend time outside. That was not terrible.
Admittedly, these are great perks from my past experiences, though not everyone working a corporate job gets treated this well. And to be fair, I do still have paid vacation time and a stipend for healthcare which is something I’m immensely grateful for.
But when you get off the corporate hamster wheel, you will inevitably give up a lot of the perks that come with it.
Self-motivating can be really hard
On days where I don’t feel like getting out of bed, it’s hard to get out of bed. When you work a desk job, it doesn’t matter how crummy you feel on a Monday morning, you’ve got to get up. Now it’s easier than ever to hit the snooze and roll back over since my commute only lasts 30 seconds.
And then there’s summer. Oh summer in Maine. We only get twelve amazing weeks of weather in Maine so on an 80-degree-and-sunny Thursday afternoon, I just want to be at the beach. It was painful when I worked in an office on these days, but when your car is right outside your window and your boss is nowhere in sight, it’s real tempting to just take a two-hour break and lay in the sun.
The truth is that sometimes I will. Sometimes I have days where I’ve been a slacker. I’ll do my tasks all morning and then enjoy the rest of the day. Then I’ll feel guilty about it, be stressed out about my growing to-do list the next morning and pray for a rainy rest of the week.
I tell myself that doing this once in a blue moon is okay. I try not to beat myself up about it. And if I’ve got to work for two hours on a Saturday or Sunday to make up for it, I’m happy to do it. Besides, once winter rolls around I can go days without leaving my house, so I like to think it all evens out in the end.
People don’t think I have a real job
Remote workers in this day and age are certainly commonplace if you work in an industry that uses them, but when I tell people my remote job requires me to work from home, I’m pretty sure they translate that to mean “Oh, so she’s unemployed.”
Lots of people ask me to do favors for them during the day. Friends expect me to be able to visit them for a midweek visit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. As with any job, I have daily tasks and coworkers that expect me to be available during workweek hours. I feel really guilty if someone drops by the house and there’s a sink of dirty dishes. I imagine them looking around and saying, “She’s home all day and this is what her house looks like?!” I frequently hang my head in shame at the state of my domestic duties since I am home for most of the day.
But my workday can go by quickly. I spend mornings focusing on daily tasks and by the time lunch rolls around, I haven’t left my office in nearly five hours. So yes, the breakfast dishes are still in the sink. And they probably will be until after dinner.
Many of the stigmas about working from home are not true, for me anyways. I do get dressed in real clothes every morning, I don’t watch Days of our Lives, I don’t have enough free time to run a tight domestic ship and I do actual work every single day. But I do miss human interaction and getting dressed up for meetings. And yes, sometimes those cubicles did invoke a sort of “I’m part of a community” spirit. There are things about corporate America that I miss.
But if you ask me on any given day if I’d trade places, I wouldn’t even hesitate. I love my life as a remote employee and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even the chance to win first place in the office “Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest” for the third year in a row. Though hey, maybe this year I can host one on Skype.