Over the last five years, more and more employees have been ditching the office in favor of remote work: as of 2017, approximately 43% of employed Americans said they spent “at least some time” working remotely, or telecommuting. Some want more control over their schedules, some are tired of their commutes, and others don’t want to be tied to a certain location. About 52% of remote workers are female, several of whom choose to telecommute for the sake of childcare and other domestic responsibilities.
As remote work grows more popular, many proponents have begun to preach its benefits. On the surface, it does sound appealing: you can work in your pajamas, avoid rush hour, and step out in the middle of the day to meet with a friend or pop into a yoga class. For the growing number of millennials interested in international travel, it’s also enticing. But while remote work comes with some serious bonuses, it also has its drawbacks. As more employees explore this option, it’s important to examine the issue from a balanced perspective.
During the fall of 2017, I worked remotely for a few months and took full advantage of my flexibility. By the time I finished graduate school, I had some freelance writing work lined up, ensuring that as long as I had a WiFi connection, I could work from any location. I set off on a backpacking trip across Europe.
Here’s what I learned from the three months I spent working from my laptop.
Setting your own schedule is a huge perk. While I still had to be mindful of meeting certain deadlines, having full control over my own schedule was freeing. It was easy to work in the downtime between visits to attractions. I could also take advantage of time spent in transit, working on assignments during long layovers, train rides, and even flights. I finally understood why so many people were drawn to remote work—it definitely helped me achieve the elusive “work/life balance” that everyone seems to be striving for.
Remote work allows for greater leisure time and travel flexibility. I no longer had to request days off or squeeze in short trips around my job—instead, I could travel for as long as I wanted. Working while traveling does present some challenges, but these are easily mitigated. For example, I had to choose accommodation with strong WiFi and a comfortable space to work, keep track of the time difference between my location and those of my clients back in America, and convert payments in U.S. dollars to local currency. Choosing destinations with lower costs of living helped me avoid financial stress.
With a little practice, dealing with these logistics became second nature (and it turns out they’re really handy life skills in addition to being beneficial professionally). Working remotely allows employees to travel without worrying about using up vacation days, and it also gives people the opportunity to live in the city of their choice, no matter where their employer is located.
The lack of stability can be tough. While working remotely on the road, I had no daily routine. Even after I stopped traveling and returned home to America, I still found it hard to stick to a healthy, productive routine week after week.
It has taken a few months to figure out what works for me, and I’ve learned that committing to activities that get me out of the house on a regular basis has helped. Going to yoga classes in the morning and volunteering at the animal shelter twice a week has brought some much needed consistency to my life.
It’s easy to slip into loneliness. While some people may enjoy the peace and quiet of remote work, others might miss chatting with coworkers and meeting other professionals in their industries. I often found myself feeling grateful that I could work alongside my boyfriend, whom I was traveling with, and meet other travelers on city tours. With a growing number of U.S. adults struggling with loneliness and feelings of social disconnectedness, making an effort to be social is crucial if you’re working remotely. Spend the afternoon getting work done at your favorite coffee shop, schedule nights out with friends, or join an organization that helps you get involved in your community.
After my trip ended, I chose to continue telecommuting. For me, the pros outweigh the cons, but it might not be for everyone. If you’re one of the many people interested in remote work, consider how you could structure your days and make time to be social. Whether you’re working from home or from an office, it’s important to find a balance that works for you.
By Jane Harkness