So you want to sit on the beach with your laptop answering emails, dishing out for loops and making out like a thief while doing it?
The funny thing about working remotely, is that people who have never done it think it's the most amazing thing on the planet, because they imagine all kinds of fanciful scenarios, like working from the beach with your laptop and an infinite battery supply, and somehow not wrecking it with the amount of moisture in the air or near infinite sand particles surrounding you from all angles. Or you picture your fantastic standing desk at home typing away for hours on end to applause and cheers from your fans. Or a combination of both scenarios.
And then you have people who have worked remotely for years upon years. Who wish they had a stable internet connection or another human to communicate with after years of isolation. And somewhere in the middle, you have people who made it work through a careful balance of both lifestyles. Though never fully enough to really find that place of work Nirvana that many folk imagine.
I have spent the past few years working remotely for my own startup and consulting company, and while it works for me, it did not come without some challenges. As with everything, practice makes perfect.
You need internet and power
I don't know where people think internet comes from, but normally it's through a giant box plugged in to your wall somewhere with an electrical outlet. Which means just one thing. You will most likely not stray too far from either your home or some convenient coffee shop around your block. For security reasons, you are better off at home in this case.
Hotspots are there sure, but you'll need some type of unlimited data plan on your phone and having your mobile hotspot turned on is a battery drain for sure. So maybe having power bricks in your backpack or bag can be helpful. And the wires to make it all happen. Unless of course you are packing an LTE ready laptop, which are very convenient in this case. I recommend the Surface Pro w/ LTE if you are going to go that route.
While it is possible to work as a programmer or web designer without internet, it isn't the most ideal scenario. You won't be able to Google things (which is important), and you won't be able to use any 3rd party external libraries while you do so. You'll need to have a copy of all of your projects directly on your laptop, and this can be cumbersome and add time to your deadlines.
Coffee is expensive
One of the coolest things about working in an office (at least for me) was the unlimited streams of coffee that poured through the ether into my cup each and every day. If I were to estimate the cost, it would be somewhere around 8-15 dollars worth per day. When someone else is footing the bill, you don't really think about it or notice it. When you are responsible for that cost however, you wonder how you were able to make a living in the past.
But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a solid cup of joe. I've had to learn to adapt. And so now I enjoy a freshly ground and french pressed cup of coffee from my own hands each and every morning. Much more affordable than stepping outside every few hours for a cup or even popping in a k-cup.
It's more work to manage your time
People don't realize sometimes that having a project manager right next to you can be a huge asset. They communicate project needs in real time to you, which both makes your job easier, and it also makes it less stressful as you end up guessing much less about how to do certain things. Learning to effectively manage your own time and not get distracted with your non-office environment can be challenging to most. Particularly if you are new to remote working and have no idea what that means.
If you are sitting in a cubicle at work, it's somewhat difficult to surf the web watching the latest "You won't believe who..." videos or articles. And not just because you are afraid of what people will think of you, but also because your time is limited. You are only at work for 8 hours on average, and so you want to be effective to go home on time.
If you work remotely however, you are kind of responsible for handling of all of your nervous habits, like scrolling through Instagram or having YouTube in the background autoplay video after video. You have to practice self-control over and over until it becomes second nature. And the same goes or focus, which also isn't as natural to us as we'd like to think.
No feedback mechanism
Another challenge, is the lack of information that you have access to during your day to day work. Normally if you have an issue with a task at work, you can lean over to a co-worker and hash out a solution together. If there is some misunderstanding on a project, you can just as easily If you are working remotely, while you might have access to co-workers, more than likely they are an email away and the response time will be variable depending on the person.
Working in a team environment is also vital, if you wish to work on more complex projects at some point in your career. For example, working on servers handling millions of monthly visitors or web applications with high volume and high traffic. These normally involve many different parties working together in order to make the magic happen.
If you are more experienced however, then perhaps you can bypass this aspect of work. You'll have your software and hardware needs met and you'll know how to get things done more efficiently. Cloud based environments make this much easier these days as they can handle much of a companies architecture right through the browser. But again, it takes time to get to the higher levels.
We don't yet live in the age where everyone works from tropical paradises and amazing work gets done. For now, employers mainly want you in their chair from a certain time to a certain time. So if you truly want some form of remote employment, then you are going to have to spend a little extra time looking for it. Which is to say, you will be more limited overall.
And if you are early in your career, then this will be especially more difficult. Very few companies would be willing to fully trust a junior developer on their projects without some type of oversight. Not to mention, if you are early in your career, you probably don't have the experience yet to handle many things that most companies face on a day to day.
I would say don't strive to go remote right out of the bat. If it happens, great. But if a regular office job extends an offer, I would not turn it down in the beginning.
It gets old eventually
The biggest challenge is that like with anything in life, eventually you will become accustomed to your new environment and will begin to look for the next novelty event in life. Which is perfectly fine. Life is about trying new things and getting bored with old things. And it is no different with working remotely. I have worked remotely for the past 3 years now, and while I still find huge benefit for me personally as I work on my many clients, this did not come easy. I have had to learn to be fully responsible for every word that I type and every email that goes out, which is not the norm in the traditional work environment.
No, I don't work on the beach. I work on my corner desk at home with a cup of coffee next to me, my Surface Laptop and a notebook. And I thoroughly enjoy it. It's about enjoying the process, and not about trying to get away from it. Most people think that working remotely is great because they can either work less or they can get away with more things, and if this is the mentality going into a career, then just maybe the career isn't for you. You should enjoy the work regardless of where it happens. Be like water.
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Walter G. is a software engineer with over 10 years of professional experience. When he isn't blogging or being a CTO he enjoys coding randomly complex things that he hopes many people will get a chance to use one day.