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Remote work is rarely what you think it is

The Remote Work and Freelance trends are fluctuating. Sometimes it's on the rise, sometimes it loses its popularity. There are people who try this lifestyle for some time and eventually switch to 9-5 hours job in a company. Some people are in and out in the freelance. Some prefer to combine their regular job and see freelance or remote projects as a side income. The latter option is quite popular for creatives.

The Reality of Remote Work

If you search the topic online you may see lots of articles from big blogs that quite often repeat the same thing. What you see in the media is an attempt to drive the narrative. And that's not even a secret anymore.

The true reality of Remote Work is that no one will tell you exactly how it's supposed to be or what 5, 10, or 15 steps will help you to achieve your success. Of course, a guide, a book, or a forum may reveal to you some of the techniques and things that you can try. However, the outcome you get totally depends on your thinking and your actions. At the end of the day, you create your reality.

Can you be more productive by working remotely?

The facts don't lie. People are more productive by working remotely no matter where it is. Whether it's a work from home or a cafe. You can choose your comfort and preferred level of noise. Yeah, some people really need background noise to be more productive. Some people prefer to stay closer to their families and they feel more productive in life if they can switch between tasks and, for example, some home errands. A quick chat here and there makes us naturally more connected. Of course, everyone can find their balance. Generally speaking, this lifestyle can be quite productive even tho we think it's counterproductive to switch your focus here and there on non-related things. If you closely pay attention to the end result then you see how it works.

Of course, you may want to find the working hours that are the most productive in your case. The same goes for a place to work and your work desk. Sometimes you really need this ergonomic desk and chair. Sometimes, we don't care and just want to get things done quickly because an idea is flashing through our minds.

Are remote workers happier?

In my opinion, yes and many many experienced freelancers have a similar stance.

There are many reasons why and one that's the most important is that you're more in control of your life. That means that the whole 24-hour cycle, 7 days a week, weeks, months, seasons, and years is completely in your control. You decide when you work and when you close a laptop and do whatever. You can even have years off.

I read a story about one studio in New York some years ago and what they did is they worked full-time for several consecutive years in a row without a break and then they closed their studio for a year and went to Bali for the whole year and what they did there is, of course, chill a lot and making some fun creative project or several like a documentary or art movie.

You don't have to do it like this and honestly, it might be unproductive to leave everything behind and fly to Bali or Thailand if you just starting your remote journey. Believe me, I saw people like this popping out in those places claiming that they have an original idea of a book or a course even tho they do it the first time in their lives. Then suddenly they disappeared and that's no longer the case.

However, whatever you do is your experience and if you truly want to risk it I'd say go for it. You will learn a lot. Although, make sure you have some savings at least for the first 6 months or so.

Unpredictable things like that even if stressful at times are making us happy in a way. Especially, at times when we recall those moments and reflect on them in a good way. I think that's our true nature and perhaps that's why the word "freelance" consists of two words "free" and "lance" which in my opinion means a free borderless journey somewhere.

What are the most common obstacles in remote work?

Some of the biggest obstacles I found throughout all those years are differences in perception of time, evaluation of projects, and remote communication. Let me explain each one in detail.

Perception of time

We all have some common ground about how the time runs. First of all, it runs in cycles, and every cycle is enveloped in a bigger cycle. The whole concept of time is another separate and perhaps esoteric topic that I might cover in a separate post. Let's just take it as a base for now since we're all affected by the laws of physics here.

There are certain differences in how we perceive time even tho it's based on cycles (i.e., 24 hours in a day, weeks, months, years, decades, etc.) I think there are many reasons for that and it can be even unproductive to figure out which perception is right and which one is wrong.

This is mostly about the issue of a vast amount of business people who prefer to track time and pay for time spent on work. There is an unfathomable amount of issues and conflicts that exist and are recorded in the business world and in the world itself from the moment people started perceiving and relying on time.

At the end of the day, what's one hour for one is different for someone else. And that only creates so much miscommunication and separation in our working relationships. Perhaps, the only case that is useful for the time to be used is like a meeting point to discuss things synchronously. That leads me to another topic.

Remote communication

I used to work in a startup company and we had a lot of meetings to discuss design solutions, user experience, concepts, and road maps. It felt good at the point where everyone seemed on the same page and it's clear what to do. However, most of the design topics and questions raised in meetings couldn't be fully covered in just one meeting which was already for an hour or two. I realize, that having an agenda and proper preparation for a meeting could make it more productive in multiple ways. I did my part, but most of the time it's just guesswork since you don't really know what other participants were thinking before the meeting.

That issue with the meeting easily falls in the case of remote meetings over Skype, Zoom, or whatever call or video call software you are familiar with. It's a rare case people prepare for those meetings and at least have a list with bullet points that they want to cover. And I'm not even covering the usual case of moving the date and time of the meeting and time differences if participants are spread out in the world. So that can easily delay the project for weeks or even months. It's really important, in the case of creative work since there is a focus involved, and usually things become really difficult to focus on and boring for designers.

Personally, I prefer the async type of communication. Meaning, you don't have to wait for a meeting and rely on time. You just spew it out, whatever idea you have in your mind and your teammates can see it whenever they're online or open a project and reply whenever they feel like it. It's not only my personal choice, but also it's proven to be a much more productive way of collaboration.

And to be honest with you, there are so many online tools right now that allow you to share screenshots, screencasts, video messages, voice messages, text messages, share designs, and comment on them, — that, I believe, you no longer have the excuse of scheduling another meeting just to make things clear. Although, it might be helpful in some cases, but not in a general case.

Evaluation of projects

There are two most common issues with remote projects, unlike an office job. You need to find them and you need to land them. To do the latter you need to evaluate the project.

The biggest issue with that one is relation to time. You see, creative projects and creative routines hardly can be put on a linear time scale. This topic may be controversial and I may face some opposition in this, but that's fine. There are no rights or wrongs. I'll just share my opinion and you can try things on your own to see what works best for you.

I prefer to evaluate projects taking into account the amount of focus and energy involved. Again, most people will disagree with me and say that it's not feasible and it's simply easier to use time for this. The keyword here is "simply"...

In cases like this, I see time as a crutch, but not as a fundamental thing you can put creativity on. Those don't mix well together from my experience.

Another idea that I saw online and it kind of made sense to me is to evaluate projects in relation to the value they bring as a result of their work. This one logically is correct and it's a sort of win-win strategy for both, the client and the freelancer. However, most of the time a client might not be able to define a value or might not be comfortable sharing insightful information. Especially, if there are no trustful relationships yet, which is very common when you're trying to land the first project with this particular client.

The energy concept works the best in most cases, but it requires you to better know yourself and what you're doing. How do you spend your energy? What things are you focused on the most? And no, it's not guessing the price. In this case, your evaluation is based on many aspects, feelings, and processes involved in designing, coding, and basically creating things. Perhaps, I need another post to expand more on this topic since I need to cover other "remote work" questions here.

Remote work with no experience

I think everyone can start a remote work journey and learn along the way. In fact, I started freelancing back in the days before I even finished the web-design course. I thought just to try and see how it goes.

You may need to show some examples of what you did before applying for jobs. Those examples can be fun projects or completely imaginary clients. Also, you can ask friends and relatives if they need anything to do in fields you're interested in. It may be sort of a pro-bono project, basically, done for free. However, it must be something interesting you can create a case study from. Ideally, put it on your website. However, just a PDF will be enough for the start.

I don't think that learning software is difficult despite what most courses are claiming. I've learned Photoshop for several days just sitting in my bedroom in front of a computer and spending evenings after school. Don't worry, those software certificates do not make you unique in the recruiter's and product manager's view. So this experience is not worth too much of your attention.

Learn, learn, learn. Your knowledge base and experience are the must. Books may seem boring but actually have more depth in topics related to what you're doing or going to do. Blogs are mostly summarizing things, and maybe showing some quick snippets. Videos are fun to watch, but they're hypnotizing in a way. Make sure you're not wasting too much of your focus on that.

Remote creative jobs across the world

The whole point of remote work or freelancing is that you can find a job or a project that's location-independent. Meaning, you don't have to be in the same city or country where your employer or client is located. You are pretty much free to choose a place where you want to be, not because the job is there, but because you want to live there and/or be surrounded by you people and nature you like the most.

When you switch to remote and don't have many attachments to the place you are in right now or simply want to change the scenery for some time you may ask where to go.

Remote places to work

The best answer is always the one you find yourself. However, I can give you some useful tips.

It's easy to follow the mainstream path and go to places like Thailand and more specifically Chiang Mai or Bali, Indonesia as the most advertised Digital Nomad spots. Then get yourself a membership in a co-working space, meet other nomads, and lose yourself in all that. However, that's not something I'd recommend you to do unless you really want to try this experience yourself. I've tried that and to be honest with you it didn't feel right. The whole movement became too commercial and something important was lost along the way. The most creative moments I've had were not in co-working spaces and not in Digital Nomad communities, but in simple cafes and hotel rooms outside usual hours and daily routines. This is something, I think everyone needs to discover themselves. Find your sweet spot, be chaotic, and creative, and just try things.

Max Snitser

Written by

Max Snitser – maker of RemoteCreators.

Designer, indie-maker, long-term traveler.

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