Remote Work: How to Make It Work for You

Published: July 23, 2021 at 8:05 am

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

In this article, Vishal Kataria explains how to become an effective remote worker, be it an employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur. He has more than seven years of experience as a remote worker and has taken the trouble to interview friends with the same lifestyle to get their insights.

The idea for this article came to him after seeing several discussions on remote working and freelancing on the Facebook group Asan Ideas for Wealth (AIFW). He feels many struggles to make sense of remote work, and there are many misconceptions associated with it. When he offered to hold an AMA (ask me anything) at AIFW, group admin Ashal Jauhari suggested that he first write about it at freefincal. This is part one of a two-part series.

About the author: Vishal Kataria is a senior editor at Sportskeeda. He also blogs about productivity, creativity, remote working, and more on his own website, Vishipedia, and hosts a podcast named The Vishipedia Show.

The cruel pandemic has been taken more away from us than human lives. It has deeply affected how we live as well. Locked down, people are forced to work longer hours and weekends yet get paid less than their salaries. There’s no such thing as work-life balance anymore, only managers who make nasty statements like, “You’re lucky you have a job.”


“Earlier, when there was ‘office’, there was a fine line between office and home,” Sonali Brahma wrote. “Today, that fine line has vanished… Calls start as early as 6 and continue late. There is no such thing as calling it a day. The household chores, family mealtimes, even breakfast and dinner have been sent into oblivion.”

Clearly, such a lifestyle is not sustainable. No wonder up to 62 per cent of Indians are looking to switch jobs, partly because they just want a “fresh start” and partly because they’ve discovered that remote work works if companies can get the model right.

“If we have learnt one thing in the last year, it’s that we are no longer bound to traditional notions of space and time when it comes to how, when, and where we work.” — Rajiv Sodhi, COO, Microsoft India.

74 per cent of Indians are keen on working remotely, which is great news. Commute times will drop, people can move to less expensive places and work flexible hours, and productivity will increase.

But the question you’re probably grappling with is, “Is remote working good for me?” It might appear cool right now, but how will you feel about it a year down the line when normalcy resumes?

If remote working doesn’t appeal to you, you can stop reading. But if you’re curious about the idea, this post contains insights from people who’ve transitioned from the office space to remote work, including me.

I’ve been working remotely since 2014. For one year out of the seven, I worked as a freelance management consultant who visited client sites, so that doesn’t count as remote work. For the rest of the years, though, I alternated between freelancing, entrepreneurship, and employment, all remote.

I started off as a freelance content marketer before I began a profitable agency. But I got bored to tears while offering services, so I pulled the shutters and became a senior editor at Sportskeeda. Now, I write on my own site and host a podcast alongside freelance work.

How Does Remote Work Work?

Remote working, Work From Home (WFH), or telecommuting, is a flexible working arrangement that lets people work from outside corporate offices. Such an arrangement can help work-life balance, increase access to career opportunities, and reduce commute costs and time. (This is for typical remote work, not the haphazard kind that has been forced upon us since 2020.)

You can work remotely as an employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur.

An employee is on a company’s payroll. A freelancer offers services to others, like coaching, consulting, graphics designing, writing, being a health instructor, and so on. An entrepreneur owns a business that hires people and machines to offer products or services to customers.

According to a McKinsey report, the sectors with the highest potential for remote work include finance, management, professional services, and IT. Meanwhile, sectors like hospitality, retail, food service, teaching, and healthcare, genuinely struggle the most to adopt it.

Potential for remote work for different sectors
Potential for remote work for different sectors—source: McKinsey report linked above.

What’s it like to work remotely

In this section, I’ll highlight the pros and cons of remote working.

The Pros

1 Flexibility: At the office, we have to clock in at a specific time and clock out AFTER specific times. Managers will complain when you’re late to clock in but not say a word when you clock out late. (In fact, they expect it. Gaah!)

In remote work, the focus is on results more than the number of hours you clock. Companies may mandate a few hours when you should be available for ease of collaboration. Barring that, you have the flexibility to start and end your day.

And did I mention no commute?

Companies that have figured out how WFH works will offer you the flexibility to manage your schedule and even handle a few personal matters during work hours so long as you meet your deliverables, which are clearly articulated during the hiring process itself.

2. Want That Dream Job? It’s Yours

Don’t you feel bad when you can’t apply for a job opening because it’s in a different city? Isn’t it tedious to uproot your entire life and move to a new city if the new job demands it?

In remote work, you don’t have to compromise. You can have the cake and eat it too. You can apply for job roles that match your skills and push you to the next level regardless of where they are in the world. Or you can enlist your freelance services on Fiverr, Upwork, and LinkedIn to land international clients who pay better.

Roles that have been introduced in the last few years in particular offer more remote working flexibility. These include data analysis, community management, digital marketing, Business Development, programming, a virtual assistant, and more.

3. Fewer Interruptions

At the office, we would keep getting called or tapped on our shoulders by colleagues and bosses who wanted information quickly. In the pandemic era, such interruptions have gone through the roof. Meetings, IMs, and emails have more than doubled because colleagues cannot peer over their desks to see you buried in an important report.

This problem is a result of companies malpractices from the office and applying them to WFH. Remote work is not just a shift in location; it’s a shift in mindset, from being busy just for the sake of it to being busy on tasks that help achieve a goal.

When clients or employers are result-oriented, they rarely interrupt your day with ad-hoc meetings. You get extended chunks of time to work on a specific task, thus improving the speed and quality of your output. You also have the bandwidth to actively learn and apply the skills you need to improve in your role.

This is why people with flexible work hours, particularly remote workers, are happier, motivated, and more productive.

The Cons

1. The Loneliness: Oh, the loneliness! This is the most common reason for people to leave the WFH culture and return to an office.

The feeling of being needed, seeing many faces, and having water-cooler chats go missing. Lunches are lonely, and you might speak to the same 2-3 people over and over again for days.

I used to work in isolation, and it felt ok for many years. But it finally caught up with me during the pandemic. Now I reach out to friends and acquaintances over the phone or Zoom. When we’re finally allowed to move out, I’ll meet more people regularly.

Your mental and physical health is paramount, especially if you work remotely. So don’t isolate yourself in a cave. Connect with teammates, go out for coffee and dinner with friends and acquaintances (this is also a great way to network), and do something for yourself every day.

2. Unavoidable Distractions

Interruptions at home are just as upsetting as those in the office. Your child may disrupt your work, or your parents might ask you to run to the store for a quick errand. (The latter happened with me a lot during the initial days of my WFH.)

It’s a good practice to set boundaries with family members. This is not selfish. It’s important. What would they do if you were at the office? Ask them to treat you the same way. You don’t have to lock yourself up in a room for nine hours, but you can ask them to not disturb you for two hours at a stretch. Then you can take a break to run errands or play with your children.

Another option is to work out of coworking spaces or cafes. This change in environment keeps you away from the TV and bed, makes you dress up rather than working in shorts, all of which increase your focus and productivity.

3. The Struggle to Refuse Overtime

A common drawback of WFH is the Always-On mode. At the slightest sight of boredom, you’re tempted to touch your laptop or smartphone in order to feel busy. (Been there, done that!)

And if your employer or client asks for some work real quick outside of office hours, you struggle to say no. According to a study, the ability of people working from home to refuse overtime is weak at best.

It takes weeks of practice to shake off this behaviour. Work is not a sprint, nor is it a marathon. It’s a lifelong journey, so enjoy it. VC Naval Ravikant says effective knowledge workers are like lions; they sprint when they feel inspired and then take a rest to rejuvenate. 

Rest is integral to your well-being. Invest your outside work-hours time in exercise, meditation, pursuing a hobby, and hanging out with family and friends. Get out of the workspace as well — explore new places within your city. Take mini-vacations. The more you refresh yourself, the less burned out you’ll feel.

Summary

“We need to take onus for our careers. We need to define productivity more broadly, which includes collaboration, learning, and well-being.” — Satya Nadella.

Remote working is not just a shift in the workplace; it’s a shift in the approach towards work. Done right, it can help you achieve larger goals, learn more skills, live a meaningful life, and become a better version of yourself.

You’re more likely to thrive as a remote worker if you’re a self-regulator in that you can work on tasks by yourself rather than have someone watching over you.

Being a self-starter is essential if you want to freelance and a good skill to have if you want to work for a company, but not a prerequisite for the latter. (You can also read this brilliant essay Paul Graham wrote in 2009 to get a better idea.)

Weighing the above points will help you decide how alluring WFH is. In the next post, I’ll discuss tried-and-tested steps you can take to discover freelancing opportunities.

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