It’s true: There are a lot of pluses to setting up office anywhere in the world. It’s something that I’d always romanced, particularly on days when previous jobs kept me confined to windowless cubicles and the hours ticked by painfully slow. The idea of working a job I loved with a great view from a cozy chair and hilltop bells sounding in the distance seemed, to me, the pinnacle of success.
And then I actually did it.
Don’t get me wrong. It is an incredible opportunity to be able to work wherever there’s Wifi, and I don’t take for granted the time I’ve had to do it. But after living and working in Italy — nine hours ahead of everyone else in my office in Los Angeles — I’ve learned that there’s quite a bit of adjustment no one prepares you for.
With that, it’s not a setup I would blindly recommend.
So, whether you’re daydreaming about working remotely or are officially preparing to take the leap, here’s my advice for keeping your sanity, your creativity and your job while off solo working abroad.
Prepare for guilt.
This may seem like an odd one, but I need to mention it. No matter where you are in the world, when you get to work remotely while your colleagues are at home commuting, guilt will creep in. This isn’t to say you have it better than them. (I believe everything has its trade-offs.) But subconsciously you may start to burden yourself with more than you intended to.
Taking on more than you should. Being afraid to speak up honestly. Over-analyzing email tones. Second-guessing yourself and your work. If you start to notice any of these things happening more than they used to, check in at the root. What’s the underlying fear? What’s the brutally-honest truth you’re believing in that instance? You don’t need to admit it to anyone, but giving yourself the freedom to be real with these answers will help you spotlight negative patterns and act quickly to correct them. You’ll then work from a place of confidence instead of insecurity, ultimately creating better work and healthier interactions for all.
What’s the brutally-honest truth you’re believing in that instance? You don’t need to admit it to anyone, but giving yourself the freedom to be real with these answers will help you spotlight negative patterns and act quickly to correct them.
Which leads me to my next point.
Know your boundaries. And stick up for them.
There is nothing wrong with boundaries. (Repeat that a few times for good measure.) Especially at work, and even when you’re able to work in a situation different from most.
Chances are, if you’ve been given the green-light to go remote or even if you’re a freelancer with a steady stream of work, it’s because you’re trusted and you’ve earned it. That’s a privilege you want to handle well and with that comes establishing and respecting boundaries – both yours and your office’s.
Prior to making your move, clearly lay out for your team the hours you’ll be available to work: at first during your transition and then after, once you’ve settled. Be conscious of their time zones and yours; know when to give and take, and try to overlap whenever possible. Prioritize weekly meetings, important phone calls and be willing to orient yourself to the majority.
That said, also know when to reschedule. Inevitably meetings will get pushed, run late or, depending on how far in the future you’re working, will intersect basic needs like eating dinner or going to bed. Just because you’re working far away doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become a robot. Politely remind co-workers of your availability when necessary or be willing to restructure a future work day to accommodate a reschedule on your end.
Assumptions turn to bitterness very quickly, so be clear with your needs while also going the extra mile to ask your co-workers’ needs, too.
Over-communicate. Then, double-check everything.
This goes with the above and it’s a very simple point. Do what you can to make your physical address a non-issue. When setting meetings or calls, do the hour math yourself and confirm in the other party’s time zone. Use bullet points and anticipate questions by thinking ahead to where someone in office-mode maybe wouldn’t. Boomerang important emails so they appear in inboxes at appropriate times, instead of getting lost in 2am spam slush piles.
This isn’t about being a superhero, but it is about realizing your ability to work remote lends itself to more flexibility and more opportunities to serve your staff than the other way around. Take advantage of this and, I promise you, everyone will be the better for it.
This isn’t about being a superhero, but it is about realizing your ability to work remote lends itself to more flexibility and more opportunities to serve your staff than the other way around.
Be ok with missing out.
Lastly, know that by working remotely you are going to miss out on cool stuff, both where you are and where the rest of your team is.
If keeping the above points in mind, this means that sometimes, no matter where you are in the world, in order to do your job well and be part of a team, you’ll have to be ok with saying no. “No” to that really cool late-night jazz club invite so that you can FaceTime with a co-worker during their lunch hour, or “no” to being part of a team retreat because you physically cannot make it to that closed-door session. Whatever it is, resign yourself to this truth ahead of time so that your expectations will not be unduly crushed.
Yet, also, work to counteract this. Maybe you can’t go to that evening event where you’re living, but maybe you can take advantage of a 9am locals’ market crawl. Maybe you can’t make it to the company holiday party, but maybe you can forward a funny email and make it a point to connect with a co-worker via Slack or Skype on a more personal level.
Truthfully, working remotely is wonderful and I believe it has a lot to offer our growing and evolving work environments. But I’ve also learned that a lax work desk shouldn’t equate to an absent-minded employee. The more freedom you have, the more responsibility you have. Hopefully, these tips will help you make the most of both.
Do you have a remote office? How do you make it work?
Images via Madison Holmlund