The remote work lifestyle is easy to idealize, but it can be a real challenge in practice. I found this out firsthand this year, when I transitioned to my first 100% remote job.
Let me tell you, the peaceful “laptop on the beach” photos you see on Instagram look a lot more hectic when you add two young boys and a busy husband to the equation!
That said, transitioning away from 20 years in a traditional office environment has overall been a hugely positive experience for me. While I always traveled for work, I’d never worked completely untethered from physical office locations before.
So, I’d like to share my experience: the pros and cons I’ve discovered, how it’s impacted my approach to personal finance, and the top tips I’d offer to other working Moms pursuing a similar career path.
Biggest Benefits: Freedom and Family
Freedom of Schedule
Freedom of schedule has been one of my biggest wins in this transition. I get to decide when I work and when I go to the gym. In the event of an emergency, I can just go. If one of my kids is sick I can easily pick them up at school.
Virtual jobs have the benefit that you can work from anywhere. So although I do 60% of my work from home, I do the rest of it from coffee shops, poolside, Mom & Dad’s, and the park.
More Family Time
My family has greatly benefited from this change. I am not stressed to get myself ready in the morning while I get the kids ready for school. I can work out in the middle of the day, which means I get more time with the kids in the evening, or I can sleep in later (because I was getting up at 4:30am to go for my morning run). Or if the kids have been up sick at night, I can make up for lost sleep during the day.
Overall, I am more relaxed, and this has clearly made an impact in my home environment.
Biggest Challenges: Distraction and Personal Finances
Let me start by saying I have children, ages 5 & 6, and I live in a condo. We have toys everywhere. I mean, everywhere. It’s peaceful when they’re at school, but when they’re back… well, let’s just say they’re regular visitors in my conference calls.
While other remote workers on my team often talk about their trouble setting aside dedicated work time, my challenges have mostly been related to balancing my kids’ schedules.
Financial and Tax Complexity
Virtual employment comes in the shape of W2 (employee) or 1099 (self employed/independent contractor). I fall into the latter group, and it certainly had an impact on my bank account. I immediately saved on gas since I no longer had to take my car out every day. We don’t go out to eat as frequently.
I am not rushed to get things done, and that’s good for the soul and the wallet. I get more out of my gym membership, since I am able to attend daytime group classes. Habits have changed as well, like paying more attention when I am food shopping. I no longer rush through like a maniac buying things I think I need.
On the flip side, I am also responsible for my own health, life, disability insurance, and retirement or IRA accounts. If you are looking to make the transition, this is something to consider. There is more compensation upfront, but I have to be conscientious to set money aside to make estimated quarterly payments of withholding taxes.
Income can be variable so I have learned to set money aside (more than I used to) for unexpected expenses. I also use Skype to make and receive all of my business calls and use it to communicate with colleagues located in other regions of the world.
Prior to making my transition I already had my laptop, tablet and phone — and so far everything is in working order. The costs of setting up my home office or fixing anything that breaks are my own expenses. I have learned what expenses can be used as write offs, and have become very organized in my very chaotic household. I file receipts and invoices right away and keep close track of personal and business expenses. Personally I use DropBox for receipt tracking, although there are plenty of dedicated services for this.
Fuzzy Work-Life Separation
This is the downside to all that schedule flexibility — I am a workaholic, so it is difficult to stop working sometimes. I often feel like there’s something that I can “catch up on” or squeeze a little more value out of. And because I can work poolside, or from a coffee shop, or from basically anywhere with internet access, it is hard to disconnect and turn things off.
In a world where we live connected to our technology, I have had to learn to disconnect and make time for family.
3 Tips for Making a Smooth Transition
Establish a Dedicated Workspace
My home “office” was probably the simplest change I had to consider. Of course I already had a laptop and have worked from home before, but it’s one thing to work from home occasionally, and another thing altogether to work from home.
Let me start by saying that my boys are ages five and six, and we live in a condo. We have toys everywhere. I used to always set up shop at the kitchen table, but I found that sharing the space for different parts of my life ultimately took a chunk out of my productivity.
Now, I’ve set up a little personal corner for myself that is “work only,” opposite the puzzles, books and kids’ kitchenette, but next to a great big window with lots of natural sunlight. It can be a very chaotic corner at times, but luckily I haven’t stepped barefoot on any legos (fingers crossed).
It has a wired internet fiber connection and a lovely view. Aside from keeping my head clear and on-task, this also has helped send the “Mommy is busy” signal to my kids when they’re arguing over games or need attention.
Learn Your Communication Tools Inside-Out
I can’t stress this enough: especially in a non-technical role, communication platforms like Skype, Slack, and Trello are where you’ll spend huge amounts of your time on a digital team. Taking the time to learn my hotkeys (Trello finally got a desktop app!) absolutely pays off and saves tons of time. If you’re coming from outside the tech world, I’d recommend taking crash courses in basic collaboration suites like Slack and Basecamp on something like Lynda.com.
Have a Plan B for Internet Access
As a remote worker, Internet is as essential as water. Having a plan B in place for when it inevitably goes down is critical. The easiest way to do this is just make sure your phone plan comes with tethering that works.
In a pinch, I can get by on 1 Mbps tethering for basic workflows. Having a cheap portable hotspot is also advisable, especially if you plan to frequently work from coffee shops. Rather than using their sketchy public Wi-Fi, it’s a good idea to use a personal hotspot when signing into critical company accounts. At the very least, using a VPN is a must for working on the go.
It’s also worth making sure you have the best possible home Internet connection. If you can get fiber, it’s absolutely worth the expense in order to avoid all the packet loss and sketchy image quality you get when trying to video conference over a budget DSL connection. My current employer maintains a useful searchable Internet coverage database tool to compare plans in your zip code.
The last few months have required adjustments on my part but so far they are well worth it. I am more motivated, I am less stressed and I am simply happier.
Ana de Castro cut her teeth as an SAP consultant for Deloitte during the original tech boom, and now works in a communications role in the telecom industry. When she isn’t explaining technical concepts to confused consumers, she enjoys working out and being a Mom to two rambunctious kids.