I’m a Gen Z remote employee, which means I both graduated from college and started my first full-time job on Zoom. For me, celebrating milestones through a screen isn’t a weird “new normal”; it’s how I entered into adult life.
This fact has a not-so-sunny side. It can be isolating to live through a computer screen, where I only see my coworkers on pre-scheduled work meetings. But the remote world also has its perks. For me, it’s shaped not just the way I work, but also the way I live my life holistically.
Starting my career remotely meant that I could work from anywhere in the world. I didn’t have to worry about uprooting my life so I could work in the city my company was located in; nor did it mean I had to worry about the financial burdens that come with such an adjustment.
It also meant that I spent more time with the people I was living with. In my childhood home, I walked downstairs from my “office” to where my dad was working remotely and filled him in on how the day was going. We ate lunch together and talked about work, but also what we wanted to have for dinner, or what to do that weekend. When I wanted another screen break, I went downstairs to pet my dogs or took a lap around my block.
Remote work means I have the physical time to spend with people I usually wouldn’t. Now, my roommates and I take coffee breaks and discuss what’s going on in our work lives. I’ve learned more about other industries and careers by talking to the people I work next to — who don’t work with me at all. I have more coworkers: my coworkers at my job, and the people are physically next to me while I’m working that day.
Because I’m not physically at work (or going to and from work) all day, work is not my life; it’s just one part of it. The time I would have spent commuting becomes time for me to go for a run, take a walk with a friend, read a book or just sleep in a little longer. When I’m not online, I get to put myself first.
Starting my career remotely has given me the freedom to work around my life, not live around my work.
In a recent New York Times article, 23-year old Joanna Wu felt like she was living a “double life” while working her first remote role. When she felt isolated at work, “she found solace in new hobbies, like cooking various Chinese cuisines and inviting friends over for dinner parties. She called it ‘a double life.’”
While we don’t want isolation for our remote workers, this “double life” is just one way work-life balance can manifest in remote-first careers. Employees don’t have to live their lives around work; they can have two separate lives, where boundaries between the professional and personal are strict and clear.
The “double life” shouldn’t make us feel guilty or lesser than employees who work around the clock. It should make us feel like full human beings, ones who can log on, accomplish what they need to get done, then log off and spend their personal time however they’d like.
Starting your career remotely, as many Gen Z’ers have, makes living that double life even easier. We don’t know what it’s like to go into an office and spend most of our day physically around our colleagues. We do know the freedoms and flexibilities remote work has to offer.
And that’s not just true of Gen Z. Employees of older generations, ones who may have been tied to offices for years, admit to how much freedom remote work has given them. Some love that they can put in an extra load of laundry during the workday or take that full lunch break to meditate or cook their favorite meal. In a study from Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, 30% of remote employees said they were more productive and engaged while working from home, even with distractions and isolation remote work is known for.
Of course, not everyone — whether they’re Gen Z or from another generation — feels flexible and free while working from home. A lot of my flexibility comes from working at a company where work-life balance is valued. I have a manager who cares about my bandwidth and a team who trusts me to get my work done on my time. Some remote workers, on the other hand, have found that they’re working more or taking on more responsibility while working from home — without any support or extra resources from their company. Some have found it harder to stop working when there’s not a physical boundary between work and home.
To allow every generation to reap the benefits that remote-first careers have given much of Gen Z, we need workplaces that value and enthusiastically encourage flexibility and boundaries between work and life.
When done right — with enough resources, flexibility and managerial support — remote careers ultimately shift our relationship with work. A remote-first mindset can change work from something that defines our lives to something that we define for our lives.
Yes, I’m a writer for Fairygodboss and part of the community team. But I’m also a theater-goer, a tennis fan, a reader and an average runner. I’m excited to show up and do the work, and I’m excited when I get to log off and spend time doing non-work things that I love.
This article does not reflect the views of Fairygodboss.
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