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Remote Work — What It Is And How to Make It Work For You
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Heather K Adams
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With terms like side hustle, telecommuting, flex jobs and remote work all trending these days, it's easy to end up feeling a little lost at sea. For example, what's the difference between being a freelancer and doing remote work? And exactly how much flexibility is there to be had with one of those supposed flex job options? More importantly, are any of these options available to you, and if so, how on earth do you go about transitioning from a more traditional office-oriented schedule to working remotely? 

You're not alone in wondering! Lots of people are asking these very same questions. They're also getting the answers they need to help them make the moves that are right for them. Here's what you need to know about what it means to work remotely in order to do the same.

What is remote work?

Working remotely, which used to be called telecommuting, and still is in some industries, means you're performing some, most or all of your work-related duties from an alternate location to your employer's office. This is usually home, but depending on the work you have to do, you may be able to camp out in a coffee shop, library or another favorite spot to work as well. There might also be coworking options available in your area for remote workers, freelancers and others to share a workspace and do a bit of socializing or networking, too. 

When it comes to strictly defining what it really means to work remotely, there are two main models. 

1. The first is one in which the employee spends most of her time actually at an office, with only so many hours or days allotted or approved for remote work for a given time period, say a week. This is an excellent setup for anyone who likes going into work but has responsibilities such as school-aged children who sometimes have snow days. (It can also be a plus for anyone with a longer commute who'd rather not chance the trip in inclement weather.) Being able to work remotely, even if it's only for a little bit every week, means anyone with personal obligations or special circumstances can have a bit more flexibility in working their job in around their life, while still also getting their task done on time.

2. The second model for what it actually means to work remotely is the exact opposite of the first: the remote employee may have a central office location she can go to when and as needed, but for the rest of the time (or at least most of it), she's on her own. This means she can work from home, a coworking space or even the other side of the world. It's the perfect setup for parents and world travelers alike because it allows for the most freedom and flexibility — as long as that kind of setup and schedule appeals to them.

There are variations within either of these models, of course, and every company or organization will need to spend some time figuring out what remote work options are the best for them and their employees. This can take not only time but some degree of experimentation before their remote-work rulebook becomes codified.

What kind of jobs can be done remotely?

Technical jobs.

From software and app development to game design and even technical consulting, tech jobs make up a big remote work category. After all, most of these jobs only really require a laptop (and some specialized skillsets) to get the work done. This means that these kinds of jobs are also ideal for anyone aspiring to the digital nomad lifestyle.

Content creator jobs.

This includes web and graphic design, writing, photography and more. Again, all the tools you need to do this work can be carried in a bag over your shoulder, more or less. And since creative folks are a little more likely to rebel against the more structured environment of an office, being able to work remotely can be an ideal situation for a more artistic temperament.

Office jobs.

From consultants and analysts to customer service representatives and accountants, many traditionally office-oriented jobs actually transfer quite well to one of the above remote-work models. The wonders of technology mean you can work and communicate in real-time with people scattered all over the country or even the globe. For many jobs, location is becoming far less of a central factor than it used to be.

What's the difference between working remotely and freelancing?

This can seem like a bit of a hazy distinction, especially if you've never done either. Freelancers are contract workers. That means, depending on the gig and the industry, they could be working remote (such as a freelance writer or designer), or, they could be in an office, or project site. It depends on the type of work. Almost every career has a freelance counterpart. There are freelance interior designers, chefs, teachers (read: tutor), etc. 

What it means to be a freelancer is that you're an independent contractor (self-employed), no matter how steady or long-term the assignments from a particular client may be.

Working remote is also something full-time employers often offer. That means, you can be working remotely for your company, but that does not make you a freelancer (unless you're a 1099 contract employee). 

Benefits of remote work.

The new commute saves money.

No, you probably won't get paid more to work remotely. But think about your daily commute: Does it involve public transit and fare? That adds up, as does your latte habit en route to the office. If you drive to work, then you're already well aware of the costs not only of gas but also maintenance and the repair of wear and tear on your vehicle. Working remotely means that even though you may not get a raise, you can already start to pad that savings account.

You have full control of your zone.

Whether you have specific needs such as avoiding strong smells to stave off migraines (and the person who microwaves fish for their lunch) or you simply don't do well in the confines of a cubicle, working from home means you're able to create a good safe space in which to do your work. You know what puts you in your most productive mindset, after all. And if you don't, then working remotely is a chance to experiment and find the best-for-you setup.

You achieve location independence.

Speaking of your ideal setup, if travel is a major thing for you to knock off of that old bucket list, then finding fully remote work means you'll have the freedom to come and go whenever you feel like it. Your entire "office" — laptop, cell phone, headset, etc. — fits into a bag. All you really need when you get wherever you're going is some good, strong WIFI.

Remote work can involve a high degree of schedule flexibility.

This means that some remote workers not only get to choose where they work but also when. What does it mean to work remotely and with increased flexibility? It means that if you're a night owl, you can burn a little midnight oil at the "office" and then sleep till noon. Or, if you keep farmer's hours (looking at all new parents here), then you can put in a little time before the sun even peeks over the horizon.

Coworking = networking.

Living somewhere that offers some coworking options means you have all these new communities to check out and join. Coworking spaces are ideal not only for remote employees but also for freelancers and even entrepreneurs. And the fact that you don't know who will show up on any given day or what your fellow coworkers are working on means the opportunities to connect with new and unexpected fellow WIFI warriors are endless.

Communication, productivity and focus are all shown to increase.

Working somewhere that's supremely comfortable and specifically designed for your own productivity and ease means you'll be able to work better than ever. Sure, you won't have a coworker next to you to reach out to with a quick questions, but that just means that when you do touch base with work you'll be more efficient in your communications, too. You'll be sure to get all of your questions answered and any issues resolved so you don't end up playing a constant game of back and forth. If this kind of schedule and routine is right for you, it means you'll really be able to work.

Mistakes to avoid.

• Keeping it a little too casual. 

While it's tempting to work from the couch or your favorite cozy chair, having a desk or table set aside strictly as your work zone will help you keep that work-oriented mindset. For that matter, dressing for the day (even if you don't plan on going out or participating in any virtual meetings) also puts you in work mode. Sure, some days you'll default to sweatpants and slippers (that's one of the bonuses of remote work), but if your energy starts to wane, try putting on an actual work outfit to give your productivity and maybe even your mood a solid boost.

• Forgetting to "socialize" with your fellow employees. 

Interacting with coworkers, communicating with your manager, attending meetings with senior members of your organization or company and also attending networking events are all crucial to building your career and your professional reputation via exposure. That means to work remotely, you need to be aware of and intentional about the facetime and communications you have within both your company and your industry. It's easy to get into a routine at home and forget about that, but it's important to remember that people will need a face to connect with your name.

• Not having a routine. 

Working remotely means you'll have more say in your schedule and the course of your day. You may be able to start later or end earlier, and that's an awesome flexibility to have. What's not awesome is how quickly we can forget to give ourselves breaks and ease up on the throttle a little. Rest your eyes from all screens, take breaks to eat and to move and when it comes time to "clock out," actually stop working. These are all important things you'd naturally be doing at the office simply because everyone else is going to lunch, grabbing a coffee or leaving for the day as well. Good self-care routines are, as ever, important to have in place so you don't burn yourself out.

• Not being prepared for meetings, calls or other communications. 

Working remotely means you'll rely entirely on your phone, laptop and other equipment not only to do your work but to also keep you in clear communication with your office. From virtual meetings to conference calls to daily or weekly check-ins, you'll need to make sure you're set up and ready to go every time, with a little time to spare. Technical glitches happen often, so leaving that time buffer to deal with any last-minute issues is a solid idea. Working remotely leaves you all these little details to handle on your own so that meetings go off without a hitch. While "attending" a meeting in your bare feet is, of course, a major plus, it does require a bit more effort than simply turning up at the right conference room at the right time.

• Allowing yourself to be distracted.  

While it's essential to take breaks and give yourself time away from your work during and at the end of the business day, it's just as important that you be able to focus on your work when you need to get things done. If your home is filled with too many distractions — if you simply can't ignore those dishes in the sink or feel like you really should see to that pile of laundry — you might need to reconsider what it means to work (really work) remotely and if this is even right for you. It sounds well and good to get to work from home or a café, but you might just discover you actually need the structure and routine of an office space to be productive. And that's okay. Part of the remote work mindset is finding the right-for-you schedule, routine and work — be it remote or on location.

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