Perpetual beta: My life as a career telecommuter
(Like the guy in the photo, I has been known to sip through a bendy straw.)
As far back as my college years, a time in which email and internet access were luxuries rather than necessities, I discovered I couldn’t sit still for long periods of time. To this day, I can’t work in a single setting for more than short bursts, and this has become the hidden code of my career. For me, it works well.
Most of my fellow students in those days were perfectly content to study at their desks in their dorm rooms, or in study groups at the library. As for me, I constantly changed scenery between computer labs, study lounges, design studios, off-campus coffee shops and even the green space within our quad. It was maddening for my professors and study partners to find me at times, but even then, I carried a cell phone and (ugh) a pager. I was always accessible, though not everybody understood nor appreciated my “mobility” at the time.
Fast forward to today, and I find myself working as an independent consultant, contracting to Life Meets Work (in full disclosure) and several other wonderful clients. I am on my second home office; I gave up the first to my spouse as a yoga studio. And to be sure, I’m almost never at my desk. I’m either on the go for meetings, coding from my deck, co-mingling at co-working spaces, or crafting work product from where ever I can find reliable and secure wi-fi—including a nearby microbrewery of all places (they brew fresh coffee all day).
And, as I look back on the various corporate and agency gigs I’ve held, I’ve never longed for my assigned cube. Desks were, and are, just something for me to mess. Email and web access now being ubiquitous, I am online practically 24/7/365, my laptop and other devices never more than an arm’s length away. (For sure, unplugging has been a constant challenge, which the team here has made me reconsider for the better.)
I can assure you, not every coworker or supervisor was fully accepting of my mobile nature, though, the progressive ones were, thankfully. Those brave souls recognized my real need for “free-range” productivity, and afforded me telework privileges to the extent that policy would allow—and then some. Chained to a desk, I distract too easy. Free to roam, I do my best work. It’s as simple as that.
Of course, I’ve picked up on a few things along the way, and am happy to share them with you:
- Embrace your inner nomad. You know yourself best, so if you “aren’t feeling it” at work, talk over available telework options with your manager. And if you happen to be the manager, ensure that you are visible and accessible to your team at all times, even if virtually, because you owe them that much.
- Be tech savvier than tech savvy. As a remote employee or freelancer, you must arm yourself with the right hardware and software for the job, including cloud platforms and remote work apps, multiple internet access options, and backups for your backups. “The wi-fi is down” is a horrible excuse when you can make your smartphone a hotspot in mere seconds. Connectors and chargers, too; carry more than you think you need. And, keep everything up to date—a must for any “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) environment.
- Discipline yourself. I mentioned above that I occasionally hang at my local watering hole for their ample wi-fi and cups of joe. That doesn’t give me license to start treating myself to adult beverages during work hours, nor running non-essential errands to and fro. You may be nomadic, but the business world remains predominantly “9-to-5,” and you must respect that. Sure, “night-owl” you may submit deliverables in the wee hours, though you best be ready to discuss them when the rest of the team is at their desks during the normal course of business.
I should add that telecommuting, while a popular workplace trend, is not for everyone. Ultimately, you owe it to yourself and to your employer to arrive at the best possible working condition that works for you. If that means telework, than congratulations, you’ve joined a growing rank! So embrace yourself, “tech” yourself and check yourself. No matter the point in your career path, to be a remote employee can be an empowering experience for the right professionals.