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It’s easy to define remote work as work that doesn’t take place in a traditional office—in other words, a remote job means you won’t be driving to the same physical business or office building Monday through Friday and staying there for the duration of an eight-hour shift. But remote work can be defined pretty broadly: “Not in a traditional office” can be anywhere with high-speed internet access.
In order to nail down a better idea of what a remote job might look like for you, you need to decide whether you’re picturing yourself working from home or working remotely outside your home (somewhere like a co-working space or a coffee shop). There are big differences between these two remote options, but it’s helpful to note it isn’t an either/or proposition—remote employees can work from home one day, work from a co-working space the next, and work from a library or coffee shop the day after that. To get a sense of the differences between working from home and working remotely, the ups and downs of each approach, and which might work best for you, I compared notes with some of my Skillcrush coworkers. Here’s what they had to say.
Working From Home
For people with any kind of caretaking responsibilities (caring for children, seniors, etc.) the flexibility of being able to work from home without leaving for a physical office is often what allows them to participate in the workforce at all.
Erin Denton, Design Instructor at Skillcrush, has been working remotely since 2014, and she’s spent some of that time working from home while being a caretaker. For Denton, the positives of home-based work center around the flexibility mentioned above: being able to balance the demands of others who depend on your help with the demands of paid work. However, Denton adds the caveat that caretaking and paid work are still a difficult balance to maintain. Working from home is definitely a way for people with a lot of domestic responsibilities to do paid work, but it’s not a magic solution.
If you’re going to be telecommuting from home, you need to put systems in place to be successful—things like a dedicated home office space (don’t even think about regularly working from your bed or your couch), a defined work schedule (no matter how flexible your schedule is, you need to plan ahead and know when you’re going to work), and clear boundaries (friends and family need to know when you’re working and respect your time and space). Once these systems are established, your home can become an ideal workplace even while juggling domestic tasks.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t continue to hit some snags while working from home as a remote employee. Even with everything dialed-in, there are times when the most well-oiled home operation will fall prey to mounting distractions. When the mocking piles of laundry and nagging stacks of dirty dishes are calling to you from behind your home office door, one of the best ways you can counteract this is to change your work environment. Just because you work mainly from home doesn’t mean you can’t duck out to a coffee shop with Wi-Fi for a few hours or drop in at a co-working space (see below) to refocus and mix things up. Remember, remote work (from home or otherwise) is flexible.
While work-from-home opportunities are all about commuting from your bedroom to your office—pants optional and pajamas welcome—working remotely outside the home bears a little more resemblance to a traditional workplace. Working remotely means travelling from your home to wherever you choose to work and being in a public or semi-public environment with other people. Still, working remotely is infinitely more flexible than working in a 9-5 office. Your schedule and hours remain yours to develop, and you can move from remote workplace to remote workplace as you see fit.
The fact that working remotely outside the home can happen anywhere with high-speed internet access and on any schedule you want—or no schedule at all—is what makes it so appealing. Jessica D’Amato, Marketing Operations Assistant at Skillcrush, loves working from home, but she says that to maintain productivity as a remote employee, it’s critical for her to balance being at home with working remotely elsewhere. D’Amato says that one of her biggest challenges when telecommuting from home is keeping it from becoming its own oppressive 9-5 office with the same schedule every day. D’Amato handles this by combining her work from home with periodic work from cafes or co-working spaces (community office space that can range from free-to-use to membership-based). Even if it’s simply working from a Starbucks near her home one morning out of the week, D’Amato feels like this variety helps keep remote work from losing its spirit of flexibility.
Denton agrees that getting out of the house is an essential part of remote work (even if home is your primary base of operations). Yes, being at home allows Denton to jump between paid work and caretaking as the need arises, but in cases where she needs to really zero in on her work and get something done, she heads to a co-working space. As an added bonus, Denton uses her co-working time as an opportunity to network with other remote workers and get face-to-face contact—something that can be missing when you’re working from home or on a remote team. Ultimately, while co-working spaces might seem like offices that you have to work out of every day, Denton says to keep in mind that many co-working spaces offer different membership tiers based on how often you plan on visiting the space—meaning it’s easy to make co-working your primary or secondary work environment depending on your preference.
Even though working remotely away from home can offer much needed variety and allow you to get away from household distractions, Denton says to remember that every option has its downsides to go along with its perks. For Denton, driving is one of the big negatives associated with working away from home—even if it’s only a short drive, hopping in the car, paying for gas, and finding parking simply isn’t something you deal with at home. And, Denton says, when you get away from a work-centric co-working space and end up in a coffee shop or other public spot with Wi-Fi, it can be hard to compete with the ambient noise that makes it hard to hear if you’re talking calls or having video meetings. Outside of co-working spaces, Wi-Fi can be hit or miss as well.
Remote Work Is a Balance
The big takeaway here? When it comes to remote work, it’s not really about working from home versus working remotely—it’s about blending the two options into an overall package that fits your specific needs. Being able to customize your work to reflect what you want (instead of conforming to what work demands of you) is the hallmark of flexible work, and where you choose to do those jobs is all part of the customizable package. Parents and caretakers will definitely benefit from being being home-based workers, but there’s nothing to say they can’t take their work down the road to a co-working space (or beyond) when the mood or need strikes. Similarly, remote workers with fewer domestic responsibilities can literally travel the world and work remotely, but there’s nothing to say that can’t put down roots and get their work done around the house if they feel the need for that kind of structure. The choice is yours (and can always be adjusted), because remote work is flexible.
If this kind of flexibility appeals to you, there’s no better way to get there than through learning tech skills. Jobs in tech are naturally suited for remote work, and the most basic digital skills that can put you in position for those jobs (like the coding languages HTML and CSS) are learnable in as little as a few weeks.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.