Why remote work is not for ‘kids with a backpack’

The concept of working to travel the world is romantic. We often sit in our cubicles dreaming of a desk-free job. Why? A digital nomad embraces working in different destinations around the world as they travel. Working is a means to fund that wanderlust.

Being a digital nomad shouldn’t be confused with full-time remote work. It’s challenging to do a full-time job on the road because there’s too much uncertainty. How do you know if you have a stable internet connection? What if your laptop gets stolen? What if the time zone you are in is entirely out of sync with your clients?

These are serious considerations if you’re going to travel to different locations. So, what is the reality of being a digital nomad and how does it compare to remote work? Keep reading to find out.

Being a digital nomad brings a new set of problems

Matthew Karsten was a digital nomad for seven years before he decided to pack it in. He had enough of the digital nomad lifestyle. Matt says, “Constantly moving from place to place came with its own set of problems that became increasingly annoying as the years went by.”

Here’s a look at what comes with the experience of being a digital nomad:

The lifestyle is exhausting

You’re living out of a bag and working to afford travel expenses. That doesn’t leave much time for a vacation. You have to pack up and start all over again frequently.

The lifestyle is lonely

Sure, you get to meet lots of great people during your travels, but it’s temporary. With the constant turnover, it’s hard to build meaningful relationships.

The lifestyle is unproductive

Trying to juggle a regular work routine when you’re also trying to figure out where to sleep next week isn’t ideal.

Digital nomads + stress

We can’t forget that the stress associated with the gig economy is underplayed. The shift towards non-permanent staff is already happening and the impact is both financial and mental.

Sarah J, 30, is a freelance graphic ­designer from Dubai had a steady job in a digital marketing agency. Then, her former employer decided to farm out most of the company’s design work to freelancers to save money. A round of layoffs left her desperately looking for a job, but to no avail. Left with no option, Sarah was forced to become a freelancer herself, always on the lookout for new and better-paying gigs.

Freelance arrangements can leave people like Sarah deep in financial and mental ­despair, due to cut-throat competition and clients’ willingness to replace an employee as soon as they find a cheaper alternative.

This seems to be a future trend. According to research conducted by PwC, by 2030, full-time “permanent” employment will be a minority of the workforce. As most people struggle for temporary work, a corporate career separates the “haves” from the “have-nots.”

What remote work is really like

People considering remote work want to know if they can be productive working at home or in a coffee shop. The answer is yes for most remote workers but takes discipline and scheduling.

In a survey of 450 remote workers, TalentLMS found that 90% of survey respondents get more work done when working remotely. There are many clear benefits of working remotely; no commute, better work-life balance, selecting your time to work, being available for your family and more. However, you won’t know if you’re a good fit for remote work until you try it out.

Some people can’t deal with loneliness and isolation. To compensate for this, supervisors check-in regularly with their reports. Chat technology also gives workers social contact. For some roles, like programming, the distraction-free environment is precisely what they’re looking for.

Most remote workers treat remote work just like an office job by scheduling regular working hours. Ideally, you want to work in long uninterrupted blocks of time. This is the underlying concept of Deep Work, which I’ve written about in a previous blog post. Working this way requires focus and discipline. So, you have to manage your time accordingly.

Remote work: from experience

I work in my home office in my basement and my regular working hours are 9–5. My manager is located in Austin, Texas, which is an hour behind my time zone. Our team is spread across the globe in cities like Portland, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, and Toronto.

We use collaboration tools like Jive, Zoom, Google docs, and Skype. There’s no need to meet face-to-face since we don’t have physical offices and we don’t have yearly meetups. However, we have virtual lunches each week with our CEO, where we discuss the news, book club, and leadership subjects. I have regular weekly check-ins with people I don’t even work with to stay engaged.

It doesn’t feel lonely. In my past jobs, there were family activities I couldn’t attend because of my schedule and commute. With remote work, I can do 40-hours per week and still have the opportunity to enjoy personal time. There are long periods where I don’t see anyone, but if I ever want to connect, there’s usually someone online.

Our tracking tools keep me focused on my daily tasks. I check-in and out like a lawyer does tracking their hours. In the past, I was super focused on my work. However, working in a remote environment makes you realize how much more productive you can really be without distractions.

The future calls for workers’ consent to have their data, health, and performance monitored obsessively, often in real-time. Those who thrive under the relentless pressure to perform will reap excellent rewards, as will in-demand contract workers with specialized skills. This is very close to what work looks like at Crossover today.

Wrapping up

The central theme here is that remote work is long-term, reliable, and productive. It’s like a job in a physical office. Your payments are regular and predictable, the role you do is well defined and job security is similar to a traditional full-time job.

Being a digital nomad is fraught with uncertainty. You don’t know if you’re going to have a good internet connection. The travel location can also be busy, making it difficult to concentrate. If your equipment is stolen or breaks, you might be unproductive for weeks. The upside is you get to travel and live wherever you want. A friend of mine who’s a digital nomad lives in a small town south of Perth, Australia that I couldn’t find on any map. However, living out of your backpack can be tiring. The stability of working at a consistent location is less stressful.

If you’re looking to work remotely just be sure you understand the implications. There are trade-offs to all jobs. Knowing the limitations can help you minimize the downsides. Hopefully, this has given you a much more realistic view of working remotely.

For full-time (40 hours/week), long-term jobs take a look at our available positions.

This article first appeared on Medium.