Remote work or more broadly telecommuting is defined as
a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse, or store
Software development is ideally suited for remote working because all you really need is a space to work and an internet connection.
A number of factors influence the viability of remote work including location, skill set, type of work, company and person. Obviously remote work is not a possibility for any job that requires you to be physically present, such as in retail or hospitality services. Also a more senior individual will probably be able to work independently, rather than need constant feedback. The tricky aspects to address are whether your company culture will permit remote work, and if you personally can manage your time successfully.
If you are freelancer, entrepreneur or contractor you don’t always have a central office building, and your place of work could simply be a room in your house (or just a desk), or at a local coffee shop. Other remote work places include shared office space with dedicated hot desking or co-working providers.
Remote work is also different if you are a freelancer or a permanent employee. A permanent employee might enjoy working from home as a rare perk, or it might be seen as a more regular activity to help the work-life balance. A freelancer however will almost always be a remote worker, except perhaps at project kickoff or conclusion when the team gathers. Even then, there is no requirement for the team to physically meet. Most status updates, meetings and conference calls can be handled with email, instant messaging and VOIP technology. A freelancer will also have the additional burden of business administration such as capturing timesheets, creating invoices, following up on payments etc.
If the job is part time or full time will also influence the remote work aspect. Part time remote work allows more flexibility to both employer and employee (or contracter), but requires more planning especially with regards to deliverables. Managing a full time remote worker is little different to a regular office worker, assuming the communications are well managed.
Another aspect of remote work that I see rarely discussed is the career growth prospects. Office based work offers much greater networking and informal skills development during the regular day, and this is a simple by-product of proximity. A remote worker must actively engage in networking outside of their regular work and improving skills through practices such as pair programming is a little more difficult.
At the moment I am engaged in a freelance remote worker role, which has been a massive change for me from a permanent, on site engagement. Previously I led a team of developers to deliver a product for a client of the company. We were co-located at the clients offices and worked in close physical proximity to all other teams in the business. Now I am one of a handful of developers working on a product based in another country and I have never met my colleagues!
My working habits have also changed. Before I used to listen to my phone for music, but now with unlimited internet which I pay for, I’m quite happy to use a streaming service. Leading a team in person also meant I had to be tangentially aware of what the juniors were doing, so I ended up half listening to the office banter or questions all the time. Now working by myself has led me to develop quite the singing habit!
I have also had to learn the skills on how to run a business, and it has given me exposure to the risks I would face if I was a freelancer full time. Right now I am lucky to be a stay at home dad, and I am doing this to earn a bit of extra money and to keep learning.
One of the more surprising things for me was that I have struggled with is the the lack of professional contact. I was in an office environment for 8-9 hours a day, and I really enjoyed my job. I liked the people I was working with, and Entelect was a great company to work for. Working from my study in my house has been challenging, as I have missed the daily casual conversations and the easy access to a second set of eyes when solving a problem. I also have a 4 hour time difference to contend with as well as an out of sync work week. (The UAE works Sunday to Thursday, while the UK is on the standard Monday to Friday.) Both of these issues have added a unique aspect to this position.
Overall I am very happy in this new role and I get to spend a lot of time with my kids. My cooking skills have also improved! Working remotely in a freelance contract made me appreciate what I value from a job (hint: it is not just the money). One day if I return to full time in office work, I know I’ll have to give up my singing!
If you wish to go freelance, I can offer you the following advice:
- Research the market where you want to work - make sure you can find enough work for your skill set. Bear in mind that remote work allows you to service companies all over the world, but the timezones will mess with your work life balance.
- Make sure your billable rate is realistic - Simon Stewart has a great article, as does Jonathan Bossenger on how to calculate your rate to cover your costs.
- Decide if have the appetite to manage your time effectively. If you have trouble sticking to deadlines, maybe freelancing is not for you.
Good luck to you in your future endeavors!