The whole concept of working remotely is a bit foreign in Asia. As a Malaysian working remotely for an Australian company, I get asked questions when I meet people locally.
A remote worker answers your biggest questions about freelancing
But before I get to that, some basic background about my situation as a remote worker: 28 months and counting with Australia’s Coolest Company for Women. No, I’m not making that up; it’s an actual award title that ThemeKeeper has earned in 2015 & 2016 from JobAdvisor. Though ThemeKeeper is based in Melbourne, Australia, we have remote contractors all over the globe doing what they love in the comfort of their own homes. I’m based in Malaysia, and am lucky to be one of them.
Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked as a remoter:
1. “Are you a disciplined person? I think I would procrastinate in front of my laptop all day if I worked from home.”
Discipline is the root of all good qualities & success! Yes, I am very disciplined when it comes to my work. It is quite easy to lose focus of the job in hand and get lost in doing fun things while working from home.
Having a rough timetable, not having late nights so you get enough sleep, not getting distracted by social media and anything shiny, furry or cute on the internet definitely helps the process. If you are the sort to easily get distracted, set clear work hours and staying away from the TV, mobile phone and anything that is not work related during that time. Look at it as you are still at work, only difference is you are in super comfy “office wear” and you don’t need to commute to work – your time management, work ethics & responsibilities don’t change one bit.
2. “Is working as a freelancer lonely?”
The 8 working hours a day which is generally the busiest part of anyone’s day involves meeting and interacting with people. For a remoter, this means being in front of the laptop with virtual interactions only. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t get lonely!
I am lucky to have awesome colleagues that I work well with but… it’s all just work. I don’t get to join them for coffee breaks, lunch, birthday celebrations, pantry or water cooler chats, farewells drinks and other after work meetups.
I realised that I was getting a bit too comfortable not interacting with people much in the early months, so I made a conscious effort to meetup with friends for coffee or dinner at least 3 times a week. Malaysians are extremely sociable foodies, so this worked in my favour. Though working from cafes is very distracting for me I know of some remoters who fought the feeling of being lonely by doing this.
Keeping in touch with my local ex-colleagues is also a great way to have “work conversations” in a social setting, which is something you will really miss at some stage. The point is to not get too comfortable with this feeling, get out of your home more & find what works for you.
3. “How do you stay productive – and fight the urge for an afternoon nap – while working from home?”
This is a tough one. Many freelance roles are not strict on time. You are required to do your 8 hours, but at any point of the day. Prioritise – get the urgent work out of the way in the morning, have lunch and follow up with the not so urgent work. The afternoon work sometimes does get replaced with a nap or a quick run out to do some errands. But in which case I would have to work that night. Even though the hours are flexible, ensure you actually get your work done and complete those 8 hours in 1 day and most importantly attend all the calls and meetings.
If your hours are strictly 9am to 5pm, get loads of coffee or get as far as you can from your bed!
4. “How do you choose priorities if you’re freelancing for a few different companies at once?”
This reminds me of my school days when every teacher would walk into class and give us homework like they are our only teacher and this homework is the only task we have for the day. And what did I do then? – I stayed up late, didn’t watch TV for that day and finished my homework. This is another area where discipline comes to play. If you’re freelancing for a few companies, you can’t give the excuse to one that you are busy with other or they are just not that high up in your priority list. You could, however, plan your work taking this into account and negotiate differently on deadlines right from the start. If a given task takes 2 days to complete, request for a deadline that is 3-4 days away. This buys you time to juggle all your work, meet deadlines or possibly even be early on delivery.
It is also important to figure out which company is your staple and in cases you find yourself having to pick a priority, choose them. A few tips to help you figure out your staple company:
- You have been working with them longer
- Your role is secure with them
- Steady amount of work and pay comes in from them
- They pay on time
- That one company that if you lose would possibly mean getting back to 9-to-5 office role.
5. “Do you have any tips for managing work across different time zones?”
I was lucky that ThemeKeeper – which is in Melbourne Australia – is only 2 or 3 hours (depending on the time of the year) difference from Malaysia. Setting up meetings and quick chats with my colleagues is still very simple. The key here is flexibility, and do not turn down meetings because it is not in your allocated time slot to work. The person who has to work from an office can’t be setting meetings outside their working hours so it is up to the remoters to try their best to accommodate.
I’ve had situations where I had to speak to another remote colleague in Europe with 6 hours difference, we ended up always having meetings between my 3pm to 6pm (her 9am to 12pm.) We were both very flexible which made it work well. When both parties are remoters, try to meet half away for a win win situation.
If you work remotely and you have to stick to a strict time, be prepared for a bit of a lifestyle change. It is always best to be very mindful about this before taking on the role. Be very sure you can work those hours and be mentally prepared for some changes.
Without a doubt, working remotely has its pros and cons but if one focuses on the positive and creates a system that works best according to their work and personal situation, working remotely can be a blessing and a breeze.