When the media glorified “work from home,” I felt confused and conflicted. I’d been working remotely for the better part of six years before COVID-19 entered my lexicon, but there was one caveat: I didn’t have a “home” to work from. As a digital nomad, throughout any given year, I had many places I lived and worked from.
In the years that followed, as the world embraced remote work to varying degrees, I continued to wonder why people were limiting themselves to one workspace.
The label “digital nomad” is something I slowly started identifying with in 2014, when I worked in L&D for an advertising agency in New York. After trading Madison Avenue for Machu Picchu, I opened my eyes to a new way of living, working, and traveling. I’d take short trips while working remotely for a few weeks, then a few months, and at the end of 2017, I started traveling full-time as a location-independent professional.
Work remotely and work from anywhere
I attribute many of my successes, as well as happy memories, to not only working remotely but also working from anywhere. During my four years as DuckDuckGo’s director of people, I advanced my career in people operations—leading a team of five globally distributed employees and supporting the company in growing its distributed workforce from 30 to nearly 100—all while exploring new surroundings around the world.
While traveling in Cape Town, South Africa, I met my current business partner. I met my romantic partner a few years later in Spain. I’m able to spend more time with my friends and family because of remote work. I don’t have to take vacation days to attend friends’ weddings or go to comedy shows in other countries. Nor do I miss important work events; I’ve led workshops and spoken at virtual conferences from my sister’s house in Michigan and from Airbnb rooms in Brazil.
I work according to my energy, often surrounded by cozy blankets or sandy beaches. In many ways, it feels like I’m living the dream, thanks to remote work.
As the media propagates a narrative pitting employees and employers against one another in a desperate attempt to gain control over a forced return to the office, it’s time to shine a light on how remote work can reinvent how modern knowledge workers work—and live!
Here are five ways to use remote work to reinvent your work and your life:
Master the remote skills future employers will require.
Living without a strict 9-to-5, sit-in-one-place structure naturally builds your autonomy, self-reliance, prioritization, and problem-solving abilities.
“Remote work fluency” is the set of skills, behaviors, and mindsets required to easily navigate work in an anytime, anywhere environment, something I believe will be critical in the next generation of workers. This includes skills like documentation, virtual project management, communication skills across tools and cultures, and the ability to create virtual spaces for psychological safety and collaboration.
With ever-changing business needs and tools, a new ecosystem of core competencies is required. Those with these skills already under their belt will emerge as coveted top talent in a competitive job market.
Leverage location to inspire your creativity.
One benefit of remote work is that you get to choose where you work. People use that benefit for many reasons, such as to be closer to family or save time on a commute. Globally, the impact of remote work on immigrants, citizens of developing countries, and refugees is vast, as people now have access to great jobs anywhere in the world.
There’s another benefit of location flexibility that’s smaller in global impact but important to your individual work experience: it sparks creativity in your work. No longer bound by Post-it notes on a conference room wall, brainstorming can be a group or solo activity that’s inspired by the world around you.
Changing up your routine by trying a new co-working space or taking a workcation allows you to take in new stimuli that challenge your preconditioned ways of thinking.
Likewise, you’ll learn to problem solve on the spot to make remote work literally work (hello, where’s the Wi-Fi?). This workout for your brain means new solutions, ideas, and perspectives.
Gain freedom with time hacks and energy management.
In addition to location freedom, remote work also opens the door to time freedom. Traditional 9-to-5 work hours came to be because people needed to commute from point A to point B. Now that we’ve removed this constraint, why do we still follow the same patterns?
Experimenting with non-linear workdays, time blocking, and energy management means you can get more done in less time—a productivity hack that’s truly a win-win for both employers and employees.
This flexibility allows employees to own their schedules and time, which has a DEIB impact as well. Employees can make work choices that address their childcare needs, physical health, mental wellness, and more. In the future of work, we’ll see people embrace a crucial remote-work skill—expectation setting—that will allow employees to fit work into the puzzle of their lives.
Strengthen your relationships with “parallel playing.”
Think back to your childhood: Do you remember sharing the same space with other children while coloring, reading, or building Lego creations? This is called “parallel play”; it helps children learn social skills, build relationships, and “show and tell” ideas and information.
Fast-forward to adulthood, and these same developmental skills influence how individuals, teams, and companies operate.
For example, some remote workers post-pandemic report feelings of isolation. By joining co-working groups or meetups—even with “co-workers” not employed by the same company—you’ll replicate the principles of parallel play and reap its benefits.
For instance, last year, I regularly worked at a cafe with a friend who owned a yoga business. It was a good experience for each of us.
This type of co-working can help with accountability and focus, as well as learning and development through the work version of “show and tell.”
While staying at the co-living community Sun and Co. in Spain, I attended skillshares on topics such as content writing and marketing strategy. Likewise, casual conversations over coffee sometimes verged into work-related subjects, like time management and pricing models. All of this is to say that you don’t have to rely on the physical presence of co-workers to reap the benefits of co-working.
Live according to your values.
Last, but certainly not least, remote work gives you the freedom and flexibility to intentionally design work to fit your life. For some, this means not having to emigrate from their home country and away from family for work. For others, this might mean excelling in a career while managing a disability, thanks to the accessibility remote work allows. Or some may wade into the global job market and seek a remote role that aligns with their values and purpose.
I use remote work to challenge the status quo: I’ve found deeper connections in nomad communities than in my hometown. I’ve worked on intellectually stimulating work problems, influenced organizational restructuring, and consulted on hybrid work culture in places most people only go on vacation.
Tap into your remote state of mind
Most remote workers are just beginning to challenge assumptions and figure out how they can do their best work with the emergence of remote work. If you choose to do nothing else, changing your perspective to a “remote state of mind” will unlock a new level of self-awareness, providing insight into when you work best and in what environments you thrive—and help you prioritize the things that are most important to you in your life.
This guest post was authored by Ali Greene
Ali Greene is the co-author of Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility, and Focus. A remote worker since 2014, she was previously the director of people operations for DuckDuckGo and the former head of culture and community at Oyster. Today, she’s the co-founder of Remote Works, an organizational design and consulting firm that liberates teams from the nine-to-five and teaches them how to do their best work anytime, anywhere. Learn more at remoteworksbook.com.
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