The challenges of working remotely that nobody’s talking about

“Work from home” and “remote work” are two terms often used interchangeably in the freelance industry… which can get confusing. Technically, there’s no fine line between working remotely and working from home.

Working from home is, well, as straightforward as it is. You are working from home. This term was used even more when the pandemic hit and every company allowed their employees to work from home. Working remotely applies to both working from home and traveling while working.

As fun as it sounds, there are challenges to working remotely. Just like there are challenges to working from an office. It’s always best to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of freelancing and remote work before you dive in.

Keeping work momentum

Even though I don’t travel much and I work from home at least 70% of the time, keeping that work momentum is not always easy. And if you’re new to freelancing, this could be an even bigger challenge.

When I say keeping or maintaining work momentum, I mean always having projects in the pipeline, continuously building relationships with potential clients, and making sure I don’t miss a work deadline. Not to mention avoiding feeling depleted. These are not easy when you work remotely and Netflix is one click away or the coffee shop has an amazing view.

One thing that helps me is pausing. Which I know sounds ironic but you cannot be at your best if you don’t allow yourself to rest. Make sure you have at least two clients at a time so you don’t worry if one would ghost you. Make sure you spend even just a few minutes each day to build your personal brand. And then, pause. Take regular breaks. Breathe. 

Developing a healthier way to start and end a workday

Let me ask you this, “how do you start and end your workday?”

My old self would brag about being so “productive” that the moment I wake up, I’m on my phone checking emails. My current self, however, is very unhappy with how I started things. Fact is, setting boundaries and drawing the line between work and personal life is not easy when you work remotely—whether from home or from a hotel room somewhere.

“When you work in an office you usually have a commute in your day heading to work and leaving to work and while commutes can be a pain, they can also help you create space for the beginning and ending of your day,” says Max Pete, community builder at SuperHi. “Now while most of us WFH, even just adding a 5 min walk outside to start and end the day can help us from immediately waking up to our computer or closing our computer and headed to the couch!” he adds.

I asked Pete if he actually practices this and if its  changed his work-life balance. He says it has allowed him to, “check in and check out of my day now,” adding that, “I am making it part of my work ritual so that I have something to look forward to at the start and end of my day outside of work!” Key takeaway from this, people: short walks can make a difference.

Building a network based in your home country

Another challenge of working remotely that nobody’s talking about, or at least few people are talking about, is the struggle of building a network in your home country. Whether that’s a network of fellow freelancers or a network of clientele, it’s not always easy, especially if you’re used to serving clients in the US. Like me and fellow writer Kjell Vandevyvere.

Vandevyvere shares, “I moved to South America five years ago and started working as a freelancer full-time last year. I want to move back to Belgium so I’ve been aiming for European rates. But I have no professional network in Belgium and my local network can’t afford my rates.” He adds that most of his clients come from Twitter but, “even that hasn’t been easy because of different currencies or clients preferring native speakers or US-based writers.”

Travel writer Lola Méndez also shares that for her, different time zones make networking challenging. “During the last few years, I’ve started to attend conferences which have given me the chance to meet many of the players in my industry as a journalist including editors, fellow writers, and publicists,” she shares. Méndez also notes that, “making those in-person connections has been invaluable and I try to maintain those relationships virtually but nothing compares to having the chance to network IRL.”

Traveling hurdles when you’re so used to working from home

“When you get set up WFH, that becomes your office. You get your creature comforts — snacks, bathroom access, and other little things that make it comfortable and make you productive,” says Stefan Palios, a writer and freelance coach. “When you want to travel, you have the same challenges as working in an office:

  • How will you take private calls?
  • Do time zones become an issue?
  • What does work even look like when you have to factor in travel time / airports / potentially precarious wifi?

As a freelancer, I have the freedom of working mostly on deliverable-deadlines (meaning very few set meetings, I can control my working hours for the most part.)” Palios adds that he makes it a habit to think in advance so he can navigate through these challenges. Some of his tips:

  • Block the time for meetings so I can travel without time zone concerns
  • Let clients know I’m away but working and what my limitations are
  • I got a travel credit card that gives me lounge access so I know I have a comfortable place to work in airports

It can get lonely

For Farrah Garcia, loneliness is something she constantly struggles with. And I have to say, this is quite relatable. Unless you have a travel buddy who’s also a freelancer, it can get lonely. “I work from cafes at least once a week. Also glad I found online communities like PF (Peak Freelance) and Superpath so I can chat with people in the same industry,” says Garcia to combat loneliness. She adds that having an accountability buddy helps too!

And if there’s one thing I can add when it comes to loneliness, it’s to build your online community and actually show up. Face-to-face interactions are still the best, but building a personal brand, which automatically builds your online community also does the trick. Personally, it makes freelancing less lonely when I do Instagram lives just to catch up with my people there.

It can also get overwhelming

Marissa Goldberg, founder of Remote Work Prep noted that one of the least talked about challenges of remote work is the freedom that comes with it. I have to say, I completely agree.

“People are used to having when, where, and how they work defined for them. Remote work gives them the autonomy to decide all of that for themselves, which at first seems exciting, but then the overwhelm hits,” she says, adding, “There are lots of decisions to be made, and if you don’t recognize how to handle this freedom, it can quickly turn into a burden.”

Goldberg says one of the key steps to reducing the overwhelm is to have a framework before you dive in deep. “By setting up a framework before being in the moment, you create an environment where you can make choices intentionally and quickly.” She also noted the importance of putting less pressure on your decisions, saying, “take one intentional step a day. You’ll reach the top of the mountain in no time.”

Too much Zoom can be, too much

Zoom fatigue is a term floating around the internet since the pandemic began. With all the government-implemented lockdowns and personal precautions people have in place, Zoom became the go-to tool to have meetings, catch up with co-workers, and whatnot.

“Some people prefer not to socialize with coworkers if they have a busy life but I do see the value in having in-person collaborations, let’s say for creative teams. And business relationships can improve if you meet face to face on occasion,” says Lindsey Tague, content writer and full-time nomad.

When asked how to best handle this challenge, Tague says, “I’d suggest to only have Zoom meetings when they are absolutely necessary. If I was a sales person and had to be on Zoom for all my meetings I’d try to break them up, so I can take breaks from the computer.”

For some people, these challenges sound familiar. For others, these may not be something they even thought about. Reality is, the luxury of working remotely also comes with cons. It’s not all luxury. The most important thing is to have a system that works for you and to reach out when you need help. We all do, every once in a while.

CategoriesRemote Work
Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.