Friday, September 28, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Working Remotely

Most of my regular readers know that I've been an educator for almost a decade. What you may not realize is that I've been working multiple jobs for five years now, including several online/remote positions. Moving to the great plains prompted a slight career switch; these days, I have an on-site job teaching ELL and GED courses and running a testing center, and I also tutor English online.

Yawn, right? Well, I'm not so sure. Maybe the actual minutiae of my work is boring, but I've noticed that people perk up as soon as I tell them one of my jobs is remote. "Really? I've thought about working online. What's that like?" I get asked enough that I thought a blog post might be helpful.

Bear in mind that this is entirely anecdotal, based 90% on my experiences and 10% on the experiences of others I know who work remotely. Different fields or jobs may not have the same pros or cons. And of course, my idea of a positive may seem negative to you or vice versa.

Pro #1: Yes, you can do it in your pajamas.

Tell people you work from home and I can almost guarantee that somebody will squeal with delight at the idea of working in their pajamas. I'm not going to pretend I never do this; I usually start my first online tutoring shift at 7:00am, wrapped up in my robe and slurping a cup of coffee.

That said, getting out of my pajamas to go to work never really bothered me. The real benefit here is that you don't have to buy special clothes. One of the most frustrating parts of being an adjunct professor is receiving very little compensation, but still being expected to wear dress clothes to work every day. I spent countless hours scouring thrift stores and consignment shops for slacks that still had all of their buttons and blouses without stains. There's no dress code when your clients can't see you, so I can wear whatever I want.

This also makes remote work a good option for some people with chronic illnesses, or people who live in areas with unpredictable weather. You don't have to leave your house to go to work.

Con #1: There are a million distractions.

I'm not even talking about the small children stampeding across the floor of the apartment above us. (Although, yes, that's pretty annoying when it goes on for hours at a time.) I'm talking about the fact that you are in your home, surrounded by lots of fun stuff you enjoy doing. Yeah, you should probably put in a few hours at work...but playing Call of Duty for a bit won't hurt!

And if you share your home with others, be prepared for them poking their head in to the room on the regular. One of the toughest parts of living with my parents before I moved here was doing quality work while my niece bounced on the couch to "The Number of the Day."

It helps if you're good at keeping yourself on a schedule. Even though I can technically work my remote job whenever I want as long as I reach my hours for that day, I've created a schedule for myself. I only deviate from this schedule when I'm too sick to do my shift or there's an emergency. If you're a procrastinator, then online work probably isn't for you. A friend of mine had to quit her online job after six months because she would put off working for most of the week, then have to pull 10 hour shifts on Friday and Saturday to hit her minimum hours.

Pro #2: You usually get to make your own schedule.

There are absolutely remote jobs that require you to log in and work a set shift. In my experience, however, a lot of online work gives you some autonomy. When I scored standardized tests, for example, I could work just about whenever I wanted and for as many hours a day as I wanted, provided I did at least 20 hours of scoring each week. With my current tutoring job, I'm given a set number of hours to complete each day, but I can complete them whenever I want during the day. That's why I'm able to work two jobs: my on-site job has a set schedule, but I can work around that schedule with my remote job.

This also means I can pick what days I have off. Right now, I work Sunday through Thursday. Working on Sunday may appall some people, but frankly, there's very little to do in a small town on a Sunday besides work. Having Fridays off makes it easier for me to attend to errands, since many businesses and government agencies are only open from 9 to 5 on weekdays. Lastly, most people do work on Friday, including my fiance. Hence, I have most of a very quiet day to my introverted self.

Con #2: It rarely pays as well as an on-site job.

Companies know that remote work is in high demand, so they take advantage of the market: they rarely offer full-time positions, and they don't pay remote workers what they're worth. Because I'm an experienced teacher with a Master's degree, my on-site job pays me an hourly wage that's commensurate with my experience. The remote job pays me roughly 2/3 that amount.

This applies to benefits as well: in my experience, online jobs are far less likely to offer part-time employees benefits. My friends who do remote work full time have told me that the benefits packages are not at all comparable to what they received from their on-site jobs.

Pro #3: It's mobile.

People who aren't educators tend to romanticize the whole "teachers get two months off!" thing. In reality, many teachers spend their summer teaching summer school, attending curriculum meetings, completing professional development courses, or figuring out ways to make money until they're back on contract in August. It's actually why I started scoring standardized tests in the first place: colleges almost never give adjuncts summer classes, and I had to pay the bills in June and July.

With remote work, I can earn money wherever I go, provided I bring along my personal computer and use a private internet connection. I don't have to take days off when I fly back to Pennsylvania to visit my family. Having a remote job also made it much easier for me to move across the country, and I'm not concerned about moving in the future. I know that wherever we end up, I'll be able to contribute financially.

Con #3: Very few people will respect your qualifications or accept that you are doing actual work.

Let's be fair: I think some of this is due to the fact that I'm an English teacher. I can't tell you how many times people have told me, "Well, my career isn't working out. I'll just become an English teacher!" When I ask, "Why English? Why not math or science?", the response is almost always, "Oh, those are hard, but I love to read!" Damn, I wish I DID get paid to sit around all day and read novels.

With a few exceptions, remote work usually requires just as much focus and hard work as an on-site job, perhaps even more. When I scored standardized tests, I was expected to read, analyze, and score a response every three or four minutes. As an online tutor, I'm usually allotted just half an hour to give writers an extensive critique of their work. I'm able to complete those tasks at such breakneck speeds because I've worked in the field for years, I can read very quickly, and I have a strong grasp of rhetorical strategies and English conventions. If you can't spot a pattern of grammatical errors in under a minute, then no, you probably can't do the same job. They can and will fire you if you go too slow.

There's also this perception that a lot of online jobs are passive. Most of the people who ask me about my remote work want to earn money while caring for their children. If you plan on doing all of your work while your school-age children are in class, then sure, you'll be fine. But if, like most of the people who ask me, you want to work remotely while caring for a newborn, you might want to reconsider. You can get up from the computer for a minute to use the bathroom or fetch a snack and maintain your pace, but getting up to feed and settle down a crying baby will take too much time and energy.

The exception that comes to mind is a married couple I know. One of them is a graphic designer and the other is a web developer, so they create websites and advertisements for local businesses. As long as they reach their deadlines and keep their clients informed, they can work around their children with ease. Even then, there have been weeks when they were swamped and had to pay a babysitter to watch their children so they could complete a project on time.

In the end, it's up to you to decide what will be best for you and your lifestyle. For me, the pros of remote work outweigh the cons. While I wouldn't want to tutor online full time, it's a wonderful supplement to my hectic day job in adult education.

And yes, I wrote this post in my pajamas.

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