My name is Thomas and I’m a social media manager at Welcome to the Jungle. At the age of 30, you could say I’ve found true balance in my life. The company is based in Paris, but for the past three years I’ve been going for runs after work by the Atlantic. That’s because I live in Biarritz, which is in the far southwest of France. I prefer nature to asphalt and autonomy to presenteeism. So I have been working remotely full-time for some years now. Since the Covid-19 crisis began, I’ve had the impression that a lot of people imagine that teleworking full-time would not be very different from their experience during lockdown. However, being fully remote is completely different from working remotely in exceptional circumstances.
Real remote working: total freedom
Let’s go back to the beginning. Three years ago, after I started in this role, I realised that I no longer wanted to live in Paris. I suggested to my new employer that I become a full-time teleworker so I could leave the capital. He agreed, but honestly he didn’t really believe in the idea. All these years later, I’m still here. I didn’t do it just so I could work in an idyllic setting; I also wanted my work to be judged by results and not by the amount of time spent on it. I believe I should be free to organise my time, without necessarily sitting in front of my computer from 9am to 6pm. And, although I generally adopt classic office hours to accomodate my colleagues, I find that I save a lot of time every day. I can take slightly longer breaks, depending on my workload, or do other tasks from home while I work.
Run to the post office? Do laundry? Be home for deliveries? That’s easy. Now that I’ve experienced freedom, it would seem absurd not to be able to have it. For me, this way of life is going to continue to be the norm. I’ve really found my balance. What’s cool is that this freedom of working from home was extended to the rest of the team. The Paris-based employees have a “coworking budget” –– if they want to use it! They don’t need to have a special reason to head into a coworking space: they can go there to change up their surroundings or just to be able to work closer to home. I’m thrilled, because I believe in this as a professional and societal choice. I like to live it, but I also like to defend it, notably by speaking on this subject in Biarritz. Within my company, we’ve set up a workshop on the subject of “How to manage working remotely 100%” with the other fully-remote employees. I believe it’s crucial to be completely open when discussing this, so that others can learn how to manage this way of working.
Lack of preparation and initial panic
Although I have been doing this for years, my experience of teleworking during the lockdown was not good. The problem was that 90 per cent of my colleagues had never done this before. At the beginning, they all said something like: “Ah, it must be so cool for you. Now it’s easier with everyone working like you.”
Ultimately, I was spending most of my time in meetings facing 90 really confused people. It was clear that for a lot of people getting motivated to work remotely did not come easily. It can be difficult to communicate in writing all the time too. Many of my colleagues had left Paris quickly and there was a real lack of preparation in terms of physical equipment and conditions, such as internet connections, beyond the psychological conditions. It was a few weeks before everyone was more or less up to speed.
There was a real lack of preparation in terms of physical conditions, such as bad internet connections, beyond the simple psychological conditions
Upending the work-life balance
This situation has created stress for everyone—particularly those who hadn’t chosen to work fully remotely. For example, some had competing responsibilities: their job and their family. Had they started working remotely before the lockdown, this would not have been an issue in the same way as they would have been able to arrange childcare more easily. (It’s different for parents now.)
As for me, I found myself working from home all the time as there were no more coworking spaces. I was already having trouble keeping my professional and personal lives separate before the Covid-19 crisis and this was exacerbated by the lockdown. Our lives revolved around the hours spent in front of our screens. It was very hard to have a healthy daily routine, even though that was exactly what I was looking for when I chose this lifestyle. I couldn’t count on going to a coworking space to help me keep my professional life separate from my personal life. I was locked down with my girlfriend and we felt like we didn’t have enough space to work quietly, especially when we had to make calls. It seemed like I was invading her personal space with my professional life.
Loneliness has also been a problem for many during the lockdown. Those who work remotely all the time know that, lockdown notwithstanding, you have to be organised enough to maintain a social life: you can meet other remote workers and freelancers, see friends, network and so on.
Choosing this means being prepared
Working remotely in normal times is about choice and organisation, whereas working from home during the crisis was imposed on us all rather suddenly. Ideally, employees choose to switch to teleworking and the company supports them in this. It is especially important for the company to have a culture of remote working in order for it to be organised. For example, in my company, some of us are used to having remote meetings, communicating in writing, and using messaging systems such as Slack, which has helped us to keep in touch by having informal conversations too. On the other hand, a lot of companies have never used these tools, but have stuck with emails and phone calls. In other words, they were not really ready to go remote. They lacked both the remote working culture and the digital culture. And while my company is open to the idea, it hasn’t always been easy.
Even when doing this by choice, you have to prepare yourself psychologically and materially, by thinking through how it is going to happen. Ask yourself why you are doing this, how, where and when, for example. I asked myself the following questions: Would I know how to get organised? Would I miss out on social ties? Would I have the self-discipline to make it work? These questions weren’t asked before the lockdown, which caught us all by surprise. But if you really want to work remotely, you have to be prepared if it is to work to your advantage.
You have to prepare yourself psychologically and materially, by thinking through how it is going to happen.
I am surprised at the many new insights. More and more people understand me and my interest in this way of living. The lockdown has allowed companies to make advances in this area, even those that didn’t believe in it before. So despite the initial barriers, the experience has ended up being positive overall for many people. We shouldn’t get rid of everything that developed during the lockdown. For example, sometimes I felt more of a social connection than usual, such as during drinks with colleagues after work on Zoom. I think we should keep this kind of activity, especially for those of us who work remotely all the time.
Regardless of whether your experience of being forced to work remotely during lockdown has been positive or negative, it would be dangerous to assume that it represents the true experience of being a full-time teleworker. So don’t idealise this way of working––but don’t condemn it either if it hasn’t worked for you. It’s just different.
If you still want to take the plunge, make sure that it is right for you. First, recognise that it will not be the same as your daily life during lockdown. Then, prepare for it with the support of your employer.
Translated by Kalin Linsberg
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