What I learned from being a remote contractor

For the past 3 years, I have been working remotely as a contractor, from a civil society organization to a small company. Prior to that, I worked 1 pm – 10 pm for 6 months at a multinational corporation. Over the years, I picked up a lot of skills as I go from the organization and groups I affiliated with. In this short post, I will be sharing key takeaways that I have learned from being a remote contractor.

Follow-ups, always!

Across industries, everybody understands how important follow-up is for your work. Especially when the majority of your work starts with an email. I think there are plenty of articles available online about the How To, and the Do’s and Don’ts on follow-up. For an example; leaving an email collect dust without any follow-up after a week is a huge mistake.

More importantly, when the sender displayed an interest to collaborate with you and your organization. It also doesn’t hurt to reply with polite rejection if you and your organization are not ready to collaborate because honesty is the best policy (Sometimes! Well, depends on situation). I am sure it is frustrating for the sender as well when there are no replies after a month.

It is even more frustrating when the receiver replies to you after 3 months of silence (why bother reply anyways, am I right?!). Getting back to the point, follow-up in emails and text messages helps a lot to keep in touch with the person(s) of interest. Use labels for your emails and color-coded them if necessary.

For your own sake, it is always a good practice to keep your inbox organized as possible. Additionally, it is understandable that everybody has their own commitments on their plate, so it’s ok to chase your clients/contacts on a timely basis. As for myself, I set a timeline when I send updates about classes venues, weekly tests and weekly survey evaluation to students. I tried my very best to avoid spamming. I do label and color coded my emails. Following up on 2-3 days are the best way to go, and 7 days after is the bare minimum.

Never multitask

For an organization that has more than 5 people, you would have enough people to build a team and assign tasks. For an organization that has less than 5 people, time and task management plays a very important role. Of course, time and task management also apply when you work with big teams, but it becomes the most essential component when you start to work remotely, and your performance relies solely on your outputs/deliveries.

I never advocate on multitask ever since I started to enter the workforce on 2014. Multitasking disrupts your productivity and ability to complete a task. Multitasking also ruins your ability to focus on implementing a task at hand. I never understand why there are still plenty companies and organizations expect employees to multitask when it is the least efficient method to use. I have been trying multitasking for 2 years and it is the worst method to use, and it makes my performance worst. Therefore, I highly encourage people to stop multitasking and complete your task at your own pace. Always pace yourself.

Office politics? Yuck!

The best part about working remotely is that you won’t have to suffer from office politics. The silent chatter from the grapevine, the whisper behind your cubicle. The only thing that you can think about is your work deadlines. That’s all! I never miss office politics. It’s hard to keep up with it and try to please everybody. It’s even harder when you must worry about the clothes your wear is appropriate for that typical office environment. Blouse and long skirts/slack? Heck no! T-shirt and jeans, please! I understand if some people love to dress up for work, but I prefer my work attire to be simple and casual, and to be least thing to worry about when I want to get shit done.

Contract basis

The most challenging part about working remotely is when to make sure you are getting paid each month. Most of the time, I work on contract basis. Sometimes for 3 months, sometimes for 6 months. The most sustainable is when you can get a contract for more than 1 year.

When working by contract, saving 50% of your salary is very important because you will never know when you’ll ever get paid again. Living frugal is your lifestyle to go for. The first time I started to work by contract is when I started to work with a local civil society organization. I started off with 6 months, then my contract continued further with another 6 months. After that, the pay decreases and slowly stop. I had no income since January until July 2017. It was a nightmare.

I learned by hard from there that saving is the most important component to survive when you have no income coming in for months. Sure, you can spend a little on things you need but always keep a lookout of your saving while looking for other available gigs for you to sign up. Once you earn your first income from your first month working on a 6-months contract, always search for more jobs available that allows you to continue to get paid after the contract ends.

Work and life balance

You may think when working remotely, it is easier to achieve that ideal work and life balance. Heck no! Not when you are constantly receiving 6-months contract! It is very hard to have work and life balance and put into practice, but it is possible to make it happen. The key ingredient is to do it on your own pace, one step and a time, and not others. The next key ingredient is time management.

Do I have any regrets? Sometimes

Working remotely pays of when you can sign up for more than 1-year worth of contract. As I have mentioned earlier, it is not sustainable when you had to work for 6 months contract. When there’s no income coming in for more than one month, I do get more depressed and worry of my future. Have I ever tried applied more permanent jobs online? Of course, I do but no one calls back after that. Which is why I am still working on contract basis because that’s the only opportunity that I have now. Working on remote have its own risk and most of the time based on luck. There are weeks where you never have sunshine and rainbows.

Should this job be permanent? I don’t think so. I believe working as a remote contractor provides great exploration to improve your skills in multidisciplinary level from project management to community outreach. However, it is not the most sustainable job in long term. It is always scary to worry about your income after your 6-months contract ends. If you feel the need to try out working as a remote contractor, go for it! It doesn’t hurt to try but always make sure you have your backup plans ready because you will never know when the shit hits the fan.

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