Is Working Virtually Right for You?

By Tara Powers

Virtual work as a career choice is a decision that requires thought and planning. Although at first it may seem daunting to make the switch to working remotely, it can create a fulfilling and rewarding work experience for both the employer and the employee if done with care, clarity, and intention.

These sections discuss why virtual work is popular, how virtual work can affect on your life, and some questions you can ask yourself to discover whether virtual work is best for you.

For many people, the benefits of working virtually are obvious — no commute, flexible schedule, focused productive time to work, and of course, working in your PJs. But if you’re considering switching to a virtual work model, take a closer look at the benefits you may not have considered. Here are six benefits for why you may want to work virtually:

Time management as a virtual team member

Working virtually provides you with more personal time throughout the day. Because you’re cutting down on the daily commute, you have more time to exercise, walk your dog, meditate, sleep, cook healthy meals, get your kids to school, enjoy hobbies, connect with family and friends, and do whatever else you like to do.

Virtual work also gives you more control over your schedule. To some degree, you can set and customize your work hours. For example, if you start work at 4 a.m. to connect with colleagues from Hong Kong and London, you may take a break from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and then begin working again at 3 p.m. Virtual work arrangements enable you to meet other demands for your time during the day. If you find you do your best work at night or early morning, you can find a virtual opportunity that fits your schedule.

Self-direction for virtual workers

You can thrive in a virtual working environment if you’re most engaged and plugged in when you’re able to direct your workflow, plan your daily tasks and priorities, and hold yourself accountable for accomplishing your goals and your team’s. The ability to control your schedule is a powerful opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

Money made on a virtual team

When you work virtually, you can make a decent living working from home, no matter where you’re located. Based on a special analysis of U.S. Census data conducted for FlexJobs by Global Workplace Analytics, the average annual income for most telecommuters is $4,000 higher than that of workers who don’t telecommute.

Even if you live in a rural area of the country, with the right set of skills and technical savviness, you can work virtually in a role that compensates you well. You can also cut down on your personal expenses such as gas, auto maintenance, clothing allowance, and meals when you don’t have to be in an office environment every day.

Happiness from working virtually

Virtual workers report a higher level of job satisfaction and overall happiness and lower levels of stress when working from home. Due to a flexible work schedule and less time commuting, you have an ability to incorporate more things into your day that are joyful and fulfilling.

Virtual work eliminates much of the politics of working in an office so you can focus on doing the work without all the distractions. In addition, virtual work provides the opportunity to work in a more diverse team culture. You can work with teammates spread across the United States or the world. You can discover more about different cultures, work ethics, beliefs, and values. Diverse teammates share novel life experiences that can expand your awareness and appreciation of others.

Phase into retirement as a virtual team member

Every company I work with is concerned with the real issue of brain drain in the workplace, which happens when you’ve been with a company for a long time and carry around years of institutional knowledge that hasn’t been documented, written down, or captured anywhere and now you’re ready to retire. If you’re in this position, a phased approach to retirement, such as working in the office two days a week and at home three days a week, then going part-time virtual two to three days a week is a smart way to help you glide into retirement. More importantly, it helps your company transfer the cultural knowledge that you’re carrying around in your head through opportunities to train, mentor, and coach others and gives you the chance to solidify your legacy.

World travel as a virtual team member

If you’re planning on being a virtual work freelancer, you have a lot of interesting options available, including choosing where you want to work. Depending on your role, traveling around the world while you work on various projects and teams is completely possible and thousands of people do it successfully every day.

Jobs that align nicely with virtual work and world travel include web designer, developer, online marketer, copy writer, blogger, digital director, data manager, engineer, SEO analyst, technical writer, account manager, sales, web hosting, marketing manager, customer success manager, grant and proposal writer, editor, and many more. These jobs represent an opportunity to see the world while working remotely, and to you this may sound like a dream come true. Certainly, this type of work situation is rich in benefits including:

  • Being able to relocate anywhere
  • Controlling your work schedule and the hours you work
  • Needing only a laptop to make a decent living
  • Never having to step foot in a corporate office setting
  • Meeting people from all over the world
  • Being able to immerse yourself in a different country with different customs and ways of living
  • Having more balance in life

The personal impacts of working virtually

Despite the benefits of working remotely, being a virtual team member isn’t short of struggles. Your mom will call and text you at all times of the day because she doesn’t think you actually work. Friends not working will ask you to take the day off to go shopping or out to breakfast. Neighbors will politely ask if you can let their dogs out while they’re away or drive them to a doctor appointment when their car breaks down because you’re obviously not that busy. These requests will happen, and your success depends on how you handle them.

As a 17-year veteran of remote work, my daily struggle of working virtually is real. While writing this, my daughters are screaming in the background while competitively playing video games. My new puppy is trying to scratch his way into my office, whining and barking for my attention. Kids from the neighborhood just rang the doorbell, and because I hesitated for a moment to finish a thought, they peered into my office windows, forcing me to stop what I was doing to answer the door and address them.

Losing focus can easily lead to multitasking and pull your attention away to deal with low priority items, which makes time management a challenge. The daily life of a virtual worker can be difficult and frustrating at times, but the benefits still far outweigh the challenges. Here are some ways being a virtual team member can impact you:

  • Transition: When you work in an office, your workday typically ends when you leave for the day. The transitional drive from work to home allows you to shift your energy and mindset so that you’re ready to focus on your partner, kids, parents, roommates, or pets when you arrive home. That transition is more difficult when you work virtually, often feeling like work never shuts down, which can impact cultivating deep relationships with your family, friends, or pets because you’re constantly distracted by work texts, emails, pings, dings, and rings.

Consider how you’re going to make an effective transition when you’re finished with work. If you have a designated workspace, close your laptop, turn off the lights, and shut the door to signal that you’re finished with work for the day. Take a brief 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. Doing so can work wonders for a shift in mindset.

  • Family: Oftentimes family members don’t understand that you’re actually doing real work when you’re home all day. Every day when my kids get home from school, they want to talk to me, share their day with me, or show me something they created. Occasionally after a rough day, they want to talk out their emotions with me. Unfortunately sometimes I can’t stop what I’m doing right at that moment. When your children or pets can see you, but you’re not able to give them your immediate time and attention because you’re in the middle of working on an important project or leading a webinar when a family need pops up, it can be difficult for them to grasp. It’s very conflicting. Juggling between the two can sometimes seem like you’re drowning and no one is around to throw you a life vest.
  • Boundary management: Boundary management refers to the separation of work and home. When you’re working virtually, managing boundaries can get extremely blurry. Choosing to shut off work and focus on personal interests is one aspect of setting boundaries. Another more difficult task is to set boundaries with others. Virtual team members frequently complain about unspoken expectations imposed by themselves or others that they’re always available in order to prove they’re actually working. This mentality is aligned with issues of control and a lack of trust. Setting clear expectations with team members and your manager about your availability is an important aspect of working successfully in a virtual environment.
  • Advocacy: A recent New York Times article highlighted how people in the office exclude virtual workers, which can easily happen when the whole team isn’t virtual. Virtual team inclusion requires a willingness to make an extra effort and consistently speak up and provide input, reminding your team, boss, and people in the office that you have something to contribute and can add valuable insight. Be your best advocate and work diligently to keep lines of communication open. When you’re not included in a meeting invitation or a meeting gets rescheduled and you aren’t notified, speak up even when doing so is uncomfortable. Make sure that your voice is heard even if you’re not in the office.
  • Distraction management: Consider how you’ll limit distractions in your virtual office. You may work from home, work in a remote office in another city, or work from a coffee shop. Make sure you create a workspace that allows you to get work done and be present for virtual calls and video conferencing. Ignoring this important aspect of working remotely will tarnish your performance, reputation, and long-term success in your role.

Will you excel as a virtual team member?

Regardless of where you live, how old you are, or what your gender, race, or physical abilities are, virtual work is an option for you. Keep in mind though that not all jobs can be accomplished virtually, and current research reports that management, office, sales, and administrative jobs make up 43 percent of virtual jobs with the fastest growing remote opportunities in therapy, virtual administration, client services, tutoring, and state and local government.

It’s difficult to know for sure whether virtual work will be a great fit for you or whether you’ll be a productive, engaged virtual team member until you give it a try. If you desire and intend to succeed in this type of work environment, make sure you’re aware of the challenges you may face and the proven characteristics of successful virtual team members. Use the table to assess whether virtual work is a smart choice.

Considering Working Virtually

Questions to Ask Yourself Yes No
Will I commit to presenting myself professionally over the phone and on video conferencing (such as making sure my office environment is presentable, limiting distractions, dressing professionally, and so on)?
Will I manage conflict effectively with team members by asking questions, assessing emotions and feelings about decisions, and working to gain verbal agreement?
Will I commit to communicating daily using various technology tools and agree to address important issues by picking up the phone or participating in videoconference meetings?
Am I okay with limited in-person interaction on a daily basis?
Can I be effective at brainstorming ideas and solutions with my team members over the phone?
Am I willing to set time aside to get to know my virtual team members personally so that we can develop a strong, collaborative relationship?
Can I organize my time effectively so that I have a productive workday that meets the needs of my team members?
Can I commit to reasonable work hours and turning off work at the end of the day if I’m working from home?
Do I have a practical workspace where I can get work done virtually without interruptions?
Does my family support my desire to work virtually and do they understand what I need from them to be successful?
If working on a global team, am I willing to shift when I work and sleep to connect with team members in different time zones?
Am I self-directed and can I accomplish daily tasks and priorities without any check-ins or prompts from others?
Am I willing to hold myself accountable for accomplishing my goals without my manager’s daily support?
Do I have self-confidence and trust with team members to self-advocate when needed?
Am I willing to set clear boundaries of when I’m working and when I’m available with my family and friends?
Can I commit to a transition routine that will help me shift from work to home and be present with those around me?

Assess your skills for virtual freelance work

Working with a variety of clients as a virtual freelancer may sound like the best gig around, and I’d have to agree. Yet, this type of remote work isn’t always a possibility due to your life circumstances, and it requires keen social skills and a few strong character traits. Being a successful freelancer requires a high level of resolve, great communication skills, sales and networking ability, relationship building, time management, and organizational skills. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, market your services, ask for referrals, and deliver great customer service in order to keep a steady flow of repeat customers.

Most importantly, you need to be good with your money. Sometimes work opportunities will be plentiful and other times work will dry up. Be prepared to save your money when you’re financially stable in order to coast through times when you want to take a break or can’t land a lucrative project. Freelancing is a lifestyle choice. It’s easy to feel alone, and it’s up to you to make an effort to supplement your work with a rich, dynamic lifestyle.