5 Challenges of Working From Anywhere And How To Overcome Them
Following on from Skellie’s excellent Web Worker series, in this post I’m going to outline some of the most common challenges faced when you work from anywhere and how you can overcome them.
Since my husband and I left the UK last year for destinations unknown, we’ve been running our business from exotic locations such as Panama, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Dubai and we’re currently in South Africa for the next 3 months. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Most definitely but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks.
Here are some of the challenges you’re likely to face if you plan to work from anywhere – and how to overcome them…
Unstable internet connections
The bane of a web worker’s life, dodgy internet connections can make or break your business. If you’re in the wilds of Africa without a fast, stable connection there’s not a huge amount you can do about it. The best advice therefore is to do your research before you go and find out as much as you can about internet access and ideally the infrastructure that provides it, in your chosen destination. Consider researching the following aspects:
- Type of connection – satellite or cable
- Maximum speed available – both upload and download
- Availability of internet cafes (often a good indication of a decent service)
- Cost to access the internet and how it’s charged
If you find you’ve got your heart set on a particular place but the internet service seems dodgy, then think long and hard about it. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to connect and nothing more stressful than knowing that you’re letting clients down. Perhaps consider a more suitable place to work from and leave the other destination for a holiday.
Staying in touch & being contact-able by phone
If your internet connection is stable, fast and VOIP is allowed (it’s banned in parts of the Middle East although it is now available in Dubai & the UAE), then staying in touch and communicating with clients is relatively simple. If you typically service clients from one country, then consider purchasing a SkypeIn number to allow them to contact you easily and cheaply. I personally have 3 SkypeIn numbers – one for clients in the UK, one for clients in the US and one for Australia.
If VOIP is not an option and you need to be in contact by phone, then you have a few options:
- Ask your cellphone provider before you leave if there is an international roaming package which gets you cheaper calls – both making and receiving – at your destination. Ensure you also have a quad-band handset.
- Use local calling cards which let you dial a local access number and make cheaper rate calls.
- Have a VA or assistant take initial calls for you and then email you about any relevant calls you need to deal with.
Lack of office equipment
As much as I’d love to be able to carry a portable printer and scanner around with me, it just doesn’t fit with our goal of travelling with under 20kg of luggage between us. Fortunately, in every place we’ve been to so far, printing and scanning facilities have been available at an internet cafe.
There are also a couple of nifty tools which are great for scanning, copying and faxing certain items using your cellphone – these are Scanr and Qipit. For faxing,consider using an online fax service such as eFax.
Another simple alternative to scanning is to simply use your digital camera if you want to make digital back-up copies of documents.
Difficulty sending & receiving snail mail
One of the big drawbacks of working from an exotic, remote location is the postal service. Aside from having to figure out how things work in a foreign language, many postal systems around the world are less than reliable. In most cases, couriering important documents is your only method of guaranteeing fast delivery.
There are a few useful services such as eSnailer (free but to US only), Postful (from US$99 to US & internationally) or ShinyLetter (from $2 to anywhere) which print and send out snail mail for you using their online services.
To receive snail mail whilst you’re overseas, we use Earth Class Mail which provides you with a US address or there are alternative services such as Paperless PO Box or Mail Boxes Etc. which have franchises worldwide.
Managing clients across multiple time zones
It can get pretty confusing when you’ve been travelling for 24 hours through multiple time zones and realise you have a call with a client the day after you arrive. Ensuring I’ve scheduled the right time with clients is something I obsess about – and so far, I haven’t got it wrong despite living in 6 different time zones over the past year. Here are 2 things I do to ensure I don’t screw it up:
- If you use Firefox, install the Foxclocks add-on which puts all the time zones you need directly in your browser for reference.
- Always write the time of an appointment in both your local time and the client’s time zone in your calendar.
And to manage clients’ expectations, either use an online appointment planner and ensure you update the available appointments according to your time zone or work out your “available slots” whenever you arrive in a new place, to ensure you don’t give someone the option of scheduling a 3am call with you!
Here’s one additional tip for dealing with a challenge for which I was totally unprepared…
Too many distractions & disruptions to focus on work
Working from exotic locations can pose a rather nice challenge to have – but it’s a challenge nonetheless – the fact that you’re surrounded by new and exciting things to do that you’d far rather be doing than working. For my advice on how to maintain your focus whilst travelling, check out an earlier post I wrote about being location independent.
For many freelancers, being an online web worker is “living the dream”. Having done it for the past year, I’d have to agree although it does pose some unique challenges which can threaten to ruin everything.
The best advice I can give is this: Think through all your plans very carefully in advance, ensure your clients are going to be minimally impacted and have contingencies for everything.