You can work anywhere in the world. It is a freedom envied by many stuck in cubicle land. You tuck your iPhone, earbuds, iPad, charger, travel docs, and a sandwich in your SCOTTeVEST. Throw your laptop and a change of clothes in your backpack—and you’re good to go. Maybe you’re heading to Boston. Or China. You can work in the airport waiting room, on the trolley, in the hotel lobby. As long as you have access to an internet connection, you can put some serious time into that project proposal or write that 2000-word article. Heck, you might just hang and watch a movie.
The ease of working in any public venue leaves you exposed to those who can use that same setting to easily steal your personal information.
Beyond a slightly crushed peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that freedom comes with a price: Online safety. How to work remotely and travel while protecting your work and identity is a legitimate concern.
The challenges of remote working
Freedom to work anywhere and set your own schedule is great. But (and don’t tell anyone), sometimes you’re jealous of your cubicle-bound counterparts. Office life has its own built-in benefits. The camaraderie of colleagues. Going out for drinks and complaining about the boss after work. Slipping into a meeting room with a co-worker to talk about the amazing date you went on last night.
Another benefit of being tied to a desk is knowing that, for the most part, you arrive at a certain time and leave at a certain time. There is a level of comfort in a set schedule. Life seems a little less chaotic when you know what time you’re coming and going.
There are also less distractions. The dog isn’t barking and the baby isn’t crying right outside your cubicle. You’re not sitting in an airport surrounded by dozens of people who are not supposed to be privy to your work conversations. Or your work files.
In this article, we will talk about some of the pitfalls of being a remote worker and how to overcome them. There are several challenges that are unique to remote workers, including:
- How to work remotely and travel securely
- Freedom without loneliness
- Planning your day when you don‘t have set hours
We’ll finish with a checklist that every remote worker needs to live a productive life at home and abroad.
How to work remotely and travel securely
There are three key components to secure remote work.
You need a security policy, a hack-proof way to connect over insecure networks, and a way to protect your devices from viruses and malware.
#1 Network Security Policy (NSP)
Remote workers who work for a company were likely given a formal network security policy (NSP) to follow. This document will include rules about password creation, what virus software must be installed on any device that accesses the company’s networks, and what software programs are permitted. It may also address backup procedures, who should be contacted for security issues, and more. The often-lengthy list of rules and procedures are meant to provide a way to protect the company’s assets – both technical and human.
In a large organization, a committee will create the NSP. Even if you’re a one-person company, you should have a set of rules to manage and protect your data. As a remote worker, you are walking around with proprietary data that belongs to clients. That one laptop you use is connected to the world and is just as open to hacking as a network of thousands of computers.
Remote workers need to be mindful of mixing personal business with client work. Few workers want to carry two laptops. Or worse, keep a separate device for each client. How do you safely surf, post, shop, stream, and do client work on one device? A key component to online security is the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). All the advice we will give you about how to work remotely starts with a VPN.
#2 Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
How many times have you sat in a Starbucks or an airport terminal and used their free WiFi? Convenient, but terribly insecure. VPNs allow you to access files and send/receive communications securely over insecure networks. Large companies use them routinely. Remote workers of any type should use them routinely, too.
Not to scare the daylights out of you, but hackers are everywhere. Some want to make money; others just want to be disruptive. The reason is probably irrelevant to you. How to work remotely without getting hacked is the important part.
There are other reasons to use VPNs. If you’re in a restrictive country like China, VPNs allow you to get around their firewall. (Their famously “great”—meaning really hard to circumvent—firewall.) Should you decide to be a bad girl or bad boy and download copyrighted music for free (a.k.a. “torrenting”), VPNs can protect your identity. Even streaming Netflix can be challenging in some countries.
The solution? VPNs. These heroes of the digital world can keep your data, identity, and communications safe from prying eyes and sticky virtual fingers. There are many options out there. Be sure to understand what makes a good VPN before you select just any vendor. (Large companies have likely pre-selected the VPN you should use.)
#3 Anti-virus software
Again, if you work for a large company, they will let you know which anti-virus program to use. For other remote workers, we highly recommend actually paying for anti-virus software. Sign up for a trial version to try before you buy. But, not having high-quality anti-virus software on the device you use for client work is malpractice. If you’re making a living as a remote worker, you don’t want to lose clients because you didn’t put the basic protections in place to keep their data safe.
Freedom without loneliness
We’ve covered how to safely work and travel remotely. But you’ll need more than virus software and an encrypted connection to stay connected to the human world.
#4 Connect connect connect
Social media is one way to connect. Yes, people make fun of posting a picture of your breakfast. If you travel abroad, your followers may find your morning meal in Brussels pretty interesting.
Another way to feel connected is to use a video instant message app like Marco Polo. One woman, an expat living in Mexico, Marco Polos daily with close friends. She calls them their “therapy sessions.”
Sometimes you just want to mingle in person with other humans. Meetup.com is a great way to meet people with shared interests. Meetup is now global through their Meetup International Blog. Writers, walkers, vegans, techies, and more can meetup around the world. You never know where you’ll meet a new friend. Even if you just meet with the group once, that human connection can reduce your stress.
Planning your day when you don’t have set hours
This is hard whether you travel the globe or work at home in your pajamas. (Some would say to get out of your pajamas, but there are those of us who, ahem, disagree.)
#5 Keep a schedule
Just because you don’t have to arrive at 9am and leave at 5pm doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan your day. There are three key reasons to keep a schedule: to be productive, to remember important tasks and appointments, and to stay sane. Some people require more regimentation than others.
There are writers and artists who insist that having set hours each day where they will work undistracted is the key to their success. That certainly is one option.
There are more flexible ways to keep a schedule. One freelancer (okay, it’s me), rises each day, puts on her Apple watch and grabs a cup of coffee. She checks her email each morning to see if anything sold on eBay and prepares those packages. Throughout the day, her watch reminds her to stand. It also reminds her to take her medication at a set time. Once a week she takes the hour drive to workout with her son (a personal trainer). She puts “Go to Gym” on her iPhone calendar two times a week, which she may or may not ignore. The rest of the time is open to client work and other appointments.
You know yourself. If you find that you are feeling unmoored and a bit blue, or you’re just not getting as much work done as you need to, it’s probably time for you to sit down and create a schedule.
Nearly anyone can create a schedule like this:
- One hour: Work on getting new business. This could be cold calling, submitting proposals for new jobs, or sending emails asking for referrals.
- 15 minutes each day and each evening: Post on social media.
- 30-60 minutes three times a week: Exercise. Take a walk. Do yoga. Lift weights. You don’t have to train for a triathlon to stay healthy.
- 4 hours a day: Client work.
#6 Turn off the devices, spend time with family & friends
If you have a significant other and children, quit working by a certain time each day. Turn the phone off during dinner. You can always squeeze in an hour or two before you go to sleep for email and social media.
Even if you travel extensively, you can work with a schedule like this. Most hotels have gyms. As long as you have internet access, you can get client work done, email, and post to social media. Using the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your phone when you need to focus or get some sleep is always a good idea. Or don’t respond to calls and texts. Just because it’s a convenient time for them, doesn’t mean it’s a convenient time for you.
The ultimate checklist for remote workers
The moment you’ve been waiting for: the ultimate checklist for remote workers. This simple list reminds you how to work remotely and stay safe as well as sane.
- Create and follow a Network Security Policy (NSP).
- Use a high-quality Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Use reliable anti-virus software.
- Connect with other humans virtually and in person.
- Create a daily schedule that works for you.
- Turn off the devices to focus, spend time with friends and family, or to get some rest.
Following this simple checklist can keep you secure, productive, and grounded whether you’re a globe-trotting corporate employee or a home-bound, pajama-wearing freelancer. Be safe out there!