Burning Out in a Dream-come-true Life
Working from home -- or the road -- comes with its downsides.
Posted August 19, 2012
Attribute it to recession layoffs, antsy Millennials or the fact that Americans have increasingly delayed marriage and child-rearing until their thirties and forties– whatever the cause, more people have created remote-work lifestyles that allow them to be more independent. In some of these cases, individuals are choosing to work from the road as they gallivant about the world. But it may come at a cost.
Back in 2009 and 2010, it seemed everywhere you looked there was another jubilant announcement by someone breaking his or her career or choosing to pack up and head to China after a layoff. This was the beginning, the reach-for-the-sky, “My life’s about to change” electricity buzzing through multiple generations of American workers who suddenly realized there is another way in life.
Take a look around the Internet now, and you’ll see a much different type of revelation by this sometimes nomadic, independent contractor crew: now this lifestyle is burning them out, too. From CNN to independent travel web sites, accounts of issues like “travel blogging burnout” have emerged left and right.
The face of it might seem annoying. How dare these people, some of whom have been to more countries in a two-year span than many individuals will ever see in a lifetime, complain about their freedom. How dare these people who are their own bosses complain about regularly working 12-hour days, where they continue to eat meals at their laptops like they did in their old offices. “They have it made,” you might say. “They have everything any of us could ever dream of.”
But do they really?
Research in the MIT Sloan Management Review shows that remote workers tend to work longer hours and struggle with “turning off” at the end of the day because their workspace blurs into their personal space – two behaviors that can lead to burnout. If you’re a freelancer instead of a full-time company employee who is telecommuting, time really is money; without a salary, you’re earning hourly or per-project commission. The ability to maximise this time becomes difficult when, instead of sitting in an office space in your own home, you’re in a dingy hostel in Bolivia with spotty Internet.
There other side of this mobility trend is that technology is guilting us into always being switched on for work. An Osterman Research Survey showed we increasingly feel a need to always be accessible to work clients. Eighty-three percent check email during non-work hours using a mobile device while 66 percent bring a work-related device on vacation. If you’re a traveling freelancer who makes your own work hours and, to an extent, is always on vacation in the travel sense of the word, it’s easy to see how these emerging tendencies can be magnified.
Working remotely without a set home base is certainly a choice, and one that is becoming more tangible to a greater number of Americans than ever before. Perhaps the answer is to take a six-month or year-long trial run of remote work from your actual home before setting out into the world. Then at least you'll (hopefully) have the basics like time management, expense tracking, fee negotiation and project planning down before you throw a grueling 16-hour bus ride through Asia and a language barrier into the mix.
What do you make of travel/remote work burnout?