Remote work story of Robert Jellison

Remote Work Stories
5 April, 2022
Robert Jellison

Can you please introduce yourself?

Hi! I'm Robert, the Managing Editor for FinanceJar and RentSwift. I've been working remotely for several years now. Overall, it's been great for me and even better for my cat (who now throws a tantrum on the rare occasions that I have to leave the house during the workday).

What’s your profession, what do you do?

I work with a team of writers and editors to create articles about personal finance for our websites. I also spend more time researching nerdy financial minutiae (e.g., digging into the exact type of black magic that companies use to create your credit score) than I really like to think about.

What company do you work for? Are you a freelancer or Digital Nomad?

I work for FinanceJar and RentSwift full-time. I'm not a freelancer or a digital nomad—I'm lucky enough to work for a company with very remote-friendly policies. We do have a physical office, but some of us go for months without setting foot in it (right now our team is scattered across three continents).

How did you start with a remote work journey?  

I kind of fell into remote working by accident, although I've always been interested in it, largely because I really dislike commuting. I live in Taipei, Taiwan, which has an excellent subway system, but ... I'm not a morning person. I never have been. I don't even like SEEING people before 10 am, much less being crammed into a tight metal tube with 100 of them. (Let's not even talk about driving in the city.)

When I landed my current job, one of the first things the interviewer said to me was, "This job is mostly remote, so you'll probably spend most of your time working from coffee shops or your home. Is that okay with you?" I don't remember what I said, but I was thinking, Duh, where do I sign?

What do you think are the main benefits of working remotely?

Well, there's no commute—that's a big one, obviously. Also, you get complete control over your workspace. To keep myself reasonably healthy, I recently splurged on a treadmill desk, and I can walk on it all day without annoying people.

Also, you get to spend more time with your pets (if you have them), you can take trips whenever you feel like it ... the list goes on.

Do you think there are disadvantages or that you’re missing something by working remotely?

Obviously, a lot of people enjoy the social aspect that comes with working in an office, which is something that's missing from remote work. Also, it arguably takes more willpower to stay focused while working

(Unless, that is, your coworkers are really distracting, in which case maybe working from home will be an improvement—but in general, I find I have to exert more mental effort to keep myself on task.)

From what cities or countries have you worked since you have become remote? What are your favourite countries or cities to work from?

I'm biased, but Taipei really is a great city for remote work. There are a million cute little cafes you can work from.

One time a Taiwanese friend explained this to me—traditional Taiwanese companies can be pretty brutal (high stress, long hours), so approximately half of the people you'll run into have secret fantasies of dropping out of the rat race and opening up a coffee shop. The result is that new cafes are opening all the time, and you can try a new one every week and never run out.

From what type of places do you prefer to work? Home, co-working spaces, coffee shops, or others?

Like I said, I do like going to coffee shops, but I still probably do 75% of my work from home. As I write this, I'm sitting in bed and my cat is 3 feet away.

What places would you like to travel to while working remotely?

As soon as traveling gets a bit easier (thanks, pandemic), I want to spend a few weeks in Hokkaido, Japan. Preferably in the winter—I love the idea of holing up to work in a cabin while it snows outside. How cozy would that be?

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? Share your remote productivity, communication, management, etc. tips based on your experience!

To me, the biggest challenge that comes from managing a remote team is that there's a danger that people will lose the sense of camaraderie that develops when you're all working in the same office together.

To combat this, some managers like to schedule virtual team-building activities. That can work, but it's pretty tricky—activities that some people love (e.g., team games) make other people cringe. It can be tough to find something that everyone will actually enjoy and that will bring your team together.

Unfortunately, that's something that managers really need to figure out on a case-by-case basis, since what's right for one team definitely won't be right for all of them. The one universal piece of advice I can give is, if you do schedule a remote team-building activity, please, please, schedule it during work hours (assuming your team does have a relatively fixed schedule). Nobody wants to give up their evening for a virtual happy hour.

What tools do you use to improve productivity and manage work efficiently?

I'm old school. I have a little notebook (meaning an actual book with paper in it, not a laptop) that I make a to-do list in every day. As long as I manage to complete all the items on my checklist, I figure I've been reasonably productive.

I've tried other methods—like using a pomodoro timer—and they're more stressful than helpful for me. I don't like managing my time down to the minute, just making sure I get everything done by the end of the day.

How do you manage your business and taxes as a remote working professional?

As an expat, my taxes are both simple and complicated. This is actually very important to know if you're a US citizen working remotely abroad, and I've met a few people who didn't get the memo—you absolutely DO have to file taxes on any income you earn, but you might not actually have to PAY anything because you can exclude a little over $100,000 USD of foreign-earned income.

What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely?

One of the only good effects of the pandemic is that remote work has gone mainstream in a big way, so if this is a lifestyle you want, there's never been a better time to get into it.

Whether you want to work remotely for a company or you're trying to start a freelance career, my advice is: don't sell your labor too cheaply. A lot of people, when they're just starting out, feel like they have to work for peanuts (or even for free, for the dreaded "exposure"). This is especially prevalent in freelance writing, and I think it's a big mistake.

Clients that pay insultingly low rates are looking to exploit first-timers who are desperate to get their start. By and large, they know exactly what they're doing. Don't be afraid to walk away from clients like that. If you're good at what you do, you'll be able to find someone who'll pay a fair market rate for it.

Would you like to share any interesting stories while you worked remotely?

Please share if you can.I have to admit that working remotely has eroded my sense of normal office norms a bit. Particularly when it comes to food—I'm used to everything in my home being My Food, in contrast to the world outside my house, where most of the time it's Not My Food.

This means that, on the rare occasions when I have to go into an office, I'm liable to absentmindedly swipe something from someone's desk and then have to stammer out an awkward explanation when they ask me why I just stole their muffin.

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