Interview with Kayla Ihrig

Kayla Ihrig is a  freelance content creator and also a Pinterest manager. You can find her work on her website Writing From Nowhere, Pinterest, YouTube, or Instagram.

Kayla Ihrig1. How did you start working remotely? How did you make the switch?:

In early 2017, it occurred to me that my life was completely void of fun. I was working at a corporate job (which I actually did enjoy) and living in a city (which I actually did like), yet I felt like I was sleepwalking through life.

Weeks and months would pass me by without significance, beyond the deadlines and work drama that occurred. I had this unignorable feeling that life was supposed to be, at least a little, fun.

I took this concern to all of my closest colleagues and most of them confirmed: life ought to be fun, but in reality, it isn’t. I saw on Instagram that there were people living out of their vans and working remotely. The obsession began: not just with van life, but with the digital nomad movement.

The decision to quit my job at the end of my apartment lease was made. I learned about the concept of work exchanges (doing work in exchange for accommodation) and joined WorkAway. My first offer was from a hostel in Mexico, so I booked a one-way ticket.

Other details came later, like how would I make money online? I’d done freelance writing and graphic during my last year of college and felt like I could scrounge up some clients when the time came. With a small cushion of savings and low travel costs, I didn’t plan my income out very much. I felt like once I was on the road, it would all work out. It was rocky at times, but that belief turned out to be true. I haven’t gone back permanently to the US since that one-way ticket five years ago.

2. What do you think are the main advantages of remote work?:

Remote work is a great equalizer. With the necessary infrastructure, a person living in a country with a weak currency can open an online shop and sell products for dollars, euros, or pounds. Or they can be hired as a freelancer by a business owner anywhere in the world, also charging any currency they choose. People with disabilities can work from home; a request that was denied for years as the traditional workforce clung to in-office culture.

To me, remote work is synonymous with opportunity. The opportunity to live abroad and travel while taking my income with me has changed my life. When done correctly, working online offers freedom, happiness and increase efficiency. It’s pure magic.

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

There are downsides to everything, and remote work is no exception. It’s not compatible with everyone’s emotional needs, and can really test your mental health at times. If you don’t replace the relationships and stimulation you got at the office, then you will become lonely and bored with enough time.

Deteriorating mental health was a major complaint during 2020 when so many workers suddenly went remote, but I don’t think that experience was representative at all. Of course, a percentage of those people were truly not a good fit with working online, but many were impacted by the other strains of the pandemic. Or, by the simple fact that they didn’t prepare or choose their remote work experience.

However, the average remote worker isn’t also shouldering worries of economic distress, global tragedy, being separated from loved ones indefinitely. More typical remote worker stressors include slow wifi, tech issues and slow wifi. Did I repeat myself?? So will the experience of slow wifi – no matter where you are.

4. From what cities or countries have you worked since you have become remote? What are your favorite ones?:

After quitting my job and moving out of my apartment in Chicago in 2017, I worked online between family and friends’ homes in the US for a month. Then my “real” trip began and I finally took that one-way flight to Mexico. On that specific backpacking trip, I traveled south to Peru and then moved to the Netherlands. Working from Crete, Greece has been my favorite location in Europe. There’s a misconception that working remotely while traveling is just a long vacation, but it’s hard to fit travel in when you’re busy with work. In Greece during the low season, a studio with ocean views for a month was cheaper than my rent. Every day I would work my 8 hours and then walk along the beach to the grocery store. That mental cleanse was just as appreciated as any major city highlight. Traveling slowly makes you appreciate those details.

The internet was a headache, but that’s a part of the lifestyle.

5. From what type of places do you prefer to work? Home, coworking spaces, coffee shops, or others? Do you have any specific place?:

To me, the perfect office is simple: it’s in a warm climate, with an open-air building, fast wifi and other online business owners to talk with when it’s time to close our laptops for the day. Coworking spaces with day or week passes and hostels that cater to digital nomads (lots of tables and outlets) are perfect.

Public libraries can also be perfect working environments, as well as bars that happen to be opening in the morning or afternoon. Cafes get expensive easily and you’ll often have to fight for an outlet, so I use them as a last resort.

Past workspaces have included moving buses, train terminals, and even a hospital room alongside my friend who was giving birth (it was a 25-hour labor, she gave me her blessing to put some hours in). I think the biggest hurdle to productivity isn’t your environment as much as your own focus and headspace.

6. What places would you like to travel to while working remotely?:

I’ve spent the pandemic daydreaming about working from Vietnam, Turkey and Rwanda. Wherever I go next, I’m hoping to find more community.

7. What advice would you give to overcome the main challenges of working remotely? Share your remote productivity, communication, management, etc. tips based on your experience!:

Develop immaculate work habits as a remote worker. You can start doing this now, even if you haven’t transitioned yet. Stay on top of your communications, don’t get buried by your to-do list and finish everything ahead of time.

The mental strain of being disorganized will deteriorate your off-time. You’ll wonder if you missed an email, or forgot something for a project or if you’re running behind on deadlines. Never let anything get down to the last day of a deadline when you’re working remotely. It’ll be just your luck that on that day, your keyboard will break. Or you’ll lose your laptop charger. Or the wifi will go out at your apartment, and it’s a global pandemic and all businesses with public wifi are closed.

Organization is the most important skill to develop for your remote endeavors. It will save you heartbreak, money and time. Learn to love it.

8. What tools do you use and are your favorites to work remotely?:

My favorite tools are:

– The “go f***ing work” Google Chrome extension. This allows you to block off websites that distract you
– The “newsfeed eradicator” Google Chrome extension. This erases your Facebook newsfeed and replaces it with a quote. This is perfect for those of us who need Facebook for work but hate accidentally wasting time there
– The timer on your phone. Guess how long a task takes to complete and then set a timer for that amount of time. Try to blast tasks off your to-do list as quickly as possible this way
– Downtime. Don’t underestimate the value of downtime. You need it to be creative, productive and efficient

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

I hire local accountants in both my country of citizenship and country of residence. Taxes are not a place to skimp or trust strangers in Facebook groups for advice.

10. What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely and companies making the remote switch?:

I encourage individuals who want to go remote to start building good habits *now.* Working remotely can become a mental health pressure cooker if done the wrong way.

Your worst habits will gang up on you: disorganization, procrastination, and poor communication will corner you in a dark alley and make you wish you’d stayed in your cubical.

It hurts to lose a client or let a project team down because you were too sloppy to hold up your end of the bargain. Resolve to become the best version of your work self and start working on that version right now.

I hope that more companies will give employees the flexibility to work remotely some or all of the time. Remote work is the future.

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