Ten years ago, when I first came up with the idea for a life on the road, I thought of it as just another daydream. After all, how could what is essentially non-stop travel be anything more than a frivolous fantasy? Where would I find the time? Who would finance it? Where would my house be? What would my friends and family say and think?
A decade later, I find myself living exactly that life for nine months and counting, my partner along for the ride, both of us gainfully employed and working from the road. In fact, I’m earning more than ever – all while road tripping across the United States and traversing the world to my heart’s content.
That’s why this year, in celebration of the Fourth of July, I’d like to observe a different kind of freedom: The freedom to work wherever you please.
What makes it possible? Work that one is able to do, independent of any one city, location, or desk. And it’s the kind of work that often goes beyond the expected one-off, contract assignments. My husband, for instance, works full-time as co-founder and chief research officer of a conversion optimization startup, while I make a living as a freelance writer. I have a steady roster of client work, and he’s up to his ears in building his business. But there’s so much more that can make this lifestyle, or a similar one, possible. Writers, designers, programmers, consultants, and many other professionals – including many that deal with various areas of customer engagement – are finding that remote work has become an increasingly viable option and, for more and more people, a simple reality.
The thing is, the basic tools that make remote work possible have been around for much longer than this westward bound movement. For many of these jobs, a phone, computer, Internet connection, and relevant word- or image-processing software could be just the right ingredients to accomplish any necessary tasks. Nowadays, social networks like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to network and connect with potential new clients. Programs like TeamViewer, GoToMeeting, Conceptboard, Asana, and others – not to mention good old Skype and Google Hangouts – have made it a piece of cake to hold virtual meetings and collaborate on various projects. The need to be together at one physical table has disappeared, replaced by a digital desk that can connect to anywhere, anytime.
And it doesn’t mean less work gets done. Greater freedom can actually lead to greater productivity. Last year, The Atlantic reported on a survey from WorkFront (formerly AtTask) that found “U.S. employees at large-sized companies (1000 employees or more) only spend 45 percent of their time on primary job duties.” The rest of the day goes to emailing, meetings (the most wasteful part of the workday, according to 59% of respondents), and administrative tasks, as well as various “interruptions.” When you put it that way, it’s a wonder anything gets done at all.
Whether you’re working from home, on the road, or anywhere in between, freelancing and remote gigs require a healthy dose of discipline and self-motivation, and are constantly driven by the desire and need to complete one assignment in order to get on to the next. The ability to set one’s own schedule also contributes to heightened efficiency, since studies have revealed that productivity peaks at certain times of day, which don’t necessarily all fall directly during 9-5. Flexible hours means making time to work and then giving it all you’ve got – all while maintaining an attractive work-life balance.
According to a survey conducted by Elance-oDesk and the Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans – that’s 34% of this country’s workforce – are currently working as freelancers (defined as independent contractors, moonlighters, diversified and temporary workers, and freelance business owners). And it makes sense. In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, taking on temporary work and random gigs became a way to pay the bills and make ends meet. But for many, what was born out of necessity has become a satisfying and sustainable livelihood. Some predictions even say that by 2020, free agent employment will surpass traditional, full-time occupation. And a whopping 83% of executives say they are increasingly hiring consultants, intermittent employees, and contingent workers for projects and temporary work.
Want more insight on the direction employment is taking? See The Future of Work.