It’s really harsh to be so blunt, and I am writing this with the benefit of hindsight. But the lockdown and great equalizer of the global pandemic helped how my clients see me.
Around 2010, a friend sent me a copy of The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, a book which by now has permeated most of our culture whether we know it or not – but at the time was revolutionary. One of the big takeaways of this book was to work remotely, and intensely, and take mini-retirements when needed. Don’t wait for 60 or 65 or whenever to start enjoying your life. If you don’t like where you are, leave. And with remote work, that’s possible.
In 2014 I became a freelancer, working with clients around Europe. By 2017 after yet another nonstop gray month in Belgium with less than 10 total hours of sunshine, I convinced my then boyfriend that we were already working remotely so we might as well be enjoying our lives and go play digital nomad in Thailand.
We had already been taking jaunts around Europe for weeks at a time, but still maintained a base in Brussels. So in 2017 we subletted our apartment and set off for Bangkok.
But the world in 2017 was not ready for remote work. And I suffered the consequences. I’d stay awake until 4am to take evening calls in Europe that were ultimately no-shows. I’d constantly be left out of decisions as I wasn’t in the office/with the client on site, and they’d ignore my requests for catch up calls. My requests for scheduled meetings were ignored, everything was ad hoc, so I was working European hours in an Asian timezone.
And overall what bothered me most was that people thought I was on vacation/holiday, and not that I was actually working remotely. It was inconceivable in a conservative European work environment.
When we returned from Thailand in 2018, we relocated to Barcelona. I’d still make frequent trips to Brussels to be on-site with clients. These trips were mainly social events, decision making and actual work rarely took place, but the value was in showing up and saying hello. Somewhat inefficient and still time consuming, but I figured it was a necessary part of work. (Besides, I also like being around people!)
Flash forward to 2020 and as the world shut down and my clients could no longer go to the office, suddenly we were all on Zoom. I was an equal. 99% of all my clients saw my life in Barcelona/Thailand/remote as the future. People got over their inability to commit to meetings with notice and started scheduling them. Colleagues recognised that we all didn’t need to be together for our type of work to get done, and done well. The world adapted.
It’s not just that. I’m not a visionary or futurist. There was also a lot of covid-relief funding available all of a sudden, all at once. I couldn’t leave the house (Spain was strict) so there was nothing to do but work. So 2020 & 2021 were excellent freelance years.