Things you don’t think about before choosing a virtual job

Things you don’t think about before choosing a virtual job

by Janice Nigro

I am a person who likes to use her hands. I am the daughter of a surgeon after all. So a virtual job isn’t exactly the logical choice for me. Sure I get to use my hands to type words, but the words only ever appear on a screen. It isn’t making something. It isn’t waiting for something to happen in an experiment and then taking a photograph or quantitating it. The words I edit might never even be printed on paper.

It seemed like the ideal thing to try if I wanted to live in the South Bay in California. A virtual job so that I could work from home and avoid traffic. And maybe eventually from an entirely different place (some island somewhere). There are a few things though that I did not consider before I tried this.

You have no reason to leave your house. I make up reasons to leave the house-like a walk on the beach in the morning (it’s pretend walking to work) or I go out for lunch. Of course, things are such today that I don’t really have to leave to do either of these things, to get exercise or more importantly to get food.

It’s possible to not talk to a single person in an entire day. I made the decision to live in an area where I know no one and work from home. I have to wonder about the state of my people skills. Do I talk more than I should when I do talk to people?

I might never meet my boss in person. We have had some phone calls, but it’s possible we will never meet. It’s the same with my clients except for the ones I already know; most I will never ever see. They only know me through the Internet which has interesting problems of it’s own. We are probably not in the same time zone. They could in fact be a day ahead of me. I might not hear from them until it’s their morning, my afternoon-but of the day before. It takes a little longer to communicate, and when you do, you have to take care to be extra polite. It seems somehow easier to inadvertently insult someone in an email especially in another language.

There is no socializing at work. You don’t realize until you work from home, exactly how much time you spend during the day socializing at work. Some of it is discussing work strategies and ideas. But a lot is just hanging around the proverbial water cooler. It is an easy way to make some friends when you first move somewhere. On your own, well, you have the Internet and your phone. We all know how easy it is not to answer e-mail and not to answer our phones. When you work on your own, these are your ways to communicate. So it’s a little more agonizing when you don’t hear from people.

Your victories are shared with no one really. You can share your successes, but it’s all online. The best I can do is send a thumbs up or yes, a smiley face. Or wait for those likes on Facebook.

You need a lot of discipline. There is no one there to tell you to get out of your pajamas to do your work. There is no one there to tell you not to snack on peanut M&Ms. There is no one to tell you to do anything. But you can go out and take photographs of the sunrise or the sunset without any pressure to be anywhere at any specific time.

You are connected with the world without going out into it. I am collaborating with people from all over the world. I receive a paper, I work on it, it is submitted to a journal, which then sends it out to some reviewers who are somewhere else in the world. Finally the article appears in the journal (online and/or in print), and anyone can read it. None of us ever meet. That sets you up for an interesting dilemma in that there are a whole lot of other people around the world who can also do your job. And probably for a lot less.

I am still performing the experiment. I recently complained to a new group of hmmm more virtual people that I needed to make a real world for myself in order to expand my business. I was immediately reminded that I am not limited by my immediate environment and new clients can be anywhere in the world. While it’s true, I wonder sometimes if in order to stand out today you have to do something really old-fashioned-like simply show up and shake hands with someone.

©2016 Janice Marie Nigro/


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