They may have a very similar wording, but the phrases ‘working remotely’ and ‘working from home’ are not mutually exclusive, writes TLR member Kelly O’Brien. Here, she takes us through her own experience of remote working across the globe, and explains why she will never return to a traditional 9 to 5 office-based job.

Now is the time to fully embrace working remotely

Over the course of the last 15 to 20 years, coinciding with the reach of the World Wide Web, remote working has soared in popularity. 

Pre-covid times, this way of life was often seen as reserved only for the young – those fresh out of college and hungry for adventure. But with the arrival of 2020, and the rise of a global pandemic, suddenly millions upon millions of professionals worldwide were thrust brusquely into a remote working mindset. 

It wasn’t the happy-go-lucky, Pura Vida kind of change many might have previously envisioned. This was technically working remotely… but with one massive difference. You could work from home, but you couldn’t play from home. 

Instead of opening a laptop beachside, clocking in 8 hours before powering down to go surfing or dance the night away, workers were stuck within their own four walls. There was literally nowhere else to go. No bars were open, no restaurants were open, there were no social events of any kind. At some point, and understandably so, workers began to miss the social aspect of having a physical workplace. 

And so, now that countries have started to lift most, if not all, coronavirus restrictions, a lot of professionals are happy to return to the workplace thinking working remotely wasn’t so great after all. 

In my opinion, this represents a wasted opportunity. Because what happened in 2020 and beyond was actually just working from home, NOT working remotely. 

The difference lies in the hypothetical situation outlined a few paragraphs earlier. You bring your laptop to whatever location you choose, work your required hours, then spend the rest of your time enjoying your current location. When you feel like it’s time to move on, you do. Perhaps that means going home for a while, perhaps that means going onward to your next destination. The difference is vast. The difference, in my opinion, is freedom. 

Quitting a good job that I absolutely loved

My own dalliance with working remotely first began in the summer of 2017. I had spent some post-university years in Ireland (my home country) working for national and local newspapers. There I held various positions such as news reporter, crime reporter, showbiz correspondent, and assistant news editor. I was a regular on local and national radio shows, talking about my work and the news in general. 

Everyone told me not to quit. It was a prestigious job, in many ways, and one that was difficult to get into. It was also a job I loved. And yet quitting is exactly what I did. At the time I simply wanted to see more of the world. In the end, my desire to travel began to outweigh the not inconsiderable love I had for my journalistic career.

Interviewing Will Ferrell at the Irish premier of Daddy’s Home for the Irish Examiner newspaper, before my remote working experience.
Interviewing Will Ferrell at the Irish premier of Daddy’s Home for the Irish Examiner newspaper.

In preparation, I saved up around €15,000 before I quit -to fund my travels and provide a safety net. I then began my new career as a freelance journalist, copywriter, and social media manager. 

Despite those close to me telling me it was madness, it was the best I have ever made. Initially, the plan was to work and travel for 6 months before returning to Ireland and attempting to get my old job back. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. It has now been almost five years since I left my beloved Emerald Isle. While I do miss my former career on occasion, and the friendly familiarity of my home country, I still have no immediate desire to return.

A girl and her laptop, travelling the world

For the first two years, I backpacked and worked through most countries in Europe and the Americas, along with many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. I spent over a year in the Nordics, between Finland and Sweden, then spent another year in Spain (my current base). 

Hiking on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2018.
Hiking on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2018.

While the pace of travel has slowed considerably for me, I do still make the most of the freedom this lifestyle offers. I chose to spend January in Uganda, for example, working on my laptop and spending my free time searching for lions, leopards, gorillas and chimpanzees in the country’s national parks and forests. I also often venture to other Spanish cities for a few days or weeks at a time, before returning to my current base in Málaga.

Somewhat unwashed and tired, but happy spotting Rhinos, elephants, and gorillas in the wild in Uganda in January 2022
Somewhat unwashed and tired, but happy spotting Rhinos, elephants, and gorillas in the wild in Uganda in January 2022.

In my opinion, this is the true meaning of working remotely. I have been lucky enough to experience, first-hand, this level of freedom and so it hurts my heart when I hear others confusing working remotely with working from home. The two are not the same. One is a lifestyle of total restriction. The other is a life of unadulterated freedom. 

Occasionally, if you are travelling alone, it can also be a life of loneliness. But should you find yourself missing the routine of having a commute, a workplace, colleagues to banter with on a daily basis, then solutions do indeed exist. Look no further than your friendly local coworking space.

Discovering the joy of coworking spaces

Personally, I hadn’t given much thought to coworking spaces before I moved to Sweden. For the first two to three years of my remote working experience, I wasn’t really in any place longer than a couple of weeks. But in Sweden I found it difficult to make friends as a non-Swedish speaking expat. This made me realised I missed some aspects of the physical workplace. I joined a coworking space in the centre of Stockholm, and enjoyed many months of office life. There was free tea and coffee, friendly coworkers, and the occasional community event. 

After slogging through a dark Swedish winter, however, I realised I needed to move to a warmer location. I started to research and found Málaga ticked all the boxes:

  • A dynamic city: not too big, not too small.
  • Beaches.
  • Mountains.
  • Opportunities for day trips.
  • A nearby airport with great connections back to Ireland.
  • High levels of safety, low levels of crime.
  • Friendly locals.
  • Good food.
  • A good healthcare system.
  • An affordable cost of living
  • A unique microclimate (which meant it was probably the warmest and sunniest year-round destination to be found on mainland Europe). 
Málaga, Spain as seen from the summit of Monte Victoria. Málaga is a great place for working remotely.
Málaga, Spain as seen from the summit of Monte Victoria.

I packed my bags, waved Hejdå to the cute little Swedish garden hut I had filled with items from Ikea, and boarded a plane to Málaga, Spain.

My cute little Swedish garden hut, located near Västertorp in the south of Stockholm. This is where I USED to work remotely!
My cute little Swedish garden hut, located near Västertorp in the south of Stockholm.

I figured I would stay in Málaga for a few months, but hadn’t ruled out the possibility of moving somewhere else. 

Málaga was, however, all I had hoped for, and more. Once I realised I wanted to make the city my permanent base, I started searching for the final piece of the puzzle – another fun and sociable coworking space. 

Once again, Málaga over-delivered. I found what can only be the best coworking space in the entire country – The Living Room. Immediately I knew it was the place for me. TLR offers a large, calm, clean space to work productively from during the day, filled with nice people and vibes. It also offers a huge amount of social connections thanks to its many activities, from talks and nights out, to volleyball games and ping pong tournaments. 

With my new coworking family on the rooftop of TLR, after attending my first ever monthly TGIF series of talks. Pic courtesy of Agnès des  Bois.
With my new coworking family on the rooftop of TLR, after attending my first ever monthly TGIF series of talks. Pic courtesy of Agnès des  Bois.

This spring, consider the possibility of working remotely

Hand on heart, I wouldn’t trade my remote working experience for anything. It has enabled me to grow exponentially as a person, and has helped me discover who I am and what I truly want. 

It’s for this exact reason that I would encourage everyone in this world to entertain the possibility of working remotely.

If you’ve thought about it, and it’s not for you, then that’s fair enough. It’s not for everyone. But for others, it could be exactly what’s needed.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, employers now know working remotely doesn’t necessarily mean a drop in productivity. In a lot of cases, remote workers are actually more productive than they would be in the office. 

While this is a positive shift, there’s no telling how quickly this post-pandemic memory will fade in the minds of employers. Who knows how long you will have to seize the opportunity to switch to a remote working lifestyle. The time is here, the opportunity is now. Seize it. 

About Kelly

TLR member, and remote worker, Kelly O'Brien

With professional and educational backgrounds rooted in journalism, Kelly can usually be found furiously typing on one of TLR’s many hotdesks – transcribing audio from interviews, or crafting copy for marketing purposes. 

Originally from Kilkenny, Ireland but currently living in Málaga, Kelly runs her own company called Kelly Mary Media. When she’s not knee deep in work, Kelly is off trotting around the globe, documenting her many weird and wonderful (and sometimes cat-accompanied) adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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