I Work An Ocean Away From My Coworkers—Here’s What It’s Really Like
By: Kelli Smith
I’ve lived in Finland for just over 22 years. I first came to Finland for work—I’d been fascinated with the country since my childhood best friend’s family had a Finnish exchange student, so I jumped at the chance to move to this amazing country when my first job out of graduate school gave me the opportunity.
Today, I’m the Head of Customer Support here at Skillcrush. On a day-to-day basis, that means I’m emailing or live chatting with our potential students to help them understand what Skillcrush is all about, or with current students to make sure they’re all set with their enrollment, payments, etc. I’m also part of our operations team (which is essentially our HR department), so I also get to help make sure we have the best possible benefits, perks, and work culture possible.
I’ve found that being a remote worker is a little like leading a double life. I should clarify—for myself I mean it quite literally!
By day, I’m a happy ex-pat who runs errands, practices catalan-style dancing, and generally enjoys the perks of small-town life in Finland, a healthy seven hours to ten hours ahead of my coworkers in the States. And at night, I’m that same person, except I’m working with the rest of my remote team to send encouraging Corgi gifs and tech advice to Skillcrushers everywhere.
Working remotely has become the best fit for my lifestyle, but it’s not always easy. Over the years I’ve found that people are curious about how remote work could impact their lives, and they want to understand how flexible working from home really is. Hopefully a look into my average day will help you troubleshoot your own schedule, and better understand the unique perks and challenges that working remotely offers.
8:00 a.m. (Finnish time)
Despite my sometimes late work hours, I’m still a morning person. My day begins around 8:00 a.m. I’ll have some breakfast, throw on a podcast and get myself organized for the day. (I’m famous at Skillcrush for being such an avid podcast listener—I listen to about 50 podcasts! My absolute favorite is Hello Internet, and I also love 2 Dope Queens, Accidental Tech Podcast, Cortex, No Such Thing as a Fish, Reconcilable Differences, Reply All, and The Talk Show. And of course, I can hardly wait for Skillcrush’s very own podcast, Hit Refresh, to start!)
As I mentioned, I’m seven hours ahead of East Coast time, so though I sometimes catch California coworkers at the very end of their day, I’m usually awake much earlier than everyone else. I’ll check the company inboxes for messages from students, see what virtual water cooler chit-chat took place while I was asleep, and start gearing up!
Between 10:00 a.m. and noon, I like to carve out some time to run errands, take care of personal admin work like booking travel for my number-one hobby (more on that later), writing, or see a friend for a coffee. I find that being able to break up my day like this is more productive because it keeps me away from my computer and the temptation to keep cleaning the company inbox until it’s empty! I’m a total completionist.
Noon is when I buckle in and really start working for the day. By around 4:00 p.m. my time, most of my coworkers are starting their day, so I’ll stay logged onto our company chat system and knock out tasks for another hour or so.
Something we talk about more and more as a company is how much time we need to overlap with one another in order to get projects done. I find that for me, it helps to have time set every day to work alone—cleaning out the inboxes and troubleshooting solutions for students—and time when my team is available to talk, either face-to-face in a Google Hangout, or via the company chatrooms.
Quitting time! Well, at least for a bit. I’ve found that one of the drawbacks to the remote workday (and living alone) is the temptation to push through your scheduled breaks, and I struggled with this when I initially started at Skillcrush.
Eventually, I noticed that I was working way too much, not making time for myself, and struggling to stay on schedule. Now, I respect the lines I’ve drawn for myself, because I know how important they are to keeping my life balanced. Calendars, time blocking, and scheduling vacations are how I best deal with my completionist tendencies. I’ve found that being forced to unplug by taking away my access to Wi-Fi is a super effective reset button for me and vacations or short trips are critical to helping me maintain a work/life balance that makes sense.
So, for this break: I log off to grab some dinner, run any leftover personal errands, and practice my hobby—catalan-style line dancing!
[Editors’ Note: We decided we had to hear more about this and asked Kelli to give us a rundown.]
About ten years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to go to a country line dancing course here (since she thought that somebody like me who grew up in Texas should at least give it a try). I got hooked on it right away and was soon going to a course or practicing with a group three or four times a week. A few years later, I saw some YouTube videos of a similar type of dancing called catalan-style line dancing, which looked even more fun and challenging than country. A couple years later, I went to my first catalan-style event, and it was absolutely amazing! The talent and passion of the choreographers and other dancers are incredible, and the events, workshops, and competitions have taken me to Denmark, Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, and soon Belgium!
There are also small events organized in Finland a few times a year. But, since there are so few people here who dance this style and we’re spread pretty far apart from each other, there aren’t any regular classes. So, most of the time I practice on my own in my condo—which is fortunately (for the other residents!) on the first floor and has a living room that easily converts to a “dance studio.” I know I’d enjoy this hobby in any case, but, working remotely and being able to also practice at home means I have even more time for dancing, which keeps me in shape and in a great mood so I’m even more energized and excited about my work. A pretty awesome combo, if you ask me!
By now it’s 2:00 p.m. on the East Coast, and that means I’m hopping into Google Hangouts with all my coworkers who are just finishing lunch. These end-of-day meetings can run till about midnight my time, so once I’m done, I log off and hit the hay.
Being in a virtual room with a bunch of coworkers who are still in the middle of their workdays is no cup of chamomile tea, and I struggled with falling asleep after meetings for a long time. The best solution I’ve found to this dilemma is great note taking. It sounds simple, but this tactic packs a real punch. Now, I know that I don’t need to stay awake into the night to take care of tasks I’ve just talked about with coworkers, because I worked very hard at becoming a great note-taker, and I know I’ve got those sweet, uninterrupted morning hours waiting for me tomorrow when all these Skillcrushers are fast asleep, seven hours behind me. Those tasks can wait, and I have detailed instructions so I can clear my head and fall asleep.
Quitting time—for real! Sometimes I still struggle to nod off after a particularly exciting meeting, but hey, that’s just part of the schedule at this point! And yes, there are some nights when I stay on later in order to help out with company events, or other important things coming down the pike. Even with the challenges, I’ve found that the flexibility of my schedule as a remote worker makes everything even out in a way that allows me to lead the kind of life I most enjoy.
The trick I keep in my back pocket when I feel like I’m losing my sanity doesn’t have anything to do with calendars or scheduling—it’s dancing! Because here’s the thing: Remote work doesn’t offer utopia so much as it offers more choices.
I’m personally happy to wake up every morning knowing that by the end, I’ll have worked across time zones, helping students and talking to people all over the world—from the comfort of my standing desk in Finland. And yeah, there’ll be time for dance practice.
She was both one of the first Skillcrush students and one of the first Skillcrush team members, starting as our customer support manager and now serving as our Operations (aka HR) Manager, a writer for our blog, and a career counselor.
Kelli is a Texan living in Finland who loves tech, podcasts, Corgis, emoji, gifs, and, most of all, practicing for and going to catalan style line dancing events all around Europe.