Almost a year ago, I started working as a communications intern for a couple of companies off-site. Even though I grew up during the rise of the Internet and consequently the construction of the streets of cyberspace and the realization of Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village,” the idea of working solely online still held some sci-fi mystique for me. Though I have spent many hours as a social media user and a web surfer, being a cyber professional seems to be right out there with independent AI’s, cyber cowboys and Keeanu Reeves. My experience, unfortunately, is less cyberpunk “bullet time” and more cyberfrenzy, so here are the things I learned during my trek into the thick of working through the wild World Wide Web.
- The elusive online work does exist!
As much as I have spent weaving online work into the matrix of cyber fiction, it is real. I am not talking about those suspicious telemarketing “work from home” kinds either. There is legitimate and also various work that is available entirely or partially online.
I personally found my first distance internship through SCIP (Serving Communities Internship Program). It’s a matter of finding the virtual positions available that match your skills and time commitments.
As far as my second virtual placement, I did a virtual scouring of potential publishers that are more inclined to hire offsite workers. This hunt meant a lot of reading on their mandate and about page. Keywords to look out for are “global market,” “moving with technological advancement,” “web based,” etc. When the company you are looking at seems to be technologically advanced or savvy, they are more likely to be open to virtual workers. In my experience, I had to ask if there are possibilities for a distance internship, and though this might not work for regular employment, I think keeping in mind that there are jobs out there that don’t exist until you ask is very important.
- You are mostly working on self-management, and surprisingly, the management can still suck.
I think the most attractive myth around working online is the myth of independence. You work mostly for yourself. Sure, there are deliverables, but it is working at your own pace with as many coffee/Facebook breaks you want.
It is common for freelancers to find their inner self-boss more lenient—allowing 3-hour lunch breaks, impromptu Netflix binges, and indulgence on another pointless cat video. Of course by the end of the day, your inner boss realizes you are a horrible slacker, and you are now on a roller coaster guilt trip nose dive.
Independence in an online setting is equivalent to huge self-accountability. This independence also means you may not have support at your fingertips. For example, I was given a project working with a new software that my boss wasn’t an expert on and the software support wasn’t particularly helpful. I needed to take initiative, be responsible and work my way through the problem by myself. I had to learn how to be a good self-manager, and I must confess I am not my ideal boss.
- Working on your own time may mean you work longer.
As per discussed above, the challenges in working online involve being online itself (i.e. Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, cat videos, wikiHow, Forbes, etc.). When information (both useless and potentially useful information) is just a Google away, you can easily get distracted.
There are programs to keep your slog through the World Wide Web on the productive path. Leechblock and SelfControl can block certain sites that leech on your productivity. Having set working hours and break times are also crucial in keeping your professional online commitments.
To keep yourself motivated, break down large projects to a manageable to-do list, then create a priority list per day. Spend your first working hours tackling your top three priorities instead of working on easiest-first rationale. Achieving at least the top priorities of the day will leave you with an accomplished feeling that should sustain your motivation until you clock out.
On that thought, try to keep overtime at the minimum. You may be tempted to try and barrel through huge projects, but this behaviour will only tire you out in the long run. Remember, be a good boss to yourself, and that means knowing when to let your worker-self have some me-time away from the inner boss.
These are the three things I learned from working online. If you have a similar experience and are willing to share your online kernels of wisdom, we’d love to hear from you.