The benefits and challenges of remote work as a Filipino freelancer
Remote work has radically transformed the way many professionals, including Filipino freelancers, approach their careers.
On one hand, the benefits seem enticing: flexible working hours, the comfort of one's home, and an escape from the dreaded daily commutes. There's also the allure of going into the global job market and opening yourself to opportunities that were previously out of reach.
On the flip side, remote work presents its own set of challenges.
Isolation can creep in and can cause a slew of mental health issues, cultural and time-zone differences can complicate communication between colleagues, and the line between work and personal life can blur (working in the bedroom, anyone?).
I wrote this article to talk about the nuanced world of remote work for Filipino freelancers, hoping to shed light on the trials you may encounter as well as the triumphs you’ll get to experience.
I hated working in the office
Seven years ago, broke and on the brink of homelessness, I found myself meandering through one of the many bustling hubs of Manila's BPO industry, working as a link builder for a New Zealand-based client.
I quit after three months and never looked back.
Seven years later, I’m writing this article in my PJs as a remote SEO Specialist.
Quitting after three months was a record, even for me, but the workplace is what people nowadays call…“toxic.”
The living conditions weren’t the best either. I lived in a 16-person shared house with one bathroom. Since we share one fridge, my food ALWAYS got stolen.
I slept in a windowless room together with five other people, and the lack of ventilation meant that I got soaked in sweat during summertime.
Simply put, I absolutely hated everything about that time in my life.
My girlfriend said it best - I was a soulless, empty shell of myself during that time.
I was moody and broody, and I “killed the vibe.” Needless to say, she was pretty relieved that I finally quit.
With ₱25,000 (around $450) in savings to my name, I quit the BPO life and started working as a freelance link builder and content writer. However, my perspective during that time was that remote work was nothing but a makeshift bridge to tide the gap of unemployment.
“I’ll freelance just until I find another regular job” was what I told myself during those times.
Oh, how wrong have I been to think that way.
A Change Of Perspective
Did you know that 36% of employees said they expect to be permanently working in a hybrid model in 2022?
While that value might now be lower with the pandemic being over, I believe remote work is here to stay.
That said, remote work isn't just a phase—it's a revolution. And, as someone who once believed it was a fleeting fad, I've been both a witness and participant in this seismic shift.
But like any revolution, this one was also met with a heavy dose of skepticism.
Many people initially approached remote work with trepidation, fearing a lack of job security.
Most ambitious Filipinos think that the only way up is to start a business or climb the proverbial corporate ladder, and spending a year freelancing will stunt their professional growth.
Fast forward a few years, and many of us now see it as a primary career choice.
Surprisingly, this wasn't just a freelancer phenomenon. Corporate managers, who once swore by the sanctity of physical office spaces, underwent a shift in their perspectives as well. As the viability of remote work crystallized, what began as curiosity soon translated into a strategic business move.
What caused this volte-face? The answer lies in some unexpected advantages. Remote work, contrary to initial apprehensions, often resulted in increased productivity, reduced overhead costs for businesses, and a healthier work-life balance for employees.
Unexpected Benefits of Remote Work
Flexibility In Schedule & Environment
While this doesn’t apply to ALL remote work opportunities, remote work often shatters the 9-to-5 mold, granting workers the freedom and flexibility to dictate their own schedules and even decide where to work.
The soul-crushing desk in my office cubicle has been replaced by customized workspaces—I converted a small room into a cozy home office, but whenever I feel burnt out (or just want to get some sun), I rejuvenate myself by working in local cafés.
Plus, with no daily commutes and no rush hour to beat, I begin work days on my own time.
Economically speaking, the numbers were persuasive.
The average employee could save up to $12,000 annually on commuting, professional attire, and daily meals alone.
As a resident of the Philippines, where daily commutes can easily stretch to several grueling hours, this not only meant monetary and time savings but also a rescue from daily fatigue.
Beyond economics, the personal growth benefits are also notable.
Personally, working in a remote setting served as a training ground where I was able to build essential business skills.
No hovering supervisors or colleagues meant I had to inculcate self-discipline, refine my time-management skills, and cultivate resilience.
Working asynchronously, in essence, allows workers to complete tasks at any time, rather than being confined to the traditional 9-to-5 framework—promoting autonomy and reducing burnout.
As a link builder and content writer, I wasn’t exactly required to be glued to my seat; as long as I deliver quality work month in and month out, my clients are happy.
This work arrangement resulted in a rather unique lifestyle: taking leisurely morning walks while people with regular 9-to-5 are speed walking past me to get to their offices and sipping coffee in a Starbucks in my shorts and flip flops while the people around me are in business attire.
I remember one incident where the staff at the condo where I used to live (which was located in a central business district) thought I was filthy rich because I don’t leave for work and go to the gym at weird hours - hours when only expats are typically present.
For the record, I am not filthy rich. I just have a wealth…of time.
The Unexpected Challenges of Working Remotely
While I love working remotely, it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies.
Lack of Social Life
While I cherished the freedom and flexibility, the lack of regular social interactions was palpable.
The everyday camaraderie, coffee breaks, and water cooler chats were conspicuously absent, and Zoom meetings are not a great substitute.
Back in the early stages of my remote work, around 2016-2017, there were weeks when my sole social interaction was purchasing food at a nearby convenience store!
According to a 2019 survey, about 53% of freelancers experienced payment delays or non-payment issues at least once.
One time a client suddenly went AWOL, leaving an invoice of $3,500 pending for three weeks.
Apparently, she wanted to experience the rich culture of ancient Peru, leaving me in the Philippines in poverty.
While $3,500 might just be a month’s worth of rent in the West, in the Philippines, the same amount is about two to three months’ worth of…everything.
So while remote work can offer lucrative opportunities, the occasional financial turbulence was a stark reality.
Oh and the client? The delay was a one-time thing and we’re still working together.
Lack of Accountability
The absence of a conventional office also presented me with accountability issues.
Motivating myself, combating procrastination, and drawing clear boundaries between my personal and professional lives required persistent effort and strong discipline.
I frequently have to steel myself whenever the urge to binge-watch a Netflix series arises, or push myself to work on days when the tasks are as thrilling as watching paint dry!
I’ll Probably Be A Remote Worker Until I Retire
Looking back at my seven-year tryst with remote work, it's been a transformative journey. From skepticism to embracing it wholeheartedly, I've gone through the entire spectrum of emotions.
What's clear is that remote work isn't just a passing trend—it's here to stay.
And I’m absolutely here for it.