Opinions on remote working tend to land on either end of the spectrum: it’s completely awesome and everyone should do it, or it blows and no one should ever consider trying it.
But most matters are rarely black or white.
Not to be a cop-out, but we think that it depends on your own unique situation. A single, well-educated male might thoroughly enjoy the freedom to work from wherever he wants to because he can. But for a mother with a newborn, travelling to exotic islands might be the furthest thing from her mind.
On the other hand, the digital nomad hopping from island to island in Thailand might have a colorful Instagram feed, but a monochrome life—it’s not easy to connect with people through a screen, so loneliness becomes his constant companion. And the sleep-deprived mother might miss out on the sights and sounds of the world, but gain something far more valuable: the opportunity to watch her baby take her first steps, or say his first words.
Enter Katrina Balmaceda, who has been working remotely at With Content as our managing editor for close to two years now. She recently had a cute baby boy with a winsome smile, and work from home has taken on a whole different meaning to her.
This one’s for all the young parents out there who want to know how it’s possible to raise a child and do great work in the same house.
How did you start working remotely?
I worked at a publishing company in Singapore and returned to the Philippines in 2013. Before I came home, I agreed with the company that I’d continue working for them, but on a freelance, remote basis. Aside from a part-time teaching job at a university and a brief in-office stint, I’ve been working remotely ever since.
What does your typical workday look like?
Wow. As a remote worker, I’m supposed to have an answer for this. But seven months ago, I gave birth to a baby boy—and that’s unleashed a beautiful kind of chaos on my days.
I do have a routine, though. If I’m lucky, the baby wakes me up at 630am (and if unlucky, 515am!). I have breakfast and coffee at 730am. Breakfast is my favourite meal, so I take my time.
I start work by 830-9am. I begin by checking at least six different views on Airtable, the collaboration platform we use at With Content. These views include the team’s deadlines for the day, tasks for the week, and my own writing and editing assignments.
Mornings (930am-12pm) are the best time for me to do deep work, like writing. After lunch, I do tasks that don’t require as much concentration—mostly admin stuff and correspondence. I have the opportunity to focus on work again either at 3-5pm or after 7pm, once the baby’s asleep. This is mostly editing and topic ideation.
In between, I’m feeding, bathing, or playing with the baby. At 530pm, my husband and I take the baby for a walk.
That said, infants develop very quickly. Their sleeping and feeding requirements change every few months. Once in a while they’ll keep you up at dawn, deciding that’s the best time of the day to practice walking. So every few months, I adjust my routine to accommodate the baby’s nap times.
To sum up, here’s an exaggerated but oh-so-relatable meme:
What are the greatest challenges you face to working remotely, and how do you overcome them?
Boundaries between your personal and professional lives can get blurred. I make sure I explain to people at home the nature of my work, why I need to focus, and the times when I can’t be disturbed.
It’s also easy to get tempted to put things off for later. To prevent this, your company should have a way to hold each other accountable for their work. At With Content, we use Airtable to keep track of each article’s progress. The record is transparent so you can see if anything’s delayed.
You can also schedule a non-negotiable activity in the evening so you can ‘pressure’ yourself into completing your tasks by then. One thing I used to do was set swim training at 7pm. That forced me to get my work done by 6pm so I’d have time to rest beforehand.
Remote working can also get lonely. To deal with the lack of colleagues in a physical office, I sometimes join local events to meet like-minded people. I keep in touch with my friends and family through Messenger, Viber, and WhatsApp, and meet up with them when I can.
What are some habits and tools you use to get things done?
A physical planner. The ones from Daycraft and Mossery are my favourites. I find that the physical act of writing down things helps me think about them more clearly. I also like being able to see how my week and day will look like.
For different tasks, such as writing, editing, and content strategy, I use different coloured pens. I have poor penmanship, though, so it doesn’t look anything like those Instagrammable journal pages!
Mind maps. Mind maps help me connect bits of information and make sense of a story. They’re especially useful when I’ve got information overload from having interviewed several people. I also use mind maps to sort topics into categories when making a content plan for a client.
Good old pen and paper will do for making a mind map for a single story. For content planning, I use Coggle so I can share the diagram with the client.
Coffitivity. I’m a firm believer in white noise—it helps me zone in, even in distracting environments. Coffitivity helps by playing background sounds that become white noise, such as cafe chatter.
A robot vacuum. Okay, so this isn’t a work tool, but it’s a sanity-saver for parents working from home. When you’re always at home, you notice every nook and cranny you want to clean. That’s on top of taking care of an infant and managing a household. Having a robot to vacuum around the house takes one thing off my mental load.
How is your home office set up?
We moved to a new place right before our city went on enhanced community quarantine, so I haven’t had the chance to buy office furniture yet. For lighter tasks like answering emails and admin work, I’m at the dining table—perched strategically in front of the coffee maker.
I’ve found two places that help me get into deep work mode. One is the lanai. I love working there in the morning and late afternoon, when it’s bright but partially shaded from the sun. Good thing it’s still summer here—I’ll have to move indoors once the typhoon season starts!
The other place (and I’m almost ashamed to say this) is my baby’s play yard—when he’s asleep, of course. Hear me out. You know how some open-plan co-working spaces have booths where
introverts can hide people can focus? The play yard is in our open-plan first storey. It’s enclosed on four sides by a play fence and has a comfy mat. So I just push all the toys aside, and it’s like working in a slightly larger booth in a co-working space! Working moms got to improvise.
What do you enjoy most about working remotely?
The freedom, hands down. Freedom from rigid schedules, office politics, corporate attire, and traffic jams. You’re judged by the work you do rather than the time you clock in and out.
Plus, I can use the time I save from not travelling to and from an office to go for a walk, bake something simple, or take a nap. I also love that I’m at home to witness my baby’s milestones.
Would you consider returning to a traditional in-office job?
It’s difficult to imagine doing so. I would if the company offers flexible options, like getting to work from home two or three days a week. I do miss having random chats and discovering lunch places with coworkers.
Any recommendations for those who are just starting to work remotely, or considering a switch?
Don’t go cold turkey. If, like me, you enjoy getting out of the house and seeing people, ease into remote work by working at a cafe or a co-working space for a few days a week.
Also, have a dedicated space and time for deep work. People in the house should know that if you’re working in that room (or play yard, if you must) at that time, they shouldn’t disturb you.
That probably sounds next to impossible if you have an infant. So if, on some days, your schedule goes off-track because your baby has learned the concept of clinginess or refuses to nap, don’t be too harsh on yourself.
Improvise—for example, I repurposed an old, defunct laptop so my baby can pretend to work alongside me (this distracts him for about five minutes max at a time, but that’s better than nothing). Ask for help from other people in the house—I’m lucky to have a nanny right now. Let your team know if you really need to have a deadline extended or resume work in the evening instead.
Finally, learn to overcommunicate—that’s the lifeblood of remote teams. And if you can, choose your team wisely. Trust is difficult to build, especially when people don’t work side by side. I’m happy to be working with teammates who value accountability and quality. That means we can trust each other to do our best work.