Why my remote working Christmas sucked

Image of forest for remote working Christmas

I don’t mean to add to January doom and gloom but I’ve got to be honest with the remote working community right now: my remote working Christmas truly sucked. That is, the working and Christmas combination. Though maybe what I should be saying is the lack-of-working-Christmas part.

Let me back up. A few months back, my family planned a Christmas getaway to the south of France (in case that sounds a bit fancy, I live in Barcelona so it’s basically next door). We hadn’t celebrated together in something over 10 years which is pretty much the norm for me and my folks, who live in different continents and 3 flights away. Dates were agreed, Airbnb was consulted and bam, the holiday was booked. And of course I checked under that super important ‘amenities’ list that there was wifi ticked – and it was.

So the 23rd of December arrived, my husband and I packed up our Skoda-wagon, stuffing the roof rack full of snowboarding gear that we’d never use (it decided not to snow this year in the mountains), tying the dog down in the boot and strapping the kids into the back. My laptop joined us, safely positioned in the front seat between my feet and ready to get booted up the next day.
That is, till we arrived at our French chalet and the host casually informed us that “the wifi is down, the shops are closed, and we won’t be fixing it”.

What. The. Crap. How could she say that so matter-of-factly? And without any hope of getting it sorted?! THE BOX HAD BEEN TICKED!

And I wasn’t on my own panicking – my sister and dad also work remotely, running their own businesses, so we had a crisis powwow and came to the only decision that we could have made: internet cafe. Ok, except that this minuscule mountain town  didn’t have one. Next option, crash a regular cafe and drink 20 coffees to pay for the table and internet whilst escalating stress levels. This option worked for them, but turned out to be a logistical nightmare for my own little family branch, trying to juggle a toddler and newborn, the latter of whom needed to stay within 20 feet of her mama for feeding reasons.

And so, in the end, I missed quite a few days of work. It was a remote-working-Christmas-fail. It was remote, without the working part. It was having a forced holiday when I couldn’t actually enjoy the holiday without stressing about not checking in. There were tweets to be sent, a Kickstarter to be monitored, and clients to respond to. My computer sat idly, seemingly zapped of life with greyed out wifi bars – seriously, what do people do on computers without internet connection these days?

Next time I plan my trip away, I will have one word on my mind: preparation. Let’s take this trip as an example:

     1. Double check there is internet

Clearly, the most simple and obvious of tricks. In this case, I could have written to the host ahead of time and just double checked that house from the 1800s located in the Pyrenees would have functioning internet. I mean, maybe I should have considered that something would go wrong there…

     2. Ask for a list of back up work spaces

No wifi, no problem. Arrive with a back up plan of places to work along with knowing which one would offer the best solution. The cafe I worked in had fast internet, but also Michael Buble Christmas songs on repeat and crepes for 10 euros. The hotel I tried next claimed to have wifi, but even wandering around like a laptop-zombie trying to catch signal gave no hint that it worked.

     3. Prep as if you won’t be working

Assume the worst. Imagine that there won’t be wifi, there won’t be cafes, or you just decide not to log in. In the weeks before holidays, pump up your social media scheduling tool (we’ve just started using Edgar) full of activity, schedule blog pieces, and set your out-of-office (that feels weird to write in a remote work blog…) just in case.

     4. Just take a bloody holiday

Maybe this was my biggest mistake. It was Christmas, not to mention the first and last one with family in many years, we would be in a remote town, and it was meant to be a week in nature. Thinking back, I should have just booked the days off and undertaken step number 3. That way, I could have had the holiday I ended up taking, but without the shadow of knowing I should have been at my computer.

Remote work may portray an image of a guy draped across a hammock, checking emails with one hand and sipping a Daiquiri with the other. But let’s bear in mind, this doesn’t just happen willy nilly. There is no one here providing you with a desk, chair, guaranteed wifi and whatever else you need to get your work down, as happens in an office. We have the freedom to choose when to work and where to work, but along with this choice comes the responsibility of ensuring this can happen. In my case, let’s say the lesson was learned the hard way.

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