Remote Work Vs Freelance Work: The Ultimate Digital Nomad Decision


One of the biggest decisions you have to make in digital nomad life is whether to strike out on your own or whether to find an employer to rely on during your digital nomad journey. We chose to be freelancers but there are good arguments for remote work too.

So, let’s take a look at remote work vs freelance work, the differences between the two and what the benefits and drawbacks of each position are.

What Is Remote Work?

 

When we say, “remote work”, what we mean is work that can be done from a location that is not the office. A remote worker is an employee, which means they have a boss and have an employment contract – this should, in turn, also mean they get benefits and other employment rights.

What Is Freelance Work?

 

A freelancer is a self-employed worker that works for clients to deliver project-based work. They are their own boss. Given that the tax authorities tend to define freelance work, in part, as “work where the worker can choose their own location”, most freelancers can work from wherever they want.

However, they are not “remote workers” because they are their own business. Wherever a freelancer is working cannot, by definition, be “remote”.

What Are The Benefits Of Remote Work?

 

There are several potential benefits of remote work:

  • Job security. If you work under a contract with an employer, you have some job security This will vary from country-to-country Americans, for example, tend to have much fewer employment rights than Germans do. However, they all have some rights and most employees cannot be fired on a whim.
  • Job benefits. Health insurance, retirement packages, training allowances, etc. many remote jobs will come with a benefits package similar (or sometimes even better) to the ones that their office working counterparts will receive. A benefits package can be worth the equivalent of thousands of extra dollars a year.
  • You can save cash. There are no guarantees that you will save cash because while a digital nomad may not be commuting, flying around different countries can soon start to add up.
  • You will save time. No commute is no commute. You can’t complain about getting a few extra hours a day to spend how you like.
  • You will normally get flexible working hours. Many employers use a “core hours” approach for remote workers – that is a few hours a day where everyone should be online but otherwise, there’s freedom to choose your hours.

What Are The Drawbacks Of Remote Work?

 

It’s worth noting that it’s not all a bed of roses when you work remotely. There are still things you have to deal with that you may not like:

  • You still have a boss. You’re still a cog in the wheel and you turn where you’re told to turn. Some bosses are great to work with and others are not.
  • You don’t get to choose your workload. That goes hand in hand with having a boss. They tell you what to do and you do it. If you’re lucky they negotiate the work with you, if not they can just impose it.
  • You won’t get the company you got from an office situation. Remote workers need to think about their social lives or there’s a genuine risk of ending up feeling isolated.
  • You may struggle to develop professionally. It’s easy for a company to pigeon hole a remote worker and assumes they only do one thing. You may miss out on promotion opportunities and learning opportunities when you’re not in the office networking. It’s also possible that your employer will hire new people with skills rather than develop the ones they have.
  • You risk burnout. Many remote workers feel they need to put in more hours to compensate for the “privilege” of working elsewhere and when their boss isn’t keeping an eye on them – this can push them into burnout.

What Are The Benefits Of Freelance Work?

 

There are plenty of benefits to freelance work too and they include:

  • You get to be your own boss. This can be a huge weight off your shoulders if you don’t like working for other people – why not work with them instead? Your clients are your partners in work, not your boss.
  • You don’t have to deal with office politics – no more do you need to spend hours catering to every ego in the room, now, you work for clients and all you have to do is keep your clients happy with your work, not your political skills.
  • You are responsible for your professional development – you can learn any skill that you want and grow your career any way that you feel like. Freedom is part of freelancing.
  • You work on a broader range of skills – you need to sell, market, administer, etc. as well as whatever you do as a freelancer. You will become a more rounded business person but, it may come at the cost of some truly in-depth specialization opportunities.
  • You set your own hours and workload – you’re the boss, you choose what you do and when you do it and no-one can say otherwise.

What Are The Drawbacks of Freelance Work?

 

This is not to say that freelance life is a utopia and there are several disadvantages of freelance work too:

  • You can still get lonely. Working away from other people is still a problem for many freelancers but you are free to choose where you work (co-working, cafes, etc. are an option) and you can make time for social activities.
  • You get no benefits. You get paid but you don’t get benefits, all the things your employer used to pay for on top of your salary? You’re paying for them, now.
  • You buy your own work equipment. Yes, no more do you get a nice company laptop and a printer in the corner. You need to cover not just your hardware needs but your software needs too.
  • You have no job security – a freelancer’s client can, normally, sever the relationship quickly and easily and while there may be a “kill fee” in the contract – it won’t ever be equivalent to a redundancy payoff.
  • You cannot guarantee getting paid – whenever a client owes you money, it’s not money you can spend until it’s in the bank. Some will pay late, others may try not to pay at all. There’s a much bigger financial risk when you freelance.
  • You have to resolve all problems – when you’re the boss, the buck stops with you, when things start going wrong, you have to fix them.

So, Remote Work Vs Freelance Work, Which Is Right For Me?

 

We can’t answer that question and we think you probably knew that. All that we can say is that it can help to weigh up the list of pros and cons and think about what you like best and what would bother you the most.

The worst thing about being freelance, for me, is the financial insecurity – feast and famine are very real. My best month ever brought in nearly $20,000 but my worst month barely broke $1,000. It’s a difficult rollercoaster to ride.

The best thing, for me, is the lack of office politics. I never really minded having a boss but I loathed having 30 other people, who had nothing to do with my work, to please as well. The endless backstabbing and stupidity led me to a heart attack in my 30s. I have never been sorry that I quit working for other people.

But, that’s me and I am not you. What do you want out of your life? The smart digital nomad understands that the freedom that comes with this lifestyle is the freedom to make choices and decisions that make them happy – there’s no need to follow in the footsteps of some guy on the internet (yes, even when that guy is me 😉).

Conclusion

 

There are pros and cons to both remote work and freelance work and the right choice between them is a personal decision and not something to be left to the internet to decide for you. Hopefully, this article will have given you some food for thought to help you make your decision between remote work vs freelance work.

Nicholas Barang

Nicholas Barang is a veteran digital nomad. In fact, he was probably "digital nomading" before it was called that. He believes that anyone can make a free and independent life if they want to. He wants to help those who commit to finding their own path. And to cut through the nonsense told about this "lifestyle" by those in search of a quick buck. If you want to reach him you can send him an e-mail at nicholasbarang@gmail.com or to nick at nomadtalk.net.

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