Exploring the wilds of Scotland while writing world-class content
Thom James Carter is a content writer and is working remotely for around 2 years
1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Thom James Carter, a content writer and editor based in Scotland. My mission is to distill interesting but often complicated subject matters into easy-to-understand, SEO-friendly posts for leading publications and products.
I’m on the content marketing team at Process Street — software that helps make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere. I oversee our offsite content in particular. This means I’m usually writing guest posts for other places (like Atlassian, G2, and Content Marketing Institute), reviewing the guest posts other members of the team have written, and clinching guest posting opportunities via curated outreach.
When I’m not writing from home, I’m either exploring Scotland or exploring Azeroth.
2. What motivated you to choose remote working?
I’m not so sure I chose remote working so much as it chose me.
With how industries have been operating, people working in creative fields such as writing need to build their portfolios in a different way. In the past, it was easier to walk into a full-time job and get a portfolio going from there. Now though, with how much harder it is for just-out-of-school, just-out-of-college, and just-out-of-university graduates to immediately start jobs in the fields they want to pursue, many people don’t have that privilege. So work created during a degree (if one was done at all, that is), internships, and freelance opportunities must be used to establish an initial portfolio. And while these opportunities may not be abundant in your immediate area — it certainly wasn’t in mine — they are, fortunately, online. And I hunted down all the gigs I could while doing my degrees.
This was what happened in my case — and for many other fellow writers and creative folk whose stories I know, too.
After I had a decent portfolio, I started freelancing remotely for around 2 years. I wrote for incredible, high-brow publications like The New Statesman and institutions like the Wellcome Collection, but also for ahead-of-the-curve SaaS products like Lola.
After those 2 years, I wanted to trade remote freelancing for a remote full-time position. I applied for multiple jobs during this period, but Process Street was always at the top of my list.
3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations?
Before I started at Process Street in early 2019, I knew I was fully capable of managing my time and workload myself. After all, it was what I was used to; I wasn’t worried about that. I was more worried about making a good impression and wanting to show the team that I was worth my salt.
That’s why when I began to feel burned out after the first couple of months, it came as a bit of a shock. But retrospectively, there’s little wonder why I started to burn out in the first place. I was hellbent on working super late hours (9-12 hours a day) to show that I was online, I was working, and I was working hard to prove I wasn’t wasting Process Street’s time and their decision to hire me was the right one.
Luckily, my line manager at the time — WordSmiths Inc’s Andrew Mounier — helped me realize that working stupid hours wasn’t going to help anybody. He and everyone else knew I was doing well, and I didn’t need to overwork to prove that.
Work from home guilt is real, as is remote work burnout. You have to actively halt them in their tracks.
That being said, when you manage to get that balance right, you realize why everybody pronounced remote work to be the future, way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Although I worked in a tiny apartment in the Leith area of Edinburgh, I was opposite a sizable green park, close to some amazing craft breweries like Campervan, and had the city center just 15 minutes’ walk away. I got to work in these places whenever I wanted to, rather than only being able to visit them after getting out of the office. I was also able to work at my partner’s place without rushing away in the morning, and I even had a short stint in Poland in December, working while enjoying the city’s sites and culture (read: I ate too much pierogi).
4. How did you find remote working roles?
I primarily used AngelList.
What’s really exciting about AngelList is the breadth of roles that are available on their recruitment platform — it’s probably the best SaaS jobs board around in my opinion, and it having so many remote roles is an added bonus! The weekly newsletter they release is a great read, too. It was something I always opened immediately whenever the Gmail notification popped up on my phone.
5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you?
The best aspect of remote working for me is the lack of commute. I’m not a morning person by any means, so not having to wake up at the crack of dawn and then go on a commute to get to the office is… fantastic. The ‘office’ in my case is in the comfort of home, so I can sleep in until 9am, have breakfast and get dressed, then saunter over to my computer to start work at 10am!
What’s more is that there are times I can get a little agoraphobic. For those who are unsure of what ‘agoraphobic’ means, it’s getting anxious in people-filled places. For those days where I don’t want to be surrounded by others, I don’t have to muscle the strength to do so. And that probably does my overall mental health wonders.
The worst aspect, though, is trying to sustain a good work-life balance and not burn out. As I said in one of the previous questions, it can be a real struggle — especially when working a purely remote full-time role for the first time. You have to constantly keep it in-check, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself on the path to burning out again.
6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely?
This is going to be tricky, as I could spend all day writing about nifty digital tools and apps. In fact, it’s what I do most months. So I’ll keep the list short for the sake of brevity.
First off, I don’t think I’d be able to work as efficiently or effectively without Alfred.
Alfred, if you don’t know if yet, is a productivity tool. With it, you can press hotkeys to bring up a search bar that searches across your device, its folders and files, and your browsers. You can also use snippets, which is my favorite feature, where you type in a keyword and it auto-expands into something more. So, for instance, whenever I want to write a new post in WordPress, I simply type in the keyword ‘fb1’ (which stands for full body one) and an entire post structure complete with HTML is added. Having a structured template for writing is incredibly handy, as I then just have to fill in the blanks for the relevant H2s, H3s, content links, and body text — plus, I don’t have to worry about adding any HTML myself. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though; there are plenty more features in Alfred.
Second on my list is Process Street. (I promise I’m not saying this just because they pay my bills.)
Before working at Process Street, I didn’t really use checklists at all. But now that I’ve seen just how powerful the humble checklist is — it reduces errors, ensures quality, and can actually decrease the time it takes to complete workflows — I don’t think I could go back to going about my daily life in such a haphazard, unorganized way! And then when there are digital checklists that can be integrated with apps via Zapier or have their own workflow automation features, that’s when you’re truly turning your productivity up a notch.
Last but by no means least is Mullvad VPN.
If I’m connecting to a café’s Wi-Fi, an airport’s Wi-Fi, or any other public Wi-Fi, basically, I don’t want sensitive data — especially sensitive company data — to be deciphered, intercepted, or used for nefarious purposes. While it’s tempting to get on a public network ASAP (especially if there’s a deadline looming) and get working, having an added layer of security is paramount. It certainly gives me peace of mind when not working at home. Great for security, great for my anxieties.
7. Your most exciting/ hilarious experience since you started working remotely.
Since I started my remote full-time role after remote freelancing, the most exciting experience was going to the Scottish Highlands, driving 4 hours north from where I (currently) live in the Scottish Borders.
My mum is from Scotland but my dad isn’t, and I was brought up in the south of England, so I’ve never really seen myself as Scottish because I didn’t grow up here and I didn’t know a great deal about the culture, nor had I explored its world-renowned landscapes at length.
However, earlier this year I had a ‘workcation’ in the north-east of the Highlands.
Fortunately, I’m a big fan of bleak atmospheres. There was a lot of mist, rain, and menacingly-grey clouds (I went during summer, by the way), and it suited the environs perfectly. Boreal, rugged mountains were always in the distance, and there was just such a sense of being in an ancient place. This sounds a little tacky, I’m sure — like something from a travel ad that captures the imagination of viewers with a bunch of tired stereotypes — but it’s true.
The rented Airbnb provided respite from the wind and rain. Straight out of the bedroom window were heather-laden hills, where stags and deer would roam. In fact, as I pulled into the Airbnb, a group of deer waited by the railway crossing as the train passed, in the same way humans do, before trotting off to the other side. There were also a ton of spiders, but let’s not talk about that.
When I wasn’t working from the rented home, I’d be out, exploring. Although most of the time it looked like this.
A short drive to the north-west was Stac Pollaidh and Suilven, and countless other mountains that compelled you to look at them for a long, long time. There’s something very humbling about being in tough terrain. You realize just how much easier we have it as modern-day humans.
8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?
I’ll keep this short and sweet.
My advice for new remote workers is to stick to a routine as much as possible. By having a routine, i.e. working each day from 9-5, 10-6, 11-7 — or whatever flexibly aligns with your needs and responsibilities — you’re keeping that dreaded burnout at bay. Time-blocking in Google Calendar, iCal, or another calendar app also helps. It’s far too easy to think to yourself “Oh, it’s fine, I’ll just keep working for another hour” and not close your laptop for the day instead of getting much-needed R&R.
My other bit of advice?
Travel is great. And you can do a lot more of it when working remotely. But, from personal experience, I’d recommend not jumping immediately into traveling — at least not for the first month or two. At the beginning of a new role, you’re getting to grips with new systems, new processes, new tasks, and new people. By throwing a new continent or a new language into the mix, it can easily get overwhelming, and you’ll probably feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want. Unless you’re planning to visit Antarctica or Easter Islands — both of which are rapidly disappearing due to climate change — I’d say to hold on until you’re feeling comfortable in your new remote role before getting into digital nomadism or taking ‘workcations’.
9. How do you see your career shaping up and your goals?
This is a hard question to answer because, right now, the future is hard to see. It feels difficult to make plans, or even to have an inkling of what could happen in a few months’ time. Everything got thrown up in the air. And it’s still up there. Nothing has come back down to Earth quite yet.
All I know is that, in terms of my career and goals, I want to keep on writing and creating content. There’s no better feeling than crafting something that’s unique, interesting, and valuable — and getting paid for it! Working with stellar editors for the other sites, products, and publications I’m guest posting for is a wonderful experience, and I certainly want that to continue as well.
Considering everything that’s happened in 2020, I’m just happy to be here.
10. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?
If there’s any silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that countless organizations who weren’t remote-friendly have now seen that it’s completely doable — and actually favorable — to have employees working from wherever they choose. When things return to some sort of normality, I expect a large swathe of companies to give up their office rental contracts.
This, in my opinion, is nothing but a good thing.
However, I am nervous about how other companies go about remote working, and if certain bad practices will become more widespread. For instance, tracking (either by known or hidden means) how long employees are working or are at their computers for. This completely goes against the spirit of remote work. Remote work is based on trust, flexibility, freedom, and mutual understanding. Using tools to track how much time employees are putting in while not in the office isn’t how companies reap the rewards of remote work; it becomes a warped, twisted, stifled version of remote work that isn’t healthy.
But I don’t want to end things on a sour note. I fully expect there to be as many remote workers as there are office workers soon — if not more. I’m hopeful that, for the most part, it will be facilitated properly too.
Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work in a ‘proper’ office again.
11. Where can we follow you on?
There are a few places!
My website: https://www.thomjamescarter.com