AJ Dimarucot

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Welcome to Remote Stories, a show about real people working remotely all over the world. This time, AJ Dimarucot joins the show from Manila. As a freelance designer and entrepreneur, AJ has been part of the global remote workforce for years.

To see the full interview, check out the video on this page or visit the Remote Stories Playlist on YouTube.

What made you want to start working remotely?

AJ: It was like 12 years ago, before remote work was cool. Working in the office was having such a huge toll on my health and my relationships, and I had to make a big decision and say, working in the office is just not good for me anymore.

So I was sort of forced into a situation where I had to make money while I was at home. And that's how I really got into full-time remote work. When I discovered that I could do that, just scouring the web and trying to look for clients and jobs and gigs, I found success in that.

The place where I used to work was probably, if there were no other cars on the road, like a 10-minute drive. But the traffic situation with people working would take at least an hour and a half.

What accelerated your dive into working remotely full time?

AJ: At the end of 2007, my wife and I were to be married in December. So I had to augment my income with freelance work. I really discovered that working a few hours daily or weekly after my day job, or even the weekends, I could cover my costs. I could essentially pay for the wedding. It was just so much better for my health and also financial need because of the dollar and peso exchange. 

Read more: How to calculate compensation for remote employees

My wife still had a day job. So I kind of became like the freelance income, feast or famine. It's not secure. Sometimes there's work, sometimes there's not, which is the reality of freelancing. It really became another issue when my wife said, “I'm also tired of doing corporate work and I want to give up the day job.”

Has remote work had a big impact on the community in Manila?

AJ: Remote work is pretty huge in the Philippines, and not just within my industry of design. The majority of that is creative design work like myself, copywriting, video animation, and whatnot. But there's also a huge number of people here who have started remote work as virtual assistants. Entrepreneurs starting a business, trying to find somebody to take care of like these little daily things in their business, like managing their email inbox, putting images in their Amazon stores or what not.

Tell us about a time when remote work made a difference for you.

AJ: Yes, for a very big client. We were traveling to Singapore, which is a few hours away from the Philippines, and my client was out of China at that time in Shanghai. He asked if I was available, and those dates fell on those dates where I was supposed to travel. So I was in Singapore and then my team was here, in the Philippines, and I was going back and forth with my client in Shanghai at the time. 

Read more: Easy communication guidelines for remote teams

He was going back and forth with this client in the United States. I crossed over to Malaysia at that point, because we were vacationing essentially while I was trying to manage this project. I think we were in Legoland at the time, my kids were riding the rides. So we were just enjoying ourselves. And my main guy in the Philippines called me and said, “Hey, I have to quit. I can't do this anymore.”

It was the end of the day when we were almost going to leave and go back to Singapore, which is like a border away. And we got stuck in the border for like an hour, then had to go back to Singapore and try to manage this situation that was exploding right in front of me.

You can never do all that without remote work. You cannot imagine that ever happening without the possibility of having the internet and having remote work.

If you could give one piece of advice to companies that have remote workers today, what would you tell them? 

AJ: At least in the Philippines, do not fall into the trap of trying to control. I've avoided companies that literally count hours and take screenshots. I suppose it's like a time-tracking software. It’s based on the lack of trust between companies.

Read more: How to avoid micromanaging your remote workers

A lot of people here are very highly underpaid. Even though they are being paid by somebody outside the country, they are making rates that are even lower than our rates here, which is so crazy. 

I have heard stories where some of them have actually programmed ways for them to do their keystrokes. If it comes to a place of not trusting people, I don't think that will ever be a healthy relationship between the employer and the employee.

Do you know someone who has a great story to tell about working remotely? Send us a tip at [email protected]