I’ve worked remotely for the better part of a decade, so I’ve seen the good, the bad, and totally terrible side of it. It takes a certain type of person to work remotely. You have to be a self starter, focused, excel at time management, and be immune to distractions. Don’t have these qualities? Neither did I when I first started out.
No boss around to keep tabs, no one asking if I got that website to “pop more.” The waves are good, so I might as well surf until lunch. Then grab some food, get on the computer to answer a few emails, move a few pixels, then off to the gym. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that was fairly routine when I first started. It wasn’t that I didn’t get the work done; I wouldn’t be where I am today if I just completely blew it off. It was more that I didn’t have or incorporate that office structure, the 9-5 routine that helps people stay on schedule and make their days more productive.
The freedom of working from home/remotely can be overwhelming. You need to lock down a strong routine and the correct tools so that your working-remotely dreams don’t become an unemployment nightmare.
Time boxing changed my life. I took Sunday afternoons to set up my week to come so that every hour was accounted for, including surfing and gym time. This allowed me to focus on each task at hand and not worry about what I should tackle next, making me efficient. Most importantly, it got me in a routine and kept me from getting distracted by extracurriculars. Which brings me to my next tip. Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you are at home. It’s not time to do laundry, clean the garage, mow the lawn, or any other house chores that your wife is yelling at you to do. You are at WORK. When’s the last time you were in the office and Jim said he was taking a break to head home and do the dishes? Never. Make sure that these tasks are addressed as if you were going to the office everyday.
Now that I am at Focus Lab my weeks are more scheduled for me. But I still outline my design time each week to make sure I get all my tasks done. We have a project manager who will let us know when we miss something. Luckily, working remotely means she can’t hit me in the head in passing, but the occasional “fail” gif may come my way in HipChat.
Working remotely requires tools beyond Adobe CS. When working with a team like Focus Lab, or with several teams as a freelancer, communication is the make-or-break. It is important to be available during normal operating hours, answer questions quickly, and that you constantly collaborate from afar.
At Focus, we use GoToMeeting video for client meetings and internal meetings. It has allowed us to interact more personally with our clients, as well as other team members (like myself) who are not in the office. You’d be surprised by how much the video personalizes things. I met Sam in person a few months after he started working at Focus, but because we had interacted on GoToMeeting it was like we had known each other and seen each other every day.
The other invaluable tool that has allowed us all to stay connected is HipChat. If you are reading this, please take a break and go download HipChat. This is the best remote collaboration tool on the market in my opinion. We have project, company, and personal rooms all set up to share projects, leads, cat gifs, memes from our GTM meetings, etc. It’s our virtual office. Everything passes through this, even work related stuff on occasion. ;)
This one is a biggie: your office needs to be somewhere that you are excited to go every day. It’s just you, a computer, maybe a few cats, and your thoughts. If you work in a boring, muted environment (pictureless jail cell), you are not going to be inspired and you will end up mowing the lawn instead of working, which we already established was wrong, so don’t do it. My office is decorated completely different from the rest of the house: skateboards hanging on the wall, a chalkboard wall for posting and sketching ideas, ceramic deer head, etc. Make sure that your office is the kind of place where you can spend eight hours a day.
Make sure that you get away from your home office when you can. Cabin fever is real and if you have the chance to go work with your team or a client onsite, do it. It doesn’t need to happen a ton, but keeping that human interaction is great for team members and clients. As it gives you a great excuse to get out of your PJ’s and take a shower. Even though I am half as productive when I work in the Focus Lab office (seen our Instagram feed for nerf wars, planking contests, and other shenanigans), I look forward to those weeks where I can tap Bill on the shoulder and ask him a question or get beard grooming tips from Matt in-person. Truthfully, these in-person meetings and work weeks float a generally successful remote work experience.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone. Truthfully, I would love to be in the office everyday hanging out with the Focus Lab team and collaborating without a computer between us. But my reality does have its advantages. If I want to go radio silence and design for a few hours without any distractions I can do that; I get to see my family throughout the day rather than just mornings and evenings; I don’t spend any wasted time commuting or sitting in traffic, which allows a lot more focused work time.
Do you work from home? I’d love to hear how you overcome any of the hurdles inherent with working remotely.