Remote working is becoming a feasible reality. It is pervasive throughout the start-up world and is becoming more common in the corporate world, too. However, despite increasing opportunities to pursue such a set-up, many individuals resist taking the plunge because there is no formalized structure for doing so. “How the heck will I organize and structure myself, working alone in my house? Will I lack discipline and end up taking naps all day? How can I run my life like a business?” The reality is that there is no “template” for independent work. It’s not a career option that most of us were raised to consider or formally studied (although, luckily for the next generation, organizations like Kidpreneur.com are teaching entrepreneurship beginning in elementary school).
In my work as a freelance consultant to start-ups, I’ve had to create structure for myself. And while I don’t purport to have all the answers, I’ve developed a framework that I hope can benefit you, too, whether you are already working independently and/or remotely, or considering jumping ship and just need a little guidance. The key for me is balancing my personal life with my professional life. Here are the 10 guidelines that I have developed for success as a remote worker.
Set your alarm clock. Wake up at the same time everyday and "get online" (i.e. get to the office) by the same time, too. The routine will help you sleep better and wake up faster.
Bookend your days. Reserve space in the mornings and in the evenings for you. Don’t feel guilty about it and try to stick to the timetable. If you love what you are doing, you’ll end up working more, so it’s important to make sure that you take care of yourself. In the mornings, I take my time getting ready, make my oatmeal, sit in the garden with the dogs and breathe fresh air. In the evenings, I close my laptop, go for a run and commit to staying off social media.
Get out of the house in the mornings. I like to travel by bike or by foot to my working destination so that I can separate home from “work” and let my mind settle into the zone.
Leave your phone at home. When I have projects requiring me to think and analyze, I try to sequester myself outside the house and remove distractions. I like working from a café with a big table and I’ll bring earplugs and leave my phone at home. Committing to just 2 hours forces you to be productive and you can also reward yourself with a smoothie or snack of your choice.
Seek out a support network. When you leave the corporate world, there is this sense of elation from escaping “the man.” But the reality of independent work can be lonely and you soon begin to realize how important it is to have colleagues working towards the same goals. I’ve built a great support system by surrounding myself with other entrepreneurs: I started a women’s entrepreneur group in Miami and am a member of Dreamers and Doers, the NYC based women’s entrepreneur group. Many people also benefit from joining a co-working space.
Integrate systems to help you manage projects and get organized. Asana and BaseCamp are project management tools that allow you to input all your projects and then intuitively organize, elaborate on and calendarize them. Evernote is great for storing information (meeting notes, to dos, clippings to read later) and calendarizing it so it doesn’t get lost in your black hole of email archives.
Get to know your colleagues and clients. No matter what type of business you are in, you will always be working with people. Before launching projects, conduct a "meet and greet"- effectively like a welcome lunch. Share bits about yourselves personally, so that you can start to build rapport and comfort level.
Communicate about communication. Everyone has different personality traits and working styles. When you are working remotely, these boundaries become more important because it’s so easy to unintentionally overstep them. Before you begin working on a project, make sure to define each party’s preferred communication medium (email, phone, text, Skype, other), working style (fluid and easily accessible or compartmentalized and requiring scheduled contact), management preferences (some people are motivated by negative feedback whereas others are motivated by encouragement) and timing boundaries (some people are early birds, others are night owls, and team geographies could be time zones apart; set up a standard to which everyone adheres).
Schedule regular check-ins. Set up at least one meeting per week with your client/boss to review, plan, and communicate feedback. It can also be helpful to set up bi-monthly meetings with peers in other locations to build team cohesion and stimulate new ideas.
Integrate team communication tools. I personally think it's important to integrate video communication such as Skype, Google hangouts or Microsoft Lync because they make the office seem more real. Forget about whether you need to brush your hair - so does the person on the other side! Tools such as Slack can centralize information flow, kind of like a super-charged communal email that’s actually kind of fun! These types of tools promote collaboration regardless of employees' locations.
As with anything else in life, success as an independent and/ or remote worker comes down to creating and implementing systems. Do you have any systems that work well for you? Please share! Let’s empower each other to take the leaps of faith in our careers that can lead us to long-term fulfillment.