Remote Work: The Ultimate Guide
I finished my fresh young coconut, enjoyed my overall positive client-feedback and shut down my phone for that day on a beautiful sunny Bali afternoon. The next day I got flooded with mails about how the project is about to go south. On that day I recognized: I have a lot to learn about remote-work.
Getting it right
I was unprepared. Remote work is not about having a project abroad and working from another timezone or just the nearby coffeeshop. It needs preperation and the right mentality. Because communicating over a computer doesn’t mean you can be a lousy communicator or an introvert. Getting it right is about doing things a little differently than you would in real life. This article is not finished! It lives with your comments and ideas, how to make remote work work.
Remote work makes that micro-communications really hard but not impossible. You just have to do more to tell more. Since no one can tap you on your shoulder and ask you about this certain color or font you were using, you have to tell them in advance. Work on your empathy and get inside peoples heads: what do they need to know when I stop work and they wake up (when in a different timezone) or what information do they need but are possibly to eager to ask. Always overcommunicate things that could appear in the future.
Keep everyone in the loop
Especially when you are in other timezones, you sometimes have whole workdays without someone to get in touch with. So you’re on your own working and sometimes have to make decisions which were not communicated with the client or team-members. In this case you always have to take notes and keep everyone in the loop about possible changes in the project while they were away. Especially in design you often find that the client provided too much text or probably too little but there are 8 hours for the client to wake up. In this case you have to make notes and get in touch with the client so he knows whats up. This is especially important when you are working with other team-members where people rely on each other and probably can’t work with your work-results. Always have a slack-channel with your team-members or even just for the ones you need to communicate with and make notes about your work-day in it.
It’s always important to keep in touch with team-members not just because of work but also to just “stick around”. Be weird, have amazing cat-related content floating around via email, slack or skype and just be with your team. It’s important to have fun with your team-members to compensate for that little chat you miss at the companies espresso-machine. So stay in touch!
No open questions, even on Bali
I know, no one wants be that guy who asks too many questions, doesn’t seem to get it or is bugging people. But with remote-work, you have to be clear about your work, about the teams or clients goal and everything that is surrounding the project. So if your gut raises questions, shoot for it. Always frame it in a way the team or client can relate to and tell them “just to be sure” and ask, even a few times if there are still concerns. Asking a question or two in a skype-call or even a slack-channel is often well appreciated and shows that you’re a professional and you care about the project. Always keep in mind: You’re not in the same office and you have to compensate the time or space between you, so if asking too many questions feels right, always consider that these information-holes will appear somewhere in the project, probably when it’s too late. So work on your asking-game.
The perfect workspace is important. Most people don’t have their egonomic chairs everywhere and also standing-chairs are not available all over the world. Try to make your workspace fit your needs by setting up a fixed place to work everyday. This could be a coworking-hub, a coffeshop or just your livingroom. I saw people work from living-room-tables and produce amazing stuff. I need my Vitra-chair, my old Ikea-table and my Wacom tablet to make my brain work accordingly. Other people can work however they want. Try to find your ideal way and stick with it. If that coworking-spot is freaking you out, go back home and set up your spot there. The coffee might even be better.
Okay it might sound weird and is probably just working for me but always try to dress like you would go to work. And even on warm and sunny islands: try to get into clothes that make you feel like a designer and not start work in you PJs. How can you win battles and be the best designer that you possibly can be if you look and feel like your 10yr-old-self? Always make sure you feel good, get a shower, shave or do whatever you would do if you get out and be a champ. I think it’s some sign of respect to you and your clients! And it probably helps.
Get the time right
There is always this golden hour in nearly every timezone, where you’re working at the same time. Let’s say it’s from 3pm until 6pm: always try to make those hours the holy grail for that day. Sleep longer, do your laundry, whatever! But those sacred 3 hours of working side by side with your team or your client should be your hours of dicipline. You can use that time to review your work together or just get some input for the next day. Try to get some notes together before the client wakes up and work through them together, so you’re prepared for the next day and you have enough input for the next day to start.
When you’re in the same room, showing examples of your work or a few alternatives to a design is easy. When you’re out of town or even in another country, things get harder. Always try to work with your client and team in mind and produce a little more than is needed. If you were told to try out everything in green and you feel that green might not be the best choice, give some examples in blue or red to bring the project forward. For working with clients, it’s always important to deliver what they asked you too, because they want to feel involved. So always produce what they asked you too and make your suggestion on the side. Chances are good they take your version but just ignoring their interests is just plain rude and you want some future projects, to you?
When in doubt, do what feels right
While working from somewhere else, there will be always those situations where you feel stuck and need input about the project to proceed. It’s always fine to start with something else or just do nothing (not recommended) but when timing is crucial, you sometimes have to do something, no matter what. In those scenarios I always have to think of a quote by amazing designer and good friend Rolf Jensen:
“When you’re not sure what to do, do what feels right.”
Great piece of wisdom, straight from New York. When in doubt, do what feels right! I know we might have to take some risks but we did something and most importantly: we did all we can and chances are good it’s exactly what the client wanted. Possibly better.
Make a show
This is something I learned from the great people at Fantasy while working with them in San Francisco. Make videos of your results and explain your ideas and motivations. It’s not just something for clients in other timezones. It’s also very handy for clients a few blocks away if you don’t have the time to show it in person. Always keep in mind: you’re not holding a presentation there, you’re no Stock-photography guy or girl in a suit showing a presentation to a bunch of business-representives. Be personal! Talk like you would explain it to one single person and keep those little ideas and your personality in there. It often helps to understand your work better and keeps those personal relations alive too.
I highly recommend QuickTime for Mac at this point. Just select “New screen-recording” and make sure recording audio is selected. That’s all you need.
Where can I find remote work? I just wrote down a list of great ressources on the web to get you in the mood. Or the job. Your choice.
Shut down and live
This one is important. For clients abroad I found myself often sitting in the office until 11pm or even later because the client wanted me two. This is a great lesson to be learned my dear friends! Shut off at a certain time and stick with it. If you don’t do it, no one will ask you to. So use your overlapse-hours with your clients and when you’re done: live your life. Or do it like Hemmingway: wake up, work 4hrs and drop the pen. Find your own rules to live by and stick with it. Communicate the client that you’re not available after a certain time and teach them by telling them or simply shutting down your computer when you’re finished. Smartphones and especially slack make this a hard thing to do but it’s on us to use the tools on our terms.
Go and excercise
Let’s be honest, we are all animals and as animals we were not made to sit all day and fight our fights staring at a screen. Because of this we need to find a compensation for this. Get out running or visit a gym. You will feel better and produce better results. Try to get out there early in the mornings since our discipline works early in the day. Try to make a routine out of it to make it easier for you. After a few days you can’t even think of a day without it and your eating-habits will change too because your body adapts to your workout. So, please go out there and do something for your body.
When I talk to people about remote-work, they often tell me it’s hard for them because they always have these distractions at home or in the coffeeshop. It’s not the your homes or the coffeeshops fault that you can’t work there and you don’t have to adapt to them either. Don’t force yourself into working at home if you always magically go to your Playstation every morning. Find different locations or shut down the distractions alltogether. Make your bed early and work in sprints of 40 minutes or so and reward yourself with pauses of 5 minutes. This way it’s much easier to last longer hours working.
I use Pomodoro Apps a lot stick to this routine.
Eat That Frog
The term is from the book “Eat that frog” (surprise!). It says you should start with the thing that bugs you the most that day. Eat it, chew it and swallow it and go on with the stuff that makes fun. Always try to look for the important stuff of course. If a client tells you to make that logo but there is this tax-letter that has to be send out, put that client on mute and do what keeps your business alive.
Visit local hubs
A good way to get out your home or hotel is to visit local coworking hubs. It helps to connect with local nomads, designers or just interesting people and probably is a good way to stop procrastinating and get your creative juices flowing.
Coworker is a great spot to find and review coworking-spaces
When working with developers I often stay on skype with them for hours to work side by side on the perfect execution of an app or website. This helps and almost feels like you were in the same office but two rooms away. A headset can help you get your hands free for working while talking and also ensures you understand the other person without problems. Most of the time I simply use the Apple headphones but since they don’t fit into my MacBook anymore I settled for a Bluetooth-headset to make sure communication flows easily.
The ones from Jawbone look and sound nice
Good Internet Connection
This one is important! While working from Bali, I sat in this little cafe on this little island called Nusa Lembongan. It’s a fraction of Bali and like you could guess, the internet-connection was terrible. I know it sounds amazing to travel the world and work from everywhere, you always have to get your tools right and the internet connection is one of them. Always check your connection twice and if it’s not possible to stream a low-fi-version of House Of Cards on Netflix, your Skypecall in two hours won’t work either. My tip is: always look out for Coworking-hubs or bigger hotel-lobbies. They are prepared for business-people and have very stable connections.
I love my MacBook Pro and last year I was close to take the 13" version, since I always plug my Mac to my Cinema Display at work. But then I got back to the 15" version because of freedom. Why? I know that Mac will be tied to that display for years from now but in those situations where I want to have the choice of where to work, I simply need more than 13" to work with. It’s probably different for writers or developers but 15" is the perfect fit for design on the go. Always try to get a computer which has enough power under the hood. If work gets slow because you tried to save those 300$ on RAM, no one wins. Neither you nor the client.
I know it was obvious. Since you already had that thing with you to get those rare Pokemon in your area, you could also make some work-things with it. Get Slack on there and help out in situations where you’re not on your computer. This part is tricky because I don’t want you to be hyper-available. The whole part of remote was to be free and not to be tied to Apples latest hardware-creation (or was it?). Know your hours and help out if needed. Afterwards tell them give you your freetime for tonight. They will respect that.
Communication & Design Tools
Since I am a designer, I post a few of my favorite design-tools too, so designers know how to improve on their workflow when working remote.
Okay that one was obvious but for people who are not familiar with this little piece of software: Slack is a great way to overcome email and start working. It allows you to start channels for different channels based on projects or other interests and is very flexible since it also supports apps. Install it now and thank me later. My favorite: copy an artboard and pasting it to Slack for instant-feedback. Magic!
The best way to share designs and interact on them. It’s also very handy to create prototypes and show the resulting app to the client. It’s my no. 1 tool for communication these days and won’t be replaced in the near future. Try it, love it!
Adobe Experience Design
It’s in Beta right now but a great way to create designs and prototypes in seconds and send them to the client. You simply click together a few artboards and click on “share” to show the client how the new app could work. The record-feature is also pretty handy to make short videos about it. It’s a great way to show alternatives of designs without messing up your InVision-projects.
One of the best ways to talk over video. The technology behind it is very smart and worked very well for me. I like it a lot more than Skype since it doesn’t need an dedicated app (just plugin) to be used. It’s also integrated in a lot of TVs and hardware these days to make conference-calls easier.
Favorite Book about working remote
Remote by Jason Fried
I am almost certain you just need this one. It has tons of ressources and a few amazing eye-openers about working remotely. If my post doesn’t cover it, this book will!