How remote working actually works for me

And the tools I use to make it all happen

Illustration by Moreno van Soest

I mainly work in consumer comms across social media, digital and mobile gaming; and through the nature of the business(es) I’m involved in, I tend to move around quite a lot. Regardless of whether I’m spending the day at an event, in a client’s office or in another part of the world, I’m still always around.

I’m writing this piece because I often find myself explaining to people how exactly it is I can work remotely, and if it is actually productive. Many listen and try to take learnings, others just don’t buy it and dismiss it straight away.

And while you shouldn’t do everything remotely (e.g. important meetings), you can sure do a lot. So take this as a guide based on my first-hand experience…

First and foremost

(With the risk of having this sound like a not-so-humblebrag) you need to be fairly disciplined about these things, and I can’t stress this enough… My career started over a decade ago — and apart from the day-to-day client work, I constantly have to worry about financial targets, team management, new business activities etc. In short, I can’t afford not to be disciplined.

So if this isn’t you, if you don’t see yourself like that at all — or if you think working remotely can actually be a great excuse for just slacking off — then stop reading this now and go back to your desk.

Then it’s all about the tools

Yes, you need the right tools. There are so many viable ones nowadays, but it’s easy to get lost in all the noise.

Here are a few that I use — and while these may seem fairly basic to the more tech-savvy, you’ll be surprised to find that many people have never even heard about some of them…

Slack isn’t exactly new anymore, but needless to say an absolute godsend. In layman’s terms, it’s chat for work across all your devices.

This is my go-to method of ‘speaking’ with my team whenever I’m not sat next to them, and through it we’ve genuinely managed to eliminate most internal emails.

We (along with about a million more people) use it daily and have been doing so for more than a year now, yet many still can’t grasp the concept. So here’s a good video tour describing it…

My core team and I use Dropbox for Business for everything we do. That means, for example, that all our client folders are synced and any files we create or amend on our devices are instantly beamed to everyone else (provided they’re subscribed to the respective folder).

Why is that useful? Because I can share anything with anyone, at any point, from any device — especially from my phone — and also because I don’t have to worry about attachment size limits on various email servers (I just quickly generate and send a link to the file).

Google Drive is great for when two or more people need to work on a document at the same time. It’s still just the best platform for online collaboration, especially for documents (Google Docs) and spreadsheets (Google Sheets).

This one surprises most people, but it shouldn’t: Microsoft Office 365.

Exchange is still by far the best email and calendar setup. Arguable? Perhaps, but not when you put it into context: most other people use Exchange for work (at least in my world). Google Apps — especially calendars — struggle to work well with Exchange. That alone is enough for me.

The same can be said about Outlook. It may have its issues but it’s still the best work email client I’ve ever used. And with its fairly recent iOS & Android acquisition, it’s got one of the best mobile email apps out there.

And then you have the rest of the Office suite — which everyone else uses anyway. I’m all for solid, functional alternatives to PowerPoint, Word and Excel, but no one’s managed to do that well yet (especially not Apple and Google). Why does that matter? Well, you try to use Keynote to work on a PowerPoint deck that someone’s teed up for you.

It’s just note-taking on another level. I use Evernote religiously, whether it’s for full-on meeting notes or just jotting down a number, across all my devices (laptop, tablet, phone, watch etc).

“I still prefer pens and pads,” you might say. So do I, sometimes — which is fine, because I can just scan the pages in afterwards with Evernote, making my handwriting searchable within the app.

Task management app Todoist is a newer one on my radar. It’s a dead-simple tool that was initially meant for personal use, but can now support teams as well. It’s just undergone a beautiful design overhaul, which makes it even more attractive to use.

This tends to be more boring than most, but it’s so important. As an agency we operate on the pretty standard hourly rate billing model and it’s crucial that everyone is able to easily log what they spend their billable time on. Harvest is the answer to that.

We use it exclusively for its time tracking features (it can do other things like invoicing or resource planning)— and by doing so we can see instant reports, get alerts when something jumps out of the confines of the agreed budget, or see which specific activities the team is spending those precious hours on… to name a few.

Last but not least, let’s not forget good ol’ Skype. It’s getting better and better, and it’s still my preferred VoIP service by a landslide in terms of reliability and audio quality. This is also a Microsoft tool, by the way!

And now that Skype for Business is iOS-friendly too (remember that we’re all Mac users here), we’re not far away from moving our entire office landline system to it. But maybe Slack will have something to say about that when it finishes (and builds on) that Screenhero integration

But don’t forget process

For all these tools to serve you well, you need to make sure everyone’s on the same wavelength. There’s no point in you and your team using them together if you aren’t using them in the same way.

So, for example, Slack wouldn’t work if we weren’t all using it throughout the entire working day — and Dropbox would fail miserably if only two people were actually syncing their client folders with it.

My team(s) and I have worked hard to develop various processes and then follow them effectively. Some are industry-wide ways of doing things, and others are our own — but they’re there and no one really messes with them.

And if any ‘piece of the puzzle’ is removed at any point — e.g. someone calls in sick, missed a flight or is working from home and lost all internet connectivity — everyone on the team knows what to do and that gap can be (temporarily) filled right away. All their work is already in the cloud, remember?