A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.
Cameron Chapman, Skillcrush
With over 40 percent of employees in the U.S. now working remotely according to a Gallup report, the idea of working from home (or a coworking space or favorite coffee shop) feels more tangible than ever. This report shows a definite trend: Remote work is the way of the future, and more and more employees are on the lookout for jobs that give them the option to work off-site full time.
But dreaming of a remote job—with its flexibility and the ability to work in pajamas—and actually being successful in one aren't the same thing. There's a learning curve that goes along with ditching your commute and your boss's watchful eye over your shoulder.
I talked to remote employees to find out what they've found to be the most useful skills, tips, and hacks in their remote jobs. Here's what you really need to know to work remotely, so you can succeed and love your new work life.
Your routines and boundaries are critical.
When you commute to an office every day, you tend to fall into a routine pretty easily: Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, drink coffee, go to work, etc. But when you work from home, it's tempting to grab your laptop from your bedside table—and not bother to get up until your growling stomach starts to get distracting.
Rachel Sullivan, director of marketing for Metis Communications (and currently on a year-long adventure with Remote Year), says that following a morning routine is vital to her success. "Showering, getting dressed, and walking outside—even if just around the block—makes such a difference in your day and mental state. It's always tempting to roll out of bed and sit with your laptop on your couch, but taking the time to jumpstart your day can help you perk up and get in the zone."
Barb Breeser, digital marketing strategist at Purplegator, agrees: "Even though I may not be in our main office every day, it's important for me to act as though I'm in an office, so I dress professionally every day, and I am at my desk working by 7:30 each morning."
Your routine might not mean getting dressed up—if an anti-routine routine works best for you, embrace it. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, Editor of ScriptMag.com, says "I love that I can literally roll out of bed and work all day in my pajamas. You'd be surprised the amount of time it saves every day to not shower and put makeup on."
Setting up routines—however you define them—are key to establishing boundaries between your work and personal life. A critical component should be shutting down for the day—whether it's closing the door on your dedicated workspace or, if you're like me and without a separate office, turning off your computer and stepping away from your desk at a set time each day.
You'll need to become a time management pro.
Time management has always been a struggle for me—I'm a born procrastinator. But when I started working remotely, I had to put a stop to that. I had no boss checking in throughout the day to see how I was progressing on things, and sometimes deadlines for big projects were weeks or even months in the future. Virtually every remote worker I talked to for this article mentioned some form of time management as a vital skill for being successful when you're not in the office every day (or ever).
Jyssica Schwartz, director of sales for online publisher Authors Unite, struggled in the beginning, too. "I would work on whatever popped up and kept shifting focus." To solve the problem, Schwartz started to block off time in her calendar for specific tasks and focused on only one thing at a time. It worked. "I was able to get more done and be much more productive!"
Whether blocking out time on your calendar or using something like the Pomodoro method, the Action Method, bullet journaling, or productivity apps, find a system that works for you to manage your to-do list.
You'll also need a system for prioritizing your work. Marija Kovacevic, the PR & media director at Nomad Capitalist, picked up a great technique from her CEO and mentor Andrew Henderson: creating a weekly or monthly "waterfall" where you create a prioritized list of the tasks you need to do, from most important to least important—and then sticking to it. "Often small tasks that are not so relevant or time pressing (example: immediate response to emails) can distract you and you lose your focus from the most important thing and project you should be concentrating on," she says.
Communication skills are totally different when you're remote.
The communication skills you picked up in a regular 9-to-5 might not cut it in the remote world. Katy Tripses, Head of Growth at StudySoup says that she'd considered herself "to be a person with pretty developed communication skills" when she was working in an office setting. But, she learned that "communication in a digital setting is a completely different skillset." Many remote teams communicate asynchronously through chat programs, email, and comments in project management systems—there's no popping by someone's desk to chat, running into someone in the kitchen, or even throwing someone an encouraging look.
Without these in person interactions, Tripses says that "goals, instructions, and deadlines absolutely have to be communicated very clearly and very concisely. The consequences of not doing so are very apparent and immediate."
Providing regular updates to your team is also vital. Jacque Shaffer, the Senior Customer Success Manager at WebLink, says "having daily standup meetings and quick check-ins throughout the day and using an instant messaging program ensures that everyone has what they need to keep things moving effectively."
Get ready to love adaptability.
Remote jobs give you flexibility—but they can require it, too. Laura Spawn, the CEO and Co-Founder of Virtual Vocations, Inc., says that between "learning to work with new remote team members, hiring new geographically dispersed staff, adapting to new software and technologies, or balancing changes in our personal lives with respect to established professional commitments, adaptability is as essential to a remote worker as a computer."
Are you looking for a job you can do while traveling? Kovacevic travels full time, and she's found that it sometimes means unexpected situations and blockers arise: "Time zone differences, deadlines, language barriers, unstable internet connection, delayed flights, and other on-the-road situations can sometimes seem overwhelming." But Kovacevic takes it as an opportunity "to prove to [her]self that she can rise to the challenge and get stuff done at the end of the day."
Not sure you're naturally adaptable? Your personality plays a big part, but so does planning ahead—and you can make up for a lack of natural flexibility with a solid game plan. For one thing, always assume you might need extra time to find good WiFi, make sure you have contingency plans in case things go wrong (delayed flights, slow internet at your Airbnb, etc.), and otherwise keeping Murphy's Law in mind on a day-to-day basis can make your on-the-go remote work a lot smoother.
A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.
Scott Morris, Skillcrush
My entry into remote work was so out of the blue that I didn't have a lot of thoughts or opinions on the topic before I was hired. One day, a friend of mine at Skillcrush put out a call on Facebook about a job opportunity, and a few weeks later I was back in the workforce after 12 years away from paid work. Of course—since Skillcrush is a fully distributed company (meaning we all work remotely)—my return to work happened from my home here in Santa Rosa, CA.
For me, being able to work from home was a dream come true. Because a remote work situation fit so perfectly with what I'd been looking for—part time work that gave me the flexibility to keep up with my full-time, primary parenting duties—the benefits were obvious. I hadn't read a single article singing the praises of remote work, but I didn't need to—I was already sold. As I learned more about working remotely and interviewed people on the topic through my new job, I was surprised to learn that there were quite a few perceived downsides to remote work or aspects of distributed companies, that gave people pause.
One of the main concerns people seemed to have about the prospect of remote work, is the fear that working outside of a conventional office environment will simply be too lonely. This was a somewhat foreign concept to me, as my own entry to remote work was from a point where I was already home by myself for long stretches of time. But if you're approaching remote work from a more traditional office atmosphere, with water cooler talk and happy hours, it's true that there will be a significant change when you trade that in for a home office, or a public library, or a coffee shop, or any other location with Internet access. But that change can be as positive (or negative) as you want it to be.
From my own experience over this past year, I've found that remote work doesn't lead to isolation—regardless of your background. It's true that remote positions are different than working in a fully-staffed, brick and mortar office, but different doesn't have to mean lonely. In fact, despite its unfortunate name—remote work can provide you with a platform for making a whole new wealth of connections in your life, in ways that conventional work can't.
The caricature of a remote tech worker usually depicts a frenzied computer programmer alone in a poorly-lit room, hammering away at a keyboard late into the night. And while I've pulled some late nights myself to meet deadlines, specifically because my flexible schedule lets me work when it's convenient to the rest of my life, the isolated nature of this trope is a fallacy.
Remote workers don't exist in vacuums. We work with teams, for clients, for customers, and for companies—all arrangements that involve other people. Unlike conventional jobs, the people we work for and with, are literally positioned all over the world. From my own suburban perch here in Northern California I work with people as far-flung as my editors who live in Brooklyn, our Customer Support Manager who lives in Finland (by way of Texas), a WordPress developer who lives in Miami, and our Curriculum Director who lives down the street from me. In a conventional, physical workplace, this kind of diversity of lifestyle and perspective would be hard to replicate. Sure, there's always conference calls with clients or teams from out of area, but it's not the same as working virtually side-by-side with people from such varied locales on a daily basis.
And we really do work side-by-side! Remote work doesn't mean we operate individually in isolated pods. Anyone who's "at work" is logged into our company's HipChat room, and in a way it makes people seem more present than if we were scattered throughout a physical office. If someone is online and available, you know exactly where to find them, and—due to our geographical range and flexibility of work schedules—there's almost always someone else "in the building." Even when I'm working odd hours in my timezone, there's usually a co-worker or two an instant message away who I can bug with a meme or bad joke. It's our own version of water cooler talk.
But what might really surprise people who have yet to work on a remote team or for a distributed company, is how quickly and easily remote colleagues are able to go past the superficiality of small talk, and really get to know each other. Although it's counterintuitive— since we interact mostly through text, Zoom, and Google Hangouts—there's an immediacy to our remote connections that makes people want to open up, be themselves, and share their feelings and ideas freely.
Because we're only virtually face-to-face, and many of us won't ever meet in person, there's a need to cut past pretense and make our virtual work relationships seem more real. From my own perspective, I can say that I feel more connected to my remote colleagues after a period of months than I did after years in some cases at previous, conventional jobs. Part of it, too, goes back to our all being together in the same HipChat room. In a physical workplace it's possible to never see employees from a different department or who work in a different part of the building, but, in our distributed workplace, we're all swimming in the same pool of Giphy-fueled space. Because of that, I've struck up work friendships and acquaintances with people I don't even interface with professionally.
Looking back after a year of working remotely, I feel that remote work isn't an inherently lonely or isolating situation that needs to be alleviated with tips or tricks. Sure, without spending some time putting yourself out there proactively and making connections with your remote community, you will run the risk of feeling like you're on an island. But those same feelings of loneliness and isolation can happen in the middle of a crowded office. Where remote work does significantly differ from conventional office jobs is in its ability to provide connections for people who aren't in a position to take on in-person work, and who otherwise would be facing significant challenges of isolation.
In my own situation as an at-home parent who was looking to get back into the workforce, I actually found myself feeling totally isolated by the prospects of conventional work. On one hand, there was a part of me ready to add a job back to my life, but having to do so at the expense of my role as a parent brought its own feelings of loneliness and loss. Similarly, I imagine there are other people whose backgrounds and lifestyles present these kinds of challenges—for instance living outside the range of conventional employment hubs, or living with chronic illnesses that make it difficult to work traditional 9-5 office hours.
For people socially or physically left out of the conventional workforce, remote work is a viable arrangement. In that sense, remote work is a solution to isolation, and it's no surprise that this solution is a hallmark of the tech industry. At its heart, technology is all about connectivity. So much of tech centers around streamlining and facilitating the flow of information, which inevitably brings the participants in that flow closer together. Despite the stereotypes of screens cutting people off from one another or leading to ruinous spirals of antisocial behavior, technology has consistently been a driver in my own social and personal life.
I met my wife and several friends I still have today through our participation in pre-Internet online Bulletin Board System culture, and—contrary to our parents' concerns that we weren't spending enough time with "real people"—it doesn't get more isolation-busting than that. By adopting the remote work model, the tech industry continues this trend of bringing people closer together, whether or not they're anywhere near each other physically. When we talk about things like in-person tech meetups or jobs at companies that are geographically connected to tech hubs, it's easy to forget that this excludes groups of people who are physically isolated from these opportunities for various reasons. But with the ability to participate remotely we get closer to the ideal of everyone being welcome in tech, and it's hard to feel lonely with an invitation that inclusive.
Our VIP Lunch & Learn With Khafilat Adewole
Khafilat Adewole is both a remote Project Manager in the Global PMO at Cisco Systems and a Project Management FlexPath tutor at Capella University. Khafilat holds a Master's Degree in Computer Science and is working on obtaining her doctoral degree in Project Management from Capella University. Her research is focused on leadership skills and virtual team management.
On Friday, June 15th, Khafilat sat down with a small group of PowerToFly VIPs and provided valuable tips for working in remote Project Management as well as advice for a successful transition to remote Project Management roles. Would you like access to exclusive chats with successful women like Khafilat?
If yes, then click here to become a PowerToFly VIP and join our community of women here to empower one another.
Q: What are some tips for transitioning into Project Management without having certifications?
Khafilat Adewole: If you don't have any certification and you want to become a Project Manager, you should look within your current organization for hidden opportunities to get your foot in the door. Assuming you work on a team, you should express interest in tracking your team's progress and work side-by-side with current Project Managers to learn the tools they have mastered and apply them to your current team. Once you've mastered these tools, you can use this data to show management how you've effectively navigated a successful project management experience.
Q: How does remote Project Management differ from in-person?
KA: It is so different in the sense that when you are co-located, meaning that you and your team are confined in the same space, you can walk over and track your team's progress. You can easily navigate roadblocks, and you can identify impediments as they're occuring. I want to say it's faster in the sense that you're able to build relationships in person. For example, if you're new to my team, I would say let's just chat through things, such as what experience you bring to the table and what issues and challenges you might be facing. In a virtual environment, it's different because you're not able to establish that trust from day one. Now, based on my research in managing remote teams, one of the biggest issues or challenges that remote teams face is developing trust and collaboration. If you do not trust someone, negative issues may occur, such as miscommunication, that could impact the project. Video chatting is key to circumventing these issues. From day one, you should get on the phone and talk with team members the same way you would in a traditional space.
Q: What's the hardest part about remote Project Management?
KA: The hardest challenge is missing the face-to-face interaction that you would have in person. But that can be easily circumvented by using technology. We need collaboration tools to make remote Project Management work.
Q: How can someone level up their career as a Project Manager?
KA: It depends on what your ideal career path is. You have to identify a niche—for example, if you're going to be a financial or technical Project Manager. Identifying the objectives you're trying to meet is key in determining how you're going to level up. It's important to know that certifications will help you get through the door, but you also need experience. So, understanding what objectives you're trying to meet and creating a roadmap to get you there, is very important. Doing a lot of trainings and focusing on what niche you actually want to show mastery over is another way to do it. Building your communication skills, such as being able to communicate hard questions, will help you build confidence as you level up your career.
Q: Why did you want to start working remotely?
KA: Well, for me, I have a family, and spending time commuting wasn't the best option for me. Also, working as a remote Project Manager completely frees me of the distractions of a typical office. I feel I'm more productive working in a remote environment - I'm able to meet my deadlines and timelines and (thanks to technology) am able to communicate effectively with my remote teams.
Q: What are your tricks for transitioning to remote?
KA: Determining your personality type is key for deciding if remote work is for you. If you're the type of person who likes to interact with people daily and need face-to-face interaction, then remote-work is probably not best for you. However, if you feel that it's a good fit, then you should identify what industry you want to work in and what technologies you're comfortable supporting. Soft skills are also very important to success in a remote team environment.
Q: What "cons" have you experienced working remotely?
KA: When I first transitioned from face-to-face work to remote, I struggled with building connections with members of my team aside from my deliverable expectations. Once I realized that I needed to connect with my team on a more personal level, I started leveraging technology to help me achieve those interpersonal relationships with my team members. It's more than just understanding how they operate on a day-to-day basis, but understanding what was going on in their personal lives that could impede (or foster) their success. Once I did this, our team efficiency sky-rocketed.