The first $100 I made freelancing was before I even knew what freelancing was. I was working at Rice University in Houston as a media relations
Presenter David Weaver was given a gift from the internet just a few days before he was set to share his session, “Get Out, Be In: What I’ve Learned Working Remotely” at South by Southwest. And that gift came from two young children on the BBC, who burst in on their father’s live interview and captured the hearts of people all over the world in the process.
“These are the challenges of remote work in a nutshell,” he shared while stifling his own laughter and waiting for the audience’s to die down. His talk explored the complexities brought about by a remote workstyle, specifically the comfort of being close to home accompanied by the fact that boundaries aren’t always clear and your time isn’t always yours.
Weaver went on to share some of his best tips for being a successful remote worker, whether the decision is yours to make (as it can be, for some), or if the option is thrust upon you (as it was for him).
Take note of your biorhythms
The ability to set your own work schedule is, in some ways, a gift. Weaver spoke often about how he’s able to set his own time to work, and takes advantage of early mornings when he rises naturally to get good work done. If you’re someone who comes alive at night, and the nature of your work allows you to make that decision, remote work means you don’t have to force yourself to work when everyone else is.
Routines are essential in remote work to hold yourself accountable; feeling out when you work best is part of setting a sustainable and productive schedule. Weaver is a devotee of the Pomodoro method, and inspired me to give it a try after he spoke of it so highly.
Honor the needs of others around you
With that said, recognize that the nature of your work may dictate your schedule more than you might expect. For example, if your work includes time with clients whose locations span across time zones, you may need to be working when they’re working. Similarly, if your presence is requested either in an in-person meeting or a conference call, you’ll need to be working when these things are happening in real time.
An important question Weaver poses that anyone considering remote work must address: “Are you willing to have all your meetings take place via conference call?” Although that may not be your necessary reality, it is possible. The decision to take on remote work (if it is your decision) must include your answer to that question.
Take advantage of the flexibility
Weaver showed a picture of himself walking his dog midday, in the snowy expanse that surrounds his house in Vermont. He used that photo to illustrate that a benefit of working remotely is being able to work in ways that you do so best. Not unlike honoring your biorhythms, taking advantage of this flexibility means taking time out of your “workday” to do things that inspire and motivate you. For him, it’s walking his dog outdoors; for you, it might be meeting with colleagues or co-conspirators out of the house, setting time to watch a movie or cartoons midday to clear your head, or going on a run or taking a “Sorkin shower” to further the development of an idea. The flexibility that working remotely can offer allows these things to feel more commonplace.
Don’t beat yourself up for working differently than you might in an office, this arrangement is designed to allow for precisely that!
Be open and clear about the nature of your work arrangement
If you’re working remotely, there is a high chance that your coworkers or even your supervisor might doubt your ability to do so. Too often, “working from home/out of the office” is viewed as code for slacking off, or perceived as a way to do less without being seen. But this doesn’t have to be the case and often isn’t. In fact, when routines are set up and biorhythms are honored, remote workers can be more productive than their counterparts in an office, with less control over their environments (and the associated distractions).
Answer the question of how you work before it’s asked by sharing with coworkers and supervisors how you plan to set up your day. Take pictures of your workspace or share your calendar, to demonstrate how the arrangement is working. And on days that you might head into the office, be sure to take an interest in those who you work with from a distance, to let them know you’re attentive and invested.
Remember: coworking spaces count too!
Weaver sang the praises of remote work as a desirable alternative to open offices for introverted workers (which, as a devotee of the topic, I greatly appreciated), but also recognizes that some may miss the collegial environment that comes from working in an office. Weaver works out of a coworking space out of necessity—his home doesn’t have an internet connection strong enough to sustain the work he does—but others could do it by choice to stay social, find new collaborators for projects, and to take advantage of amenities that may not exist at home. Unable to afford the cost of these spaces? Remember: the library is the original coworking space!