Hello, Tuesday. Survived the Monday and the work flow is on again. And wouldn’t it be a good time to talk about work too, like this remote work of mine? How in the h*ll I could today again wake up, swipe open my phone and start working in my pyjamas? Well, quite easy really.
I bet some of you, first stuck in traffic and then drinking the free but not so good office coffee, wonders how I do this. And could you do it? Well, let me tell you how my remote work works. Not perfectly, but good enough still.
With my current main project, remote work option was a non-negotiable pre-requirement, which in the end came to be the only choice (hello people, I’m still looking for the flat in Rovaniemi). Luckily, the company agreed to this and now I’ve worked remotely almost a month already, first from Zürich and then from my parent’s place up north (yes, I’m that millennial).
The nature of my work, and the shift in work life trends and culture, as well as technological development in general, means that the physical location rarely matters for me (and ever heard of the digital nomad trend?). I can work wherever, whenever, as long as I have my phone, laptop and WiFi available. And even though it’s obvious not everyone can work like this, I’m sure there’s more and more who do like this or are interested in doing the same. So here we go, a lengthy story on how my remote work works.
Psst. The tip number one is good coffee, so grab a cup and read on then.
FOCUS: ORGANIZE & MANAGE YOURSELF
Like the saying goes, the dream is free but the hustle is sold separately. One of the most important basic requirements for remote work is good organizational skills, from all sides. You have to be good at managing yourself. You need to know what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you can make things happen. And then, you just do it and make things happen. Remote work means more responsibility for your own actions, but also more freedom to do things your own way.
I have some hacks for myself, but as a basic rule, it’s all about finding the most suitable practices for oneself. Personally, I prefer keeping my calendar and project plan at hand, both digital and the more traditional (Moleskine) versions, on to which I add more “layers”; practices and gadgets and apps and coffee. To keep me organized and focused at all times. In addition to the paper and pen, syncing my phone (iPhone SE) and laptop (Macbook Air/Pro) and apps is a must, as well as sharing and syncing my calendars (iCal and Google).
SHARING IS CARING: REPORT AND ANALYSE REGULARLY
One of the biggest challenges of remote work is how to make the information travel and communications go smoothly. For me, there really shouldn’t be any secrets inside the team/company, to make the remote work really work, and information should travel well and fast.
First of all, rather than being overly protective over the information, one should be bravely open; communicating, reporting and adjusting regularly. It’s good to systemically keep track on what you are doing and show it to others, be it co-workers, management or your clients. Remotely this doesn’t happen as easily as in traditional offices, but luckily there’s many hacks and solutions which ease the pain.
And hopefully, your company/team understands what it needs to have to make it work – a culture of trust and responsibility. I share, but only when I can trust that everything is handled with appropriate care and respect.
For sharing, there’s no single way or app or browser extension to do this, as long as you do it. But when looking at my technical helpers, I’d say Google Drive is very good for filing and sharing, and Evernote for notes and organizing. I also like to use Dropbox for files, Slack for communications, and Basecamp and Trello for project files and chats.
But that’s only the files and memos; how do I communicate with my team and make the information travel directly between people? How to be open and communicate effectively and successfully between teams, and have productive meetings remotely? Well, Nokia isn’t connecting people anymore, at least not in my circles, but I have few new hacks for this too.
My go to solutions for one to one communications are Skype, Whatsapp, Messenger and Facetime. And for the advanced meetings and conferences and all team communications, I prefer Slack or Google Hangouts, JoinMe, Phone.com or appear.in. Moreover, I happily (though some may say stupidly) share with Google and iPhone too, letting them dig into my emails to find the boarding times and hotel bookings and then transfer the data directly into my calendar. This way, my phone and Siri works as my little assistant, sometimes more trustworthy than a real assistant (and it’s way cheaper).
Psst. Try to say good night to Siri… She also communicates better than some people.
FEAR OF MISSING OUT
In remote work, you have to say goodbye to the more traditional office social cultures and circles. Funnily enough, even for an introverted unsocial Finn (me), I find the lack of social interactions one of the hardest parts of remote work. Very rarely, if ever, I have company to chat with, right when I’d need it. Not to mention the desire to reflect and brainstorm casually.
In my previous job, my colleagues were my best friends. In the office, it was easy to catch up in few seconds what everyone was up to in and out the office – and what was going to happen next weekend. No fear of missing out in there. Moreover, having different expertise, strengths and weaknesses working together in the same space made creative problem solving and brainstorming easy, almost natural.
REMOTE WORK SAVES TIME
Working remotely from my own small corner (right now by the fireplace at my parent’s place) I’m missing a lot from that social environment. The struggle is real. Nevertheless, I try to think that very rarely you are so good friends between colleagues, as I was previously. And very rarely your work is your whole life, your biggest passion. Quite the opposite really – you need social circles to plug off from work. So am I really missing out when not in the same office with everyone else?
After all, remote work saves me time from other things (like commute and dressing up) and there are many other social interactions I can occupy myself with during that extra time now (hello TED talks and podcasts). And I have the opportunity to choose my company and occupations better. I might miss the Friday drinks with the colleague I don’t any other common interest than Google Analytics hacks. But I can have a Friday drink with the friend I haven’t seen in years instead, and we’ll not talk work. Or if we talk, the chat will most likely bring fresh, inspiring new viewpoints to the subject.
NOTHING WRONG WITH A LITTLE LUNCH HOUR RUN
My work requires a certain degree of creativity and flow moments. And I’ve come to the conclusion that for me forcing is not the way for great results. Moreover, I know I need a good balance between my work, physical activity and rest to keep the productivity levels high (and just to be a nice person to everyone). Luckily, remote work has some perks to make this happen easier than a traditional office job.
I always keep in mind self-discipline and management and what I’m really paid for (unfortunately, it’s still not mountaineering or skiing) but I don’t see any problem, almost the opposite, on utilizing the freedom of remote work to plan my days as I like, and wing it when needed and possible. When my head starts to feel too heavy with thoughts, I take my running shoes and go for a run; before, middle or after a work day. And if and when needed, I take the meeting call while walking in a forest.
For organizational reasons, I keep a list of things I need to get done during the day, and meetings are compulsory, but basically, I don’t care when and how something is done, as long as it gets done. Luckily, my boss cares neither.
KEEP YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK SAFE
True to the digital nomad trend, I like to work in public places, cafés and shared offices. Which brings in some extra challenges when it comes to the security.
To secure my work, I’ve come up with few solutions during the years. First of all, for the physical gear, I now prefer working in special remote work dedicated places like cafés and shared offices, which have thought the needs of freelancers and modern nomads. Which let me store my stuff securely during breaks etc. In Zürich, I ended up working in the public river baths even. These offered tables, safe lockers and excellent options for a little swim in between work. Though big problem in there remained to be that laptop doesn’t like the sun as much as I do.
When talking about security, we shouldn’t forget the things in our heads, laptops and clouds neither. You don’t want your thoughts and words to end into the heads of someone whom they don’t belong. Moreover, please note that others, your co-workers, and clients, share with you things which they trust you keep safe and private.
So please, let’s share but let’s do it responsibly and securely. My personal go-to solution for the internet and laptop security is an F-Secure Freedome package (which btw includes VPN, so I can also watch my favourite shows without the country restrictions), but again you may just find the best solution for you.
WHAT’S THE WORKING HOLIDAY?
Even though I had planned something quite similar, I didn’t know that my time in Lapland would really end up being 100% working holiday for the first months. But when my apartment hunt for the first months resulted in nothing (I blame the students and Airbnb), I just decided to let it be and concentrate my time and energy to something else. Mostly, to the work itself.
I’m not an artist or 100% creative, but I do like the idea of residencies and creative breaks. I think changing the perspective from time to time suit us digital nomads, travel professionals and other knowledge workers more than fine too. Almost nothing strengthens the professional toolkit more than travelling and working from different places. At least not as easily and funnily. So I keep on living off my suitcase for some time still.
In Lapland and other places in Europe, the infrastructure for remote work is quite good almost everywhere, and it’s just getting better every month. And even though the living is quite expensive (I wouldn’t try this with Southern European or Asian salary) the overall life quality makes the working holidays in this part of the world quite a good option. I always try to pick something from every place I visit and stay in, and use it for my work too. When I soon fly back to Switzerland and further on to Marocco, my work travels with me easily. In Marocco I’m not planning to work, but I’m sure I get some good ideas from there too.
WITH WORK COMES HOLIDAY
But why the holiday in here? On one hand, calling this “working holiday” reminds me that the reason I really do this is overall well-being and making the most out of what I have. I want the lifestyle which makes me happy; good amount of family, friends, hobbies, mountains, good healthy food, adventures, coffee etc. And with remote work, I can make it happen, the life of which I don’t need to take holiday from.
On the other hand, I many times work in places where I’d also spend a real holiday (which I have less than the average person). And it’s amazing how much you can really do in between working, in the evenings and especially on the weekends, if and when you focus on making it happen. For me, it took Switzerland (and good friends) to understand that life is really meant to be lived and even though work takes the minimum. 37,5h of my week (in Finland) I still have 130,5h to spend doing something else than work. And that’s the holiday part really.
Nevertheless, I want to point out that remote work is still a work. The hacks mentioned here help me to survive the work load and I try to do my best to focus on the good in my location independence. But honestly, distance sucks, and the dream really doesn’t come free. Digital nomadism isn’t as sexy as it sounds, at least not in my reality. For me, it’s mainly just the solution which came up when I couldn’t find a “traditional” job from the places(s) I wanted to live and spent most of my days in. It’s closest my dream job I’ve ever gotten, and I have the life I don’t really need a holiday from. But it’s still a work with deadlines, challenges and moments of frustration. I don’t say this to encourage people, but to be honest. It’s a nice lifestyle, but like almost everything else it requires prioritising and sacrifices.
COULD YOU MAKE IT WORK EVEN BETTER?
I’ve here talked lengthily about my remote work hacks, struggles and perks. Hopefully, you had enough coffee. And as I’m always on the look for even better things, I would like to end this by putting up a challenge for everyone still reading this and extra interested in the subject.
I would like to ask you to think if there’s something you could do to make remoter work even better? Do you see here the potential for services and products to offer for remote workers? Or know of better remote work hacks than I do? Maybe you have a company with remote workers whose life and work you would like to make easier (and this way make them even more productive)? Or do you work in administration, planning or DMO and wonder how you could attract more remote workers and make your place more livable for us remote workers too? Please think these and then think what would be the better solutions.
Again, commenting is free, so please leave your comments below or email me directly, with your ideas and solutions or just with anything you would like to say on the subject.
Oh and btw, doesn’t this place below look like a place you would like to do some remote work, have a meeting or a nap? Seen last December in LAAX, Switzerland. Maybe this winter I’m back there, working remotely.