Working Remotely: A Complete Guide to Turn You Into a Pro

Alexandra Cote

Written by

Alexandra Cote

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32 minutes

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Various

I’m going to tell you this from the beginning: Working remotely is not for everyone.

No matter how many studies you’ve read and solutions you think you’ve found.

I’ve been working remotely for a year now (possibly many more by the time you read this). And, yes, I do think it was the right choice for me. But I also believe it has its cons in addition to all the benefits you might expect.

Everyone is saying that working remotely is the future of work. I say it’s the present.

A growing number of companies are looking for remote workers whether it’s because they want to fill in the talent gap in their area or just want to offer this option as a benefit.

The grand work shift towards remote culture is real. More and more traditionally offline jobs like teaching and even healthcare are now migrating to the virtual world. People are considering career changes in that direction and companies from all industries, with a couple of notable ones like Dell, Amazon, or Apple, are embracing the remote work culture.

To bring you a unique remote employment guide, I’ve used my own honest experience and asked fellow remote workers what their thoughts and advice on this type of work were.

Whether you want to find out if working remotely is right for you, what the benefits and downsides are, and how you can get started and become a pro at it, then this guide is the perfect choice for you.

You’ll learn:

What is remote work?

Remote work is any full-time, part-time, or project-based job that one person is doing from outside the company’s office.

This means you can work from your home, a coffee shop, the beach, your car, or even a coworking space where other remote workers and freelancers like you are working from.

All work is done using your laptop (desktop, smartphone, or tablet) and the power of the Internet.

What a wonderful era to live in, huh?

Now, you might have seen a recent boom in remote jobs. According to this FlexJobs report, their remote job ads solely had a whopping 51% increase from 2014 to 2017.

There aren’t any exact figures when it comes to the number of people who only work remotely. Indeed, a growing number of them have been spending part of their time working from a remote location while doing the rest of their duties in the office. These are not exactly remote workers.

For this reason, I want to clarify the difference between working remotely and working from home. This will help you better understand the benefits and downsides that are particular to remote employment as you read on.

So, what does working remotely really mean?

Working remotely is not the same thing as working from home.

Just because you’re taking one or two days each week to work from home doesn’t mean you’ve become a remote worker.

Lots of companies now offer flexible schedule policies. You can make your own daily schedule, take a couple of days per month as “working from home” days, or work until noon at the office and the rest of the day from home.

There are various reasons for this, like having a dentist’s appointment in the middle of the day, catching a cold, or maybe just needing a quiet day to focus on your task. I guess any creative will know what I’m saying with the last one 😉

Remote working, on the other hand, is not just a dozen days per month. You decide to take months, years, or a lifetime “off” from the office. You’ll be working just like you did before but without the buzz of an open office and with no time spent on your commute. Hooray!

Types of teams you can be a part of as a remote employee

Remote workers belong to many different types of team structures and cultures. This is why their ways of working are distinct too.

Here are a couple of team types that allow remote work and how they’ll each benefit you or not:

The “fully-remote team”, because they know what remote life is all about

All employees work from separate places, even time zones. Communication could suffer a bit when there’s an 8-hour or more gap between them.

Yet, certain companies prefer this when it comes to choosing their employees to cover the different time zones of their clients. For instance, a company could have 3 different customer support experts in distinct time zones to answer all incoming requests in a timely manner.

This type of team is a good option if you don’t want to feel like the odd one out or you’re looking to collaborate with other people who’ve been remote for a while and can give you real tips on handling the company’s workload.

Teams like Buffer, MeetEdgar, and Automattic are good examples.

The “only a few members work remotely team”, because I want to do things my way

This is my case. One or more people work remotely, but the majority work from the office.

Consider this option if you hate commuting, need a quiet place to work from, want to travel the world, or you might just really want to work for a company but live on another continent.

Might not be the best choice if you’re not a good communicator. Or if you don’t want to see the rest of the team go to lunch together while you’re sitting at home alone.

Examples include Canva, Dell, Amazon, Apple, and many more.

The “non-team”, because I like being on my own

Remote working is not just for teams. Freelancers can also work remotely, either individually or collaboratively.

Most freelancers have already been working remotely for decades. Except for the ones who are hired by companies for temporary projects and were asked to join the rest of the team on-site.

This is the best choice for any independent or introverted person who’s also looking to gain experience by working for multiple clients rather than for a single company.

The main problem, though, is that freelancing opportunities are never secured for your future and you might find this lifestyle difficult if you’re generally bad at handling finances.

The benefits of working remotely

You might have already heard about certain remote work advantages like increased productivity, flexibility, freedom, better focus, and all that abstract stuff.

But here are the honest benefits of working remotely:

You don’t need to buy so many things anymore

Most workplaces have already dropped their formal outfit policies, but with a remote workplace, you can spend all day, well… in your pajamas. And you’ll be saving a lot of money on lunch and other snacks.

Oh, and there are other things you can do without. Like, you know… a car. Fuel. Car insurance. Uber for when your car breaks down. A new car. All that.

No more waking up 2 hours before work

Some like to sleep in. If you’re like me and don’t need time to wake up and start being active, you can just get straight out of bed and begin work. Saves you two hours at least.

Or, wake up a couple of minutes before the start of your workday, get yourself a coffee, read the news, or whatever you need to get yourself started. Activities such as playing Sudoku, listening to music, or going for a walk in the park are recommended to stimulate your brain’s activity and give you more energy.

No commute, no harsh weather

Picture this: you wake up, there’s a snowstorm outside, and all buses and trains are 1-hour late already. But you don’t care because you’re working remotely 🎉

Make yourself a cup of tea and get to work without the frozen fingers.

More energy after work

more energy after work

If you’ve worked a regular office job before you know that coming home at 5-6, getting stuck for another hour in traffic, and realizing you forgot to buy food can drain your enthusiasm to do more that day and nurture your hobbies. Do your daily chores (for which you have no energy left anyway) and you’ll soon find it’s time to go to bed already.

As a remote employee, you don’t waste time remembering where you parked your car, driving back home, finding another parking spot… Chances are you’ve already got food at home prepared the day before. So you’ve got roughly 4-5 hours left to do whatever you want. Spend time with your family, take an art course, go shopping, read a book, watch a TV show, go to the gym, etc.

Do what you want during lunch break

Because you don’t have to go to lunch with your co-workers, you can spend that time cooking something, taking a shower, reading the next chapter of your favorite book, calling your friends, even sleeping if you want to.

If you’re feeling creative that day, your thought process won’t be interrupted and you can continue your work and have lunch after. You can also take this hour to unwind by going for a walk and recharge your batteries.

No need to listen to your co-workers arguing about what font to pick

Not everyone works well in an office environment. There’s always someone asking a question, bumping into a chair, needing a cable, etc. For any job that involves creation and idea generation, this can be a problem. Your only options are to go to another room and work from there or deal with the noise.

I’m one of the people who need extreme silence to work (raise your hands if you’re like this too). I’ll get distracted by any buzz or phone ringing be it in the office, coffee shop, or park.

More than half of the people I talked to named having “fewer distractions” as one of the top benefits of working remotely:

I get more done because I’m in an environment tailored to my working style and without the distractions of an office, which is especially helpful in a ‘creative’ field like marketing. – Adam Giffi, Marketing Manager @Alexander Mann Solutions

The Copify team, for instance, have an office which they use to catch up every few weeks. However, the nature of their work (copywriting) means they’re more productive when working remotely. Remember what I said about creatives needing quiet time?

And while noise won’t necessarily stop people like us from working, it can make us slower, more stressed, and less happy at work.

Remote employment (particularly from your home) is the ultimate solution for this. No exaggeration.

Adapt your workspace to your needs

There are so many complaints you’ll never have to state. I don’t like my table. I don’t have space. My chair is not comfortable enough. It’s too hot here. It’s too cold.

As a remote worker, your workspace is what you make it.

You can code from your own bed, move your office to your favorite coffee shop, get whichever chair you want… have the room as warm as you want it. The possibilities are endless.

Stay happy!

Yes, remote work does make you happier. Unless closely working with others is what brings you joy. You get more free time each day, more chances to check on your kids, and less money spent on things you’d only pay for at work such as daily lunches, car fuel, or parking subscriptions (and fines).

You’ll also get more sleep time. Feeling well-rested contributes to our work efficiency and general happiness state.

The disadvantages of working remotely

One thing I realized while talking to other remote workers was that we all had the same problems.

Working remotely is obviously not just sunshine and rainbows. Not all companies let you make your own schedule or walk your dog when you should really be working on your tasks.

And that’s for the better. You can tell why.

The truth is that working remotely is just like any other job. Except you’ve got the additional benefits mentioned above. Those pros, though, can be everything you need to make you love your job.

Yet, there will always be a couple of downsides. Here are the plain, honest cons you’ll experience at some point:

You’ll get lonely

Inevitably loneliness or isolation will set it once you see your team members enjoying team building activities or lunch together while you’re all alone at home. You seriously might never even get to meet your co-workers in person.

Lack of in-person human interaction is a big issue when it comes to maintaining good work communication. I recommend visiting the office every once in a while if you’ve got the chance to stay connected and get accustomed to their work culture.

I’m still trying to get the hang of this issue so here’s one tip from Chuck Vadun, Communications Director @Fire Engine RED:

There are definitely times when I feel a bit isolated. To combat this, I try to make sure I get out for lunch with a friend or family member at least once a week. Or I’ll leave early to go to a yoga class and make up the work time later.

Sarah Moe, Co-Founder @Flauk recommends socializing with other remote employees like yourself:

Meet other remote workers by working from coffee shops or co-working spaces from time to time. Go to networking events to make friends and share your stories about working remotely.

You’ll get distracted

There will always be that YouTube video that just needs to be watched right then and there. Or that TV show you’ve been planning to watch for a while. Or a book that’s desperately calling for you to read it. I could go on forever, but I don’t want to give you more ideas to distract yourself.

Instead, I’ll tell you what I do to stop distractions.

Whenever I come across an article, video, or any other piece of content I might want to check out, I just bookmark it and leave it aside for the time being. One or two days later I check them when I have time. The thing is that most of the time I’m not even interested in the majority of them anymore. So I don’t even look at them again.

This seriously saves me a couple hours each week.

Dann Albright suggests creating a habit out of working without distractions and an environment that will prevent these:

After a while, whenever you go into your office, you’ll get into your work mode and it’ll be easier to stop getting distracted. Practice deep work and mindful habits and you’ll see your productivity go way up. Be intentional about your work practice. Close your social media tabs and email and focus on a single task. Don’t try to avoid distractions. Create an environment where they don’t happen.

Less walking, less physical activity

No work commute equals no more walking. Yeah, sure, it sounds nice. But that hour a day you would have been walking to and from work (let’s not forget the moving around the office part) is now gone.

You know that no physical activity means bad health and lots of other illnesses like diabetes or heart disease so I won’t go on to scare you with this topic. To prevent them though, stretch every few hours and take a short walk at lunch or after work. Props if you like going to the gym or regularly workout at home or practice a sport.

Develop a work out routine to keep you healthy, active, and refreshed. You can also find a hobby to help you maintain your energy throughout the day. – Ashley Chorpenning, Marketing Strategist and Content Creator

Team communication problems

remote team communicating

Even if you consider yourself a great communicator, the reality is not everyone in your team will know how to handle collaborating with a remote employee. Simply because they’re not yet used to it.

Remember the key to effective communication is knowing the communication style of each team member.

For instance, I  prefer voicing my opinions in writing. It’s easier for me to develop upon every detail than explain it verbally.

Of course, your communication style won’t always match that of others. Mix different styles to make sure everything is clearly understood. Take my case. I put down everything in written form and then use a video call to further clarify my thoughts.

Tip

Use task management or project management tools with collaboration features to help you stay up to date with any project changes and avoid misunderstandings.

Constant worry about what others might say

Remote workers might fear being constantly doubted or accused of slacking. This is normal since there’s no one to directly supervise you. Meanwhile, if you’re doing your work on time AND within the agreed upon quality standards, nobody is really going to be worried about you.

People think you don’t do anything all day — it’s a common misconception, but in reality, employees who work remotely typically get more done than people who work in an office. Have confidence in your work and take comfort in that feeling. The fact that you’re worried about your output means you care about your work. Anyone who cares about their work is naturally going to work harder. – Lindsay Wissman, Copywriter @The Content Factory

Just focus on doing your best the same way you would if you were in the office. No need to rush just to deliver results faster than others.

Tip

Accountability is not hard to manage though. Use an automatic time tracking tool like PaymoPlus to record your entire workday. If anybody ever doubts your efforts, just show them your time logs. That should be enough proof.

Tech crashes

tech crash

I’m talking about all those times when your Internet connection drops or your computer needs an update just when you’re about to have a meeting. Prepare for these problems beforehand.

Find a nearby place with free Wi-Fi, install the apps and communication tools you use often on your smartphone, have an old computer at hand, and any other preventive measure that won’t keep you from waiting for an update all day long.

I for one have another computer available and use my mobile data to fill for brief Internet connection drops.

Read the next section to find hints on how you can tell if working remotely s a good choice for your lifestyle and work behavior.

Is working remotely right for you?

It’s definitely not for everyone. If you’re the type of person who needs daily interaction with colleagues and peers, then it may not be a good fit. Working remotely has many benefits, but it takes a certain type of person for it to work. – Brandon Seymour, Consultant @Beymour Consulting

Before you get to work, go through these 3 essential steps to find out if you’ll be happy working remotely:

Start with a test run

Don’t just assume you’re good for the job. I had a trial period despite knowing this was what I always wanted. It’s a great chance for you to test your own skills and see how well (or not) you can communicate with the team.

Assess your qualities and flaws

You don’t have to make a list. Just think about your best traits and what you need to improve. If you’re not really a patient person or a good communicator and you often procrastinate… you’re not suited for working remotely.

Make sure you have the right personality for remote work. A lot of people find it difficult not to have a boss looking over their shoulder and telling them what to do. If you’re not an independent worker with critical thinking skills and good communication, you may struggle with the arrangement. – Holly Reisem Hanna @The Work at Home Woman

Find your motivation

You need a well-grounded reason to work remotely like “I live on another continent” or “I need a quiet space to work from”. Wanting to clean your house or binge watch movies during work hours is a signal you’re in it for the wrong type of benefits. Most remote workers I talked to named self-motivation as one of the primary reasons they started working remotely in the first place.

Where to find a remote job

Let me tell you one great secret:

You don’t always have to search for a remote-job posting to get a remote position.

If there’s a company you really want to work for, go for it. Drop them an email with a resume and cover letter and see what they have to say.

Companies that let you work remotely

While there aren’t as many fully-remote work providers yet, some of the largest companies looking for remote workers and making a culture out of this include:

  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Automattic
  • Baremetrics
  • Buffer
  • CROmetrics
  • Canva
  • CircleCI
  • Close.io
  • Convergys
  • ConvertKit
  • Dell
  • DigitalOcean
  • Glassdoor
  • Hotjar
  • IT Pros
  • MeetEdgar
  • Pearson
  • Pluralsight
  • Toptal
  • VMware
  • Zapier

Websites to help you find a remote job

Besides each company’s career page, there are lots of job listing websites that focus only on showcasing jobs from companies that let you work remotely:

Websites like Jobspresso or Remote Work Hub specify whether the remote worker can be from anywhere around the world or a specific country.

remote jobs by country

Then there are specialized websites for finding remote work opportunities in your field.

Check the sites you commonly go to, like Dribbble, GrowthHub, or Stack Overflow, they probably have a job postings page too.

How to use other websites to find a remote job

Go to websites where you’d usually look for a job. Glassdoor, AngelList, or Indeed have recently introduced new search possibilities for those who’d like to work remotely:

glassdoor

Location set as Remote

Otherwise, just searching for “remote job” or “work remotely” should do the trick.

Take this example from LinkedIn:

linkedin job ads

First try finding a remote job in your country just to keep all legal aspects in check, especially if you’re not a freelancer. Hiring someone from a different country (particularly different continent) is a bit more difficult for employees, so your chances of landing your dream remote career opportunity are at first higher for your own country.

Note

Make sure you read the full job description before applying. Sometimes companies list “remote work” as a temporary option for the first months or use it to refer to working from home just a couple of days/week, but you’ll still be required to go to the office regularly.

Still haven’t found what you were looking for?

Run a Google search for “[your industry] + remote job” and sort the results according to your desired window of time:

Google search for remote jobs

All this looks good, but can I really score a remote job?

How to get a remote job

So you’ve finally found that ideal remote work opportunity. Still, how do you own it?

You already know you should be setting yourself apart from anyone else, so here are other tips to help you score that unicorn job:

Know what companies want from their remote employees and develop yourself towards that direction

I’ve always liked checking job ads to see how requirements change over the years. You can really make a hobby out of this.

Even if that’s not really your passion, you should check them out once in a while. Before you jump into randomly applying for remote career opportunities here and there, have a look at what employers demand to see if you’ll fit their work culture. This can show you how and in what direction to develop yourself.

To make this easier for you, I’ve compiled the most common requirements (related to working remotely) from 100+ of the most recent Remote.co job listings:

  • Proven track record of working remotely
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to present ideas
  • Must be a self-starter
  • Excellent prioritization and organization skills
  • Great time management skills
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • A learning mindset
  • Self-discipline
  • Proactiveness
  • Goal orientation and motivation
  • Troubleshooting capabilities
  • Team player
  • Strong work ethic
  • Positive and enthusiastic attitude

Remote job requirements aren’t that different from common office position requirements.

The skills you’ll need to land a remote position are the same as for any onsite job. You might, though, be expected to have a degree of remote working experience, a strong sense of accountability, and developed communication skills.

The catch is that you’ll need to adapt each of the above skills to working virtually. This means that organization will now be done on digital boards and collaboration becomes a bunch of video calls or message board notifications.

Have a work portfolio beforehand

Not all employers will trust recent college graduates when it comes to working remotely with little to no supervision. Think about it, there’s no one to recommend you and you don’t have much proof of your past results yet.

There are plenty of remote junior positions, even internships. But if you have a look at any remote job listing website, you’ll notice that most ads are for senior-level experts.

At the time I wrote this article, Remote.co had 93 job listings for Senior positions and only 12 for Junior ones.

For entry-level remote careers, make sure you’re passionate about your work.

Join projects, volunteer, or practice your skills at home by creating a website, launching an app, opening your own blog, or showcasing your designs on Dribbble. In the case of a Junior Software Development position, an employer might just want to see your GitHub account to validate and evaluate your commits.

You might already have these in check. If not, get to work right now. It’s never too late to sharpen your skills.

Once you’ve got a couple of years of work experience, a former employer to recommend you, and one or two successful projects to talk about, companies might start to contact you directly without you having to formally apply for a job.

TIP YOU REALLY NEED TO REMEMBER

Don’t wait endless months for the perfect remote job if you’ve got an opportunity at a local company. Start your career with an office job and gradually work your way up to your ideal remote position.

Prepare yourself as you would for any other job

Despite your interview probably being held over a video call, you have to prepare yourself the same way you would for any other job interview. Put on a nice shirt, learn all you can about the company, find your motivation for choosing that workplace, and prepare a set of your own questions like “How does the team communicate?”, “What’s your preferred method of work?”, or “Who will I report to?”.

In the interviews themselves, we encourage applicants to ask about the social side of the company: How do team members of different interests get together? Are there opportunities to meet in ‘real life’? What does the company do to encourage a community feeling? It’s very possible to build a family vibe in a 100% remote company, so if that’s the sort of company that the candidate wants to work at, the interviewers should have good answers to these questions. An interview should be a two-way process, after all. – Tim Cameron-Kitchen, Head Ninja @Exposure Ninja

Also, don’t lie in your resume or interview. Even if there’s nobody to monitor your work process, your results will always be checked. Spaghetti code is quite a clear sign you don’t have those 6+ years experience you bragged about.

Do your research to determine if remote work culture is a good fit for you

If you don’t like working remotely, you won’t like your job either. Knowing what remote work perks you expect and what disadvantages you just can’t cope with is key to picking the right employer. Lack of work satisfaction will show in your results or, better said, in no results.

Most fully-remote companies have a page or a few articles that present their remote work culture. Get to know the team and work conduct before you accept the job. You don’t want to be stuck at a job where meetings are scheduled every 2 hours if you secretly hate meetings.

This will help you keep your remote job once you got it.


Landed a remote job?

Great! Now you’re working remotely.

All good, but where do you start?

Strategies for approaching remote work

There’s no single best way to work remotely. The methods and tools you use to handle your daily tasks and projects depend entirely on your own manner of work and on your company’s policies.

There’s no such thing as a tool that’s just for remote workers. Frankly, they’re not that different from what you’d normally use in the office.

What worked for me or someone else might not be as effective for you, but it can help you know where to start and find out what you’ve been missing from your remote work process.

To encourage you to find innovative solutions, I’ll take you through all the steps you need to work remotely on a project from start to finish.

First things first.

The main communication method

Sure you’ve got your email account, but are you really going to open everything in your inbox?

To stay connected with your team in real-time and make sure you don’t miss a message, use a cloud-based collaboration tool or message board like Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

Slack is a great choice if you’re also looking to connect it to the other apps you’re using like Twitter, Giphy, Google Calendar, GitHub, Zapier, and many more.

slack

The downside, however, is that the free version doesn’t include video calls and only allows you to save up to 10k messages. High-quality video conferences and a solid messaging history are two major needs when you’re working remotely.

Good news is you can use other tools for this. Skype for Business and Google Hangouts are just two of the most common examples. There’s also join.me, Zoom, and appear.in if you want to try something new.

Don’t rely on a single video conference tool though. Connectivity issues can occur when you’re talking to your teammate who is literally on the other side of the world. Having accounts on both platforms wouldn’t hurt in case one fails.

My favorite thing about these tools?

Screen sharing.

A must for any remote team. In an office environment you’d normally go to your colleague and look over something. Remotely, you can’t do that. That’s why video communication tools let you share what you’re seeing with others.

You can use them to create whiteboards, sketch your ideas, put together wireframes, and that’s it. You’ve just moved your entire office to Skype.

Tip

If you don’t want to call a meeting just to show your colleague where a button is on a website, use a tool like Evernote to take screenshots and add text, arrows, and other shapes to highlight the points of interest.

Remote collaboration on documents and files

This is what teams should be doing even if they’re not remote ones.

Articles, spreadsheets, presentations… Creating these in a cloud-based tool will allow your teammates to contribute and review them in real-time. No more back and forth emails with 20 versions of the same document.

Google was a trendsetter in this case and is still the most popular choice for online document creation and editing. Team members can write, edit, leave comments, spot errors, or praise your work. All in real time.

googledocs remote collaboration

Comments and edits in Google Docs

TIP

Can’t find a feature you need in Google Docs? Just go to Add-ons -> Get add-ons and search for the functionality you need. I use Doc Tools to sort my lists, but there are other add-ons like dictionaries, proofreading tools, calculators, or chart and table builders.

Microsoft followed and introduced their own online version of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These work on any MacBook and are connected to Skype by the way.

There are also others you might have not used yet such as OnlyOffice. Adobe Reader has a feature for editing and leaving comments too. There’s really nothing you can’t collaborate on anymore.

Hundreds of existing software options that make remote collaboration for any field a breeze. You just need to know where to find them.

Have a look at these design and prototyping tools that also have collaboration features:

  • InVision – what everyone’s using
  • Marvel, Webflow, Framer – alternatives to InVision
  • Kite Compositor – motion design and prototyping app
  • Sketch – not available on Windows
  • Figma – easy to use even if you’re not a designer
  • Canva – not really for prototyping but you can use it to collaborate on other visual content such as social media images, flyers, e-books, and more.

For software development, you already know the fundamental GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, and all those. Once you’re switching to a remote software development career though, you might be asked to step up your code game.

That’s were pair programming comes in. You’ve probably already tried it the last time you went to your team mate’s workstation to fix a bug.

This can be done virtually. And not just with a simple screen sharing tool.

Options to help you with pair programming include:

Tip

Your code editor could already have a plugin that lets you share your IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Check that out first.

How to organize your tasks

If you’re working with a team, they might already be using a tool for this.

This is something you’ll have to do each day, so give your best to learn all of the platform’s features to get the most out of it.

There are several different project management software options out there, each with their own functionalities and perks. Check out our guide to discover them.

To organize my tasks and projects I use Paymo because, you know, I work for them and the entire team is actively using it already.

Paymo’s got Kanban boards among other features too (I’m this method’s number one fan).

Kanban board used by a remote team

Kanban board example in use by a business consultancy team

So if you’re like me and hate seeing dozens of tasks all piled up in a single column, then maybe Kanban is just what you needed. You might already be familiar with this method if you’re using tools like Trello or maybe you’ve seen a physical Kanban board before but didn’t really know what it was called.

All you have to do to make your work easier is to find the task organization method that works best for you.

Aside from Kanban boards, there are to-do lists. Perfect for simple tasks that don’t need too much explanation and even for personal tasks:

personal to-do list

To-do list used for personal purposes

Then, there’s the detailed task list for work-related projects where you did a bit more than just the task’s name, priority, and deadline:

remote team task list

Digital marketing detailed task list example

Make sure you don’t forget anything

“Did you finish the task I told you about?”

“…”

One of the biggest advantages of working online is that most of the things you should remember are written down.

With so many calendar tools, notifications, and emails it’s almost impossible to forget about any of your tasks.

In Paymo you can set a due date reminder for any of your tasks to be notified a couple of days before its deadline:

task alert

You can also use Google Calendar which allows you to set multiple reminders and invite guests to the events you create:

gcalendar

Google Calendar sample for one work week

Files, files, files

Any company or project you’re working on needs a safe place to store files. When you’re dealing with remote work, a clear method of sorting your files and backing everything up with a password is vital.

The project management platform you’re already working with should have a section or menu button called “Files” or “Attachments” where you can find all docs and files that have ever been used in your virtual workspace.

You’ll also see this under each project and task but it takes longer to find something there if you’re looking for an edited photo you asked for 7 months ago.

using files as a remote team

File organization on one project in Paymo

But it might not have this feature or maybe you’ve already reached your storage limit. Then you can pair it with one commonly used solution like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or OneDrive.

Here’s one way of organizing your design files into folders according to month (add some color too):

Using Gdrive when working remotely

Keeping everything secured

There’s also the cybersecurity issue you should NEVER neglect.

Honestly, even if you did get a work-dedicated laptop from the company, you’re still using it in your free time too. Whatever you download, watch, or click on at home or while you’re using public Wi-Fi can potentially be harmful and corrupt your work files.

Don’t believe me?

This iPass security report found that a shocking 62% of all Wi-Fi related security incidents of the interviewed companies happened in coffee shops. An average of 57% of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) also suspect remote employees to be the cause of a mobile security issue in the last year.

Sure, nobody wants to think they’re going to click on a link from one spam email (valid for non-remote employees too) and the next day all of the company’s data is out.

But it can happen. That’s why you should take safety measures such as the following:

  • Don’t leave your laptop unattended when working from a public space
  • Protect all devices with strong passwords that contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters
  • Change your password whenever you’re experiencing security issues (e.g. Twitter send you an email whenever someone tries to access your account)
  • Don’t use the same password on all accounts
  • Use a password manager like LastPass for strong password suggestions and additional security
  • Activate 2FA (two-factor authentication) where the option allows it and use a tool like this Authenticator Chrome extension from TypingDNA, so you don’t have to whip out your phone each time but still be secured by the way you type
  • Be careful with Wi-Fi in public places as they’re most likely not secured
  • Install a strong antivirus software and update it regularly
  • Don’t download software from unsafe websites or without a license to prove its authenticity
  • Periodically update the software you’ve already installed (many times there’s a security reason behind them)
  • Connect to a VPN service to keep your Internet traffic encrypted
  • Don’t access your work accounts from any public computer (not even your best friend’s laptop)

Self-monitoring your work

Remote workers get monitored too. More importantly, though, they first need to keep track of their own work and its evolution in time by themselves.

WHAT IS TIME TRACKING?

Time tracking is the process of recording and monitoring the time you spend on an activity or project. It’s usually done via an automatic time tracker or a digital stopwatch.

In terms of work procedure, there’s a slight difference between whether you’re tracking time manually or automatically. You might want to remember these options in case you’re already working with one and want to switch because it’s not just the thing for you.

Check out our list of the best time tracking tools you should test. Suggest one to your manager if you’re not yet using something like this but can see its benefits.

Automatic time tracking tools record everything you’re doing on your computer. This includes any files, apps, browser tabs, and even idle time. Just turn them on at the beginning of the day and stop the recorder when you leave.

Take PaymoPlus for example.

If you regularly work with multiple projects at the same time, this tool lets you match your activities to the right project and task at the end of the day.

It’s also great if you want to find out what your main distractions where. Just have a look at my use case to see what my results were.

No worries though. All entries can be edited so you can delete those minutes you spent on YouTube or Facebook 😉

On the other hand, a stopwatch requires you to click the play (start) button when you’re beginning work on a task and when you stop working on it. You can also use time trackers on your phone to record time while on the go.

This is the time tracking method I’m using. Despite having to remember to start and stop my timer each time, it gives me better control of my time and, at the end of the day, there’s nothing else I have to do.

All my recorded hours are then sent into a timesheet.

Timesheets are a physical or virtual proof of the time you’ve worked. Their main use is for payroll and human resource management, but also benefit employees since they bring transparency to the team and allow everyone to work equal hours and justify their hours. Finally!

remote team timesheet

Timesheet created in Paymo

If you’re a remote worker and want something truly helpful for yourself, then there are time reports. These visual work summaries show you how you’re spending time, money, and other resources.

Having time reports in a remote team is great for cutting down on administrative tasks and discussions. Your manager or team leader will immediately see if you’re overbooked or have time for another task without having to call a meeting.

remote team time report

Time report used to monitor users’ time

I went into more details and gave a few examples in this article if you want to find out more about how time reports work.

Why are time constraints so important?

Because team members often rely on each other’s work. Front-end developers, for instance, can’t really start coding without getting that final PSD file from the UX designer. Project managers can’t start planning without having first met with the client and learn exactly what needs to be done.

These are all task dependencies.

To set them, use a Gantt Chart. This is great to show employees what their progress is and what they should work on first. Even when working remotely or with limited communication possibilities.

Gantt Chart

Gantt Chart example

Tip

If you’re going to be Skype calling your remote team member who’s on another continent, use something like WorldTimeBuddy or set multiple hours on your smartphone to check when they’re…awake.

Tips for working remotely and being efficient at it

You might still find it hard to adapt to your new lifestyle. This is normal, but there are a few easy things you can do to tackle the unique challenges of remote work:

Set a clear work schedule or routine

Not having a fixed schedule will make you postpone work indefinitely. I use the same schedule as my colleagues who work from the office just because it’s much easier to communicate with them this way.

Others, on the other hand, might want free time midday to run your errands or unwind. You can do this if you divide your day into two 4-hour periods, one for the morning and one for the evening.

Have a routine so you can more easily slip into productivity. I have certain aspects of my work that I do at home in the mornings and others I more easily do in the afternoons at a coffee shop.  Some things are best between the 10 pm and 1 am, but that only works because my work is results-based, not hours-logged. – Amna Shamim, Freelance Writer and Visibility Consultant

Don’t ever say “I’m just going to finish everything in the evening.”!

Having a set start and end date for work will help you better manage your tasks and keep your work-life balance in check too.

Or, in Adam Giffi’s words:

Treat remote work as much like a normal job as possible. Meaning you’re not working from your bed or from your couch. You’re getting up, getting dressed, and going to a dedicated space in your home solely for work.

Make the most out of EVERY video call

You don’t have many chances to talk to your colleagues and clarify a task. Try to get lots of details and company updates from a single video call.

This way you won’t have to constantly call them via Skype or spam their Slack channel. Prepare a list of questions beforehand and put down any problems you encounter throughout the day. Setting a time for a daily meeting would also work.

TIP

The office-based team might have a few meetings without you. Make sure you ask for updates even if they don’t involve your work just to stay on track with everything that’s going on.

Block websites that distract you

You’re working online so distractions are literally everywhere. Put your phone in airplane mode and block certain websites from your browser.

Facebook Messenger even has an option for you to mute a conversation for a few hours or indefinitely so you won’t be tempted to chat all day.

To help eliminate distractions, I keep my phone on silent during the work day and out of reach. Apps like FocusMe also help block social media site during work hours, which makes it easier to focus and stay productive. – Chelsea Krause, Writer @Merchant Maverick

Do some of your work outside of the online

Spending at least 8 hours each day in front of a laptop can take its toll on your health. Yes, you’re working virtually, but it doesn’t mean you can’t keep some of your docs offline.

There are lots of things you can do without your laptop like writing an article by hand or creating a logo sketch.

But if that’s taking up too much time, you can always keep the information you use most often nearby. I keep image sizes on an open notebook that’s always close.

Or just create a physical Kanban board for everything that’s not related to work to at least spend the rest of your day off the Internet.

Take a few minutes each hour to just relax

Let’s keep it real. Nobody regularly works for 8 hours straight without any break.

Not even in the office. People talk to each other, drop a joke now and then, make themselves coffee, grab a snack, or just call a friend.

The same applies when working remotely. While you can work constantly for 8 hours, a few days into this experiment and you’ll find yourself with no energy left for the next couple of days. That just does nothing good for your productivity.

To keep your work efficiency (and mental sanity) top notch, take a break every once in a while. Declutter your workspace, call your mother, feed your dog, order pizza… anything’s fine as long as it doesn’t exceed 10-20 minutes.

Keep an organized work desk

organized work desk

Nobody else is going to see your desk. But you are.

A cluttered work table not only lowers your productivity level but also makes you waste time. Keep everything work-related within arm’s reach and organize your offline files so you won’t spend time searching for a piece of information.

Tip

You can also change the place you work from once in a while to kill that monotony or find inspiring scenery.

Create a strong boundary between your work and personal life

In other words: Don’t work from the same room where your kids are. Or any other family members. This doesn’t mean you have to isolate yourself though.

Create a dedicated office (or two) for yourself (even if that’s your bed) and make sure nobody can interrupt you as you’re working. It’s easy to stop making the difference between these two and forget about your work while you’re playing with your kids for hours.

Remote workers need a professional, quiet space for working and making phone calls. During the summer months or school breaks, I leave a sign on the outside of my office door that says:

“Please check to see if I am on a call before trying to get my attention.” If I am on a web call, I lock the door. – Melissa C. Gillespie, Editor @Luxury Pools + Outdoor Living magazine
RMS Media Group

Also, don’t forget to disconnect yourself after work to avoid job burnout:

Make sure you have an excuse to leave the house! Whether it’s going for a walk at lunch or heading to the gym after you’ve clocked off, it’s important that you step away from your work each day and have the chance to clear your mind and avoid burnout. – Sam Carney, Content Delivery Manager @Copify

Stay online and make sure others can see you

You’re not in the office so others won’t really know when you’re at work. Some companies only ask employees to stay online for a couple of hours each day so they can have meetings and discuss tasks. The problem here is that unexpected bugs, server crashes, or spontaneous inquiries can’t really be addressed until the next time you’re online.

Therefore, here’s a more effective tip I’ve tested: staying visible online during your work schedule. Others will see when you start work, when they can contact you, and when you’ve already left. You’ll also feel more like you’re a part of the team since you’re following pretty much the same routine as those who go to the office.

Note

This is even more important for fully-remote teams where being available most of the time is vital. Without a schedule policy, you’d be waiting for a colleague to go online and that teammate is also waiting for someone else who‘s expecting an answer from another person who… and the circle goes on.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help even when working remotely

Feeling like you’re not communicating properly? Don’t know what’s going on at the office? Nobody told you about this year’s Christmas party? Just ask someone.

Your co-workers don’t have to be your best friends, but it’s best to have a team member you can talk to if you have any problems and requests.

When you’re feeling lonely or burned out – speak up. Keep consistent and transparent communication with your manager to let them know how you’re doing – both professionally and personally. – Shelby Kennard, Director, Corporate Communications @Limeade

Whenever you need help, just message one of your colleagues. It’s better to ask a few questions first than waste countless hours trying to find a solution and then have to re-do it all because you didn’t get the instructions right.

Check out our productivity at work guide for even more best practices you can try like avoiding procrastination and prioritizing your tasks.

Three key things to remember after reading this guide:

  1. Working remotely is a complete lifestyle but you should be able to maintain a work-life balance even when working from your bed next to your kid’s room.
  2. Remote work is really not that different from a normal office job, but keep in mind all the pros and cons so they don’t surprise you.
  3. No matter how many tips you’ll look for, you still have to test them out yourself and see what works for YOU.

What’s your remote work story? Would love to know!

I know you might not have the time to leave a comment, but I and other readers too would like to know how you realized that working remotely was right for you, what the benefits were, and how you cope with the cons.

Haven’t ever worked remotely yet? No problem. Just voice your questions and thoughts and I’ll get back to them.

Happy remote working!

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