Everything You Need To Know About Remote Work and Location Independent Business
My first remote work experience was back in 2006, and you can imagine how many bumps I went through to this point. I’ve tried almost everything. I switched to full-time a couple of times, worked in companies of different sizes, built my own design agency, worked solo. I was nomadic for 3 years and launched such projects as courses, books, software, libraries. And now I’m here writing about my remote work experience.
It doesn’t matter how you call it: remote work or work from home. What matters is what are you actually do and how do you approach it. By approach, I mean your mindset and culture.
Remote work is not a trend.
Some of the surveys for the past years prove the benefits that remote work has.
Most people rate a flexible schedule as the biggest benefit of remote work.
The second most important thing for people who consider it is working from any location.
Those who have families see remote work as a way to spend more time with their families.
The experience of a lot of people and my own experience prove that remote work is a more productive way of doing things than spending the same time in an office. Many people reported they do much more work and do it better for less than half of their working hours in an office space.
Remote jobs can bring opportunities to remote regions and distribute the economy in a much better way. The problem is that we create these huge city hubs that have the majority of headquarters and millions or even tens of millions living in one place.
People, in general, live better in smaller communities. You can find a lot of studies on this topic.
Imagine we have the courage to re-organize it in a much better way and build smaller communities that allow people to choose opportunities without thinking about a location.
I think the world will be much interesting and vibrant with people living and working in smaller groups. I see such benefits as less traffic, pollution, smaller and cozier cities, or even eco-villages.
I was traveling full-time for 3 years and what I’ve noticed is that people are more friendly and helpful to foreigners in smaller cities and towns than large capital cities. It’s easier to navigate and find places for work or hangout, and it’s usually closer to nature.
Basically, I think we need to be a little bit more disconnected, and since work activities take on average 3rd of our daily time, the remote work might change it for the best and change as to be more responsible for the work we do.
Remote work is making people happier, of course, if done right. It depends on many factors. This is something I want to touch on next.
I think mostly because you’re isolated most of the time, and you simply have fewer distractions if you are distanced from your teammates and clients.
Some people say it’s inefficient, but we see less and less of that year after year, maybe because of the developing technologies and tools we have right now, or maybe because the work culture is changing.
A lot can happen in the world. It’s impossible to predict what global factors might impact your work and business and how it might change our circumstances, such as weather, politics, health, planet, galaxy, who knows what else.
We can only focus on aspects that we think are important in the present time and plan for maybe a year.
It’s super hard to do a risk assessment on global factors and their impact. So the best we can do is learn to be self-aware, constantly educate ourselves, and be agile. With the latest, I mean not afraid to change the course of your career and life.
Try to aim for the efficiency of your actions. Meaning, work on the strategy of how you approach life and work.
People say: “Your work is not your life.” I think that’s not quite true because we spend a lot of time on work activities in our daily lives, whether it’s an office job, remote work, or your own business.
Global factors might impact your life and your work, requiring you to make some important decisions. And these decisions might impact your whole life, at least at a certain period of time.
Working or doing business as a location independent makes you more self-aware. You don’t have this luxury of stability in your life. Simply because you might change locations often, you can work on multiple projects, and you can have a remote job and making your own startup as a side project at the same time. And all this might constantly be changing every 1, 3, 6 months.
Basically, your life and work in your hands, and even if something happens globally and impacts your life and business somehow, you have this trained muscle that helps you pivot quickly to adapt or find a better spot.
Can You Do Your Work Remotely?
Someone asked me on Reddit whether it's ok to work remotely as a UX Designer. Actually, it’s a tricky question, but I have a positive answer to that. Let me explain.
Working as a UX Designer means working on a product design using a data-driven approach. It usually means doing research, often participating in many meetings, setting up tests, and gathering feedback. UX Designer is responsible for making the product or service easy to use. However, it’s quite a narrow specialty, and it’s very difficult to show the result of your work tangibly.
This is totally fine! Some professions, like UX Designer, have specifics that require creative ways of setting up your workflow. Most people think that you need to participate in a bunch of video meetings to make the interface perform better or design new features. Partially this is true because you basically need to discuss ideas with your teammates and get feedback that helps you improve a product, brand, marketing strategies, whatever you're working on.
This is related to pretty much all remote jobs that you can do.
There are a lot of examples of the work and business you can do remotely. Such activities as blogging, software development, design, websites, accounting, data analysis, quality assurance, project management, coaching, etc.. I’ve heard about freelance attorneys and even hairdressers.
Yes, you got me right! I’ve listened to a podcast back in the days about a startup that connects people and hairdressers, so they teach them online how to cut hair nicely without leaving their homes. And I actually met in person a digital nomad attorney.
The possibilities are endless. A lot of jobs can be converted to remote jobs. Mostly it depends on how businesses and companies manage all of their activities. Some companies and teams, like WordPress and Basecamp, are completely remote.
Should you Work Remotely Or Run Your Business as Location Independent?
There is a big difference between these two. Basically, every technique and tip you can find online can be interpreted differently if you work in the company remotely, work independently, provide your services to various clients, or even build your own startup sitting behind your kitchen table.
In some cases, people even mix remote work and working on their side projects. However, in this case, the online job shouldn’t require you to work full-time. It might be a flexible schedule or a part-time job.
I started freelancing back in my university years when it was not as popular today. Nobody knew how to approach this kind of work in the right way. So it was all about self-management for both: a manager on the client-side and a freelancer.
I believe the best way to make money online is to build your own business, whether it’s a client work within your one-person company or a startup company. You can actually build a startup on your own or hire a small team to help you with it. The latest is not easy and requires resources such as time, money, and management skills. So the quickest way to make money is to find clients and doing a service business model.
Of course, you need to have the skills to do that, but that’s not about education and diplomas. By having skills, mostly, I mean having experience.
Online courses and boot camps might help you quickly get a basic knowledge, but it’s important to quickly switch from theory to practice and actually find a project you think you can do.
Sometimes it’s easier to get a pro-bono project to get an experience and a client review. However, there are many possibilities to find an actual project or temporary contract that will bring you income.
New to Remote Work? This is how you can make a smooth transition.
This can be challenging for some people that got used to full-day office hours. Basically, full-time work may not be possible for many people who switched from their office desk to, let’s say, a kitchen table.
You need to be prepared that some of your teammates can’t work the same amount of hours as usual. You may need to trim down on your meetings and communication activities. That’s where asynchronous communication might help to be productive, even if there is a learning curve to be in sync with your team. The most important thing here is not to emulate office experience at home or on a remote basis. We don’t need to do everything as we did it in the office.
Remote Work Challenges
Remote work isn’t just about your work — it’s a different way to live. It’s not always exotic destinations, laptops, and Pina Coladas on the beach.
Each type of remote work has its challenges. As you can see in the bar chart above, the most common problems are lack of community, the inability to unplugging after work, communication troubles, etc. See more specific numbers and statistics below.
About 30% of remote workers struggle with loneliness. A lack of community is the number one challenge. A third of remote workers have trouble shutting down at the end of the workday, impacting their productivity. 20% struggle with time zone differences, which can complicate or slow timelines.
What about an office or work culture?
It’s important to understand that it’s hard to establish and keep a company culture if most of the company employees work remotely.
People who work remotely are more independent and do their work in different environments. We don’t have common areas where we can chat, we don’t share office equipment, and we don’t have meeting rooms with easy access.
Some companies and teams are trying to establish artificial cultures, mostly related to schedule and how we communicate within a company. I think this is a complication that we don’t need.
What works extremely well is ensuring everyone on the team is on the same page and ideally have the same goal or vision. Different businesses have different requirements, and mostly, it depends on the company's size.
I’ve noticed that the bigger the company, the more rules, and work management they tend to have. I believe companies like these will have a hard time transitioning to remote work.
Remote work is different, and it’s important that people who work out of the office have self-discipline and can manage their work independently.
One related thing that I want to write about separately is time blocking and how it impacts remote work culture. So keep reading.
You can map out time blocks in your calendar ahead of time to distribute the work tasks you have, let’s say, throughout the week. However, it doesn’t work for any kind of activity, and basically, it’s not for everyone.
If you really want to try it, I recommend you start monitoring your activities first. Basically, where you spend your time daily. Also, try to map out the types of activities you tend to do and what time works better for you. I call it behavior patterns.
This way, you can manage your schedule, considering your personal preferences that bind to different parts of a day or specific weekdays.
It’s commonly known that humans live in cycles, and we tend to do repetitive actions daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly. That’s why I recommend you to do some journaling or to map your activities in the calendar backward to understand better how you perform the best.
For example, you prefer to do management and all communications in the morning and some creative work in the evening.
You can create a schedule where you plan a block in the morning to check email, answer all the DMs, check Twitter, and connect with your peers, and so on.
Let’s say you decide to spend 4-6 hours in your evening time to do some creative activities like design, coding, concepts, etc.
That way, you can have free time around the lunch break so you can go for a walk, gym, eating your lunch out.
One important thing here is that you don’t have to stick to the same schedule every day.
Routines are important and help us be efficient. Still, if most of the work you do is creative, you need some kind of variety in your lifetime. Blocking and making everyday schedules identical for every day might make you feel your life like Groundhog Day.
This is not good for your health and work, especially if you want to create new and innovative projects.
Sometimes you need to have the ability to throw away your calendar and do whatever feels right at the present moment of time.
In my experience for over a decade, I’ve tried literally everything from paper organizers to digital calendars with reminders as well as Pomodoro Technique. As a result, I felt super productive, only doing some mechanical and tasks that do not require a lot of creative thinking.
Mostly it works well in office jobs in big companies where your focus is narrowed and your responsibilities are limited.
Time-blocking for personal projects always sounded weird and counterintuitive to me. I book slots in my calendar only for such activities as flights and trains, meetings, conferences. Basically, all the events are specifically related to time.
I never book time for things like preparing and eating breakfast, and I never plan my weekends.
Sometimes it’s good to know what activities are happening locally, and I can make a note for myself that I want to go somewhere and do something, but it’s never booked in my calendar.
I’ll go and do something only if I feel like I want to do so. Because, in real life, one day you can prepare and eat your breakfast like in 5-10 minutes, but sometimes you want to have a chat with someone or prepare something special, go out, get one in a cafe nearby or even don’t have breakfast at all.
So it really doesn’t make much sense to make hard plans on things like that.
Throughout 5-7 years of working online, I can say that the only technique that works great for me is ToDo lists.
This is the most flexible and simple productivity technique and workflow as for me. You can set your tasks on specific dates; you can group them by different projects, you can do tasks whenever it’s the best time for it and not when suddenly your internet is not working, or power is off, and you’re stressing out that you’re missing your time-block in the calendar.
Places to Work
Remote work often means that you don’t have a dedicated space where you perform work unless you’re working from home.
The first most popular place of work is home, according to many studies.
The second popular place of work is coffee shops and cafes.
Co-workings are also popular, but most don’t feel like a big change from an office environment. They’re good to get the job done, be super organized, find a community, and share some stories, but that’s not an essential part of a remote work experience.
Work from Home
Some studies say that people who have never worked from home before might not think it’s normal to stay home without feeling guilty.
It’s hard to make work from home possible without a high speed, reliable internet connection, and tools that you need to do your work. I’ll write about the tools separately in this article. So keep reading.
Sometimes it feels that it’s impossible to do some kind of work from your home, but usually, it’s not a general problem. Your home office might not be optimized. It may lack a dedicated workspace, desk, comfortable chair, maybe external monitor, good ergonomics, so your back is not killing.
Work from home allows people to be more flexible. However, it’s your responsibility to have regular check-ins with your teammates to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding deadlines and expectations.
Many people working from home struggle to disconnect from work at the end of the day. We close the laptop lid but keep checking messages and notifications on the phone. This is not healthy. Moreover, it prevents us from being productive the next day after staying long hours working or even thinking about work.
Those who work remotely are often not always physically visible to their teams, so they try to compensate by responding to every message almost immediately.
This kind of behavior creates pressure always to be online. It causes many employees to constantly check their email, slack messages, and social media a big part of the day, even in the evenings and sometimes at night.
I think we can manage our time better and just reserve a certain amount of time to communicate with the team. For example, you can figure out hours that work for you and your teammates to discuss tasks, give or receive feedback, ask questions you have.
I call these overlapping hours. Basically, 2 or 3 hours of shared time when everyone is available to collaborate and do a meeting if necessary. Sometimes it can even be only 15 or 30 minutes.
You can combine these overlap hours with such activities as checking emails and all the notifications. So if you have any questions, you can ask them while everyone else is online. This also works very well in case if your team is distributed by different time zones.
Actually, combining similar activities and doing things in batches is a great life hack that significantly boosts your productivity.
I’ve noticed that it’s easier for me to perform communications, task management, planning, and managing stuff together as one time block or a task. I feel like my brain works in one way when I do management work and completely different when I do creative work.
Mixing these two is a bad combination. Well, you can do both at the same time, but the result and performance will not be the same if you separate them.
Those who work remotely and do it from home can quickly blur the lines of work and life, resulting in discouragement and burnout.
You need to find time for relaxation and rebuilding your motivation. Burnout is real, and you seriously need to think about your time off from work if you feel like you can’t even think about it or if you have any other burnout symptoms.
There is one more thing that’s important to understand. When you work from home, you don’t have the same time constraints working from an office.
We have a limited amount of willpower. A large amount of difficult and creative work-related activities might deplete your self-control and willpower, which results in emotional stress and underachievement. It’s similar to burnout, but on a smaller scale. You can recover much faster from it, but again, it takes time to do so. One way of fixing it is to manage your time and workflow in a way that you distribute your work, so you don’t have too many of back to back heavy tasks that, for example, require you to make difficult decisions.
Downtime helps your brain to recover, increase attention and motivation. It encourages productivity and creativity.
Everyday Routines – Yes or No?
Routines might help, as well. Personally, I don’t really like to have days that look alike, but I realize that some of the good routines and habits can have a healthy impact on our lives.
This helps us automate things that we do anyway daily, weekly, and monthly without thinking too much about performing them. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t really like to tie routines to specific time marks, and I tend more to activate some of my routines when I feel like it’s time to do so.
Of course, we have time-related events like trains, flights, bookings, meetings. Those are scheduled, and you can’t do it another way. However, I think that time is relevant, and everybody feels and understands it differently. So I prefer to focus more on vision, results, and outcomes.
I think about routines as shortcuts. So let’s say I have a routine called check email. It usually consists of several simple rules that I established for myself. I open all my inboxes in my email client, go through the most important inquiries and messages, add them to my Trello board, write some notes and define when I want to do it, reply to those that don’t take more than 1-2 minutes, then quickly move to next messages.
I check email once every 1-2 days and usually 1 time a day (mostly midday). So if I reply to someone quickly, they can see my replies on the same day or the next day when they’re online. This routine takes only 20-40 minutes of my time.
As you can see, it’s a combination of actions and simple rules. I got used to it and did it so quickly, mostly because I figured out the best way it works for me.
I think routines like this can automate workflows and leave more time and energy for creative work.
It’s important to notice here that I don’t do this routine at a specific time of the day. I just don’t schedule it. However, sometimes I have it as a reminder, so I’ll definitely do it during the day.
Tools, Equipment, and Tips
I think the best way to start this part about tools and equipment for remote work is to tell you a little bit about minimalism.
Decluttering your desk can improve your professional life and mental health. According to Harvard Business Review research, a clean work desk will help you focus on process information better and make you more productive at work. Moreover, this will also decrease your levels of stress and anxiety.
Using tools like Slack, Skype, or other chat software might help you keep your team in the loop. Also, it’s a good way to have asynchronous communications. This means that both parts don’t need to be available simultaneously to have a discussion.
Chat apps and similar technologies allow us to express our thoughts, leave feedback, and communicate solutions without getting an instant reply.
Yes, this communication method has a learning curve for those who are used to video calls or classic in-room meetings. Keep your messages clean, short, and aimed at specific issues and solutions. In most cases, this is a much more productive way of communicating remotely since everyone can reply at any time that works for them.
Numerous meetings and expectations of immediate replies can be a core issue of why we don’t really have time to get actual work done.
Asynchronous communication allows everyone on the team to focus on their areas and have a schedule that works best specifically for each individual.
Here are some of the useful tips
- Use clear and specific language,
- Minimize the use of vague words like “he, she, it”
- Be transparent
- Show visual examples and short videos as supplements to your messages
- Avoid using acronyms unless your recipients get it.
- Try to avoid long-form messages so it’s not overwhelming and it’s right to the point from the very beginning.
The more specific you write your messages to your teammates or clients, the less likely they’ll need any clarifications from you. Meaning, you can avoid back and forth communication traps, and as a result, less time will be spent on the communication itself. Last but not least, about the communication tools and techniques is to try to always communicate with positive intent.
The quality of the work you do partially depends on the tools and equipment you’re using. I usually don’t see it as a business expense but rather an investment. I pay for professional software and service subscriptions to perform my work in the best way possible.
Once a year, I review the tools I’ve used for the past year and make decisions whether I want to use a software or if I still need specific subscriptions. So that I don’t pay extra for the soft I don’t use. Since I work independently, I’m responsible for managing and paying on time for my hosting, cloud services, design software, and various web services.
The same principle works for equipment. A good powerful laptop, noise-canceling headphones, external display, etc. I see it as an investment. These are the things that help me to do my work fast and achieve the highest quality possible. The only difference between hardware and software is that I revise my hardware once in 3-5 years.
Whether you work remotely as a company employee or build your business online, you can do the best with remote work if you're highly autonomous and self-motivated.
Working remotely and speeding things up is a bad combination. The expectation of immediate replies and continuous meetings is why many don’t really have to get actual work done.
So if remote work is something that you like, try always to be thoughtful and strategic about it. Try new things and better practices to make your remote work more seamless.
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