The challenges of working remotely
I get asked about this a lot. How does it work? Do I enjoy it? Am I more or less productive? I have had many conversations about working remotely over the years. I felt compelled to write some thoughts and tell you a little about how it works for me. In doing so hopefully expelling some myths and answering some oft asked questions.
Working from home is something I have been doing for the past 6 years. The majority of that time I was self-employed working with clients from all around the world (Fun fact: I had 2 local UK clients in 5 years). This last year and a half I have been working for foursquare based in New York City. I make regular trips to our New York headquarters but 90% of my time is spent in my home office just outside Edinburgh Scotland.
Get dedicated and be flexible
Working from home is a constantly evolving challenge and is not easy. Distractions come in all shapes and forms, you will get everything from noisy neighbours and home renovations to personally having to deal with deliveries and the chores of running an office, just on a slightly smaller scale.
Funnily, the first distraction everyone thinks will hit you hardest is sitting around watching TV in your pyjamas. While that may be true when you have a day off from work that certainly isn’t true of someone working from home. Getting showered and dressed are pivotal moments in the day, as is having a proper sensible working environment which I will touch on later. Getting out of the home office for short walks and lunch breaks also helps break up the monotony.
Being flexible to your client or employers needs is key. Be sure to let them know exactly what to expect from your situation, what hours you will be working and what hours you will not. Replying to emails and communication outside of your normal office hours is tempting and is likely to lead to you being expected to reply at those times always. Do not fall down that rabbit hole. My normal office hours are from around 10am-7pm.
Using Time Zone’s to your advantage
Surprisingly this is one of my favourite reasons to work remotely. The New York office is 5 hours behind me, this means that when I start work in the morning nobody else is online. I usually have a mountain of emails and things to work on for half the day before anyone comes online.
We then get half the day online together to talk, discuss and move forward with projects before I then go offline. The second half of the day in New York – that I am offline – often leads to even more work for the next day. Turning what sounds like an awful 5 hours time difference into an amazingly productive work feedback cycle.
More important than you at first realise is a proper working environment, a desk and office setup that is only used for working is ideal. Having somewhere that is solely used for working will help you focus on just that and not having you think about other things. I try not to use my home office outside of my office hours, using my iPad on the sofa in the evening to actually “surf the internet”, read and see all those funny cat pictures you have posted to Twitter is something I relish.
Having great communication skills and good personal relationships with the people you are working with is going to play a big role in how successful you are at working remotely. Email, Instant Messaging, Campfire, Video Chats, you have to always be ready and prepared at a moments notice. We use email as our main communication medium backed up by video meetings and discussions. Instant messaging to quickly grab some information or chat with someone and Campfire as an additional group/team chat tool.
One year of remote meetings
Believe me, I have tried every single form of video communication tool over the course, nothing is perfect, nothing is full-proof and I am continually striving to find the best solution to this.
Below is a short video of around 150 screenshots from stand ups, 1 on 1’s, product reviews, team meetings, white-boarding sessions with Dens and Mayor Mike Bloomberg visits that I have taken over the past year of working at foursquare.
View the video on Vimeo
Fancy working alongside these fine folks at foursquare? We are hiring! foursquare.jobs
Working remotely is both a pleasurable and productive way to work but do realise it absolutely has some downfalls. It is lonely. It is challenging. It is something I am constantly striving to improve at. I would love to answer any questions or hear others peoples experiences, please do leave a comment.