Here at the Institute of Code, we love remote work. After all, nothing beats working in an environment of your making, not having to sit in traffic, and being able to uproot whenever suits you.
But remote working presents many unique challenges, especially if you’re freelancing. Communication issues, lacking support, high overheads and cash flow variances are all problems full-time, in-house staff don’t usually experience.
What makes remote work so appealing is that it gives you more control over how you spend your days. However, this increased control can be a double-edged sword; without constant guidance, it means you’ll need to be much more proactive, organised and prepared to make sure you’re efficient as possible.
We talked remote work expert Kristi DePaul, remote work advocate and startup mentor at Google, to find out what are some key things you have to know about remote work before you get started!
Improve your communication
In previous blogs about remote work, we’ve written extensively on the importance of communication in remote teams - after all, good communication is often all remote teams have to bind each other together.
But Kristi stresses the importance of improving your written communication, especially when you might be working with people of different cultures. It’s easy to misunderstand tone and the slight nuances country to country in messages, even if you think you’re clear, concise, and even conveying the desired tone (friendly, diplomatic, authoritative, etc.) She advises taking a hard look at the ways you share information and making sure you’re intentional about every sentence. Communicating is just as critical at the job-seeking stage as it is while you’re in a job.
For remote freelancers, it’s a good idea to ‘over-communicate’. Clients, especially those who are unfamiliar with remote workers, can freak out (sometimes unnecessarily) when they don’t hear from you, even if only for a few days. For them, it’s a big step to entrust a lot of money to someone who they might never meet, so they can often jump to worst conclusions.
That’s why we recommend frequently communicating your actions and intentions, even if it might not be necessary. For example, if you’re starting the development phase of a project, make sure you tell them, ‘I’m going to start development now, so you may not hear from me for a few weeks, and that’s entirely normal’. It’s also a good idea then to touch base with them every week or so, just to say hi, give them updates, and keep them in the loop. Keeping clients informed and involved will lead to a smoother working relationship.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way - some people hate networking. Schmoozing up to people in an artificial environment who you’d usually never be caught dead with is not everyone’s idea of fun.
But for remote workers, especially those who choose the riskiest paths like freelancing, or going to a different country (or even doing both at the same time!), networking is probably one of the best safety nets you’ll ever have.
Networking is one of the most efficient ways to get your first bit of work, especially if you’re freelancing. It gives you a chance to meet people one-on-one, which is incredibly important in an era where companies are increasingly hiring for cultural fit.
Also, making relevant professional friends means you’ll have people to fall on for help if the worst comes around. Often, people hold self-reliance in much higher regard than pragmatism, but knowing how and when to ask for help can make-or-break your professional career.
The book, The Power of Habits, states weak-ties - acquaintances you know but wouldn’t consider friends - are often the biggest drivers of new information and professional help. Asking for help can be beneficial not only for directly (someone offering you a job straight away), but also indirectly, as it allows you to tap the networks of whoever you asked. The person you asked for help might not be able to help you, but they might very well know someone who can. By utilising these ‘weak ties’, you dramatically increase your chances of finding assistance, even if you didn’t think you’d find any.
Luckily, there are heaps of remote communities you can join if you don’t want to feel lonely. Nomadlist, Weworkremotely and Remote Co are just some examples of great groups you can be a part of.
Tools are incredibly important to how effective teams can be (check out our remote worker’s toolbox here).
The advent of cloud and rapid technological innovations alone have made remote work possible, so it makes sense to know what works best for you.
Having the right tools all comes down to personal preference and how you work. Before you start purchasing every piece of software you can get your hands on, it’s important to first step back and evaluate your current workflow. Spot where the inefficiencies are - for example, look for tasks that are tedious or boring, and search for a tool that makes it easier.
By knowing what to use straight away, and how it’ll fit into your workflow, you’ll also be able to hit the ground running straight away in a new company. If you’re a freelancer, it also means you’ll be able to work efficiently without hindrances. Remote based companies often use a myriad of tools; project management platforms (Trello and Asana), social media scheduling tools (Buffer and MeetEdgar), content management systems (WordPress), and internal and community chat platforms (Slack) and VoIP tech (Skype, Google Hangouts). Getting to grips with it all and forming your workflow means you’ll be able to own your role as soon as you start.
Take time to get to know your colleagues
Getting to know who you work with and having a good relationship with them is easily taken for granted when you work on the same desk as them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to coordinate lunch together when you’re sitting right opposite each other!However, Kristi points out building rapport with your colleagues in a remote team requires a little more effort -but is so worth it. Schedule chats with coworkers to get to know them better. Ask questions, listen to their responses and share a few stories of your own. Find ways to celebrate milestones together creatively. You might just bond over a similar hobby, interest or goal you’ve set for yourself. After all, the better aligned your team, the better you communicate, and the more efficient you all will be!
Working on Side Projects
We’ve always vouched for side projects as a way to build your skills and even earn a little on the side. But having a little side project is of particular importance if you’re trying to score a development role. Answering questions on StackOverflow or contributing to open-source projects is a good way to beef up your digital resume, as they are things you can point to as a track record of your work. They’re one of the most foolproof ways to demonstrate your skills - especially if your resume is looking a little lacking in the beginning.
Side projects also provide you with a small safety net too. Even if you’re not actively earning income with them, having a virtual portfolio is something you can point to if somehow your full-time job falls through. Additionally, you never know which clients might stumble upon your work!
Commit to your own professional development.
Many onsite workers have the benefit of built-in HR support around professional development. In remote work, Kristi points it can often feel as if no one is looking out for you. In this sense, you’ve got to focus on your growth and skill-building.
A good place to start is to seek out a remote mentor who can help to guide and challenge you. There are plenty of excellent online resources in the form of webinars, blogs, remote (and face-to-face!) conferences and online talks to continue your education. Also, your location independence means you can join associations or volunteer with organisations in your hometown or abroad!
Lastly, get out there!
While it might sound cliche, advice like ‘by showing up, you’re already 50% of the way’ and ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ definitely holds true for a remote job.Going for a remote job might seem daunting, and working in an unstructured environment might feel very unstable, but you won’t get where you want if you don’t try.
Experts have pinned freelancers and remote work as the future of the workforce. However, for many, it’s still a new and novel notion. That means there are incredible opportunities out there for those who seek them out and ask for them. Only by putting your hand up for remote opportunities, or asking your boss to work remotely, will you be able to land the job you want.
These are some tips on how to land your first remote job, and how to prepare for the unique challenges you will encounter.I just want to end this article with one note. Remote work isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t the silver bullet to a more fulfilling life. Remote work can be challenging and unsteady, and these are problems which you’ll often only see once you’ve already started working. That’s why you need to be prepared and have fallback options if things don’t pan in the way you initially planned. So if you’re planning to go for your first remote job, make sure you do your research to be adequately prepared to make the most of your experiences.
Written by: Josh Li
Digital Marketer at Institute of Code