While your chosen field and role can dictate where you’re able to work from, technology has helped millions of freelancers and contractors gain the freedom to choose how and where they work. Many of our clients spend at least part of their week remote working, off-site and online, for businesses across the country. Again and again, we hear that flexibility was the biggest incentive for most of our clients making the leap from the traditional nine-to-five – it’s an integral part of trying to achieve a stable work-life balance.
Globalisation and digital transformation have shifted attitudes and made working from home far more commonplace. However, working with people in various cities (and potentially time zones) isn’t without its challenges. A good remote working relationship relies on regular, consistent and clear communication. There’s plenty of tools available, but what really counts is how you use them. Here are some of the best remote working practices and tools we’ve found in our own experiences as both off-site freelancers and contractors and end-clients.
Brush up on your email habits
While there’s plenty of new, fancy web-based collaboration tools out there, you’ll probably find that email remains your primary means of communication for now. Turning messages around quickly, being clear and concise and ensuring you reply with an acknowledgement even if you can’t action a request immediately will help to not only build trust and develop your relationship with your client, it will minimise the time consuming back and forth. As a busy independent professional, you’re no doubt already an expert at staying ontop of your inbox. But there’s some great tools out there to ensure you’re always in control:
- Shift is a self-titled ‘productivity hack’ that allows you to access and use all your email accounts from one convenient app. As well as your email, it plugs in with the likes of Grammarly, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack, LinkedIn and Evernote – so you can access everything from one hub. The best part is a search function that works across all your accounts.
- Boomerang lets you control when you send and receive email messages – especially useful if you’re working late at night or with a client overseas.
- FollowUpThen is a simple and easy tool to schedule email reminders, just place firstname.lastname@example.org (or any other time followed by @followupthen.com) in the ‘bcc’ field. You’ll then receive a reminder exactly 3 days later. Your recipients see no trace of your reminder (other than your amazing followup timing).
- Where possible, it’s best to avoid sending file attachments with revisions over and over again – instead, consider uploading a master copy that everyone can work on in the cloud, such as through Google Docs or Evernote.
Use the best tools for the job
Collaboration tools like Skype, Asana, Google Meets and Trello, are vital to remote working. We’re big adopters of Slack at iA. Working with a range of different agencies and freelancers displaced across the country we’ve found it helps us to feel updated and to build a rapport; vitally important for ensuring repeat custom! It’s always worth being open to adopting the tools your client already works with and looking out for new systems that suit your projects. Whether you need to co-edit a document, organise a massive to-do list, manage a strict timelined project – there’s bound to be a web app that can get it done.
Make yourself visible
Working remotely, it’s easy to rely purely on emails and become a faceless presence. On-site you can have those brief chats about the weekend or your most recent holiday and it goes a long way to building up a working relationship and strong contacts. Instead of sending an email, setting up regular voice, or even better video, chats can not only save you time by avoiding long email threads, it also lets you touch base in a human way and helps your client literally gain visibility of you.
- Along with the right collaboration software, cameras and headsets that work well are vital, ensuring you have a decent set up for video calls is a great way to make everyone feel engaged with a project.
- Even if you’re not sitting at the office, you can be available to chat as you work via instant messenger. When your project requires short bursts of communication or consultation, instant messaging is quicker and more efficient than email. The big hitters include Slack, Flock, Chantry and Ryver.
- From creating bespoke invoices with inniAccounts to the perfect headshot to use in your apps, personalisation is a great way to make yourself memorable.
Know yourself and work in the way that’s best for you
Everyone has their own way of working. While a dedicated workspace is a definite must-have, dependent on your role and the project it’s worth finding what suits you. You might prefer a formal clean desk and a closed door or, like me, you might do your best work cross-legged on the sofa. Some contractors prefer to start early and have a dedicated morning before taking a bit of time out for personal errands and returning to work later in the day, others thrive under a more traditional routine.
When working from home you need to remove distractions and eliminate anything that impacts your productivity, even if it means taking a bit of time away from your desk. Contracting isn’t the standard 9-5 game. But, many still feel guilty for being away from the computer during the day to get that bit of shopping done when the supermarkets are quiet or to run an errand before the rush hour traffic – even though they’re likely to work long hours into the night. Having a clear map of your day and a simple schedule of tasks you can check off as you go can help you manage these concerns, juggling both your professional and personal calendar and to-do lists all in one place. Cozi, Week plan for iOS and Weekly Planner for Andoird are all great organisation tools. Optimise your favourite apps (like inniAccounts) to finish mundane tasks faster, so you can enjoy more time doing the things that matter to you.
- Spend half your time at the client’s office and the rest at home? Think about the tasks that you can best accomplish or find easier in each location and have two separate to-do-lists you can add to.
- The main downfall of working from home is how work can bleed across into your personal time – making you feel on the job all the time and often tipping you over your planned hours. Drawing firm boundaries for yourself and sticking to them will help you be more productive and reduce stress. Moment can give you a clear picture of how much time you’re spending on specific apps on your phone. It’ll alert you when you go over set limits and you can use it to block access to incoming messages and other apps when you need to unplug.
- Contracting or freelancing from home full time can be a lonely experience. Be sure to get yourself out the house before cabin fever sets in and utilise work-friendly spaces or co-working hotspots. Connecting online with people with the same experience as you is not only great for keeping you sane it’s a way to build new contacts.