This post by Jason Lengstorf is part of Hubstaff’s “Remote Work Month” series. In them, some of the most authoritative sources in the world of remote work, share their best advice on how to succeed as a professional, and a team, while telecommuting. Follow and participate in the discussion on Twitter with #goremote.
Whether you’re working in a traditional office job, contracting for a big company, or out on your own as a freelancer, one of the latest buzzword aspirations is the “digital nomad” lifestyle.
I don’t call myself a digital nomad, but I have spent the last year traveling the world while making a living — and one of the most common questions I’m asked is how I do it.
I’ve written about how to become location-independent before, but I’ve recently started thinking more about who can make it as a remote worker, rather than what it takes to become a remote worker.
It turns out, you can have all the skills that a remote worker has (say, software development skills or freelance writing skills), but you may still struggle to go remote.
And I have a theory: in order to successfully go remote, you need to work on a whole set of skills that have nothing at all to do with what you do, and everything to do with how you work.These are the 6 skills you need to work remotely from anywhere in the world (hint: none of them are technical) Click To Tweet
3 Skills to Help You Escape the Office
If your goal is to get out of a desk job, there’s something critically important you should know right off the bat:
Location-independence is not earned by being really good at your job; it’s earned by being really good at all the things that make doing your job possible.
The ability to do the thing you were hired to do is taken for granted. After all, that’s why you collect a paycheck. So if you want to build the skill set that gives you the leverage to go remote, you need to focus on all the soft skills — the stuff that a manager typically handles — so that you no longer need to be managed.
So before you ask your boss to let you work remotely, make sure you’ve built the skills that will ensure your transition to remote work goes smoothly.
Skill #1: Build world-class communication skills
When we’re face-to-face, it’s easy to keep everyone on the same page. But if you’re in Tokyo and the rest of the office is running on Eastern time, communication requires its own dedicated effort.
If someone needs to ask what you’re doing, you’ve failed as a communicator. It makes you seem like you need to be managed, and that’s a deal-breaker for managers when considering a remote arrangement.
Become a rockstar communicator by adopting these simple habits:
Send status updates far more frequently than you think you should. At least daily. Use the agile stand-up format: What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? Is there anything blocking you from doing it?
Take the extra thirty seconds to add a greeting and a summary to your emails. Yes, a one-sentence email is efficient — but it can also make you sound like an asshole. If your sense of humor is dry or sarcastic, use smiley faces.
Skill #2: Plan like a pro, and hit all your deadlines
Easily the biggest drain on time and resources is poor planning.
Every project gets planned. Some just get planned after a bunch of time and effort has been wasted. You can become an invaluable asset to your company (and yourself) by taking the time to plan each project effectively.
To do this, you can use a system I’ve created, called the ATOM Technique: break down the project into a series of tasks that are Actionable, Timely, Ownable, and Measurable.
In other words, turn the project into a todo list where each todo is an action step that should take 90 minutes or less to complete, has a true-or-false completion criteria, and only one person responsible for doing it.
Skill #3: Learn how to market yourself
The hardest part about going location-independent is marketing yourself.
“Wait,” we say, “I have to go around and tell people how awesome I am, and ask them for money? That feels slimy.”
And while it can be, marketing yourself doesn’t have to be slimy.
But if we don’t go to bat for ourselves — whether it’s with our bosses or with potential clients — who will?
What sets apart the people who get what they want from the people who only dream about it is their willingness to ask for it. If there’s an opportunity that you know you’re a good match for, put yourself out there.
Sure, it feels weird to toot your own horn, but if you stand around waiting for other people to toot it for you, you will long remain untooted, my friend.
If you’re terrified of selling, get a copy of To Sell Is Human. You already sell things constantly throughout the day (the restaurant you want to go to, the products you prefer, the music and movies you enjoy) — and once you reframe what you’re doing, selling yourself is no different: if someone trusts you with their project, their life will improve as well as yours — so how is that slimy?
3 Skills to Create a Working Style that Allows You to Actually Enjoy Remote Work
Once you’ve successfully cut the cord and you’re working location-independently, it’s tempting to think the war is won and all your problems are solved.
Unfortunately, without extremely strong working and personal habits, your experience with remote work will likely be stressful, fraught with missed deadlines and misunderstandings, and — most likely — very short-lived.
So before you start posting laptop-and-coffee-shop selfies, make sure you’ve got the skills that will keep you remote.
Skill #4: Create unfuckwithable productivity habits and routines
The freedom of remote work won’t last long if we don’t have the discipline to get our work done, so it’s critical to build incredibly effective working habits to keep us productive.
Everyone’s optimal working style will vary, but there are a few things you can experiment with to immediately see a productivity boost:
Group tasks by the type of work to avoid a context-switching penalty.
Work with your natural rhythms to create productivity rituals that keep you consistent.
Front-load the hard tasks to take advantage of higher willpower earlier in the day.
Skill #5: Use your freedom to put constraints on your working time
One of the most treacherous parts of remote work is the tendency to spend more time working after we escape the office. Since we can work whenever we want, wherever we want, there’s a temptation to work always and everywhere.
But remember what Cyril Northcote Parkinson said: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
So use your freedom to limit your working time, not to expand it.
Use timers and work in blocks of 25–90 minutes (depending on how you work best), and take real breaks between blocks.
Create obligations that force you to be done with work at a certain time, such as dinner reservations or plans to meet a friend.
Leave your charger at home — nothing makes you more productive than knowing your battery is going to die in 60 minutes.
Skill #6: Never become busy
The whole reason to go remote — especially if you’re location-independent and traveling the world — is to create a better life for yourself.
Remote work can create an immense amount of freedom — or an immense amount of stress. It’s on us to ensure that we stay proactive, keep on top of our todo lists, and make sure that we only accept projects that we can realistically complete (another reason to get really good at planning and estimating).
Without staying diligent about what we can and cannot do — and managing our schedules proactively — all the freedom we worked so hard to create will be swallowed by the stress of hectic days, overpacked schedules, and general chaos created by poor self-management.
You worked really hard to earn the privilege of working from anywhere in the world; don’t undo all your hard work by making your life harder than it has to be.
Remote Work Is a Responsibility Worth Fighting For
It’s a lot of work to create the habits necessary to truly excel at location-independent work. And it’s as much or more work to keep the wheels on after you’ve gone remote.
But all the hard work, self-discipline, and hassle of changing your habits to better support remote work pay dividends when you can get all your work done by 3 or 4 in the afternoon, shut down for the day, and wander out into the wide world to explore.
And the world is worth exploring.
If you’ve enjoyed this post you may also find Belle Beth Cooper’s post on the most commonly overlooked problems that affect remote teams a good read.