How do I: work remotely

Since working remotely and working from home is a hot topic that many people are forced to do this year (2020), I thought I would share how I do this. I have worked remotely on and off since 2000.

Where do you choose to work

Once adults, we choose where we live. We choose where and whom we work for. These are all choices, not forced requirements. We assume they are givens while they are not. They are choices throughout our lives along with the responsibilities that come with them. We can adapt to change if we are willing to change before change happens to us.

Some have chosen to relocate for a variety of reasons. In late 2017, I delocated from the Washington DC area to the southernmost tip of South Carolina. All of my wife’s family moved here and after visiting a few years ago, we understood why they moved. The beauty and year-round weather of the Lowcountry make sense for living here. Remote work from here makes even more sense.

I have a home office with a door to keep other residents out and minimize distracting sounds from my pets, my spouse, and the kitchen.

If I record a podcast, I normally record in my home office for optimal sound on my end.

Since I use a laptop with a long battery life, it provides me a portable workspace where ever I choose to work that day. I have the option to work in any room of my house that I wish thanks to wifi. I have the luxury spending a lot of time inside a screened-in porch or outside on the back porch under a patio umbrella when the weather permits it more than 10 months of the year.

If I want to work at a coffee shop, I have all of them fully scoped out (outdoors mostly). I know where to sit if I want the white noise of the shop, the right amount of light, and power outlets if needed, and the best wifi connection. I do not have scheduled work calls when I go there due to the noise.

Coffee shops can be uber-productive for focused work. I have written entire books at coffee shops within a few weeks with an endless supply of coffee and small meals provided during 12 hour daily bursts.

Work where you can get work done. Don’t limit yourself. Change it up and see what you have been missing.

When are your scheduled hours?

As a business owner, I work every day. More on some days. Less on other days. The productivity needle needs to move every day for my own satisfaction. I segment days of the week for availability for virtual meetings and calls vs. deep work without interruption. The learning needle needs to move on a daily basis as part of a personal fulfillment challenge to myself that does not end during life.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I loath and avoid any unproductive days. If nothing was accomplished and nothing was learned, it was a wasted day. I am very self-aware that I become very moody from the lack of productivity and fulfillment. I choose to move the needle by working to improve this daily.

If I am ever actively waiting for something, I am listening to an audiobook, podcast, or speaking with someone to learn something.

I have scheduled hours for calls and collaborative meetings on most days. I don’t pay attention to calls that come in before or after that time. I will check voicemail a couple times a day. People can not schedule time with me outside these hours because my calendar is blocked outside these hours.

I have scheduled focus time almost daily which is often in the early morning and late afternoon. No phone available, no calls. no emails during that time.

I schedule time for different clients and different projects.

If it is not scheduled, it will not happen. The schedule is flexible though, not rigid.

Any social activities are scheduled even with friends or I ignore them. If they don’t accept the calendar invite, I cancel the meeting with a templated email to see if they want to reschedule in a month. My wife has a hard time getting me to attend even family events because those need to scheduled too or I ignore them. Even if it’s my birthday. Scheduled or ignored. You see our time is too valuable to waste on unproductive tasks. And every task takes time. Life is too short.

When I am very busy, I even schedule sleep (normally between 11pm-5am) or in three-hour time blocks when I am super busy with large projects. Meals are also scheduled to stay on track so I do not forget those and whom I will have them with.

My morning and evening are purposely routine.

What do you work on?

I am either doing client work, taking scheduled calls, or self-assigned projects to create content like this, more podcasts, or new books.

I only accept remote work now. Whether it is for long term contract work or short term scheduled calls. I get calls every week to come to another metropolitan area to work for big company X (regardless of industry/sector) and I decline all travel now. Does not matter who, what, why, where nor how much. The answer is “remote only” or “No”.  The client has challenges that need to be resolved. Resolving those challenges is why I consult remotely.  It is not about seeing anyone, shaking their hand, breaking bread with them, and other such fluff, but rather effective communication and experience in successfully resolving challenging. I don’t babysit staff nor systems anymore.  That is what management does when they are not enabling, empowering, or assigning their teams how and what to work on. Leadership figures out what to do and when to achieve company goals.

When it comes to Digital Asset Management (DAM) work, the first keyword is digital. All digital work can be done remotely. If you don’t believe it,  you might not be effective and efficient in-person either. Fix the effectiveness of communication first. Then work on efficiency as part of the continual improvement process.

I can find and train people to manage day-to-day operations of any DAM system for any client. That can be done remotely too. No one needs to go to an office for that.

I review 1099 Corp to Corp contract work only. No W-2 work what so ever. I own my consultancy, so I am no one’s employee. I am a short-term contractor. Short term means 1 hour, a few weeks, or up to 9 months. Identify problem > Fix problem > Move on > Repeat for next client. This is what a consultant does. I do not milk clients endlessly for ever-increasing headcounts delays and billable hours like other consulting firms.

How do you get client work?

They call me, email me, or schedule me online.

As a remote consultant in a specialized field, I decline 100% of all client contracts that do not accept remote consulting, whether the work requires a few weeks of work or a few months of work. I have done that since 2019. That policy goes for any client of any size, most of them are global companies.

Previously, I would establish access, connections, trust, and toolsets needed in person, then go remote.

Once we realize that none of these things needs to be done in person, remote work is possible for everyone. I am not here to justifying anyone’s commercial office real estate spend. Those days are over and so is the office in my opinion. That realization will come shortly as soon as the mindset adapt to the new normal, not how we did something in the past. Remote work is work. Location is almost irrelevant. There is no more ‘magic’ that happens at the water cooler, office kitchen, coffee machine nor bathroom. This is because everyone’s already disappeared from the office that matters and there is no available audience in person.

Adapt, iterate, and thrive. Otherwise, let someone else run things as they should without fail nor delay.

My time is too valuable to waste traveling to any location when 100% of my work is digital and not physical.

Full disclosure, I don’t hire any staff for my businesses. All of them are fixed-term contractors for client work or they are task-based contractors.

Not surprisingly, 100% of everyone I have surveyed about remote work wants more remote work opportunities, whether they are gainfully employed or not.

I spoke with a few people hired last month in the field of DAM. To work remotely, of course, not just during COVID-19 and then run back to an office for senseless purposes.

If someone does not move nor create physical objects for work, they have no reason to work in a commercial office environment. Even after COVID-19 is under control. Remote work and distributed work is the new norm. It is time to get used to it.

What are you listening to while working?

Whether I am on a call or not, I am often wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Often I am wearing noise-canceling headphones much of the day.

When I am walking on the beach I have a Bluetooth earbud in one ear that is not facing the ocean which I alternate when walking back. This allows the effects of hearing ocean waves in the other ear as additional stimulation. While walking on the beach, I am listening to an audiobook or podcast to learn something.

When focusing on a task, sometimes light jazz instrumental music in the background from Spotify helps my focus.

When I doing less focused work, I may listen to an audiobook, a podcast, or a webinar.

Silence is very welcome when true concentration is needed.

What about job security?

You can work on your own dreams or you can work on someone else’s dreams. Owning your own business is the way to work on your own dreams so they can become a reality. Even if we are the most important person in a company, there is still no job security because the company can still fail. Job security is a myth. ‘Permanent’ positions are a myth too. Even if you are a government employee or employee of a multi-national corporation. All employees are expendable, even the CEO. Everyone is replaceable. And so is every company. Stop believing in myths and make a difference that matters.

What do you do for entertainment?

I will watch a movie or a series online as a reward at night before sleep however I may not finish it for a week if I am exhausted and fall asleep during the show, but it is on-demand so it does not matter.

No gaming. No alcohol. No drugs. No in-person group activities. Minimal sugar per week.

I can count the number of parties I attend per year on less than one hand and prefer to keep it that way.

Friends are scheduled for a call online once a month.

Do you travel for work?

Not anymore. Since travel does not benefit me nor my clients, there is no point considering where I live. It is a waste of time for all parties. I used to schedule travel early in the morning or late at night. I did not want to waste daytime hours traveling without a benefit to me and my clients. Most people work during the day and rest at night.

When I travel (not since 2019), I usually avoid working in a car, plane, train, subway,  or other means of transport because I find it too cramped and prefer resting during the travel. Business-class or first class can fix the cramped space challenge if you really plan to work. It can be better for networking depending on who you sit near. I have heard of other authors flying during very long flights (to Asia and back) and executing most of a book by effectively using that uninterrupted time during the flight at cruising altitude since meals and drinks are brought to you in a scheduled manner. You did not even need to ask, just acknowledge, confirm, or decline.

With noise-canceling headphones in flight, you can drown out all the plane’s droning noises which are amazing to have near silence on a plane in flight.

I used to drive up to 40,000 miles a year. Now I have my car self-drive me less 400 miles a month, mostly to the beach a few times a week in the early morning. Not for work.

Resources

If you need proof that there are very successful companies, both large and small, that have done remote work or distributed work for years, you can listen to a number of examples and hear how they do it:

https://distributed.blog/podcast/

https://remoteworklife.io/

Tools I Use: Laptop

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I have no desktop computer. Why would I own desktop computer when I work remotely all the time?

I have no tablet. Why do I need another screen/device that does less than my laptop and/or my phone?

A computer should follow me where ever I go. Not the other way around.

In December 2014, I bought a 13 inch MacBook Air. Yes, it’s a Apple product. It is very light and easy to use.  It suits every purpose I need as a computer and its the only computer I use.

The best part is the battery life: 12 hours. Really. That is what I call freedom. Use it anywhere. For a long time.

As part of “work-life balance”, when I work the computer battery down to 1%, it is time to do something else. Network. Eat. Sleep. Recharge physically, mentally and electronically.

Since we are never off nowadays, I have my phone.

Update: In 2019, bought another Macbook Air after my laptop keyboard died after 5 years of daily work and 7 book written on it. It is a little faster now.

Questions?

Tools I Use: to test bandwidth

I work remotely quite often and I am traveling away from home up to 90 days per year.

Whenever I am in a new work environment, whether it is a client’s office, a co-working space, a coffee shop or wherever, I test the internet speeds to see what is available. This is better than assuming speeds before I start working.

http://speedtest.net is a free online service that measures the bandwidth (speed) and latency (time delay) of your internet connection.

Using this site is a good practice before using any hardline connection or wifi. This is especially good before a video conference call or uploading some new audio podcast files since both could be taxing on the internet bandwidth available as well as anyone’s level of patience.

Remember the speeds slower than 56k? I do. I also remember transferring digital photos for print publications back to the office on a daily basis via 56k. Not fun. Luckily, those days are over.

I recently went to a co-working space only to find 8 Mbps for upload and download speeds. That sounds reasonable until we factored in all the people who needed to do different video conferencing sessions where a clear video feed was critical to seeing the human-computer interactions (UX) being measured during the interviews.

Most video conferencing I have seen are more talking heads just like newscasts, which provides little to no value and suck up bandwidth for no reason. Unless there is a slide deck to be shared/presented, I commonly shut off the video camera and use ‘audio only’ to get clearer audio, where the value comes from anyhow. I don’t need to see someone to understand them. If they have a thick accent, it is actually easier to understand them by closing your eyes and focus on what is said. Try it and hear it yourself.

Questions?

Tools I Use: One Phone

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I only have one phone. Yes, one (1) mobile phone. It simplifies life.

No home phone. No one of any value called us at home. Killed off that phone line.

No fax nor telex (that is so last century). No paper to scan either (that’s for another post).

No office phone. If a workplace issues me a phone, I program the office line to automatically forward to my phone. Minutes are not an issue since I have plenty of them.

I am not a slave to a phone nor multiple phones. However, access and simplicity for myself as well as anyone trying to call me (for the immediacy) is key.

I believe that in the 21st century, we have no reason to have multiple phone numbers nor phones. No juggling phones necessary.

Work-life balance

Most mobile phones have caller ID which identifies the caller, often by name. You can either take the call or you will not. That is the balance within your 168 hour week.

I do not need two or more separate devices to determine if it is work-related or not. I have met people that have up to five (5) mobile phones (often executives). Where is the balance there? I call that a juggling act, not a balancing act. Most of these people are dead and not of old age. Simplify your life rather than cluttering it.

It is very simple. One phone number to reach me. Period. If you can’t reach me, you can leave me a voicemail or text me. All to my one phone. I will follow up when I am available.

I accept a very few unscheduled calls from people calling me when it is not a robocall, some other useless call I don’t care about and when I am not on airplane mode working. I will tell you if you are wasting your time and mine very directly. I am really not shy about this. People deserve honesty 100% of the time, even if it bruises their ego (sometimes people mistaken ego for feelings). They’ll live. They deserve to know even if they call me names afterwards. Why? Because few have the courage to do this, so they rarely hear it. This not because people are too nice, but because many are too afraid to offend or have any form of confrontation.  I call it candor. Try it. You really should. With respect. And setting the scene for direction of the conversation with some framing.

Battery life

Many people struggle using a mobile phone charged for the entire day. That is the top buying criteria when I get a mobile phone. It lasts all day, or I don’t buy it. I am not blind (yet) so I don’t need a big screen. I know how to dim my screen to save battery life. I put my phone on airplane mode when I am in meetings that don’t require internet access. I am conscious of what apps suck battery life. All cars I ride/drive in have a phone charger, and I carry a phone charger with my laptop just in case. Be prepared.

Mobile hotspot

My mobile phone has the option to be a mobile hotspot to provide my laptop a wifi connection from anywhere I have mobile phone connection. I am not one to go off grid even if I were to go camping like I did when I was Boy Scout. This hotspot feature has proven invaluable many times in case a wifi connection is spotty or if I run into an unreliable ISP.  This is a second option for data which sometimes becomes the only option in order to remain connected  for online collaborative meetings, podcast interviews, webinars or quick email.

Unlimited data plan

In the early days of mobile phones, people talked a lot,m but the mobile phone provider would limit the number of minutes you could call per month. Now our Voice (minutes), Messaging (unlimited) and Data plan should be as close to unlimited as possible. This is a given cost of doing business for any basic or advanced operations today. When you are remote this matters even more. You learn quickly where dodgy spots are and adapt to avoid them.

Global Calls

If I need to call someone across the globe, I either use apps like Google HangoutSkype, Whatsapp or Zoom. Most people I need to speak with know how to use these tools. Otherwise, I use these tools to call their one phone. I am not the only one with just one phone.

Questions?