If you’ve never worked remotely, you might be tempted to imagine it’s not too different than working in the office. If this were true, the only requirement to succeed as a remote worker would be that you work diligently and repeatedly produce favorable results.
But that’s not all.
Working remotely comes with a unique set of obstacles and challenges. Certainly, anyone who freelances or contributes to a remote team must produce great work, but they must also check a few other boxes to guarantee their success.
Here are six steps to succeeding as a remote worker.
1. Decide if it’s right for you
Does working remotely make sense for you? There’s no simple answer to that question, but it’s one you have to ask yourself if you want to be successful.
While there might exist someone who was simply handed a remote job too good to turn down, people don’t usually fall into remote working that easily. For most of us, choosing to work on our own is a conscious, deliberate choice. It’s not a decision made lightly and, if you’ve never done it before, you’ll definitely find yourself weighing the pros and cons of working remotely.
Maybe commuting to the office is too taxing for you, but you’re worried you’ll miss the camaraderie of your fellow coworkers. Maybe you need to look after a new baby (or a high-maintenance dog), but you’re worried about getting distracted from your work. Maybe you’re attracted to the independence and flexibility of freelancing, but you’re worried about not having a steady paycheck.
Whatever the factors, it’s important to decide from the outset that working remotely will fit your lifestyle, your mode of working, and your specific skillset. You must be prepared to hustle a bit more, especially in the beginning when establishing yourself. And you need to be comfortable with adapting to different situations and the asks of different employers.
2. Build up your portfolio and resume
The single most important factor to consider is whether you have the necessary skills or training to perform remote work. While many jobs can be done remotely, some positions lend themselves more easily to it.
Consider data from Upwork, an online platform for finding freelance work. At the moment, engineering positions — focused on software development, IT/networking, and data science — have nearly 37,000 job postings, making up 42 percent of the site’s total listings. The next largest group is creative-focused (design and/or writing), which together total to nearly 27,000 job postings. If you already have the skills that match these listings, then you’re already a prime candidate for remote working.
That’s not to say everyone else is left out.
If you’re motivated enough to acquire the skills required by that huge pool of jobs, there’s no shortage of services offering to train you. From Treehouse’s newly launched Techdegree program to online courses on Udacity to in-person programs in most major cities, there’s no shortage of boot camps for people who want to learn technical or creative skills quickly.
Additionally, people with specialties in admin support, customer service, sales, marketing, accounting, and legal are just as capable of freelancing, as evidenced by the thousands of job postings on Upwork. Beyond freelance work, people with expertise in these departments also have the opportunity to find full-time jobs where they’re working from home.
Even if you already have experience, it’s good to remember that some in-person training or meetings may still be required for certain jobs. For example, to handle hotel reservations for Hilton, a friend of mine had to train for the position onsite before she could manage the work from home. Depending on the type of position or work culture, you may be required to work in the office from time to time.
3. Secure work
If you’re going the freelance route, earning work through your existing professional network is one of the best ways to get started. It may sound old-fashioned, but word-of-mouth networking can be quite effective. The people you’ve worked with in the past know you personally, they understand your style, and have a solid grasp of your skills and quality of work, meaning they’re the best option for recommending you to future employers. If you haven’t kept in touch with anyone, make sure you create a LinkedIn profile, fill it up with your skills and training, and connect with some former colleagues.
We live in a digital age, so reaching out to people you know personally isn’t the only way to find work. As mentioned above, Upwork (formerly Elance-oDesk) is a great online platform for securing freelance work, especially if you have those technical or creative skills highest in demand. Other well-known sites for finding freelance work include Freelancer and Envato Studio.
If you’re looking for a remote part-time or full-time job but aren’t interested in freelancing, then the job search won’t be too different than what you’ve typically encountered. You’ll just have to place a premium on the “remote” aspect of the job offer instead of other factors, like job title or salary.
Networking and searching online for work definitely takes time, so it’s worth noting that a successful remote worker will always be honing their communication skills. Meeting new people and building existing relationships is critical to making sure that you’re not spending all your time trying to secure work.
4. Prioritize communication
Communication isn’t important just for finding new work. It’s also how you execute on your existing work efficiently.
Keeping teams connected is difficult even when they’re working under one roof every day, let alone when remote workers are part of the mix. If your team stops communicating, you’ll lose traction and things quickly deteriorate. Thankfully, technology has come a long way and can help fill some of the gaps in communication. We’ve gone far beyond just email and synced calendars: advanced collaboration tools today run the gamut from chat-centric workspaces (e.g. Slack, HipChat) to task and project management software (e.g. Asana, Basecamp, and Trello). And, of course, there’s still nothing like making a quick call to get an immediate answer.
Regardless of the system you have in place or the technology your team uses, it’s absolutely imperative that you prioritize communication if you want to succeed as a remote worker. Staying in the loop is simply that much more difficult when you’re physically distant, so you must take initiative when you have questions about a project or need feedback on something you’re working on.
5. Manage your time carefully
Some of the very same reasons that motivated you to work remotely — whether it’s taking care of the kids or the fact you’re most efficient while blasting Drake in your bedroom — often end up being the biggest distractions that inhibit your productivity. Having the independence and flexibility to arrange your schedule as you please sounds like a blessing, but it can quickly become a hindrance if you don’t keep the distractions in check.
For the successful remote worker, it’s crucial to develop time management as one of your skills. Don’t just assume you’ll have time right before your deadline to finish that lingering project; instead, reserve a large window on your calendar for each specific assignment. That way, you’ll know exactly how much free time during the week you actually have. Even if you’re someone who can juggle tasks in your head, it’s simply good practice to take notes so you don’t forget anything. When you’re working remotely, your colleagues expect you to get work done in a timely fashion — without any oversight — so make sure you can live up to that expectation.
6. Make it sustainable
Let’s say you recently made the jump, secured a job, and earned your first paycheck: now how do you make working remotely sustainable?
This brings us back full circle because, once you’re chugging along, the most important thing you can do to succeed as a remote worker is this: simply create consistently quality work. Just like you’d do if you were going to the office every day. As stated above, communicate with your team regularly, understand their needs, and be obsessive (if not paranoid) about the feedback they give you. Every tidbit you glean can be used to influence your contribution so that you’re making the greatest, most positive impact.
With an impressive résumé or portfolio, effective communication skills, and a growing network of colleagues and peers, you will quickly find yourself on the path to succeeding as a remote worker.