I’ve hired, interviewed, and employed well over 100 remote workers in the last 15 years. One thing that never gets old is seeing why they find success or failure in their employment. It doesn’t get old because the reasons for success are always the same. Behind every positive interaction I’ve had with a successful remote worker has always been the following skills:
If you’re a solo freelancer or consultant, you probably know this very well already. Time literally is money in your case. Between time sheets and clock apps, you’re well acquainted with this world.
However, if you aren’t, this could be a bit more foreign. It’s likely that you easily fall into the trap of doing busy work, or having “work” fill up your entire day. Meaning, if you have 2 hours worth of work, but 5 hours to complete it in, you’ll spend the full 5 hours completing it.
Take breaks. No one can work for 7-8 hours nonstop, all while giving their best quality of work. I don’t care what anyone says, it just doesn’t happen. To remain productive throughout the day, take breaks when you feel yourself start to daydream or wanting to look through your Instagram feed. That’s your brain telling you to take a break. Taking a brief step back can help you run the marathon. You can’t sprint all the way to the finish line.
Extra time. If you have poor time management skills, one of the best habits you can get into is simply allowing more time to complete your task or project. This could be adding an extra hour of cushion to that big report your building, or maybe an extra week to finish a design (after all, you may have to provide an extra revision you weren’t planning for).
Track the end result. This is something I’ve started to do in the last year. Instead of looking back on my day and how many hours I put in, I look at the result of what I did. Did I “work” for four hours but only finished some semi-important email? Or, did I create a content publishing calendar for the rest of the quarter? Sure, email is important, but in terms of finishing a tangible task that’s long-lasting, the calendar feels much better to have completed in that time frame.
Whatever you do, take comfort in knowing that this isn’t usually automatic. Every remote worker has to work on this skill in some form or fashion.
If there’ s a single thing that’s most often responsible for a task, project, employee, or entire company to fail, it’s communication. This is twice as true in any kind of remote situation.
Think about a relay race. Every person has to put in the best effort so that the next person can run effectively and be setup for success. If they fail to hand the baton off perfectly, it could cause the entire team to lose.
As a remote worker, whether on a team or a solo freelancer, you have a responsibility to communicate well so that the quality of your project stays high, and everyone has the necessary information needed. You don’t want to be the weak link in the chain.
If communication hasn’t traditionally been your strong suit, there are plenty of ways to get better:
As an employer, there aren’t many things that will turn me off like inflexibility. I don’t think a boss should make a habit of barging in on someone’s weekend to ask mundane questions necessarily, but if there’s an emergency and they need a quick answer over text after work hours, that seems reasonable.
And that’s the magic word here: reasonable. Just like there are shit managers that have no regard for your time, space, or privacy, there are also shit employees that “clock out” at 5pm no matter what. To me, both are unacceptable. They both show inflexibility and a level of unwillingness to be part of a team to help accomplish the bigger goal.
People that (somehow) make it in a role with this much inflexibility are usually lower-mid level at a huge company. This helps shield these traits, allowing them to pass the buck much more often. It’s very rare that I see a freelancer that isn’t flexible.
Dealing with stress as a remote worker can be very difficult, there’s no doubt about it. The most common stressors with remote workers usually fall into these categories:
Most of the time, remote workers will have one or two of these at any given time. There are plenty of resources online to help with each one, so I won’t go into detail on each. I would suggest focusing on what you can: you. There are many aspects of the problems on that list that you can’t control. Teach yourself to be ok with that. That, plus the knowledge that I have a very marketable skill, allows me to be relatively free of significant stress on a day-to-day basis.
Part of my job as a leader is to empower my team. Empower them to push boundaries, to feel confident in their skills, and to make decisions. Even if I’m great at those things, it doesn’t mean anything unless they posses the ability to take initiative.
For the most part, remote workers need to be able to take initiative to succeed remotely. Your boss isn’t there with you giving direction, it’s on you. Sometimes this might mean making decisions that are a little uncomfortable for you because you aren’t sure of something. That’s ok. Most bosses would want you to make a decision if it means moving the project forward.
A remote worker who takes initiative will inherently be setting themselves up for success.
Don’t worry if you don’t happen to posses all these skills of a remote worker yet, none of us did early on in our career. Personally, I’ve had to work on these skills for a long time, and still do. Focus on surrounding yourself with good leaders, and continue to work on these skills. That will almost guarantee you get better at all of these skills.
Jared has worked remotely for 15 years in various marketing capacities, and has managed hundreds of marketing campaigns along the way. He has held freelance, agency, and in-house positions for companies large and small.