How would you know whether they’re working or not?
Wouldn’t they be tempted by the sand and sea at their doorsteps?
The office is the best place for focused, productive work, no?
Today, these questions are asked far less frequently. Granted, many managers may still harbor the same doubts in their minds, but the success of several fully distributed companies (Buffer, Automattic, and Zapier immediately come to mind) have at least planted the possibility that, hey, it might actually work.
At Piktochart, we’ve chosen to go a third way by being semi-distributed. This means that we do have a headquarters — located on the sunny island of Penang — where some of us work, but at the same time, there are several team members (including myself) who work in the US, Argentina, Barcelona, Singapore, Melbourne, and most recently, Japan.
It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2011, the early Piktochart team worked exclusively out of our headquarters in Penang.
Circumstances, however, caused our fearless leader and founder Ai Ching to reconsider this. A huge fraction of our users come from the US of A, and she was inundated with customer service calls from this part of the world as late (or as early) as 2 AM.
As you can imagine, it was hard to keep up.
“[So] we started our hunt on Odesk — now Upwork — and found John, who is still with us today,” she recounts on Nerds, Piktochart’s internal blog.
Working in the Eastern Standard Time zone, John had the honor of being Piktochart’s first remote worker. With that came a new set of considerations:
“At that time, we did not quite know how to deal with remote people, and we hired them as freelancers for the first year and a half […] meaning that there are “no strings attached” with Piktochart. We would not have to think about including them in our Monday Mornings Meetings, getting their feedback via surveys, consider the perks of being in Piktochart for them, etc.”
The turning point came when our Head of Marketing, Marta, decided to head back to Europe after spending a year in the Penang office. She wanted to be closer to home, and Piktochart supported her. Ching knew that things would have to change going forward:
“We then realized that there were two pressing challenges. We had to make sure that the remote people truly felt like they were part of the team, and that the two groups were treated on an equal footing.”
Making remote working work
Since then, our remote team has grown rapidly. Working across five time zones, we’ve had our fair share of problems, but we’re happy to report that things have been working out well:
Constant feedback and incremental changes have played a huge part in bringing us to where we are today.
Naturally, the onus on making it work doesn’t all fall onto the company. A lot of the responsibility for keeping healthy and happy falls on the remote worker him/herself, too.
Through the months and years spent hunting down reliable wifi sources and delicious coffee on-the-go, our team of globetrotters have learned a thing or two about how to make remote working, well, work.
Finally found some decent wifi here in Melbourne. Location: State Library!
— Daniel Tay (@legendt) February 29, 2016
Now, we’re here to spill those secrets. Some may seem more sophisticated than the rest, but make no mistake — every small tip and trick counts in ensuring a happy working life on the move.
Here we go.
1. Ensure clear work-life separation
Think that remote workers get less done? In reality, even with the abundant distractions that present themselves throughout the day, the opposite is more often true: we just can’t stop working, even after “office hours” are over.
Will Fanguy, Blog Editor
[Tweet “Set lunch and break times away from the computer. — @willfanguy”]
Headphones = don’t talk to me. Even if I’m not listening to music or a sound generator like noizio, my family and the general public know that if the headphones are on, I am in DO NOT DISTURB mode. I don’t like to close the door to my office because it makes my dogs cry, but headphones are enough for me to stay in the zone.
Also, it’s important to set lunch and break times away from the computer. This one came from my wife. The quickest way to burn out is to never really stop working. Even a slow-burning candle is still burning. Take time away from work during the day. It gives you a chance to get a different perspective on something that might be holding you up.
Marta Olszewska, Head of Marketing
[Tweet “ALWAYS have breakfast before even thinking of turning on your devices. — @gwynethmarta”]
It is important to clearly define work spaces and working hours. Draw a line between working spaces and resting spaces. Have breakfast, take a shower, dress up properly (sometimes even put makeup) to get in the zone.
Because of the fact that half of my team is seven hours ahead, I need to start early. I tend to start answering my Slack messages from the bed, the bathroom, and so on. By the time I have my breakfast — muesli and coffee — in front of me, I’m already too far into my conversations and often neglect to eat. Then I find myself starving from 12 to 1pm with nothing in my fridge. Lesson learned: now I make sure I ALWAYS have breakfast before even thinking of turning on my devices.
It’s also crucial to get organized and implement a little routine that works for you. Because of my location (being between two time zones where most of my teammates are), I tend to communicate in the morning, focus on my stuff in the early afternoon, take a break, and start again when the Americas wake up. It naturally formed a routine that works for me.
Romi Viola, Spanish Community Champion
[Tweet “Find a balance between work and leisure time. Know when to unplug. — @romikid”]
Find a balance between work and leisure time. Know when to unplug, for example, by turning off notifications from Slack on your phone and refraining from checking emails during night time (which is daytime in Penang, our headquarters).
Also, do NOT do housework while on duty. Sometimes, it’s hard to focus with a messy room, or knowing that there are people coming over later and the house isn’t very clean. If I can’t focus, I simply head to another location (a lot of cafés nearby my place) so I won’t waste time doing extra stuff. Focusing is major! I’ll always have time to clean later, but deadlines are more important on my list.
Maxi Albella, Designer
Adapt to a schedule and try to get used to it. Sometimes, we lose track and don’t have a clue as to how many hours we’ve worked that day. So, try to create a schedule so you don’t end up working more than you should.
Making lists is another practical way to have your daily tasks organized. Because you are working with no one else around you, you can easily forget about what you have to do next.
And be sure to schedule in some exercise time. We spend too many hours in front of the computer — sometimes in uncomfortable positions, especially if you don’t have a desk and a comfortable chair. So I recommend to spend at least one or two hours exercising. Don’t forget to work your back, too. Also, it’s a good opportunity to go outside and get some daily rest.
Cara, Customer Delight Champion
Don’t feel the need to conform — stick to your own style and find out what you personally define as a routine. Having your very own routine or rhythm going to your work allows for better focus, so that you stay organized throughout the day.
2. Be well-equipped wherever you are
Whenever you’re lacking supplies in the office, all it takes is a short trip to the company storeroom (just ten steps away) to get yourself equipped.
Or, if you’re feeling bored, you can simply reach over and tap your colleague on the shoulder for a chat and a game of ping-pong.
Not so when your “office” spans more the entire world. Finding the right tools to use, a community to plug into, and so on are now your responsibility. Welcome to grown-up life.
Jacqueline Jensen, Community Evangelist
[Tweet “Find community wherever you are with @remoteyear, @hackerparadise, and @Meetup. — @JackieMJensen”]
Join Remote Year, or Hacker Paradise. I am part of Remote Year’s fourth cohort, and I couldn’t be more excited! Remote Year organizes a trip for a cohort of 75 professionals to travel alongside interesting people while working remotely. Applicants must already have a remote job — Remote Year is not a recruiter or placement agency. I will be spending six months in Europe and six months in South America starting June 1, 2016. Hacker Paradise is another great way to dip your toes into working remotely abroad without committing to the full year that Remote Year requires. The team organizes trips for remote works to places like Bali, Thailand, Tokyo, Barcelona, and Costa Rica. The team just added Porto, Portugal to their line-up.
Meetup.com is also awesome for getting to know others in your community. Whether you are in your home city or traveling to a new city, their groups are everywhere, for any interest. I’ve attended meditation groups, found a documentary film screening, and learned to code all using Meetup.com.
For the constant travelers: these compression cubes from Eagle Creek are my favorite travel item. They feature a compression zipper, which makes for more space savings than you ever thought possible. For a recent two-week trip to New York City, I packed t-shirts, pants, blouses, and dresses in my compression cube set. I am planning to get another set before I embark on 12 months of straight travel with just a carry-on bag.
Will Fanguy, Blog Editor
Use tools that make you want to work. I have notebooks and pens and pencils that I love to use, so I unpacked them first [we recently moved into a new house] because they make work more enjoyable. I also unpacked my desk “toys” early on and put stickers on my laptop soon after getting it. If I have things I like to use and a place I want to be, work is less of a chore and more of a thing I want to do.
John, Customer Delight Champion
I’ve learned the hard way to always have a backup plan for almost everything that can go wrong because it usually will at some time: lost internet connection, dead hard drive with all work-related items gone, etc.
Daniel Tay, Content Strategist
[Tweet “Get the best tools that you can afford. They will save you precious time. — @legendt”]
Get the best tools that you can afford. Anything cheaper will likely spoil quickly, especially if you are always traveling, and you’ll end up wasting precious time heading out to buy the same tool again, and again, and again. My Macbook Pro, Logitech Marathon M705 wireless mouse (Wirecutter’s top choice), and Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch K811 Keyboard have served me well over the years, and I believe they will continue to do so.
3. Communicate often
One of the biggest arguments against having a semi- or fully-distributed team is that it will inevitably be harder to communicate well. To make up for that, remote workers need to communicate more, often, and better.
Romi Viola, Spanish Community Champion
Find the best way to stay up-to-date with the buzz over at headquarters. Slack is very helpful; we also have Facebook and Whatsapp channels, and I check those every day as well. I miss having a lot of co-workers to socialize with, so I make do with these channels.
Plus, I get together with freelance and remote friends here in Cordoba in order not to miss the “office” vibe that much.
Will Fanguy, Blog Editor
Edit everything before you send it. Before! When you’re remote, so much of your communication is written. Even as a “professional” writer and editor, once we get into chat, I have a tendency to let my filter lapse. That’s not a great idea, especially when there are different time zones and cultures to consider. Make sure you read and re-read what you’ve written before you hit send. Then read it again after you hit send.
Are you a remote worker? If so, what are some of the tips and tricks you use daily to make work as seamless as possible? Share with us in the comments below!
Images from Flickr, Unsplash, Pexels