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10 Tips for Working Away From Home 

Date June 8, 2010

In the past, remote working was nothing more than a dream for most people, thanks in large part to the inadequacies of the internet and the reluctance of most companies to employ anyone over whom they had little formal control. These days remote working is more common. It provides both client and employee with a number of distinct benefits: less money spent on office space and equipment, less time wasted commuting, more flexibility and greater personnel choice, not to mention environmental gains.

While most remote workers opt to ply their trade from home or a small office, a lucky few make the most of their potential freedom, working in far flung corners of the world. Remote working away from home comes with its own unique set of challenges, but by following the 10 tips below, you should be able to turn what is a dream for most people, into reality for you.

1. Hire a VA

For those who don’t know, a VA is a “virtual assistant”, and employing one can free up lots of time for you when you’re remote working, letting you concentrate on the bread and butter of your business. Virtual assistants, whose hourly rates are significantly less than your financial worth, can deal with all your small administrative chores.

Hiring one is just like having a PA, only without the employer’s responsibilities. Get your VA to return telephone calls, answer emails, draft letters, buy a gift for your wife’s birthday (you should really be doing that!) or whatever else you want your assistant to do. You can find a VA on oDesk or Your Man in India as recommended by the remote working trailblazer, Tim Ferriss.

2. Use an Auto-responder

Remote workers tend to keep rather abnormal hours, but the irregularity of your schedule is only likely to increase when you’re on the road. While you should make every attempt to be accessible always, you’re just going to have to accept that there will be times when vital emails will be missed.

For the times when you’re offline, you need auto-responses to be sent. Make sure that such responses are updated regularly, detailing why you are offline, how you may be contacted (if at all) and exactly when you will next be available. Gmail has a built-in auto-responder, but you can also use dedicated services such as GetResponse and Aweber.

3. Work Hard to Gain Trust

Gaining a client’s trust as early as possible is absolutely crucial, especially if you’re working for them for the first time. Remote working is no different from any other professional arrangement; the best way to gain the trust of your employer is with a face-to-face meeting.

If you’re unable to do this in person, as many people will be, a video call on Skype is the next best thing. Use the meeting to introduce yourself, highlight your skills and list your accomplishments. Remember, when Skypeing professionally, wearing a bathrobe and slippers in not advised!

4. Insist on a Contract

If the task you’re employed to do is a short one, then a contract probably won’t be necessary. However, if a job is likely to last for a number of days or even weeks, it’s a good idea to insist on a signed contract before work begins, particularly if you’re located far away from your employer- “out of sight, out of mind”, as they say.

If anything, insisting on a contract will make you seem more professional and will help you build trust with your client. In your contract, you should include an in-depth description of the work you are about to undertake along with a list of deliverables, payment terms and an agreement on the number of revisions you will offer.

5. Don’t be a Stranger

As a remote worker, not only is it incumbent on you to be accessible, you should provide your client with regular updates on your progress. Don’t email your employer every 5 minutes - that’s annoying – just make sure you make regular contact so that potential communication issues do not have a chance to develop and your client knows exactly how hard you are working on the task in hand.

6. Use Instant Messaging

IM is not the best way to keep in contact with your clients. Unless you know them very well, it’s too informal and doesn’t allow either party enough time to concoct an official response to a question. Having said that, IM is perfect for conversing with colleagues. Once you’ve added them to your contacts, you’ll be able to see if and when they’re online and hit them with spontaneous questions and comments which only require a short reply.

7. Remember You’re Abroad

This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s important. If you’re doing a job for a client on the other side of the world, you might have to change the hours you work to suit their needs. It’s worth getting this straight with a client before you start, as accessibility, as I’ve mentioned before, is of utmost importance to many.

Likewise, you should try to gain a good grasp of cultural differences and public holidays in your client’s home country. If you start sending important messages to an employer in China on the eve of Lunar New Year, for example, you’re going to end up looking like an amateur.

8. Make the Most of Web Apps

To improve efficiency when away from home, arm yourself with the best web apps available. There are far too many good ones to list here (please do leave suggestions in the comments below), but Basecamp is one I would recommend to everyone. Not only is it relatively inexpensive ($24 a month for the cheapest package), it’s very easy to use for both employer and employee. It incorporates to-do lists, file sharing, message boards, milestones, time tracking, comments on messages and much more. DeskAway is also worth checking out.

9. Provide Work-in-Progress

When working away from home, it can be harder to touch base with your employer, but you need to make sure that as well as keeping regular contact, you provide your clients with work-in-progress, particularly if the project’s a long one.

If you’re a writer, this means sending a plan and subsequent drafts. If you’re a web designer/developer, this means sending a sitemap, content matrix and wireframe. If you’re a software developer, you need a good VCS. Providing such mockups for approval will save time in the long-run and reduce the risk of you having to do revisions.

10. Save Time for Fun and Relaxation

Away from the prying eyes of their employers, remote workers can get away with working fewer hours than their office-bound contemporaries, but in reality, most tend to work much harder. When working away from home, it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of just finishing one more thing or just working one more hour. You have to be strict with yourself- life’s not all about work. Schedule plenty of time for socializing, having fun and simply relaxing.

Tom Walker is a blogger who works from home for a UK online store specializing in ink cartridges. You can read more of his work on their blog, the CreativeCloud.

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