Reflections on Working Virtually
As I write this blog post, I’m sitting halfway across the world at a co-working space in Wellington, New Zealand. My partner’s job means I often have the opportunity to travel, but the work doesn’t stop coming and I take my laptop with me wherever I go. Honesty forces me to admit I was absolute rubbish at working outside the office when I started. Since my first attempt, though, I’ve developed some strategies for staying productive on the move.
I snapped this picture while working remotely in South Africa. King of The Highveld and my boss for the day.
I thought Starbucks would be a great place to work—and for some people it is—but after losing a few afternoons staring off into the middle distance, I’ve learned noisy coffee shops are definitely not for me. Wherever I go, I make sure to bring my noise-canceling headphones and white noise (I prefer A Soft Murmur) to break the distraction. I still stop for a flat white before getting down to business.
Of course, work doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people work in teams, and teams thrive on proximity. That’s why I regularly invest time in trying new technology to help me manage workflow, coordination, and communication. Today alone, I’ve used Skype, Dropbox, Google Drive, Join.me, Whatsapp, Trello, and Slack for business. Refresh gets an honorable mention because, although I haven’t used it in the past 24 hours, it’s invaluable when meeting with new people.
As a consultant, I have to track my billable time. To make sure I know when I’m working on what, I use Toggl. However, Toggl doesn’t prevent me from the social media itch; on days I’m pulled towards Facebook, I use a browser plugin called Chrome Nanny to set a timer that locks me out of those distracting sites when I’m supposed to be working. That way I have the accountability I would in the office while on the go.
Working in a virtual team, it’s important to schedule regular catch-ups. For me, these aren’t meetings per se—there is rarely an agenda to guide conversation—but more opportunities to share insights and context. The one thing I haven’t been able to replicate through technology is the creative energy you get from a physical space, so I’ve had to search for it elsewhere. If I can, I try to catch a lecture or a PechaKucha night to hear about new and innovative ideas (and I’m energized for a week afterwards).
My greatest discovery to date has been that of co-working spaces outside of the Regus network. Need to print something? Need reliable internet? Need to feed off the atmosphere of energized, creative professionals buzzing around you? Depending on where you are, you can get all this for between $10-$50 a day. The best I’ve encountered thus far is Slow in the City, but it seems every metropolitan area grows co-working spaces nowadays. They’re a great way to expand your professional network with people doing interesting things in new cities. Even if you work from home, you might consider getting in to a co-working space once a week.
The hardest part has been bringing discipline to my originally haphazard virtual working philosophy. If I had do go back and do it all over again, the one thing I’d change is my expectations. It’s harder than I thought to be productive outside the office, and it takes an intentional effort to be successful.
It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how I work best, but now that I have, I love working remotely. The flexibility, the opportunity to meet new engaging people, and the chance to travel, are all benefits I wouldn’t trade—I think they make me a better consultant. THRUUE’s executive team and our company culture have been invaluably supportive throughout this journey, and when I am on my next job search, I now know what to look for.
Authored by Jen Walker, Senior AdvisorReturn to Blog