The remote freelancer’s guide to thriving in a digital work landscape

For many aspiring and existing freelancers, the prospect of working remotely is a major upside. However, you may need to reality check the idea of spending your days sipping lattes in your favourite coffee shop and at the same time deliver top-notch quality client work. But the physical environment is only one of the considerations. We have summarised all the key things you need to get right to make remote working a success for you and your client.

Create the right professional environment

One of the challenges of remote working is where to work from and having access to the necessary resources to be productive. Working from home may sound appealing, but not many people tend to be very good at it. Not because they don’t have the intention, but because it is hard to create the right conditions in your personal space that is more associated in the mind with rest and relaxation. Merging the two worlds of personal and work in the space can negatively impact both.

The first decision is where to base yourself, and there are a variety of options:

  • Co-working spaces. This is an obvious and ready-made solution that can also be cost-effective. With the proliferation of co-working spaces in most major cities globally, it is relatively easy to find a desk relatively close that offers 24hr access, a fixed desk, printing, internet, meeting rooms as well as other services like a registered address and admin support. This option gives you separation between home and work life, gives you an environment where you aren’t isolated and can network/share services with other small firms and freelancers and enforces some discipline and focus.
  • Coffee shops. A cheaper and more flexible option, and one that can be quite enjoyable. As long as you’re spending enough each day not to attract too much attention and it has the essentials of good internet and power connections, this can really work. In addition, if you pick one where your potential buyers frequent, it can also be a good place to network. The downside is that they aren’t the best for taking calls, it can portray that you’re not as professional or experienced as someone based in a co-working space, there are no printing or other office support facilities, and if you don’t get the seat next to the plug point you’re in trouble!
  • Office share. Most businesses with rented or owned office space have unused desks. It is becoming more common now for people to be willing to offer these desks to other companies or individuals to rent at a subsidised cost. Reaching out to your network to see if they can provide you with a desk is always worth a try and can end up saving you a lot on rent, while still providing the benefits of a co-working space.
  • Home office. Creating a designated space or room at home can work, but it requires discipline. The call of the fridge, coffee/tea breaks, family, TV, personal tasks is a constant distraction and one that can leave you dragging work out and having to work late into the evenings. For this to be effective, it is advisable to develop a structure for your day, when you wake up, when you start working, when you have breaks and when you finish your day. Plan what you’re going to eat to avoid wasting time each day having to cook or buy things. It is also best to get ready as you would if you were working from a co-working space to get your mindset right. Moving from bed to sitting on your couch in your t-shirt and shorts with your computer on your lap can often impact the mind being able to ‘switch on’.

Manage your productivity

Having to manage your day without a formal structure, reduced management oversight/interaction and often less direction is difficult. Setting your priorities and a ‘must do’ task list each day is a helpful exercise. Being able to define what makes each day successful creates both focus but also allows you to build productivity momentum. All of us like being able to visualise our progress. Regular progress updates should be shared with your client sponsor or reporting/line manager to provide alignment and avoid any breakdowns in expectation. It also helps prevent the common worry of those using remote working resources that these individuals aren’t doing anything.

Tools such as Trello, Monday, Asana, and Nifty to name just a few, all provide low cost or even free solutions for basic functionalities to give you an ability to organise, track and share your work and progress (Trello being a favourite over at Professional Freelancer for what it’s worth to manage the content calendar!). This type of self-governance is essential to build confidence with your stakeholders as well as give you the structure needed to optimise your day.

Keep connected

Proactively ensuring that your peers, senior stakeholders and sponsors don’t feel the lack of your physical presence is an important measure of success. To achieve this means effectively using video and conference calls, being responsive to messages/requests, having an opinion and voicing it and attending and contributing to meetings even if remotely. Keeping people engaged about the work you’re doing, the progress your making and your future priorities helps them feel your presence and contribution.

Having both scheduled and un-scheduled communication, even if very short in nature, helps keep you connected and ‘in the know’. One of the biggest challenges a remote worker faces is keeping up to speed with the developments, decisions and thinking that are happening on a daily basis, sometimes through micro-conversations and small informal huddles where people may forget to include those not working from the office.

Out of sight, out of mind, is definitely a risk and can lead to a lack of cohesion or sometimes a feeling of isolation.

Make an effort to build strong relationships and keep an ongoing dialogue with people you work with, don’t allow days to pass without any communication. Informal check-in calls are great ways to achieve this and don’t take too much effort or planning. Make a habit of (video) calling often, not only email, as this creates a more personal rapport.

Choose your clients carefully

Not all business is good business. Some clients may want to use remote resources but aren’t set up to allow this to be successful for either side. Make sure when discussing opportunities with an organisation, you are also assessing their readiness to work with you. It isn’t a one-way conversation, and highlighting what needs to be in place from the client-side demonstrates that you are serious about your work! Signs to watch out for are:

  • The client organisation doesn’t appear aligned internally in its objectives and reason for bringing in a remote resource
  • They are disorganised in their assessment process
  • They are slow in their decision-making process and in terms of sharing feedback and updates
  • The scope of your work is unclear, vague and/ or changes in each conversation
  • They don’t have defined, named sponsors
  • They seem unclear on how you’ll be onboarded/paid

If any of the above applies, proceed with caution! We know, it’s hard to turn down work when you really need it, but at least do your homework (maybe ask to speak to one or two previous or existing remote workers) and try to ‘help’ the client along in terms of setting up your project for success. Ultimately, that is your shared objective!