How to Work Effectively in a Shared Flat

Division of workspace if you are in a co-working hub is fairly straightforward but if you are sharing your home then things might not be so clear. Marleen Clover has written a post for us on the dos and don’t when remote working from a shared flat. Marleen works as a marketing assistant at Timeo. She has a background in business administration and management and loves reading poetry and fiction.

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In a perfect world, everything works according to our exact needs. This isn’t always the case when you have roommates. You may be saving up to get a place of your own, but you won’t get very far if you can’t get any work done. Compromise and strategy are key to building an environment where you can work remotely with the least amount of distraction and disturbance.

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Make a Map of Schedules

Be aware of your roommate(s) work schedule and plans outside of work. If you can, try to invert that schedule when creating your own. If you need peace and quiet from a noisy roommate, or you need to prevent being tempted from chatting it up, you’ll find it easier to do your work when you know you’ll have the place to yourself. Assuming your roommate does not work remotely like you do, they will likely have a set work schedule where they’re coming and going at specific times. If they don’t work your standard nine-to-five job, these hours may change from day to day. It will require some flexibility on your part, but you likely have more leniency than they do.

Set Up in the Right Location

You need to have some kind of work station. In most cases, it will all fit on top of and inside of a desk. Placing this desk strategically will help you get your work done. Try not to place it in common areas or open spaces that receive a lot of traffic. If your flat already has a designated office area or spare bedroom, this is a no brainer. If your roommate uses the kitchen and living areas very frequently, you’ll want to avoid setting up there. If you need to, you can always set up your work station in your bedroom. Some people who work from home have revamped very large storage closets or walk in pantries into micro-offices. If you happen to have one that’s not being used, repurposing and optimizing your storage can make this option a possibility.

Balance Entertaining and Being Considerate

A little compromise will go a long way. Talk to your roommate about what times and days are best for entertaining company. Should a special occasion be on the way, make sure you clear it with each other far enough in advance. If your roommate is going to have some friends over for board games, the sounds of the good time they’re having will undoubtedly distract you, and likely make you wish you were doing something else. If he or she is having family over for a meal and you’re stowed away working, you wouldn’t want to seem rude. It’s all about balancing time.

Measuring Decibels

When you’re working from home, you need to be able to hear yourself think. If the area you’re working with contains a TV or stereo, or shares a wall with a room that does, this can potentially become frustrating. Figure out what volumes you can and can’t work with, and at what time volume adjustments need to be made. If for some reason, you can’t come to an agreement, or the walls are simply very thin, you’ll need to have a backup plan. If your work doesn’t involve constantly being on the phone or on Skype, invest in a decent pair of headphones. Listen to relaxing sounds or white noise to cancel out the interfering sounds. They won’t distract you, and they may even improve your focus and productivity.

Review Your Options

At some point in your co-habitation, you might discover that while some of your roommates are excellent co-workers, others simply disrupt your work and make you less productive. If you’ve got a few friends with whom you like to co-work, it might be a good idea to get a place together. Imagine a collective of remote workers living together – they’ll understand each other’s needs perfectly. Have a look at services like Gumtree to check apartment rent offers and you might just stumble upon a place that would be perfect for you and 2 or 3 of your freelancing friends.

 

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Want to Help Stop Climate Change? Start Working Remotely

In November representatives from 200 countries will gather in Paris to hash out a plan of action to reduce climate change. Some see this as a ‘last chance’ for action as the the amount of human produced CO2 in our atmosphere is on the rise. Population growth, deforestation and increased consumption of fossil fuels are all to blame.

Eric at the Falls - smallerFor many modern companies with a social conscience working in a distributed way is well aligned with reducing environmental impact. Eric Bieller argues that working remotely could be an important factor in reducing climate change and makes a call for companies to seriously think about changing the way they work.

Eric is the co-founder of Speak, a tool that provides instant communication and presence for remote teams. His team’s goal is to enable a future where the office is no longer a necessity and people are free to work from anywhere in the world. You can find Eric on Twitter (@ericbieller).

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Over the last century, motor vehicles have become commonplace in our society, becoming a hefty contributor to this increase in CO2 emissions.

Increase in registered vehicles on the road since 1975

Increase in registered vehicles on the road since 1975
(IHS Global Insight and Wells Fargo Securities, LLC)

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Increase in CO2 emissions since over the last century
(Source: http://www.epa.gov/)

In fact, transportation is estimated to account for as much as 31% of human emissions.

Meanwhile, deforestation has reduced the planet’s ability to filter CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Continuing on this path could mean devastating consequences for future generations, including rising global temperatures and shrinking of polar ice.

And while the financial crisis of 2008 may have reduced car ownership, subsequently reducing the amount of human produced CO2 in the atmosphere, in the last few years this number has started to creep back up towards pre 2008 levels.

Unfortunately there is no single solution to this problem. If we are going to solve climate change and help dial back CO2 emissions, we’re going to need to attack the problem from multiple angles, starting with our reliance on motor vehicles.

The death of the commute

One of the biggest reasons for increased car ownership, and the subsequent rise in CO2 emissions, is that commuting has become commonplace over the last century.

Cars have made it possible to live in the suburbs but work in the city center. And while this has afforded many people the freedom to live and work where they want, it has also made commuting a way of life for our culture.

In fact, a commuter spends an average of one work week in traffic over the course of a year.

All this time adds up to literally tons of extra CO2 building up in the atmosphere. This also adds up to years of collective productivity that is being lost as we sit in traffic on our way to work.

Ditch the commute and start working remotely

Knowledge workers are in an especially unique position to ditch the commute and start working remotely, as their jobs can typically be done from anywhere. The only requirements are a solid internet connection and the right tools.

In fact, several large remote teams have managed to build extremely successful products, despite being separated by distance and time zones:

Automattic has created a celebrated culture of remote work, with hundreds of employees scattered across 28 countries.

Github is another great success story, with approximately 75% of their employees working remotely.

Buffer has also managed to build a fun and unique culture by embracing remote work.

Taking real steps toward working remotely

I’m not saying that your entire workforce should become remote tomorrow. After all, you can’t just flip a switch and suddenly have a happy and productive remote team.

But why not dip your toes in the water by allowing employees work from home one or two days out of the week? Even a modest remote work policy can give workers a greater sense of freedom and lead to increased productivity. It’ll also show them that you trust them to be autonomous and self managing.

These are certainly small steps, but on a global scale this can really add up! Every minute spent working instead of commuting equates to less CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere and more time spent being productive.

Conclusion

Climate change is a serious matter that’s going to call for serious action if we’re to solve it. But this means that society’s old habits are going to have to change.

Technology has made it possible for us to stay connected to each other even when we’re working on opposite sides of the planet. We’re no longer shackled to the office and doomed to spend hours of our lives stuck in traffic. But it’s up to us to make a change. It’s time for us to cut our ties to this old way of life and start embracing the future of work.

What do you think? Can working remotely make a serious dent in reducing climate change? Let us know in the comments section below!

Applying for a remote job? Prepare to answer these interview questions

Monique RiversNot long ago we published a post on Hunting for Remote Working Jobs. In a very useful follow up Monique Rivers takes a look at the kind of questions a company might ask you in your interview for a remote position.

Monique is an Australian tech blogger who also loves good food and fashion. She works at ninefold.com. Ninefold is a company providing efficient and powerful virtual servers for all those occasions when a business needs to move their ideas into the cloud.

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Together with the rapid growth of communication technologies, we have witnessed remote work explode in popularity. If you still think working from home is a rare solution, just have a look at these statistics. Every field offers remote jobs that might fit your current preferences and lifestyle. How to make a good impression during an interview of a remote job? Here are top 5 questions you should prepare for when applying for this kind of professional opportunity.

What is your daily schedule?

Recruiters will want to see how well you know yourself: when you’re focused and what your top hours for productivity are. They’ll be interested whether you’re a morning bird or a night owl.

Remote jobs are often flexible and almost never tied town to the classic nine-to-five schedule – workers all over the world can work in shifts for one company. Recruiters will be interested in your strategies for organizing your work. You need to know your natural rhythm and analyse your daily schedule before you answer this question.

Which communication tools would you use in this situation?

Working in remote teams, you won’t have the chance of catching someone in between meetings for a quick chat. In order to be a productive member of the team, you’ll need solid knowledge on virtual communication and which methods are most efficient for your purposes.

Recruiters will be interested to see whether you’re well-versed in modern communication technologies like email, video hangouts, online chats or project management software. Moreover, they might give you a specific example and ask you to suggest which communication tool is the best one to use. It’s your turn to show that you know how to make remote projects proceed smoothly.

What are your requirements for a productive workspace?

Asking this question, recruiters are making sure that you’re aware of all the physical aspects of working remotely. They’ll also need this knowledge to see whether the company should provide you with specific equipment.

By Ali Edwards, Flickr, CC-BY

By Ali Edwards, Flickr, CC-BY

Whether you work from your kitchen counter or the couch, you’ll always need a few basics – a standing desk, high-quality scanner or even coworking office. Define your preferences and requirements – always mention them during the interview.

What tools do you use for managing your calendar/schedule?

Recruiters are really interested in this aspect – they might ask you questions about details, such as whether your calendar is open for everyone to see or what kind of events you post there. Organization is key in remote work, so recruiters will want to know what your tools for time management are and whether you’re familiar with crucial apps and platforms.

This also shows how much thought you put to organizing your work. It’s possible that joining the company, you’ll need to make a few changes, but the basic idea of organization needs to be there in the first place.

What is the organization system on your computer?

Recruiters will also want to know how you keep track of important files, notes and links on your computer. You’ll be sharing files with your coworkers and if they’re not properly named, you risk cluttering their workspace with things they cannot categorize at a glance.

Before you apply for a remote job, make sure to have an organization system in place: for storing files, managing issues like multiple tabs open in your browsers or keeping track of important links.

Working in remote has many perks, but it surely isn’t for everyone. When applying for a remote job, make sure that you have the required skills and actually like to work on your own. Remember that your professional history will be scrutinized as well – if your past positions involved a degree of autonomy, your chances at landing a remote job are much higher.

10 Apps that Help Create a Stress-Free Workday

Recently I’ve been reading up on Mindfulness. Mindfulness, according to Aleksandra Zgierska in 2009, is “accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment“. It is a “mind-body approach to well-being that can help you change the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety” [Bemindful.co.uk]. I really like some of the core concepts, such as: focussing on the present, acceptance of the way things are, openness to new information, being fully present and beginner’s mind. I’m no expert yet but I’m going to keep reading and trying out…

sarahSarah Pike is interested in how we can de-stress our lives as remote workers and has written about 10 apps that help create a stress-free workday.

Sarah is a freelancer and college writing instructor. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s probably binge-watching RomComs on Netflix or planning her next camping trip. She also enjoys following far too many celebrities than she should on Instagram. You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahzpike.

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Studies show people who work out of the office are more productive than their in-office peers. However, that doesn’t mean that working in your pajamas means you’re living a stress-free life. If you’re working from home and need a little help de-cluttering your mind, here are ten apps that can help reduce your workday stress.

  1. Asana

One of the biggest obstacles to working from home is finding ways to effectively communicate with the rest of your team. Asana helps to streamline the communication process by eliminating the need for email. The app allows you to organize tasks, create shared projects and add comments to each task your entire group can see.

  1. Stop, Breathe & Think

Meditation is a strong catalyst for helping your mind and body recover from a stressful day of work. Throwing a few minutes of it into your workday has shown to help lower your stress and make you more productive. The Stop, Breathe & Think app makes the mediation process personal by asking questions pertaining to your current state of mind and wellness, then mapping out meditation techniques to suit your situation.

  1. Simply Breathe

Mastering your breathing can help you reduce and even eliminate stress during the workday to help you relax. Download Simply Breathe to incorporate interactive games and sounds designed to help you focus your breathing. It also helps you set long-term goals, track your stress and share your progress with others to help motivate and inspire.

  1. Elevate

To perform better on the job at home, you need to train your brain. Apple named Elevate the best iPhone app of the year for 2014 because of its proven ability to help elevate your brainpower. The app uses 25 mini-games to improve your cognitive skills in memory, reading comprehension and focus. If you find yourself having trouble completing a task, take a break and hop on Elevate to re-orient your brain.

  1. Personal Zen

If you find yourself getting frustrated with your workload, download the Personal Zen app. A team of psychology professors created the app to help reduce anxiety and worry by reconditioning the way you think. It’s a simple design that forces you to follow around a happy face while ignoring an angry one. Researchers found playing it for 25 minutes can help you feel better throughout the day.

  1. Find Me Coffee

Maybe you need a change of scenery, or perhaps you’re just looking for an extra boost of energy to get you through the day. Either way, Find Me Coffee is a great resource for freelancers and coffee lovers. The app locates the nearest coffee shop and provides you with directions on how to get there. It’s the perfect way to break up the workday while getting you up and out of the house.

  1. Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder

Sometimes you just need to stretch your legs. The Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder app puts you in touch with nature by locating the nearest parks and outdoor recreation areas where you can take a walk. Studies have shown taking a walking break in the middle of the workday can help reduce stress while also making you more calm and alert.

  1. Spotify

Music has been shown to be capable of lowering blood pressure, slow our heart rates and decrease levels of stress hormones in our bodies. That’s why you should consider downloading the popular music app Spotify. The app allows you to put together your own playlists of your favorite artists for free, or you can buy the premium version to listen offline. Try searching for “deep focus” playlists for the moments when you really need to buckle down.

  1. MapMyFitness

It’s no secret that exercise and healthy eating make for better overall lifestyles, but did you know they could also help you be more productive at work? Regular exercise can help improve both alertness and energy levels. Apps like MapMyFitness are great because they can help plan exercise routes and provide you with a way to log your daily food intakes.

  1. Timeful

Working from home can blur the lines between everyday life and work, making it difficult to find a balance. Timeful is a time-management app that helps you find time for those small tasks you know need to be done, but never seem to quite fit into your schedule. It allows you to designate specific times for certain tasks throughout the day and helps you develop habits to keep yourself on track.

The best apps for remote workers are the ones that allow you to work from home while also maintaining a happy work-life balance. You might think playing on the Internet would lead to less productivity, but research shows access to the Internet actually helps increase overall happiness. Happier people make better workers, and these apps can surely help you de-stress and find a better balance between home and work.

Remote working from an organisational perspective

BenIn the past numerous articles on the blog have touched on the benefits of remote working and how employees can prosper from carrying out work related activities from the comfort of their own home. However we haven’t had many articles that focus on what remote working means from an organisational perspective. This article by CEO Benjamin Fountain does just that.

Benjamin is CEO at London’s exciting new web development company Zed Zed. Their new ground breaking concept is based entirely on people working from home. Zed Zed has recruited a specialist workforce who are looking for a fresh approach to working life and those who are tired of the typical 9-5 office based roles. Zed Zed believes that this is the future of recruitment and by embracing what people want the company aims to produce a highly effective team.

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I’m passionate about Startups. I have been managing a web development company for over 10 years and our work is centred around the start up field making innovative and exciting online applications.

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During the past year we have been working as a team to develop the new age of web development and online application deployment. At the start of this year we launched ZZ.co.uk and the response has been incredible.

ZZ.co.uk is a new startup which will bring remote working contractors together under one brand to offer companies around the world, international deployment, 24/7 development and the ultimate in tech team customisation.’

So.. Why does Zed Zed recruit in this way?

Having worked in an office throughout almost all of my professional life I found it extremely tiring and demanding having to repeat the same routine on a daily basis. Although working in an office has many positive aspects including the chance to interact with colleagues there are also negative effects which include the following…

  • A recent study outlined how the average person in Britain spends 54 minutes a day commuting and ‘feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and the sense that one’s activities are worthwhile all decrease with every successive minute of travel to work’. In addition, commuting can lead to high levels of stress as a result of delays, unpredictable weather and of course a lack of control. This is clearly a cause for concern as stress within the workplace can lead to a lack of productivity but more worryingly it could potentially result in both mental and physical issues for employees.
  • Carrying out mundane, routinized activities on a frequent basis coupled with the highly stressful nature of the role can be tough. For example, sitting at your office table for 8 hours a day could be highly frustrating and potentially demotivating because as people we are keen to experience new things on a regular basis.

At Zed Zed we strongly believe that our team should be treated as people rather than entities which is why we encourage them to choose their own hours and days of work. We believe that remote employment can help increase productivity amongst team members as well as help stimulate their minds. In addition we understand that commuting to work can be difficult for many people and remote employment sidesteps this issue completely which enables ZZ Team Members to spend more time with their families. We feel that this flexibility helps the team to remain stress free whilst effectively carrying out their responsibilities.

We appreciate the fact that our team have lives beyond that of the workplace and we look to accommodate this at all times by giving them freedom and encouraging them to enjoy their work rather than have the feeling that work is almost like a ‘chore’ that they have to do. Our business model enables them to work for the company part-time so that they can also work with us even with their full-time job. This can have a significant impact on their earnings whilst at the same time giving them a chance to try a new career.

Ultimately, Zed Zed believes in the responsibility of adults and of the incredible talent available who can’t necessarily commute to a job. We believe people should not live to work but that work should be an enjoyable part of their life which they can’t live without. We recruit team members who have a passion for life and their work which gives us a strong and dedicated team.

6 tools to help you manage your work more efficiently

Happy 2015 Everyone!

moniqueWe’re going to kick start the new year with a look at some new tools to help you be more efficient in the new year.

This post has been written by Monique Craig, a passionate blogger and marketing specialist who works for Oneflare, an online marketplace which connects customers with local service providers.

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All remote workers will at some point in their freelance operation face one great challenge – getting things done without any external supervision. If not for the deadlines that remind us about our work, we’d probably just end up flooded by everyday activities and forget that we had any projects to complete at all.

Fortunately, technology comes forward to help remote workers improve their concentration and their productivity – here are 6 new and lesser-known tools that can revolutionize the output of any freelancer who longs for that spark of inspiration to come their way.

MindMeister (http://mindmeister.com/)

This tool is perfect for brainstorming – after signing up, you’ll get access to a board where you’ll be able to create a mind map. You can add links, images and other media, connecting the dots in different ways to reflect your priorities. Once completed, the map can be easily shared with other people. Once they sign up, they’ll be able to see the map and edit it. Bonus point? The tool features a small chat box for real-time feedback and discussion.

MindMeister

IDoneThis (http://idonethis.com/)

This is an app that takes the ‘to do’ list making to the next level. Instead of writing things down, first you need to actually do these things and then capture all your completed tasks in the app. It’s perfect if you’re working with a team and want to track the project progress. The app will create a history of all your ‘dones’, which you can later show to your supervisors, without wasting time to compile a coherent list of tasks completed in a certain time frame.

IDoneThis

Habit List (http://habitlistapp.com/)

We all lose a lot of time on unproductive habits. This tool will be perfect for either those who want to get rid of a habit that disrupts their work schedule or those who find it hard to establish a good habit that promotes productivity.

If hitting a gym three times a week or performing a backup procedure at the end of each working day is a challenge, the app can help you face it. Habit List will simply keep you motivated by giving you a buzz for repeating a desired action. Before you know it, the things you couldn’t get used to will become your new habits.

Habit List

Producteev (https://www.producteev.com/)

This tool will provide you with a wide range of functionalities to keep your projects on track. You can create, assign and schedule tasks for yourself and your team members, later tracking their progress. It works across all kinds of devices and operating systems – the tool works great especially for dispersed teams, which can be updated at any place and time.

Producteev

Pocket (https://getpocket.com/)

Integrated with Google, Pocket is an app for easily saving all kinds of web content – articles, video, images. All your items will be stored in one place and you’ll be able to later view and organize them on any device – even offline! Perfect for those who get easily distracted by cool web content and lose lots of time browsing it.

Pocket

Crate (https://letscrate.com/)

This tool is a great alternative to other file sharing platforms, like Google Drive or Dropbox. With its intuitive drag and drop navigation, you’ll never lose time on searching and uploading your files. A single file or a collection – called a crate – can be shared by means of a single URL. If you’re a cloud enthusiast, you’ll simply love this tool.

Lets Crate

Nobody promised working in remote to be easy. Still, all tools listed above might be just perfect for seasoned, as well as beginner freelance professionals wishing to improve their productivity and get more things done in less time.

4 Things I Don’t Miss About the Office

gemmaAfter moving to Italy from the UK for a change of lifestyle Gemma Wilson began to miss her old marketing role back in the UK. She opted to join the rapidly expanding remote worker workforce and has agreed to share with us 4 things she doesn’t miss about working in an office.

Gemma writes and shares many posts on the Meetupcall (a tool which makes it simple to arrange conference calls with people anywhere in the world,directly from your calendar) blog. She writes from her home in Italy on real experiences that she has uncovered through working remotely.

If you have some “things you don’t miss about the office” then share them with us in the comments!

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This year I decided to jump ship and try out the increasingly popular method of working; remote working. As I’ve already covered previously, remote working is certainly not all about sitting in your pajamas and enjoying daytime television.

However, one of the main things I’m happiest about is that I’m no longer confined to a traditional four walled office.The last thing I would wish on a person is having to spend decades under the glow of industrial lighting in a noisy office. Seeing as I’m a little cynical by nature, I thought I’d share some of the things that I don’t miss about working in an office and why.

Irritating Employees
You know who you are. No one wants to hear your life story or the current “woe is me” situation that you are dealing with for the millionth time. This is a workplace I am here to work, I am not your therapist. In fact, there is no one here that is medically qualified to help you. So please, go back to your desk and do some work, so I can do mine. You know, that thing we’re getting paid to do?

The Commute
Ok, I admit it, this is the easiest one. In my previous jobs I had a commute of 45 – 60 minutes per day. This isn’t necessarily bad, but that was nearly an hour of my day spent on driving. That meant I had to fuel up roughly £150 per month. Now that my commute is literally 20 seconds to my computer, my fuel budget is zero. That’s money that can be used elsewhere.

Food
I don’t miss the smell of burnt coffee because someone is careless in the “how a coffeepot works” department. And for the last time, no reheating fish in the microwave! How many times do you need to be told? And what is it about offices that cause people to bring in junk food? I know sitting at your desk all day with some high calorie diet is a perfect combination, but I don’t miss it. Now that I work from home I decide what food is around me and it’s a lot cheaper making my own lunches than feeling obliged to have to tag along on ‘lunch dates’ while paying a small fortune per day just for a sandwich. Without junk food around me I am not tempted to grab a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps. I have even started going to the gym after work; especially now that I don’t need to spend money on fuel and office takeaways.

Take a pick from the fruit bowl!

Take a pick from the fruit bowl!

Meetings
I don’t miss meetings at all. Previously, I used to have meetings about meetings. Or I was often collared into an irrelevant meeting just to fill chairs around a boardroom table. Nothing drives me closer to insanity than wasting time. Many meetings were simply that, at least in my case. Since working remotely in my new job, the meetings now actually have a purpose; but it’s once a week and to discuss important things, like the next project, or just a catch up on how things are going; and I appreciate that, especially being 1000 miles away from the office. Now it means I have more of my day to be productive and finish my tasks.

I’m sure there are many more things I don’t miss about being in an office, but these are the first ones that come to mind. This isn’t meant to say that working in an office is bad or shouldn’t be done, just that it’s not my cup of tea, especially now that I’ve experienced working from home first hand. Going through this exercise has also shown me that maybe I should post the things I do miss about working in an office. Surprisingly enough, there are a number of things, but I’ll leave that for another time.

If you work in an office, what drives you nuts about working there? What do you hate most about being in an office?

3 Good Reasons Why Remote Work is Booming

Despite many organisations moving away from remote working (see the recent demands from Reddit that their staff relocate – last year Yahoo did the same) remote working continues to become more popular. Monica Wells of BizDb reminds us why.

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Remote work has during the last few years become an increasingly popular professional trend. More and more people are finding it easier to work from home, saving up on time and money that would otherwise be lost in commuting. Companies, on the other hand, can easily outsource their services and use cutting-edge technologies to communicate and collaborate in such a way as to render distance irrelevant and create a cohesive team.

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Here are the top 3 reasons the explain the present popularity of remote work from the perspective of workers and employers.

Flexibility

What workers love about remote work is its flexibility and the opportunity it grants them for achieving a great work-life balance, where they’re able to cultivate their passions and get a lot of work done in one day. Working from home, employees don’t need to feel stressed about their schedule and commuting – this helps them to stay productive and more satisfied.

One of the biggest perks of remote working is the ability to control one’s schedule. Gone are the days of a 9 to 5 job – mobile devices and cloud computing allow to work literally from anywhere and at any time, provided there’s an Internet connection. All this accounts for the increased satisfaction of workers, who have more freedom and so are more motivated to do a great job for their organization.

Workers And Employers Can Cut Expenses

When working in remote, employees not only save time, but money as well. Saving up on gas or public transport tickets is on the long run great not only for their wallets, but also for the environment – less cars on the streets simply mean less pollution.

Seen from the perspective of employers, remote work is a cheap affair. Companies are able to find qualified workers who provide similar talent and productivity to local workers, but at a lower cost. Apart from salaries, companies open to remote work additionally save up on office space and other facilities.

Companies Can Attract Talent

This is particularly relevant to sectors suffering from skill shortage or tough competition to acquire talented workers. Thanks to remote working environment, companies can benefit from skills of people who don’t need to be located near its headquarters, automatically rising the chance of finding competent and talented candidates.

In order to attract talents, employers need to come across as flexible and ready to accommodate skilled employees through a variety of employee-oriented policies. Companies can offer remote work to on-site employees too – it’s a great factor to retain them and boost their satisfaction.

Remote work still needs to be addressed as a potential challenge, but its benefits are simply worth the price. Communication is the biggest issue here – without proper tools and training, distance might affect the dynamics of team collaboration.

Needless to say, the management style employed in remote context will also radically differ from traditional one and could possibly require additional training. Without specific knowledge, managers will see the productivity of their team crumble under the pressure of distance.

Fortunately, there’s a whole wealth of technologies and cloud services that make collaboration and communication significantly easier. Other than that, companies interested in remote work can benefit from the expertise provided by specialized venture that deliver solutions for creating, managing and improving remote work opportunities.

Is remote work for everyone? That largely depends on the industry and company size. Following the steps taken by Yahoo, Reddit has just placed a new policy, which forces workers to either relocate to the company’s headquarters in San Francisco or face contract termination.

While remote might not work for those tech giants, it’s a perfect working environment for budding start-ups and mid-sized companies that know how to use technology to their advantage and employ it in order to efficiently manage remote workers and help them to collaborate as a team.

Virtual Teams: Benefits & Challenges

Martin-White-2-2014Martin White is a well-known face in the information management world. He has been the Managing Director of Intranet Focus, which provides consulting services related to intranet strategies, for over 15 years. In 2012 Intranet Focus launched a series of Research Notes on topics arising from their consulting work. Topics are broad ranging but often touch on areas of interest to those working remotely.

Martin recently published a research note on Managing Virtual Teams. The extended research note [PDF]  provides an overview of good practice in managing virtual teams both in team meetings and between meetings. There are ten recommendations based on Martin’s own experience of managing virtual teams dating back to 1975. Appendices set out the elements of a profile of virtual team members and also the structure of a training course that Intranet Focus deliver. An article by Martin on The management of virtual teams and virtual meetings was published in published in Business Information Review (unfortunately the journal is not open access but Martin is happy to discuss with those interested.)
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Although the current language of business speaks of ‘collaboration’ it does not speak of ‘virtual collaboration’ but of virtual teams. This is useful because not all teams work in a collaborative way with a common cause. A team can be defined as a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as an intact social entity embedded in one or more larger social systems, and who manage their relationship across organisational boundaries. A team therefore has a unity of purpose, a social structure, and its members share a common responsibility for outcomes which is not necessarily a common cause.

Probably the most comprehensive survey of virtual team adoption currently available was undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit in late 2009.

The main reasons quoted in the report for establishing virtual teams were

  • Improve collaboration with other business units
  • Tap into a larger pool of expertise
  • Improve competitiveness through a faster response to opportunities
  • Cost reduction, especially travel costs and the need for internal meeting spaces
  • Improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners

The challenges of working in virtual teams were seen as

  • Misunderstandings due to differences in culture, language and an inability to read people’s expressions
  • Difficulty in leading teams remotely
  • Difficulty in building camaraderie and trust
  • Difficulty in managing the productivity of virtual teams
  • Managing information overload

Building a virtual team takes a lot of care and effort. The considerations of language, location, time and culture have to be taken into account in not only the selection of the staff concerned but also in setting up and managing each meeting.  There may be potentially a key member of the virtual team who does not have good spoken language skills and it may be necessary to bring in an interpreter who themselves may not have the security clearance to be participating in the meeting.

Adding someone to the team may be required but removing someone could be very difficult. In a physical meeting situation a quiet word to a manager may be effective but in a virtual team that call has to be made by ‘phone, and the person who is asked to leave may feel that not enough has been done to enable them to contribute to the meeting. The newcomer may also change the dynamics and levels of trust in the team.

The word TEAM provides a useful mnemonic for virtual teams

  • Trust between members of the team, and that their work is worthwhile, is essential. Once broken it cannot be rebuilt
  • Engagement is very difficult to achieve in a virtual team and so has to be worked on in a step-by-step approach recognising that each member of the team is an individual
  • Achievement, both personal and as a team, should be recognised and used to build engagement and trust
  • Membership needs to be kept under continuous review, as just one person that fails to achieve and/or fails to engage and/or fails to understand the importance of trust will have a major impact on every other member

Culture, time and place

Virtual teams have three dimensions to their operation

  • National and organisational culture (which includes language)
  • Time
  • Location

These need to be taken into account at all times in the planning, execution and review of a virtual meeting. A simple ‘3D’ graphic pinned to a desktop can be a valuable mnemonic.

Most multi-national companies adopt English as a corporate language for corporate communications, but certainly companies outside of the USA are made aware every day that this is a guideline and not a command. This is especially the case in Europe where it is difficult to travel more than 500 miles from a city centre without entering a country with a different language.

In meetings with attendees from different countries it is often easier for them to understand English spoken as a second (or even third) language than English spoken by a native speaker because of the use of idioms and inadvertently complex sentence constructions. An important point that is often overlooked is that native speakers of English need to allow time between sentences to give others a chance to ‘translate’ concepts (rather than words) into their own language.

When planning virtual team meetings it is important to understand that there are four elements of language skills

  • The ability to speak
  • The ability to understand what is being said
  • The ability to write
  • The ability to read

Individual team members may have different levels of skill in each of these four areas, and making an assumption to the contrary could lead to major problems with understanding and with decision making.

The concept of location is also complex. Members of the virtual team could be in different floors of the same building, in different buildings, in different countries and of course not even in a building at all but on a train, plane or in a hotel dining room.  With audio or Skype video conferences it might not be at all obvious where the attendees are actually sitting. The location may have an impact on ambient noise levels, on whether the attendee can be overhead by colleagues or strangers, and on whether it is possible for the attendee to write notes of the meeting.   This mobile location component is increasingly important as mobile technology enables people to be away from their offices on a more extended basis.

Even a small company operating on a regional basis may want to include one or more of its employees with others in a virtual meeting.  It is important to understand that even having one person ‘phoning in to what otherwise would be a regular physical meeting will change the dynamics of the meeting. This is especially the case when the person leading the meeting tries to do so from a remote location, or even on vacation. This is because another aspect of location is the distribution effect. If the majority of the participants are in one location then they will be a dominant force in the discussion, especially if the leader of the meeting is also present at that location. They will also have the benefit of being able to see the body language of their colleagues and to time their contributions to the discussion.

Just some of the challenges of time in virtual meetings include different times to start and end the working day and public holidays being taken on different days (even in the UK!).  We all want to manage our own diaries and feel uncomfortable when someone calls a meeting at an unsuitable time without prior consultation. Even if we can actually participate in the meeting we may do so in a less-than-constructive way.  Even a small change in time, say from 09.00 to 08.30 could be very difficult for people commuting by public transport to accommodate easily.

Training requirements

In view of the increasing importance of virtual teams companies should be providing training in how to manage virtual teams but very few do so. Team leaders in particular will need to gain some additional skills.

These include

  • Understanding the skills and experience that team members need to have to be effective members of a virtual team
  • Maintaining close working relationships with the managers of team members to ensure they are aware of the organisation and office environment in which team members are operating
  • Taking additional time to prepare for a meeting so that for example all team members have the documents they need several days in advance
  • Being adept at using conferencing and social media applications to help the team achieve objectives
  • Being able to motivate team members that they have not met, and may not have chosen to be a member of the team
  • Being ready to call team members by name to contribute, remembering which team members may not have spoken for a period of time
  • Accepting that it is very difficult to concentrate on leading a virtual team meeting and make notes of the discussions and actions

A team leader who is excellent in managing physical meetings may not be equally as proficient when managing virtual team meetings. If leading or even participating in virtual teams is a core activity then their performance should be included in annual performance appraisals.

Some companies have built a certification process into virtual team participation so that employees (and managers) initially build up expertise in single country/same time zone virtual meetings and then progress to managing complex multi-national, multi-cultural teams in due course.

Recommendations

My ten recommendations for getting the best out of virtual teams and virtual team meetings are

  1. Recognise that virtual teams are going to be increasingly important to any organisation, and ensure that current and potential participants have access to training and mentoring on virtual team management and virtual team meetings.
  2. Virtual teams should have very clear objectives so that it is possible to set the investment in the team against the outcome and also that team members bring appropriate skills, expertise and authority to take action.
  3. Leadership skills that work for physical teams may not be as valuable in a virtual team environment. Other skills are needed and have to be acquired through practice, not just through reading or teaching.
  4. Without good team meetings a virtual team is very unlikely to achieve its objectives and so particular care should be taken in developing guidelines for virtual meetings and for facilitating feedback.
  5. Develop good profiles of each team member, taking into account local availability of technology and offices, which can be used to take part in virtual meetings (especially in the case of open-plan offices) and language expertise.
  6. Ideally each team should have an opportunity to meet with other members of the team at the outset of the team being set up. Where this is not possible there should be an initial virtual meeting where team members can introduce themselves and gain experience with the technology being used before the first formal meeting of the team.
  7. Team dynamics of virtual teams can be quite fragile, often depending on a very high level of trust in people they may not have met before. Introducing a new team member into an existing team may mean starting the process of building trust all over again.
  8. Social media applications can be of value in supporting virtual teams but may need to be tailored to specific team requirements.
  9. Issues of language and culture need careful consideration but should never be an excuse not to bring specific individuals into a team.
  10. Every member of a virtual team should feel that they gave gained from their participation the experience that is useful to their local situation and their personal career development.

This article was first published on the UKeig blog.

Google Apps for Business and Remote Workers

Kelly SmithKelly Smith works at CourseFinder.com.au, an Australian online courses resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers and works as a freelance writer.

She’s written a post for us on Google Apps for Business and the potential for remote workers.

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Many remote workers might remember the statement from Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Meyers, who condemned the idea of working remotely and swiftly ordered all of the company’s employees to show up in person at their offices. Her opinion was echoed by Yahoo’s HR head, who claimed “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home […] we need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

But the above is a very limited point of view. Provided that remote workers use the many cloud tools available to them in a smart way, there should be very few sacrifices involved with a remote working environment. One of the most popular and efficient packages that help team members to collaborate, communicate, as well as store and manage data is Google Apps for Business.

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But what exactly is Google Apps for Business?

It’s a set of the most popular Google apps that help to manage a business from remote locations. Inside, we find apps everyone knows and uses on daily basis – Gmail to provide email, Drive for storage and document creation (among them text documents, spreadsheets, forms, slides and sites), or Hangouts for video calls and instant messaging. Another feature is Calendar, which helps to create integrated business calendars and ensure that all workers are on the same page when it comes to important deadlines.

Google Apps for Business features two special apps – Vault and Admin. Admin is an interface for broadly defined administration and includes functionalities for mobile device management, security and control, as well as access to 24/7 Google support. Vault, on the other hand, provides an archiving service for all emails and chats, which can later be searched, managed and easily exported.

The Potential of Google Apps for Business in Remote Working

The benefits of this communication and collaboration system are multiple and varied. First, companies don’t need to spend lots of money on specialized hardware and software – all apps are in the cloud and available from every device connected to the internet. It’s perfect for companies with low budget or organizations with remote workers, who will be able to access Google apps from all locations and almost every operating system.

Seen from the perspective of remote workers, Google Apps for Business help in several major areas of any business collaboration:

  • Communication – Google apps are made for easy communication. Gmail has an understandable interface, it’s quick to use and features multiple, built-in and highly efficient security features like filtering and spam detection. Gmail includes an added feature which adds your company domain name to personalize the employee email addresses. Hangouts and Google+ can foster both individual and group communication too.
  • Collaboration – Google Drive, and its various functionalities, is there to make collaborating easier than ever. Users can edit files at the same time and consult with one another using an adjacent chat window, which can save the time lost on switching to a different instant messaging window or other devices like cellphones.
  • Efficiency – all apps are literally in a single place and available with a few clicks. After logging in, workers won’t need to switch to other programs, ensuring high productivity and no time lost on the usual distraction when using a variety of tools scattered around different platforms.
  • Time-management – All in all, Google Apps for Business really helps to save time on everything, from editing documents to brainstorming an idea.

A lot of people believe that in a decade, remote working will be as much or even more popular than the traditional office environment. The truth is that both employers and workers benefit from the dynamics of remote working. That’s why it’s likely that digital tools that foster easy collaboration, communication and management, such as Google Apps for Business, will become increasingly effective, user-friendly and geared towards breaching the time and space barrier to ensure a stimulating remote working environment.