Take a Remote Year!

Flicking through the weekend papers I found this interesting article in the Independent on a new company offers you to keep your job while you travel around the world.

Remote Year is “a one year program where you travel around the world with 100 interesting people while working remotely.“. Remote Year will go to 12 different locations, 1 month each. There will be 3 legs of the trip:

  • Europe: 1) Prague, Czech Republic 2) Ljubljana, Slovenia 3) Dubrovnik, Croatia 4) Istanbul, Turkey
  • Asia: 5) Penang, Malaysia 6) Ko Tao, Thailand 7) Hanoi, Vietnam 8) Kyoto, Japan
  • South America: 9) Buenos Aires, Argentina 10) Mendoza, Argentina 11) Santiago, Chile 12) Lima, Peru
By Giorgio Montersino, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Giorgio Montersino, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sound like exciting stuff, doesn’t it!!?

The Independent article explains that Remote Year costs participants “around £18,000 for the year – £2,000 paid upfront, and then £1,300 each month” and then follows the story of Cassie Utt who will leave her job in the hydraulics division Eaton and travel for a year.

Travelling and working remotely is on a lot of people’s wish list but few have done it. Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading about Lea Woodward’s travels – she writes on Location Independent and tweets her tales. I’m not sure I could work from anywhere long term…but a year does sound good! Now what to do about that Mortgage, those kids and that husband of mine….??? ;-)

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.

Hunting for Remote Working Jobs

When I was made redundant from my previous job I discovered that finding a new remote working job wasn’t going to be an easy task. Back in 2012 I did a scout of remote Working policies at universities – most had little to offer. The future looked bleak! Luckily I started work for Open Knowledge!

Since then finding a remote working job has become a little easier. There is now quite a few websites dedicated to employing people

keyboard-417090_640

  • Remotive – apparently “remote + productive = remotive”. This search site contains mainly developer type stuff (with partners from InVision, Zapier, iDoneThis, Sqwiggle, HelpScout, Ghost, Formstack, Blossom, Customer.io & CloudPeeps) but there are some other jobs on there.
  • We Work Remotely is a site 37Signals on the back of their excellent ‘Remote’ book. You can also follow them on Twitter.
  • Working Nomads – “A curated list of remote jobs, for the modern working nomad.” Mainly tech jobs.
  • Remote Employment – Flexible home based jobs working from home. This used to be pretty good for more general types of job but seems to be suffering from a tumbleweed moment :-( These were the guys I won my award off back in 2009!
  • Skip the drive – US focused but has a cute Telecommuting Savings Calculator on the site
  • The Guardian Jobs – They aren’t that clear on whether remote means from home or the middle of the outback but there are some interesting jobs here!
  • Remote Jobs – Lots of jobs listed besides tech!

Other ideas

Most of these are shamelessly stolen from colleagues (thanks to people who will remain unnamed):

  • Check out this Skillcrush post on the 25 best sites for finding remote work.
  • Look for tech startups and non-profit-sector / open source tech organisations – they are leading the way in remote working
  • Some general careers sites will let you do searches (and setup saved searches and notifications) and will have an “allows remote working” filter (or if not you can just put keyword “remote” in your query).
  • Good sites to look at include Hypothesis, MySociety, Mozilla, Ushahidi, Akvo, Automattic, Canonical (although check out Glassdoor.com, lots of dodgy reviews). Wikimedia. Not edX itself but some third-party consultancies based around edX. RedHat claim that 25% of their employees are remote if you feel like going corporate.
  • If you’re happy to work for a commercial company then Flexjobs have recently released their “Top 100 Companies Offering Telecommuting Jobs In 2015

So happy hunting!

Remote Working: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last week brought us yet another piece of research on the personality traits needed to be a home worker.

The article in question was published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior and written by Thomas O’Neill from the University of Calgary. The conclusions (here reported in inc. by Laura Montini) offer nothing “earth shattering” however…

One unexpected finding, the researchers said, was that people who indicated that they have neurotic tendencies actually work well remotely. O’Neill had predicted this group of people would have trouble concentrating, but that wasn’t the case.

This got me thinking about the ‘bad’ idiosyncrasies that I now demonstrate after 7 years of remote working. Some are an intrinsic part of my nature, but others I’m sure have developed over time.

A quiet cat

My cat being quiet

The Good

Before I go in to these I wanted to group the characteristics mentioned time and time again when it comes to remote working.

There are all those characteristics that you need to get the job done without someone looking over your shoulder: Focused, not easily distracted, self-disciplined, motivated, committed, an independent worker who requires minimal supervision, hard working, self-starter, management skills, organised, responsible, comfortable with self-imposed deadlines, decisive, a quick learner, prepared, productive, trustworthy.

Then there are those characteristics that stop you from feeling isolated: Sociable, extrovert, networked, positive attitude, communicative, articulate, collaborative worker, team player, forthcoming, frank, unreserved.

Then finally there are those characteristics that help you cope with a different way of working from most people: Adaptive, flexible, open-minded, innovative, creative, original thinking, cutting edge, tech savvy.

So I think I have a fair number of those, however I also have a few that don’t seem so great.

The Bad

I definitely do have neurotic tendancies, I worry too much and my husband sometimes says he thinks I have mild OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I am very driven to get stuff done, maybe too driven, and I find it hard to relax. I always have to have a project on the go, I always have to be busy. This article on 4 Winning Personality Traits of the Successful Telecommuter sums it up nicely:

To be a successful telecommuter, you have the type of personality that feels compelled to finish what you start, no matter how much it may inconvenience you to do so. When you begin a project, you will never rest until that project is finished. You may be sick as a dog but will keep working until the job is finished, knowing that the deadline is too critical to miss. You simply refuse to fail. You are someone who will stay up all night if that’s what it takes to complete a project.

Related to this I tend to block out the world and get so focused on work that I wonder if I am letting my family relationships slip. I tend to take on too much and tend to say yes because I know I’ll fit stuff in – at the expense of all else!

I also wonder if I’ve become less of listener, maybe because I don’t have to listen quite so often. That seems strange as I spend most of my day with my headphones on in calls, but quite a lot of the time I work independently with no-one to bounce ideas off. Maybe I could do with spending a little more time letting ideas mull around, waiting for feedback. One of my biggest issues has always been that I act too quickly. That might sound like the answer to an interview question (“so what’s your biggest flaw?” “well, I’m just a little too perfect!“) but it can be a problem, Over the years I’ve learnt to let things rest for a little longer – don’t publish that report yet – you’ll get some more feedback in the middle of the night that it might make sense to include. Remote working doesn’t help here. You spend a lot of time waiting for people and you can’t pop your head round their door to ask them to hurry up. It can leave you frustrated and impatient.

One other strange thing – since working at home I now find that I work best in silence, in fact any noise drives me mad (this article on Radio silence and the remote worker picks up on this). I just can’t stand my cats miaowing or next door’s builder drilling. I wear noise reduction headphones most of the time to stop the non-silence getting in. I do wonder if I’d ever be able to return to an open plan office. As well as a silent room I also need a tidy room and find it hard incredibly off-putting if there is a mess around me – back to the OCD there.

My final concern is that I’ve become a bit of a ‘settler’. This article entitled Remote workers need more than just the right personality – they need ground rules talks about the possible negative effect on career advancement.

The old adage out of sight, out of mind can be especially true for those who are working offsite. Telecommuters run the risk of being passed over for promotions and job opportunities. This can happen because of an unsupportive attitude on management’s part, who may perceive the choice to work from home as lack of career commitment. But it is also true that not all jobs, especially the higher up the corporate ladder, can be successfully managed from a remote location.

Have I given up the ghost when it comes to career moves or are things just on hold for now?

The Ugly

And the worst thing of all…I’m now a serial snacker. Maybe it isn’t a personality trait or characteristic but it is an issue!

So what about you? What’s your good, bad and ugly?

References

Tactical Travel Tips

I now work on an EU project leading on dissemination and community building.

This basically means I travel a lot (this year I’ve been to Luxembourg, St Petersburg, Athens and am off to Helsinki next week). This is probably not as much as some people but a lot more than I used to. Also most of this travel is in Europe rather than in the UK.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg

As I move kicking and screaming into the frequent flyer bracket (I don’t like flying and it’s not doing my eco-credentials much good!) there are a few lessons I’ve learned that I thought I could share with you…

Apologies if some of these are obvious but I’ve learned the hard way!

Data

Data Roaming is still bloomin’ expensive!

photoI turn off every mobile data switch the moment I sit down on the plane. So this means switching off mobile data, 3G, data roaming, Bluetooth, push data and all related things. I also switch off updates – updates always tend to pick their moments! This stops me accidentally accessing data when confused and lost in foreign cities. This has meant I’ve avoided ‘bill-shock’ (this is apparently an actual word now – unpleasant surprise of a very large phone bill) so far.

I do use wifi on my phone if available – but even then feel a little bit paranoid.

If you do want to use data roaming there is apparently an EU cut-off regulation you can opt in to. EU regulations mean providers have to warn you when you’ve nearly used €50 (approx. £50 incl VAT) of data in a month when roaming overseas. When you hit this mark, your mobile provider will cut off your mobile internet service until the next billing month begins, unless you have already pre-arranged a higher limit.

Lower costs are likely to come in by December 2015 if legislation approved by members of the European parliament’s industry committee is rubber stamped by full parliament on 3 April.

There is lots of useful guidance on data roaming about, I found the Roaming Expert website helpful.

I also now use Mapswithme on my phone – this allows you to download maps of cities in advance and then navigate them as if you are online.

I always check a hotel has wifi before I book. I connect with home using Skype or facetime. I try to never call.

Money

IMG_2300I warn my bank where I’m going. I’m with Lloyds and there still doesn’t be a way to do this online but I visit the bank every now and then and tell them about my forthcoming trips.

I also have some spare Euros that I keep so I don’t have to rely on a cashpoint as soon as I arrive. I take 3 bank cards as a back up. I store all my receipts in a particular place and photograph them too. I upload photos to online storage while away in case I lose my camera or phone.

Work

I prep in advance so that I don’t have to do too much complicated stuff while I’m away. So I draft blog posts, papers etc. and have them pretty much ready to go. You can’t rely on the quality of a connection when away from your computer. I now use LastPass (after a disaster a few years back) – this means I don’t spend hours trying to figure out passwords because I’m on my laptop. I ensure updates on my laptop are all done before I go!

I now have several adaptors and sometimes take an extension lead if I’m going to a conference.

Food

I’ve finally got BA to realise that I’m a vegetarian after selecting this option on their website many times, but I always take a few snacks with me just in case. I also empty my water bottle out for security and fill it up when I get through – saves cash! I try and find veggie friendly restaurants in advance.

Travel

If I’m arriving late at night I now get the hotel I’m staying at to book the taxi. This saves me having to fork out lots for a dodgy taxi. Planing routes from airport and hotel is useful too!

With work colleagues in front of the Acropolis

With work colleagues in front of the Accropolis

Entertainment

I download iplayer programmes on my laptop so I can watch them in my hotel room – beats foreign programmes and BBC World news on a loop. I also stock up on my laptop on downloaded papers I’d like to read.

I try to schedule my travel so I have some time to have a look around, there is nothing more soul destroying that visiting a beautiful place and only seeing the airport.

And finally I have a gig glass of wine on the plane – this stops me worrying about crashing and all the things I’ve forgotten to do!

Travel suggestions from other people have been published on this blog before. Take a look at:

Meet me at the Watercooler

I’ve recently had a guest blog post published on the Digital Epiphanies blog about how we at the Open Knowledge Foundation facilitate virtual informal discussion.

I’ve mentioned the Digital Epiphanies Project before when I was interviewed as part of their research. It’s an EPSRC- funded project that is attempting to enhance understanding of the “paradoxical and double-edged effects that new technologies and digital practices are having on work-life balance“.

I’d like to repost some of the thinking in behind my blog post here, for those who missed the original.

As those of you who read my blog will know the Open Knowledge Foundation is probably fairly unique in that it is a truly virtual organization. Our staff sit on 4 different continents and over countless timezones. We communicate primarily using online tools and face-to-face is rare for us.

To support our remote/virtual working we have a suite of tools that we utilize, some are for administrative purposes, such as Xero for expenses and Toggl for timekeeping, others are to help us with our work, such as Google drive for documents and Google hangout for meetings, and Trello for project management.

Watercooler moments

The area that always proves to be the most tricky to facilitate is discussion, especially informal discussion, or the ‘watercooler’ discussions as people like to call them. In the past the term ‘watercooler moment’ referred to a controversial event in a television programme that people would discuss at work the next day. These discussions took place next to the drinks dispenser or watercooler. Being able to discuss those exciting TV moments in a group has slowly disappeared as an activity due to changes in television watching (the rise of streaming services and playback TV), but the need to chat hasn’t. Every organisation continues to need a watercooler.

Prior to my joining the Open Knowledge Foundation they had tried out other IRC chat services. Most had faded by the time I started. People do use things like Twitter and Google Plus but these tend to support discussion with external people, not internal colleagues They’d been trying for some time to answer the question: how do you create a chat space internally?

The current service of choice is Grove.io. Grove is an IRC server that has rich functionality. It gives you archives of your chat history, search, user accounts, channel access management tools, GitHub integration. You can also chose to use the web client or a desktop app, and get notified when someone mentions you by name.

watercooler2

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we have quite a few ‘chat rooms’, some for work team chat, some for cross-team chat for example on community or tech, and we have a watercooler room. The watercooler room has the byline ‘100% social chat. No work stuff’. I’d have to say that this isn’t always the case primarily because the boundaries between work and pleasure are pretty blurred for many of us. This is partly because most of us work for an organisation that is fighting for a cause we passionately believe in: the opening up of knowledge. Politics, technology and the state of the world are fair game. However there are cat pictures, silly web links and lunch dates on there too! The quality of the conversation aside encouraging informal chat remains difficult – people are busy and prioritise work activities. Unfortunately, as many of us know, the bonds created by ‘just having a chat’ are those that build better working relationships.

After our last all-staff meet up the subject of social chat came up (again). Suggestions were made that we use a more feature rich platform for our non-work related communications (Diaspora or an inhouse tumblr were mentioned). There seemed to be a reluctance to change platform, but people were all up for social chatting.

So the question isn’t how do you create a chat space internally? It is how do you get people to use a chat space and share a side of themselves that isn’t work facing? Or how do you get people to take their eye off work even for a minute in a virtual organization?

OK, so here are a couple of things that bright sparks at the Open Knowledge Foundation have been doing. One of our team is a DJ on the side and he shares Spotify playlists with us most Fridays. These playlists are great and get us talking. We even ended up with a staff-playlist at our face-to-face event.

Someone else has started a form of virtual Chinese whispers called ‘Eat poop, you cat’ (don’t ask!), which requires people to draw a picture for a sentence. The sentence gets passes along a virtual queue of people and there is lots of silliness involved. We are almost ready to complete our first game, the results hold be interesting and hopefully funny!

We also had a virtual Christmas party in Google hangouts with virtual party hats and real Christmas carols.

These activities can result in more chat on Grove.io and actually give us a much needed break from work.

So what activities and services are you using to make sure that the watercooler remains an important destination?

Still Making Remote Work Work

I need to start with an apology.

I’ve been neglecting this blog of late. My excuse is that I have been a bit too busy working to think about the way in which I work. I guess it’s a common problem. Being busy often means that we carry on doing what we know rather than switching to a new and potentially better way of working. Sometimes I feel like I’m all out of ideas too. That’s no good.

Anyway a colleague shared this great post with me yesterday. It’s called Making Remote Work Work (nice title – feeling a little jealous I didn’t come up with that one – so have stolen it in homage!) and is by Christopher Groskopf from Source. He shares some great tips on how to work effectively from far away. Some of them ‘’m doing already and have never put down on paper, others are actually new ideas – and I’ve felt a little inspired.

I mean look at this one:

Pro tip: if you’ve got school-age kids, schedule yourself for the half-hour they get out of school for the next ten years. In practice nobody will even notice you’ve done this and it will save you the hassle of having to reschedule a meeting because you have to pick your kids up.

I’ve recently started doing this and it makes complete sense. I can be pretty flexible time-wise but 3- 3:30 is a no go area for me, I just can’t do calls or anything, so I may as well be upfront about it.

He also suggests getting a multi-timezone clock. This is such a good idea, I use apps galore but time-zones are like a black hole for me. A clock would be brilliant – it’s on my birthday list.

timezone

Curioso elemento el tiempo by leoplus, Flickr

Anyway it’s a post definitely worth reading! If only I had the time to write one as good ;-)

In other news apparently “Commuting makes you ‘unhappy and anxious'” – unsurprising really, but now there is data to back it up. This recent article in the Guardian reports on a study on the wellbeing of workers led by the Office for National Statistics. The research was based on data from the Annual Population Survey in which people were asked where they worked, how long they travelled for, how satisfied they were with their life.

The research found that when compared with those who worked from home, commuters were less satisfied and happy, and when compared with each other, for each extra minute they travelled commuters became less satisfied.

So I’m still happy working remotely, and I’m still trying to make it work, just sometimes I’m too busy to report back.

Hangs head in shame!!