How to Make the Most of Working Remotely

By | July 21st, 2015

Working Remotely
I’m sitting in a hotel room in a small remote town in the south of Germany, where I’m spending the week working. I did not come here because of a customer, partner, or work event. Instead my wife and I coordinated a week of vacation in Berlin with a work trip for her in this southern town the following week. I could have flown home after our vacation, but decided instead to try and work remotely. In this post I’ll share a few insights from a week of working on the road.

Tips for Working Remotely

One of the most important factors for successfully working while traveling is preparing for what is ahead before you leave. Everyone falls into routines when you work in an office everyday but once you hit the road those routines (good and bad) are no longer your guide. With that in mind here are a few tips to help maximize your chances for successfully working on the road.

Plan your projects before you go

At the office I use a couple tools to plan my day and projects (Things, Trello, and my calendar). I try to set just a few things that I really want to get done on any given day, and hope the random items that pop up don’t overwhelm those tasks.

For this trip, however, I knew I would have big blocks of uninterrupted time and that would change how I worked and what I could get done. I also wanted to make sure that when I woke up in my hotel, without the activity of the office or the flow of email, that I would have a goal of what I wanted to accomplish.

I knew I still needed to take care of ongoing projects and things that would pop up, but I wanted to pick projects that were important yet hard to do with interruptions, but also not so overwhelming that I couldn’t get them done during the trip. So, before I left I decided I would update our marketing plan, now that we have a new Director of Marketing on board, and write a handful of longer blog posts that were on my mind.

Don’t expect to have WiFi

Coming from San Francisco, I presume that I will have decent WiFi everywhere – at home, work, and hotels – and that I’ll be able to access WiFi whenever I need it at cafes, coworking locations, and even public spaces. Heading to a technologically savvy country I came with the same expectations. I was wrong.

I walked into the information center in this tiny town and asked for recommendations on cafes with WiFi. None existed. Zero. In the whole town. No cafes, restaurants, or coworking spaces with WiFi. My hotel had WiFi, but it only worked half the time. A few quick tips for getting Internet access:

  • Libraries and McDonalds will sometimes have Internet.
  • Bring an Ethernet adapter since some places only have wired Internet (and MacBook Airs and other laptops don’t have built-in Ethernet ports.)
  • Buy a MiFi or other cell-based Internet adapter for emergencies.
  • Some public courtyards have Boingo, T-mobile, or other pay-by-day WiFi.

Use the time away for the big think

While having Internet access is now considered part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, just above food and shelter, there are certain projects done best without it. Not having Internet access removed distractions and the opportunity to multi-task, which left space to think and work on projects that required blocks of time.

Also, being nine hours offset from most of the company meant that during much of my workday, there were no emails arriving, meetings, or other interruptions. Amazing. I was able start and finish projects in a single day, and have no guilt around potentially urgent emails left unanswered.

Bundle meetings

While no one loves meetings, many are still important. However, meetings can be interruptions that prevent the big things from getting done. Being offset by nine hours makes it more challenging to find meeting times that work, and the lack of good Internet can make it more complex to have them.

Since I am only gone for a week, some meetings I simply decided to postpone until I returned. However, there were three meetings that would slow things down if they were put off. I bundled these together so that they would be back-to-back from 7 – 10pm my time. I made sure I was in a location with good Internet, bought a sandwich and some snacks, and used Google Hangouts to have those live meetings.

Set hourly alarms

I woke up and had breakfast in the hotel at 7:45am. I came back to my hotel room at 8:30am, sat down, and started working. All of a sudden it was 1:30pm. In the office I’m constantly getting up to talk with someone, have a meeting, grab a snack, or just because I now work at a standing desk. In the hotel zero interruptions also means there is no reason to get up.

On day two I set an hourly alarm on my phone. When it rang I would get up and stretch for a few minutes or go for a quick walk.

Let go to grow

When I’m in the office I am one of the ‘go-to’ people. People come by to ask for input, feedback, or approval. I see an email go by and feel the need to weigh in. I hear or see something and want to make sure it goes the best it can.

I know that it is in everyone’s best interests that I extricate myself from these. People figuring out what should be done without me empowers them. Me not having to be involved in things others can do lets me focus on those things that I should do. And the company would grow faster from all of this.

Being nine time zones away forces this to happen. I’m not in the office and not available, so things people can figure out within one day, they do. Emails that get started often get resolved by the time I log on.

It feels somewhat uncomfortable (in part because it results in the ‘am I needed’ feelings), but letting things go is required in order for the company to grow.

Heading back

Tomorrow is the last day of this trip. I had the chance to explore a new region of Germany, spend time with my wife and friends, eat an astounding amount of bread and sausage, try Ratler (German beer + lemonade), and feel like I’ve been on vacation for two weeks. Yet I have a marketing plan and three blog posts drafted. Not a bad workweek.

Where have you worked from and what realizations did you have?

Gleb Budman
Co-founder and CEO of Backblaze. Founded three prior companies. He has been a speaker at GigaOm Structure, Ignite: Lean Startup, FailCon, CloudCon; profiled by Inc. and Forbes; a mentor for Teens in Tech; and holds 5 patents on security.

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