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.

Follow Gleb on: Twitter / LinkedIn / Google+
Gleb Budman

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Category:  Entrepreneurship
  • Adrian

    It’s Radler, not Ratler, but otherwise good points ;)

  • Mary Ann Willis

    Thanks Gleb for sharing this meaningful info. Another shining example of why I love Backblaze and recommend it to everyone!

  • Monty Galloway

    Thanks for the tips. Great stuff.

  • Bianca Caruana

    Thanks for the tips. I will be working remotely on a big overseas trip from 1st December. I have just installed Backblaze as a peace of mind to have all in the one place incase anything happens to my computer. Also, as I will be gone a long time I do not want to be carrying around the external drives. Do you think this is best practise?
    Also off topic – Is it safe to delete files off my mac once they have been backed up to make more space for other work?
    Thanks

    • hollywoodscheisse

      Hi Bianca, Backblaze is a mirror of the current files on your computer. If you delete something, it will also be deleted from Backblaze (they give you thirty days before they do so, though). Same goes for your external drives: If Backblaze does not see your external drives for thirty days, it will delete the files from those from Backblaze, meaning you will have to back them up again. If you need more information, look at the bottom of this page: https://www.backblaze.com/remote-backup-everything.html

      (I’m not affiliated with Backblaze in any way)

      • levelwu

        That’s terrible practice. This means I will never be able to create a backup of something in order to free up space on my internal drive. Even worse scenario is if I have something archived (as in not viewed/used for more than 30 days) on my external drive as secondary backup and now all of it is gone from BackBlaze…might as well call this a temporary storage then, not a true backup solution.

  • Anne McCarten-Gibbs

    Thanks for these. I am in New Zealand now and have run up against the spotty availability of wifi, which I did not expect. Will plan better next time.

    • David McKay

      I’m a Kiwi and feel my country’s connectivity honour needs defending. Where are you in New Zealand? All of the major urban centres have readily available wifi, whether at Starbucks or McDonalds or many other cafes, restaurants, malls, etc. All of the hotels and other places I’ve stayed at have it, although some cheekily charge extra. The major telcos even provide free wifi for their customers in the CBDs of most of the larger cities. If desperate, the country’s mobile network has excellent 3G coverage at minimum and 4G particularly in the cities. If it helps, I live on the main road not far from my town’s tourist information centre and have a 100Mb/s fibre connection. You’re welcome to log into my guest wifi network if you’re ever passing through Whangarei ;-)

      • Anne McCarten-Gibbs

        Hi David,
        New Zealand was fantastic, and needs no defending. But my expectations and planning do.
        We did well in hotels in the big cities, but in some of the smaller areas less well. Spark seemed to be everywhere, but with our phones enslaved to US carriers, we did not go the sim route. Our lodging in Paihia claimed to have wifi, but it only worked standing in the parking lot (in the rain, as it happened during our time there. Not that that stopped my young adult kids…) Our place in Rotorua charged for it, $6 an hour, but it was too weak to do much with.
        I’m not sure that similar places in the US would do any better.
        My takeaway is that I didn’t take connectivity into account enough in my planning. I focused on the wonderful tourism opportunities and just sort of assumed I could get some work done. I think that was the author’s original point here – he did that too. Also, I underestimated how important connectivity would be to the twenty-something family members, who were in the midst of organizing some school/work/apartment matters.
        Part of our agenda was visiting some long-lost relatives of my husbands, also named McKay, but they spell it MacKay. Perhaps we are related! In which case I will definitely stop by for wifi next time. :-)

        • David McKay

          Glad you enjoyed your time in NZ. I recently returned from a trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore and found myself hunched over my iPad screen trying to resolve a mail server issue remotely while in transit (free wifi at the airport) and then on my iPhone in the taxi to my hotel before I could get a local SIM ($10 per MB over a 4G signal). More planning around connectivity would have saved me $100 on my mobile bill this month.
          My McKay line is directly Scottish, but we pronounce it MacKay (the American way) in honour of one of the past leaders of our church. It would be a fun coincidence if we were related. I have family visiting our relatives in the States later this year (my mum is from Pennsylvania) and I hope to return for a visit to my alma mater in Hawaii next year. Who knows, maybe we can make that wifi connection after all :-)

          • Anne McCarten-Gibbs

            I don’t know much about the MacKay connection, honestly – I’m related to my New Zealand relatives with that name through their mother, not father (and all of this through my husband). But I have Scottish forebears too, so let’s just declare ourselves related ;-). College in Hawaii must have been a nice experience. I am located in the San Francisco area – which must be partly responsible for my addition to internet connectivity. A friend from elsewhere in the US once said that it looked like we did everything but laundry online. I couldn’t argue… in fact I’m waiting for that laundry app!

      • Joel Mueller

        Only issue I had traveling around New Zealand was that a lot of the temporary wifi hotspots were bandwidth limited. So I’d hit 10GB of transfer in a matter of 20-minutes doing normal workflow. I’m pretty sure there was something wrong with how it was counting bandwidth.

        • David McKay

          Yeah, bandwidth limits suck. Unlimited bandwidth for home broadband is still relatively new here and I don’t know of any mobile plans that are unlimited like they are in the States. Thankfully I’ve had unlimited DSL and now fibre for the last 5 yrs or so. It’s not that much more expensive than a limited plan, but overall still quite expensive.
          Sounds like you were having a counting issue all right… unless your normal workflow is editing video ;-)

        • bobdvb

          Apparently you were consuming 68Mbit/sec constantly? Either you need to check what your computer is doing or something isn’t right about the measurement of your usage.