Working outside of the office requires focus and strategy — and a little play. Here’s how to make it work for you and your clients!
First let me say that I know what it is like to be in an office all day, all week and all year for what feels like forever. Unless your office environment is excellent, chances are you would rather be somewhere else. By “excellent,” I mean a stimulating environment where your contributions are recognized, appreciated and rewarded.
When I worked for a school division, I found the office environment intellectually discouraging and emotionally draining. You know the grass is always greener, right? I knew a few people who worked from home and you can bet I envied them.
Fast forward to the day I took my part-time business full-time by combining graphic/web design with virtual assistant services … not only do I have the luxury of working from home, but I am my own boss! And I could not ask for a better one. LOL! 🙂
So, back to that saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” When you want what someone else has, and you get it, sometimes you find it is not as great as you thought it would be.
That is why I am writing this blog post — for those of you who dream of working virtually. I want to share with you my secrets for avoiding the pitfalls and making it work. If you take care to create a nurturing and supportive work environment for yourself, you will not have to look across that fence and feel the grass is greener somewhere else.
My top three secrets to working virtually …
- Planned socialization
- Proper tools
Anyone who knows me will say I am the most organized person they have ever met. It is true! I am the unusual combination of creativity and organization. But by organization, I do not just mean colour-coded binders and pens. I mean I am very intentional in the way I organize my time. I plan. I schedule. I block out time on my calendar for everything I need to do, including meetings and recurring tasks. I know, on any given day, what I will be working on that day — and every day that week. Yes, sometimes my plan goes awry when I am interrupted by a “drop everything” cry for help. But for the most part I am in control of my days. And, by the way, I include time in my schedule for interruptions because, well, you know … stuff happens.
“The best boss I ever worked for told me, ‘She with a plan wins.’ This statement reinforces how important it is to always begin by asking, ‘Why?’”
– Brian de Haaff, CEO and Co-founder of Aha!
Being organized means you not only have a plan, you follow it. That requires focus and self-discipline. What is the point of planning if you do not follow your plan? If you do not have the ability to focus and stay on task, working virtually may not be the right path for you. It is not for everyone.
Being organized means being able to prioritize. While I could keep myself busy full-time working on client tasks, I also take care to build time into my schedule for my own work. Marketing, blogging (yes, blogging!) updating and building out my website … these tasks are essential for growing my business. I want to stress the importance of negotiating client deadlines to allow time for your own work as well.
Being organized also means having a dedicated office space in your home. That space should be equipped with everything you need and nothing you do not need. No clutter! Sure, sometimes you may want a change of scenery. Go to a coffee shop or a library with your computer or tablet. Working in a different location from time to time can stimulate your mind, but you still need a home base, a space that is used for nothing else. That may be a room or even part of a room. Keep it sacrosanct.
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they [are] at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”
– Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin
Working virtually means you lose the built-in camaraderie found in the traditional workplace. Even if you are an introvert or a loner, we all need human contact occasionally. When you start to work virtually, for the sake of your mental well-being you must recognize this need and plan for a way to meet it.
I have found two ways to meet the need for contact with others during the workday: I interact with my clients and virtual teams, and I actively seek out my counterparts, meaning other graphic/web designers and virtual assistants.
Danger alert! Gossip and chit-chat can be extreme time-wasters! If you want to spend your break chatting with a friend, that is great. But even while I am reminding you that you will need human contact, I also want to warn you that it is a slippery slope if your workday interactions do not serve your business goals. Save the personal conversations for after your workday.
Here is another way to look at it … is a personal conversation with a friend written into your very organized schedule for the day? No? Then do not do it! Focus on your schedule and honor its purpose: to further your business goals.
So, back to my professional workday interactions with others. Most of my work with clients is done by email, and that is a big time-saver because it is usually more efficient than the back and forth of a phone conversation. I do, however, have a few clients who prefer to answer questions or exchange information by phone. When I speak with them, I usually feel energized after those conversations. That is when I recognize that I needed to hear a voice other than my own!
In a previous blog post, “My Ultimate Guide to Working Virtually,” I talked about Facebook groups for virtual assistants. As I said then, new groups are probably added every single day. What you want to find is a group in which you can share information and ask questions. These groups can serve as a valuable resource. The pitfall here would be joining too many groups and getting sidetracked during the day by what group members are posting. I recommend looking into several groups, maybe joining a few to get a feel for the types of interaction they offer. Then your goal should be to find one or two groups where you perceive the information shared is valuable and drop out of any other groups you joined during that search. In the true spirit of staying organized, I schedule time in my day to check in with my Facebook group(s).
Danger alert! Set a time limit for Facebook groups. Otherwise you will have time for little else.
If you follow my blog, you know I love my tools, and I am talking about apps. I love them so much I often recommend them to others. I even have a resources page on my website devoted to them. I see tools for working virtually categorized as tools for myself and tools for collaboration. For example, for myself I use Wave Accounting to generate estimates and invoices and to accept payment by credit card. I use Evernote to keep track of notes, ideas and screenshots. If you like being super organized, Evernote is invaluable. For working with virtual teams, I love Zoom for video and web conferencing, I like Slack for team communication, and my newest joy is Airtable for tracking personal projects as well as team projects. If you try it, let me know what you think!
Note: If you try to follow all of the links I have provided in the above paragraph, you will lose at least a day or two in productivity … unless you have scheduled time for that purpose. Yes, you need to build time into your schedule for learning about tools for your business and for planning and getting organized!
“Technology now allows people to connect anytime, anywhere, to anyone in the world, from almost any device. This is dramatically changing the way people work, facilitating 24/7 collaboration with colleagues who are dispersed across time zones, countries, and continents.”
– Michael Dell, CEO and Chairman of Dell
Now that my secrets are out there …
Well, they are not secret any longer!
I strongly believe in sharing what I have learned in hopes that it will help others. In this case, entrepreneurs who are starting a “virtual” work-anywhere business or those who are considering such a venture. If you are accustomed to working in a traditional office, you will likely find that when you work virtually you are more productive. The flexibility that comes with working virtually can definitely increase your sense of job satisfaction. Once the novelty wears off, though, you need to be sure you have a plan (organization!), people (socialization!) and software (tools!) in place to sustain you through any frustrations you may encounter.
Frustrations? That is a topic for next time! No joke, I’ll be touching base about the flip-side on Thursday 🙂
If you found today’s blog post informative, I would be very grateful if you would help it spread by sharing it on social media or emailing it to a friend. You never know whose life you might change. Also, have any topics you’d like to hear more about on my blog? Feel free to drop me a line or post your comments on Virtually Untangled’s Facebook page. Thank you!