I began working as a graphic designer in 2009, having recently graduated from Ryerson. This was not my first foray into an office environment but with school behind me, working a full week in the same four walls changed my perspective. It soon wasn’t hard to notice productivity slipping to office distractions and courteous chit-chat, not to mention the tremendous cost to operate a physical space. This led me to realize remote work was the way of the future — to me it was an easy, simple solution.
When I took the leap and ventured out on my own, the challenges of freelancing and remote work set in. Now, six years into operating my creative agency Bare Brand, with employees and contractors working remote, I have gained a more balanced perspective.
If you are considering entering the gig economy or transitioning your career to freelance work, consider these 6 challenges and tips for working effectively in a remote environment:
1. Set yourself up for success; choose a suitable work environment
Remote work seems appealing because after all, you can work from anywhere, right? Well… no. Working in your favourite café might seem like a great idea, but consider internet connectivity, noise and potentially sensitive information.
Public WiFi networks tend to be less reliable than a purpose-built connection and your entire team will be less productive if they’re waiting for your files to upload/download. The background noise may also drown out your latest idea, or when taking calls, it might annoy your team or worse — the client.
Tip: If a home office is not feasible, consider getting a membership at a co-working space*.
2. Communicate with purpose
When working remotely, most non-verbal communication is lost — your co-workers can’t see the bags under your eyes, so when you stumble through your daily recap you might just be perceived as unprepared instead of simply tired because of the late-night musical renderings of a friendly canine neighbour.
Purposeful communication means saving that 5-minute tangent about your plot to survive the barking for another time, and simply conveying the important info. You’re not off the hook for shoddy work, but at least others will have an accurate understanding of your state of mind and can govern themselves accordingly.
Tip: Show the person behind the keyboard. Step outside your professional persona and share something personal to help others develop a more complete picture of who you are.
3. Provide regular updates
You’re the consummate professional — you keep communications concise, you have an incredible work ethic, and you’re happy to share credit with others. The challenge is, in a remote environment your effort and the value you provide can be underappreciated; after all, your co-workers don’t see how diligently you’re working, and they barely hear from you.
Tip: Provide regular updates and check-ins to show work progress and your thought process. Highlight what you’ve done, how you got there, and your plan moving forward. This removes any doubt in your teammates’ or clients’ mind about the value you’re bringing to a project.
4. Be resourceful, but don’t suffer in silence
We all get stuck on a task from time to time and in a remote environment you can’t simply turn to your neighbour to ask a question. Feelings of inadequacy and negative self-talk may prevent you from reaching out for help, and besides, will anyone actually respond in a timely manner?
Before reaching out to others, research your challenge. Depending on its nature, a web search may help you find the appropriate verbiage to frame your question. Or an inbox search may lead you to a client directive you overlooked.
Tip: A well-formed question will be easy for a teammate (or client) to understand, lead to more meaningful dialogue and position you in a positive manner, as someone who is thoughtful and respectful of other people’s time.
5. Presentation matters, even internally
Our brains are hard-wired to find inconsistencies in our environment. Even if you are just presenting process work, well-placed headers and uniform text styling will go a long way to help guide your team through your work without getting distracted by formatting and messy work. After all, your idea should be the focus.
This concept was drilled into me in first year Fashion at Ryerson. At the time, I didn’t appreciate its importance, but now it’s become a key pillar of my success.
Tip: Take a few minutes to polish the presentation of your work, make it easy for others to follow your thought process and focus on the idea itself. If you’re sending work through email, a few bullets to set the stage helps recipients with context before even opening the document.
6. Nurture your network, in-person
When you can connect spoken work with tone and body language, you’ll get a much clearer understanding of who people really are. Words on a screen are often absent of context. In-person get togethers allow you to see genuine reactions. Is a compliment really a compliment if you’re rolling your eyes?
Tip: Have regular co-working days and team meals, and attend industry or professional events as these are great ways to get to know and build your network.
So much information is shared through non-verbal communication by simply being in the same space as others, but this information is much harder to convey remotely (emojis help 😉). Work to reduce the friction that arises from these challenges by:
- Working from a suitable location
- Verbalizing your feelings and mood concisely
- Providing regular updates
- Asking thoughtful questions
- Presenting work that is easy to follow
- Making time for face time (the in-person kind).
There you have it, my 6 tips for effective remote work.
*Ryerson alumni receive a 10% discount at Verkspace Coworking. To book a tour and trial, email fellow Ryerson Alum firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Veltmann (Fashion Communication and Design ’09) is a brand strategist, designer and principal of Bare Brand, a strategic creative agency. Stephanie is also the President of the Ryerson University Alumni Association Board of Directors.