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When transitioning to a fully remote position, you inevitably learn a few lessons the hard way.
The digital nomad movement is a burgeoning cultural phenomenon; in my time experimenting with the lifestyle through Remote Year, a program connecting 75 professionals from around the globe who work, live and travel together, I've learned that no two remote work situations are identical.
Remote Year's inaugural class is comprised of all the usual suspects: Developers, designers and freelancers galore. But there are also participants who work in industries that may have once scoffed at the idea of fully remote employees, like law and finance. Each job description varies drastically, and thus the tools we use on a day-to-day basis also differ.
There are, however, some common threads — and some lessons we've learned through trial and error. Here are a few of the most integral tools and suggestions remote workers from all walks of life may find useful.
There are a few "duh" factors that have a huge impact on your ability to work remotely: Workspace and ambiance, Internet connectivity and laptop setup.
The importance of a practical workspace
I've dabbled with working in spaces ranging from hostels to established coworking organizations to small, local cafes, even tethering to mobile hotspots in the middle of a park or other public space. Each workspace has a unique effect on productivity levels, motivation and performance.
Finding a quiet work environment with reliable Internet, secluded areas for calls and, in a best-case scenario, perks and comforts (like coffee, snacks or air conditioning) is a tall order. It's paramount to evaluate your specific needs before selecting a workspace, and a little research goes a long way.
Seeking out coworking spaces tailored to remote employees is one of the most reliable options. Reputable organizations like Impact Hub offer workspace solutions for those interested in social entrepreneurship. CoPass is another helpful site for tracking down collaborative spaces, including hackerspaces and even co-living accommodations.Seeking out coworking spaces tailored to remote employees is one of the most reliable options.
The #nomads Slack community is one resource for crowdsourcing tips on workspaces and remote work around the globe; new users pay a fee of $100 for a lifetime membership. A few free sites to explore include NomadList for finding the best cities conducive to remote work, and NomadForum for asking fellow digital nomads about everything from itineraries to travel hacks.
Perhaps the most important factor to consider when working remotely is the hardware you'll bring along.
Many Remote Year participants are working on light, compact laptops, such as the 13" MacBook Air or the 15" Macbook Pro Retina. For long-term remote work, purchasing the latest laptop model is smart, as technical difficulties can be crippling when there's limited access to an in-house IT specialist or nearby Apple Store.
For the cell phone situation, an unlocked phone with country-specific SIM cards is the way to go for travel longer than a couple weeks. This set-up is generally affordable if you're able to unlock a device you already own. In Europe, I've been opting for 10GB data plans, which cost between $25 and $40, and often come equipped with a Wi-Fi tethering feature so my phone also functions as a secure mobile hotspot.
An international SIM card is more expensive, but potentially worth it if you'll be traveling to multiple countries in a shorter time period. ChatSim, which supports all of your chat apps so you can stay connected from anywhere, is another alternative if you're only interested in sending texts or instant messages.
Carrying a separate global, unlocked MiFi device ensures a backup plan in the event of a weak Wi-Fi signal or public networks of questionable security. Other useful tools include: portable travel routers, Ethernet cables, andGoogle Voice, which is especially handy for keeping a U.S. phone number (NomadSMS is another similar service).
Gadgets to make life easier and keep data secure
Below are a few can't-live-without gadgets for eliminating the most common headaches of working remotely.
For optimizing your remote set-up
First things first, to ensure all your electronics will work properly, a globaltravel power adapter kit or converter is an obvious must-pack. Double check that all your electronics are dual-voltage before plugging in to a simple adapter.
A headset and/or noise-canceling headphones can make a world of difference on conference calls — Plantronics offers a number of headset options. Bring a backup set of headphones, too, so you're prepared in the event of loss or theft.
For workers who miss the luxury of a second screen, using an iPad Air or aseparate LED monitor is a workaround. Portable chargers, such as the mophie powerstation, can also be extremely useful if you'll be using your smartphone or another USB device to tether in an area where power outlets are elusive.
Few things are as productivity-zapping as physical discomfort. For posture, a laptop stand can be as simple as a stack of books or as fancy as a portable, folding model. To keep cool in workspaces that don't provide AC, a USB fanis practically lifesaving. A comfortable and secure laptop bag is also a necessity for lugging your portable "desk" set-up through crowded public spaces.
Companies that handle sensitive data may be wary of letting employees work remotely. Luckily, there are products that can help employers rest a little easier, such as privacy filters that shield your screen from anyone sitting next to you, external hard drives that ensure all your data is backed up and evenportable printers that keep you from needing to connect to a public printer's network.
For especially data-sensitive work, some companies and remote workers useCitrix's integrated network solutions.
Keep in mind that every extra item you pack adds to luggage weight limits, so if you'll be flying, be selective about which items are the most critical.
Helpful apps and sites
From conference calls to calling mom, there are a plethora of apps and services to help you stay connected, master time management and streamline your remote work experience.
For keeping in touch and collaboration
Adding money to a Skype Credit account enables you to call landline or mobile phones from your laptop or from the Skype app; Google Hangouts Dialer offers a similar solution. Most of the time these apps work well as long as the Internet signal is strong.
Utility and productivity apps
Accessing certain sites for work-related tasks may be tricky in countries where content is censored. As a fix, Hola is a peer-to-peer network and freeVPN service that lets you access websites from anywhere. (Note: Be smart about VPN use; it's not legal for all activities in every country.)
Setting up recipes on IFTTT can also increase efficiency when you're working remotely abroad: For example, set a recipe to receive a text when you get important emails from your boss or VIP clients.
For working en route, consider downloading LoungeBuddy when traveling by plane. The app helps you find lounge areas in airports around the world, and it's ideal for business trips. Another unorthodox way to find a comfortable workspace on the go is with HotelsByDay; the service lets you book a "daycation" at a local hotel for a lower rate than it costs to stay the night.
A few notes on time zones
Working from a time zone even a few hours ahead of or behind your colleagues can be challenging, especially for team-based work or time-sensitive projects. Be prepared to adjust your daily routine, including your sleep schedule and when you plan to eat, if you're working for a company in a conflicting time zone.
For remote work that's particularly email-heavy, Boomerang is a helpful tool. Schedule emails to go out at specific times so you're not emailing your coworkers at 3 a.m., and set follow-up reminders so nothing slips through the cracks.
If your team uses Google Calendar or another type of scheduling system, be sure to manage it meticulously. Block off time on your schedule when you'll be unavailable so your coworkers always know when you're out of pocket.
Clearly communicating with your team about availability is key for business-as-usual in unusual circumstances.Clearly communicating with your team about availability is key for business-as-usual in unusual circumstances.
Lastly, plan accordingly to maintain work-life balance. It may be tempting to try to work during off-hours or attempt to maintain a "normal" workday based on your time zone, but only do this if your role permits. Otherwise, it's easy to find yourself suddenly working 15-hour days.
It's one thing to daydream about doing your job remotely halfway around the world; it's another animal entirely to actually make it work. A little diligence and a lot of preparation can make the digital nomad lifestyle a reality.
What tools do you use to work remotely? Tell us in the comments.