The Subtle Art of Not Fucking Up while Working Remotely

Last month when I started my writing adventure with series of articles about remote work and reached out to my friends, instead of getting funny stories I got some not so very funny reality check from people who definitely have more experience than me in this department.

One of my friends, Pavel Bulowski, Co-founder of Meiro, a very geeky, nerdy, freedom lover and globetrotter, to my question: “Do you have a funny story to share about your remote work experience?” sent me this:

“Sure, there are funny moments. There are great instagramable moments if you try, but at the same time there are a lot of downs. To me after so many years, working 90% of the time away from 97% of my team, sometimes across as many as 11 time zones, there is a lot more frustration than there are funny moments. The poor internet connection or when you run out of data when it’s 11 PM and you are on a confcall – try explaining that to your potential client. The feeling that it is impossible feat to explain to colleagues who see your instagram feed that even though you are based in Bali, you really are in the grind 14 hours a day, six days a week. I feel that remote work, especially in the #digitalnomad tribe is uber romanticized. It is no more glamorous than working from a cubicle in a big skyscraper. I can say without joking that it hugely contributed to ruining my health. All those days in coffee shops, crouching on planes and airport lounges, cheap ass hotels because you know, #bootstrap. I ran out of funny stories about this lifestyle long time ago…”

I was like: “Wooow, this struggle is real!” I liked his Instagram feed so much and felt jealous sometimes seeing him in Singapore, Jakarta, Europe, Bali, Singapore again. I am employed full time here. Yeah, it is Bali in the end of the day, but I cannot just go and fly to Singapore or Hong Kong and work from there.

Our founder, Michael Craig has a very interesting point of view on remote work. He thinks that most of the people who work remote inevitably fuck things up: they never finish their stuff, no one is standing behind their back to ask what they are working on to hold them accountable, they wake up late, miss deadlines, procrastinate, watching videos on youtube, or scrolling Instagram, and, moreover, they completely lose connection with the team. They want to have fun, go sightseeing, but then they still need to work, and this FOMO  wins over the responsibility of getting their shit done most of the time.

Michael Craig is an entrepreneur and a creator at heart. He loves turning ideas and strategies into successful businesses and has been doing this for himself and his clients over the past 20+ years. His current businesses span across Australia & Indonesia, which include ‘Clue’, a digital agency in Australia that provides hundreds of businesses with cutting edge Strategy, Brand, Web, Apps & Marketing, and, more recently, ‘Dojo’, an amazing community, coworking and coliving space in Bali, supporting digital nomads and entrepreneurs from around the world. Michael knows everything about remote work and managing teams remotely. This is why he created Dojo and took over management of Hubud. He knows that a vibrant community of like-minded people, to connect, share ideas, collaborate and brainstorm with is vital for any location independent professional. Community is one of the main elements for remote professionals that can help them thrive.

But if it is so hard to work remotely, why the future of work is remote then?

I did it on the bathroom floor, on a plane, in a skype booth, in my friend’s kitchen, in a coworking space….

My friend, Agnes, is one of the top recruiters in SEA, specializing on finding high-level professionals in tech, sustainable energy and blockchain sent me the link to a post from Grzegorz Berezowski, Founder and CEO of NapoleonCat.com where he is doing a demo presentation to a prospective client in New Zealand from his bathroom floor (by the way, he agreed I will share his post here).

Remote work definitely opens the doors to so many opportunities of taking any business to the next level: going global. You can do your presentations literally from anywhere, you just need a good internet connection. Speaking about Napoleon, not the cat, but Napoleon Hill, American author of this all-time bestseller everyone keeps recycling all over again in their own books: “The Law of Success”, he definitely did not predict that someone will be able to build their million-dollar empire from a bathroom in the middle of the night, using some baby furniture. But it works.

Napoleon Hill would definitely add to his Laws of Success few more: always have a stable internet connection, be creative with your backdrop and always, keep your laptop away from cats and children, clear your browser history before sharing your screen and make sure you plan your international calls when it is good FOR YOU.

However, my question is how people maintain sanity, get their shit done as well as keep awesome relationships with their team and clients while going completely remote?

Lessons from Dribble

One of the most memorable presentations at the Running Remote conference last year was  a keynote of Sarah Kuehnle. Last year she was the Head of Product, now she is the Vice President of Product at Dribble. I met her on a path between reception and the main shala at Fivelements Resort few minutes before her presentation. She was rehearsing. The moment I saw her, I knew her talk will be really good. And it was really good and funny.

Sarah has 20+ year career in tech, she held roles in design and moved over to engineering because she was jealous of developers who can make things work and then eventually found herself in product roles and it was awesome for her because she has now this kind of sweet spot of getting to it in between designers and engineers and help them do the best work. Dribble is a platform for designers and creative professionals, and no 1 source for hiring top designers, it is also a community of the most creative professionals you can share your experience with and to learn from. Their team is 100% remote.

Sarah shared a lot of really cool ideas, how they keep being productive as designers, as well as maintain connection with the team and customers. Here are some of these nuggets of wisdom.

You CAN collect feedback fast. If you work with designers, or web developers, you know that it is very crucial to get feedback and act on it fast, otherwise nothing gets done and all the necessary changes get lost. For fast feedback you can use invision – add all your designs in there and make notes on where corrections needs to be made. QuickTime player is good to record the screen with the voice over (I prefer Loom). This is how everyone stays in the loop and you don’t need to send endless messages in slack to explain what needs to be changed. It simply never works like that. Your feedback in graphics or video form is the best way to get all your design work done faster.

Working as a team in real time. If designers at Dribble need to work together on a project, they jump on a zoom call, where one designer does design and another one gives feedback. They call it ‘design pairing’. Dribble stole this idea from programming-engineering world. I think it can be applicable to your company strategy document, a marketing campaign copy, anything you need to use your team mate’s brain for. It feels like you are sitting next to each another in the office. And you definitely get more ideas when you have 2 heads instead of one. #mastermind

Have fun together in real life. Creative culture will not suffer, if you create ways for your team to do something together. Once or twice a year, Dribble gets their team together for their so-called ‘Hang Time’, a community conference, where their entire team and community get a chance to connect, share their stories, meet the world’s top designers. For the team it is a great chance to get face to face with their customers, do retrospective meetings, but mostly eat, have fun, hack a photobooth and make silly photos, play board games and experience the city they are in. Doing fun things together always helps create stronger bonds with each other and it is always invaluable. By the way, Dojo and Hubud can host team retreats for your team or your clients as well, how cool is that!  Just send us a message and we will take care of everything.

Have fun together virtually. Dribble has this monthly and weekly coffee times and happy hours. Basically, it is an open zoom call anyone can join. There is no set plan, and everyone shares whatever they have in mind, mostly personal stories, talk about side projects or unfortunate fashion decisions when suddenly two people on the call wear the same t-shirts.

They even started playing games together. Turns out there are some cool games for remote teams. It is the best time to laugh and stay connected.

Dribble also came up with Photo Fridays: someone picks a topic or a theme and everyone has to submit the best picture representing the idea, for example, Eminem Impersonation. I find it hilarious. I should have used this idea when I was a part of a big international remote team. I think my designer from India would definitely be the best Eminem. (Hello, Karina, I love you).

Dribble even has a book club. In the end of each month they get together on a zoom call to talk about the books they read, and what they learned from them.

Show your work. It is very easy to get lost in time and work on a project without getting any gratification for the progress you’ve made, because no one knows what you are working on. So, show your progress to your team as well as share your challenges. Believe me, no one will pat you on your back if you keep everything to yourself. Also, you need to learn to “stop and smell the roses”, as Michael Craig says: being able to celebrate that you hit one of the milestones of a big project is as important as celebrating achievement of the end goal. And yes, always share it with your team too.

These are pretty much most of the hacks from Sarah Kuehnle, but there are a lot more ideas from other teams from all over the world we can learn from. This is why Running Remote conference is so cool.

Do less

Every Thursday, here at Dojo we have a Business Coach on Duty. Our business coach is a Canadian expat who has been living in Bali for almost two decades and has over 40 years of experience in strategic business planning, product management, general management, marketing, and sales in the high tech and hospitality industries. He has been coaching Dojo members for free for more than 3 months, and he finds that the most common problem for all of these location independent folks is PRODUCTIVITY. They simply cannot get their stuff done, have too many ideas, too many projects and tasks to manage, and despite of the fact that they use all the project management software and apps, they still cannot figure out how to finish on time.

Todd Hermann, author of “The Alter Ego Effect”, a bestseller I am currently listening to on Audible, has just launched his productivity course, where his is talking about a principle called ‘Content Switching’ introduced by a computer scientists Gerald Weinberg many years ago. Basically, you if you work on a project you lose 20% of your time when you switch to another project. So, let’s say you are working on 1 project – you have 100% of your time available for it, and you lose 0%. If you have 2 projects – you have 40% of the time for each project and 20% of the time is lost due to Context Switching (time you need to adjust your brain to get back into the game); if you have 3 projects – you have 20% of time per project available, 40% time lost; 4 projects – 10% productive time, 60% time lost; 5 projects –  4% of your time available, 80% lost to Context Switching. These stats are pretty scary, right? Taking into account that I did not mention here all the sightseeing you want to do, parties you want to attend, social media you scroll over during the day.

No wonder remote professionals feel so overstressed, overstretched and overcommitted all the time.  Despite of their obsession about productivity and getting things done, nothing gets done, anxiety and depression hit hard out of nowhere. We try to learn new things every day, we are obsessed with hacking the system, signing up to new online courses and subscribing to more stuff, that promises to help us achieve all our dreams.

“Another webinar, another social media post, another book, so you start cannibalising on what was working for you before and nothing of these new things will work, so you energy is like “fine mist setting” on a hose, instead of a “power wash”, says Kate Northrup, an entrepreneur, “productivity hacker” and an author.

In her book “Do Less” Kate literally says: “Do less to achieve more”. “Do less of the things that drain you, do less of the things that don’t matter, do less of the things that don’t get you results, do less so you could do more things that energize you, that light you up, that get you amazing results”.

On average, we get interrupted every 11 minutes and it takes us 25 minutes to get refocused on what we were doing, so you realize that you are spending zero minutes focused on what you are doing on average. If we don’t give a break to our brain it will try to get the break itself by distracting ourselves (social media – scroll).

Here is what you can do:  

  1. Take a break at the first sign of fatigue
  2. Slow down your coffee intake. Coffee makes your brain produce cortisol, stress hormone that inevitably hit your adrenals, this will damage your overall immune system and may result in inability to focus at all, constant adrenal fatigue and may cause anxiety depression. Btw, Kratom is not the best solution to focus as well. I am not a doctor, but google says you might end up with kidney failure.
  3. 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle). 20% of your actions will bring you 80% of your results (20% of your customers will get 80% of your sales, and so on). Find your 20%. Ask yourself if there any area in your work/business you could get desired results with fewer actions. Allow yourself to feel what it feels to be not that busy. Less is always more.
  4. Do weekly to do lists instead of daily. This will help you to see bigger picture and manage your time.
  5. Turn off your apps notifications!
  6. Manage your energy. Get enough sleep. Walk on the beach. Stay away from people who bring drama into your life.

And don’t listen to these guys with Lamborghinis and girls in bikinis, who are telling you that they will help you make millions of dollars in 1 month. Just do your thing. Focus on what is important, do less and take care of yourself as you would take care of your dog or your best friend. Stop scrolling your Instagram. Breathe.

This is the only way you will not screw yourself over while working remotely. The world doesn’t need you busy. The world needs you here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dojo Bali

Dojo Bali is a coworking space located on the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia. Dojo Canggu is open 24/7 and located at Echo Beach, Canggu offering a collaborative and relaxing coworking environment. New locations are coming soon. Stay tuned to find out where the next Dojo will be set up.

Dojo Bali is a Registered Trademark and under license of PT Mintox, Indonesia
PT Dojo Bali Coworking Registration No: AHU-3570685.AH.01.11.TAHUN 2015

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