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Working Remotely – Essential Tools

Good afternoon Liquid Blog readers!  I hope our readers with the day off are having a wonderful President's Day. I will try not to show any bitterness or envy towards your 3 day weekend.

With the professional world joining the cloud, and connectivity seemingly erasing the difference between a 10 foot and 1,000 mile separation, working remotely is starting to become part of the norm in the bushiness world.  I began working remotely full time last fall.  Working remotely brings with it certain challenges, and many advantages.  I am going to try to share some of my experiences and tools that I utilize in this post.  I would be glad to hear from experiences others have had with working remotely.  Please sound off in the comments below.

Environment

I am now a firm believer that this is the biggest advantage of working remotely.  Initially, this was my biggest concern.  I am a big fan of gadgets (I have many).  I also have a two year old with what seems to be more toys than he could ever need.  I was worried about these distractions in my workday.  However, I soon realized that having complete control over my work environment has enabled me to be far more productive than I have ever been in a traditional office environment.  I designated a room in my house as  my home office.  I isolate it from my 2 year old's toys, my home entertainment, anything that I would be distracted by.  I can play any music I want, and really get into a groove with work.  I will often put on some nice background music or talk radio.  Before I know it, 4 hours have passed and I have accomplished more work than I initially thought I could.

 

No matter how productive your environment is, it can be necessary (or at least beneficial) to change the scenery every once in a while.  Come midweek, I usually make an effort to spend half a day working out of a local coffee shop.  Perhaps its just the 'over-caffieneation', but the change in scenery seems to really give me a second wind, and I find those days to be very productive.  Granted, it took me a while to sort out the coffee shops in the area to find the one that was the best work environment for me.

Bottom line, your workplace is what you make of it when working remotely.  The examples listed above are just my own personal preference.  I am very routine oriented with my work week, and I needed to find a routine that suits my personal workplace.  Everyone has their own optimal work conditions, making a personal tailored work environment an incredibly important tool for a remote professional.

Tools

Perhaps I have dwelled a little long on the working environment, but I have come to find that it's the most important tool for a remote workplace.  Below are some essential software applications that I use on an almost daily basis:

  • Google Apps

    I am lumping the Google Apps together because each are just as necessary, and they are meant to work with eachother.  The main Google Apps I am referencing are Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs.  I use all 3... all day... every day!  I use 3 email accounts, including 1 Gmail one, and 2 separate business emails.  I have them all routing through my Gmail account.  The reason I do this is how well everything interacts and syncs with the other Google Apps.  My work flow is synced through Google Calendar and is maintained and shared with coworkers, allowing us each to see and edit the work flow of our design work.  The same can be said about documents relating to our client and professional notes in Google Docs.  Gmail also provides a messenger allowing for easy quick communication for quick messaging.  All of this is also synced to my iPhone as well, making me constantly on top of my schedule, email, and documents, no matter where I go, or where I am working from.
  • Dropbox

    Since we are in the design business, we are  constantly dealing with large files, and lots of them.  While Google Docs is an invaluable tool for shared documents, Dropbox has become a staple in my daily work flow for all my other file management.  Dropbox syncs designated files with an online account, and on whatever computer the client is installed on.  I use a PC in my home office, and my laptop when I am on the move.  No matter what, all my files are up to date on both machines thanks to Dropbox.  We gather files from clients, and share them in designated folders in dropbox with editing rights for myself and several coworkers.  While you can upgrade dropbox size with subscription fees, you can also take advantage of free options, including surveys, betas, invites, edu incentives, etc.  I have a free dropbox account, and currently have boosted my space to 13.9GB.  Inviting friends and getting them signed up gives you added space, and if you register with an edu email address, that space is doubled.  There was also a recent incentive to beta test a photo upload feature that give up to 4.5 free GB of space.
  • SkypeCommunication is another major obstacle with working remotely.  Luckily for me, we have someone who is great at coordinating work flow between our designers and our clients, and making sure everything is covered.  While email is the go to communication, occasionally we need to coordinate with each other (or a client), and brainstorm or develop a plan of attack for a project.  Skype has proven to be a great tool for this.  We will often video chat and share screens to demo ideas and websites.  Communication is essential, and the addition of screen sharing can allow us all to see the same thing and discuss in real time.

    * All of the above apps are available free of charge

Obviously these are just a small sampling of the tools available, however I find these to be the most essential, and the ones that I use on an almost daily basis.  The most important thing I have learned is to set yourself up with the most productive environment for your personal needs, and make sure your communication and work flow is organized in the most logical manner.  You don't want to spend all your time organizing and emailing, when there are FREE tools at your disposal that can assist you with all of this.

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