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The Age of Working Remotely: Tried and True Advice for Working from Home

Alison Turnbull By Alison Turnbull,
Permanent Placement Specialist at Eagle

The Age of Working Remotely: Tried and True Tips for Working from HomeAs a long-standing employee at Eagle, I have had the benefit of participating in the company’s work-from-home program, “WORKshift”, for a few years now. The program allows staff to work from their home office once or twice per week but I have now transitioned to a new role that allows me to work remotely 100%. As referenced in a recent post, working remotely brings lots of pros, but certainly has its share of challenges. More and more clients and employers are embracing this style of work. With very effective collaboration and communication tools at the ready, it can make it a feasible option and a definite benefit or ‘value proposition’ when trying to attract new talent.

Whether working full-time or in a contract role, there are several important factors of consideration if you are going to move to a remote work scenario.

Anyone will tell you that the single most important facet of remote work is having a dedicated work space or office. Not only does this allow you to stay focused and engaged during the work day, but one of the biggest challenges is that it can be difficult to differentiate and separate your home and personal life from work. One of the things I’ve found most beneficial is ensuring that I have a set work schedule and adhering to that. I personally have found that ending the work day with a routine or a ritual allows me to best transition from my work day to my evening (taking a brisk walk, running an errand, etc.).

Working remotely does allow some flexibility in terms of schedule but it’s essential to always be readily available during work hours or keep team members apprised of availability, if for any reason you will be away from your computer. It only takes a few missed calls or delayed responses for clients or colleagues to assume you are not in fact working — never a good scenario, especially if you need to get a timesheet signed!

Working remotely can be somewhat isolating, but if you use team messaging or instant messaging software it can go a long way in helping you to feel part of the team. It also helps if you have the type of career that requires that you are on the phone a lot – which, in my case, recruiting certainly does!

From my perspective, the benefits of remote work far outweigh the challenges and I have thoroughly enjoyed the transition. There are time savings (no more commuting), financial savings (gas or transit costs, eating out), health benefits (less fast food and more time to fit in exercise) and it’s much easier to find a good work/life balance.

If you are thinking about exploring the option of taking on some contracts remotely be sure you set yourself up for success, and you will likely never look back!

Working Remotely — An Opportunity and a Challenge!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

What Working Remotely Means to Eagle:

It has been over 5 years since Eagle formalized a distributed work strategy — WORKshift.  It is now a fully integrated part of our company’s DNA and is part of the reason that Eagle has been recognized as one of Canada’s “Great Places To Work” for the past 4 years.  Our staff appreciate the flexibility it provides and allows our team to contribute wherever and whenever they can be most productive.  Our WORKshift program incorporates a number of different scenarios including: Time Shifting (working outside of non-core hours, either earlier or later in the day), Work from Home, Mobile Working (accessing the full suite of corporate tools when out on calls), and Distributed Teams (we build functional teams between office and across Canada for projects).  WORKshift means happy, productive staff members and the ability to accomplish things more quickly than we could without this ability.  It has been very good for our business.

What It Means to You, the Contractor:

There has been a lot of information about Remote Work online, in the news, and around boardroom tables.  Technology has progressed to the point where standard, mainstream applications allow companies and people to work in a distributed sense without the need for customization or special processes and protocols.  It’s available to the masses and is becoming more mainstream in business.  As a contractor, you can benefit by being able to work for organizations in other cities or manage between multiple contracts as you no longer need to be physically present to contribute.  Travel time can be greatly reduced, meaning more billable hours available.  It also may allow you to collaborate with other independent contractors to form virtual teams to provide deeper value for your clients.

Challenges That Working Remotely Raise:

Of course anything this valuable comes with its share of challenges.  Security, for example, is a big issue.  Some companies allow for VPN access but many are extremely sensitive to allowing non-employees access to corporate resources.

Being able to compete for work regardless of location is a two-edged sword.  Certainly that can open new opportunities to capable contractors.  However, it also means that competition for jobs/roles can come from practically anywhere if the job to be completed is truly irrespective of the work location.  In the future, certain roles may be bid on by a global labour market.  Already we see off-shoring in the mainstream, but individual contracts have the potential of being next.

Team management and oversight is another hurdle to successful remote work arrangements.  There are new skill sets required to be an effective leader (or worker) in a distributed work environment.  Some people are better suited to working remotely than others; and managers/project managers also can be taxed by the requirements of managing a virtual team.  Managing to deliverables vs. direct observation is a big cultural change for many companies.  Anyone familiar with the concept of presenteeism understands the fallacy of assuming people are working just because they happen to physically be at work.  The world is quickly moving towards deliverable-based evaluation, which is something already very familiar to the contractor community.

The following chart from Work EvOHlution shows key attributes of leaders for distributed work strategies:

chart from Work EvOHlution shows key attributes of leaders for distributed work strategies
Source: Work EvOHlution

In academia and consulting firms, more and more research is being completed to prepare companies and people for the realities and complexities of distributed work.  In Eagle’s experience, we partnered with CED (Calgary Economic Development) who was pioneering the business application of WORKshift, and also with “The Leadership Store”, a research-focused company affiliated with the University of Calgary that specialized in distributed work systems.  They are now operating under the name Work EvOHlution and provide a number of assessments, readiness strategies and coaching options to companies, teams, trainers and individual workers who wish to maximize the effectiveness of remote-work business practices.  Both organizations – CED and EvOHlution – were invaluable to Eagle as we set up our own WORKshift strategy.

Setting Yourself Apart:

Regardless of your own personal work-location preferences, the world is moving towards this work-from-anywhere/anytime paradigm.  Consideration should be given as to your own preparedness for this shift.  Most everyone should be able to work as part of a remote work force, but only those who are most prepared and have the necessary skills, communication and work habits will be able to flourish.  It just may be a way to differentiate yourself from others who are muddling through these newer changes to the work environment.

BONUS: Tips for Working on a Distributed Team (From Work EvOHlution):

  • Not everyone is suited to working remotely on a full-time basis, but most people can do a mix of office and remote work.
  • Kick-off new teams face-to-face.
  • Learn communication preferences of each team member.
  • Don’t over-rely on any one communication method (e.g., e-mail).
  • Avoid communicating constructive feedback or frustration through e-mail/instant messaging.
  • Set response time deadlines verbally and in writing and stick to them.
  • Match the communication medium to the purpose.
  • Create goals and measures that are accessible and achievable.
  • Set up mechanisms for feedback.
  • Celebrate and reward successes. Find creative ways to celebrate from a distance.
  • Develop a distributed team charter.
  • Use technology (video conferencing, teleconference, chat, email) and train your team on the software being used; when introducing a new software have a pilot period where everyone is expected to give it their best shot and report back on pros and cons.

The Benefits of Working Remotely for IT Contractors and their Clients

Crystal Nicol By Crystal Nicol,
Delivery Manager, Eastern Canada at Eagle

Are you looking for a way to improve your work/life balance? Or are you looking for ways to increase your productivity and lower the number of unpaid sick days you have to take? Then maybe the introduction of remote work should be considered. Each day, more and more independent contractors are joining the “working from home” bandwagon.

The reality is that commuters face delays on a regular basis. Whether it’s because buses are late, trains are delayed or cancelled or there is congestion on the roads, it causes our commute times to double or even triple in length. This is one of the strongest reasons why more IT professionals are implementing flexible working schedules and working from home on client projects.

We all know commuting can often be time consuming, stressful and expensive. The modern business model includes more flexibility for their workers. Companies are providing their employees with an incentive to work from home a certain number of days each week, which allows the workers to avoid long commutes and is saving them the transportation costs. So why not do the same for yourself?

In this technological age, even educators are paving the way to learn from home. Students often have the option to listen to seminars remotely or take quizzes online from the comfort of their home. And even though they are doing a large majority of the work from home, they are still successfully graduating, proving that people can be successful from wherever they work.

Many of your clients and their employees are already on board with this way of thinking. An article from WomensPost.ca shows that a 2017 FlexJobs study of 5,500 people found that a work-life balance was critical to the productivity and success of a company. Out of all the survey respondents, 62 percent said they have left or considered leaving a job because of the lack of work flexibility. An even higher response of 66 percent said they were more productive working from a home office as there were less interruptions from coworkers, fewer distractions, less commuter stress, and they were removed from any office politics.

So will you be more productive when working remotely? You’ll be able to work (and therefore bill) extra hours in the time you’re not commuting. The better work-life balance also means you are less likely to get ill in the first place because stress levels are typically lower. And since you are not commuting, you’ll find more time for your activities, such as going to the gym or spending more quality time with your family. According to an article from the Telegraph, a study by Canada Life found that home workers took fewer sick days compared to those based in the office. The study found that employees working in an office took on average 3.1 sick days last year, whilst homeworkers only took 1.8 sick days and employees who have a cold or are mildly sick can still get work done at home, while office workers are more inclined to take the entire day off to avoid leaving the comfort of their home.

There are, of course, some challenges in working from home:

  1. First of all, the job itself must have the necessary tools to allow for remote work.
  2. Secondly, you must be independent and self-directed in order to be productive while working without guidance.
  3. Thirdly, trust is a big factor for this. If there is no trust between you and your client, then they will begin questioning your timesheets and you will lose out on future references.

Personally, I think a mix of both models is best. One in which you work from home on a certain day or days, but otherwise spend time at the client site to connect with the employees and managers for face-to-face meetings and collaboration. Even one or two days out of the work week spent working remotely does wonders for your mental health, morale, and productivity.

The world of work is dramatically changing. In a competitive world, flexible working schedules are creating healthier and happier workers and increasing productivity. The evidence so far suggests that working remotely benefits clients just as much as it benefits their independent contractors.

15 Amazing Collaboration Tools for Remotely Managing Teams

This post by Nick Darlington was originally featured on the Freshbooks Blog on May 30, 2017.

The remote working trend shows no signs of slowing.

15 Amazing Collaboration Tools for Remotely Managing TeamsGallup’s Work and Education Poll in 2015 highlighted that 37% of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted to work, which is four times more than 9% in 1995. And a survey of business owners by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60% of office-based employees will be working from home by 2022.

You only have to Google “remote working statistics” and you’re bombarded with statistics highlighting this trend. You’re also presented with statistics on the many benefits of remote working like improved productivity, happier employees and better customer retention.

While the distributed working trend continues with clear benefits, management faces a new problem: How to remotely manage these teams.

It shouldn’t surprise you that many companies now embrace remote working. In fact, some companies – like Buffer – already have fully distributed teams.

But, while the trend continues with clear benefits, management faces a new problem: How to remotely manage these teams. While there are guides and case studies online-Zapier‘s account of remotely managing teams stands out- it’ll take time for companies to acclimatize. After all, change doesn’t happen overnight.

Luckily, with the growing trend, there’s also a proliferation of online collaboration tools. These tools are helping companies with the shift. Here are 15 of the best—across categories like communication, brainstorming, project and time management.

Online Collaboration Tools for Communication

Chances are, you know Google Hangouts and Skype. There’s no question these are powerful platforms for remote communication. But, there are other remote working tools to consider.

#1 SLACK

As a business owner, I use Slack to communicate with my team daily. Typing this, I see the Slack desktop app out the corner of my eye. When I receive a message from my team, I’m instantly notified.

Slack provides a simple chat interface, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. You communicate in channels organized with hashtags. Create any hashtag you like from SEO, website design, incoming leads, proposals, contracts and more.

Channels ensure all conversations, files and documents are where they should be. You don’t spend time searching for specifics relating to a project. If information gets lost, search for it with the handy search function.

Alternatively, share confidential information in private chats.

Integration with other apps is also possible. For instance, MailClark lets you send emails and Facebook messages in Slack.

There are powerful features in the Free Forever Plan but upgrade anytime for advanced features. Slack pricing starts at $6.67.

#2 YAMMER

Yammer is a social media network for business. Communicate privately with colleagues, share documents, files, like someone else’s status and collaborate effortlessly.

Access the platform with a simple sign-up using your company email address. Because it’s owned by Microsoft, integration with SharePoint is possible. What’s more, this online tool is entirely free.

#3 APPEAR.IN

Appear.in is a video conversation app offering split-screen sharing.

Create a chat room with no sign-up, registration, or downloads. Visit their site, create a room link, and share with up to eight people, for free.

Access is available via any device although you need the app when signing up on iOS.

premium version is available for $12/month.

#4 QUIP

Quip is your central hub for online communication. Create, share and discuss documents centrally—in real-time.

With Quip, you don’t spend time searching for information as there’s one version of your work. No more long email chains and multiple versions of your work. Also, use their mobile app to communicate on-the-go.

Quip offers a unique free trial. It’s based on activity, not length of time. Thereafter, pricing is $30 for a team of five and $10 per extra person.

Online Collaboration Tools for Brainstorming

Ideas are the lifeblood of any organization. Far too often people think up an idea but don’t act. These three online tools will help move an idea from conception to execution.

#5 IDEAFLIP

Ideaflip is a space for your ideas. It’s a simple, yet powerful web app that:

Converts your thoughts into ideas.

Lets you share those ideas.

Helps you refine those ideas with real-time collaboration.

Group brainstorming sessions are possible with a desktop and mobile version.

Join for free as an editor, contributor or viewer and access a limited amount of idea boards. The basic subscription starts at $9/month for access to unlimited idea boards.

#6 MINDMEISTER

This collaborative mind mapping tool allows you to capture, refine and share ideas with colleagues and collaborate.

Currently, over 7 million people use it to brainstorm, take notes, plan projects, and work on other creative tasks.

MindMeister is web-based, meaning no downloads or updating, and it works with your preferred operating system—Windows, Mac, or Linux.

If you want to take things further, why not integrate MindMeister with MeisterTask, the online task and project management app for teams.

Sign up for free and access three mind maps or upgrade to a personal, pro, or business plan. Pricing is $4.99, $8.99 and $12.49, per month, respectively.

#7 CONCEPTBOARD

Conceptboard is another visual online collaboration tool optimized for creatives and remote teams. It’s a one-stop solution for crafting and managing projects and feedback.

The online tool provides a flexible canvas that expands as you add content. Create mood boards, map out strategies and brainstorm live.

Sign-up for a free trial for 30 days. Pricing starts at $28.50 for three users and $9.50 for each extra user.

Online Collaboration Tools for Managing Projects

Project management is difficult at the best of times, but managing a remote team can be even more difficult. These five collaboration apps will help.

#8 TRELLO

Trello is a collaboration tool that makes organizing projects fun by combining lists, cards and boards.

Your board is your project that consists of cards on lists. Sound complicated? It’s actually quite simple. For example, you may create a “blog board”. On the blog board, you’ll have different lists like, “incoming brief”, “freelance writer busy writing”, “internal review” and “with client”. With this workflow, you can move the individual cards on each list from start to finish.

With Trello, see what projects are on-the-go, who’s working on it, and where something is in the process. Move content through your editorial calendar, products through the development, phases and leads through the sales process… the possibilities are endless.

The Forever Free Plan gives you access to unlimited boards, lists and cards. But there are limitations like the size of files you can upload. For premium features like integrations with Google and Salesforce, upgrade to a business plan for $9.99/month.

#9 CANVA FOR WORK

Don’t have the money to pay an expensive designer? Have a little DIY design streak in you? Canva is the easy-to-use design software that lets you create your own designs without spending a fortune. Admittedly, many designers also use the platform.

While the free version packs a punch, for more features upgrade to Canva for Work. Use the intuitive drag and drop editor to create stunning graphics and designs. Access more designs, templates, logos, fonts, custom brand colors and collaborate on designs in the “team stream”. Pricing starts at $12.95/month.

#10 EVERNOTE

At its core, Evernote is a note-taking tool. But, it can double as a powerful collaboration tool for managing projects.

Adding notes is easy, and as you add more notes, the more useful it becomes. This article on Lifehacker highlights the many uses of Evernote. From using the Web Clipper to creating project notebooks to sifting through notes with saved searches and using notes to move between related information—it’s clear Evernote is a powerful tool. Here are some other features:

  • Create project to-do lists to organize projects.
  • Collaborate remotely on a group notebook with easy notebook sharing.
  • Create as many notebooks as you want. While creating many notebooks seems counterintuitive, Evernote curates important content for you.
  • Transform your written notes into a digital format and store in the relevant project notebook.

It’s available on iOS and Android. While free to use, you can upgrade to the Plus Plan for $3.99/month or $34.99/year. A premium version is also available.

#11 FRESHBOOKS

As you may already know since you’ve found your way to our blog, FreshBooks is cloud accounting software designed for small service-based businesses. But our platform also offers an online collaboration feature to help you manage projects.

Collaborate with team members, invite employees, contractors or clients and communicate about existing projects.

You also don’t have to spend time searching for files with centralized file storage. And if you’re on-the-go and want a quick project update, access the current project overview straight from your smartphone using the iPhone or Android app. Manage your work or an entire remote team—the choice is yours.

A free trial 30-day trial is available, no credit card required, with plans starting at $15/month.

Online Collaboration Tools for Managing Time

Time is a finite resource. And if time’s so important, then managing it is too, right? Here are five online collaboration tools that will help you better manage your time.

#12 TEAMBOOK

Struggling to plan your team’s schedule? Use Teambook to see who’s working on what, and when, in real time.

Make smarter decisions by tracking current staff availability, budgets and time spent on projects. For example, If someone is spending more time than they should on a project you’ll know, and can get to the root of it.

Sign-up for a 15-day free trial. Thereafter, pay $39 for the Pro Plan, giving you access to 40 projects and unlimited users.

#13 DOODLE

Meetings, whether you love or hate them, are essential for checking in with employees, getting status updates and reviewing progress. But managing meetings are time-consuming without the right tools.

Enter Doodle.

It’s a simple scheduling tool that integrates with your existing calendar—from Outlook to Google Calendar. Add as many calendars as you want.

Also, you don’t need to switch between applications and appointments sync automatically. Neat, right?

A free version is available with paid plans starting with the Private Plan for $39/year.

#14 ACUITY SCHEDULING

Acuity is another online appointment scheduling tool. It lets your clients view your availability, in real-time. They can self-book appointments, cancel or even reschedule. Here are some benefits:

  • Zero confusion about appointment times with auto-adjusting time zones.
  • Only let clients see what you want them to see with “privacy” features.
  • Prepare for meetings with intake forms that capture pertinent information.
  • Accept payments with Stripe, Square, Braintree and Authorize.net.
  • Integrate with your favorite existing platforms (like FreshBooks!
  • A 14-day free trial is available. Upgrade to one of three plans, starting at $10/month.

#15 CALENDLY

I used Calendly for the first time when a client shared a link via email. I copied and pasted that link into my browser before hitting enter. The client’s calendar appeared and I selected a suitable appointment time. The app then added that time to the client’s calendar. Using Calendly is *that* easy.

To get started, just sign up and inform Calendly on your availability. Calendly does the rest. When you’re ready, schedule an appointment by doing what my client did.

Notable features include:

  • Auto-adjusting time zones.
  • Integrations with Google, Outlook, Office 365 and iCloud to prevent double bookings.
  • Automation of tasks through integration with apps like Salesforce and Zapier.
  • Works well for individuals and growing teams.

Try for free or upgrade to their Premium Plan for $8 per user, per month.

Remote working is here to stay. As a result, more and more companies are embracing it and experiencing both the benefits and challenges that come with it. Luckily, with the trend proliferating so too are online collaboration tools that can help.

One More Thing to Consider…

FreshBooks also offers a time tracking feature that lets you track time spent on projects for clients.

Log into FreshBooks to access the time-tracking features. Click the “Time-Tracking” tab. Start the time or log hours you’ve already worked. Based on the accurate time data you can:

  • Focus on important work without worrying about tracking time
  • Capture all billable hours meaning there’s no lost revenue
  • Automatically bill clients for work
  • Keep track of your team: know what’s working and what isn’t and better allocate resources
  • Pull tracked time directly onto an invoice for quick and easy billing

Try FreshBooks free for 30 days.

These 15 highlighted tools are among the best. Have any to add? Please let us know in the comments below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Darlington is a feature writer, B2B Blogger, copywriter, and co-founder of WriteWorldwide. If you’re a business looking to create a stronger brand, gain industry authority, capture more leads and get more clients, visit nickdarlington.com.