Earlier today, Chris Schelzi from AppSumo had a conversation (via social-distancing-approved webinar) with Gil Gildner, the author of Making Remote Work Work.
During the live stream, Chris and Gil tackled some of the most common questions around remote working. You can still watch the recorded version here:
The rest of this article is a quick summary of their discussion.
So nestle comfortably at your home desk, on your couch, or in that enormous pillow fort you’ve built beside your bed. Here are the mindsets, tools, and ideas to help you and your team work more productively from home.
Be an opportunist
When times are scary like this, a lot is changing. Money is changing hands fast. Industries are collapsing while others strap in like a rocket to the moon.
It’s normal to freeze or hold back when so much is in motion. But maybe you should instead consider this a time to level up some part of your life.
Trying to learn a new skill? The web is your friend.
Want to start a business? Build one from home.
The rules to the game are changing. Look past the uncertainty to build something that lasts. After all, this is an opportunity to prepare your business and self for the next five or ten years.
Many people are experimenting with working from home for the first time. Try leaning into that, and maybe this can become your new norm. You can invest in tools to make it easier. The important thing is to keep an open mind and stay productive during this wild, unpredictable season.
The skills you need to work from home
First of all, working from home doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can do it with the right tools and mindset. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, married or single, the skills you need to work from home can be built through iteration.
But there are some skills that make working from home easier. Fortunately, those skills can be learned and honed.
Many work-from-home jobs relate to digital jobs: digital advertising, copywriting, development, design, analytics, SEO, SEM — you get the picture.
Acquiring hard skills comes down to your preferred learning method. Gil, for example, is really bad at learning from video or podcasts. He needs hands-on work or to read about the subject.
Chris is the opposite: he learns best from watching how-to videos.
While we’re all social distancing because of coronavirus, it’s a great time to learn new skills. Want to learn how to be a copywriter? Start by purchasing the 5 top copywriting books on Amazon. Those will provide you a great overview of what you need to know. Then, it all comes down to practice.
Worried about imposter syndrome? Don’t worry about what you don’t know or the fact that other people know more than you. There will always be someone better and worse than you at a particular skill.
Help the people who aren’t to your level of competency yet.
Soft skills can be, perhaps ironically, harder to learn than hard skills. The primary soft skill you’ll need to be a successful remote worker is communication.
Communication comes down to two factors:
- Writing: Writing a succinct email is an invaluable skill. It improves how you use social media, chat, email, and maybe even the articles you write for the company blog.
- Communicating across multiple media: Your business might use half a dozen tools to communicate. Slack, email, Zoom, carrier pigeon, etc. Every communication tool requires a unique protocol. You can send 5 back-to-back Slack messages. But please don’t do that via email. Master the best practices of communicating across different channels.
Business writing best practices
Clear communication is productive communication.
Here are some simple writing tips to help you communicate clearer and simpler while working remote:
- Write as you speak. (Tip: First, drop your written text into a speech-to-text app. Then listen back to your writing to see what sounds natural. Delete or edit things that sound awkward.)
- In email, list a clear request at the bottom of the email. Don’t make it hard to understand what you need from a colleague. People should know what you need in 30 seconds or less after opening your email.
- Make every sentence only do one thing.
- Write for one person. The focus widens out and applies to more people than you think. But if you try to write to everyone, you’ll end up connecting with no one.
- Start instructional sentences with a verb. (<–Notice how I wrote that sentence.)
The biggest problem with having a remote team
There are enormous benefits to working remotely. But it also has some downsides. Gil says the biggest downside comes down to networking.
Freelancers: It’s hard to network with your ideal client base.
Employees: networking toward career advancement. How do you get noticed, stand out, or build the right relationship?
Small business owners: Gets hard to find people who’ll be the right fit for you.
Overcoming remote team networking challenges
Some remote teams intentionally bring their teams together once or twice a year to meet in person. The opportunity to meet face-to-face, connect on topics other than work, and make progress on projects in person can be helpful for professional learning and advancement.
If that’s not possible, make an effort to meet regularly on Skype or Zoom.
That’s what AppSumo has done recently. Every morning, Chris and the rest of the marketing team meet for a 15-30 minute call.
It can be isolating to work alone. But connecting through video makes it easier to stay on top of tasks, feel inspired, and stay connected with your team.
Digital tools to stay productive as a remote team
Gil recommends using a lean digital tool suite for your remote team. This ensures you’re not distracted by the sheer number of tools you juggle every day.
Here’s what Gil and his team use at Discosloth:
- Google Sheets
- Google Calendar
- Google Keep
- Google Suite
- Data Studio
- Email (Bonus: Make Gmail better)
AppSumo recently opened a portion of our store dedicated exclusively to tools for remote workers. Browse those lifetime AppSumo deals.
How to avoid losing productivity working remotely
There’s a pervasive, antiquated way of tracking productivity that doesn’t work well in tracking remote work productivity. That method is what we’ll call “the warm seat” tracker. Essentially: if your bum is in an office chair, that’s a sign you’re being productive.
Obviously this is entirely unhelpful. This method tracks productivity about as well as depositing Monopoly money at your bank. At the end of the day, you’ve got nothing to cash.
The good news is, since your boss can’t track the warmth of your chair, they’ll have to start tracking numbers.
In that case, working from home can be a great place for conducting deep work. Maybe you can crank out your whole day’s work in two focused hours.
Borrow this method from AppSumo:
- What is your single business goal for the year?
- What is your single department goal for the year?
- What is your single personal goal for the year?
You should have one answer for each. These numbers will be the measuring stick to determine if you, your department, and your business as a whole are on track to hit your numbers.
How to convince your boss to let you work from home
If your boss is hesitant to let you work full-time from home, try starting with a smaller ask.
Will your boss let you work from home once per week?
If so, track your productivity. After a while, bring the numbers to your boss. If you can show them that you are equally — or even more — productive at home, they are more likely to give you greater flexibility.
Take baby steps instead of trying to get everything at once.
Plus, since many people are working from home because of coronavirus, start tracking your productivity now. When things calm down, present those numbers to your boss. Maybe they’ll let you stay remote.
How to apply to remote jobs
There’s one huge problem with hiring a remote team: insane demand.
Everyone seems to want to work from home.
Gil once had a job post he made go viral. Several big job boards broadcast the open PPC position, resulting in thousands of applicants.
It was a nightmare. In fact, Gil still receives resumes a year and a half since he made the initial post.
Out of thousands of submissions, only about fifty people had credentials remotely related to the position. And out of those fifty applications, only five received interviews. And out of those five interviews, no one was awarded the role.
First, Gil said, very few people stood out. Remember that if you’re applying to a remote position, there may be thousands of others applying to the same position. Make yourself stand out.
Gil turned to LinkedIn instead. He browsed for PPC experts and DMed about 30 people who seemed qualified. It just goes to show: if you want a remote position, make it clear that you’re on top of things digitally. Build a website. Have a strong LinkedIn presence.
Huge shoutout to Gil Gildner for participating in our webinar. You can learn more about him and his company Discosloth at discosloth.com. Also, go buy his book Making Remote Work Work today for even more tips on being productive from home.