What Tools Do Remote Workers Need?

Any tradesperson’s job would be difficult without tools.

The same can be said for any working professional. Whether you simply work remotely or follow the digital nomad lifestyle, there are a few bare essentials you should have.

Of course, the tools of your particular trade may differ from that of other remote workers.

A web developer will naturally use different types of software in comparison to copywriters or accountants. Even between different companies, communication tools can differ vastly. Some use Slack, others prefer Skype.

No matter your profession, where you work or what software you use, there are certain ‘bare essentials’ that every remote worker needs.

If you’ve got a full-time remote job, you probably won’t need freelancer platformsunless you’re also running a side-gig.

On the other hand, full-time freelancers may well use software their employee counterparts have never heard of.

Remote work certainly lends itself to minimalism. At least in terms of hardware. However, working remotely any professional is more or less impossible if you don’t have the following.

Office on the Road: Essential tools for remote workers

Working from home or on the road as a marketer, HR professional, coder, copywriter etc. requires certain hardware and devices. Without a laptop or at least a tablet (with a keyboard!), working from anywhere (or indeed working at all) is pretty much impossible.

While not always 100% essential, smartphones can also make your life a lot easier.

First Things First: Get a good laptop (or tablet)

laptop table spotlight

Preferences naturally vary when it comes to laptops or tablets. Some of us  stick to Apple, others prefer a range of other brands. A select few even prefer working from a desktop, only using a laptop when absolutely necessary. Whatever your choice of device, there are a few things you should consider before you start shopping.

  • RAM: Depending on the work you do, you may need a lot or just a little RAM. If you’re something of an extreme multi-tasker, 8GB or higher is generally recommended. The same can be said for those who work with graphics/video editing.
  • Comfort: This is more important for some than for others. No matter how powerful or efficient your device is, it can be incredibly distracting if you do not actually feel comfortable using it.
  • Portability: This depends on the person. If you like to work in a lot of different places or travel frequently, your laptop should be light enough to carry without hurting your back. Additionally, it should easily fit into most of your bags. For some, this may mean sacrificing screen width.
  • Durability: Especially important for digital nomads who travel frequently. With so much moving between coworking spaces, hopping on trains and buses, your computer is going to get a few bumps here and there.

The same points apply to tablets (if that’s more your style). Find one with a powerful enough processor. Put a bit of thought into the keyboard as well.

Don’t Skimp on Decent Headphones

headphones table

Bear in mind that “decent” does not always equate to “big”. When I say decent headphones, I mean a pair of headphones that are durable and easy to carry around without taking up space.

Personally, I prefer smaller in-ear headphones. They’re small, unobtrusive and can be packed away pretty easily. However, if you feel more comfortable with bigger ones then by all means go ahead. The most important thing is that you can comfortably hold a video conference and actually communicate.

A decent pair of headphones can also block out the sound when you really have to concentrate. Durability is important because you don’t want to have to keep replacing them every few months. That’s why I would always advocate investing in a good pair of headphones.

A Smartphone

a smartphone

I’m not going to say its impossible to live or work without a smartphone (because it isn’t).

However, having one can make life a lot easier. You can use it to keep in contact with colleagues via Slack/Skype/whatever even if you have to pop out to the shops for a few minutes. You can check emails and messages on the go without having to bring your computer out. You can even use it to attend meetings.

For digital nomads and travellers, the smartphone is even more important. You can take pictures, keep in contact with friends and family, check apps and maintain contact with the community even while you’re away from your laptop.

A Decent Internet Connection

wifi symbol 500x

For those of us who mostly work from home, this is a no-brainer. Slow and inefficient Internet isn’t just a pain during work hours, but can seriously disrupt leisure time as well. So naturally, it is important to make sure your home is kitted out with a decent connection.

However, for the more mobile among us, a good data plan is also necessary. Even if you just pop out to work in a café for a few hours, you cannot run the risk of there being no public wifi. Having a good data plan will allow you to hotspot on your phone and continue working as normal. This of course may be tricky depending on where you live and what kind of data plans are available.

VPNs, or virtual private networks

vpn review network

Unfortunately, VPNs have become a necessity in order to protect one’s privacy online. Additionally, they grant you a greater level of access to the Internet by allowing you to bypass geographical restrictions. This may be more important for some professionals than others. As a digital marketer, certain aspects of my job would have been very difficult without one.

And again, digital nomads will find them particularly useful if they end up in a country that restricts certain websites.

For everyone else… It just makes sense to encrypt your data as much as possible.

Invest time and money into your search

Take the time to consider what hardware you need. Make a list of specs and do a bit of comparison shopping. As a professional, you should ensure that your equipment gets a good run – hopefully for a few years, at least. Freelancers in particular should also look into insuring their devices if anything happens. For digital nomads, travel insurance usually helps to cover the loss and/or damage of their devices.

 

4 Things to Keep in Mind During Your Job Search

Hey, do you know what’s not fun?

Job searches.

Alright, there is an element of fun behind it. Personally, I quite like going through job listings. For me, it’s a lot like flat-hunting: it can be fun to see what different but similar roles entail, how you might respond to those challenges and learning what new skills you might pick up.

However, job searches become a royal pain in the neck when we are forced to look for them. The added pressure of needing a job right now, this Goddamn minute! also serves to suck any kind of joy out of the process. Then, of course, we have those wonderful “recruitment” tactics that plague the digital job search landscape. In many ways, it really feels like job seekers are a barrel of laughs for a woefully inept industry.

In the end, there are many of us forced to take jobs we know we will hate just to cover our basic expenses.

That being said, some of us are lucky to hold the wolf from the door for at least a few months. Maybe you’ve got substantial savings or you’re blessed with living in a country that provides decent social security (thanks, Germany). That can definitely take the pressure off – especially if you have dependents.

However, even with our basic expenses covered, looking for a job still often ends up being a painfully tedious, degrading and dehumanizing experience. It’s enough to make you want to run away and live in the woods.

woods
…and lurk in the trees, throwing pine cones at HR managers who dare come near your lair.

I’m actually in the middle of a job search myself right now. I am also very much at my wit’s end. I applied, last month, to over a hundred companies.

Over a hundred companies.

Let that sink in for a minute. That is quite a lot for the space of a month. Now, let me tell you how many positive responses I got (i.e., interviews) I got.

Just under ten.

I had rejections left, right and center. Not even polite rejections, most of the time. A lot of them were automated responses. Not only is that intensely discouraging, it’s just plain rude.

dating flowers
Flowers don’t work either… Not that some companies even deserve them.
I’m clearly doing something wrong,” I thought. “Maybe my cover letters sounded too braggy. Maybe they weren’t bragging enough! Perhaps I should’ve included my entire job history – not just that relevant to digital marketing. Perhaps employers scoffed at the fact I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree – or maybe (in the case of German companies) my German was just too “foreign”.”

Maybe, I’m just not good enough.

The above musings are nonsense. I did everything right. If you’re applying for jobs in a professional manner, you’re doing everything right as well!

We’re taking all the right steps, yet we get very little in return. It just doesn’t seem very fruitful.

fruit 400x
Bribing them with fruit doesn’t work, either.

Sadly, this is a totally normal experience for job seekers. It certainly seems bleak while you’re in the thick of it. You’re throwing CVs left, right and centre. Despite that, you’ve also got to remember that it seems worse because you need the Goddamn job right now, this minute!

However, if you’re doing your level best to get out there, you should always try to keep in mind that…

…you’re doing fine!

That’s why I threw the following points together. For anyone who needs a bit of encouragement and perspective, read on!

Hiring processes are painfully outdated

Application Tracking Software, online application methods and even my beloved job boards all, for the most part, suck. Now, job boards can be a great way of discovering new companies and new positions. However, when you’re applying, I would strongly advise you apply to the company directly. If possible. Don’t go through a middleman. You’ll just get lost in a wave of resumes.

Companies also seem more than happy to throw out a job listing and then spend the next eternity responding to candidates. They seem to think that automated responses constitute an actual response. Furthermore, many of them are woefully unprepared to deal with the onslaught of applications they receive.

I find it painfully hilarious when I get an interview for a job I applied to three months previously. While it is great to get an interview, it shows just what an utterly sad and pathetic state the HR industry is in. So remember, it’s not you. It’s them.

Getting the perfect position (could) take months

Terrible, outdated HR practices have a lot to do with this. At the same time, finding the perfect “match” is a lot like dating – much of it is down to fit. Do you fit in with the company culture? If not, that’s no particular person’s fault. If anything, you’re doing yourself a favour by turning that job down.

Then we have other points: salary is naturally one of the most important. While a good work-life balance is paramount, salary is the main reason you want a job in the first place. If it weren’t, I’m pretty sure many of us would be running our own raccoon kingdoms or setting up a circus or whatever.

snail house
Snail racing, anyone?

Then of course there’s the work-life balance the job itself offers. Are you allowed to work remotely (that point, for me, is non-negotiable at this stage). Will you actually enjoy your day-to-day tasks? What are your colleagues like?

Job interviews are vetting processes. Not just for the company, but for the candidate as well. Remember, when you go to an interview, you are also interviewing them. This whole process of finding a position, applying, seeing if you’re a good fit and maybe doing “trial” days can end up taking a long time.

Many HR managers have no idea what they want

I’ve been quite lucky in my working life. When I was a freelancer, clients wanted written content from me. When I looked for work as an English teacher, language schools hired me to teach English. Pretty straightforward. Then, I got into digital marketing. In both cases, they were small but successful companies who knew what they wanted. We didn’t even have HR departments.

The sad truth is that most HR “professionals” have no clue what they’re talking about when they write a job ad. It becomes even more apparent when they interview you. I’m not saying all HR people are like this but far too many are painfully unaware of what the job they’re interviewing for actually entails.

Consider rejections as “standard”

Occasionally I receive a “you were not successful” email, along with an unnecessarily long list of instructions about how to deal with rejection. I find it incredibly patronizing but I understand where they’re coming from. However, if you’re a grown up who has had several jobs then you should be well-hardened against rejection now.

If not, remember: rejection is more common than acceptance. Apply for jobs and go out there fully expecting to be rejected. Consider each rejection as just one more step towards your goal of getting a job. It’s as simple as that. Even if HR managers knew what they wanted and we had the best recruitment systems in the world, you would still get a healthy dose of rejections.

All in all, I’ll maintain that looking for a job sucks. Companies don’t make it any easier on candidates, which is why these four points are so very important for us to remember. We are not the problem. We need to power through, look for those diamonds in the rough (I REFUSE to use that stupid word “unicorn”) and build relationships that way.

 

Working Remotely: An Employee’s Perspective

Remote work has been around for a long time. It’s popularity, however, has only really grown in the last 10.

I’ve been working remotely for most of my professional life. At least, ever since I got out of the restaurant/odd job business. Even then, I wasn’t fully remote. When I started freelancing, I taught English as a second language – mainly in big, boring German companies.

coffee
Boring companies, but nice coffee.

Not long after (read: a month), I discovered I could write for money on the Internet. Back then, “content mills” had their heyday and were everywhere. They were a start but thankfully I gave up that life-sucking habit.

After several years of freelance copywriting (earning an okay living, might I add), I got hired to work full-time for a company in Cologne, Germany. I was over the moon. Some of my friends even described it as a “real” or “grown up” job.

There was an office. There was a telephone. There was a desk of my own. The job was more than just writing: it was digital marketing, SEO, a bit of graphic design, translation, project management (i.e., anything that needed to be done).

It was a novelty for me and the job was interesting. The stable salary was also the biggest plus. Definitely the most delicious temptation after spending years carefully tracking how much money was coming in every month.

cologne cathedral
Plus, Cologne is an amazing city.

That was all well and good. Until I started to dread getting up in the morning. Full trams were never the problem though. It dawned on me that for the rest of my time at that company, I would (probably) be sitting in the same chair, in the same room… Eight hours a day, five days a week.

That’s when I began to think about working remotely again. In fact, I started to yearn for those days.

What does “working remotely” really mean?

First things first: remote work or “telecommuting” is not a job or a field of industry. Rather, it describes a type of working environment. An office is a work environment, a restaurant, a bar, a warehouse. “Office worker” is not a real job description, in the same way that “warehouse worker” does not describe what you actually do for a living.

Working remotely can and is done by a vast range of different professions. Those professions can also vary wildly. Copywriters do drastically different work from HR professionals. An accountant and a web developer’s day-to-day tasks are in no way the same.

Remote workers come from a vast array of different fields. Some are graphic designers. Others are business consultants. Quite a fair few nowadays are even medical professionals. What all of these jobs (for the moment) have in common is that they are generally “white-collar” jobs in the knowledge economy.

dog white collar
“White-collar”… What a ridiculous term.

Which brings me to the main point: in these professions, you are being paid for your knowledge and expertise and not for your presence. If your job is done on a computer, it can theoretically be a “remote job”. Of course, we have to make the distinction because most “computer” jobs are, by default, carried out in offices.

The reason more people don’t work from home isn’t because they don’t want to. The real reason is fearful management, worried that they cannot “check up” on their underlings. Fear in the main reason that most people can’t or won’t telecommute.

Remote Work Arrangements: More possible than ever

 

The good news is that setting up a telecommute arrangement isn’t as challenging as it once was. Many companies already offer working from home at least one day a week. That’s fine for a lot of people, however not enough for many.

These arrangements are also surprisingly common at larger companies: from Apple to Amazon to dell. Various other start-ups, such as Hotjar and buffer, have an almost completely distributed workforce.

At my nice job with the stable salary, I realized that all of the work I did was on a computer. Sitting in the same desk every day and commuting was getting old, so I thought…

Why not just ask?

It was as simple as that. For many other people, it isn’t that simple. Those who work in more “tech-like” industries tend to have an easier time of getting work from home arrangements. Programmers and IT professionals in particular have the most choice when it comes to remote jobs.

The good news is that more companies are wising up to how remote working can benefit them. The challenge for us as employees is mainly finding a company that will allow a remote work arrangement.

Remote Working as an Employee: The benefits

I’ll admit that I started my career arseways. While I did travel to companies to teach classes, I didn’t spend all day there. While teaching, I also spent the entire time interacting with people. That’s very different to go into the same office every day and staring at a screen for three hours.

However, my “remote work” experience began when I started working as a copywriter. I would spend entire days either at home or in a café working away and dealing with clients.

Fast forward three years and suddenly I was in an office. Every. Single. Day. It was an interesting change at first but soon became very suffocating.

Once I started working remotely again, things generally got easier. I did sometimes work longer, though I noticed just how much more effective I was. My boss remarked on it as well.

During my office days, I actually used to dread getting up in the morning. While I like a bit of fresh air and social interaction, it’s usually the last thing I want to do at 8 AM. When working in the office, I was usually one of the later ones (my company isn’t too strict on hours, being an online marketing firm). When working at home… Suddenly, I was up and working at 7. I had plenty of time to do shopping, washing, household chores and still get my work done.

My social battery also improved. I don’t like spending all my time around people. However, I do need to spend time with them – more specifically, people I actually want to have quality time with. My work involves very little social interaction to begin with and, although my colleagues are nice people, we don’t get much of a chance to really spend quality time. It made sense to concentrate during the day on my work, and then get out in the evening.

Yep, I still really like working remotely

In conclusion, I would say that at least on a personal level working remotely is my absolute preferred method of getting things done. Spending time getting bits and pieces done in cafes also helps, though it’s not mandatory. Of course, some people cannot concentrate without being in an office environment. I have full sympathy. I’m not one of those people who advocate the abolition of offices completely, however offering employees a much more flexible system of work could make a huge difference on their general happiness and well-being – as well as that of the company.