12 Lessons Learned From My First Three Months as a Remote Community Manager

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I started working remotely about 3 months ago.  While I absolutely love the freedom and flexibility this lifestyle provides, there’s no denying that going from a traditional office worker to productive, remotive employee was a big adjustment.  I used to get blank stares just by telling people I work in community management. Now, when I tell people I’m a community manager who happens to work on a remote, distributed team, let’s just say I’ve gotten some interesting responses including:

  • Gosh, you are so lucky. I wish I could do that. I’d love to be able to work from home in my PJs, or from the park or from a hammock on the beach in the Thai islands.
  • Or, people who think that working remotely is somehow code for “unemployed person who plays on ‘The Facebook’ all day”.  

Both of these reactions are unfair extremes. Contrary to what some may think, I actually put on real clothes every day (Definitely not a suit, but also not working from my PJs. That’s a personal preference as it helps me to get focused) and work typically between 40-50 hours per week. Sometimes a little more.  While yes I can technically work from the beach, I’ll think I’ll stick to a beachside cafe as sand, salt water and laptops don’t mix.

I’m not alone, as I’m one of more than 20% of Americans who work remotely. Remote working has been growing steadily in popularity over the last decade. With better collaboration tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, Trello and Slack, it’s easier than ever to collaborate with coworkers all over the world.

There is also more content being created than ever before to enable better collaboration for remote workers and teams. Some of my personal faves are the Remotive newsletter (Awesome resource!) plus many of the remote working blog posts from the folks over at Zapier, Helpscout, Groove HQ and Buffer, just to name a few. Oh yeah, this post from Laura over at EcommerceFuel, is a great read too and kind of inspired this post that I’m writing now.

While I don’t claim to be a remote working expert by any means (hello, I’m still pretty new to this,) I have noticed a few observations already that I thought I would share.

The AWESOME

I can set my own hours and work where I want.

Not going to lie, this is a pretty awesome perk. As someone is naturally very ambitious and goal-driven, being able to manage my energy and working when I’m in the zone as opposed to being tied to a clock is pretty sweet. I have the flexibility to take a walk in the middle of the day, take a long lunch, go run an errand in the afternoon, or take a quick cat nap to recharge if I want to. While I certainly take advantage of these things from time to time, I do find that I work pretty close to the typical 9-6 (well maybe more like 10-7) day.  

As for where I work, I’m still exploring where I can get my best work done. But, I do try and mix up my environment a few times each week, whether it’s working from one of my favorite local coffee shops, the occasional coworking space, the Starbucks near my place (because it’s super convenient and has reliable WiFi) or sitting outdoors at a cafe or park. I find that changing up my environment helps me be more creative and avoid cabin fever.

I’m more productive, thanks in part to an obsession with RescueTime.

For those who aren’t familiar with RescueTime (it’s as addicting as Twitter and Slack for me, which says a lot!), it’s a Web app that monitors how much time you spend online. For instance, it can track how much time you spend in your inbox, or how much time you are on Facebook, or how much time you spent creating that Keynote presentation. This might sound super intimidating or scary at first. (Think about it? Do you really want to know how much time you spend in email everyday? I know I was admittedly taken aback by just how much of my time is spent in email.)  That said, you can’t make adjustments until you know your baseline and/or what’s broken. Once you know how you are spending your time (It usually takes a good 2-3 weeks of data first), you can then set productivity and site goals in RescueTime.

This is where I get really geeky. I even have a Zapier alert setup that will email me my daily RescueTime productivity report every night.

Rescuetimealart

Less distractions and pointless “Check-In” meetings

When you work in an office, there are a lot of distractions. Whether it’s someone pinging you to ask for that report you created a week ago, chatty Cathy who never learned how to speak in her inside voice or that one coworker who thinks it’s funny to start shooting at you with a Nerf gun when you are on a video call (Yes, that actually happened to me. #Startupproblems), distractions are everywhere.  While these distractions may only interrupt you for a few minutes, it can take much longer to get back in the zone.

Let’s not forget the worst of those distractions. All the meetings.  Now, I have never been one to say that all meetings are bad. We should not ban meetings entirely. I think one or two meetings a week is a good thing, as it gets team members on the same page. Especially if you have an agenda or notes of what you plan to cover. The meetings that are giant time sucks are the ones generally called by middle managers for “quick check-ins” or “project status updates” with no less than 6 people in each meeting. Nothing good ever comes from a project check-in meeting with 22 people.  Sort it out via email, IM, or smaller groups first. Then, update all the stakeholders. For realsies.

It’s based on solid communication and results not “ass in seat” time.

This is single-handedly one of the best and most scary parts of working remotely for me. I used to beg for this all the time at my previous office jobs. When you work remotely, your boss and team members can’t see when you are at your desk. Instead you are measured on output and actual business results. That’s really cool and refreshing. No more clock-watching, pretending to look busy and creating reports filled with pretty colors and fairly irrelevant vanity metrics. Three things I despise.  

However, it can also be a little scary at times. You have an off day or are struggling to get focused, there’s no room to hide. You can’t just sit at your desk and look busy while you spend hours of your day on Facebook.

Because of that, working remotely requires more self discipline, which is an awesome skill that I think we all can do better.  It forces you to come to terms with how productive you really are. All the time.  

No more commuting  

This isn’t a new tip at all. Pretty much every remote worker does a little happy dance when they realize they don’t have to commute into an office in the middle of rush hour traffic every day anymore. It’s an awesome feeling with the added perk of getting an extra hour back in my day. (No more driving on 620 at rush hour when there is inevitably a 6 car pile-up at least once a week.)

The NOT-SO-AWESOME

Here’s where I get real. Working remotely isn’t rainbows, sunshines and unicorns all the time though. Here’s a few of the not-so-awesome bits.

It can be a bit isolating at times.

I’m an extroverted introvert. While I love hanging out and connecting with people (Probably a really good thing as I’m a community manager after all), I also need my alone time to recharge every now and then. 

For an introvert, working remote can be both the biggest blessing and curse. I can get work done sans distractions and get enough of the alone time that I need to recharge my battery, but when I’m not careful I can wind up getting a bit too much alone time.

Say what you want about offices being distracting (which they are!), there is also no denying that there are social benefits to working in such close proximity together. You can grab a quick coffee with a coworker at pretty much anytime. And, let’s not forget the impromptu happy hours to blow off steam on Thursdays or Fridays.  Real perks. And ones that you don’t get when you work remotely. Drinking a beer to unwind solo from a particularly stressful day is not nearly as fun as the impromptu happy hour with a dozen of your coworkers. This is also something I realize can be easily overcome by just being a bit more proactive with my social life.

It’s really easy to get stuck in your own head and overanalyze all the things.

I would be lying if I said this was a new thing for me since I went remote. It’s really easy for me to get lost in my own thoughts processing an idea regardless of any of this. What I didn’t realize is how much that trait would be amplified when I started to work remotely. When you are in office and you find yourself getting stuck in that loop overanalyzing something, you can randomly bounce that idea off of the nearest coworker. You rarely have that luxury in a remote environment.

Self doubt is my own worst enemy.  

If I’m brutally honest, this also isn’t a new thing for me. It’s something I have struggled with since well elementary school really. While I like to think I’ve gotten better and slightly more self-confident from my lowly, darkest days of awkward middle school land, I didn’t fully realize how this would come back to haunt me more when I started working remotely. When working remotely, you don’t have all the realtime feedback or additional nonverbal cues that can be reassuring when you are doubting your ideas or think you may have said something super stupid off-the-cuff in a Skype meeting.  Story of my life. (Cue the endless loop of overanalyzing yourself.)

Spotty Wifi

No matter how strong your Wifi signal is normally (be it in your home office or at the coffee shop that you frequent all the time), your WiFi will inevitably crap out at some point in the middle of a Skype or Google Hangout call. Or, you will suffer some other audio tech problem. It will usually happen at the most inopportune times or when someone is just starting to say something that is super timely.

Things I Want to Work On

Partly for being honest and let’s face it partly for accountability. Here’s a few things I’m committing myself to focus on over the next few months.

Working smarter and generally getting 10x more done without 10x the time

One of the first things I did when I started to work remotely was reach out to a few friends who either run their own businesses or have worked remotely for years. I not only asked them for tips but I also asked them what blogs and books they read. I’ve always been a fan of Buffer, Zapier and Groove HQ (three of the most well known remote teams), but I wanted to dive deeper and get beyond the obvious blogs to read. If there is one thing, I’ve been picking up from all of my observations and reading is that the best remote workers think differently. They think like C-level executives regardless of their level of experience and background. What do I mean by that? They know how to prioritize the most important (read: not urgent) tasks, how to manage not just their time but energy, identify leverage points and generally are 10x more productive without spending 10x the time.

Getting healthier

Confession: I’ve never been a gym rat. I have my cycles where I get super active, and then trail off either because I get injured (story of my life), lose motivation (hello my couch is way more comfortable after 10+ hours in the office and the commute from hell) or simply getting busy and forgetting to go.

Now that I work remotely, I am losing more of the excuses for not working out or simply just taking a long walk at some point every day. One of the only excuses left is that it’s hot as hell in Texas in July, August and September. That’s a pretty lame excuse I know. So, I’m committing myself to either find regular gym classes that I actually want to go to (Open to suggestions?) or just running on the treadmill or taking a long walk at least 3 days a week. Got to start somewhere as I want to be healthier and don’t want to turn into a fat cow.

Getting better about disconnecting (and actually turning off work) at the end of the day.

I wasn’t good about this when I worked in an office every day. I’m still not good about this now that I work remotely. When your office is just a screen away (literally), it can be all too easy to just start working again when you have that one idea or you realize you forgot to do that one task (that let’s face it can probably wait until the morning). After all, I wouldn’t get in my car at 2am and drive to the office to get that one thing I forgot, so why should I do anything different now? Having that time to disconnect is necessary to recharge my energy and creativity (and prevent burnout).

Enough from me. What are your tips for working remotely? Please share in the comment section below or by tweeting at me.

About the author

Jessica Malnik

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