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Remote work - how to make it work?

Laura Tuppurainen
Laura Tuppurainen

Remote work is becoming the norm these days in the tech industry. But for those of us who are not already seasoned digital nomads travelling the world, parting the office life can have its challenges and may require us to find new ways of looking at our work. I took my office job with me when I left Finland to travel Australia for six months. How did I make it happen and how is it going now two months into the experiment?

Max Lynch posted a tweet that blew up on Twitter and started a long thread about remote working. Although many already vouch in the name of remote work, it comes with its unique challenges. I’ve been reflecting on the ups and downs of remote work now that I’m in Australia working remotely for my job back home in Helsinki. It's definitely not your typical work arrangement and going into it, it was a completely new situation for me as well as our company. 

Remote work is definitely a thing now

Remote work is no longer just a perk a digital agency might offer, but instead, it's becoming more of a necessity in order to attract good talents in the tech industry. It's not difficult to see why. Remote work offers many benefits like reduced commute time, less money spent on lunches and coffee, and the ability to work in your pyjamas if that’s what you’re into. On the con side, bad wi-fi connections can really mess it up, and in an organisation where remote work is not yet the norm, one might come across company processes that aren’t designed to enable remote work as well as resistance from in-office employees.

Ideally, remote work gives you a chance for a better work-life balance as it allows you to fit your working life to the rest of your life. If working remotely means that you can determine your own working hours, it enables you to work when you’re most productive instead of the typical 9-to-5 hours. For many, remote work is a way to better fit together work and home. For me personally, it enables me to fit my love of travelling together with working. 

Ideally, remote work gives you a chance for a better work-life balance as it allows you to fit your working life to the rest of your life.

Prior to going into a remote working arrangement, I had been working at Sangre for two and a half years as a full-time Project Producer. At Sangre, remote work in itself is not really a new thing. Our Helsinki and Warsaw employees work on projects in the same teams, so in a way, we're always working remotely in relation to each other. In both our offices, people are free to work from home or at the office as they choose, and we try to make the office a place people enjoy coming to.

Most people spend the majority of their time in office, but it’s not uncommon for people to work remotely on occasion whether it's from home, summer cottage or abroad. Normally our meetings are a mix of in-person attendees and team members joining over Slack. Out of our team of 20, one of our developers works 100% remotely from his home country Bulgaria. Our Lead UI/Visual Designer is based in Helsinki but spends three months of the winter in Vietnam to be closer to his family. Our CEO regularly goes on month-long surfing trips where he works remotely.

However, up until this point, nobody had gone quite as far to work remotely as I did. My decision to go to Australia was something new entirely and required us to figure out together, how this remote thing was going to work.

Re-designing the work

Prior to my big trip, one of the first issues we had to tackle when planning my remote work was client communication. As I described in my previous blog post, in our process the Project Producer is the key link between the client and team. Working from a different time zone 8 hours apart, this clearly would not work. So, in order to make it possible for me to do my work fully remotely, we changed my role from project management to content creation and marketing. I had already been doing marketing and content as part of my role, and from my historical hours, it was easy to forecast how much of this work there would be each week. Based on this data, we changed my contract to a part-time hourly contract with a minimum number of hours per week that I would commit to working and the company would commit to offering me. Depending on the actual amount of work as well as my travel schedules, I would be able to work more hours if and when needed. 

There are some limits to what I would be able to work with remotely. Some meetings simply require face-to-face presence. For example, sales meetings with new prospects are highly difficult remotely. In a design session or workshop, it's extremely beneficial, if not essential to be in the same space. If you’re in a position where you have to be available to clients as well as coordinate a team, you probably won't be able to work from a different time zone all of the time. 

So, how are ya going?

Now I'm here in Australia and we are two months into the arrangement. How is it going?

Remote work is a good fit for the kind of work that I currently do. Due to the independent nature of content creation, I’m able to work on my own schedule apart from a few weekly marketing planning meetings with team members over Slack. I don’t work a full 40-hour week, which gives me a lot of flexibility to plan my own schedule and travels depending on how much work is available to me at different times.

I’ve found a routine that works for me. I go surfing first thing in the morning around 6 AM, after which I feel energised and I still have some productive morning hours to spend on creative independent work. These are the hours in the day when my team members in Europe are not yet in the office, so I won’t get distracted by emails or Slack. After lunch, I get an energy slump, so I use that time to run errands and chores or simply take a nap. Around 4 PM my time, folks in Europe start arriving at the office. I work again between 4 PM - 8 PM in order to work collaboratively with other team members. During this time, I make myself available for meetings and Slack conversations. 

For me personally, the most challenging aspect of remote work is the FOMO.

We've had our ups and downs. There has been the occasional moment on a call when the wi-fi connection wasn't great. Now and again I haven’t been able to work on certain things due to blockers and because of the time difference, I've had to wait for other team members to get into office before proceeding with a task. For me personally, the most challenging aspect of remote work is the FOMO. I’m the kind of person who enjoys human connections, getting out of the house and seeing other people when going to work. As a fully remote worker, you miss all the informal conversations over coffee and joking with all the funny people at the office, and at times I’ve felt isolated from the work community. Meetings usually have an agenda to get through, and Slack calls tend to go straight to the point, so you rarely get a chance for a casual chat just to ask how everybody is doing.

As a remote worker, you have to find that human connection outside of the office, whether it's at a co-working space or through other networks. Regardless of the occasional downsides, my remote arrangement has allowed me to gain experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

Want to work remotely? Get these things right

There are some tips I would offer to someone considering remote work to make the process easier. 

  • Make sure you have good wi-fi and a peaceful working space with good ergonomics. It's way too easy to slump on the sofa when you’re working from home, which obviously isn't good for you in the long run.
  • If you’re going to travel, choose a destination with a time zone where you have at least a few hours when you work at the same time as your in-office colleagues. Not only will it make collaboration a lot easier, but it will also help you feel connected to the rest of the team. This may also require you to be flexible in your hours and not restricted to the 9-to-5 hours of your destination.
  • Find your ideal working rhythm. When are you most productive? Work then.
  • Test and iterate. If you’re unsure whether remote work is for you or how your company feels about it, give it a try. Suggest something to begin with - perhaps a week or two remotely from another location or a few days each week from home. Finding your remote work routine also takes time and testing. By testing it out, you’ll also get a chance to see how well the processes in your company are adapted to remote work.
  • If the process isn’t working, redesign it. Take the initiative to make it work for you and others. From the company perspective, it takes time to adjust the processes, tools as well as attitudes towards remote work. Make small adjustments to the process, but make them consistently.
  • As a remote employee, you’re in a key role in shaping your organisation’s processes to remote-first. Keep giving constructive feedback - it’s so important to get the insights from someone who is actually working remotely full time. Are our processes actually working or are we just saying that we’re all about the remote thing? 
  • Be realistic. It (almost) goes without saying that as a remote worker you have to be highly capable of organising your work and managing your own time. Evaluate realistically what kind of work you are capable of doing remotely and how much. Nothing is as detrimental to the concept of remote work than somebody claiming to work remotely and not getting the work done.

Remote work is not free of its hurdles, and making remote work actually work requires commitment from the organisation as well as the individual. Having an opportunity to work remotely is something I highly appreciate, and when you do make it work, it paves the way for organisations of the future with happy, whole professionals. 

The writer is a Project Producer at Sangre, who manages our marketing and content creation while working remotely from Down Under in Australia.

Photo: Laura Tuppurainen