How To Become A Self-Management Superhero

Increasingly creative careers are location independent. Almost all of us are “working remotely” in some capacity – whether you’re a manager who works from home once a week taking conference calls, an entrepreneur working on the road while traveling, or a graphic designer, film editor, or copywriter who works full-time from a home office with all the amenities.

This shift is nothing new, of course. But as it becomes more entrenched – not just a way we work, but the way we work – it’s changing the “currency” of creative collaboration. The skills required to succeed as a remote worker are not the same as those required of an office worker.

Without the “facetime” and watercooler catchups provided by an office environment, a new set of skills – centered around self-management and proactive communication – are becoming essential.

A few skills you’ll want to cultivate to succeed as a remote worker:

1. Write well.

In the book, Rework, 37signals founder Jason Fried notes, “Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.” You write more everyday in emails, text messages, and IMs so make an effort to write clearly. When you can’t see the person you’re communicating with, it’s easy to misinterpret tone or verbal cues. It helps to be concise and use simple language.

2. Know the business case.

Inquire with team leaders about the context of your work. You may be writing a tagline for a campaign, say, but how does that line fit into the client’s overall objective?  What is your company’s stake in the client, and how does your output best represent your company or brand? What is the financial consequence or benefit? Having this information in your back pocket can help you ask the right questions and create more informed work.

3. Practice consistency.

The number one challenge managers have with remote workers is not physically witnessing productivity.  It’s easy for them to imagine you doing laundry, eating ice cream, or watching reruns on the company dime. To alleviate this concern, establish a pattern for consistent communication.  Be at your desk at certain intervals, do regular check-ins, and be responsive when problems arise. If you’re known to be accountable there will be far less suspicion.

4. Ask too many questions.

Shane Pearlman, an expert on distributed teams who co-runs the user interface design firm Shane and Peter, calls this being “artfully intrusive.”  He advises to “keep asking questions, whether you want to or not.” The communication gap inherent in remote teams requires constant double-checking. In person, you may “see” a confirmation of understanding from a co-worker. When working remotely you may need to seek confirmation: “Do you understand me?” or, “How can I help you understand this better?” It may feel like you’re being a nuisance but clarity is king.

5. Perfect informality.

The water cooler effect. It’s tough to drop by the office of a co-worker when you’re not located down the hall. Yet, unscheduled informal encounters can be the lifeblood of an organization. For this reason it’s important to purposely build in hang time before or after virtual meetings and learn about the people you work with. Hone your chat skills. The more you know about your coworkers, the easier it will be to find information where and when you need it, and become a source of information yourself.

6. Seek stability.

The future of teamwork requires constant change and a resulting adaptability. Seek a stable center.  Given the turmoil, what is it you need from your employer or team to avoid burnout or becoming overwhelmed? What patterns of stability can you construct to keep pumping out exceptional work?

How Do You Work?

What’s your approach to working remotely? Any tips on managing co-collaborators and clients from afar?

Scott McDowell

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Scott McDowell is a strategy consultant and a coach to new managers & first-time leaders. He wrote New Manager Handbook to help leaders in transition panic less. He also hosts a radio show called The Long Rally on WFMU.
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