What Marketers Can Learn From Freelancers About Working Remotely
Hello? Who just joined? Everyone? Oh right. You, too, have now been working from home for a prolonged period of time. If you’re coming from a company that used to have a strict in-office policy, you’re probably realizing that remote work isn’t all the pantsless webconferencing and spooning ice cream straight from the carton you thought it would be.
Getting work done is suddenly extra work. Some of those office annoyances? They now seem like perks. Those awkward hallway half-smiles you’d exchange when you should have known someone’s name but didn’t? Those feel as substantial as missed romantic connections.
You’re also missing important productivity cues. Like being able to look over someone’s shoulder to troubleshoot an issue on screen, whiteboarding in-person, or seeing that everyone else has left the office.
To gather tips on being productive while working remotely, I talked to freelancers and consultants who, like myself, have already lived this life for years.
1. Give yourself one month to adjust
The shift from office life to remote life can seem jarring at first. But like living too close to the airport, you get used to it. Can you still hear me? I said you get used to it. The minor irritations like traffic noise or its converse—mind-numbing silence—become normal. Expected. Even pleasant.
“You have to give yourself permission to take the necessary time to adjust,” said Ellen Sheng, a writer and editor who’s been freelancing since 2010. “What you feel during week one won’t last. If you have multiple people in your household, it’s not just you that needs to find their routine, it’s everyone.”
2. Scale back expectations to dig in for the long-haul
When I began freelancing years ago, I quickly burned out because I packed my old commute time and meeting time with extra work. I didn’t understand the value of unstructured time to think.
I now have that built in to my schedule. Every morning, I read a non-work book, make coffee, and take my sweet time before checking my phone. I’ve scaled back. This is doubly necessary for those with kids.
“Especially now, with two young kids at home, my schedule is changing a lot,” Sheng said. “I’ve had to ease up on what I expect to do during the day. I’m sticking to emails and calls during the daytime and then focusing on work (namely writing) for evenings when it’s quiet. I’m fortunate that my husband’s work is flexible so we can take turns on who is on duty with the kids while the other gets work done.”
3. Pay attention to your work environment
Seasoned freelancers know that while the kitchen table presents a familiar seat, you don’t want to be that close to the temptation of the pantry. Part of your job at home is to create order and boundaries.
Design your own home office, even if it’s just a corner, and declutter it. Your brain will thank you because, as Libby Sander points out on the Harvard Business Review, “constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources.” When you build a mental and physical wall around your work and keep that space clean, you free yourself to deal with the tasks at hand.
“Those normal cues for when it’s time to take a break just don’t exist unless you create them.”
To Deanna Graves, a remote marketing consultant who recently transitioned from a full time role, developing a dedicated space has been vital. “Each day I do one thing to make my work space more appealing,” she said. ” I keep it minimally designed with only the objects I need to brainstorm. I have a whiteboard that occupies an entire wall. I can be messy and write down all of my ideas without anyone seeing them, and then quickly clean it. It helps me organize my thoughts and start my day out thinking of what I want to accomplish, turning these thoughts into actions, and focusing on the few things I will do very well.”
A few extra home office gadgets can also boost confidence when dialing the outside world. Danny Salvatori, a consultant and co-founder of a remote product design studio, finds that a good camera setup helps him show up fully to meetings. “Knowing my video and audio setups are high quality and reliable makes me feel confident on calls. I always keep my backdrop clean, use a conference mic, and turn on a small LED light cube to light up my face during night calls.”
4. Triage tasks and delegate to your brain-dead self
Cognition works a bit like a utility, which is why it’s easy to run out of brainpower by lunchtime. There were times I’d find myself stuck between the ticking clock of a deadline and a difficult problem, and my brain just wouldn’t start. The freelancer’s trick? Tackle the hardest responsibilities early in the day and delegate low-brainpower tasks to the end of the day.
“I try to time things out so I’m not trying to concentrate on something complicated late in the afternoon when I’m tired and the kids are bouncing off the walls,” Sheng said. “That’s a good time for tasks like emails and invoicing that don’t require as much focus.”
5. Honor your rhythm before you enforce a routine
When Salvatori worked from an office, he’d step out at least twice a day—once for lunch and again for afternoon coffee. But when work and home became one, he slipped into a time vortex.
“There have been days where I don’t leave the house at all without realizing it,” he said, “and that’s because those normal cues for when it’s time to take a break just don’t exist unless you create them.”
To create order, find ways to hold yourself accountable. Eve Lewis, a freelance brand strategist turned remote chief strategy officer, plans her day around high-intensity interval training workout classes that she does with friends and pays for in advance.
“Honor your own rhythm … If you hate working out in the morning, don’t aspire to. You’ll just create disappointment,” Lewis said. “I do a lot of research and have to get inspired across mediums and disciplines. My routine is that I permit myself to read a little bit of a book, make a coffee, meet a friend, and work out when I want. I couldn’t do that when in the office. But now, when I sit down to work, I’ve collected all my inspiration and focusing is rarely a problem.”Image by DrAfter123