How To: Here Are Field-Tested Best Practices And Habits For Working Remotely

How To: Here Are Field-Tested Best Practices And Habits For Working Remotely

We're both part of a growing segment of the workforce: the work-from-home contingent. According to a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, 60% of U.S. companies now offer telecommuting.

Working remotely has a lot of perks for us, but it's also good for employers. A 2013 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, headed by Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, Zhichun Jenny Ying, found that teleworkers are often more productive than their cubicle-confined brethren.

But how did we get that way? Here's where Rich and Lisa share their tools and routines for working when your "office" is anything from a table at Dunkin Donuts to gate 22 at the Oakland Airport.

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HARDWARE WE LOVE

RICH:​ First, let me say that I love working from home - that commute is spectacular from my bedroom to the home office!​ ​

Seriously though, the beauty of working remotely for me is the flexibility of the hardware I work with, depending on where I am located. When I'm at home, I start my day with either the HP Spectre x360 that is running the latest Windows Insider build or the Microsoft Surface Book that is running Windows 10 Current Branch. I'm on one of those when I'm sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee, running through the overnight collection of items in my RSS Feeds and catching up on Twitter and other social media channels.

Then I move into my home office and fire up my main desktop that I built that has dual monitors. For me those dual monitors are key to my productivity and I really miss the setup when I am on the road. This machine also hosts all of my Virtual Machines using Windows 10's Hyper-V and I have Fast Ring and Current Branch versions of Windows 10 Home and Pro plus standard Windows 7 and 8.1 installs.

I actually have all of my devices setup with the same layout for the Start Menu, Taskbar and Desktop and this includes software and app installs. This allows me to shift between devices and still have all of the same capabilities at my disposal.

When I travel, I usually take the Spectre and Surface Book with me as my primary work stations along with my collection of extras. I have a zippered pouch that holds my Ethernet to USB adapter, a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter and at least one each of a Micro-USB and USB Type C cords. I also have a travel power adaptor that I can plug two devices into but it also has four USB ports and one of those is quick charge compatible. For a quick charge on a long day I have a 10,400 mAh Choetech power bank that can give me almost three full recharges of my phone, which is a LG Nexus 5X these days. I also keep a Microsoft Lumia 950 in my bag.

Whenever I travel, whether for business or pleasure, my Nikon D5100 DSLR is with me so that I can capture great images. The phones are fine for quick grabs but they do not even come close to the quality I get from the D5100.

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LISA: I'm a less-is-more kind of person, mostly because I don't like having to keep track of lots of stuff. Right now, my favorite computer for traveling is my personal 13" MacBook Air, running macOS Sierra, with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. It's fast and lightweight, and I keep it stocked with all the apps I need. (More on that below.) I also have an iPhone 5S -- but am hoping to upgrade, because I got a 16 GB phone and since I use this phone as a camera and a recorder during interviews, I need more memory.

(Yeah, I know a dedicated digital camera probably gives better images, but thanks to AirDrop, I can wirelessly transfer my photo files from the phone to the computer. And I love anything that lets me share or post photos near-frictionlessly.)

Another thing I want to say about hardware is this: Keep your travel accessories packed at all times. I have something like four different Apple power adaptors floating around the house because I keep one always packed, one in my office, one in the living room, and one extra for my partner's travels. I believe in buying duplicates whenever it's fiscally feasible. 

I keep a power adaptor, an ethernet-to-USB adapter and a USB-to-FireWire adapter on hand. I also have two different portable phone chargers: the Anker PowerCore+ and the Jackery Bar Premium 6000 mAh External Battery Charger. All of these live in a mesh zip-up bag with hair elastics to keep the cords all wound up when they're not in use. And I keep my laptop in a neoprene sleeve when traveling.

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SOFTWARE AND SERVICES WE RELY ON

RICH: Microsoft Edge is my daily driver for ​web based work but I also keep Chrome and Firefox installed on all of my devices for those times when I encounter a compatibility issue and I must say that is happening less these days. Just like my Start Menu, Taskbar and app installs mentioned above matching on each of my devices, I also make sure I can sync favorites across each browser so they are at my disposal.  Microsoft Edge does this across devices that use the same Microsoft Account (more tips on Edge here) while Chrome and Firefox use an account to sync favorites and other settings between instances of those browsers.

As for having routine access to the collection of files I use each day for work that is handled by Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage service and then I have Windows File Explorer's Quick Access area set up with the same shortcuts to those commonly used directories of files on OneDrive.

I work with a lot of images each day so I use the Microsoft Photos App for basic cropping and then do more in depth editing using the free Paint.net software. When I need to highlight content on a screenshot I use TechSmith's SnagIt for that purpose​.

Since I work remotely, I stay in touch with co-workers primarily through Skype and Slack.  These programs allow me to hold an active conversation or leave messages for someone who might be offline which is very handy with time zone differences. If necessary we can have a face to face or voice based call using those services as well in order to hold a deeper conversation on any subjects.

As for note taking and keeping track of my digital schedule and other things that happen in my life I use Outlook for email and calendar items and then OneNote for my notes and other digital storage. The beauty of both of these cloud based services is that they are available on any of my devices since I configure them all in the same manner and that is very handy.

I have recently switch to the Nexus 5X phone which is running Android 7.0 (aka Nougat) and I must say apps are readily available for just about anything you want to get done. Of course, I have a lot of Microsoft services connected through many of those apps so my information is very close by. 

LISA: As you know, Chrome is Google's Web browser, so you have the option of linking your Google account to it. This does a few things, but the most important and relevant one for our purposes here is this: Thanks to Google Chrome, my web browsing history, bookmarks and account log-ins travel easily between my work computer and my travel computer.

I rely on three other cloud-based tools for everyday work: I use Evernote as my de facto hard drive and research archive; I use Google Apps for managing workflow or data -- the Calendar is great for planning, the Sheets are fine for data processing and throwing stuff into Google Drive lets me store or share files as needed. And I use Slack for communicating with nearly everyone else I need to. Penton's tech editorial staff is scattered all over the country and Slack has been great for pinging people, carrying on meetings, or brainstorming.

Like I mentioned earlier, I use my iPhone to record interviews and take photos, so of course I'm using iTunes to save the audio files and Photos for the images. And I like Skype for group calls. We do have a conference line at work, but setting it up takes forever and I'm still not clear on all the steps. It's much, much easier to just Skype a group call. And I like Skyping interviews with people too because I have eCamm's Call Recorder for Skype, and I can play back interviews for transcription.

Although we do have Outlook for work, I greatly prefer Gmail. I really "get" the way the rules syntaxes and searches work in Gmail -- Outlook doesn't have the same intuitive elegance for me -- so I like being able to quickly process my mail in one client. Since the methods for getting email from an Outlook Exchange client on Gmail are clunky (i.e. I'd have to set up a rule to redirect all my mail), I just keep our web-based access to Outlook in my bookmarks file.

Like Rich, I'm an Xfinity customer, and it makes picking up a connection around town so much easier. I've done a lot of editing while sitting through a child's violin lesson or dance class.

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THE HABITS WE'VE DEVELOPED

RICH: I spent 30 years in the United States Navy, so having a daily routine and structure was a key part of my existence and helped me with time management.

However, working remotely things have changed a bit because I have some flexibility now. I am still an early riser and so my alarm on weekdays goes off at 5 AM. I love having the quiet of the house to myself for those first couple of hours in the day and use that time to review overnight feeds from social media and my 125 or so RSS feeds I keep an eye on through Feedly. As I mentioned earlier I do that early morning work sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee and am either on the HP Spectre x360 or Surface Book. After breakfast I shift into our home office when I fire up my main home built dual monitor desktop rig to begin writing and other tasks.

While many like to create very clean separation between their working and non-working modes, I find myself popping in and out of these two states all throughout the day. I will jump up and help with a task around the house and then easily sit back down to continue working.  Multi-tasking comes to me very easily and so interruptions or the need to give my wife a hand do not cause me great consternation.

However, if I need time to focus on a story or I just want to get out of the house for a few hours, I will head to my local Dunkin' Donuts. First I am a DD Perks member and I really like the coffee, the donuts are pretty good as well, and the environment is comfortable for focusing on work. I take along Surface Book or the Spectre with me and my favorite Dunkin' has terrific Wi-Fi and since it uses Xfinity for that service and I am already a customer, I get access for free using my own Xfinity credentials.

Working remotely allows me to work wherever I have an Internet connection and one of my devices and I love that flexibility above all else. If necessary I can easily move from relaxing to work mode in a heartbeat and take care of business and then easily shift gears back into downtime until the next thing pops up.

LISA: I don't know how anyone works while still in their pajamas; they're made of sterner stuff than I am. I rely on a ritual in the mornings to shift me from not-work to work mode: shower, make a pot of coffee, take a quick walk, then put on earbuds and settle down to work. Even if I'm not listening to anything, the physical sensation of having in the earbuds flips a switch and I'm better able to concentrate.

This routine was easier when I used public transit to get to/from an office, but even if I'm traveling or working from home, having a 20-minute leg stretch is helpful for mentally transitioning. I do the reverse at the end of the day: put away my earbuds; do my end-of-day work checklist, top off my Zojirushi with some ice water, then walk again.

(That said, I will cop to reading through or posting to Slack when I'm still waking up in the morning. I'm on the west coast, and it's helpful to have advance notice of what's been going on over on the eastern seaboard.)

I have found that the best way to transition out of work is to have an end-of-day routine. It's fairly simple:

1. Finish all email.

2. Delete any files I had saved to my desktop for task-based reasons (i.e. images to use in articles, spreadsheets to email to someone).

3. Write my to-do list for the next morning. (Both paper and digital; sometimes the digital list ties in URLs or other digital assets I need to get the task done.)

4. Tidy my physical workspace: This means dealing with any papers, wiping down surfaces, and putting the to-do list in its expected spot next to my calendar.

I joke that I'm doing all this so Future Lisa can come in the next day and get started without too much hassle. The nice thing about this routine is that it isn't place-dependent: to-do lists can live on computers or tucked into planners; tidying a hotel desk means not looking at a mess when I wake up; and tidying up a coffeehouse or library table before I leave is plain common decency.

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We hope these real-world testaments can help inspire you to work well wherever you are. One of the greatest things about working remotely is how it allows each of us to get out in the world and experience more of it -- all while keeping the inbox manageable. 

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