This year 2018 marks my 9th year working online. I’m so amazed at how the digital landscape has changed in under a decade.
When I was starting out, market leader apps like Zendesk and Xero were just startups. There were only a handful of digital freelancers and the concept of completely running businesses virtually was still new. I ended up working online more as a necessity rather than choice. I’ve just finished film school and wanted to be a screenwriter and travel – I needed a job to support that!
I started working as a virtual assistant for a marketing agency in Sydney. At first, it was just the founder and myself, I was not a techie and I have to figure everything from scratch – thank God for Google and it helps that my first boss is an Instructional Designer.
I didn’t know it yet at that time, but we were trailblazing a new way of working with remote teams and running businesses online. We tested a lot of software to help us collaborate – from IM to Project Management – you name it, we’ve tried it!
What started as a temporary gig is now a full-time passion. Since my first VA job, I’ve worn many online hats from Project Manager to Business Development and now as a Brand & Marketing Strategist for a SaaS company. But that first job laid my foundation to navigate working in the online world.
Here are the 5 habits I’ve learned from my first online gig that I still practice today:
1. Communication is important to build trust with your team. Working in an office you communicate with your team in person and you have non-verbal cues to pick up on, you can see their expression, hear their tone.
But in digital, you communicate via email or IMs, and sometimes emojis just don’t cut it. Hence a regular voice and video call is so important. I make it a point I have an hour call with our stakeholders each week and regular catch up with my co-workers.
We have a big team and its impossible to have 1:1 calls with everyone each week but we regularly chat even if it’s just talking about our plans for the weekend.
It’s also important to schedule regular in-person meetups, I know this may be hard for some startups as their team is spread out all over the world and expensive to fly everyone. But as startups scale, this should be on the priority list.
2. Great work ethics is the key to success. You deliver what you say you will deliver – on time.
Working remotely, you don’t clock in and clock out (though I know some companies require staff to use time tracking apps), your boss doesn’t see you working on your desk – only your output measures if you’ve done the work or not.
I also make sure I’m available online via IM during working hours to answer questions from the team, I don’t want to be a bottleneck and make other people wait for answers – and it’s good to be handy when there are last minute requests.
3. Map out processes but make it organic. I am a stickler for processes and checklists, sometimes for my own good.
For any organisation to scale, it’s important to map out processes for repeated projects/campaigns to save you ‘thinking’ every time you start the same project.
For example, in my current role, we release three major software updates each year, we schedule a lot of postings around this time to talk about the new features and to create excitement around the new version.
I started making a list of what kind of posts are most popular and made a project calendar on what post goes out each week. I know this will make my life easier in three months time when we do our next release and I can focus on strategic and creative side of things rather than thinking ‘what’s next’?
But process maps should be organic, you should be able to change it as you go along if you find ways of doing things better the next time around.
4. Never stop learning. Technology is changing at the speed of light, and sadly the skill you know now maybe defunct tomorrow.
This is especially true in the tech world, you really need to keep updated on the latest trend of your industry and your profession.
For example, in digital products there is a growing focus on optimising user experience so that apps and products are created with the user’s feedback. Aside from it being a trend this is also my interest so I invested in a 2 day UX Bootcamp course and a UX online course.
But learning need not be expensive, there are a lot of online courses website like coursera.com and udemy.com where you can learn a new skill for free or as little as $10 per program. I usually go to meetups.com to find free digital events near me and connect with other professionals and network.
5. Your time is important. This may be last on my list but this is probably the most important.
When you’re working remotely there is a blur between your work time and personal time. For years I’ve worked around the clock and made myself available to my clients and team 24/7. It was stressful and not sustainable.
Nowadays I make it a point I shut down at 6pm and have Sundays for family and to pursue my other passions – like writing blogs.
Whether you are a seasoned digital freelancer or work in an office, I hope these 5 work habits help you be more efficient.