I’m often asked how I can keep on top of work while travelling around so much. I have to admit, when I took my first location independent leap it was a major concern for me. Nowadays it almost seems like second nature.
In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of employees working remotely 1. It makes sense to me – companies don’t have to provide the overheads associated with physical desk space, they can retain good employees who require flexibility (working mothers and fathers, for example) and, in my experience, it empowers employees to manage their own tasks and time more efficiently. I really don’t see this trend declining any time soon.
Regardless of whether a company has remote workers, I believe if you think remotely, internal structure, communications and efficiency will improve in the process.
There are two of us in-house at Applingua and a further 30+ freelancers. On the one hand, it’s obviously important that communication and access to information runs efficiently in any company, in case someone is ill or away on vacation. But it’s very important if you want to work remotely from one another. So how do Applingua and I do it?
Even before arriving in a new place, I check out potential internet access. At the very least, you need a strong connection where you are sleeping, be that a hotel or sublet. Make sure WiFi is available in your room, so you don’t have to go hunting for it elsewhere in your building (hotel lobbies suck).
Don’t rely too much on coffee shop WiFi access. In many countries it conveniently doesn’t work ‘today’ so they can get more customers through their doors (fair enough, really). While in others, quite considerable charges are normal.
In the next few years, the EU should move to remove roaming charges, but in the meantime the first thing you should think about is getting a SIM card. In my experience, it’s cheaper to buy a SIM even when you’re on holiday for a week. Check which sim card would be the best before you arrive then head right to their store. Data on your smartphone is essential for so many different tasks, from quick email checking to finding your way around a new city (and finding WiFi hotspots!).
File sharing & storage
Most companies have work they need to save and documents they need to share. I’ve been using Dropbox for what seems years now, but it wasn’t until I started working with others professionally that I saw just how great Dropbox really is.
The idea of file servers have plagued small businesses for years. I remember pulling my hair out trying to work out how to set up a file share between five computers at my father’s company when I was still a teenager. Nowadays Dropbox lets you create a folder, right-click and share with friends and colleagues. As it is backed up automatically both off-site and locally, it completely negates the need for cumbersome and un-travel-friendly external hard drives. What’s more, the files can be accessed from any device, iPod touch to Desktop.
(I should enter a quick note here that if you’re keeping company data on Dropbox, it’s probably good practice to keep it in an encrypted image, which can be mounted at the start of each work day. No idea what I’m talking about? Here’s a handy guide.)
Communication & project management
We all know the most important aspect of any business is good communication. It’s important for everyone in a team (remote or otherwise) to know where they stand at any given moment. It’s also important that when communication fails, or when communication is not possible, there is a list of tasks that can be done without the rest of your team.
Skype lets me check in with my colleague Sarah once a week on video or whenever there’s something more complex than possibly by email to discuss. I also have a fixed Skype line phone number, which means my calls can be routed wherever I am in the world. This is especially useful when my mobile number changes when changing countries.
Trello is an extremely useful online todo list and project management tool. We’ve used it for almost two years now and it’s never failed. I’ll admit at some times I’ve been a bit lazy updating it, but I know that should I ever be stuck for something to do, there is a great backlog of admin and potential marketing duties listed there.
Trello really is a great tool for collaborating on projects – I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.
No one particularly likes admin tasks. When I started Applingua I decided I wanted to be completely paperless. Aside from the environmental and cost aspect of running a paper-based office, keeping physical records of everything is a sure fire way to prevent you from remote working or becoming location independent.
The canon scanner is a very portable, high speed scanning device that breezes through multiple letters and receipts in no time at all. You can then choose to automatically upload to an application of your choice, mine being Evernote. While I am away from the UK, a friend or relative picks up my limited, usually SPAM, mail approximately once a month, places it on the scanner and clicks go!
The documents then get uploaded to Evernote, which automatically files and indexes them so they can be searched instantly. It’s extremely convenient to be able to search through years of paper letters and documents in just seconds to find exactly what you’re looking for.
There are alternatives to both the Canon and Evernote. I believe Doxie is one of the most popular scanners and many use Google Drive for storage (it also does OCR now). Personally I’m happy with Evernote’s iOS, Mac and Web apps for the time being.
Finance & accounting
There’s nothing more off-putting when starting your own business than Finance & Accounting. It’s scary and the idea of Excel spreadsheets makes me want to run away and hide under my bed covers with my first teddy bear, Growler.
I’ve mentioned it a hundred times before, but I believe FreeAgent is the very first service new businesses should invest in. Whether Freelance or Limited, accounting has literally never been so easy (I realise I sound like I’m on their payroll…). It automatically interacts with my bank accounts, giving me a daily overview of all goings on. I invoice from there, manage clients, time, payroll and salary. It even lets me run a trial balance sheet and profit & loss. It really is out of this world.
What I’ve not mentioned before perhaps is the next vital aspect of running your business smoothly, making it even easier to work nomadically or be location independent: a good accountant.
I use Maslins Accountants. Chris and his team are based in Kent, we’ve never met, I don’t think we’ve even spoken on the telephone. His team’s communication is so good and responsive, I’ve never needed to. They work directly in FreeAgent too, which, compared to some companies I know who deliver kilograms of paper to their accountant at the end of every year, is incredibly convenient. Everything is done electronically – even to the point of signing off my accounts at the end of the year.
It is not possible to overemphasise how essential a good accountant is. I know no matter where I am I can send a quick email and get a reply nearly always the same day.
Some might say this is all too easy, but I just think of it as an extra day off a month which would normally be spent trawling spreadsheets.
The answer is in the cloud
You’ll notice that all of the above exist in the cloud. They all store my data on remote servers that can be accessed anywhere in the world. If my computer gets stolen, if my colleague Sarah needs to get hold of something or if I’m away from the desk and someone needs something urgently, I can access the information from any device, any where.
I’ve even gone so far as getting an accountant that forces me to think remotely, even when I’m working from Applingua’s HQ in Cardiff. It’s these things which cut all ties when I decide to just up and leave from one day to the next.
I started writing this post sprawled out in my own night-train compartment watching the sun rise over the snow-capped mountains surrounding Lake Garda in Northern Italy. For me, at least, working nomadically doesn’t get much better.