As many companies start to come around to the benefits of a distributed workforce, remote design opportunities are popping up right and left. It’s an amazing time to be a designer because it’s possible to freelance and be a digital nomad or work for your dream company—whose nearest office just so happens to be thousands of miles away. The barriers to impactful design work are much lower, thanks to the internet. But the rise of remote work also introduces its own set of challenges.
For designers that have only ever worked in-house or for those designers starting their first job out of school that happens to be remote, these are the tips and tricks you need to abide by to become the best possible remote designer.
1. Create Your Ideal Office
While working at home can seem like a great perk, (“I can work in my pajamas!” or “I’ll never have to worry about my morning commute again!”) some structure must accompany your newfound freedom. Carve out a workspace in your home with all the office supplies you need. Or better yet, find a quiet coffee shop or rent a spot in a local co-working space. Set up for the day wherever you work best, with minimal distractions and space to take calls that allows for intense focus.
This is one area where remote designers often have an advantage over the average office worker. More and more offices are adopting an open office floor plan, as 70% of US offices in 2017 reported having “low or no partitions,” according to the Chicago Tribune. However, this can lead to increased distractions. Remote designers are able to create their own ideal workspace that helps them accomplish projects efficiently, without having to listen to ping pong every afternoon at 3:30 pm. Having the freedom to work in a space that suits your work style is truly a gift.
2. Set Your Hours—and Stick to Them
This won’t relate to remote designers that have a set schedule, but for those with flexible hours, creating a schedule will make it much easier to meet deadlines. Proper time management is needed across all departments and roles, but when you are running your own freelance operation, meeting deadlines is your responsibility alone.
The other side of this is also important. When working in an office, coworkers may start heading out for lunch at a certain time each day. But when you are working from home or at a cafe, you may get wrapped up in projects and forget to take breaks. Add reminders for lunch and other breaks during the day so that you stay energized. Even if you have the fortunate problem of being in high demand and having a bit more work to do than time in the day, you will submit better work when you are taking care of yourself.
3. Get Moving
When you don’t have to commute to work anymore and instead work from your home office, making time for the outdoors becomes that more important. When setting your break reminders for the day or the week, be sure to include a walk or jog each day to soak up some sun and change your scenery. The great outdoors can help inspire your work, and at a bare minimum will refresh your mind and body.
Sometimes the weather will not be on your side. Even if bad weather makes you want to stay indoors all day every day, make sure you’re still getting plenty of exercise at the gym or a workout class in your community.
4. Connect with the Design Community
Working remote can become an isolating experience over time. When you don’t have a cluster of designers to sit with, bounce ideas off of, and go to lunch with, you’ll have to create that community on your own. That could include joining Meetups, going to TED Talks, or traveling to design conferences around the world. If in-person networking isn’t possible, then there are countless online resources at your fingertips. Take part in Twitter chats, join a design group on LinkedIn, or reach out to designers you admire by email.
Connecting with your tribe doesn’t always have to be outside of your company. Befriending your teammates and taking the time to connect with them via video chat can help you get to know them on a deeper level.
5. Stay on the Forefront of Your Industry
If you are lucky enough to have professional development opportunities built into your role, then take full advantage of them. From conferences to online classes, hearing from innovative leaders in your space will help you generate better ideas and get your company on the cutting edge of your industry.
However, if you are a freelancer or run your own business, you will need to make more of an effort to make sure your skills are staying sharp. You might set a monthly reminder to check out classes offered on Coursera or by the Interaction Design Foundation. Or you could sign up for newsletters or Twitter lists that aggregate this information for you. No matter how you choose to get informed, you’ll need to stay up on the news and strategies that are guiding your discipline.
6. Take a Vacation
This might not be a point you expected to see on this list, but, as with any job, taking time away periodically to recharge and explore what interests you personally will help you perform better when you return. Burnout is a real phenomenon and it can strike at any stage in your career unless you are making an effort to combat it. A vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or require you to travel halfway around the world. A trip to a new city or a camping trip to a national park you’ve never been to could be just as relaxing.
While stepping away from work can be a great way to recenter, it can also provide tangible benefits when you get back to work. Oftentimes, here at Proto.io, we find that stepping away from our daily routine at work can help us generate new ideas and strategies when we’ve hit a roadblock. As counterintuitive as it may seem, plan a getaway when you’re stuck on a project. Getting your mind off of it and gaining clarity can be just what you need to return to with renewed focus and energy.
7. Spend Literal Facetime with Coworkers
Just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you never get to meet the rest of your team. Whether your team gets together yearly for an all-hands meeting at company headquarters or maybe on a team trip to an exciting vacation spot, meeting with your coworkers in real life is important. During that time you’ll be able to bond, brainstorm, and set the groundwork for even more effective collaboration.
If your company or clients don’t have an annual get together planned, take matters into your own hands. If you’re a digital nomad or someone who likes to change up your work location, try flying to your client’s office to work for a few days. Or maybe travel to one of your company’s locations where you can work in close proximity with those you email back and forth with each day. Video chat and screenshares are great, but there’s nothing quite like drawing out solutions on a whiteboard every once in a while. If you are able to travel to work directly with coworkers, it is always worth the time, effort, and potential cost.
8. Figure out Time Zones
With teammates across time zones and continents, there are a lot of factors to keep in mind when working with tight deadlines. If your team has G Suite accounts, have them all set working hours to be mindful when scheduling meetings. Juggling so many time zones sometimes means that at least one person has to take a call at a strange hour. Whether you get strangely good at calculating time differences or choose to use an app like Miranda, generally being aware of how your team’s working hours coincide with yours will help you get more done in a reasonable amount of time.
9. Set Boundaries
If you are a remote designer working freelance gigs, it’s easy to always be on. This is especially true if you have clients across time zones. Just as people in your time zone may be going to sleep, your client may be starting their day on the other side of the world. Also, some clients may work different days of the week, such as starting the work week on Sunday instead of Monday. This is where you have to be cognizant of your schedule and when you get work done best. If you need to talk to clients in real-time, working Saturday nights when they are starting their week from time to time might be necessary. But creating and maintaining a balance that works for you is what will keep you from burning out.
These are just a few ways to become a better remote designer. You’ll want to cut down on distractions, in addition to all the strategies we have here. What other ways do you work towards being the best remote designer you can be? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio.
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