Productivity

Lessons learned from remote consulting

Up until the start of this year, I was running my own business as a sole trader doing a bunch of different stuff like test automation consulting, graphic design freelance work, mentoring, conference evangelism, art commissions, and more. Thanks to my international network, quite a lot of this work ended up being remote. Here’s some things I learned from working this way.

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1. Scheduling meetings with potential clients is painful but Calendly helps
I am not paid by Calendly for this message – I just love it so much. Working across timezones makes scheduling meetings over email especially hard, but Calendly makes it simple. I ended up having two main calendars – one for my local clients with very reasonable daytime working hours, and one for international clients with extended working hours to cater for timezones. That way I could keep my early morning and late night meetings to a minimum.

The other great thing about Calendly is that it can automatically remind the attendee of the meeting both a day and an hour before. Do this! It used to make me so mad when someone forgot to show up for their 11pm meeting (in my timezone).

2. Really structure your face to face time
With in-person consulting you can just rock up to the site and figure things out when you get there. Not so with remote consulting. When people join a video call, you have their full attention for the next however-many hours. So it’s more important than ever to set meetings with clear purpose and outcomes.

When I was giving training remotely for a company in Denmark, I scheduled an hour or two per week for face to face training, then set “homework” for the interim. Then we would have a catch-up the following week to review the homework before the next training session.

It’s also important to schedule time to build your working relationship with your main contact person in the company and any other important stakeholders. Even if it’s just a remote coffee, this kind of social interaction is crucial to a good consulting relationship.

3. Work asynchronously
I found for my consulting assignments that there was a lot of work I could do without face-to-face time, such as programming, code reviews, strategy and documentation. It was important to be meticulous about documenting everything, and tracking the time that I spent. One trap I found myself falling into was if I thought I was taking too long on a task, I felt like under-reporting the time spent on it because I felt bad about it. Don’t do this! It’s important to be fair to both yourself and your client when it comes to time spent on work.

4. Over-communicate
It’s harder to make yourself visible when you’re not physically in an office. And when you are working across timezones, the turnaround time on an answer gets even longer. So it’s important to tell folks what you are doing, and to ask questions as soon as you have them. Document stuff like crazy.

Messaging platforms like Slack are great for asynchronous messaging with the team, especially when you just have a quick question and don’t want to set up a meeting. The companies I worked with had their own Slack accounts set up and usually made an external channel for me so that I could chat with them while still keeping their company chats private from me.

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Generally I didn’t find it very difficult to adapt to working this way and my clients were happy with the results. Do you have any tips for remote consulting? Comment below, I’d love to hear them.

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

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