This is a chapter from the upcoming book “Remote Work – The Complete Guide” which we will be publishing first on Simple Programmer. You can get the book for an EXCLUSIVE MEMBERS DISCOUNT, just click here.
Whether you are just starting out on your remote work journey or you have been doing it for years, you’ll find that having appropriate tools for the task is a critical part of maintaining your productivity.
Further, as your remote career progresses, you may find that other opportunities open up for you. It’s entirely possible that you’ll decide to start a business from a remote location, that you’ll travel the world while working, or that you’ll need to look for more jobs.
Even if you stay right where you are, it’s often helpful to have resources and communities of remote workers just like yourself. Not only will this help you stay sane, but it can make it a lot easier to get good answers to the kind of unique problems that remote employees face every day.
In this guide, I’m going to list some resources that can help you along on your remote journey. As you’ll notice, I’ve broken these tools down into rough categories so that they are easier to find when you need them.
In addition to remote work resources, I’ve also included resources that will be helpful if you decide to go a step further and start a career as a digital nomad.
There are a few reasons why these are included. The first is that there is a lot of overlap between the lifestyles of a standard remote employee and that of a digital nomad.
The second is that a lot of material on remote work focuses on people living in nice, suburban environments with reliable power, phone, and internet connectivity. Your situation may not be like that or may not always be like that.
Finally, remember that digital nomads are frequently moving around, having to deal with a large amount of uncertainty in their working environment. As a result, their ideas are often really helpful when you do have to travel as part of your remote career whether that means travel into the corporate office or travel while working.
As a result of time zone differences, traveling, or simply wanting to do less manual work, you may find that when working remotely, you need to automate certain tasks or be automatically notified if certain events occur.
While you could “simply” automate many things using simple scripts (many programmers have), it’s often not the best use of your time, especially when it comes time to modify these scripts due to changes. As a result, it’s usually more time efficient to use a service that handles most of the work for you.
Currently, there are three really good contenders for this on the market. Depending on what you need to do, different tools offer different options.
- Buffer allows you to schedule social media posts. Not only is this helpful if social media is part of your job, but it’s also very handy if you use social media for any kind of side work. Buffering posts will allow you to make sure that they go out when they should whether you are present or not.
- IFTTT (or If This Then That) can do several things for you. First of all, it can react to incoming data such as RSS feeds, emails, or events from other tools. It can then perform simple actions on your behalf based on that data, such as posting to Twitter when you publish a new blog post.
- Zapier is another useful tool for automation, and it is the most complex. Not only does it have the power of IFTTT, but it can connect a huge number of applications.
Automation applications can save you a ton of time and effort. For instance, consider Zapier. I use it personally to automate a number of pieces of our podcast workflow.
When a card is moved in our Kanban board (KanbanFlow), a Zapier workflow not only makes sure that I get relevant tasks assigned to me in my to-do list application (Nozbe), but it also creates files for our outbound emails around the episode in my dropbox.
In addition to simple workflows, Zapier also lets you build complex, multistep workflows, which can be really handy if you are dealing with something complex enough to need a custom script.
If you are looking to make a “long term thing” out of remote work, it behooves you to learn from the people who have done so before you. While it’s entirely possible to learn everything yourself for free, such an approach can also mean that you end up learning simple things in hard ways.
Books, in whatever form, are a great way to take a shortcut in the learning process so that it is less painful, expensive, and time consuming. Thankfully, there are a ton of good books out there that are either directly related to remote work or contain lessons and information that are useful for people who would like to work from home.
- Deep Work – This book isn’t strictly about remote work. Rather, it’s about how to cultivate the ability to focus without distraction. The skill of extreme focus will help you tremendously when working remotely.
- It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson – If you are interested in remote work, it’s a fair bet that it’s because you’ve been exposed to some of the crazy corporate culture of overwork. In this book, the authors discuss how businesses can run without the insane “hustle,” 80-hour work weeks, and constant compromises on quality of life.
- No Excuses: The Definitive Guide To Managing a Remote Team – This free guide to building a remote team is packed with good advice on outsourcing and building a remote team. In particular, the sections on management and building business process templates are very useful.
- Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried – In this book, two of the people who started Basecamp discuss the phenomenon of remote work and explain how they got it all working to build a successful company. This book is full of good ideas about running your own business, and it’s also helpful if you have to talk to your manager about how to run a remote team effectively.
- The Art of Staying Productive Even Across Distance – Written by Wrike, this free book discusses simple techniques to make you a master of remote collaboration. I’ve successfully used a number of them myself and highly recommend this read.
- The Remote Jobseeker’s Handbook – If you don’t think your current employer will let you work remotely, you could always just go for a remote job. This book helps you build an action plan for finding a remote job. While I didn’t use the material personally, several friends have, to great success.
- The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work by Wade Foster – This free guide by Zapier shares how to build remote teams and talks about the challenges the company faced as they scaled.
- The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun – This book goes behind the scenes of the company behind WordPress (Automattic, Inc.) and discusses how they were able to build their organization. Remote work is part of it, but the rest is about how to build a dynamic, effective organization. Of special interest are the sections about managing creativity.
- Working Remotely – The Telecommuter’s Guide to the Galaxy – This book goes heavily into remote work practices and how organizations might want to implement remote work.
- Your Brain at Work – While not specific to remote work, this book focuses heavily on how to overcome distractions, maintain focus, and work more effectively. It’s a good read.
I don’t necessarily recommend reading all these books end-to-end like I did. Rather, it’s often better to have them on hand to have quick reference material when you run into a problem or need advice on a situation.
While working remotely, it helps to keep up to date on things that may impact your work, especially in regard to industry news that may make you more efficient or help you avoid problems. Not only are blogs a good source of ideas for how to improve your remote work experience, but they can also be the best way to find out about things that cause you problems.
I learned about a lot of the tools and software in this guide by reading blog posts. In addition, blog posts written by remote workers have often warned me about software updates that could have caused me problems. On more than one occasion, a timely blog post has kept me from installing a Windows update that would have broken my system right before a critical deadline.
This has been especially serious when a Windows update would have broken things that I needed as a remote employee that on-site employees usually didn’t need.
There are a few blogs that cover remote work as well as some others that are blogs of companies that use remote working as a strategy. These sites often have very useful tips on making sure that you get the most out of working from home.
- Buffer Blog – Not only is Buffer one of the tools I recommend for automation purposes, but they also know how to run a remote company. They don’t write a ton of stuff on remote work, but what they have is quite good.
- Doist Blog – In addition to tips on remote work, this blog is absolutely packed with tips on productivity that you will find useful as well. Being a good leader is the best way to keep your remote job from becoming a dead end job.
- Know Your Team Blog – While not entirely focused around remote work, this blog has a lot of good information on how to be a better leader.
- Lifehacker’s Remote Work Content – While it feels sparser than it used to, Lifehacker’s remote work section still has a lot of useful tips and tricks. It’s a good resource, especially if you combine it with some of the productivity discussions on the rest of the blog.
- Miro Blog – This blog covers a lot of interesting things, remote work among them. It also deals with agile, productivity, and creativity.
- Nodesk – A curated set of resources for remote workers, digital nomads, and traveling professionals.
- SignalvNoise.com – While this blog does cover some topics around remote work, what I really find endearing about it is their approach toward making a more sustainable life and workplace. The principles they describe are good even if you are stuck going into an office (maybe especially so).
- The Remote Work Blog – As its name suggests, this blog is heavily focused on remote work. It also includes a fair number of posts about becoming a digital nomad, which may interest you depending on your situation in life.
Blogs are a great resource, provided that you are judicious in what you read. They can serve as a constant source of new things to learn, which will help you grow.
However, I caution you to be careful that you don’t replace doing with reading. Blogs are great resources if you read them as you need things.
As time goes on, you’re going to want more from your remote career than simply doing the same thing from the house. Whether it’s a change in position, a change in job, or you’d like to get promoted, you’re going to eventually need career guidance.
At the very least, you’ll need good advice on how to update your resume. When working remotely, it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of calm complacency because of the less stressful environment.
However, at some point, your job situation is going to change. When that happens, you will need to be prepared lest you find yourself forced back into an office job. Lots of things can happen to your job over time. Whether it’s downsizing, new management that doesn’t like remote work, or you simply wanting to do something else with your career, at some point your current job will end.
Good preparation in regard to your career will help you make sure that you can keep working from home in the future.
- Prosper Career Coaching – While not focused on remote work, what this site does focus on is still critical. They help managers become real leaders. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you were promoted into management without any help, you might want to see what they can do for your company.
- Resume.io – If you are like me, you hate messing around with your resume, especially when you want to make it look good without the usual slugging match with Microsoft Word. This site will help you with templates, and its very quick workflow will help you quickly create a resume that will get the attention of hiring managers.
Remote work is often a lonely experience, especially if all of your co-workers are in an office. Furthermore, networking is extremely important if you are going to be working from home.
Most of the best job opportunities I’ve had have come from my personal network of friends, former co-workers, and family. If you want to keep your career health while getting good advice from people who are in similar situations, the following communities are a great source of tips, tricks, and contacts.
This list of communities includes several groups that are built around the idea of being a digital nomad. While this may not be what you are looking for, I still encourage you to check them out. Digital nomads have figured out how to do a lot of work under pretty serious constraints, and the things they’ve learned may be useful to you as well.
- #Freelance – If your notion of an ideal remote working arrangement includes working for yourself, the #Freelance hashtag on Twitter has all kinds of good resources from a variety of different people.
- Hacker Paradise – If you are seriously considering becoming a total digital nomad, this site has a lot of advice on places that you might consider going to. Their blog also has a number of articles that have useful application even if you never try to work while traveling.
- Reddit/Telecommuting – Sometimes you just have a question and need some advice from people who are doing the same thing. This reddit community is great for discussing the issues faced by remote workers.
Conferences offer a lot of opportunities that you can’t get anywhere else, especially if you work remotely and seldom go into the office. Besides the vast amount that you can learn by attending a conference, such events are also excellent opportunities for face-to-face networking with other people.
While conference attendance may be something that you considered optional when you went into an office every day, it’s a really good idea to treat it as mandatory when you are working remotely.
Further, conferences are a great place to find out about larger companies that have a remote work strategy. These companies will often have a booth at conferences or will have a number of people attending (including speakers).
While you may or may not like working at larger organizations, jobs such as these do have advantages, especially in terms of pay and benefits. It can be really helpful to know which companies have good remote working environments if you are looking for another job.
Even better, if you have networked effectively with their employees or managers, you will have a distinct advantage over other people applying for the same job. Remote jobs are often competitive, so any advantage you can get will help.
- Running Remote – While I haven’t managed to make it to this conference, I’ve heard lots of good things from people who have managed to attend. Hundreds of remote first leaders gather together to discuss the practical realities of remote work as well as to network, and some of the attending and sponsoring companies are very impressive.
- The Remote Work Summit – This conference is a bit more HR-centric and talks a lot about topics like building an effective remote culture. Best of all, in the true remote spirit, you can attend online.
- Nomad Summit – I’ve talked to people who have attended this one. This conference is focused on digital nomads and takes place in various exotic locations. Recent ones have included Playa del Carmen and Chiang Mai.
Even if your employer offers training as part of your job, you probably should still be learning things on your own time. While you should certainly take advantage of any free training offered by your employer, there are a lot of issues with relying on only that training.
The first is that employers are generally only going to pay for training that is actually useful to them. If your career goals are different from your employer’s goals, this will not be optimal for you.
Secondly, if you are training and are in the middle of a course, what happens to your progress when your job suddenly changes? It’s incredibly frustrating to spend a bunch of time training, only to have your job suddenly end in the middle. It also makes it a lot more difficult to prove to your next employer that you actually understand the material, especially if you didn’t complete your training.
I’ve done a lot of contracting and worked at a lot of companies. I will never allow an employer to control my training again. I did that once, and it was a royal pain to get the next job using the technology I had been learning. I had to do a bunch of work between jobs and pay for training myself. It would have been much easier had I never relied on my employer. I strongly suggest that you do the same.
- Codecademy – If your future plans include learning to code (or getting back into coding after an extended break), Codecademy is a good place to start. While you may not dream of being a software developer, having at least some ability to code can help you be more productive by allowing you to automate repetitive tasks. A surprising number of jobs can be made more effective with just a little code, so this is worth looking into.
- Coursera – With more than 3900 courses and specializations, there is something on Coursera for just about anyone.
- Khan Academy – Whether you are trying to fill in some gaps from your education or just decided that you really want to learn organic chemistry this year (I won’t judge, but I didn’t like it the first time), Khan Academy has a ton of material available for you. They are a nonprofit whose goal is to provide a free, world-class education to everyone.
- Lambda School – If you aren’t a software developer and would like to be one soon without trying to learn it all on your own, Lambda School may be a good choice. While it does cost money, you don’t have to pay them until you start getting paid.
- Skillshare – With thousands of available classes on a wide variety of subjects, this site can teach you a lot of valuable skills for your career, covering everything from design, to business, to photography.
- Udacity – offers nanodegrees on a lot of subjects along with career coaching and mentoring. Best of all, you can work at your own pace and fit the work around your existing schedule.
- Workplaceless – If your team is struggling to make remote work a reality, this site has a lot of training that will help you do it. This includes training for workers and managers, helping them build an action plan for the process of transitioning into a remote company.
While much of the equipment used in a remote office can vary greatly, especially over time, there are a few things you should make sure to have in order.
Of these, you are probably going to find that your office chair, headphones, and conferencing equipment are some of the most common sources of annoyance. It is worth it to spend a little extra money on these things.
For instance, you may be sitting in your chair for eight or more hours in a day. In a year, you could easily spend 2,000 hours in a chair. Going cheap on your seating is an excellent way to develop chronic back problems and is not a good place to try to reduce expenses. Similarly, cheap conference equipment can annoy your co-workers (or your boss) and is probably not a good idea.
It can also be very helpful to invest in a good set of noise canceling headphones. Even though I work remotely, I still can’t really block out all the ambient noise. In particular, when the neighbors are having work done on their house, I can often hear the equipment in use as well as loud conversations outside my window.
Compounding this problem is the fact that I have a Jack Russell hound mix living in my house. When stuff is going on outside, she jumps like a Jack Russell terrier and lands like a hound. She can do this for what seems like hours at a time. Had I not invested in some good headphones, my productivity at home would be limited by outside noise.
- Bose Noise Canceling Headphones – These are probably the No. 1 reason that I stayed sane the first few times I worked remotely (back when my office was near a busy hallway in the house). While noise canceling headphones don’t do a great job of blocking out things like human voices, they do block out a lot of repetitive background noises, which still helps a lot.
- Herman Miller Chairs – These are some of the best chairs for use in a remote office. I had one before and will eventually get another one. They aren’t cheap, though, unless you buy them used from a company during a bankruptcy sale.
- Owl Labs Meeting Owl – These are impressive smart conference room cameras. While the price point is not justified for use in a home office, they can do wonders for the average small-business conference room setup.
When you start looking for your first (or your next) remote job, you will need to find job boards that either specialize in remote work or that easily allow you to filter your job search criteria to find companies that will let you work from home.
Once you’ve experienced the far superior work environment that you can have at home, going back into an office will sound like the worst thing ever.
However, if you lose your job and can’t get something else quickly, your financial situation may force you back into an office. It’s a good idea to constantly be keeping your eyes open, just in case.
- AngelList Remote Jobs – Billed as the largest job marketplace for remote work (probably accurate), AngelList has a huge number of open remote job positions on its board. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a remote position.
- FlexJobs – This job board specializes in finding flexible jobs. This includes both remote and on-site jobs whether full-time or part-time.
- Jobspresso.co – This job board has thousands of remote jobs and also has a mailing list of more than 100,000 potential remote workers. This kind of reach is handy if your company is looking for more remote employees.
- LinkedIn (remote jobs) – You can also search for remote jobs on LinkedIn. This is where I made the connections that landed me in my current position, and the application process is very simple.
- Moonlight – Moonlight is a community of remote software developers, built around finding flexible remote work.
- Remote.co – Not only is this a job board for remote jobs, but it also contains a ton of resources to help both companies and individuals with the process of remote work.
- RemoteHub.io – This is probably the most straightforward of the remote job boards out there, and it has a nice instant application process for certain companies on the site.
- Stack Overflow (remote jobs) – Stack Overflow is an extremely popular site for software developers, and they also have an excellent selection of remote jobs. I’ve applied for several remote positions I found here.
- We Work Remotely – This is a job board mostly for software developers (and tech-adjacent jobs) that offers an impressive array of positions at a number of prestigious companies.
- Workaline – This is a huge database of remote work opportunities across a wide variety of disciplines. They routinely post over 200 new remote positions every week.
- Working Nomads – This is a job board of remote positions aimed more toward digital nomads. It’s especially nice because it has a lot of positions that aren’t technology-oriented. This can be helpful if you are technical, but your spouse isn’t, especially if you both want to work from home.
If you are like me, you may find that long hours spent working in silence end up feeling a little oppressive, at best. If you need something to listen to and aren’t in the mood for music, podcasts are a great way to absorb more useful information while you work.
They are also great for those times when you are forced to go into the office whether you are listening to them in traffic or using them to drown out the ambient noise in the office.
I have at least 30 podcasts on various topics that I listen to while working, so take it from this podcast junkie—you can learn a lot from them without a lot of effort. Podcasts represent around 80% of the new things I learn. Here are some I’d recommend.
- 21st Century Work Life – This podcast goes into depth discussing the new work paradigm of the 21st century, including things like artificial intelligence, remote work, and distributed teams.
- Complete Developer Podcast – This is my podcast. While geared toward software development in general, both of us work remotely, so that perspective tends to come through on a lot of things. Also, we have a substantial amount of good material on productivity and building the best version of your life as a software developer.
- Distributed Podcast – This podcast discusses the musings of Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress. He built a 900-person company with no offices and employees scattered across 68 countries, so he has a lot of good material here.
- Ok Productive – This podcast is not necessarily built around remote work, but a lot of the productivity tips and hacks they discuss on the show can be extremely valuable for remote employees.
- Modern Work Podcast – This podcast features in-depth interviews conducted with digital nomads and other remote workers. The podcast host travels and works full-time as a freelancer. She’s also the author of the Digital Nomad Survival Guide.
- Rework – This podcast is about better ways to run your business. Hosted by the founders of Basecamp, it offers insights into ways that companies can improve how they run, including lots of advice on having a remote work environment.
- Wide Teams – This podcast features interviews with remote workers in various fields. The personal anecdotes of the people being interviewed are often very insightful and useful even if you are in a different industry.
- Yonder – Aimed at helping companies transition to a more flexible, “free-range” workforce, this podcast is full of useful tips. They also have a number of helpful articles on the site.
Working remotely is great, but productivity can be tricky to manage. While you may not be the person who makes the choice about which productivity tools to use in your office, you might have influence over such a person.
If that’s the case, then choosing good tools for your team is one of the primary ways that you can make sure that remote work remains sustainable. The best tools for the job vary a lot, but here are some great ones that can help in a variety of situations.
- Asana – A web project management tool that is widely used in remote organizations.
- Basecamp – A web-based project management tool focused on simplicity.
- Brain.fm – Custom-generated music tailored for your brain. The idea here is to drive you into an appropriate mental state for a particular task.
- Clockify – Free time tracking software for teams to manage hours across projects.
- Clubhouse.io – Project management tool specifically designed for software teams.
- Deel – Compliance, payments, and invoicing tool.
- Evernote – Note taking and knowledge management tool that works for teams. I use it as a digital filing cabinet across all my devices.
- G Suite – Google’s office suite of tools for business. These are built to allow real-time synchronization, so they work well for remote teams.
- Monday.com – Team Management and Kanban board. I’ve worked at several places that used this, and it’s always been handy without getting in the way.
- Nozbe – To-do list tool. I use this one to manage every to-do list I have and even have special workflows in Zapier that push things into the tool in response to events.
- RescueTime – Helps you optimize your use of time during the day by letting you block distractions, track time automatically, and set goals. It’s great for breaking your habit of spending too much time on Hacker News.
- Slack – One of the most popular chat applications out there, nearly every remote company has a slack channel. It’s good for both teams and one-on-one chatting. We use it to keep in touch with our podcast audience.
- Toggl – Neat little time tracking application. I use it both for tracking billable time as well as time spent on nonbillable activities. It’s inexpensive and well worth the low price.
- Trello – Kanban board for managing projects and teams. It’s very helpful for custom internal processes (such as content editing workflows) and offers a lot of integrations with other tools that you might be using as well.
- Xtensio – Xtensio is a collaboration platform where teams can easily create, share and manage beautiful living documents and presentations.
Even if most of your meetings can be handled effectively with your various workflow tools, there will still be times when you want to be able to talk with co-workers face to face. Video conferencing is critical to your success as a remote employee.
While video conferencing software (and the hardware it works with) don’t always allow it, I try to always have both my camera and microphone on when I am on a call with my team. While this isn’t strictly required, I find that helps reduce the number of misunderstandings that occur on the team. Having good and reliable video conferencing software will help you maintain your connection with your team.
Video conferencing software is one of the most critical tools you will have. Every time you are in a face-to-face discussion, your video conferencing tool of choice is as critical to communication as your own face is when you are in the office.
While you may not be the person who chooses the software that your team uses, you should advise whoever makes that decision to use good software. Far too often, I’ve worked with teams using the cheapest video conferencing software they could find, only to end up wasting hours dealing with its various quirks and problems.
This is a bad place to skimp because any failure of this software can easily waste time for your entire team. Get it right with some of the tools below.
- Hangouts – Chat and video conferencing application provided by Google. We use this for all face-to-face conversations for the podcast as well as our quarterly meetings. It is extremely reliable for us.
- Microsoft Teams – An alternative to slack and many other chat and video conferencing programs, Microsoft teams integrates nicely with Outlook and other office tools. I’ve used it on a number of projects with great success.
- Skype – A free chat and video conferencing tool used by default in many organizations. It does work pretty well in general, but the newer version is not as stable as the old one.
- UberConference – Free software for conference calling. It’s especially nice because you can set up and join conference calls without messing with PINs.
- Zoom – Video conferencing software that is especially effective for large groups, including for webinars.
Tools Make Work Easier
If you want to be successful in remote work, having good tools and resources makes it a lot easier to be successful. The stability of any remote work environment is heavily dependent on your ability to effectively use technology to get your work done, communicate with your team, and manage problems as they occur.
While you can work remotely with very minimal tooling and few resources (and I certainly have), it ends up being a lot more stressful than it has to be.
While you are working remotely, be sure to take time every few months to evaluate how well you are doing. Pay special attention to anything that seems more difficult or frustrating than it did before, as small problems can add up over time to make remote work difficult.
When you run into something that is making your work less pleasant, see if you can find a tool that will help you get around the problem. You’ll often find very inexpensive solutions for common problems, as you aren’t the first to have them.