May 8, 2006 by John Donagher

As a software developer who enjoys solving problems, I’m always thinking about how we can use technology to address the problems of transparency, visibility, and open and honest communication with respect to remote work. These are real problems with non-obvious solutions. As our users know, we are continually pushing ourselves to innovate and deliver the tools and information to make your work through oDesk as successful as possible. You’ll see more product-related enhancements in the coming months around the theme of deep visibility into oDesk marketplace trends; enhancements that I think really set us apart as a product and as a company.

But as this article on points out, there are some relatively simple things that remote workers can do to help themselves succeed. As someone who has been on both sides of the remote work equation, here are my top five suggestions that I’ve found make a big difference:

  1. Use VoIP. Social disconnection is a real problem. Email is great for asynchronous work, and IM is something many remote workers can’t live without, but both are cold and impersonal. To really be integrated into a company, sometimes you just need to hear and be heard. Use Skype or Google Talk, and make sure everyone you work with does too.
  2. Set your own hours. And keep them. Be consistent in your working hours, and make sure you have at least a few hours of overlap with your team every day. If you’re working, be connected to your IM account(s) and set your status appropriately. If you’re using oDesk Team, use a webcam. This will help cement your ‘presence’ in your colleagues’ minds, and in the company. Don’t make people have to hunt you down.
  3. Eliminate distractions. As the eWeek article points out, working from home can be liberating. Still, there are can be advantages to an office environment, most notably, a lack of distractions such as kids, pets, TV, etc. Try to designate one room as a home office. Keep the door closed and the kids/pets out while you’re working. If having background noise such as music or TV helps you get in ‘the zone’ and makes you more productive, use it. Otherwise, cut it.
  4. Be comfortable. Having worked until 2 AM far too many nights in our CTO’s home office (a converted guest bedroom), where the ambient temperature averaged 55 degrees F, and the chairs were the folding type with metal legs, I can say with confidence that being uncomfortable does hurt productivity. I’ve always been amazed by how many friends of mine, also software developers, have no problem dropping $1000+ for the leather seating option on their new car, but balk at spending a few hundred on a good chair from a vendor like Steelcase or Herman Miller. If you spend more time on a daily basis in your office chair than in your car, and I’m pretty sure most people do, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
  5. Care about your craft. If you don’t care about the product you’re working on or the company you’re working for, it becomes apparent pretty fast. Companies know that finding reliable remote workers has traditionally been a hard problem. Little things like following up, and being honest and driven show you care, and can pay long-term dividends. Along these lines, oDesk is doing what we can to ensure our marketplace showcases the best talent and most committed workers. oDesk Hours Worked, Feedback, and Online Testing are all examples of oDesk metrics that help you rise above the rest.