The Way We Work
March 3, 2010 by Alex Hornbake

Most remote workers don’t have an “IT Guy” or an assistant on hand, so it’s important to be sharp and self-reliant when it comes to the basics. Here’s a list to help you evaluate and hone your own skills – let us know in the comments if we’ve overlooked any skills that you’ve found indispensable!

1. Email - Knowing how to check your email, and how to write an effective email are two entirely different topics – but both are useful to know! Your email provider should have a “How To” on checking your email through webmail and setting up an email client on almost any platform, but if it’s over your head, consider using a flexible, free service like Gmail, and forwarding your old email to your new one. Although almost any email address can be configured so that it’s accessible over the web via browser or smartphone, Gmail apps make it easy for even the non-technically inclined to access their email anywhere.

On the writing effective emails front, check out’s article on Writing Effective Emails.

2. Networks and Wi-Fi –
Being unable to connect to the internet can derail a remote worker’s entire day. Being able to troubleshoot basic network and wi-fi problems is a must. Also, consider a backup plan, if a tree falls on the telecom lines outside your house, where is the closest wi-fi hot spot?

C-Net has a good primer video on basic wi-fi troubleshooting, which is worth a view if your productivity (and your paycheck) is dependent upon a wireless connection.

3. “Instant” Communication, Skype, IM, etc. -
Availability via IM can be either a blessing or a curse for a remote worker. Consider separating your business and personal life with separate logins for IM services so that you can tune out the chatter from friends, harness this tool for productivity, and gain a sense of “being there” with your colleagues even if you’re far away.

4. Tele- and Web conferencing – Be sure to familiarize yourself with your client’s meetingpreferred method of meeting. You can’t blame it on traffic when you’re late to a virtual meeting, and depending on your field, citing technical difficulties might make you look incompetent.

5. Collaborative Tools –
Whether its as simple as Google Docs, or as involved as project management tools like BaseCamp, it’s important that you can effectively use the tools that you have at your disposal.

For more a quick primer on Google Apps, check out Google’s very own Google Apps Training Tutorial, and for some quick tips on how to use Basecamp more effectively, see Flatsourcing’s “We <3 Basecamp. How we use it effectively.

6. Document creation and sharing –
Being able to generate clear and concise documents, create the necessary delivery formats (ie, .doc, .pdf, .jpg), and share them via email attachment, web, ftp, or the collaborative tools mentioned above is an essential skill for any remote worker. A great free tool for creating PDF files is CutePDF, it’s free and, once installed, is as simple as clicking “print”.

7. Digital organization –
Since the majority of remote work is digital, your computer desktop and local file structures are just as important as the desktop and filing cabinet you would keep at the office. It’s easy – create new folders by right clicking on the desktop, select “New”, select Folder, name it, put files and other folders in side of it according to the organizational structure that makes sense to you.

screenshot_example8. Screencasts/Screenshots - Sometimes its easier to just show someone what your talking about rather than trying to explain it. Being able to take a screenshot, circle part of the image and write notes can be a helpful way to illustrate a point. For explanations of more in-depth procedures, screencasts can be invaluable.

For more info, see’s How To Capture a Screen Shot of your Desktop or the Active Window in  Windows.

For getting started quickly and easily with screencasts, check out’s Tutorial on Camstudio.

9. Maintenance
- Keeping a good eye on the health of your computer can prevent disastrous delays. Anti-virus and anti-malware are a great start, but your hardware’s health is important too. Don’t ignore noisy fans and cranky sounding hard drives! Most hardware failures give warning signs, don’t ignore them.

For more info on computer maintenance see, Optimizing Computer Performance for Online Work Success, featured previous on the oDesk blog. For more advanced users, consider a hardware monitoring tool like SpeedFan, which can help you monitor CPU temperature, and overall hard drive health.

10. Security -
Keep your sensitive data private. Run a good firewall, and keep your OS and browser up to date with security updates. For more security tips see, Securing Your Home Network, featured previous on the oDesk blog.

Alex Hornbake

Freelance Tech Writer

Alex Hornbake is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. He joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, and brings more than a decade of technical expertise to his clients. Alex shares his point of view to help you make informed decisions for your personal and business technology choices.

  • Hector

    Very good and appropriate info

  • http://hotmail ayesha

    i have these 10 skill..give m chance to proof myself

  • marlyn

    this information is very helpful. my first job meets a disaster you mentioned above.i had really lost my articles and no way to recover it. now i’ve learned a lot thanks.

  • http://InternetExplorer emily

    I am preparing myself to have all the knowledge I could gather to start on working online. This really helps a lot. Thank you so much for the information.

  • Wahid

    That is useful information, thanks

  • RudeUrm


    there was BaseCamp from 37signals mentioned as colaboration tool. Did anyone work with CollanosWorkplace?
    Did someone tried both? What is more preferable?


  • Jenny M.


    I’m just a new user of this Odesk. This article is very helpful. Hope I can find more employer. I look forward to have more work. Thanks

  • Nic

    A tool I find handy for demonstrating tasks or assisting contractors with questions about a task is Jing by Techsmith. It allows you to record what you’re doing on the screen and switch between webcam and the live screen. The webcam is a nicve personal touch. The video can then be uploaded to their server and used as a FAQ resource for repeated tasks. The cost is only $14 / year so well worth the cost.

  • Marshall

    Thank you for sharing.

    Its really important to know all these things for a good performer..

  • ali raza

    hello all! someone please help me, i have done my first job on o desk in lask week, he giving me good rating, after finish his job i just push by mistake get refund button and now my work history showing again nil(0). please help me how i can get back this rating with my work history .. please some one help me please

  • Arslan Sheikh

    I am a new worker on Odesk Hi to all

  • Marbella

    Thanks for sharing. I don’t have all the skills posted but I’ve got enough.

  • David Friedman

    Note also that there is a tool called the Windows snipping tool.

    Using Windows 7:

    Do a search for “Snipping Tool” and you should see the scissors icon.

    You can take snips of screen areas and paste them into documents.

  • Jeff

    Well, dang. That would have been a handy list to have about three years ago when I set out on a remote career. I think I have “painful” experiences in everyone one of those 10 areas.

  • Saikat Roy

    thanks for the info……((^_^))

  • asava samuel

    it is educative and has helped me know how to work on o desk

  • Katrina

    good article especially for newbies like me. thanks

  • Travis

    Great info but most of these tips requires internet connection. But in a real world situation, when you work in a very remote area, most of the time, you don’t have internet or cellphone signal.

  • APG

    Some of these tips are so basic that I cosidered obvious (email, screenshots, maintenance…), others may be in contrast of working-style of someone:
    not everyone can make itself available on Instant Communication and Conference tools, and maybe someone would work better having the time for thinking about correct and complete responses.

  • John Hallaran

    Great tips. I appreciate hearing about Speedfan, I’ll have to check it out.

  • Dominique A. Mariano

    Thanks a lot!

  • Umair Akhtar

    Love that screenshot stuff. And I am quite habitual of doing it. And I recommend people to use it, because at times its quite handy.

  • Chris

    CTRL + Print Screen will capture a screenshot & copy to clipboard, you can then paste in MS Word.

  • Claus Conrad

    I use Jing for screenshots. Very easy to annotate and share them instantly.

  • Jovell Alingod

    This is really helpful! All the tips are encouraging and would really help anyone in Odesk- newbie or not with a good freelance career! Thanks so much! Even the comments are helpful!Support here in Odesk is really awesome!

  • Devesh Gupta


    Thank you for such useful informations.

    Your suggestions for PDF creator (CUTEpdf) was really helpful.

    Thanks….keep writing

    Devesh Gupta

  • dinesh junoon

    it is good article …for making screen shot we can use fireshot plugin that comes with the firefox and it gives lots of functionality by using that u can put ur comment and can do other things …


  • Archana


    I have just started independently, this is very useful information for me. thanks.

  • Kevin K.

    Great tips. I’ve got a couple things to share that I hope will also help:

    1. For screenshots, you need only two words: Bug Shooting. – just download the old version. It works GREAT. You can take a screenshot super-easily and immediately annotate it. It doesn’t do scrolling screenshots, but maybe version 2 does? I dunno…I won’t buy it till I’m forced to, but I probably would give them some money for such a great app.

    2. Another alternative to when the wi-fi goes out that may work well for you developer types on a diet from meetings is just to set up your laptop/computer for offline work. When you’ve got everything set up locally, you don’t need to be on the Internet to get things done. This is great for trips; I did a fair bit of offline work on buses and ferries during my Christmas vacation! When you get online you can catch up with email and stuff.

    For added benefit, use a decentralized version-control system (DVCS) – mine is Bazaar. Commit local offline, then commit to the server when I’m online!

    Hope this is of help to someone.

    Kevin (kjeffcoat)

  • Matthew Smaling

    Nice little article. I am glad to see I do most of these, but I do need to get into a habit of backing up my work-data on a daily basis, in-case my hard-drive fails.

  • irfritz

    A great tool that is not only for beginners but also a reminder for those who forgot what it needs to be done as a remote worker.

  • Julian Josephs

    Great list. Very helpful and reassuring because I have all the skills mentioned and more :-D

  • Coupons

    Great article very helpful. I know most of this stuff but its nice to have it all laid out in one place for reference.

  • Thanh Nguyen

    thanks for the information.

  • paul

    I started using screencasts recently to teach my clients how do certain tasks in WordPress. The feedback is very positive, and it’s much quicker than a long and confusing email.
    For quick screencasts, I use You don’t need to install any software, it’s a free online app, but the time is limited ti 5 minutes.

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  • Alex

    Agreed, OpenOffice is a great tool. I’m glad that everyone has found this helpful.

    For more info on offsite backups (sync services), and remote access technology be sure to check out the post entitled, “Holiday Travel: Stay Connected with Remote Access Tech.”


  • Stephanie

    I love being organized! You have no idea how many folders and files I’ve already created in my free Mediafire account just to keep things in order.

    Maybe learning how to back-up your work is also a skill that freelancers should master too. Well, it was always a helpful one for me because it saved me from the hassle of redoing the work over again from scratch because of a power outage here in my place.

    Thanks for sharing Alex!

  • Jay

    That is useful information, thanks – since striking out on my own, I have certainly had to learn how to fix minor problems. When I worked in the real world, I was notoriously disorganised – working online, I have had to shape up.

    I can do most of those, although I tend to use OpenOffice for PDF conversions. It does a pretty good job :)

  • Tamara

    Ahhh … thanks for the screencast info. I’ll be checking out the tutorial!