I’ve been working remotely as a product/UX consultant for about a year now. My office is anywhere I am — from California and Las Vegas to Dublin and Paris, and as I write this, Porto, Portugal. I’ve spent a while refining my tools and tricks to make it as seamless as possible for my clients (wherever they are in the world) and for myself as a semi-digital-nomad.
It all boils down to three key factors: availability across platforms (usually that means a “cloud” service), ease of use for my clients (so they don’t have to learn to use any new tools), and of course, ability to just do its job well. I also prefer software with a personality, so I opt for that when possible.
Here’s a look “behind the scenes” of my consultancy, Mostly Brilliant.
This one is a no-brainer. Slack solves nearly all problems. I’m constantly switching between my laptop, my iPhone, and my Android and I need to be able to respond to clients wherever I am. Slack is at my fingertips no matter where I am and has absolutely changed the way I work. I keep each client in their own private group within my Slack team and, when necessary, set up Slack integrations for each client so that whatever we’re working on pipes into the correct channel and centralizes everything we need. Indispensable.
Working independently can be lonely, so with Slack, I also get the benefit of my more “social” professional channels being in the same place. No need to switch between apps.
I purposefully try to minimize the number of voice calls I have to do, but when it’s necessary, I use UberConference. It allows you to dial in from your laptop (read: using a wifi connection) OR from a regular phone. So for clients who prefer to use phone over the likes of Google Hangouts or Skype, they can just dial into my conference line and I can dial in from my computer. It’s perfect when you’re abroad and can’t make international calls. The number works whether I’m in the States or elsewhere, so for my clients it’s completely seamless and doesn’t require them to install any new software.
While Karma (referral link) only works within the US, it’s amazingly useful for having a wifi connection anywhere you are. I use it on my long train rides between South Jersey and NYC or even sometimes when the wifi connection gets spotty in the house. And then there’s airports, of course. I keep it in my backpack all the time just in case. It’s saved me on more than one occasion when the wifi cut out and I was in the middle of a client conversation or on a deadline.
T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan
Amazing. I can land in almost any country in the world and have instant access to unlimited data service on my phone. T-Mobile says it’s “only” 2G, but I’ve rarely noticed it being that slow. It’s only $50/month and saves soooo much hassle. I pair this with my Nexus 5 phone since it’s unlocked and I can get a local SIM if needed. Highly recommended, especially as a woman who often travels alone.
If I liked the phones needed for Google Fi, I would easily switch to that service since it would actually work out to be less expensive for me, but although it’s really nice looking, the Nexus 6 is just way too big for my needs and hands.
I wrote an Ode to Google Docs on my blog back in ‘08, and my love has only gotten stronger. Being able to have in-line comments with my clients makes things so much easier than abstractly referring to a particular part of a doc. Each client gets a folder and everything relevant to their project goes in there so it’s all neat and tidy in one place that everyone has access to.
It’s also the easiest way for clients to share files with me. Also another no-brainer for me.
Again, it’s available in The Cloud, on all of my devices, and rarely requires my clients to learn anything new. Thumbs up.
Turning wireframes (or any design assets) into a clickable prototype is a game-changer. Particularly at the early stages of a projects, wireframes need to be treated as disposable. Being able to throw together a prototype in a few clicks based on updated wireframes lets me iterate through lots of options quickly so we can actually get our hands on the general flow of the product we’re building and figure out where the friction points are or where there’s room for improvement before we sink tons of money into development.
Just like Google Drive, Invision has inline-commenting so my clients and I can point to a specific element in the prototype when making a comment rather than talking about “that button up there.”
I use it in combination with Sketch app and Dropbox so anytime I make an update to the Sketch file, it syncs up to Dropbox and updates the prototype in Invision. Gotta love efficiency!
Every Time Zone
Time zones are hard. And Daylight Savings Time makes them even tougher to remember. I swear by everytimezone.com to help me remember what time it is where my clients are, or, more importantly, what time it is where I am when my clients request a meeting at a specific time. Nothing worse than accidentally scheduling yourself for a 3AM call. Nothankyou.
If I could make one improvement to Every Time Zone it would be to have more time zones available and maybe let you create a set of “favorite” time zones, but generally the UI does exactly what I need it to and that’s all that really matters!
Bookkeeping. Fun times. At the moment I’m using QuickBooks Self-Employed (that’s a referral link). It gets the job done and the UI doesn’t make me feel like I’m actually doing boring accounting stuff. Most importantly, it estimates my taxes for me and lets me easily categorize my expenses, including ones I wouldn’t have thought to include (like health insurance!). Honestly it’s not my favorite, but there’s a huge cost to switching and I haven’t found anything better.
Note: I do use an actual accountant for handling my taxes, but using Quickbooks for my bookkeeping throughout the year makes quarterlies and tax time much more bearable and means I just have to show him the category totals. A little bit of maintenance in Quickbooks every week saves me a major headache come March/April.
I process all of my contracts electronically via HelloSign (also a referral link!). HelloSign lets you add fields beyond just signature, name, and date, so you can also have a “form” of sorts within your contracts for collecting things like address, phone number, etc. I haven’t encountered anyone who’s had major trouble using it yet, so it’s at least worked for the majority of cases.
You can also assign different fields to different signers. Good when there are multiple people involved!
While I’m working on moving away from hourly billing, I do still like to track my time so I have the data points for my own understanding and future estimations. Toggl is crazy simple and lets me categorize by client and project (which works well when I have more than one project for a single client). I know it comes with all sorts of bells and whistles, but honestly I don’t use any of them. I just need the stopwatch. But it’s nice knowing I can scale it up to be a more powerful tool if the need ever arises.
(Suggested by @voxkev! Thanks!)
13” Macbook Air
While I would love for that amazingly slim new Macbook to be powerful enough for my needs, at the moment I’m still using the 13” Macbook Air. It does everything I need, has a moderately slim profile, and a much smaller power brick than the Macbook Pro.
I’m excited to see what Apple has in store at WWDC though. Maybe something even slimmer?!
Belkin Travel Surge Protector
Power outlets can be a little iffy in some countries, so I always like a surge protector to keep any surges from ruining my gear. But it also helps that this Belkin strip has 3 power ports and 2 USB ports, so I really only have to carry around one converter for all of my charging needs. Plus it lets me make friends in the airports, hostels, and co-working spaces.
I swear by these notebooks. They’re designed like your typical Moleskine, but once you reach the end, you can pack it up in the prepaid, included envelope and mail it off to Mod for scanning / digitization. It makes all of my notes for the last 3 years completely digital. I pair it with Evernote that way I can even search through my notes thanks to my strange, blocky handwriting style. It’s so handy to be able to have access to all of my notes no matter where I am without having to carry an increasingly large collection of notebooks around. Dot grid is the way to go.
What about you?
What powers your business or remote life? I’m always on the hunt for awesome tools!