Future is definitely you. If you are a freelancer, you see the signs all around you. You have a computer, internet connection, cool projects online - well you’re good to go.
Not so fast. Just listen to me for a second. We built Koding while Sinan was in Germany, and I was in New York. Freelancing all the way. Our next team member joined from Kiev, then from Connecticut, then from Portland, then from Poland, Russia and Turkey and so on, and the trend continues.
I want to share with you our ‘best practices’ and our experience working with others, remotely. Here is the list:
1- Don’t treat it like it’s your hobby. It’s your job. Have a set schedule, let the others know when you will be online, become a reliable team member early on. Let everyone feel that you care, and you’re there when you’re needed. Say hi when you come, say bye before you leave, allow your team members to ask questions, and check the status of your work.
2- It’s no longer hours game. If you punch the clock, you lose. Unless you’re working for something you don’t really care about (you shouldn’t do that by the way), count your hours and don’t count your hours. Here is what I mean; try to work 8 hours a day. Not more, not less. Your team members will respect you for that. Then work more when needed, when you really want to finish something.
3- Never count extra hours off from your next days work. You can’t work 24 hours a day and not work the next 2 days. Nobody hires you for that. However, if you worked your ass off, never asked anything back, your work was very useful (you weren’t just being stubborn on something nobody gave a damn), but company doesn’t give you extra pay or paid day off when you need it, stop working for them.
4- Don’t work 16 hours, and not show up the next day. Not cool. Immature. You impressed no one, made your mom sad, your spouse angry.
5- Don’t work 20 hours every day. You prove you’re a robot that makes everybody else feel bad. If you really want to do that, do it in private, go offline, work, but don’t tell anyone. You can’t sustain that anyway, so better, don’t do it at all.
6- Be reliable, stable, show up, find problems, and fix them.
7- Never ask “what do I do next?” if you do this in a row, you’re out. By asking that question, you make yourself second class citizen. First, you’re making someone work to make your to-do list, nobody is your secretary. Second, if you can’t see that there is a barbecue, steak, and people waiting - turn around, you’re facing the wrong way. Serve those people. That’s why you’re hired. Otherwise why would you be sitting there?
8- Find at least 3 things that you can do next, ask “I think we need to fix X,Y,Z - which should I do next?”. Be open for option T. Finish every job perfectly, ship it yourself if you can. Prove you can take responsibility from start to finish. Never ever say “Oh, I thought that was this other person’s job” because if you do, you’re out. If it is indeed another person’s job, your job is not to sleep on that excuse, your job is to get that person to do his job so that you can finish yours. Don’t take no for an answer when it comes to shipping your products, it will cost you, your job.
9- Take weekends off, I’ve heard it many times “Oh I will work on Saturday/Sunday to get this done”. No. If you constantly are needing to get stuff done in the weekends, you’re not doing your job well. Just don’t work. It’s healthy. And it will help you better discipline yourself, get stuff done on time. If you really really want to work, do it in private. Never brag loudly about what a workaholic you are. Ask permission to do that. “Guys, is it ok I do this in the weekend?” make sure you’re telling your peers that it is an exception, not a suggestion.
10- Sign your work, like Picasso signs his paintings. Make sure it couldn’t have been done better (if you had a day to finish it, it’s ok if it’s hacked together, it still falls under ‘it couldn’t have been done better’).
11- Present your work like it’s not yours. Accept every kind of critique wholeheartedly. Know when to politely dismiss a comment, when to defend your work, when to accept the critique fully. If you miss one of those traits, or excel at one of them, you’re out. Try to balance, if you couldn’t, apologize as soon as you can. It’s ok. Nobody is perfect, but the ones who acknowledge their weaknesses the fastest, are the winners.
12- Avoid perfection. It will delay you, it will make you look bad, it will make you look incompetent while you’re working very hard. Ship quickly. Think in iterations. If first shipment doesn’t break the next iteration, it’s ok.
13- Don’t ship crap because you did it quick. Nobody likes that. There is a good balance there, by shipping quickly and caring about the quality, you will get there. If you care about just one of those, you will lose.
14- Make sure your workspace is as good as an office environment. It’s quiet, your mom doesn’t call you in the middle of your day, your friends don’t knock on your door to take you out. When in doubt ask this to yourself “Could I do this if I was working at the office?”. It took me quite sometime to get my wife used to the fact that I can’t “just” take out the trash, or take dishes out of the dishwasher. My working hours are my working hours, they have to be quiet, and uninterrupted.
15- If you’re chatting with a teammate, and a neighbor appears at the door, don’t say “neighbor is at the door”, say “just a sec, i will be right back”. Keep those stuff that can’t happen at the office, to yourself. Never give the impression that your workspace is inferior to an office. And make that impression your reality. It will prove that you care.
16- Don’t tell your team members that you didn’t show up because you had to accomodate a guest, had to visit your mom, or your bathroom blew up. Immediate reaction is, the place you’re working is not suitable for the job and you’re failing at disciplining yourself. If these things are happening all the time, and you don’t show up at the same time everyday (unless agreed otherwise), you’re out.
17- Don’t think freelancing is less work, because no one is watching you. Don’t think you can take a time off in the middle of the day, and come back and do your work later. Don’t think you can skip a full day without notice, and say you will compensate that in the weekend. You just earned yourself a bad rep. Now you gotta work harder to clean that up. The fact that nobody is watching you makes it harder for you. Because when your peers lose trust, you can’t fix that easily. Also, in the past (or now) just showing up at the office was good enough. You’re there between 8am to 5pm, you earn your salary. As a freelancer, don’t ship anything in a month, you’re out.
18- Nothing beats face to face. Meet your team regularly. At least once, at least some of them. Call on Skype, have a video chat, show your face. If a company is sold for a billion dollars, it’s highly unlikely that you get a million if you’ve never met them. There is magic in working together in the same space. That’s why Koding got an office and gathered in SF as soon as it got funded. We started iterating 10x faster. Think of it as, when you get closer, you’re connected with a gigabit internet vs dialup. When you’re together, you learn faster, you get to know each other. You get to know how they joke around, how they talk and interact. You get to know who is devout, who is libertarian, atheist, political, soccer fan etc. So you don’t crack an inappropriate joke, or say stupid stuff that can offend some of your teammates. There is no way that you know any of that without spending time, nobody is going to type those into chat for you.
19- Freelancing doesn’t mean you’re in your cave. Especially if you are serious about the company you work for. You can’t marry without meeting. Try it, and let us know if we’re wrong. Freelancing is the future, but we will have to meet each other to get serious. Now, in the future, always. Don’t think otherwise, or you lose.
20- Finally, be a linchpin.
Let me know if you have suggestions for this list. I will list startup’s responsibilities in another post, I think we’re good on that one :)
*: I just signed my work