Remote Work 101: The 6 Skills You Need to Get Started

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Yesterday was International Translation Day. We at Lionbridge are incredibly fortunate to work with thousands of talented experts who are as passionate about language as they are about helping customers break down barriers and build bridges to new opportunities and connections around the world. We are grateful for our remote team of translators that circles the globe, and we are proud to be an employer they have chosen. Translators: thank you!

Independence. Control of your schedule. The chance to work from anywhere, free of distractions or rush-hour commutes. The list of benefits of working remotely goes on, so it’s hardly surprising that two-thirds of people around the world skip the office at least once a week.

What’s more, remote work yields multiple benefits for the employers who embrace it. This Inc. article, for example, champions remote work for its ability to “increase productivity while reducing costs,” providing benefits both personal and financial, and encourages more employers to adopt it as a strategy.

With all the buzz surrounding this new “norm,” you might consider remote work a no-brainer. I know I did when I began freelancing three years ago.

But I quickly realized that as a freelancer, you are the company—responsible not just for client work, but for project management, accounting, business development, and more. To succeed in all those areas with little guidance, you need a diverse set of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills.

If you’re wondering what those are and whether remote work is for you, look no further than the collective wisdom of Lionbridge’s own network of translators. In our experience, you’ll need expertise in the following six traits.

1. Time management

The ability to manage our time is an ability most of my remote colleagues and I value above all others. Yet one Lionbridge translator’s advice really stuck with me: To best manage your time, you first must value it.

Part of valuing—and thus managing—your time, she said, is knowing when to say no. You won’t do your client or yourself any favors by accepting work that doesn’t suit you. In other words, don’t take on projects that either don’t interest you or for which you are not qualified.

When you lack the expertise or drive to get started, you risk taking too much time to prepare—or, worse, procrastinating. The resulting pressure sets you up to under-deliver or burn out. And even if you are qualified for the work, you risk burnout when you “exceed your capacity limit,” says Nohad Cattan, another Lionbridge translator who hails from the Middle East. Taking on too many jobs is the quickest way to kill your productivity.

When we hire translators at Lionbridge, we look for individuals who are naturally organized, who understand their strengths, and who know when the answer that’s best for both them and their client is “no.” One of the most important lessons I learned, in transitioning from on-site to remote work, was how to fit my work into my lifestyle. For many on-site workers, the opposite skill—creating a lifestyle around your work—is essential.

2. Self-discipline

When you work remotely, you are accountable to one person for mapping out your daily schedule: yourself. Once you’ve made your plans, it’s up to you to stick to them. Only with self-discipline can you:

  • Disarm distractions. “[Remote work] is great if you are a responsible person who can work at home without being distracted,” Nohad recommends. Yet your future home office offers a myriad of distractions everywhere you turn. Who will hold you back from binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through social media? You.
  • Self-train. Challenges inevitably arise. Your job might sometimes demand new skills or the ability to solve new problems; when you’re separated from the rest of your team, you won’t always have resources on hand to help. It will be up to you to ask the requisite questions and conduct the necessary research to meet your clients’ expectations.
  • Meet your clients’ needs on time. This one’s self-explanatory!

My fellow remote workers and I agree that the best technique for self-discipline is a little role play. Pretend other people are there to hold you accountable. Get dressed for the office. Set strict (but fair) work hours or standards—for example, commit to answering emails within 24 hours, but not after close of business.

And perhaps most importantly: “Never forget your health and never forget to relax when needed,” says Yavuz Gonen, one of our translators in Turkey.

If you’re good at prioritizing and scheduling tasks, setting and meeting deadlines, and tuning out distractions, you’re halfway there. You just need to make stringent self-discipline a habit.

3. Independence

It’s not uncommon for freelancers to spend most working hours alone, which is no problem for introverts like me who enjoy their own company (or the company of their cats). For natural extroverts, though, the fear of loneliness can seem like a deal-breaker. Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, remote work can give you more time and flexibility to socialize than working in an office would. You can (and should) take the opportunity to:

  • Spend downtime with family and friends.
  • Work in public spaces like libraries and coffee shops.
  • Rent coworking space with other freelancers and learn from them.
  • Network at conferences and meetups.
  • Attend meetings in-person, online, or by phone.

To all the introverts reading this in horror, I hear you. I, too, assumed freelancing would save me from the awkwardness of conferences and meetings. But take it from me: there is no better way to build empathy and respect for your clients’ businesses than to get out there and meet their people. Debora Valsecchi, a translator based in Italy, agrees. “Sometimes, being in the same room with someone can help you understand their specific needs,” she says.

4. Reliability

“Reliability” doesn’t just mean competence or the ability to meet deadlines. For your clients to consider you truly reliable, you must be able to deliver quality on a consistent basis.

When global companies need content translated, for example, they require quality and consistency. Un-micromanaged remote professionals must inspire confidence and trust that they will do the job well.

How do you inspire that trust? It’s simple: through solid communication. But you’ll need to be both responsive and proactive in conversations with managers and clients. In other words, you need to go beyond replying to emails in a timely manner. Start your own conversations by:

  • Keeping the project’s stakeholders updated on your progress, even if they don’t ask.
  • Proactively seeking feedback.
  • Asking for more opportunities to be helpful when you have spare bandwidth.

A few translators I spoke to also pointed out that you need a reliable Internet connection. In fact, Internet was the top tool our translators felt they couldn’t live without. That may seem like small stakes, but it’s of paramount importance that you’re reliably reachable. Don’t be surprised to find companies list this as a strict job requirement.

5. Flexibility

Before remote work exploded, Bill Gates had a theory about the increasingly competitive job market. He predicted that, as true talent becomes tougher to find, the “companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge.”

He was right. Telecommuters have more than doubled in numbers in the last few years and brought huge success to the companies that offer them the opportunity to work wherever. But flexibility can be both an opportunity and a challenge.

As a freelancer, you’ll sometimes be working on your clients’ time rather than your own—for example, you may need to meet an urgent deadline or make last-minute changes to a project. One of a freelancer’s most important qualities is her ability to adapt to these eventualities.

“This can be of utmost importance in satisfying customer requirements,” says Lisa SkovJensen, director of Lionbridge’s Translation Unit. As a bonus: “Those that have proven records of being helpful, adaptable, and dependable definitely have an edge over others.”

6. Joy for what you do

Plenty of people seek out remote work only because they assume their jobs will be easier or more appealing if conducted in the comfort of their own homes. Unfortunately, though, the content of your work is consistent regardless of your location. If you hate doing something at the office, you’ll probably hate it at home, too.

You know you’re starting remote work for the right reasons if only the logistics of your job bother you. One of the biggest turn-offs to on-site work among my remote colleagues and I was the need to commute. (Ironically, one reason freelance work appealed to me was the accompanying freedom to travel more.) Whatever your reason, the key is to love what you do—before you do it from home.

“If you enjoy what you are doing, work can be very positive in many ways,” says Angelika, an Ireland-based translator who considers job satisfaction the most important mindset for a freelancer.

You won’t really know whether you’ll enjoy remote work until you try it, of course. In the beginning, you may even need time to get used to its challenges. If you ultimately love the work you do, though, you’ll start off on the right foot.

“At the beginning, it may be hard to survive working remotely,” Yavuz said when I asked him what advice he’d give to someone considering remote work. “But with self-discipline, patience, and hard work, a free and satisfying life is possible. Lionbridge may be a good choice to start working remote.”

Is Remote Work Right for You?

Deciding to go remote takes a lot of research and reflection. Before applying for Lionbridge remote jobs, my colleagues and I took serious time to self-assess our aptitude for these qualities as well as for certain qualifications and experience. And in other parts of the world, those qualifications vary. One translator from Germany, for example, needed a diploma in translation to apply for freelance translation jobs.

But take it from us: the pay-off for that preparation is huge.

Lionbridge has a long history of championing remote work and was recently recognized by Flexjobs as a top company hiring for part-time and work-from-home jobs. If you are interested in joining our pride, we hope you will take a look at our open opportunities here.

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