As someone who was used to collaborating with colleagues in a school as a teacher, it was a big shift for me to decide to leave the education world and pursue a work-at-home career in social media where I share my home office with our 6 year old Labrador. Since our dog isn’t the best for providing feedback for my ideas, it can be a challenge to make connections to a community for brainstorming purposes. It’s hard to foster individual creativity when there aren’t others to interact with on a regular basis through chit chat around the water cooler or in-office pop ins. Online tools, social media, and the cloud can be instrumental for connecting to a community and developing meaningful relationships that feed your creative self even without daily face-to-face contact.
I’ve been working from my at-home office for the past three and a half years. During this time, I’ve found some helpful tools that have allowed me to develop great relationships with individuals who feed my creative side even though they’re in locations around the country. Here are some of the tools I use with tips about how you can transition to a work-at-home lifestyle!
Create Online Networks through Facebook and LinkedIn
Traditional jobs bring people together through proximity. You may not always like the people you work with, but you’re connected to them through a common purpose and sharing the same location. One of the challenges of transitioning from a traditional workplace environment to working at home can be forming connections with like-minded individuals who share your same area of expertise and can serve as a sounding board.
Create online networks by starting with Facebook friends and looking for groups that match your interests. Friends can be a great source of inspiration and referrals while Facebook groups can widen your network, even if you lurk. Lurking to get a feel for the group and its members is fine but it’s also important to jump in and be a part of the group if you want to form relationships. LinkedIn can be another helpful tool to build your professional online connections. Connect to past colleagues, your alumni association, and local groups. Joining discussion groups is often a good idea too since they can be rich places for asking questions and getting questions answered while looking for your next consulting gig.
Conversing through Skype
Once you have a trusted network of individuals, Skype chats are a great way to brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other. When I’m at my computer, Skype is always on. It’s like my virtual water cooler where I check in with members of the various Skype chat groups I’m in to hear about how their day is going and get updates on family life, but also as a professional place to problem solve, brainstorm, share information, and provide inspiration. It’s a place where someone can always ping me if they need a quick response and vice versa. I also like that Skype chats are archived so even if I’m not online and members in my group are chatting, I can go back and read the conversation to catch up on what was shared earlier in the day or week.
Brainstorming with Social Media
It’s hard to brainstorm with a dog as an office mate. He’s a fabulous foot warmer who allows me to clear my head with a mid-day walk but he’s not the best about providing feedback for my ideas. Instead of relying on our Labrador for brainstorming, I’ll often throw questions out on Twitter or Facebook to crowdsource as part of my brainstorming process.
My brilliant friends and fellow group members on Facebook are never shy about commenting and will also spark new ideas. Twitter can be hit or miss. It always depends on who happens to see the Tweet rolling by their stream but it never hurts to Tweet out a 140 character question for brainstorming purposes. Also be sure to follow certain hashtags of interest for fodder that might lead to your next big idea.
Curating Online Content
When you work by yourself, it can also be a challenge to stay on top of industry trends that provide inspiration for daily work. I find subscribing to online content through industry newsletters helps keep the news top of mind. I also have a list of sites that cover hot tech topics that I visit daily such as Mashable, TechCrunch, and Sprint Faster. Sprint Faster is a site that I can scan quickly to read headlines before clicking over to briefs about tech trends, innovators, and get a glimpse of what people are talking about in regards to mobile on social media. Having so much great content in one place is certainly a timesaver for me!
Collaborating through the Cloud
If your company allows you to telecommute, they have a built-in way to share files and calendars for collaboration purposes. When you’re an independent consultant and have multiple clients and need to collaborate with others on various projects, sharing files via the cloud is the only way to get work done efficiently. Cloud computing allows users to share, access, and edit documents simultaneously. Google Drive, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, and Dropbox are the most common free cloud computing solutions. I find myself using all three of the aforementioned tools depending on who I’m working with. Some of my clients have a preference for one platform over the other so knowing each, and being flexible, is important!
During the past three and half years, these tools have enabled me to have regular contact with a group of brilliant individuals who feed my creative side and are willing to bounce ideas around. They’ve allowed me to not miss the regular face-to-face contact that I used to love when I worked in an office and taught in elementary schools.
If you’re someone who is considering making the transition to a work-at-home lifestyle, know there are always new tools being released that are designed to streamline our work flow. While they attempt to make us more efficient, it’s also important to know how your work style and choose the systems that work best for you.