Remote work and digital nomadism seem to be the hottest, newest trends — all the rage in the tech and startup scene. Although trends, tools, products and even companies have recently emerged around this movement, it really isn’t all that new. People have been successfully working as distributed teams and remote freelancers for years. It turns out, you don’t have to be a young, carefree millennial to make remote working work for you.

susanWe wanted to learn more about how the people who’ve been “working in the future” since the early 2000s have created processes and leveraged tools for success. To start, we talked to Susan Tenby who has worked in online community management for 14 years and has been active in social media for nine.

Susan is currently the Director of Community and Partnerships for Caravan Studios, where she uses her community management skills and social media listening expertise to analyze social networks, build community and generate leads. She also organizes the San Francisco Online Community Meetup. Here’s what she has to say about the future of work and what tools she uses to be a productive and successful remote worker.

What is the biggest myth about distributed teams and the appeal of remote work?

Well, there are two. The first is that remote work is only for millennials or digital nomads — that it’s new, when it’s really been around for a over a decade. The second is that remote workers are hard to get in touch with, but the reality is we’re always online, available and more responsive by our very nature and job descriptions.

For online community veterans like me, the majority of our work has always been online. We’ve developed long-staying conventions to connect with our remote teams, such as regular Skype calls, regular conference calls and agreed upon times that we’ll all be available on chat. We always answer text messages immediately, and are more responsive than our strictly office-bound colleagues.

What are the biggest benefits of working remotely?

For me, the benefits of working from home are:

  • Saving money and time by not commuting
  • Having the flexibility to go to yoga and work on my consulting gigs when I want
  • Maintaining a healthier diet and lifestyle by preparing food at home
  • Spending time with my dog while saving on dog walker costs

If you work from home, having regular coffee houses and cafes for meeting your clients is essential. You don’t want to bring your work colleagues to your home, and an added benefit is having a daily walk to a café, making for a refreshing change of work scenery.

Most importantly, working remotely can also lead to better work being done. You can brainstorm and ideate where and when you do those things best, whether it’s the shower, on a walk, etc. Remote work is also a great option for parents who don’t mind being readily available, allowing them to save on childcare costs and spend more time with their kids.

What upcoming trends do you see in distributed teams, remote work and the future of work?

More people working remotely and fewer offices are definitely in our future. I see much more acceptance of non-traditional work days that are broken up with a lunch or exercise break in the middle of the day. Considering that two hours per day are spent on average commuting and getting in what I like to call “work drag,” remote workers can enjoy the benefits of having a refreshing break in the day, and not be judged by our colleagues.

We’ll also see even more mobile friendly conferencing and screen-sharing online collaboration platforms in our very near future.

Editor’s note: Other great online collaboration tools for teams are Asana, Trello, iDoneThis and Squiggle, to name just a few.

What are your tips for staying focused and productive as a remote worker?

The key to productivity when working remotely is to:

  • Set up a structure
  • Keep yourself organized
  • Instill trust by “showing up” and delivering to your team virtually
  • Keep similar hours each day among the whole team or with specific clients

As a manager of a remote team, the following will help set your team up for success:

  • Establish protocol around the collaboration tools your team uses (Skype, Hipchat, Slack, Google Drive) that the entire team follows
  • Be super, hyper responsive and set an expectation of responsiveness for the whole team
  • Have fun social events online for camaraderie, such as gaming together or live tweeting a TV show
  • When you are in the same city as one of your distributed team members, make sure to spend face-to-face time with them
  • Finally, if there is a conference in the same city as one of your team members
  • Reward team members by letting them represent you at the event or conference

What are your favorite tools to keep you organized as a remote worker?

  • Skype and ReadyTalk for conference calls
  • SecondLife for synchronous meetings with lots of people
  • Forums for archived discussions
  • Online to-do lists (editor’s note: check out or Wunderlist!)
  • Coffee houses and Breather spaces for meetings
  • Lots of online document sharing and collaboration using Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live docs

You’ve been managing online communities for more than 20 years. How have you seen the community landscape change and evolve over the years? What’s stayed the same?

There used to be just forums and email lists, now we have an enormous array of social media tools and platforms that promote seamless engagement. Now that everyone is on Facebook and Twitter, almost all of us are accustomed to participating in social networks, making the landscape much more vast, the field more competitive and the jobs more common.

It used to be only the nerds that visited online communities. Now, everyone does, and they don’t even know that they are using them. It’s become a part of how people interact and communicate. Online community is so ubiquitous, most people don’t even know that they are participating in an online community when they are posting to Facebook. 

What are your favorite tools for online community management?

Outside of the actual platforms we all inhabit, I use: Hootsuite, Social Bro,, Klear (formerly Twtrland), Little Bird, Storify, and Canva, for making my pics that I post perfectly sized and more beautiful.

If you’re looking to make the most of remote work life or are building a remote team yourself, check out the jobs and available freelancers on CloudPeeps!