Your Business of One
Thinking like a Business of One means thinking of yourself as if you are your own small business, even if you’re actually an employee working for a larger organization. Your “products” are made up of the work you are delivering for your clients—and if you’re an employee, your number one client is your boss. You are the CEO, the chief marketing officer, the director of HR and the entire workforce of this business: it’s your job not only to get the work done, but also to think strategically, manage your “brand,” and keep your workforce—that’s you!—happy and productive.
Thinking as a Business of One lets you focus on outcomes instead of hours worked, and outcomes are what should matter to both you and your employer. By helping you rethink and reorganize the way you work remotely, this model solves the problems of accountability, productivity, and output measurement—but in a totally different way from the outdated obsession with the eight-hour day.
#1 ACCOUNTABILITY . . . FOR OBJECTIVES
As the CEO of your Business of One, you are accountable for achieving or supporting the objectives your clients have set out. If you are an employee, that means that you are accountable for the objectives that have been set by your boss or employer: that’s your client. (If you are a freelancer or business owner, your customers are your clients.) You and your boss/client will negotiate agreements that ensure these objectives are crystal clear, so that you actually can be accountable for delivering on them.
#2 PRODUCTIVITY . . . FOR YOU
As the head of HR for your Business of One, it is your job to fully understand what maximizes the productivity of your workforce. You should organize your time and space to bring out your best, even if what is best for you might be a little different from how you’ve worked in the past, or how you’ve related to the rest of your team. If you’re an employee, you and your boss will need to agree on a mode of working that lets you deliver the best results in a way that’s in everybody’s interests.
#3 MEASUREMENT . . . OF OUTCOMES
As the chief marketing officer, you need to protect and further the reputation of your business by delivering measurable results. When you’re clarifying the objectives of your boss or client, you will also discuss how to measure your progress toward these objectives. To create a true meeting of the minds, the remote worker and the boss should agree on what we call success metrics: a written list of deliverables with time targets. Then you will organize your work in a way that yields those measurable results, and regularly communicate with your boss to share your progress
When you think of remote work like you’re a Business of One, you can focus on outcomes instead of hours. Think of your boss as a client you want to wow by delivering work that meets their objectives. Clarify objectives with your boss, and negotiate success metrics. How you get there is then up to you.
Making the New Model Work
Your ability to function as a Business of One is constrained by your employment structure (self-employed people have more freedom than employees) and your market power (senior employees and people with rare skills are in a stronger position to negotiate some flexibility).
Working as a Business of One is most challenging for junior or midlevel employees who need clear strategies for achieving more freedom and flexibility in their remote work arrangements.
You will be more productive and flexible as a remote worker if you can tip the balance of your work to favor solitary rather than collaborative work, since solo work is where remote work offers real advantages over what you can get done at the office.
The best way to balance solo and group work is with punctuated collaboration: divide up tasks so that people can proceed with solo work, but check in regularly to share ideas and make decisions that require group consultation.
Build trust and earn some freedom from daily oversight by setting clear expectations with your boss, and spelling out the trade-offs between 24/7 availability and your ability to deliver results.
Wow your “client” (even if it’s your boss) by communicating in a clear and timely way, in a form that reflects their preferences.
Err on the side of overcommunicating with your boss or client, and get ahead of any looming issues—no one likes to be surprised with problems.
Maintain a performance file that reflects your best work and your notes on lessons learned, both to inform your performance reviews and to help you in future job searches or promotions.
Managing a Remote Team
Managing a remote team is more complicated than conventional management, but potentially more satisfying.
To manage a remote team member most effectively, think of yourself as the coach for her Business of One.
After setting the team’s objectives, agree with the team on success metrics: a concrete set of deliverables with specific time targets.
Your job is to provide your team with the resources, troubleshooting, and other support it needs.
Conduct midflight reviews of each project to help your team refine strategies and overcome bottlenecks, but don’t micromanage.
At the end of a project, you should celebrate if the team meets the success metrics, and make changes to prevent failures from happening again.
You should establish ground rules for your team on core working hours, online meetings, and communications channels.
You should hold weekly team videoconferences to facilitate communication, promote knowledge sharing, and build connections within the team.
You should hold one-on-one meetings with each team member every week, which sometimes should be structured as performance reviews.
Once or twice a year, help each team member think about their long-term career path, including their plans for remote work.
Making the Most of Meetings
When you’re inviting people to a meeting, include a clear agenda and provide any background materials at least twenty-four hours before the meeting.
Only accept meeting invitations that have an agenda, make good use of your time, and advance your priorities, and find ways to politely decline everything else.
The meeting leader’s job is to bring participants into the room with full attention, move through the agenda, and encourage participation from the full group.
Generous meeting participants listen as well as contribute, and acknowledge and build on the contributions of others.
The last five or ten minutes of the meeting should be reserved for summarizing decisions, identifying follow-up steps, and assigning responsibilities and deadlines.
Online meetings impose unique psychological, physiological, cognitive, and logistical burdens.
To mitigate the downsides of online meetings, aim for fewer and shorter meetings with a smaller number of participants.
Opt for meetings only when they’re necessary—typically because you have a complex or important decision, require group creativity, or need to build group trust.
Before an online meeting, test out your equipment, find a separate space that is quiet, and try to minimize the distractions at home.
Take advantage of the unique benefits of online meetings, like the ability to use chat, polls, or breakout rooms.
Reading Online and Offline
Online reading offers many productivity benefits, but requires you to mitigate distractions by using reader mode, ad blockers, and other tools.
Before you start to read any material, think hard about your purpose in reading, and stick to it.
Then go through a three-step process—grasping the structure of the document, reading the introduction and conclusions, and perhaps reading the paragraph tops in the body.
As you go through these three steps, try to actively remember the key points relevant to your purpose. Take a few notes to reinforce your memory.
To make the most of your reading time, select a range of reading apps that match the specific contexts in which you do different types of reading.
Use a “read it later” tool like Pocket or Instapaper to save your must-reads for a time and context when you can absorb them.
Set up a clipping file that allows you to collect readings you want to refer to in an easy-to-reference form.
Extend your reading capacity with audiobooks and text-to-speech tools.
Writing Solo and with Others
When you are working remotely, you are your words. That’s why it’s essential to be a good writer—which means writing in a way that communicates clearly and efficiently, and moves people to action.
Good writing begins with a plan that specifies the goals and audience for what you’re writing, as well as the context in which your work or document will be read.
Work from an outline that captures your key ideas and information, categorizes them by theme or topic, and then organizes them into an order that reflects how it will be read.
Every document should begin with some kind of road map, but your specific structure will depend on your goals and audience.
All writing is rewriting. Plan for at least three rounds of revisions: one for content and structure, one to tighten your text, and one to catch any typos or errors.
Get better results from document collaboration by asking for the specific kind of feedback you need, and using both comments and suggestions to ask for help and track changes.
Choose the right tools for your particular writing job by investigating specialized writing tools like Scrivener and Zotero.
Email and Messaging: Beating Overload
You don’t need to reply to every email message. Decide how much time your inbox deserves relative to your other objectives and tasks, and then scale your email usage to fit inside that window.
Automate your attention so that you see the email that matters most, and don’t miss crucial messages due to inbox overload. Use “alternate inboxes” and mail rules to ensure that only the most important, urgent messages land in your primary inbox.
Make an email routine so that you can spot and reply to urgent, important emails quickly, but process other messages at a later time, as your other priorities allow.
Write your emails so that action items come first (and note deadlines), followed by any contextual or supplementary information.
Send your emails only to those with a real need to know, and try not to hit the reply-all button.
Use text messages when you need an immediate response, or you are having trouble getting a person’s attention by other means.
Treat team messaging as your default form of communication for the team, and rely on public channels as much as possible so that your communications are visible and searchable for your colleagues.
Master the basics of your organization’s team messaging platform so that you can be an efficient, respectful colleague, and follow the guidelines set out by your employer. If your organization doesn’t yet have its own documented guidelines for team messaging, advocate for them to be developed.
Social Media: Projecting Your Presence
Don’t keep up with social media. Instead determine which relationships will advance your objectives, and focus your social media usage on developing those relationships.
Use lists to organize your social media attention around the different types of relationships you want to cultivate, and minimize the degree to which network algorithms determine what gets your attention.
Choose a niche for your social media presence that positions you at the intersection of two or three fields, or one to two fields plus a location.
Choose a medium and platform you’re really going to enjoy posting and participating on, because you won’t sustain your social media presence unless it also sustains you.
Every week or two, post a thought piece with an idea or comment in one of the fields where you are building your social media presence.
Make sure anything you post on social media passes the front page test: you’d be comfortable having your boss read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.
Set up a toolkit and routine that allow you to sustain your social media presence in three hours a week by queuing up posts once a week, then checking in very briefly every day.
Get feedback on your social media presence from friends or colleagues, who can give you an objective perspective.
Presentations: Making an Impact
An effective presentation needs to be planned around the specific audience you’re speaking to and the format of the talk.
You need to get clear on the goals for your presentation: What do you want the audience to learn, think, or feel by the time you conclude?
Draft your presentation around a structure that includes an emotional connection to your audience in your opening minutes, and a conclusion that includes a clear call to action.
Focus on a maximum of three ideas or insights that you want your audience to retain, which are related to your goals, and build your talk around these one to three key points.
Deliver your talk from point-form notes, printed on paper, with time notes that will help you adjust your running time as needed.
Use slides to anchor your audience’s attention and support different learning styles, but avoid using too many slides or too much text.
Include some participatory elements in your talk, including a pause for questions, so that your audience stays engaged.
Rehearse your talk and tech setup so that you are confident in your run time and in how you will connect on the day of your talk.
Use social media to share key links with the audience, get feedback, and share insights from your talk.