How to Make “Remote Work” Work for you

Marvin Liao
3 min readMay 5, 2021

For those fortunate to be doing paid knowledge work, 2020 was a blessing as formerly anti-remote workplaces were forced to allow it from the government mandated lockdowns.

I’ve been a proponent for Remote work since the mid 2000s, having experienced it as an executive based out of San Francisco/Sunnyvale while my team and business group were split between London, Geneva, Dubai, Mumbai, Barcelona and serving customers and partners across the entire EMEA region (Europe/Middle East & Africa in case you were wondering).

And this was before the days of Zoom video calls, Slack, Google Docs in case you were wondering. We did it via painful conference call lines, Yahoo! Messenger & expensive mobile phone calls. I would get a text from finance admonishing me for having one of top 10 most expensive phone bills every month for the last 4 years of my tenure at Yahoo!

Well this has now become the more mainstream new reality in the post 2020 covid world.

The big questions:

  1. How do you manage time zones when working with people all over the world?
  2. How to optimize your life around this?

You will end up having weird hours and it’s something you have to accept. My days at Yahoo! were crazy. I was on the road most of the time. But when I was home in San Francisco, I would start my week on sunday evening. Kicking off the week on team calls if they were in Asia or Europe. I’d do calls for a few hours, then sleep for 5–6 hours and get up to do more calls until Europe’s evening, my late morning.

I’d save the afternoon for email, coordinating with key folks in HQ in California & do any deep work. And sometimes take a nap or do the gym. Early evening was for family time and then the calls would begin. Needless to say this was not sustainable. Also something I did because I was younger and didn’t know any better.

But I did learn some key lessons since then and have adapted a schedule that worked better for me (and was much healthier).

1) I’ve gotten better at utilizing the weird hours by batching video calls/meetings into specific mornings or evenings. Preferably 3–4 days a week at most for me.

2) Saving specific blocks of time where my time zone did not overlap with my teams, clients or colleagues. This time was when I could relax, do the reading, writing and thinking, all components of valuable “Deep Work” as coined by Cal Newport.

3) The Batching of tasks. Something I’m still trying to get better at. Ie. not checking email & slack so frequently

4) The weird working hours can be tough but it does open up much time with family and friends.

5) Also the lack of office face time gives you better control of your schedule and forces you to focus on real work that drives visible results. I will not be surprised that many companies will end up firing a large portion of their staff because they realized many of them don’t really do any real work.

There are aspects of the in-office workplace I miss. The camaraderie and serendipity that happens when you run into . But to really make remote work work, you have to force yourself to schedule and plan better. And basically be much more deliberative in what you do, how you do it and when. Not a bad thing.

And considering that most big companies have publicly stated they will not be opening their offices until this september, a good part of 2021 will be similar to how we spent 2020. Remote work is something we need to get used to. It’s here to stay for a while so we might as well get good at it.

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Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything!