9 Ways to Develop New Skills & Continue Learning While Working Remotely

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Working from home is hard. I’ve been doing it for the past five years and can relate to the hundreds of millions who have been thrust into the work from home (WFH) lifestyle. And 67% of companies expect these remote work policies to “remain in place permanently or for the long-term”. Like it or not, WFH is here to stay.

The biggest struggle I’ve encountered while working remotely is finding ways to continue learning. How can I develop new skills, both professionally and personally, when I’m at home and behind my computer all day? 

Before jumping into solutions, it’s important to first understand the problem. Why is it so hard to learn and grow while working remotely?

❓ Working from home is a much different physical environment than the familiar office setting. A change in environment requires a change in habits and behavior — and change is hard.

❓ Being physically around coworkers creates natural opportunities to learn by osmosis. You can simply observe how others do things — how they solve problems, talk on the phone to customers, and figure out that tricky Excel vlookup. This takes very little effort and, like compound interest, will build skills slowly over time with minimal effort.  

❓ Lastly, most companies haven’t fully adapted to the new WFH world and have failed to provide robust education opportunities to their employees. 

In summary, you have to take it upon yourself to learn and grow while working remotely. 

Here’s how you do it.

🌱 Create a list of all the things you want to learn and should learn. This list will be a living document that will evolve over time and should span a variety of learning mediums — books, videos, classes, and articles. It will help remove decision fatigue because when you’re ready to learn something new, simply consult the list and push onward. No thinking needed.

🌱 Balance work specific learning with general personal development. Both are valuable but they’re usually not the same. For example, on the professional side, I’ve been learning and implementing a new business development strategy to grow my business. On the personal side, I just finished an online course on the basics of Artificial Intelligence.

🌱 Set a learning goal and track your progress. I’m a fan of effort based goals that focus on the inputs instead of outcomes that are out of our control. My goal is to spend at least one hour a week on personal development.  I use the super simple Tally app to track my efforts. Each month, I look back to see if I met my goal. If yes, great. If not, something needs to change.

🌱 When something is on my calendar, it gets done. Try blocking off “Learning Time” each week to help you reach your goal. 

🌱 There are a ton of online learning platforms out there. It’s almost to the point that the huge number of choices are preventing us from using any of them. I like Coursera for college-like courses run by Universities, Masterclass for high-quality video lessons by known professionals, and Khan Academy for free quick lessons. 

🌱 It’s important to avoid the bad habits that pull you further away from valuable learning. For me, it’s anything with a feed. I’ve uninstalled all social media off my phone because it was killing 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there — and that time could have been used to chip away at my learning goals. Your negative habits may be different, but take the time to figure them out and create boundaries around them. 

🌱 My friend Dave is a software engineer who works at a small company with one other developer. Instead of relying on a daily stand up or the occasional touch base meetings, the team takes a more direct approach: they keep a private Zoom meeting room open all day that lets them “sit” right next to each other. They’re not constantly talking to each other but it’s much closer to a normal work environment than relying on Slack, email, and formal meetings. This setup brings back some of that osmosis learning that we had while working together in person.  This approach won’t work for everyone, but it’s an interesting option for smaller teams. 

🌱 Attend an online conference. No, they’re not as good as the real thing, but they can still be a great learning opportunity (and usually cost less than $100). I attended my first online conference this summer and felt instantly plugged back into the industry. An unexpected upside is that some of the attendees were people I haven’t spoken with in over a year. The shared experience was a great reason to reach out and say hello. 

🌱 If you work for a company, it doesn’t hurt to ask your manager if they provide any learning benefits. Even if they don’t have a full fledged education program, they might have discounts or reimburse learning expenses. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

How do you develop new skills and continue learning while working remotely?

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The Ideal Cell Phone Setup While Living in a Foreign Country

Technology has come a long way to make it easier to connect with loved ones while living abroad. With that said, I’ve been living in Mexico City for 10 months and have struggled to solve a seemingly simple problem: how can I live in another country without missing a phone call to my US number. I run a small business and can’t afford to miss phone calls to my primary cell phone number. 

After much trial and error, I’m excited to share the phone setup that I’ve been using to solve this problem. The setup is written from the perspective of my experiences moving from the US to Mexico but it should work when moving between any two countries. 

Here’s my recommended setup:

  • Purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Mexico (or wherever you’re traveling/living) to get cheaper and faster local cell service
  • Buy a Skype Phone Number tied to the country you moved from (in my case, the US) 
  • Forward the US phone number to the Skype Phone Number. When someone calls the US number, it will automatically ring in the Skype app while living in Mexico and using a Mexican SIM card

Here are the details, along with some useful bonus tips:

Purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Mexico (or wherever you’re traveling/living) to get cheaper and faster local cell service

A pay-as-you-go SIM card in the local country will give you cheaper access to high speed data and a local phone number to make calls. Most countries have SIM cards that don’t require a monthly plan that you can recharge at local convenience stores or through an app (I use the Ding Top Up app). Here in Mexico I went to the Telcel store, the local cell phone giant,  and got a SIM which and I can purchase GB bundles each month. It’s about $20 for 4 GB of high speed LTE with no long term contract. 

I now have a local SIM to for high speed internet it’s active in my phone. But with my US SIM turned off, I still need to figure out a way to receive any calls made to my US phone number. This is how I do it: 

Buy a Skype Phone Number tied to the country you moved from (in my case, the US) 

Most phones let you forward all incoming calls to another number. The problem is that the destination number has to be a number tied to the same country. This makes sense, because your carrier does not want to incur costs for forwarding calls to an international phone number. To take advantage of this feature, you’ll need to acquire another phone number tied to the country you moved from. In my case, it’s a US phone number. 

Enter Skype.

Skype, most commonly used for free chat and video calls, also sells local phone numbers in 24 countries for $6 / month. That phone number is tied to your Skype account and you can receive and make calls directly from the Skype app.

When purchasing the secondary phone number, you can also choose the area code to make your number feel a bit more personal (I selected an area code to match my primary US number). 

With a secondary phone number, I can now…

Forward the US phone number to the Skype Phone Number.

Now I can simply setup call forwarding to forward all calls made to my primary US number to my secondary US Skype number. When someone calls my US number, it will automatically ring in my Skype app while living in Mexico and using my Mexican SIM card

Follow these instructions to set up call forwarding on your iPhone

Follow these instructions to set up call forwarding on your Android

Download the Skype app, enable notifications and set up voicemail. I also recommend enabling custom caller ID, so any calls made from your Skype number show up as your primary US number. It’s like you’re still back on your home country.

The Skype app will ring whenever someone tries to call your primary number. Say goodbye to missed phone calls while living abroad.

Here are a few Bonus Tips that have been incredibly valuable during my time living abroad:

Change your local cell phone carrier to one that allows you to use your phone in foreign countries. 

I changed my US carrier to T-Mobile which gives me unlimited data and texting in 210+ countries. I can’t use it all the time while in Mexico (thus the need for the above setup), but it’s much more flexible. The international data speeds aren’t super fast but it’s convenient for checking email, messages, and directions out of (and into) tricky situations. There’s nothing better than landing in a new country and knowing that your phone will just work without paying $5 or $10 per day like many US carriers. 

Get a phone with eSIM capabilities so you can use two SIM cards at the same time

I recently upgraded to an iPhone that supports eSIM and it’s been a game changer. This lets me use two SIM cards at the same and toggle them on/off easily within the phone’s settings. This is absolutely huge! No more fumbling around with little SIM cards and paper clips to change between my US and Mexican numbers. 

Here’s what it looks like in the iPhone settings:

For iPhone users: enable iMessage to send and receive from an email address instead of a phone number

When you’re using an international SIM card, you won’t be able to send or receive iMessages from your primary number. This makes sense because a number has to be active in order to send messages from that number. 

You can still use iMessage, but it will have to be from either your new local number or an email address. I’ve enabled iMessage to my email address because it is much more familiar to my friends. Instead of them receiving messages from a random Mexican number, they get them from my email address (which has my name in it and is much easier to figure out). Plus, most of my friends already have my email address in their contacts so they don’t even know the difference.  

Go to [settings > messages > send & receive > start new conversations] and change the value to your email address.

This setup has served me well, but nothing perfect. Here are the challenges I’m still trying to solve:

  • I haven’t been able to get the Skype and cell phone address book syncing to work, so calls forwarded to my Skype number show up as unknown. This is frustrating because instead of just showing up as “Dad”, the call displays the phone number (and I’m not the type of person to memorize phone numbers)
  • When using the international SIM, I need to update my contacts phone numbers to have the +1 country code in order to call or message them. I haven’t found a way to do this in bulk, so I’ve been doing it one at a time as I’ve needed to use a number.  
  • I don’t get text messages sent to my US phone number. This is pretty annoying and I haven’t found a way around it. Luckily I don’t get many old school text messages and the problem is less dramatic with the ability to quickly toggle phone numbers on/off with the eSIM. 

What’s your ideal phone setup while living abroad?

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Your Boss’s Boss

Photo by Emily Morter

It’s incredibly difficult to know when you’re in the right job — especially early in your career. 

Am I learning enough? How’s the relationship with my manager? Are my coworkers bringing out the best in me? Maybe I should just stay through the end of the year until that bonus/stock/promotion is due?

There are seemingly endless factors to consider and it can lead to analysis paralysis, unneeded stress, and just poor decisions (or all three) . To combat this predicament, I’ve found a simpler way to evaluate your future at a particular company: 

Just look at your boss’s boss. 

Are you excited to be in her shoes someday? 

If the answer is no, it’s time to start looking elsewhere. If the answer is yes, great. You’ve met the baseline requirement and can now start thinking about some of those other questions. 

I love this shortcut because it boils down several important factors into one single visualization. Learning potential, upward mobility, compensation, quality of life, and daily challenges are all included.

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