How Do I Become A Remote Worker…?

I want to become a remote worker

I want to become a remote worker.

I don’t think I’ll be able to sit on the beach and sip cocktails in Bali while I’m working. But I want the freedom to work more like a remote worker.

So I’m evolving. My workflow is changing.

I live in New Zealand. So that’s pretty remote anyway. I’m not moving house or shifting overseas. I’m just looking for flexibility. And greater productivity when I am “at work”.

I’m also looking to get out of the house and detach myself from my home office (as nice as it is).

I also want to detach myself from all the physical crap that comes with running a business. My home office and garage and parts of my roof are full of work crap.

And I’ve got some off site storage as well. Also full of crap.

Here’s my plan… I’m not saying that this will work for you, but this is what I’m doing right now. And it is working for me.

I’m moving out of home

I already work from home. We got rid of classrooms and offices several years ago. This was a great step as it reduced our overheads. I love not leasing a building.

My home office is comfortable. I have a nice desk, chair, big screen and storage. This is one of the problems. So I’ve moved out.

I’m working in a co-working space

I have a desk downtown at a co-working space called Kloud Collective. It’s a new startup run by a friend of mine who is also my Google guy. More on Google later.

To work there, I have to drive to work. That means I have to leave the house. It’s great.

It also means that I get to rub shoulders with others who are also working like this too.

This includes some cool Taupo-based startups including

  • Cloud-based accounting champions
  • Aviation video recording pros Eye-Fly.
  • Virtual office and personal assistant Rogue PA.

It’s a great bunch of people. Focused. If there’s a key here, it’s that working with other people working remotely works. Well it does for me at least.

I’m using Evernote as my memory

I’ve written about Evernote before. I have a love/hate relationship with the cloud-based notetaking app. I’m giving it another shot.

It’s working. As long as I keep things simple, it’s fine. I use it as my digital note pad for jotting down ideas. That’s about it.

I also keep a personal todo list in Evernote. Yes, I know there are proper todo list apps. I’ve used all of them.

Now I have one todo list note for the month that I’m in. And I write all my todo lists in this note.

I dump everything out of my head into the day’s todo list. Then whatever doesn’t get done gets copied to the next day’s list which just starts at the top of the same page.

If I’m not getting something done, there’s usually a reason. So then I’ll delete the item from the list.

Or I’ll transfer it out to another list where I can forget about it.

I’m using Basecamp to manage my business processes

We run an education business. We’ve been using Basecamp for this for years. It’s not perfect. But if comes close.

Here’s the secret: Every student is a project in the project management system.

We build every project from a template that we’ve been tweaking since 2007.  It’s a dynamic process, but this means we have consistency. There are more than 100 things that have to happen for every single student every single time.

And this manages every process from enrolment through to graduation and archiving. It’s also scalable.

I’m using Slack to communicate with my team. 

Slack is an instant messaging app for team. It’s touted as an email killer. Please don’t email me. I hate email so I’m always ready to look for alternatives.

I’ve been using Apple’s iMessage and Viber for a couple of years now as alternatives. But the big problem is that they are not searchable.

Slack is secure and searchable. And I can set up different channels for different kinds of chat. And we can all private message each other as well.

I’ve just figured out that I can link my Google Drive and Google Calendar to Slack. And I’ve also started using it to log my time for certain jobs.

Sure it’s another mouth to feed. But less email.

I’m using Sales IQ to keep track of new business

I’m terrible at marketing. My idea of marketing is waiting for people to ring me up.

I’m trying to be better. I subscribed to Sales IQ recently. Again, it’s cloud-based software as a service. I can use it to keep track of people that I send out marketing material too.

The idea is that it manages the sales pipeline for me. It will even do fancy reports. I don’t care about fancy reports.

This aspect of my business has always been weak. But then again, I’ve never had a good process or system.

Basecamp evolved into a bespoke student management system. I’m hoping that Sales IQ will evolve into something similar for tracking new business.

I’m using online banking

This one is a no-brainer. I never go to the bank. I can’t understand why banks still have buildings. I predict that soon all banks will no longer have buildings.

I’ve have a PO Box but I pay the courier to deliver my mail

I have a PO Box. I’ve had one since I started my business. It’s just one of those things I have to have as long as other people insist on sending me physical mail.

This might sound weird. But now I pay the courier a few bucks a week to clear the PO Box for me and deliver the contents to my house. Yes, like a mailman.

Yes, I know I could just redirect it to my house address. But it makes me happy to keep the separation between my business postal address and my home address.

I also don’t have to remember to clear the PO Box. That’s what I’m paying for. I also don’t care what you think about it.

I’m using online shopping for just about everything

I hate shopping in shops. This one has tipped for me. I now prefer the online experience for most things. Books. Clothes. Groceries. Office supplies.

I do like going to cafes and restaurants though. And some shops are cool. But they have to offer me some kind of experience now.

Luckily, there are lots of great coffee shops close to the co-working space. Like downstairs. I’m going there in about 5 minutes.

I’m using Google Apps for Business

I’ve been onto this one for a while. Gmail takes care of my work emails. And I have priority inbox turned on. That means that unsolicited or unknown emails get pushed right down the queue.

If you want to email me, please don’t. Use our office email instead: It’s my goal for the business to only have one email.

Google apps means that we use Drive for all our files. And it also means that we use Docs for all word processing and Sheets for all spread sheeting.

I’m forced by others to use MS Word or Excel from time to time. This makes me feel tired.

I’m using a virtual assistant

Actually, she’s more of a virtual administrator. She takes care of the emails and all incoming communications. This includes all student work coming into the organisation.

Sometimes we work side by side in real time in the same physical location. Like regular humans. At other times, we each work remotely for different places.

Slack allows us to chat about whatever we need to. Sometimes this is live. Sometimes it’s delayed.

I don’t tell her what times she needs to be “at work”. All the jobs get done. I trust her.

I’m trying to minimise all paper flowing in and out of my organisation

I can’t get rid of everything. Some things remain out of my control. But many of my statements come electronically. And I have many of my bills set up for direct debit or credit card.

I have a small portable scanner set up to scan receipts and other crap

I bought a scanner for this purpose about two years ago. But I couldn’t make it work. I just wasn’t disciplined enough to do it.

I think this was because I was so well set up at home with a physical filing system in place. And I actually couldn’t make it work.

And I actually couldn’t make it work.

Now I have ScanSnap sync set up. This means I can scan straight into my Google Drive. From here I can file receipts, share other documents, or just archive stuff.

Then I throw away whatever the useless paperwork is. I’m not your accountant though. So just take that one with a grain of salt.

I’m gearing up for outsourcing storage and distribution as well as print on demand and drop shipping

We send a lot of stuff by courier. Our students get a big study pack of printed material soon after they start.

Most of this is also online as well, but they really like it printed. I mean really like it.

And then when they finish they receive an exit pack with their certificate and other things.

All this takes up space. I have cupboards full of resources and shelves stacked with study packs. This occupies my home office, garage, and off site storage.

If I want to be a remote worker I need a solution to this. If I want to get my garage back I need a solution to this. And I think I’ve found one.

And I think I’ve found one.

I have a friend at a printing company who will print, store and distribute the study packs. It doesn’t matter that she is in a different part of the country.

What matters is that if we do the printing with her, she’ll store everything. And when prompted, her company will courier this out to our students and pass on the costs to us.

Also, changes at NZQA might mean that we can print our own certificates. At the moment, NZQA prints and ships us the certificate. Then we copy it and ship it to the student in an exit pack.

The paper goes up and down the country twice before it finds it’s home.

Once we can print our own certificates, I can outsource this to the printing company as well. They’ll be able to print and securely ship these as we need.

And I’m looking to get some of our other education resources for sale online with another company.

If it works this will be a print-on-demand, drop shipping arrangement. In other words, someone will be able to order one copy of a poster. This will then get printed and shipped to them.

Normally, this kind of one-off print on demand makes you the enemy of any self respecting print shop. But when it’s a global niche, it’s good business for someone. Even if they’re in Amsterdam.

That’s how I plan on becoming a remote worker. I’ll keep you posted.

Working from Bali is still a way off. Hopefully, though, it means more time for drinking coffee downstairs.

Career Planning 101: My Daughter Won’t Be Your Corporate Drone


I can’t vouch for the complete accuracy of this transcript. But it went something like this.

Teacher: “So what are you going to do for a career dear?”

Daughter (14): “Oh, I don’t know… Nothing. Everything.”

Teacher: “That’s not an answer. What do you mean?”

Daughter (14): “Sit on a beach somewhere. Work as a freelancer. Blog in my underwear.”

Teacher: “Oh dear… That’s not a proper job. How will you earn money?”

Daughter (14): “Not sure. I’d like to be earning a small passive income somehow. Perhaps from my blog and online shop.”

Teacher: “Yes… but what are you going to do?”

Daughter (14): “Whatever I want.”

Teacher: “Yes, but what about a job? A career?”

Daughter (14): [Sighs] “Actually Miss, I’m thinking about going to university. I’d like to be a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor.”

Teacher: “Oh, that’s nice! Good for you!”

Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (ALNE) Job Board: Anyone interested…?


I’m thinking of adding a Job Board to my blog. Or alternatively, I might set up another site just to deal with this if it got a lot of traffic.

There aren’t that many jobs relating to literacy and numeracy and foundation learning, but then again the pool of talent is quite small as well.

Job postings could potentially include any of the following:

  • Vocational and trade-related training at levels 1 and 2 where literacy and numeracy are embedded.
  • Workplace Literacy (WPL) and numeracy education.
  • Intensive literacy and numeracy (ILN).
  • Adult literacy and numeracy education including professional development and related employment or contract work.
  • Any other foundation learning focused training where literacy and numeracy are required or desired.
  • Any management or coordination roles where the focus is on supporting tutors or trainers in any of the roles above.

Did I miss anything? Anyone interested if I set this up? Please comment and let me know. If I hear nothing, I’ll assume no interest.

Calling all Literacy Numeracy Professionals…


I’ve been turning this over in my mind for a while… I’m not sure whether there are so many opportunities for this, but having worked in such a narrow area of education since 2007 I feel that I’ve now got a fairly sharp lens through which to analyse certain kinds of training.

This is particularly for programmes that have (or are supposed to have) an embedded literacy and numeracy component. I was lucky enough to experiment with some of these ideas this week with one of my clients. 

I think that I’ve got the basics of a framework that I could apply in a whole range of situations and parts of this draw from the specific NCALNE (Voc) work that I’ve been doing over the years (and will continue to do).

There are several dimensions to this framework and they go something like this:

Evaluative Questions

This is the same idea behind the NZQA’s external evaluation and review (EER) approach, but my questions are much more specific to embedded literacy and numeracy. For example:

  1. Context: How are you contextualising this training to the needs of your learners? And how well are you contextualising it?
  2. Principles: What is the approach to embedded literacy and numeracy that underpins your design and delivery? What principles of adult teaching and learning underpin your training?
  3. Process: How are you embedding literacy and numeracy into all aspects of your design and delivery? What about with regards to needs analysis, diagnostic assessment, learning design, materials and resource design, training, assessment, and evaluation?
  4. Practices: What are the embedded literacy and numeracy practices that your trainers and tutors use and model? How explicit or visible are they? What are the embedded literacy and numeracy practices and observable behaviours that you expect to see in your learners? And what do you actually see and observe? 
  5. Product: How do you measure the success of the final output? For example, when the programme is complete what are the critical success factors that allow you to compare this programme against another? This includes business related factors (e.g. was this repeat business with a previously satisfied customer) or educational factors (e.g. learners scores improved significantly on the assessments.

I think that an organisation could use this framework to benchmark programmes internally. Currently, the tertiary environment doesn’t support or reward organisations for benchmarking externally. However, this kind of framework could be a start, and at least companies could customise the different dimensions to suit their own culture and context.

There’s one other part to this though…

A register of credentialed embedded literacy and numeracy trainers

Here I’m thinking of an external quality mark which has nothing to do with NZQA. I’ve written about this idea before. Basically, my idea would be as follows:

  • It’s voluntary.
  • It’s free or cheap to join.
  • You join as a trainer or tutor.
  • You have to meet some minimum criteria including NCALNE (Voc) credentials.
  • You have to be actively working to embed literacy and numeracy into some context.
  • You could join on a number of different tiers (working towards meeting the criteria, attaining the minimum criteria to register, and then exceeding the criteria because of extra work or study that relates).
  • You have to renew your membership yearly.
  • Organisations could join too, but only on the basis that they have tutors or trainers who have met the criteria. For example, a company or organisation with a full cohort of staff that meets the ALEC “Good Tutor” profile could then apply to join under this criteria. Or if not a whole organisation, then perhaps a particular department within an organisation.

This would allow tutors and trainers to benchmark themselves against others and some kind of recognised standard. And it would allow organisations to benchmark themselves against others. E.g. Organisation A has 10 tutors who all meet the Good Tutor profile in a particular academic year versus Organisation B who have 5 tutors who are working towards this as a goal.

Having data on which tutors and trainers see themselves as active in the field of embedded literacy and numeracy could also help us drive more effective and ongoing professional development as we’d have a database of engaged users to survey in terms of what they need to stay engaged and keep developing.

Would you join?


Keep calm and reduce churn: What will the new education business models look like?


Education researcher and blogger Damon Whitten posted an excellent analysis of the reasons for tutor churn in the tertiary sector on his blog the other day.

When I read it, something went ping in my brain. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I posted an immediate summary here and then an extended rant about the topic here.

Each time I started writing, I wanted to get to this idea of new business models. Each time I failed and got sidetracked on all the other things floating around in my head related to this.

Anyway… here’s the thing I wanted to get to. It amounts to a set of untested assumptions about the future of education and education business models:

  1. If we are going to address the tutor churn issue as well as a whole lot of other systemic issues in education we’re going to need some new education business models.
  2. These new business models will disrupt the existing system to an order of magnitude equivalent to the disruption experienced by the music and film industries in recent years.
  3. The rolling out of these new business models will mean that the existing institutions and the people they employ will either evolve or whither away.
  4. New institutions built around new business models will emerge and threaten the status quo.
  5. Government funding agencies will wield a double edged sword of requiring real, sustainable, and measurable education outcomes from learners on the one hand, and the continued drive for increasing cost efficiencies, on the other.
  6. The only way to continue to achieve increasing cost efficiencies in education will be to leverage educational technologies that use the internet’s ability to massively scale without massively increasing costs. Anyone’s business model will need to take this into account.
  7. The way forward will be patchy to start with, but it will effectively shift the focus of education (and power) away from institutions towards learners and… something. This something could be teachers. But it could also be teaching delivery platforms where learners engage with content. Or a combination of both. Whatever the scenario, the institutions will become less powerful (just like the record labels have).

I don’t have any apocalyptic end point or anything like that. In fact, I think that the outcome  for many learners is going to be better with increased choices over educational pathways. However, there will be losers. And the old business model may co-exist alongside the new ones for a long time.

So what can you do about all this?

There are several responses:

  1. Be the ostrich: this isn’t an option if you’re reading here. But for many people and organisations the default response will be to bury their heads in the sand.
  2. Watch and observe: At least if you’re self aware enough to notice what’s happening you can still just wait and see how it all pans out. But you need to be ready for the opportunities that may present themselves along the way.
  3. Upskill and or cross-skill: You will need a new skill set to survive. However, you don’t know what that is yet. Luckily this doesn’t matter. Just get involved in some kind of training anyway. Extend your expertise in the same area. Develop your expertise in a new area. It doesn’t matter. This is because the underpinning skill that you’re trying to develop is learning how to learn new stuff.
  4. Foster strategic partnerships in order to collaborate: This requires some serious thinking. Who can you work with where you can genuinely create wins for both parties? From an organisational perspective, this could involve partnering with a larger organisation who can subsidise your over heads in some way. E.g. would a corporate partner provide free or cheap rooms for your face-to-face training because of some benefit to them (like you’re training their people).
  5. Unpack how really effective online business models work. For example, have a look at how TradeMe, Spotify, or iTunes works… how do the transactions occur? How is value created? What is the revenue model?
    • In iTunes, music listeners purchase digital copies of the songs they like. The artist records this once, but can sell it again and again. iTunes takes a cut. Could you produce digital education products that would qualify for a portion of the government’s education spend?
    • With Spotify, it’s a subscription model. Would anyone subscribe to your teaching? Could you run an education business on a subscription model? This business model certainly works for your mobile phone provider.
  6. Experiment with online education and assessment platforms. There are a lot of different ways of doing education online. Many of the tools to do this are free or cheap now, e.g. YouTube. Have a look at what others are doing, like Sal Khan at the Kahn Academy.  Or check out Pathways Awarua – the fantastic home grown NZ online platform we used to get our NCALNE (Voc) training online as part of a strategic partnership and collaboration. There are plenty of other platforms out there that you can play with – either as a learner or a developer.
  7. Look for better ways of quality assuring tutors and organisations. I’ve been thinking about this one for several years. I would not like to be responsible for adding to the already large burden on tutors. However, I know from my professional development work with hundreds of tutors over the past 10 years that it is possible to identify the kind of profile that a better tutor is likely to have. I written about this before here, here, and here with regards to the kinds of tutors that we work with. A logical extension of this would be to set up a voluntary, opt in, registration for foundations tutors along these lines. The ones who meet (or are working towards) the criteria could gain a tutor-specific quality mark. Where an organisation could show all the tutors met the profile, the organisation could also gain the quality mark. This would give tutors higher status if they are career tutors with more experience and better qualifications. Something like this is an inevitable development given our current trajectory. It’s just a matter of who does it and how well.

Dealing with tutor churn in tertiary organisations: What we need is new business models…

churn 2

Colleague and fellow education blogger Damon Whitten posted a great analysis of what is possibly one of the key issues facing foundation level tertiary education: the churn factor. I wrote a brief summary here

In short, lots of tutors leave their jobs (and possibly their teaching careers) before they have a chance to really come to grips with any or all of classroom management, content knowledge, and how to teach.

The reasons why tutors leave aren’t highly complex. You can read why in Damon’s original post. Likewise, the solutions possibly aren’t that complex either. For example, as a tutor do you feel appreciated? As a manager or owner, do you appreciate your staff?

That’s not to say that the situations that tutors and organisations find themselves in aren’t complex… I know they are. Anyone who has been through the NZQA external evaluation and review process knows how complex the internal workings of private and public training organisations can be.

One of the things that really resonated with me Damon’s comment that tough (tougher) times are possibly coming and what we need to be doing is looking for different ways of doing education. Here’s Damon:

The pressure will be coming on soon for PTEs to produce ‘real’ learning outcomes.  There is a cull coming (we have already seen the start of it) and those organisations that don’t begin the transition to become real education organisations will not make the grade.  Mastering the art of moving learners through Unit standards will not be preparation for the next wave.  Those credits will have to reflect authentic skills development. That means if you re-assess any learner in 6 months they should easily pass the assessment.  Ask yourself, what if you reassessed all your learners right now on the units they have passed, with no teaching or support, would they easily pass the units?

We need professional tutors, who want to do this for a career.  This may require an entirely different business model in order for current funding streams to make this possible.

Now… there’s a whole big discussion to have on the first part of this:

  1. How are we going to teach and train in a way that really does prepare learners for the future?
  2. How can we address the current problems of learner assessment around unit standards?
  3. How reliable are our assessors?
  4. Are our current methods of assessing educational standards valid?
  5. Is it the system as a whole or are the weakest links in the system causing it to break down?
  6. If a learner has passed their NCEA level 1 literacy and numeracy unit standards but they can’t score above steps 4 and 5 on the TEC’s assessment tool for these skill areas… then what does this mean?

I don’t have the answers for these questions, but it certainly gets me thinking. However, its the second part of Damon’s quote that really interests me. To paraphrase:

  • Do we need totally new business models in education in order to effect the kind of change that we need in order to stop the churn (and address a whole bunch of other systemic issues)?

I think we do. And I’d add to this the following: funding agencies and business owners will not sacrifice their drive for further efficiencies in education either. 

In other words, not only are we all going to have to step up and become “real” educators working in “real” education providers delivering “real outcomes”, we are going to have to do this in an environment that will become increasingly constrained in terms of financial input.

This is means educational disruption on a scale that we haven’t seen yet.

Try this as a thought experiment:

  1. Remember how you used to consume music (e.g. radio, cassettes, records, CDs).
  2. Now think about how you consume music today (e.g. MP3s, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify).
  3. Then think about this transition, how long it took, and the effect it had on the music industry (e.g. on record companies, CD manufacturing plants, promoters, artists, bands).
  4. Now substitute education for music. In other words, think about how we consume education today (and for the last 200 years).
  5. Then try to imagine how we will leverage technology to experience and consume (yes consume) education in 12 months, 5 years, 10 years.
  6. And think about the effect of this transition on the education sector (universities, polytechs, private providers, owners, managers, teachers, tutors, trainers, learners).

Pause and let that sink in for a while… If you’re not convinced do the same thought experiment with film. Or any kind of media.

The business model for iTunes didn’t exist until Steve Jobs and Apple invented it in 2001. It was an inevitable development that followed on from the invention of portable MP3 players, which in turn took over from the Discman, and the Walkman, and the personal cassette player, and before the record player, and the radio…

I’m with Damon. What we need is to invent new business models for education. What will these look like? Well.. we don’t know, because we haven’t invented them yet.






Churn: Dealing with the chronic turnover of tutors and trainers in the education sector


The tutors are revolting…!

Well.. they’re not actually revolting, but they do keep leaving. This is a major problem for the tertiary education sector including private and public.

Maths and education blogger Damon Whitten has absolutely nailed this issue in his most recent post. Here’s the skinny:

  1. There are some great things happening in the entry levels of the post high school tertiary training environment.
  2. However, we have some massive systemic issues that continue to limit anyone’s success here, whether education providers or their learners.
  3. One issue is the high turnover of tutors and trainers.
  4. This is compounded by poor organisational management in organisations which means that accumulated knowledge and professional development walks out of the door when these tutors leave.

Here’s what I found really interesting: Damon cites research that says that it takes around four years for new tutors to learn each of these:

  • classroom management;
  • the actual content they are supposed to teach;
  • and how to teach…

In that order. This should leave us gobsmacked… That means that a tutor will really start to hit her stride in about the 12th year of teaching

I’d really encourage you to read the entire article as Damon also tackles the following questions.

  1. Why do tutors leave?
  2. What are some possible solutions to dealing with tutor churn?
  3. What lies ahead in the future?

These are critical questions moving forward. They are also key questions if you are involved in managing a tertiary organisation, (or worse, like me) own one, or are one of the hard working, under appreciated tutors thinking about leaving.

Comments to Damon’s blog if you want to argue about this!