In 2018, a study from MBO Partners showed that 7.8 million Americans are currently working full-time as digital nomads. More than 17 million people aspire to be digital nomads. The trend is more visible in some industries than others, but the fact is you could be running your own team of digital nomads at any time.
With this level of interest in a fully remote work style, it’s time to change our perceptions of what a team is and how all the pieces work together. This means evaluating how you manage your team and learning how to do it better.
Managing teams of digital nomads isn’t the same as managing teams that work in the same physical space. Here are a few tips on how to do it better.
The first step to managing your team well is to form a team that can be managed. Don’t let just anyone be part of your team. You have to develop a good working dynamic between yourself and each team member. If someone doesn’t fit well into the team or can’t cope with the work environment created by the team, they won’t be a good choice. You want a team that’s going to get the job done without excuses.
Digital nomads must be reliable. They should be able to get the job done without someone staring over their shoulder. Anyone that you let on your team should be a justified team member with a defined role and an obvious place there. You’re allowed to be choosy, because making a poor choice could lead to a lot of stress and delays for everyone else involved.
Because you won’t be working with each other in the same physical location very often, if ever, you need to have a well-defined work schedule. People may be in different time zones and parts of the world. Let them know what’s expected of them and when it’s expected to be submitted, so they can work on their own time.
If they want to work from a beach in the Caribbean or a café in London, they should be able to do that. By letting each team member know what you expect them to do, you’re giving them the freedom to choose where, how, and when they work. As long as they’re meeting your expectations, you can leave them be.
Communication is the glue that holds a team together. With teams of digital nomads, you have to work even harder to communicate because you don’t get the chance to regularly meet in person. Email, social media, and productivity tools all add to the mix, but they’re not enough.
Use a business messaging service that does more for you. Have your team connect to an instant messaging service that allows you to create group chats, transfer files and screenshots, share screens, and access other useful team features. Because of the sensitivity of work documents and messages, everything is fully encrypted as well. Brosix Instant Messenger is such a solution and gives you a better chance at maintaining consistent communication with your entire team.
If the nature of your work requires longer conversations, international team collaboration, or face-to-face conversations, you’ll also need a VoIP/video communication service. Being able to call your team members in any country with an online phone service saves a lot of cash and makes it easier to connect on a regular basis. As long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can take full advantage of an enterprise or business VoIP system of your choice.
You need to keep up with progress on every project and make sure people are pulling their weight. However, you have to toe the line between that and micro-management. If you start micro-managing your remote team, you’re going to turn the project sour quickly.
One of the reasons digital nomads choose that lifestyle is so they can work on their own schedule, in a location that they love. When you’re constantly pushing for updates and telling people how they should be doing their work, you’re building a tense working environment. The long-term result of this is going to be higher turnover, worse productivity, poor employee engagement, and generally unsatisfactory work.
Keep track of what’s happening, but don’t micro-manage people. Give them space to do what they’re required to do, as long as they’re getting it done on time.
Each person manages differently. Do you understand what kind of management style you favor? If you already know it, does your style work well with digital nomad teams? Learn and understand your management style so you can make it more compatible with this unique type of working team.
Many teams of digital nomads contain members that are somewhat self-motivated. They can get a bit of work done on their own, as long as you lay out the guidelines and expectations. But, that doesn’t mean you can just leave it all up to them. If any collaboration is necessary between team members, or if projects have a lot of moving parts involved, you need to facilitate that.
Even if you’re a great manager to in-house staff, you may have trouble managing remote workers with the same attention and care. It’s easier to pick up on when your in-house employees are stressed or struggling with their work because you’re physically near them more frequently. You won’t get the same face-to-face time with digital nomad workers unless you seek it out purposefully.
Understand how you prefer to manage, learn how you can manage remote teams more effectively, and adapt to your own team as you go. It all starts with being self-aware with your own management style. You may need to do more adapting than you suspect.
It’s not always possible to meet regularly. The lifestyle choices and travel habits of digital nomads are unpredictable. At some point, your team could be spread out on different continents and countries throughout the world. As much as it’s a challenge to round everyone up, it can be helpful to do so annually, or more often if the team is a little closer together.
If your company has the resources, you can do this more easily by covering all travel expenses to get the team together. That may not be realistic for every company, especially smaller agencies, but it does make it easier for the team and gives them a larger incentive to travel.
Meet and greets for team members don’t have to be mandatory. If you have a large enough team, or if the team members are concentrated in a particular area, you can have a few social events throughout the year near the largest groups of people. For hybrid offices that employ both local employees and remote employees, it’s helpful to bring the digital nomads to the main office occasionally to keep them connected to your core operation.
Traditional offices have employees that know each other and form a company culture. Unless you take the time to make this happen, it won’t exist for remote working teams. Building a stronger connection between employees and the office helps to avoid the feeling of isolation that many digital nomads develop over time. It’s easy to think no one has your back or notices you when you’re working so far apart and rarely meeting your co-workers.
Because there’s no water cooler to gather around, you’ll have to work to create the digital equivalent. If you want a strong company culture and connectedness in your team, get creative. Help your staff feel noticed and connected to what’s going on with each other. Build relationships between your team and the office in general. Celebrate milestones, achievements, and positive events. Share difficulties, hardships, and problems.
You have to work harder to build connections between digital nomad staff members, but the benefits can still be worth it.
As much as you may get recommendations for productivity tools, team management apps, and a million other software solutions, that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Managing digital nomad teams is exactly like managing any other team in one particular way: you have to understand the needs of your team and find a solution that works best for them.
Just because a tech solution was built with digital nomads in mind doesn’t mean your team will be able to utilize it well. Using too much tech and placing a greater emphasis on tools over your team could lead to a lot of people being bogged down and wasting time. Focus on what gives you the best results. If a tech-heavy system gets you where you need to be, use it. If a slim setup works better, use it.
You and your team will ultimately have to find the right solution that incorporates the values and priorities of the team, regardless if it involves tools or not. As long as the work is getting done, people are communicating freely, and the team members are satisfied, you’re probably on the right track.