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Due to the general lack of face-to-face interactions with clients, colleagues and collaborators, digital nomads face unique challenges when it comes to communication. Here, we explore best practices for articulating the details of your projects, and your overall value, while you live and work remotely.
Perhaps this is your first remote gig, or maybe it’s your fifth. Regardless, let’s say you’re fresh and ready to start the first day of work, eagerly sitting at your computer at 8 a.m., waiting for the first tasks to come across your desk. When 9 a.m. rolls around and you haven’t heard a word, what do you do? Do you send an email? Should you call the hiring manager? These types of lapses in communication can become all too common for digital nomads if you fail to manage expectations from the very first interaction with your employer.
From early conversations, you should ask relevant questions about your assigned role as well as what the team and what your direct manager will expect of you. These early talks will help both sides gauge productivity patterns from the get-go and will demonstrate that you’re proactive enough to take on a remote position.
Now you’re set up, you’ve asked all the key points to your role and you’re ready to move forward. It doesn’t stop there. The key things to remember about expectations is that managing them also means sometimes pushing back. Just because you’re working from a remote location, doesn’t mean a client is justified in emailing you at 11 p.m. with last minute changes… or maybe it does. Expectations can either be missed, met, or exceeded. It’s up to you to clearly communicate them and come to a mutual agreement with your clients or colleagues.
Video chat is your friend
A number of video services are at your disposal these days, and the majority of them are free. Whether you’re using Google Hangouts, Slack, Zoom or something else, these services exist to help people communicate more efficiently and with a bit more warmth than an email or chat messaging program would.
“Relentlessly stick to your brand image! This principle is indispensable for growth because it will guide all of your business decisions, help keep your venture lean and ensure that your customers or clients understand what you‘re offering.”
Peter Lovisek, CEO, Fossil Realm, Inc., Ottawa, Canada
If you can’t communicate a task, update, or thought in less than a couple of sentences, consider moving to video. Going back and forth trying to come to a solution results in wasted time on both ends and can leave both parties frustrated.
Test and use your video chat as often as possible, making sure that internet connections are secure and reliable. This ensures that you can hop on if needed and that you’re not spending endless time fiddling with your mic or video. If you’re in a coworking space, keep your headphones handy and take out some quiet spaces to avoid distracting background noise.
Slack hacks and other tools
The advent of Slack ushered in a new era of team communications. My current Slack account has hundreds of channels available, and I use the tool in a variety of ways. Slack is great for one-off questions across teams, and for keeping in touch with updates from other teams. It’s also a great culture-building tool: I’ve had conversations about traveling with co-workers in Brazil, talked about the shows we’re watching with colleagues on the East Coast of the U.S. and formed game-plans with my counterpart, all via Slack (with emojis and GIFs, to boot).
Slack is free for small teams; however, if you’re working with a bigger company you (or more likely your employer) will pay a premium for multiple users. Zapier has written about some of the best project management software apps currently out there, with a handy comparison tool so you can make sure you’re finding the best fit for your team. Head over to Zapier.com to learn more.
Keep it professional
Living in Bali? Working from Denver for a team in Boston? No matter where you are, make sure you’re set up to succeed in your role. This means having proper attire if you need to video chat with anyone, having reliable internet, and making sure your tech is updated with backups should you need them.
The perk of traveling is high on the list for a lot of digital nomads, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of vacation mode. This means clearly setting expectations and communicating your travel time, working out time zone issues, (use a calendar that adjusts for different time zones) and respecting other nomads. This not only has an impact on you, but can also have an impact on your company.
Co-working spaces exist for—you guessed it—working. Meeting new people is a leading benefit of nomadism, but this doesn’t mean your desk mate wants to hear about all the countries you’ve traveled to (or plan to) as they are rapidly approaching a critical project milestone. Reserve small-talk for coffee breaks and meals, or better yet, ask your co-working buddy to join you at a local Meetup or event.
The opposite side of the spectrum regarding human interaction is the solitude that can accompany a nomadic lifestyle. If you don’t have a team that you communicate with daily, being alone in a new city can be daunting. Get out of your comfort zone and explore the city, sit at the bar in restaurants and ask the locals for their favorite spots. Go to Meetups and hit up the forums for other nomads that are in your area. This is a great opportunity to meet some new friends, as well as potential future business contacts (keep this in mind as you consider ordering that third mojito).
“Life as a digital nomad does not mean that you are always on vacation. You may be beachside in Colombia with a cocktail at your ‘desk’, but you still have work to do. If you want to be successful, you need to put in your hours and be as proactive as possible.”
Elijah Masek-Kelly, La Paz, Bolivia
Working from a different time zone
Setting expectations at the beginning of a partnership will save you a lot of headaches when it comes to resolving potential time zone challenges with your client. If you’re 12 hours ahead and expected to be on multiple video chats a day, you might find it hard to make this type of relationship work.
In many cases, however, nomads find ways to make it work and their employers are flexible when it comes to the time zone discrepancies. Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to keep the time zones straight, starting with Google Calendar. Other simple tools include World Time Buddy and Calendy, which syncs with Google Calendar to allow you to set and share your “available” hours with clients and collaborators. Once you’re booked for a window, your schedule is blocked and you cannot double-book.
There are several characteristics that will make you an effective nomad, such as an open and positive demeanor and flexible approach to work. In addition to these, strong communication skills are imperative for nomads functioning within teams based in different regions and/or time zones. Manage expectations and over- communicate as a rule to keep projects on track and your clients up-to-date.
For more info on being a digital nomad, check out our eBook ‘Anywhere’, written by digital nomads, for digital nomads.