Digital Nomads Can Manage Teams, And Manage To See The World
You always read about those individuals who travel the world, freelancing their tanned asses away, enviously concluding that it is easy for them; they must be alone and well off, while you have a spouse and a dog, or a kid or two, along with a whole team of people working with you. You can’t imagine how it would even work if you didn’t come to the office every day and have your daily stand-ups with the team, and then have lunches together and gossip about the latest developments in the endless iOS vs Android battle, debated in comments beneath a Techcrunch article.
OK, if you have a kid and a dog (or maybe a cat), I agree you might have a few more obstacles to overcome, and in the end, digital nomadism might not suit everybody, although, nothing is impossible when you really want something, right? Besides, you might not like moving that much and going through the ordeal of adapting to a new culture and new sets of rules. Or, on the other hand you might get so distracted by all these new, exciting things and forget that you actually need to work your 8 hours a day, and not just roam the streets, exploring.
Anyone who has ever worked from home knows that you get shedloads of work done without constant interruptions. However, many bosses still view remote work differently. Even if you really are at the beach, chances are you are super focused and productive, inspired by the waves and the sun. If conditions around you are relaxed and calming, isn’t that the best situation for doing a super neat job? Not to forget that you might even feel a bit guilty that you are having it too good in your life, so you put more effort into your work, to compensate for not being with your team.
If you are not there yet (at a beach, that is), this article is for you. It explains how you can also achieve the luxury of working while traveling the world in four easy steps, as a freelancer or as a part of a team, maintaining the same level of communication and productivity.
A Change Of Pace Often Helps
Some people like the known and predictable. They freak out when their daily routine gets disrupted. But, I’ll bet if you are doing any kind of creative work like programming or design, you are not one of those people. You like humanity’s evolutionary advantage of being able to adapt to new circumstances and actually get a kick out of it.
- Remove yourself from toxic environments and into working remotely. Your sanity will thank you, even though clients will be demanding.
Ordinary day-to-day office work will kill you. It will eventually strip your motivation, creativity or flare for what you do. I’ve been there. It’s not that you don’t like your job, your colleagues or your office, it’s just that you don’t like it every day. You are a creative being and you strive to gather new experiences, learn new things, get inspired by new situations, new people, and new cultures. Two weeks of vacation a year just doesn’t do it. The good news is that you don’t need to be on vacation to travel or to change your daily routine.
- Think no-one wants a remote worker? Ask any of the many freelancing sites what they think about that!
I know, I know. Your current job is your safe place. You don’t have to worry about anything. You don’t have to put yourself out there and find work yourself. Your bosses are doing that for you. They are taking care of operational stuff and making sure that you get your paycheck. The step of quitting and finding clients yourself seems as terrifying as Mount Fuji spewing lava all over you. Besides, you know your mother would throw a fit if you came to her with such nonsense ideas. If you like to play it safe, then you should definitely take a gradual approach. Try it out by doing some side jobs via one of the freelancing sites and see where it takes you. See if you are able to fight your own battles, bake your own bread, sleep with the wolves, and so on. If you manage to gather a team, even better. There is strength in numbers, and you will be able to find and complete jobs quicker.
Technology Makes Remote Work Efficient And Affordable
- Technology, nowadays, provides everything you need as long as you have a good internet connection. There are no excuses left.
There is Skype, and Slack, and Viber, and Hangouts, and a myriad of other tools designed to make your life easier. There are tons of collaborative tools, project management tools, and virtual conference tools. You just need to pick the ones that best suit you and your team and voila! You are ready to go anywhere in the world there is a reasonably stable internet connection.
It is true that many things get solved and clarified faster when you are sharing an office with your team, but even if you are 2,000 miles away, you are just a video call away. I do believe that it is important to be able to look at a person, not just hear their voice, especially when important discussions are in order. For more routine meetings, or short questions, you can still use chat. You will be even more efficient because if you are in the same office, you would ask that question, thus interrupting everyone. But remotely, you ping your colleagues on Slack and they can quickly reply.
Here is a useful link with a list of top tools for remote workers.
- No, you don’t have to win the lottery to travel.
You usually read about couples (even with kids!) who sold all their belongings and hit the road. They sold their house, their car, their furniture, even little Suzie’s teddy bear! I never cared much for such radical moves, which seems to be more common for people from in North America. We Europeans seem to be more in touch with our roots and rarely decide to leave everything behind; perhaps most Europeans who were in the mood to leave everything already emigrated to the Americas.
This doesn’t change much in the scheme of things. You might like the place you live, but still want to see the world. There may come a time when you’ll want to settle, so you might not want to sell your condo or your grandma’s house by the sea. Good. You shouldn’t! You can rent your apartment while you travel. If you fall in love with another place and decide to settle there, you can take care of your affairs later. Basically, if you have real estate, it can be a huge bonus in becoming a citizen of the world.
Recently I tried house swapping and that was the best discovery. I live in Zagreb, Croatia, but thanks to house swapping sites, I spent a month on Bali. We had a house to ourselves, all for free, pool included. These were some crazy times, I tell you. So, if you own real estate, try that and maybe save a small fortune. Also, traveling to countries with lower relative incomes is a good idea. There is a reason why Asian countries are the top choice for many digital nomads.
Good Management And Work Ethic Will Get You Anywhere
Having written all this, you probably noticed that I couldn’t decide whether to focus on freelancers or on remote teams. I believe all I’ve said applies to both, plus it applies whether you would be traveling alone or with your significant other.
You may also have noticed I didn’t make any difference between pure remote working, and remote working as a digital nomad. The only difference (admittedly, not a small one) is your location and how often you change it. Speaking of that, maybe we should redefine what a home is? Is home where your laptop and charger are? Add to it a WiFi connection you named, and you can definitely feel at home. Is home not a place, but a feeling? I’d agree with that.
I am not a freelancer. Sure, I get clients from Toptal sometimes, but I am actually the CEO of Mašinerija, a small shop developing mobile and web applications. Still, running a company did not prepare me to be location dependent. Managing my team and projects isn’t much different when sitting with my team in the same office or halfway around the world. I still get a business analysis of requirements the same way. I still discuss obstacles with my team the same way. I still plan tasks and delegate the same way. A project can easily fall apart having your teammates sitting across the room if you don’t communicate with each other often and thoroughly, and if you don’t organize your work well.
You can be a full-time digital nomad, hopping around the world for several years, working remotely for your clients, or you can stay put and have clients many miles away and do your work for them remotely. You can be a sporadic digital nomad, as I am, meaning that sometimes I work closely with my team in our Zagreb office, or I manage my team remotely. Our clients reside in UK and US, so, for our clients, it doesn’t really make a difference whether I travel around or stay put. There is a time zone issue, but that can be managed with good organization.
There are a few things you will do differently as a digital nomad than as a home/office-stay remote worker. When traveling, you need to be practical, you need to think about SIM cards, internet connections, power outlet compatibility and reachability, so there is some planning involved, but hey, not that much different than planning a vacation! There is plenty of good advice from traveling digital nomads. I’ll help you with the first link, and you should try googling for more.
So, there there are no excuses left for keeping your butt in your comfy office chair, longingly looking at your friends’ photos from faraway places. The only thing you really need for this endeavour is good health. Even partners come and go (well, it’s the truth!), but good health takes you places. And when in bad health… who wouldn’t like to be in a familiar place with loved ones taking the pain away. On the road, it might not be easily accessible. But not to invoke bad things, let me get back on track. Let me remind you why you shouldn’t put this decision off anymore! We – developers, designers, marketers, managers, basically anyone who can get their work done on a laptop – live in a digital era in which the world really is our oyster. Since my team is working remotely with clients anyway, I realized that my physical location doesn’t mean anything, not with today’s tools and means of communication.
The only regret I have now is that nobody told me sooner about remote working. If you follow the above listed rationales, I’m sure it won’t be long before I meet you somewhere along the way. For me, the next stop is London.
Potential Remote Work Issues for Digital Nomads
While I am an advocate of remote teamwork and digital nomadism, I have to conclude on a cautionary note: It’s not for everyone.
A lot of people find travel stressful enough, without the added burden of having to work 8 or 10 hours a day. Many others may find their productiveness goes down when the are in perpetual tourist mode, so to speak.
A nomadic lifestyle can also have a negative effect on personal relationships. While an extrovert full-time nomad will get to meet a lot of interesting people, there is no substitute for having a social safety net comprised of friends, family and colleagues.
This of course, is entirely subjective. Some people are bound to enjoy the new, nomadic lifestyle, made possible by technology. Others may not cope with it nearly as well, or may not be interested in spending year after year travelling the world, because they miss the comforts of home.
Further Reading on the Toptal Engineering Blog:
Located in Zagreb, Croatia
Member since February 25, 2015
About the author
Lora has over 10 years of experience in IT as UX designer, business analyst, project manager, and QA.