Online marketing professional working remotely in a coffee shop.
The first time I heard the words “digital nomad”, I had no idea what they meant. We had one of our brightest entrepreneurship students graduate from SDSU in 2012 and with no startup ideas in mind, he indicated that was he was going to Asia and that he would work remotely as an online marketer. He declared himself to be a digital nomad. I honestly had no inkling that this would go beyond a lifestyle choice and actually solidify an emerging trend of hiring people to work remotely. But who are digital nomads, why are they here to stay and how do you manage them?
Digital nomads are remote workers who might travel to different locations. They can often work in coffee shops, co-working spaces, or from home relying on wireless internet to stay connected. The average digital nomad is a Millennial between the ages of 24-36 who is tech-savvy and in pursuit of optimal work-life balance. In fact, their desire for flexibility is often more important than salary. They want the ability to live life on their terms, rather than being chained to a desk for 40 or 50-plus hours a week. They are usually really good at a defined niche skill which makes them valuable to the company or team.
If you’re a business owner or CEO, you better get used to working with digital nomads and remote workers. Studies suggest that more than half of the workforce will work in a remote capacity by 2025. A 2018 study by research firm MBO Partners found that 4.8 million US citizens identified as digital nomads, and a Gallup poll two years earlier revealed that 43% of employed Americans spend at least some time working outside the traditional office environment. Here are some guidelines to finding and managing them.
Hire the right people. If you are going to hire people to work remotely, take it very seriously and recruit well. Your ability to find and select the right people will make or break your ability to successfully manage these digital nomads. In the recruitment process, look for candidates who possess high levels of self-discipline and motivation. Do serious due diligence with past employers and clients to see how well a candidate adheres to work objectives and deadlines.
Use culture and values as a guide. Use the culture and values of your company to determine if remote employees will embrace and fit into your culture and support your values. Give potential employees a clear idea of what you would expect from them and look for like-minded people. Give them a chance to express themselves and interview you to see if there is a good fit from their perspective.
Understand your management style. Without regular face-to-face contact, the way you engage with your remote team is very important. Simple things like being able to assess whether a staff member is stressed or has too much or too little to do can be extremely difficult when you aren’t in the same room or building. You need to plan regular or at least impromptu meetings with remote workers so you can pick up on any issues and find solutions quickly.
Set clear objectives. There shouldn’t be any question about what’s expected of your remote workers or team. Whether an individual spends part of the time in the office or operates remotely on a full-time basis, they should understand exactly what your priorities are for their time, effort, and responsibilities. For example, do you expect team members to be available during certain hours? Are there mandatory client meetings that require attendance? Do projects have clear deadlines?
Communication and transparency. One of the more challenging aspects of managing a remote team is helping them feel connected to the business. There’s no office or water cooler to gather around, which means remote employees can feel isolated. One of the top ways to enhance the corporate culture and identity within the company is to be transparent with your leadership. Let the entire team (onsite and remote) know what’s happening and allow them to suffer together through challenging times and also celebrate big wins. Keeping everyone in the loop will strengthen the trust your employees have in you as a manager.
Keep in touch. Leading remote workers requires excellent communication, but modern technology makes this easier. There are plenty of free or inexpensive video conference tools you can use in the business, perhaps utilize a Google hangout environment. Instant messaging tools can be more efficient than email for quick questions. However, if there is a complex problem, it is worth bringing relevant people into the office to work through the challenge together.
Keep them connected. When managing remote employees, communication is supremely important. Stay in touch with your team and don’t let distance create separation in how you work. There are lots of free and/or cost-effective tools to make remote communication seamless. Learn what works for your team and utilize them. Some companies allow remote workers to login to an “always on” large video conference screen (located centrally in the office) to feel they are part of the team.
Don’t lose control. If you’re going to work with digital nomads, freelancers, and remote employees, you have to be cognizant of how you’re managing them. You don’t want to micro-manage them, but there’s danger in not keeping a close enough eye on what they’re doing. It’s imperative that you establish some structures and parameters so you don’t lose control. Utilize software tools that give you insights into progress on their projects, set regular project review sessions and give them access to your time for quick decisions so they don’t idle unnecessarily.