May 17, 2022

Psst. Digital Nomads. Here’s a secret...

In 2006 I traveled around New Zealand while setting up a Singapore-based company that had a growing list of clients. Everything was done through Gmail and Skype. This was before smart phones and today’s collaboration apps. I had one of those $30 dust-proof Nokia phones and used Skype to create local numbers that all filtered US, UK and Singapore numbers to me in New Zealand and I took conference calls at all hours, sometimes on the side of a road surrounded by stunning scenery or using coin-operated computers in cheap hostels where shaggy backpackers listened as I ran through sales forecasts.

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The setup worked, mostly, but I remember it being stressful and it was difficult to separate work from a holiday. I tell this story because there was one thing I did right and that was not telling people where I was. This is the first bit of advice for digital nomads: stop talking about being a digital nomad! Clients and colleagues don’t want to hear about it.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am all for remote work and especially work from anywhere, but if I see one more picture of someone’s laptop by the seaside, I’m going to lose it.

Why do I start with this advice? Because working remotely makes companies nervous. Many of us have been doing it for decades, but it is still new, and new approaches towards working suggest risk. Companies want the opposite; they want to find ways to de-risk.

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Ok, so you shouldn’t focus on your computer sledding selfies (huh?), what should you focus on? One word. Output. If the working world is going to embrace business nomads, we have to prove it by producing equal-or-better output than we would at an office.

That’s it. That’s the big secret.

How do you focus on output?

This varies widely depending on the role. Some output involves collaboration. If that’s the case, focus on the collaboration that works best for your company, NOT you. Remember, this is not about you, it is about creating a work environment that embraces remote workers. So, get away from the waterfall by your private Airbnb pool during conference calls because it sounds like you’re sitting next to a wall urinal at Oktoberfest.

This “new” way of work will need to be sold to many employers. That means, whatever your role, you will have to sell this idea and the biggest lesson in sales is to focus on the customer’s challenges rather than your features and benefits. Companies do not care about your surfing hobby, they care about projects getting done on time on, or under, budget.

We have to make things easy for whoever we work with. In 2006, this meant having local phone numbers for people to reach me. Today, as I speak with remote work skeptics, one of the most often sited pushbacks is that remote workers are not as easy to chat with compared to having everyone back in an office. While this may not seem like a big complaint, it’s enough to derail your Bali plans next quarter, so solve for it early.

In this case, work with your teammates and map out a communications plan. What needs to be communicated and when? What technology will you use? What requires immediate responses and what is less time-sensitive? If an office colleague feels you aren't being responsive, it is up to you to create an environment where they feel comfortable telling you rather than complaining to management.

Communication obstacles like this can be overcome but it takes up-font communication to find a solution that de-risks remote work.

The pandemic forced everyone to become business (digital) nomads and by and large the results showed equal-or-greater employee productivity. An economic downturn will further nudge companies towards lower-cost remote work options but only if the employees continue to make if effective.

So that’s the point. We have a wonderful opportunity to normalize nomadic work for the long run. But let’s not focus on what’s in it for us and really focus on what’s in it for the employers since they will ultimately decide on where this goes next.

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(Writing this post during sunrise yesterday. Shhh.) ------->

For those of you who do not know me, I build sales pipelines and develop leadership training programs that help companies increase business across regions and prepare next-gen leaders for tomorrow's global threats and remote work opportunities.

I wrote a book about the lessons learned, good, bad and ugly, when expanding into foreign markets called The Accidental Business Nomad: A Survival Guide for Working Across a Shrinking Planet.  It won the 2021 Axiom Business Book Award.

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