As remote workers, digital nomads face unique challenges when it comes to communicating with clients and collaborators. Not having face time and struggling with time zone discrepancies can throw off the vibe if not managed correctly.
Here are some best practices for communicating as a remote worker.
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 communications 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 saying pushing back. Just because you’re working from a remote location, doesn’t mean a client can email you at 11 p.m. nightly with last minute changes, or maybe it does. Expectations can either be missed, over-reached or met. It’s up to you to present clear communication on what they are, and come to a mutual agreement with your clients and colleagues.
These expectations can be outlined in a scope of work and standard contract to be agreed upon and countersigned prior to the beginning of the engagement.
Video chat is your friend
A number of video services are at your disposal these days, and the majority of them are free. Whether it’s Google, Slack, Skype, or something else, these services are there for you to communicate more efficiently and with a bit more warmth than an email or chat messaging program would allow.
If you can’t communicate a task, update, or thought in less than a couple of sentences, considering moving to video. Going back and forth trying to come to a solution results in wasted time on both ends and can leave the other party 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. Keep your headphones handy, if you’re in a co-working space, outside noises and distractions can seem unprofessional depending on who you’re talking to.
Slack-hacks & using other real-time collaboration 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 thebest 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.
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, your internet is reliable, and your tech is updated and working 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 clear communication (remember setting expectations) on 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 a nomadic lifestyle, 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, grab your co-working buddy and take advantage of some of the local meetups.
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).
Working from a different time zone
Setting expectations at the beginning of a partnership will save you a lot of headache when it comes to resolving potential time zone challenges with your client. If you’re 12 hours ahead of your client, 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, digital 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.
Your success as a digital nomad is contingent on your ability to build and nurture relationships with your clients and coworkers despite the distance. A focus on clear and transparent communication, and using technology to your advantage where and when it makes sense, will help you keep the work coming no matter where your next adventure might lead you.