How to Manage Your Digital Nomads
For much of the last year, remote work has been the focus of many traditional office-based organizations. As companies quickly shifted operations and policies to enable employees to work from home, there have been some benefits including higher productivity and better work-life balance in some cases.
However, the remote work phenomenon was really a work-from-home initiative, with many employees simply setting up home offices and remaining just as close to the office as they usually would. With the prospect of travel picking up, some employees may consider taking remote work to the next level and becoming digital nomads.
According to a study conducted by MBO Partners, some 17 million people in the U.S. aspire to be digital nomads. Unlike other remote workers who stay put in the same location, digital nomads travel from city to city, with 70% of them travelling to five or more countries per year. While just a fraction of the working population, this small group could create big problems if not managed.
Here's what employers should consider when employees are on the go to ensure that productivity isn’t interrupted.
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How to Manage Remote Workers
When offices worldwide shifted to remote operations, many work teams discovered they didn’t need to be in the same location to see results. The assortment of tools related to project management, video conferencing, meeting scheduling and instant messaging that were already in place in many cases allowed employees and employers to continue their work mostly uninterrupted.
But in defining what this next phase of remote and hybrid work will look like, employers should focus on clearly defining results as the most important thing to them.
“Most businesses today don’t really need employees to be online all at the same time, so if someone does great work you really shouldn’t care where they are located," said Adam Hempenstall, founder and CEO at Brighton, England-based Better Proposals. "Focus on results primarily and disregard where someone is located."
The trick is for employees and employers to agree on what needs to get done and the deadlines when work must be completed. Once expectations are set, employers can be more flexible.
“My team understands the duties I expect of them, including attending meetings and getting the work assigned to them for the week done," said Eropa Stein, founder and CEO at Toronto-based employee scheduling software company Hyre. "As long as they are fulfilling these duties, they are free to travel.”
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Things to Consider For Traveling Employees
Even though traveling employees operate remotely much like employees who work at home, some additional factors should be considered before approving their wanderings.
Cyber-hacks increased in 2020 as operations shifted outside the safety of the office firewall and into employees' homes. But security is an additional challenge when employees choose to travel away from home.
“The biggest hurdles facing an organization with employees who are hitting the road are: how to give employees access to critical information and applications, while maintaining acceptable levels of enterprise security,” said Bert Rankin, COO of Milpitas, Calif.-based Zentry Security.
To avoid issues, he advises employees to stay clear of public Wi-Fi such as those found in internet cafes. They should also install anti-virus software on their computers and disable any auto-connect features and Bluetooth capabilities found on their devices when not in use. Using a VPN can also protect employees from dangers that might arise.
Hybrid vs. Remote Employees
Another potential issue is the debate between in-office or hybrid employees and those traveling. Proper communication is the answer to potential problems that might arise. “If you do have someone in the office, just make sure that they know the availability of your remote staff,” said Hempenstall.
When working in a different time zone, it is imperative to communicate availability with in-office employees and others who may also be traveling and working remotely.
“If employees are not accessible by co-workers that require their work, this concern will be brought up to them whether they are traveling or not," Stein said. "I require employees to inform their co-workers and their direct manager ahead of time when they are accessible."
Working remotely while traveling is something that requires balance from both employers and employees. Ultimately, to ensure a smooth coexistence, employees and employers should agree on the tasks that need to be completed, availability for meetings and other necessary communication, and guidelines on how to maintain the security and integrity of company data.