How Can a Digital Nomad Manage a Team Remotely?

Being a digital nomad doesn’t only mean you are a freelancing solo traveler with little human connection, working at your own discretion independently. Some digital nomads might want to step into the business management side of things and manage their remote team. 

So how can a digital nomad step into managing a team remotely?
• Lead your team
• Have a weekly overview meeting- 100% participation 
• Have separate project meetings as needed
• Use team software tools (like Trello or Asana)
• Everyone needs to be pushing in the same direction
• Ask everyone to update in a simple and specific format 
• Spend the most time on what’s missing 
• Be clear on the project targets
• Set 100% clear deadlines 

Managing a team remotely is not as easy as managing a team of people in an office setting in a face-to-face context. Therefore, if you are looking for guidance on how to effectively manage a team of remote workers, this article will provide some tips and tricks to make this process as efficient as possible given the unique circumstances. 

These days, technology provides nearly everything you need to manage a team, minus the bodies. Like we’ve mentioned in many of our previous articles, if you have a good WiFi connection, there is no excuse for you not to be able to manage others abroad. You have to get organized. 

Lead Your Team 

As a digital nomad freelancer, the task is relatively straightforward to accomplish. Lead yourself to get things done on projects. When you take the more significant step to get to the next level by being a digital nomad entrepreneur and hire a team, this can be more complex because you need to lead your team members and keep your projects on track. The emphasis is to lead your team and not only about getting yourself organized. Regardless of where you are in the process, you should look to professionals to help educate yourself on how to develop qualities of a great leader. Educate yourself through books or podcasts. 

A digital nomad entrepreneur needs to lead their team and be on top of things – Digital Nomad Explorer

If you are still in the process of learning, being transparent with where you are in the process with your team is better than pretending you have it all together if you are struggling. People respect honesty and vulnerability, as it helps build a foundation of trust. Pull your team in on what’s going on with a project, your business, or the company. Make them feel like they are a pivotal part of the process of building success. If you keep people in the loop on important events or bottlenecks that need working on, they can help you along in the process and gather their strengths to make the learning curve easier for everyone involved. 

As a leader, you need to learn when to step into a more outspoken role and learn when to delegate specific tasks to people that might be able to do something better than you. Don’t be an alarmist, yet don’t shoulder everything on your own, because that’s ultimately why you spent time hiring and training your team. 

Besides, creating a team atmosphere does not always have to be work-related! If you have time or the geographical wherewithal to connect and bond with your team members, do so. Schedule team-bonding hangouts, activities, or workshops which will motivate your team beyond just a professional sense. Ultimately, there does need to be some semblance of a relationship with your team members outside of work, especially since you’ll likely not have a physical workplace to define or break that boundary for you. 

Weekly meetings are a way to get everyone onboard and review project targets – Digital Nomad Explorer

Weekly Overview Meeting- 100% Participation 

Check-ins are essential to make sure your metaphorical business ship is sailing smoothly. Although they can sometimes feel disruptive, having weekly meetings in the workplace can help everyone take a break from their day to make sure their co-workers are on the same page as them, and to make sure everyone knows what part they need to play in the overall success of a project. It’s even more important to check in with colleagues when you are managing them from different parts of the world because face-to-face communication is beneficial. When relaying important information, you can keep deadlines and instructions from being misunderstood if they were only communicated over email or text, for example. Being able to look at someone’s face, not just hear their voice is vital when it comes to high-stakes projects or conversations. Body language is important to see. 

There are plenty of online apps that make virtual meetings very easy to set up. Some popular platforms everyone can use with a computer, phone, or internet connection include Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, FaceTime, or WhatsApp. Keep whatever platform you use consistent, and collaborate with your team at the beginning of a project to find out which ones they prefer the most. If your team likes the ease and effectiveness of a certain platform and hates the one you want to try, it might not work out in the long run because they might not be motivated to navigate a platform that is difficult to use. Choosing which app works the best for your entire team might take some compromise, but is a small detail that shouldn’t be ignored in terms of organization and long-term success. 

It may be a bit tricky to find time for a meeting with your team, especially if people are in different time zones, but it is essential. It is equally essential to make sure all the team members attend these virtual meetings. As a leader, you will need to find an excellent way to communicate the importance of these meetings and set expectations and consequences for those that choose not to attend. Unless there are major emergencies in an employees’ life that genuinely prohibit them from joining a virtual meeting, all employees should be expected to participate, with no exceptions. As a boss, it is sometimes hard to set these rules and enforce them- nobody likes to be the bad guy! However, if you can set the tone of hard work, responsibility, and accountability from the get-go, your team will be more productive in the long run. 

Hopefully, your team will appreciate an extra kick in the behind to get their work done as well, because as previously mentioned, consistently managing work/life balance as a digital nomad can be difficult at times, especially if you are not intrinsically motivated. 

Have Separate Project Meetings as Needed

In addition to a full team meeting each week, set aside one-on-one meetings with each member of your team. Individual meetings are important to get specific on certain goals for certain roles in a project. When you meet as a larger group, it is harder to talk about specific details for each role without appearing to exclude or single out certain members of the team. These individual meetings will make up for that lost time and will help set weekly goals for each team member. Each member can have something specific to work on or towards each week, which helps keep productivity moving. 

One-on-One meetings help to focus efforts especially on

Additionally, showing each member of your team that you genuinely care about what’s going on their world is inspiring as a leader. Each member of the team will be more likely to produce great work if they have someone who inspires and mentors them. Building trust with individual members is an investment of your time and energy, but the payback is significant when each person feels like they can view you as a credible leader. They will be more inclined to want to do well for you.

You can also better understand what types of praise and criticism work best for each employee. Some people thrive off of quiet, one-one-one praise because some don’t like to be the center of attention. Other people do well with outward praise and will be motivated to perform their best based on that. Others prefer a mix of both. Regardless, scheduling individual check-points can help you get to know your employees better and get inside their brains a little bit to understand what you can do better as a leader to get the most out of them. 

Use Team Software Tools (like Trello or Asana)

Using team software tools like Trello or Asana will help the overall operation of your teamwork much better than without their assistance. These software tools will help you automate tasks that might take up too much time that could be dedicated to better areas. It will boost your team’s morale as well because most of your employees will not want to be tasked with boring work like response chats, scheduling, or data input. They want to feel like what they are doing as a real purpose. If you can spend a little extra money for programs to do the no-brainer yet time-consuming tasks for you, you can give your employees more impactful work which saves you time in the long run like a boss. It also helps your employees feel valued, in turn creating a more inspired work output for your business or project. 

Trello is an online platform that’s free to sign up. It has boards, lists, and cards that enable you to organize projects in a fun, flexible way for your remote workers. It’s available on the Google Play store as well as the App Store. Asana is a work management platform for remote teams to help stay focused on goals, projects, and daily tasks that help with everyday business operations. It will help your team to hit deadlines by creating visual project plans and step-by-step maps. 

Additionally, having these tools keeps your remote team small, because you won’t have to hire extra people to do these automated tasks for you. It’s going to be much easier for you, in the long run, to manage a smaller team remotely, because it’s less overseeing on your part. 

Everyone Needs to Be Pushing in the Same Direction

If you decide to manage a team of other remote workers, you might realize you are dealing with several independent personalities! It can be challenging to manage because you don’t want to micro-manage everything they do, but you still want to keep a close eye on the success of their roles in each project. If you don’t keep a close enough eye on what they’re doing, you might lose control of the project, or you might realize (too late) that the work one your team members were doing wasn’t its intended purpose and wasn’t heading in the direction of your vision. 

Ultimately, a lot of this falls back onto company values. Even if you are a small remote business, having values on which you base your work helps to establish a continued vision over time. If your employees lose sight of the purpose behind the work they do, they are more likely to fall off track and not be productive in the long run. It can waste valuable time, energy, and resources you need to help keep your company afloat. Sometimes, without a tangible motivation behind why a remote worker is completing a project, they might not even want to do it in the first place. It’s hard to force yourself to create something for a business or company that you don’t understand. From the get-go, explain in detail your company’s mission and vision. It helps your employees understand the vibe of your team and learn how to adapt to that vibe to make it work for them. 

Ask Everyone to Update in a Simple and Specific Format 

I’ve asked my teams to update me with a specific and straightforward format that has worked exceptionally well for me:

• What’s Happened
• What’s Missing
• What’s Next

Using this method will help you and your team focus and bring what’s happened into the context of how to make progress on the project’s next actions. It will be easy to break down something that may seem daunting into bite-sized parts. Additionally, if you have to communicate across potential language or cultural barriers, it is important to use simple language as well. 

Asking your team to update you in this way helps you manage your projects professionally. They can verbally go over each area with a few bullet points and expand on items if you feel it is necessary. How much time you designate for each person can be as little as 5 minutes or as much as 20 minutes.

Spend the Most Time on What’s Missing 

Part of being a good leader is knowing where to invest the most time and energy. If something is going right in your project, don’t waste too much time analyzing it. It’s important to note why something works and use that information for future reference, but there is no need to harp on it continually. 

When I use this communication update format, I focus the team on spending time to discuss what’s missing. By considering what’s missing to get to the next step, it lets you and your team look for solutions and brainstorm how to solve them. You need to be spending the most time on what is missing in your project. Pinpoint the problems and spend time finding tools and solutions to solve those problems with your team. 

If you only focus on what’s happened, the focus point is the activity of the past. Not only that, it is sometimes a waste of time. It’s easy to check what has been done, but finding solutions to what is missing is a crucial area to get the action going on next steps. Like most things, it’s important to find a happy medium here. However, focusing on what is missing is more objective than focusing on what happened and might be going wrong. It allows you to get to the root of a problem without coming off panicky. 

Be Clear on the Project Targets

There should be little no question about what you expect from the team you manage. If you have an office or co-working space of some sort where you meet with your team, a schedule should be set, which states how many hours an employee is expected to come in and work. If you are all working in a purely remote fashion, make sure you are setting clear deadlines on when projects must be completed and turned in on certain dates and times. Make clear what your priorities, goals, and expectations are for your business and make doubly sure they fully understand your priorities and how their roles and responsibilities affect those priorities. 

Project targets should always be written down and distributed in some way. Although it’s important to have face-to-face communication through weekly virtual meetings, it’s equally important to have goals and targets written down. There are a finality and formality to written guidelines. Make sure you distribute these targets to your team, whether it’s through postings on team software that you all agree to use or via email or text. Keeping consistent with how you distribute those priorities is important as well in your image as an organized and credible team leader. 

Set 100% Clear Deadlines 

A great way to do this is to set up a team calendar with important project dates and deadlines. If you have a team of workers from different areas in the world and hopefully different backgrounds and cultures, you might have to take into account international holidays and religious holidays you need to be mindful of. The more you can frontload a set deadline schedule that works for everyone, the less adjusting you’ll have to do down the road or during deadline crunch time. 

As you are hiring and getting to know new workers, make sure you take the time to understand important dates and times in their lives to be mindful of. It shows you care like a boss about their personal lives and helps make their work/life balance easier as well, so they are more likely to hit those deadlines each time. 

Final Thoughts 

There are so many resources out there to make managing a remote team or traveling workers easy and doable these days. Technology bridges communication gaps as needed, and facilitates the development and refinement of leadership qualities. It’s easier than ever to access sources of information to make the management process easier, and you need to know where to look. So much of your success will ultimately come from your ability to development meaningful relationships with your team, so make sure to invest your time and energy there first! 

Michael Haralson

I'm the owner of Digital Nomad Explorer. I've traveled to over 50 countries and been an expat in Scotland, Finland, and China. I was a digital nomad while having my own robotics company and traveled throughout Europe and China working remotely. Currently, I'm location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

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