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Keys to communication for remote work and travel

Freedom is one of the main reasons why someone chooses to work as a freelancer. The freedom to choose their own schedule, set their own rules, work their own way, etc. Sometimes freelancers and people with remote jobs want to take this one step further and they start using their freedom to become what we call Digital Nomads. A Digital Nomad is someone that travels the world while doing remote work. You may have a part-time job, but like many other ways of living, the digital nomad lifestyle requires a full-time commitment.

One of the challenges that you face when travelling while working is communicating effectively with your team or clients. They need to be able to trust you, so you need to be there for them and ready to answer when a situation requires it.

In this post, we’ll give you some advice to help you improve your long-distance communications without keeping you from enjoying your travel to its fullest. Don’t expect a list of tools, but best practices and things to keep in mind to avoid future problems.

Get used to different time zones

If you are travelling the world while remote working, you’ll likely be in a different time zone from the rest of your team or clients. This already adds some complications but, usually, when working as part of a remote team or with more than one client, you’ll have to learn to work with multiple time zones at the same time while you keep changing yours every few months.

Tools like Slack will tell you the local hour of your teammates, but you won’t always be using Slack, so try to keep a general understanding of everyone’s time zones to plan accordingly. If you’re in Bali, Indonesia and you need to talk with your co-worker in Medellin, Colombia about a deadline that’s getting close then you’ll have to wake up early in the morning or stay after 8:00 pm to catch them. It is a small concession to give you the opportunity to live this lifestyle.

If you’re freelancing, and one of your clients is in Lisbon, Portugal; the other one in Cape Town, South Africa; and another in New York City, US; you’ll have to be very careful of your deadlines and the work that needs to be done for each one because we’re talking about three completely different times of the day. Clients are concerned with their deadlines, not with your sleep habits. If you don’t want all that to turn your travel experience into a mess, keep a general awareness of everyone’s time zone and plan accordingly.

Find a coworking space

Ok, the majority of us became remote workers or started freelancing because we didn’t want to be near a cubicle. But, having a stable place you can work from will become necessary sooner rather than later. The act of going to a workplace triggers healthy work habits that will help you to stay connected and stay productive.

In coworking spaces, you’ll have everything you need to work comfortably and you can find them in most cities around the world. Also, you can find like-minded people that prefer remote working. Talk with them and they can share tips with you and maybe even a new destination to check out.

Illustration from slack website (https://slack.com/intl/en-mx/)

Direct communication: Slack and its alternatives

For remote workers, having a direct communication channel is essential. You’ll use it to plan and work on projects, send files, ask questions, ask for help when you need it, or send memes during breaks (or during a meeting). Usually, you won’t give a lot of thought to choosing the best method or platform to use. You might even try to just use WhatsApp or another instant messaging app, this might work in some cases… But, in general, it is a terrible idea.

What could go wrong?

If you work with more than one client or you are part of a team, you’ll notice very quickly how these apps lack the features you need to keep effective communication channels without losing your mind. You need to be able to categorise communications, search for information quickly, send and receive files, keep track of multiple conversations at the same time, and depending on the kind of work you do this list could be bigger.

Trying this on WhatsApp can be tricky. Switching from a personal account to a business account can help keep things more organised if you prefer this type of communication. You can categorise by client, by work type and by team. And, as we have found, many phone plans have WhatsApp as a free service, not deducting from data plans. This means no matter how many messages or files shared there are no extra charges at the end of the month. It doesn’t have a solution for every communication problem, so there are some alternatives to consider.

What platform to use

As of now, the quintessential solution to apps like WhatsApp, whether you’re a freelancer or a remote worker, are Slack and its alternatives. Skype is useful for calls, but that is pretty much it. Whatever tool you decide to use, just remember to keep in mind what features you need to keep everything organised and easy to find. Here is a quick list of things that an effective tool should provide you with:

  • Organised conversations with groups and individuals
  • Quick access to previous messages, search-ability
  • File management
  • Native integration with other tools you use (or at least allow you to integrate through Zapier/IFTTT)
  • A mobile app, preferably
  • A way to turn it off when you won’t be available

Ok, I found a tool I like, now what?

Now, these tools are only useful if you keep effective communication habits. Check your messages in a timely manner, but don’t let them interrupt your work, especially if maintaining focus isn’t easy for you. Try to stay aware of the general state of each project you’re working on to know if you should be expecting messages that require your immediate attention. If that’s the case, you should be checking all new messages as they come, but avoid answering immediately if it isn’t necessary. If there aren’t any emergencies right now, just take small breaks from work every few minutes to send and answer messages. Communication is important, but you can be absorbed by chats easily if you don’t set priorities.

Asynchronous communication

You don’t always have to answer in real time to keep effective communication with your team or clients. Frequently, your first conversation will happen through email. This gives you a few hours to answer without causing any trouble. In some cases, this is the most effective way to communicate, for example company announcements, general reminders, weekly status updates if teams are too big, etc.

Email is the most common option, but it’ll get messy sooner or later, so what many remote teams use is a specialised tool like Fridayapp or Twist for specific purposes and then they allow email notifications. A CRM is a great way to keep everyone on the same page regarding any activity with a lead or client.

For this type of communication, you should set apart specific times a day to check new messages and update everyone. This type of communication is designed to add structure to establish workflows and reduce distractions from matters that don’t need an immediate input from you, but you still need to participate.

Work-life balance for digital nomads

Travelling the world, enjoying the benefits of a remote job, can be a liberating experience, especially if you have trouble managing your work-life balance. But even though the digital nomad lifestyle can free you from many of those problems, it comes with its own set of issues for your healthy work-life balance. If you’re going to be travelling frequently, you need to consider the time you’ll spend searching for accommodation, a new place to work, food, and all the activities you plan to do. This is time your availability could be limited, and you can’t wait to the last minute to let everyone know that you will be busy for a week.

You don’t want your work to become an obstacle to enjoy your travels, but you don’t want your travels to become an obstacle to getting your work done. The best way to keep that from happening is getting your work done on time, communicating frequently, and setting clear boundaries. Letting your messages and work pile up will make a mess of your schedule and take time away from you that you could have been spent going on that tour you planned for next weekend.

Always think about WiFi

Being a digital nomad, your work depends on your internet connection, so let everyone know if you’re going to be away from a reliable WiFi source. In many cases being away from notifications will give you time to rest and recharge your batteries, but if it’s not your day off it can make you anxious, especially if you couldn’t notify anyone that you’ll be away. This won’t help you enjoy your lifestyle and it surely won’t help your performance at work, so keep it in mind when planning your days. It is always best to be open with your clients if you think you might lose signal for a bit.

If you want to scout out public WiFi, there are some handy apps to use. Check your app store to see which work for the areas you are travelling. Depending on where you are, you could easily find a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Remote communication takeaways

Communication is a key element of any aspect of life, but when it comes to keeping a remote job as a digital nomad it has its own challenges and ways to approach it. You will rarely have the chance to have a face to face conversation with any of your clients, so you need to use the tools available to keep everyone on the same page. Keep in mind your specific needs and be aware of the challenges of each situation to choose the right tools and develop habits that help you to be as present as any in-person employee.

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