In September 1983, an ambitious 30-year-old computer engineer named Steve Roberts embarked on a unique journey: a 17,000-mile trek across America. But while the pioneers of the past were equipped with horses, wagons, and tents, Steve set out aboard ‘Winnebiko,’ a “custom recumbent bicycle with a solar-powered portable computer (the venerable Radio Shack Model 100), a CompuServe account, and a base office.” Along the way, he used this mobile workstation to write a book, Computing Across America, as well as columns and feature pieces chronicling his adventures for various magazines.
Steve’s journey foreshadowed a day when, armed with technology, it would be possible to not just work from home, but work from anywhere. In doing so, he became the first of a new breed of worker: the “digital nomad.”
It’s a lot easier today to work from anywhere than it was in 1983. Most of us now carry in our pockets a device thousands of times more powerful than Steve’s computer. We have access to virtually all the world’s information, and connection speeds so fast that, for many knowledge workers, there is now no practical restriction on where they can work. All they require is an electrical outlet and a reliable Wi-Fi connection.
You may not consider yourself a true digital nomad, but chances are high that you engage in remote work—at least sometimes. Perhaps you’re a salesperson who’s on the road, meeting with prospects and clients, or maybe you just have a regular “work from home” day. Either way, it’s clear that remote work is on the rise. In fact, a 2017 study by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs found that 3.9 million U.S. employees, or nearly three percent of the total workforce, worked remotely at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005.
Despite this popularity, however, remote work presents a challenge for employees and employers alike. Without the ability to gather an entire team in one physical location, companies run the risk that their digital nomads will feel unsupported, aimless, and out of the loop. As a result, they can lose morale as they find it difficult to see how their efforts are contributing to the overall team.
Here are a few tips for supporting remote workers and giving them the tools to bring their best selves to work for your company:
Create a virtual office
As Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder of GitHub says, “If you’re going to have a distributed team, you’d better figure out what your real office is.” And remember that your team’s office doesn’t have to be a physical space. Thanks to chat tools like Slack, you can create a virtual office for your team and still work effectively.
Along with a place to meet and discuss ideas, your digital nomads also need a virtual whiteboard, where they can collaborate on plans and projects, compare notes, and share ideas. With Spaces in Evernote Business, you can invite team members to view, edit, and create notes that the whole team can access. This gives everyone, regardless of their location, a chance to contribute their work to the overall team effort.
Another tip is to stream company “all-hands” meetings online (as we do here at Evernote), or make recordings of them available, so that remote workers can hear the important issues facing the company first-hand.
And while many folks may enjoy the experience of working remotely, they can often miss the social aspect of being part of a team. Arrange a series of “virtual speed dating” video calls, where team members can get to know each other individually, and consider scheduling regular “virtual happy hours,” where the entire team can join a video conference for the sole purpose of socializing—alcoholic beverages optional!
Be mindful of time zones
Walt Disney was right: it really is a small world after all. Many U.S. companies today are focusing their attention worldwide, as they expand into new markets in Asia and Europe. Software companies in particular, since they don’t have the same concerns around manufacturing and distributing a physical product, have become truly global businesses.
But when dealing with teams that are distributed around the globe, be mindful of the local time. That might mean alternating meetings between early morning and late afternoon, so that the burden of inconvenient meeting times is shared equally. Or consider whether you really need to have that meeting at all. Can it be handled via email? Or can you collaborate another way? For example, you can use a space in Evernote Business to create a shared note for discussion topics, then invite your digital nomads to add their input during their normal office hours.
Communicate openly, communicate often
One of the biggest challenges for remote workers is staying on top of what is happening with the team and with the company overall. This is true whether they’re working from home, at a conference or event, or meeting with clients. It is all too easy for digital nomads to miss important updates, leading them to feel ‘out of the loop’ and that they’ve lost sight of the big picture.
You can ease some of this pain by ensuring that you keep the lines of communication open. Make it clear that you are available to talk should your remote team members have any questions. Schedule regular check-ins (preferably by video) with remote workers to give them a chance to raise any concerns and blockers that they may have. You can also use that time to share team updates, goals, and expectations with them—this will give them clarity into what they should be focusing on, and why.
The “What’s new” and “Pinned notes” features at the top of a space in Evernote Business can go a long way toward providing much-needed transparency for remote workers. Highlighting changes to a space ensures that your digital nomads don’t miss any important project updates, while pinning important notes means that relevant information is always in view. This makes it easy for them to create their best work, no matter where they are.
Remote work can be highly rewarding for both employees and companies, but it demands an employer that is mindful of the challenges and proactive in its support. With appropriate planning, remote work can give your digital nomads the space to be productive and valuable contributors, whether they’re in the building next door or on the other side of the world.
Check out this article for more practical advice for remote workers and their managers.
This article was originally published on the Evernote Blog on April 25, 2018.