Our guest today is Neville Mehra who runs Nampora, an all-remote digital marketing and strategy firm.

Nampora is based in Washington, DC area (where Neville is from), but he’s currently working from Tbilisi, Georgia.

Neville, lots of people dream of becoming digital nomads but few make the move. How does it feel to work and travel?

I started working remotely as a freelancer back in 2007, and then became a digital nomad in 2012, traveling to/living in over 120 cities in 50 countries since then. I move regularly, staying for anywhere from a few days to a few months at a time.

Constant traveling takes its toll. Digital nomads are exposed to jet lag, different climate and new working conditions each time they move to a new place. Does this have an impact on loyalty?

I find that remote workers are more loyal than in-office employees. There are a few factors that could explain that. I suspect that it has a lot to do with the fact that positions that allow workers to work on a 100% remote basis (as opposed to occasional telecommuting) are still quite rare. At the same time, remote jobs are aspirational for many people, so once they find a remote job, they are less likely to jump ship to another company. 

Another factor contributing to the loyalty of remote workers could be related to office politics. I haven’t done a formal study, but I know from talking to friends and colleagues that one of the major reasons people leave their jobs is due to toxic work environments. Remote workers may not be entirely immune to office politics, but it’s usually less of an issue. 

The nature of remote work also makes it even more important for managers to clearly define the roles and what constitutes “success” for their workers. All managers should do that for all their workers, whether in office or not, but managers of remote workers are more likely to, which probably increases the workers’ job satisfaction and reduces turnover.

Are remote workers as productive as their peers working 9 to 5?

Nampora, is an all-remote company so there are no peers in the office to compare to.

Overall, whether someone is more or less productive when working remotely really depends on the person. Some people have trouble staying focused and on track when they are alone. This is especially valid for work from home jobs, where there are so many potential distractions. For those types of people, working in-office still helps them to stay focused. Even if they are not supervised in the traditional sense, they still benefit from having their colleagues present with them, and from the social pressure to perform at par with their peers.

At the same time, social pressure can be distracting to others. Instead of spending their mental energy keeping up appearances, they prefer to be given space to do their work. These are the people who thrive in a remote work environment. Working remotely allows them to focus virtually all of their work time and mental energy on a specific task or project.  

All-remote companies are still rare. Is it harder to manage remote teams?

I’m not sure if it’s easier or harder to manage a remote team. Maybe just different. 

With a remote team, thoughtful communication becomes even more important. When hiring someone to work remotely, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to evaluate them 50% based on the skills required for the position, and 50% based on their ability to communicate clearly over email and other asynchronous media. 

There is certain instant gratification that comes from being able to lean over at your desk and ask your neighbor a question about that new feature on the website that she just rolled out. Of course, that may save the person asking the question some time and trouble, but it is also a distraction for the person being asked. 

When managing a remote team, it is vital to have the right tools and processes in place and to review them often for potential improvements. The rise of Cloud-based services over the past five to ten years has made all of this much easier than it used to be. At Nampora, we use Harvest to track our billable hours and generate invoices. We use Dropbox to store and share files. We rely on Google’s GSuite for email and docs, both of which we use very heavily. Finally, we use Asana to manage projects and keep track of who is working on what.

Even with all of that technology and those tools, there are times when it would be much easier to have everyone sitting in the same room, rather than chasing each other over email. When everyone is in the office, you can call them all into one big room and communicate the same information to the whole team at once. That certainly has its advantages. 

You are right, even Slack, Skype and all the other tools we have in place can hardly replace human interaction. Cultural differences add complexity and often result in confusion when communicating via email or chat. On the other hand, having people from different countries on your team help to better understand your potential clients miles away.  Do remote working arrangements allow you to tap into a diverse talent pool?  

Yes. Remote work absolutely allows Nampora and other companies like us to tap into a much more diverse talent pool. 

Remote work is on the rise, but again, it is still far from being the norm in most companies and industries. So, offering remote work is a major competitive advantage when it comes to hiring. This is especially true for smaller companies. We can’t always match the compensation and other benefits offered by bigger firms, but we can offer a better work-life balance, and more flexibility.

Small and medium-sized companies also benefit from offering work from home jobs, because we would otherwise be restricted to hiring from only one or a few geographical areas. 

There are people on our team who I have never met in person. There is no other way we would be able to work with them if we weren't a remote team.

About the author

Lilia Stoyanov is CEO and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission. 

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