5 Things to Know Before Becoming a Digital Nomad

New remote workers transitioning from a co-located company to a fully distributed team often have unrealistic expectations about digital nomadism.


We’ve all heard the quintessential digital nomad story: traveling through Europe, going to a cafe each morning from 8am - 1pm, then grabbing lunch, going sightseeing in the afternoon, and heading out for a night out on the town.

What most digital nomads won’t tell you? Digital nomadism is not inherently optimized for efficiency.

What happens to your productivity and deliverables when it takes you an hour just to find a cafe with decent wifi?

How do you feel about missing dinner to hop on a video call happening at 5-6pm in your time zone?

Are you going to be able to collaborate effectively when many of your U.S. based teammates are just getting started with their workday, and you’re trying to get some shut-eye?

Your employer did not hire you, so you could go gallivanting across the continent or be offline during business hours because “you work remotely and can set your own schedule.”

If you’re still dead-set on becoming a digital nomad, here are some things to consider.


1. Managing Time Zone Differences

There’s no getting around time zones. Time zone differences can either make or break the productivity of you and your team.

For example, if you’re traveling through Southeast Asia and have U.S. based teammates, are you going to be productive when check-in calls are happening in the wee hours of the morning? If you’re a night owl, this might work, but for the rest of us, this would require drastically shifting our circadian rhythm shift to make those call.

Takeaway: Before you start planning your digital nomad adventures, discuss time zone policies and expectations with your manager.


2. Handling Virtual Meetings

Video calls can be a requirement for some companies, while others are fine with old-fashioned phone calls. It’s essential to know which your company prefers, so you can plan accordingly.

If you hop on video calls often, you’ll need to have a strong internet connection, minimal background noise, and minimal visual distraction behind you. With phone calls, you have more flexibility with your location and need not worry about visual distraction for your teammates.

Takeaway: Find out your team’s preference for virtual meetings and adjust your work environment to be suitable for calls.


3. Optimizing Working Hours

Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be invigorating, but it can also detract from productivity on the job. When you’re tempted to go sightseeing or enjoy a nature walk during the times you should be working, you need to set clear boundaries in your work schedule and on your calendar when you’ll be “at work.”

Another suggestion is to check out co-working sites for digital nomads, like Unsettled, that are created to help remote workers create a productive work environment, meet other digital nomads, and arrange for sightseeing and activities during off-hours.

Takeaway: Set a schedule that works for you, communicate it to your team, and stick to it.


4. Staying Connected

Strong internet connectivity is critical to remote work. Without a strong internet connection, you are not going to be productive. If the location you want to visit does not have reliable internet, reconsider your destination.

During your work hours, you must have solid internet connectivity and be available to your team members. Nomad List is one resource to help you choose a good cities where remote-friendly amenities are available.

Takeaway: Scope out every new location well in advance and identify your wifi hotspots where you plan to get your work done.


5. Generating Results

Distributed team managers cannot really control whether or not you are going to be distracted while working abroad. But, they will judge you by your results. Are you getting done what you need to get done when it needs to be done? For some, results could equal you need to be on phone calls.

Many fully distributed teams believe your success as a remote worker has more to do with your results than the process you use to generate those results.

For example, at Lullabot, remote workers are expected to complete 30-40 hours of work per week, be available for phone calls (as needed), have sufficient internet to do their job, and be understandable and clear over the phone when talking with clients (not excessive background noise.) You can see the full handbook here.

Takeaway: Identify which results matter most to your manager. Ask for feedback regularly to be sure you are successfully generating consistent results.


Still amped about your next digital nomad adventure? Do you have a game plan to address each of the above challenges? If so, we’d love to hear about your digital nomad tips and tricks on Twitter at @yonder_io!