Tel Aviv, Madrid, Seoul, Tokyo, Bucharest, and São Paulo are a few of the many cities I’ve bounced among over the past couple years. It’s been an enormously productive time. I’ve built a digital marketing agency as well as an e-commerce store, priding myself on being able to run both of them successfully from anywhere.
And for the most part, I still can and do. But in the process I’ve learned that even though I’m capable of working while traveling continuously, there’s still no substitute for real, human connection. That’s why I’m ditching my digital nomad lifestyle and opting to stay in one place–at least for now.
That Fleeting Feeling
“Wow, it’s great you’re back in the United States! We could use your help on a project,” a colleague exclaimed to me recently. I nodded in agreement, but reflecting on the remark later that evening left me puzzled.
“I could’ve just as easily worked on that while abroad,” I pointed out to a friend.
“That’s true,” they responded, “but being in the same country and time zone makes you feel more accessible–even if you were staying up until 5 a.m. in Korea to be on the same pitching time.”
It’s been great to travel, but my Carmen San Diego-esque lifestyle has not only confused friends about my whereabouts, it’s also perplexed potential clients and partners. My digital nomadism made me seem more like a distant, and perhaps one-time-only, collaborator rather than a strategic partner who’s deeply committed to the work. Not living consistently in one location makes it hard for some to shake the impression that I’m just passing through and won’t be coming back again–both literally and figuratively.
Making It More Personal
Digital nomads don’t always get to be in the same city as their clients and teams, but I have found some ways to make those distances seem smaller. Whenever possible, I always prefer video-chatting by Google Hangout to phone calls. With teleconferencing you can see the other person face-to-face, which helps build a more personal connection.
I’m not the only digital nomad who’s found this to be true. Mikaela Kiner, a former digital nomad and current CEO of uniquely HR, spent three years in Hyderabad, India, working for Amazon, when her team was headquartered in Seattle. “I didn’t spend a lot of time at my home base, and was frequently working with people I didn’t know and hadn’t met in person,” she recalls. “We relied on email, Skype, and conference calls, but in-person contact was limited in many cases–and sometimes nonexistent.”
Kiner leaned on technology to make that arrangement work much the way I did, but she, too, came away from the experience with a stronger grasp of its limits–particularly when it comes to managing a team. “What struck me during my time in India was how much face-to-face meetings and existing relationships made it easier to communicate, influence people, and build trust.” No amount of video-chatting seemed to change that basic fact.
“When leaders invest time to meet their remote teams, the team members demonstrate a better understanding of the mission, increased loyalty, and more transparent communication,” Kiner believes. “They are far more willing to share bad news, ask for help, and raise concerns because they trust their leader not to shoot the messenger and to be part of the solution.”
In my experience, it wasn’t just my team and clients who benefited from more personal interaction–I did, too. Sitting online for 8–10 hours a day and relying only on digital interactions can get lonely. There’s nothing like a face-to-face coffee that really gets my wheels spinning. Eventually, I decided I needed more of those opportunities. So that’s why I’m scaling back my the travel over the rest of this year and scaling up my analog interactions all from a stable home-base.
See you soon, New York–I’ll be sticking around this time.