Extreme telecommuting and 3 ways to approach the boss about going mobile

01/08/2018 11:42 am ET

Statistics suggest that the global remote workforce will reach 1 billion in less than 20 years, yet some large corporation, like IBM, Yahoo, and Bank of America, are pulling back on telecommuting policies, stating that a lack of face-time and collaboration inhibits creativity, productivity, and teamwork.

We checked in with extreme telecommuter and MonetizeMore.com CEO, Kean Graham, to get his perspective on managing a global mobile workforce and why this trend is unlikely to do an about-face.

What’s your impression and forecast for the virtual workforce — will companies seek to abolish or nurture this trend?

Digital nomadism is still very new and far from optimized. It is easier to become a digital nomad with each new year thanks to a greater digital nomad community, better technology, and better management frameworks that support remote work. Large corporations have predictably had issues with remote work because these companies tend to be resistant to change, tend to promote political players which are able to get the upper-hand within the office and traditional employees tend to be skeptical towards others who work remotely. These are just some reasons why remote work hasn’t worked successfully in these large bureaucratic companies so far. As digital nomadism grows and matures, remote work will be more digestible for even the largest and most bureaucratic companies.

How do you remotely run your business and manage a staff of 80+ employees who also work remotely?

We hire and promote strong leaders into team lead positions that we are able to trust to effectively manage each team. Our COO is more of the people manager and has consistent 1on1s with each team lead. I have weekly 1on1s with each executive to get important updates. The below framework has been our most effective initiative for motivating our remote team:

We make all our key performance indicators (KPIs) transparent, tracked daily and viewable. There is a main KPI for each department and an overarching KPI for the whole company: Net Revenues. Overall and department KPIs are categorized into four levels:

Green: Exceptional performance

Blue: Very good performance

Yellow: Room for improvement

Red: Emergency, fix immediately

Every department KPI contributes to the overall KPI and we communicate this to each department on a regular basis. For example, if the support team achieves a high KPI score of high customer satisfaction out of 10, then sales funnel conversion rates will be high and net revenues will grow faster. Each department has a clear view of how their KPI performance affects the overall KPI performance and grows the company.

Since implementing this KPI framework, company performance has dramatically improved. We’ve seen great collaboration within teams, more innovative thinking, greater work ethic and improved morale with the increased transparency and being part of a team that is working towards a clear and common goal. The KPI system has been one of our best implementations in the past year and works especially well for remote teams. We found that giving recognition based on empirical numbers has led to higher morale and overall success.

If we look at extreme telecommuting — living the dream of maintaining a satisfying career from abroad — what are some ideal destinations that fit the bill in terms of expat comfort, connectivity, and affordability?

My top 3 favorites are:

  1. Cape Town, South Africa: An absolutely stunning city with so much to do, access to fast internet and the prices are very affordable.
  2. Florianopolis, Brazil: An island beach paradise that has a tech hub, friendly people, access to fast internet and reasonable cost of living.
  3. Taipei, Taiwan: Almost the fastest and most reliable internet you can get on the planet, reasonable cost of living, very safe and many expats.

How might one test the waters before committing to one destination, in particular?

I always like to get opinions of other digital nomads of the city I’m thinking of moving to. Over my travels, I have met hundreds of digital nomads and we all tend to talk about our travel war stories which lead to talking about our favorite places to live. Each place I decided to move to, I heard good things from several people.

What are the technical considerations that are critical to global telecommuting success?

The most important research and criteria I recommend sorting out before making a move are:

  • Check NomadList.io for reviews of that city.
  • If people say the internet isn’t very fast, check reviews of local co-working spaces on Google Maps.
  • Do some initial online research related to your daily/weekly hobbies. I tend to do a squash club and gym Google Map search before deciding to move to a city.
  • Check apartment prices on the most popular online classified site in that city.
  • Check what local groups are most popular on Facebook, Meetup.com, Internations, and Couchsurfing.com.

If one works for an organization that is not yet open to telecommuting — or deadset against it, how might an employee broach this topic successfully?

I would recommend the following strategies:

  1. Propose one day per week to work on a specific project. This would enable the employer to gauge the quality and efficiency of your work while telecommuting. Just make sure to follow-through with incredible work in an efficient manner!
  2. Provide case studies of location independent companies being very successful because of the remote lifestyle they provide and individual employees who have thrived from working remotely.
  3. Make some clever compromises like you will be working during the time you would be otherwise commuting, agree to use a time-tracker tool while working remotely and/or agree to work from home rather than taking work off during sick days if remote work privileges are granted.
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