Academy has grown into a global entity, with our talented team operating seamlessly across the United States, Turkey, Poland, Colombia, Mexico, and Spain, and hopefully many more, creating a vibrant and diverse work environment.
Join me as I unfold the chapters of this incredible adventure, filled with the joys and challenges of remote entrepreneurship and living life as a Digital Nomad.
"Remote companies are the future of business"
That statement will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers, but it's plain to see that how we work has changed dramatically in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a business community, we learned quickly that good work could happen from anywhere, as long as we had an internet connection and the right infrastructure in place.
The writing's on the wall: The traditional model of work is over. Gone are the days of the nine-to-five, five-days-a-week grind that many of us have experienced all throughout our careers. I think that's a good thing.
My own experience running a remote company has been a positive one. I can't imagine going back to sitting in an office, giving up my work-life balance and losing the freedom to travel the world with my wife. There have been challenges, of course, but the benefits to my employees, clients, and myself far outweigh the struggles we've experienced getting there.
Here, I discuss why more and more companies are moving to a remote model, the benefits and challenges of running a remote company, and how I've been able to live a nomadic life while still working and managing a team.
Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to be taken as legal or tax-related advice. You should seek the counsel of an immigration attorney and an accountant to better understand your own personal and company circumstances.
Why Companies are Moving to a Remote Model
For many, the experience of working from home during the pandemic was a first.
Almost overnight, organizations were faced with the all-hands-on-deck challenge of finding new ways to connect, collaborate, and deliver great work—all remotely. In the wake of this pivot, many companies have chosen to make the permanent switch to a fully remote or hybrid work model.
At Academy, we interview industry experts often to keep a pulse on how business is changing. Here’s what we’ve learned about the reasons companies are making the move to fully remote or hybrid models.
Happier, Healthier Employees
Companies are seeing that more and more employees want to continue working from home, and for good reason: Working remotely is awesome! For maybe the first time ever, employees have the opportunity to complete work on their own time, on their own terms, and to maintain a work-life balance that allows them to spend more time with loved ones and accomplish personal goals.
It's clear that being chained to a desk or sitting next to your peers is not necessary to be productive. In fact, the many un-productive parts of a traditional work model have been put into focus: Long commutes, chatty co-workers, and office politics are all distractions that are simply not present in a remote company. The option to work from anywhere allows people to have vital focus time, productive meeting time, and quality free time.
Long-Term vs. Short-Term Success
The time-boxed, hustle-focused culture of many companies has been shown to negatively impact employee health outcomes—as well as company bottom lines. A false sense of urgency driven by artificial deadlines, the desire to be seen "putting in the hours," and a focus on short-term wins drives employees to work toward achieving small company goals instead of focusing on work that will lead to long-term success. When teams are under this pressure, their overall mental health, productivity, quality of work, relationships with clients, and willingness to stay in an organization are all at risk.
With all of these factors at play, companies are asking themselves:
Are employees able to focus their time and energy on the right things?
Are the deadlines that urgent, and are they aligned with what is possible?
Are we being empathetic to our clients as well as the teams producing the work?
"In no way am I advocating for poor performance or a laissez-faire attitude toward deadlines."
But in my experience, allowing professionals to focus their time and energy appropriately and being empathetic, kind, and understanding when something can simply not be done in the time allotted goes a long way toward employee happiness and the health of an organization. Furthermore, setting reasonable boundaries and expectations with employees promotes retention and more respectful client relationships overall.
The Benefits of Running a Remote Company
Reduced Overhead Expenses
When teams are remote, there is no need for costly office space. Most teams can produce excellent work with little more than a good internet connection, collaboration software, and some basic equipment. The occasional meeting room or company outing may need to be part of the budget. Overall, removing the monthly or yearly cost of a facility, utilities, and amenities can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Ability to Work Across Time Zones
Working across time zones is generally not that difficult, and the option to hire and work across nearly any timezone means better candidate pools for any role and the ability to build a diverse, talented team unbound by the confines of a commute.
Potential Tax Savings
With remote teams, there is the potential that one or all employees will live in a different state or even country. Opening your company up to other states with lower tax rates or foreign contractors may save the organization money when the tax bill comes due. Work with your tax professional to find out how building a remote team will affect your company's and employees taxes.
Freedom and Flexibility for Everyone
Children need to be driven to daycare, sick employees need to go to the doctor, and the occasional 10am yoga class is great for anyone. As long as it's on the calendar and the team is aware, being able to deal with life's little inconveniences without worrying over commutes, showing face in the office, and asking for time off is something anyone can appreciate. Employees who feel the sense of freedom and flexibility to design a better work-life balance will reward that trust with loyalty.
More Connected Global Teams
The ability to work remotely from any timezone gives global teams the opportunity to connect in a way that office-centric teams often miss out on. A focus on remote communication, from Zoom calls to Slack messages, keeps teams who are spread across the world included in conversations—rather than being left out when they're unable to join an in-person meeting.
Better Focus Time = Better Work
Teams produce higher quality work when they aren't rushed and can engage in uninterrupted chunks of deep focus time. Many very good employees may also work more effectively when they're on a different schedule. Whether they're night owls, early birds, nine-to-sixers, or even weekend warriors, great work is done when teams feel they are at their best—no matter the time of day.
Stronger, More Respectful Client Relationships
Teams who produce great work, are happier in their roles, and feel a greater sense of loyalty to the company will no doubt impact client relationships in a good way. When companies show empathy and respect for employees' time and unique situations, they'll attract clients who share those values, too.
How we setup our processes
There are clear benefits to running a remote company, but that doesn't mean that it's easy.
All of these benefits are won through diligence, planning, and putting reliable processes in place.
At Academy, we run our business on Eastern Standard Time. Still, because we have a flexible policy around working hours, we've built a policy that takes into account the overlap across time zones. Each team member is expected to work in two styles: Asynchronous (Async) Time and Synchronous (Sync) Time.
During Async Time, employees are expected to focus on high-impact work independently. Should a question arise, they are encouraged to use non-immediate forms of outreach to communicate with others, such as scheduled Slack or Email messages, Google Docs comments and Loom videos.
During Sync Time, we encourage employees to work collaboratively, and the expectation is that they will be available during these hours to do so. Sync Time only accounts for about 3 hours of each employee's day, no matter their time zone. Still, the flexibility allows them to focus on thoughtful, high-value work for our clients while providing a work-life balance that aligns with our company values. You can see more about our policy at the link below:
We supplement the lack of day-to-day in-person interaction by scheduling bi-weekly 15-minute personal catch-up calls in order to bond as a team and connect as humans.
We've even taken trips abroad to build stronger relationships with our co-workers based inside and outside of the United States.
"No system is perfect, but the benefits are worth it."
The Challenges of Running a Remote Company
Not all employees will be able to adapt to this new way of working. You're breaking years of culture and habits. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will adapt, and some might even leave. Don't just assume everyone is comfortable with Zoom calls when in-person meetings were the previous norm. Ensuring that teams have the right tools and training to work effectively is vital to a remote company's success.
Jealousy Among Co-Workers
Not all employees of the company will be able to be as flexible as their peers. Each employee has their own set of circumstances and as a result, this could lead to jealousy among co-workers. It's important to make the expectations and opportunities for flexibility clear so that each employee feels supported to work according to their unique needs.
Not all clients will be the right fit for your company anymore. Some may not understand the fully remote model and others might not align to your values as a company. In my experience, this is a net positive. It's important to articulate the expectations you have for your remote team regarding availability and meeting deadlines. At the same time, you should reinforce the priorities you have for the team's health and well-being. Building strong, long-term relationships with clients who share your values is the key to success in running a remote company.
Multiple Tax Laws
The idea of paying taxes across multiple states or countries might sound daunting, but you don't have to go it alone. Our U.S. team members must reside in their tax-filing state for a total of 183 days in a calendar year to comply with tax laws, and when we hire a contractor who resides outside of the U.S., we send them a Form W8-BEN and they file with their home country. Consulting with a good tax advisor, HR consultant and working with payroll partners has been vital to maintaining tax compliance while working with a global, remote team.
Paying Non-U.S. Contractors
With variable exchange rates and country-specific labor laws, working with non-U.S. contractors can be overwhelming. We use Justworks (domestic payroll), Plane (global payroll) to manage all our contractors in one place and maintain proper country-to-country compliance. We chose Plane because of the low exchange rate costs, the number of countries they work with around the world, and because they allow frequent and large transfers. Take the time to find a payment partner that works for your needs. Some services may be unnecessarily expensive or come with significant limitations around transfer amounts and the countries they service.
Benefits Across Regions
Each company must decide how to manage there benefits across regions. In the US you will be required to meet certain compliance standards depending on the size of your company. I strong recommend working with an HR consultancy to help develop your employee handbooks and HR policies. This could include things such as Healthcare, PTO, 401K and other benefits for your company. Compliance is a tricky thing to figure out across states and countries. Be sure to work with professionals. We have worked with https://sdhrconsulting.com/ for all your HR work.
Uncertainty of a Nomadic Lifestyle
Working remotely can be stressful if you are constantly moving around, don't have access to good cell or wifi service, and are unable to establish a routine. If you (or your employees) are planning to travel while working, take the time to plan ahead. Splurge on the best cell phone plan and research wifi options in advance by contacting the hotel or Airbnb to confirm the quality of their internet connection. You can ask for a screenshot of their speedtest.net results to get a good idea of if the connection will be able to handle a Zoom call with video (usually around 10 Mbps and above is the minimum acceptable amount). It's also important to make sure you have a comfortable, quiet place to work at a desk.
All of the challenges above are manageable with a little planning ahead and some open and honest expectation-setting conversations.
"I, and many of my peers, have enjoyed running a remote company for years without feeling the challenges have outweighed the benefits."
My Experience of Living a Nomadic Life
On a personal note, running a remote company has given me the opportunity to spend time with my wife and our families from Boston to Istanbul, Turkey. We have travelled all over the world and shared experiences many can only dream of. But I am sharing this with you because this dream took several years of planning. 5 to be exact, and I think it can be possible for you too. Or some version of it at least.
After over 2.5 years of working as digital nomads, we've seen a 10% reduction in our living expenses, even with inflation, as compared to our lives pre-pandemic when we lived full-time in New York. We have even found a place we want to call home in Mallorca, Spain and will be applying the new Spanish Digital Nomad visa.
"I recognize that I'm speaking from an extremely privileged position here. While I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities we've had, I understand that not everyone may have the same circumstances or resources, and achieving this lifestyle might be more challenging for some."
Our families have been able to host my wife and I in their homes through much of the year. Both of us have our own remote businesses, and we don't yet have children.
That said, we've been able to enjoy the perks of remote work and nomadic lives in a way that makes sense for us, and I wholeheartedly believe that with careful planning and determination, others running remote companies can find benefits that suit their unique situations.
How to Run a Remote Company and Live a Nomadic Life
- Plan your travel in advance, and keep your team updated on those plans.
- Book long-term stays when you travel so you can establish a solid routine.
- Communicate early and often with your team.
- Set up your calendar properly, (I use Calendly for scheduling and Google Calendar) and be sure to block your calendar when you won't be available due to travel, appointments, etc.
- Be flexible about taking late-night meetings if you're in an opposite time zone from your team or clients.
- Use the time zone differences to your advantage and fly midweek or in the mornings for cheaper flights and less disruption to your workweek.
If you're considering moving to a remote model or are already in the process, getting ahead of the curve and putting the right processes in place will benefit you, your employees, and your company long-term.
Understanding the challenges of moving to the remote model and articulating the advantages to current employees will set your team up for success in the digital remote workspace.
"The future of remote work is here. Are you ready?"
Are you seeking remote talent or aspiring to be a digital nomad? We've got you covered! Academy specializes in UX Staffing & Recruiting services, connecting top-notch UX professionals with great companies. Check out our services offering at https://academyux.com.