That's exactly the reality that "tribes" of digital nomads have built for themselves, in locations as remote and paradisiacal as Bali, Ecuador, and the Maldives. It sounds idyllic, particularly for the nomads who work for a concentrated period of time on their laptops and phones and then, when they power down, they look up and find themselves in... paradise.
Managing these teams, however, can be less idyllic, particularly as the entrepreneur leading the team. The very nature of startups in these remote locations - like Yoga Design Lab, founded by Chad Turner - presents challenges of its own even as it ticks every box of the "dream job" definition. It's based in Bali, and relies on a team of digital nomads to make and sell eco-conscious products like steel water bottles and biodegradable yoga mats.
Some challenges Turner faces will be familiar to entrepreneurs everywhere, like screen fatigue and time zone gymnastics. Here's how he solves the unique iterations of challenges presented by working with a tribe of digital nomads.
Sufficient Wifi. Monkeys and Surfing Optional.
High speed internet is a no brainer, right? Not so much, as recently as 2014. Since then, however, entrepreneurs have seized on the need for internet speed, particularly in a coworking environment. The first, Turner said, was called Hubud and was built out of bamboo, adjacent to the famous Monkey Forest in Ubud. Which meant there were occasionally monkeys climbing around the building and peeking in, a "lifestyle perk" supplemented by the attached gourmet health food cafe and smoothie bar.
Additional coworking spaces have opened, which also feature their own lifestyle perks. One called Dojo, for example, has a pool in the middle of the office and is two minutes away from a legendary surf break. "Eventually hordes of digital nomads started to base themselves here," Turner said. "The community grew and fast-forward to 2017, when every second person you meet here is running or attempting to start an online business."
"We're basically a species consumed with staring at electronic devices to function," Turner said. "My biggest hurdle over the last year has been screen fatigue." His symptoms included an increasing sensitivity in his eyes to longer work sessions, headaches, flat energy, brain fog, and inadequate sleep.
Turner experimented with several possible solutions. Blue light blocking computer glasses helped somewhat. An e-ink computer screen (which uses the same technology as original Kindle readers), though useful for low-resolution needs like writing and blog posting, wasn't adequate for quick page refreshes of content that includes sophisticated graphics. And he screen-detoxed with a Vipassana mediation retreat, which involved ten days of silence.
He kept researching, and eventually Turner discovered that "the blue light emitted from electronic screens directly effects our serotonin/melatonin levels which can affect us emotionally and disrupt quality of sleep. I had to find a solution that would still allow me to be productive but didn't fry my brain."
His routine, which he calls his "screen detox protocol," began.
- Deactivate Facebook. "Connect with friends in person instead," Turner said. "Crazy concept."
- No screen time until his morning routine - read, meditate, yoga/gym, healthy breakfast - is complete.
- Turn off all lights an hour before bed. Read by candlelight until sleep.
- Recharge in nature every day.
- Transition to phone calls instead of emails.
- Buy a Sony Mini pocket projector in a travel-friendly size. This, Turner says, is the "crown jewel" of the detox. The projector displays his computer screen onto a wall, wherever he's traveling.
After the last few months of this protocol, though it's challenging to maintain, Turner says he feels 100% better.
Time Zone Gymnastics
Yoga Design Lab, whose products are now in 40+ countries and are carried more than 300 retailers, has grown quickly with its employee base of digital nomadic yogis scattered around the globe, each of whom have an intense desire to travel often to "bucket list" destinations. Accomplishing simple tasks began to stretch over several days, because of the back-and-forth between team members located in multiple time zones.
Working with such a diverse and flexible team is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. In order to accommodate the organic nature of his staff's locations and availability, Turner adapted both work processes and hiring practices in two significant ways.
ROWE - Result Oriented Work Environment - focuses on results rather than time spent on tasks. "Measurable goals are clearly outlined each week, and daily task lists are defined and emailed at the start of each day to help keep focus and direction," Turner said. "If someone isn't pulling their weight, it becomes obvious very quickly."
Slow Hiring and On-Boarding. Most hires start as part-time in specific process-oriented roles, Turner said, and are given the chance to prove themselves. If they do, the role expands and becomes full-time. "People who apply to work with YDL want the freedom to work and travel anywhere, but it's earned with time and trust."