Long gone are the days when everyone had to be in the office by 08h30, dressed smartly and with their perkiest smile in tow. Today, thanks very much to the pandemic-inspired revelation that one can actually work from anywhere, intuitive digital tools and people-centric processes, we can confidently say that distributed teams made up of globe-trotting digital nomads work, and our agency is all the better for it.

Decoding digital nomadism

South Africa has been ranked the best destination in Africa for digital nomads. An increasing number of exploration-driven global citizens are making their way to mainly Cape Town and Johannesburg to ply their trade in our uber cool, culturally relevant and naturally wonderful country.

At the same time, more and more South Africans are heading to international lands to make the best of their youth (young at heart counts, too) and feed the wanderlust within.

Ask any digital nomad why they’d willingly invite the airport admin, visa woes and WiFi struggles that come with a travel lifestyle and they’ll likely tell you that being a digital nomad is an infinitely enriching experience. It’s not without its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh the stagnancy that can come with being bound to a location.

Businesses that aren’t afraid to step outside their box and embrace the idea of having a distributed team can also benefit from this new way of working.

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, is a prime example of the success of distributed work. With employees spread across many locations worldwide, Automattic has demonstrated that remote collaboration can lead to innovation, diversity, and exceptional outcomes.

Automattic CEO (and WordPress co-founder) Matt Mullenweg has contributed significantly to the theory and practice of remote collaboration. A vocal advocate for distributed work, Mullenweg has played a pivotal role in shaping the philosophy behind it. He believes that embracing remote work allows companies to tap into a global talent pool and fosters a culture of autonomy and trust. Mullenweg’s vision and leadership have propelled Automattic to thrive in a distributed work environment, proving that physical proximity is not a prerequisite for achieving business goals.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Mullenweg once wrote the following – perfectly summing up his approach. ‘At Automattic we focus on what you create, not whether you live up to some ideal of the “good employee”. We measure work according to outputs. I don’t care what hours you work. I don’t care if you sleep late or if you pick up a child at school in the afternoon. I don’t care if you spend the afternoon on the golf course and then work from 2 to 5 AM. What do you actually produce? Many people create great things without sitting at a desk in an office all day, including all the people at Automattic. (One employee recently wrote a book about his time with us. Its title – The Year Without Pants – should tell you something about our lack of emphasis on professional dress.)’

Businesses benefit, too

Digital nomad employees often bring their travel experiences and insights into their work, offering a more diverse, multi-cultural perspective that the business may not otherwise have access to. If you’re an agency working with global brands, this is especially relevant. It can take the quality of your proposals, pitches and output from great to next level and comfortably place your SA-headquartered business on the same bench as international players.

Having team members that are spread across the country or all over the world also challenges businesses to work outside the norms and question their traditional ways of working. For example, do we really all need to be in the same physical room for that brainstorm? Is it really necessary that everyone works the same hours? In some industries, yes, but as agencies within the knowledge economy, ‘not really’ is a more honest answer.

Rather than insisting on the age-old ‘bums in seat’ approach to work, having a distributed workforce is an opportunity to refine and innovate processes so that they make sense for the objective versus boosting the boss’s ego (yes, we just said that).

Paree Gordhan, our animal-loving, whip-cracking senior project manager with an exceptional mastery of Excel and all things scheduling (and who joins our team meetings from outside Hermanus), agrees. ‘I enjoy working asynchronously with the team and adjusting processes where possible to allow for more of this. It’s about finding ways of working that take distributed working into account, such as different time zones and public holidays for different countries.’

It’s worth mentioning that distributed teams can help to stretch your business’ international footprint and help you build global connections. After all, not all new business comes through an RFP. This future-forward approach can also improve an employer’s attractiveness, making it easier to find the right people – people who genuinely fit the bill and aren’t just conveniently located in the same city as your office.

There is also room for businesses to reduce operational expenses. We don’t think that should be the motivation for having a distributed team, though, so we’ll leave that there.

For the people

Our people have always been at the heart of 2Stories, but after two years of dedicated business building (we’re still at it, of course), rushing from one deadline (or pitch) to another, and growing faster than we expected, it felt appropriate to crown 2023 ‘the year of our people’. If members of our team want to travel-work, explore new environments and experiences, and just live a little (more), we say ‘say less’!

2Stories creative director Lucia Viglietti, who is based in London (having moved there at the end of November 2020 during the days of serious lockdown), shares on her experience:

‘One of the huge perks of working remotely is that you can work from anywhere. I have done combined work-and-holiday trips; having that flexibility to go off and explore while still being able to work is a huge privilege. Of course, there are times I wish I was in-office, in the room rather than on the screen (especially on a birthday or celebration day!), or to contribute to or benefit from the legendary sweet jar, but years of freelancing has meant that I am used to working remotely, and I enjoy it. I am also lucky to be a part-time permanent team member at a company whose team is really good at being inclusive and connecting online. Thank you 2Stories family.’

Going distributed doesn’t mean there won’t be hiccups and outright blunders, but every issue has its antidote and seeing the impact it has on the quality of life that your team enjoys will be the inspiration you need to find solutions.