Our latest accomplished peeps interview connected us with Nishchal Dua, Director of Marketing at Airmeet where he leads the Community, Events & Partnerships functions globally. He's been an entrepreneur, a self-taught marketer, and a remote work evangelist for the better part of the last decade. Apart from this, Nishchal has bootstrapped & exited his previous startup with solid 7-figure revenue, and, it was during this same time that he began diving deep into remote work as a practice.
Personally, Nischal has traveled the world in search of interesting stories & communities that would help him grow the tribe of remote evangelists he and his team are building. This eventually led them to launch the world’s largest virtual conference dedicated to remote work in 2016 (The Remote Work Summit), which has been their annual flagship event since then. Nowadays, Nishchal is heavily involved in building out a Community-led-Growth model at Airmeet. With such extensive and diverse experience in the world of remote work, in our async conversation with Nishchal, we wanted to get to know which practices and habits he lives and works by, that help him stay focused and on track daily, starting with, his personal workplace setup.
Describe the layout and feel of your workspace.
When working remotely, you really need to know yourself better than most people usually do. Because when there's no one looking over your shoulder & you don't have peers sitting around you, you could go through a wide range of emotions. Some days you'll be hyper-motivated & would want your own private space. Other days you may want to be in a more open, casual, collaborative space.
I have 3 different spaces in my home & they're all geared for specific uses:
- Focused work: for when I need to get shit done. This is my fully decked up environment with 2 additional screens, a 1080p wide-angle webcam, a Blue Yeti mic, wireless accessories, coffee mug & ambient lights all on a height-adjustable desk. I spend most of my time here and it really needs to be a productive space.
- Casual work: for when I don't want to work! When I'm having a mental block or a light day. When I have a backlog of emails, social media or documentation to catch up on. Whenever I want to work but I don't feel as upright about it. I have a small green corner in my home with a very comfortable couch, plenty of plants all over and enough interesting quotes & posters on the wall to keep in the happy zone for the day.
- On-camera work: for when I need to put the game face on. This is an additional workspace with a green screen background that I set up if I have to record a video, do a webinar or generally go live on a virtual event. The most imp setup here is to have a high-quality, thick & wrinkle-free green screen along with a really good light source in front of you.
What are your staple non-negotiable routines and rituals that you believe make you a more successful leader?
You need to have a key set of principles or mental models that can help you make better, faster decisions and also keep you sane when it feels like everything is going out of control.
I personally count on these 3 things:
- Start your day by looking at your reporting dashboards & clearing out your email & Slack inbox. I prefer to get this out of the way as early as possible. Keeps me on top of the key metrics we should be tracking + removes the distraction of a full inbox so I can get through the day with some actual planned work.
- Talk to real people every week. Most leaders are surrounded by team members who echo their own thoughts & and are often resistant to drastically new ideas or changes. Every week, I make it a point to talk to real people, real customers who will give me unfiltered, unbiased feedback.
- Don't multi-task. Pick something, do it & move on. Take breaks between tasks & remember to drink plenty of water & shut your eyes every now & then. It's more important for us to be creative & motivated on every task we do, instead of grinding & getting through the day.
What are some mistakes you've made in your career that others could learn from?
- Know what your work style is -> are you productive in a co-located environment or a remote space? Do you need the 9-5 time-bound culture or would you thrive in a flexible structure? There's no right or wrong here so it's important to know what works for you. My mistake was in believing that a fully remote, detached & private work environment is what I need. But I soon realised that I need a space where there are other folks to talk to, bounce ideas off & share a laugh with.
- If you want something to happen, you have to make it happen. Don't wait for organization changes to happen automatically. Don't be afraid of sharing your opinions even if it is uncomfortable for someone else. And be vocal about everything that you care about & want to improve. I took the path of sharing anonymous feedback but nothing really happened, so I've learned to be brutally honest & transparent about my opinions.
- Data is not everything, especially in young companies. You have an idea & you want to experiment with it. But your manager wants you to produce data that supports your hypothesis. This is the classic chicken & egg problem for most early-mid stage teams and more often than not, you don't have enough data to make a credible argument in support of your idea. This is why it's ok to make a gut call & base certain ideas purely on domain expertise. I have made the mistake of listening to my managers and not executing on some really impactful ideas which were then made a reality by our competitors.
What's one of the #1 struggles you've needed to overcome when managing your distributed team?
Are we a team or are we individual freelancers being given work by an organization?
This is the single biggest challenge of managing a distributed team.
A team feels like a team when people build genuine relationships outside of their work interactions. Remote teams often have a classic interaction where someone is giving work & someone else is doing it. And after a very short time, this becomes a monotonous activity that starts to feel more like a freelance project.
As a manager, it's very very crucial to bring the team together for non-work banter and to allow enough space for the individuals to become more than just colleagues.
Remote work can become very boring, very fast if your team can't crack jokes, doesn't have a water cooler channel, or is not interested in the personal lives of each other, outside of work.
How do you limit distractions while working from home? And, which personal productivity hacks do you follow religiously?
- Dress for work. Every day I get up & dress up for work. I wear what I would have worn to an office, including the right kind of shoes. Doing this helps me get in the groove of things & signals my body to "get ready for work". This is very helpful as a personal productivity hack because then you're more focused, more serious & less casual about the work for the day.
- When I need to focus for 20-90 mins on a task, I usually play "Battle music" on Youtube. A 45-90 min long music video keeps the distractions away & makes me focus on the task in front of me.
- Limit & have defined time slots for your social media, email & Slack messages. Being online & available throughout the day can quickly eat up your productive time.
Clubhouse, LinkedIn, IG, or neither? Why?
I'm a fan of meeting people F2F and having better, structured conversations instead of being a broadcast-style thought-leader.
If you could be doing anything else than what you're doing, what would it be?
My long-term game would be to re-think 21st-century education from scratch and build a new model to educate & upskill the next generation of leaders. It's an idea I will definitely pick up once I know the perfect model has been tested.