Interview with David McNeill

David McNeill is the Founder of Expat Empire and you can find more about him on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, or Youtube.

Expat Empire1. How did you start working remotely? How did you make the switch?:

I’m originally from the US, but I have lived abroad more permanently since 2014 in Japan, Germany, and now Portugal. I started my company Expat Empire to help people around the world to move abroad in 2018 while living in Berlin, but I had to keep it as a side project as I was still working full-time as a product manager for my employer at the time. I found a job in Porto, Portugal in 2019, and then got laid off from that job in 2020 due to the pandemic. My goal event before moving to Porto was to eventually run Expat Empire from Portugal, so it seemed like the perfect time for me to make that happen. I transitioned to working full-time on Expat Empire the week after getting laid off, hired a team of freelancers, and the rest is history!

2. What do you think are the main advantages of remote work?:

On a personal level, I like being able to work from where I want and when I want. I like to be able to travel and still work from there if I want to.

As a business owner, it’s great not to have the additional overhead of paying for office space and to be able to hire great people from all over the world.

3. Do you think there are disadvantages or that you’re missing something by working remotely?:

No, I do not think that I am missing anything by working remotely. I think an office is not necessary. One of my previous employers spent tons of money on an office that fewer and fewer people went into every day, and eventually, they shut the office down and made the company remote-first. If you have everyone in the same city and the management team is large enough to require many decision-makers to meet on a regular basis, then I can understand having somewhere for them to meet in person every so often. However, I do not see the value in maintaining an office just to provide a place for people to socialize.

4. From what cities or countries have you worked since you have become remote? What are your favorite ones?:

Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been able to travel as much as I used to. However, two of the bigger trips I’ve done since working on Expat Empire full-time have been to Madeira and Sicily. When I lived in Berlin and was working remotely for my previous employer, I used to take one week per month to live in another city in Europe, and I really enjoyed visiting cities such as Tallinn, Vilnius, and Budapest.

5. From what type of places do you prefer to work? Home, coworking spaces, coffee shops or others? Do you have any specific place?:

I prefer to work from home mostly as I have my full setup including a standing desk, a second monitor, external mic, webcam, ring light, and more. However, I found that I needed to have a change of scenery and a social outlet as well, so I joined a coworking space in Porto where I spend 2-3 days per week.

6. What places would you like to travel to while working remotely?:

My wife and I hope to eventually split our time between Europe and Asia, so hopefully, we will make that happen in the coming years. In the shorter term, the next place we would like to visit for a longer trip would be Georgia. It’s a place we both haven’t been to before and we love Georgian food, so I’m sure it’ll be a great experience for us.

7. What advice would you give to overcome the main challenges of working remotely? Share your remote productivity, communication, management, etc. tips based on your experience!:

I think it’s important to let everyone work on their own time and schedules and to enjoy the freedom that comes with remote work. Therefore, I think it’s good not to set an expectation that everyone needs to respond to messages immediately but rather to have a general rule of responding within 24 hours, for example. I think tools like Loom and Slack can help a lot with asynchronous communication.

I think it’s also important to hire people after giving them a short test to make sure that they can do what you require of them without much oversight. Working remotely does not make mentorship as easy to do as in a traditional office setting, so if you are hiring someone to do a job, it’s good to make sure they can do it on their own and won’t need too much hand-holding to get up to speed.

8. What tools do you use and are your favorites to work remotely?:

We use Google Drive for file management, Slack and Zoom for communication, Calendly for calendar management, and Zapier to connect everything together. I think the specific tools you pick don’t matter too much, but try out a few of them to make sure they have the features you want, and commit to using as few tools as possible to get the job done. Avoid having multiple tools for file management so that everyone knows exactly where they need to go to find the information they’re looking for.

9. How do you manage your business and taxes as a remote working professional?:

I’m based in Portugal and my business is based here as well. I work with accountants in Portugal and in the US to manage my taxes.

10. What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely and companies making the remote switch?:

Make sure you are going abroad for the right reasons and that you have a plan for what you want to achieve. While being a digital nomad is right for some people, it’s not a great fit for others, so do some serious soul-searching before making the jump. It’s not going to be fun all the time, so make sure you are also ready to deal with the challenges that come with the lifestyle as well.

In general, it’s a good idea to talk to people who have done it before and to work with companies like Expat Empire that can help you to figure out how you can start working remotely.

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