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Vanessa Jeswani of Nomad Lane: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team

It can be difficult to check the status of a project when working remotely. When working in-person, it can be easier to quickly ask a coworker where they are at with regards to specific deliverables. We are currently working with a designer who is based in a different time zone. In order to see where […]

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It can be difficult to check the status of a project when working remotely. When working in-person, it can be easier to quickly ask a coworker where they are at with regards to specific deliverables. We are currently working with a designer who is based in a different time zone. In order to see where he is in the design process, we have a shared Google doc that outlines the various steps and he regularly updates the document to show what he’s accomplished within each phase. This helps us to better understand how things are progressing and if there’s other data/input we should be providing him.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Jeswani.

Vanessa Jeswani is the Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Nomad Lane, a brand of elevated bags designed for professionals on the go. She started the company with her husband after traveling to more than 40 countries, where they tested products from the world’s best travel brands. When the best wasn’t good enough, they made something that was.

Prior to Nomad Lane, Vanessa spent almost a decade developing, leading and executing comprehensive digital marketing programs for multi-million dollar companies such as American Express, British Airways and Estee Lauder, as well as startup brands in New York City. In 2015, she dove headfirst into the world of e-commerce.

Vanessa grew up in the Philippines and moved to the US to attend Emory’s Goizueta Business School with a focus on Marketing, Management and Sociology. In her personal time, she enjoys discovering new restaurants and swimming.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I was born in the Philippines to parents of Indian descent. I had family who lived all over the world including grandparents who lived in Barbados, so I was extremely lucky that travel was an inherent part of my experience growing up.

These early experiences led me to want to study abroad in the US. From the time I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, I started researching American universities and practicing for the SATs. I chose to attend Emory University in Atlanta even though I had never visited the city before. I majored in Business & Sociology, which led to a career in Marketing. I moved to New York City after securing a highly coveted spot in a rotational program at Ogilvy, a major ad agency. From there, I explored several ad agencies and eventually moved client-side to Estee Lauder to work within digital marketing. I enjoyed my role, however the desire to have a greater sense of ownership and to travel led me to think about going off on my own. After testing several ideas, my husband and I launched Nomad Lane, a brand of travel bags and accessories for professionals. We raised over $2.1M for our first major launch, the Bento Bag. We’re currently digital nomads, primarily based out of Bali.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I started working, one of the first things I learned is that women are less likely to negotiate their job offers so I made it a point to always broach that discussion whether it was monetary or other perks. When I was looking for a job after several years of experience, I was interviewing at two competing agencies that were within the same global network. I received strong offers from both agencies so they ended up in a sort of bidding war with each other which led to a 50% increase in salary from my previous job!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started Nomad Lane, we had a very limited budget to get our website up and running. However, since I was used to working on Fortune 500 brands, I had lofty dreams for our website. We ended up working with an overseas developer with very little experience crafting websites on our platform (Shopify). We spent too many hours trying to fix basic things, only for other aspects of the site to break at the same time. It wasn’t funny at the time but we laugh about it now. From this experience, I’ve learned that it’s important to select reliable partners, even if you have to scale down the experience to something simpler.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

At Nomad Lane, we try to give our employees/partners as much autonomy as possible. This allows everyone to manage their own schedules and take a break when they need to.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

We’ve been operating a remote team since we launched in 2017 — so approximately 3 years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

1. Tracking productivity

It can be difficult to check the status of a project when working remotely. When working in-person, it can be easier to quickly ask a coworker where they are at with regards to specific deliverables. We are currently working with a designer who is based in a different time zone. In order to see where he is in the design process, we have a shared Google doc that outlines the various steps and he regularly updates the document to show what he’s accomplished within each phase. This helps us to better understand how things are progressing and if there’s other data/input we should be providing him.

2. Different communication styles

Depending on the project and role, some partners/employees prefer different communication styles and frequencies (Skype, Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp, Email etc.) Depending on the project and time zones, we try to work within their preferred communication tools to make things a little bit smoother. However, we request that all important decisions be communicated via email so there’s documentation in place that we can all refer back to when there are questions.

3. Brainstorming

Collaborative brainstorming can be really hard online. As we work on new products, brainstorming is an essential part of the process.

4. Working across multiple time zones

We have teams across the United States and Asia, which can cause scheduling difficulties. There have been many nights where we’ve stayed up past midnight to take important calls and meetings.

5. Ensuring teams have a work-life balance

With working from home, it can be tough to have a division between the two. Everything bleeds into each other. In some ways, it’s easier because there’s less of a commute and you have a lot more flexibility. But on the other hand, it’s hard not to respond back to a quick message even if it is late.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

1. Tracking productivity

It’s important to create measurable success metrics for your employees and they must be mutually agreed upon. Having a shared document, which they update, can be really helpful especially when you are coordinating multiple people on a single project.

2. Different communication styles

Depending on the project, it can be good to write out which platforms will be used and what type of communication it will be used specifically for. Since we work with a broad range of partners, we try to be a little more flexible with their preferred communications platforms for quick messages. However, we request that important decisions be communicated or documented in written format via email. Additionally, we have scheduled calls with each partner at a frequency that we’ve determined is best (some are weeks, others are monthly).

3. Brainstorming

Brainstorming can be done remotely as long as it’s planned out well. Questions and topics should be sent to all parties ahead of time. And then everyone can come to the table/Zoom with some ideas that get fleshed out together. It may take multiple calls but it will allow for a broader range of thought and allow those who are not as comfortable speaking up to present their thoughts as well.

4. Working across multiple time zones

There are several tools that can help find common available date/times such as Calendly, Meeting Planner from timeanddate.com and Doodle.

5. Ensuring teams have a work-life balance

We always ask our employees and partners how things are going and make sure that they are not feeling overwhelmed. We also don’t have any meetings without an agenda so we avoid wasting people’s time.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

I typically prefer to give feedback on a video call, which is the next best thing to being in person. This way you can see the person’s reaction and they can see that you are coming from a good place.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

If I’m providing feedback via email, I prefer to start off on a good note. First, I thank the person for their work and point out all the positives. And then when focusing on constructive feedback, I phrase it in a way that’s as neutral as possible without playing the blame game. I also try to explain the reasoning for the changes and the potential result from doing so in hopes that they will have a better understanding of why the feedback points are critical.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

I think working remotely requires reimagining how things can run better and more efficiently. I’ve seen many people complain of Zoom fatigue due to the number of hours they have to spend on it. This is a great time to think about how meetings can be run better — always have a clear purpose, send the agenda ahead of time so people can come prepared and have a person in charge of moving through the agenda.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

The one aspect that can suffer as a result of being geographically distributed is having a corporate culture. Consider doing a group activity remotely — like a cooking class, flower arranging or painting. A monthly Zoom call to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries etc. can also be fun.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be regarding environmental corporate responsibility. Being in Bali this past year has allowed me to see first-hand the effect of over-consumption on the environment and it can be devastating. Right now, we’re working on figuring out how Nomad Lane can be better at this. We currently produce goods at a conservative rate so we don’t overestimate demand and have to discard inventory like many major retailers have done.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.” From the time I left corporate America, I’ve experimented with multiple ideas — a travel blog, an online gift store and smaller travel accessories amongst many other ‘big ideas’ that never saw the light of day. It took 4 years before I saw any tangible success with a product launch. You just have to have the tenacity to keep going. With every new iteration and every new idea, you are closer to striking gold and achieving product/market fit.

Thank you for these great insights!

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